–Watchdog slams crackdown on peaceful dissent across India
NEW YORK: India’s unilateral actions in Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019 caused enormous suffering and rights violations of the Kashmiri population, Human Rights Watch (HRW), a prominent international watchdog body, said Wednesday in its World Report 2020.
The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government revoked the disputed state’s special constitutional status, an action which also violated United Nations’ resolutions on the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan.
Indian authorities also failed to protect religious minorities, used draconian sedition and counterterrorism laws to silence peaceful dissent and invoked foreign funding regulations and other laws to discredit and muzzle non-governmental organizations critical of government actions or policies, HRW said.
“The Indian government has tried to shut down Kashmir, hiding the full extent of the harm caused there,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Instead of addressing growing attacks on minorities, Indian authorities bolstered their efforts to silence critical voices in 2019.”
In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries.
Prior to its actions in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir, the New Delhi government deployed additional troops, shut down the internet and phones, and arbitrarily detained thousands of Kashmiris, including political leaders, activists, journalists, lawyers, and potential protesters, including children, it was pointed out. Hundreds remain in detention without charge or under house arrest to prevent protests.
Also, HRW said the Indian government failed to properly enforce Supreme Court directives to prevent and investigate mob attacks, often led by BJP supporters, on religious minorities and other vulnerable communities.
Since May 2015, extremist Hindu groups have killed 50 people and injured over 250 amid rumours that they traded or killed cows for beef.
Muslims were also beaten and forced to chant Hindu slogans. Police failed to properly investigate the crimes, stalled investigations, ignored procedures and filed criminal cases against witnesses to harass and intimidate them.
Nearly two million people from tribal communities and forest-dwellers remained at risk of forced displacement and loss of livelihoods after a Supreme Court ruling in February 2019 to evict all those whose claims under the Forest Rights Act were rejected.
In the northeast state of Assam, it said, the government published the National Register of Citizens, aimed at identifying Indian citizens and lawful residents following repeated protests and violence over irregular migration of ethnic Bengalis from Bangladesh.
The list excluded nearly two million people, mostly Muslims, including many who have lived in India for years, in some cases their whole lives. There are serious allegations that the verification process was arbitrary and discriminatory. The government plans to build detention centres for those denied citizenship after the appeal process.
The Indian government has also said that citizenship verification will be implemented across the country and that the government will amend the citizenship laws to include all irregular migrants from neighbouring countries, but excludes Muslims from the list.
The Indian government’s actions in Kashmir have led to a loss of livelihood and access to education, HRW said.
The repression resulted in international criticism including in the United States’ Congress, the European Parliament, and the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Throughout the year, UN experts have raised concerns over a series of issues in India, including extrajudicial killings, potential statelessness of millions in Assam, possible eviction of tribal communities and forest-dwellers, and the communications blackout in Kashmir, HRW added.