India failing on Kashmiri human rights: HRW official

New York, January 18 : The world rights body, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said that India is failing on Kashmiri human rights.

HRW’s South Asia Director, Meenakshi Ganguly in a statement posted on the website of the organization said that occupied Kashmir had been under a lockdown for five months. She said fearing that Kashmiris might protest the revocation of special status provided to Jammu and Kashmir under India’s constitution, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi clamped down. “Since the restrictions in August, the government has taken slow, reluctant steps to ease some of them, but is still falling far short in upholding Kashmiri rights,” she said.

Meenakshi Ganguli said that many of the thousands arbitrarily arrested – lawyers, shop owners, traders, students, rights activists – had now been released, but reportedly only after promising not to criticize the government. Some senior Kashmiri political leaders, including former chief ministers, remain in custody, she added. Police admitted at least 144 children had been detained, and now the chief of defense staff (General Bipin Rawat) has spoken of putting children in “deradicalization camps, she deplored.

The HRW official said, “The government had also blocked phone lines and access to the internet. The government was so fearful of criticism and dissent that it curtailed Kashmiris’ ability to share news of births or deaths, call their doctors, order supplies, research term papers, file taxes, and trade apples and walnuts,” she said.

Meanakshi Ganguli said while authorities started gradually restoring landlines and some mobile phone services, it denied internet services. She said, after the Supreme Court said on January 10 that access to the internet was a fundamental right, the authorities relented – only to set up government-controlled internet kiosks, with firewalls permitting only some websites and forbidding social media. “This violates free expression rights and hardly complies with the principle laid down by the court that “the freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of internet enjoys constitutional protection,” she pointed out.

The HRW official said that the costs of the Indian government’s policies had been staggering, and the attempt to avoid criticism had not worked. The United Nations has expressed concern, as have numerous foreign governments, she said.

Meenakshi Ganguli said the Indian authorities have sought to justify their rights violations on the grounds of national security. “Maintaining law and order is a critical state function, but it’s necessary to protect civil liberties as it is carried out. India needs to do better in Kashmir,” she concluded.

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