October 2003 News

J&K's Human Rights Record: Poor

27 October 2003
The Indian Express
Balraj Puri

New Delhi: Human rights formed the principal plank of the election campaign of the People's Democratic Party and was mainly responsible for the 16 seats it won in the Kashmir valley. As it is now leading the coalition government in the state, it is primarily being judged by the people and the Opposition on its performance on the human rights front which is being compared with that of the previous government by citing statistics to prove or disprove the point. The statistics do not tell the whole story. The incidence of the violation of human rights depends on a number of factors and do not convey the extent of guilt of those responsible. It should, therefore, be judged by the measures to minimise such violations that the government has taken or not taken. We cite a few important fields in which the action of the present government is to be judged and discuss what more can be done without referring to the record of the previous government. In most cases of custodial deaths, which have not stopped incidentally, the government has been prompt about ordering a magisterial inquiry. But why the state government does not report such cases to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which has better credibility on this score than the magistrates who are part of the administration and not the judiciary, is intriguing. While it is mandatory for the superintendents of police and deputy commissioners in all the other states of the country to report incidents of custodial death to the NHRC, why does the J&K state choose not to do so? No concrete step has yet been taken to find out the number of persons who have been missing and their whereabouts. This is in utter disregard of the agony of old parents, young wives and little children, who often do not know whether their loved one is dead or in prison. Many have become half widows and half orphans in the process. The state government has conceded in the state assembly that the number of missing persons, from 1990 to December 2002, stands at 3,744. The Association of Disappeared persons claims that it has registered over 7,000 cases. It further alleged that 84 persons have disappeared since the present government came to power. Will the government set up an independent commission to verify the rival claims? Meanwhile, will the government consider the grant of ex-gratia relief to the families of those whose whereabouts it has failed to trace for the last, say, five years? Also, PIL writ petition filed by the PUCL is pending in the state high court requesting it to issue a writ of mandamus to the government to implement some of the humane provisions of the Jail Manual of 1894. This manual had provided for the appointment of visitors, who could regularly visit the prisons, meet their inmates and hear their complaints. If an autocratic government under British imperialism in the 19th century had so much concern for the prisoners, why cannot a democratic government in an independent country do so in the 21st century? Will the state government consider implementing the said provisions? The Ansari Commission that was appointed by the then government to inquire into the causes of the anti-Sikh riot of 1989, which killed 15 innocent Sikhs in Jammu city, and fix responsibility for it. The commission submitted its report within a year. The report never saw the light of the day. Has such a thing ever happened anywhere in democratic India of which the state government claims to be an integral part? Will the state consider releasing the report and its implementation to prove its commitment to and respect of the judiciary? The state government also owes an explanation for not implementing the Juvenile Justice Act, although it came into force in April 1998. Why has it not set up any juvenile court or juvenile home which it was required to do under the Act? Why are children on trial or undergoing sentences and forced to live with criminals in jails? All this by no means exhausts a human rights agenda for the state. But by implementing these suggestions, the state government can at least demonstrate that it is serious about human rights.

 

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