(THE PIONEER) In the name of human rights

Even as we celebrate International Human Rights Day, we are yet to arrive at a consensus as to what construes human rights violations. While voices against capital punishment have been raised, we have failed to address the most blatant violations of human rights in J&K

Come December 10, the world will observe International Human Rights Day. The day commemorates the adoption and proclamation of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first global enunciation of fundamental human rights on the same day in 1948.

In the preamble to the UDHR, the Governments of the signatory nations including India committed themselves and their people to progressive measures which secure the universal and effective recognition and observance of the human rights set out in the declaration.

Though many articles of the declarations remain to be implemented in letter and spirit world wide, its spirit has been enshrined in many Constitutions and laws.

Much like the rest of the world, in India too, the day is observed by constitutional bodies, NGOs and human rights organisation in the form of seminars, workshops and conferences. The focus of most such events have been the rights of the weaker, underprivileged and downtrodden sections of the society including the Dalits, Adivasis, minorities, women, children etc, with special emphasis on the role of state machinery, particularly the police, paramilitary and the Armed Forces.

Vested interests have often used the opportunity to vilify the security forces accusing them of gross human rights violations, especially in trouble torn areas such as the North-East, Kashmir and the Naxalite affected regions. Over the years, it has also come to be politicised with a tendency on part of parties eyeing vote banks to even defend anti-national and terrorist elements, in the fond but misconceived notion that it would appease certain sections of the society.

Unfortunately, as a nation, we are yet to arrive on a consensus as to what construes human rights violations. Major instances of human rights violations including the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits, the merciless killing of civilians by Kangaroo courts in areas affected by Left-wing extremism, the human rights of security forces personnel etc have never been part of the mainstream human rights narrative in the country. At best, they are raised by groups often labelled as Right-wing. This has only served to undermine the credibility of human rights organisations in the country, who by and large have come to be identified with separatist and anti-state forces.

One of the most underestimated and downplayed yet most blatant violations of human rights have been taking place in the State of Jammu & Kashmir, under the cover of Article 35A of the Constitution.

In fact, a large section of the people of the border state have been meted out gross injustices over the last six decades since independence — to the extent that they have been consistently denied certain fundamental and legal rights enshrined in the Constitution of India and continue to live in an atmosphere of discrimination and backwardness.

According to a detailed study by the Delhi-based Jammu & Kashmir Study Centre, one of the worst victims in the state have been women who continue to face severe gender discrimination.

A blatant instance of such discrimination is the issuance of Permanent Resident Certificates to those who come within the ambit of certain criteria defined by the State Government.

If a woman marries a non-PRC holder, her husband and children are denied basic rights such as right to hold title of property, right to apply for Government-run higher technical education, right to apply for a Government job, right to participate in State Assembly and Panchayat elections. In effect, a woman marrying outside the State or a non-PRC holder is forced to leave the State and settle outside. Both Hindu and Muslim women are victims of this law.

Another gross violation often ignored by the Delhi-based intelligentsia including media who even defend illegal immigrants from Bangladesh is that even six decades after they migrated from west Pakistan during Partition in 1947 and settled in Jammu & Kashmir, west Pakistan migrants are still tagged with ‘refugee’ status and forced to live in ‘camps’. Even the third generation has been denied rights and privileges that were immediately granted to all those who migrated from Pakistan to other States in India.

Here too, they are not issued PRCs and hence denied all associated rights: Right to hold title of property, right to apply for Government-run higher education institutes, right to apply for Government jobs, right to participate in State Assembly and Panchayat elections et al.

The plight of Gorkhas who settled in Jammu & Kashmir in the 18th century is equally a matter of grave concern. Their population is around one lakh spread across the State, including Kashmir valley. They face big hurdles in getting the PRCs, without which educated young Gorkha boys and girls cannot get a Government job or admission into educational institutes. Consequently, they continue to remain economically, socially and educationally backward.

In 1957, around 200 Valmiki families were brought from Punjab to Jammu & Kashmir, following a Cabinet decision, specifically to be employed as safai karamcharis (sweepers). These families were told that the ‘permanent resident’ clause would be relaxed in their favour. However, their plight is that they are ‘permanent residents’ of Jammu & Kashmir only to the extent of being safai karamcharis. After five decades, their families have grown and children have studied up to graduation and post graduation. But no one can apply for Government jobs or for admission to Government-run professional institutes.

In a provisional no less banal than racial apartheid, the educated youth from these Valmiki families are only eligible to be appointed as safai karamcharis.

All these discriminatory practices have been taking place under the refuge of a Presidential order called the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order 1954. It came into effect immediately and superseded the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order 1950. Besides carrying out many modifications and changes, this presidential order ‘added’ a new ‘Article 35A’ after Article 35 to the Constitution of India.

Addition or deletion of an Article amounts to an amendment to the Constitution. And the Constitution can be amended only by the Parliament as per procedure clearly laid out in Article 368. But shockingly, Article 35A was never presented before the Parliament of India.

This Article has denied basic rights to many communities living within Jammu & Kashmir for the past six decades. It has also taken away the rights of all Indians living outside Jammu & Kashmir from settling in the State of Jammu & Kashmir, an integral part of India.

Article 35(A) enables the State Assembly to define ‘permanent residents’ and to give them special rights and privileges, as well as to restrict the rights and privileges of all citizens of India who do not fit into this definition of ‘permanent resident’.

As a consequence, no one except those defined as ‘permanent residents’ are entitled to property rights; Employment in State Government; participation in Panchayat, municipalities and Legislative Assembly elections; admission to Government-run technical education institutions; scholarships and other social benefits.

It is unfathomable as to how such a situation could exist in the free and democratic republic of India. Yet, human rights outfits which paint the town red and shout from rooftops against capital punishment to terrorists and murderers maintain absolute silence on this issue.

India is united in its resolve against all forms of discrimination and human rights abuse including custodial rape, torture, human trafficking, child abuse etc, it is important that as a democratic nation and overcoming petty partisan politics, we evolve a consensus on aforementioned issues pertaining to the people of Jammu & Kashmir to ensure that the right to life, liberty and equality is ensured to every citizen.

(The author is a senior journalist based in Delhi)