The blatant disregard for human rights by the Indian armed forces in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) is evil. Through their most recent actions, the Indian Army demonstrated that there is institutional support with the promise of reward and not punishment for their troops on the ground in AJK to torture, abuse and murder the local population.
In April 2010, the Indian Army claimed that it had killed three Pakistani militants in Machil Sector near the Line of Control (LoC). Those claims later proved to be false as the three men killed were identified as locals who had nothing to do with any kind of militancy.
After a massive outcry from the public and the death of more than 100 people in large-scale protests across AJK that summer, the Indian military initiated an investigation and the five Indian army men accused of the fake encounter were court martialled in 2014. Last month, on July 27, an Indian military court suspended their life sentence.
In a desperate plea to the Indian government, the families of the victims responded to the suspension by demanding justice. The families of the victims said: “If the soldiers who killed our loved ones in Machil are let off, then please just hang us”. Although it seems highly unlikely, the families hope that the Indian government will hear their appeal and force the military tribunal to change their minds.
The decision is not surprising because it is in line with a growing effort by the Indian Army to encourage and reward their soldiers for committing heinous atrocities against the people of Kashmir. This is part of a larger strategy to suppress the Kashmiri voice and their right to self-determination.
According to Srinagar-based human rights lawyer, Parvez Imroze, the Indian armed forces have killed more than 70,000 civilians over the past three decades, with more than 8,000 forced abductions and thousands of reported cases of torture and rape. But not a single lawsuit has been brought against the military.
Riyaz Wani, a seasoned journalist based in AJK, said: “It was the first time in the past three decades that a sentence was pronounced against army personnel in a fake encounter or human right violation case. But [through] the kind of verdict that has come now, the message is clear that the army is free to do anything here. The government has their back”.
In April, an Indian Army major physically tortured and tied a young man to the hood of his military jeep and drove him around different villages as a warning to those who dared to defy India’s rule in AJK. The disturbing images went viral on social media and even prompted an article in The New York Times, in which the major’s actions were harshly criticised. The young man, Farooq Ahmad Dar, was so afraid after the ordeal of being kidnapped and tortured again that he feared going to the doctor for his injuries. Following this horrific event, the major, instead of being punished, received a promotion and an award for gallantry by the Indian army chief, who justified his disturbing behaviour to the media.
Owing to these incidents, there is massive mistrust regarding the actions of the Indian government and army and it is only getting worse. For example, a large percentage of Kashmiris had, in the past, shown their willingness to participate in elections. But this year, there was barely a six-percent turnout and elections could not be held.
Due to the growing number of civilian deaths, international human rights organisations – such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – have urged the Indian government to investigate the army and the police’s use of illegal and often lethal force.
The numerous requests have been ignored. In fact, the Indian government has forced some human rights organisations to shut down their offices in India by claiming that they are working against the state.
The impunity enjoyed by Indian Army personnel is by design. There is a legal framework that grants them exemption from prosecution. Legal immunity is granted because of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Ironically, it is the same type of law that has enabled the British to use military force to suppress the Quit India Movement – a movement aimed at demanding an end to the British rule in India.
The AFSPA has been long targeted by Amnesty International. In 2015, the organisation said: “Impunity is a long-standing problem in Jammu and Kashmir and that the lack of political will to account for past and present actions of the security forces, including the state police, is fortified by legislation and aggravated by other obstacles to justice”.
There is a shared responsibility among all international states and institutions to apply pressure on the Indian government and military to put an end to the inhumanity with which they have treated the Kashmiri population. The people of AJK are looking to the international community as their last and only hope and we must not fail them.