NEW YORK, Aug 05 (APP):Human Rights Watch (HRW), a prominent international watchdog body, has called on India to reverse its “abusive policies” in Jammu and Kashmir, and said it was dismayed that New Delhi persisted with “its repression of Kashmiri Muslims” despite the pandemic forcing the world to address discrimination and inequality.
“Indian government claims that it was determined to improve Kashmiri lives ring hollow one year after the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutional status,” Meenakshi Ganguly, the New York-based rights group’s South Asia director, said in a statement Tuesday. “The authorities instead have maintained stifling restraints on Kashmiris in violation of their basic rights.”
The rights group said the coronavirus pandemic has intensified the government’s unwarranted restraints on the rights to free speech, access to information, healthcare and education.
HRW cited a Monday order that restricted movement for two days to prevent “violent protests” against last year’s decision to revoke the constitutional autonomy of the Muslim-majority region.
The new restrictions on Tuesday refreshed the memories of a months-long security lockdown imposed a day before India’s Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi government changed the special status of the disputed region on Aug. 5 last year.
The government then clamped a communications blackout with phone and internet lines snapped for months as tens of thousands of armed forces were moved into the valley to thwart street protests.
Public anger and resentment across Kashmir against the government has been palpable since the decision, which also heralded a change in the framing and approval of controversial new laws by bureaucrats that have an adverse impact of the rights of Kashmiris.
One of the most prominent laws framed by the administration is granting rights to tens of thousands of people from outside of the region to buy land in Kashmir.
HRW said that while the government had eased some restrictions in the months that followed, “hundreds of people remain detained without charge, critics are threatened with arrest, and access to the internet is limited.”
“There have been several allegations of new arrests, torture, and ill-treatment by security forces. The government has also used harsh counter terrorism and sedition laws to clamp down on peaceful critics,” it said.
HRW said the government’s Kashmir policy contains “vague and overbroad provisions that are open to abuse and could unnecessarily restrict and penalize legally protected speech.”
“Indian authorities should take immediate steps to protect rights by releasing political detainees, upholding the right to free speech by withdrawing cases against journalists and activists, restoring full internet access and holding to account officials responsible for rights violations.”
Ganguly urged the government to “reverse its abusive policies and provide remedies for those whose rights were violated.”
“Even as the pandemic is forcing the world to address discrimination and inequality, the Indian government is persisting with its repression of Kashmiri Muslims,” she said.