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PUCL Bulletin, February 2007

The other human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir

-- By Balraj Puri

The entire activity about human rights in J&K state has been concentrated around excesses of the security forces or of the militants. I myself was almost the pioneering to highlight this aspect of the human rights in early 1990 when militancy erupted in the state and the main culprits were the security forces. And have ever since been monitoring and commenting on this aspect of human rights.

But on December 10, this year the day of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I dwell on many other human rights of the people which have been trampled upon in J&K state. It is time we pay attention to the plight of, say, orphans, widows, handicapped, weaker sections, displaced persons, juvenile delinquents, under trials waiting for justice in jails for long years, children without schooling facilities, far off places without dispensaries and dispensaries without medical staff and medicines, women and old in general. The list is, in no sense exhaustive.

A detailed discussion on the state of human rights in each such case is hardly possible. Some cases are taken here for illustration.

National Human Rights Commission has no legal jurisdiction over J&K State; to protect its autonomy. But this autonomy gives more power to government than to the people. For instance, Deputy Commissioners and Superintendents of Police in all districts of the country are required to report to the NHRC cases of custodial deaths within 24 hours except those of J&K state. Should this practice continue?

The state Human Rights Commission is toothless. It has no investigation machinery. In the beginning services of an IGP were provided to it, which is no more so. The members are appointed by the government in disregard of the provision in the law. Its reports are not implemented and sent to deputy commissions. The SHRC law and practice least at par with those in other.

Most of other states have amended Prisons acts to meet demands of modern times. J&K State is still governed by archaic Prisons act of 1920 and even does not implement some of its humane provisions. I have filed a petition in the State High Court to get a provision of J&K State Prison Act of 1897 under which the government was required to appoint non-official visitors to jails; who could periodically meet the prisoners and listen to their grievances "not in the hearing distance of the jail authorities." The petition is still pending. Why what was good in imperialist age and under autocratic rule ceases to be so in what is called a democratic regime?

General condition of the jails, physical conditions e.g. overcrowding have been completely neglected. Jails are supposed to be a reformatory. In some states, experiments have been with conspicuous success, to provide opportunities to prisoners to do social work; so that when they are released, they are socially useful citizens. In J&K State, prisoners convicted to all sorts of crimes are so put together that they become hardened criminals. Even juvenile delinquents and women prisoners do not get separate place. Under law special courts should be established to try children and put in Bal Bhavans. Similarly women prisoners are to be put in women homes like Nari Niketans.

The fate of under trials leaves much to be desired. Some of them are in jail for much longer period than the sentence provided in law for the crimes which they are alleged to have committed.

Rights of children and women need special attention particularly of orphans and widows. I hate the word orphanage which is often used to describe the places where orphans are kept as it constantly reminds them of their humiliating condition. Some more pleasant names should be used which signify dignity of the inmates. Besides opening children homes to accommodate all such unfortunate children and meeting their basic needs, a practice of enlisting the support of enlightened citizens should be explored who agree to be their foster parents. They may visit their adopted children occasionally and invite them to their homes on festivals like Id and Diwali. Similar experiments may be tried for homes for old age, preferably should be called senior citizens where some are "adopted" by younger people. Children and senior citizens need love and respect as much a shelter.

Education and health should be treated as fundamental rights. Every child should have access to a school within walking distance. There are schools without building or without staff. In some places teachers have sublet their jobs. Compulsory and free education law needs to be strictly enforced. The scheme for mid day meals which provides incentive to poor people to send their children to schools and for which central grants are available has not been properly applied to the state.

The same is true about the health facilities. The doctors, particularly specialists are reluctant to go to rural areas. Compulsory rural service should be a pre-condition for awarding medical degrees. Teams of specialists should also be regularly sent there. The facilities of some specialties like psychiatrist diseases and treatment of trauma cases, particularly in accident prone areas, should be expanded to meet the growing need for them. Specialized facilities for handicapped are far from adequate. They should be treated as equal citizens and given education according to their needs so that they can compete with able bodied people in all walks of life.

Far from adequate taking steps for women empowerment, it is extremely regrettable that women commission is headless for the last four years. Special police cells, special courts and free legal aid should be provided to implement laws like Domestic violence act and dowry act and right to equality in every field.

Then there is problem of displaced persons of various categories refugees of 1947 from West Pakistan from POK, refugees of 1965 and 1971 wars, persons displaced from border and militancy infested areas like Rajouri, Poonch and Doda and above all Kashmiri Pandits migrants since militancy erupted in Kashmir. Each category has its peculiar problems and should no longer be neglected.

That the Right to Information Act is almost a non-starter is another flaw in human rights situation in the state. In the rest of the act provides appointment of RTI Commission which gives guidance to the applicants, follows every application with the concerned department and is empowered to take action against delayed response. J&K State has no such provision which make the RTI ineffective.

Finally socio-economic condition of weaker sections including SC/ST needs special attention.

The question of human rights violations should cover problems mentioned above and need not wait till militancy ends or the Kashmir problem is finally resolved.

People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014