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India

Kashmiris demand withdrawal of emergency law

State government points out that laws empowering the military should have no place in a democracy

Umar Manzoor Shah, Srinagar

Umar Manzoor Shah, Srinagar

Updated: April 27, 2018 10:31 AM GMT
Kashmiris demand withdrawal of emergency law

An Indian soldier stands guard at the entrance to the Sunjuwan Military Station in Jammu on Feb. 10 following an attack by militants. (Photo by Rakesh Bakshi/AFP)

Demands have intensified in India's Jammu and Kashmir state for the withdrawal of a law that grants the military special powers in "disturbed areas" after the federal government removed it from Meghalaya state.

The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party withdrew the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from Meghalaya on April 23, months after the party become part of a coalition government in the Christian-majority state.

The law gives army and paramilitary forces special powers in so-called "disturbed areas" to kill individuals breaking the law while also allowing them to arrest and search any premises without a warrant. The law additionally protects forces from prosecution and legal suits.

The federal home ministry has decided to withdraw the law from all areas in Meghalaya and parts of Arunachal Pradesh. The law was implemented there in 1958 to counter insurgency activities.

Kashmir's chief religious cleric and separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told ucanews.com that the law has "wreaked havoc" on the Kashmiri people and needs to be repealed.

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"If the government can do it in Meghalaya, it too should be withdrawn from Kashmir," he said.

A report by Amnesty International said the act violates international rights law and enables violation of the right to be free of torture or ill-treatment. The report said impunity is one of the main contributing factors to continuing patterns of human rights violations.

The law was put in force in Jammu and Kashmir in September 1990 after an Islamist insurgency broke to free the country's only Muslim-dominated state from Indian rule and establish a Islamic state like the neighboring Pakistan. Some groups wanted the region to become part of Pakistan.

India claims Pakistan has supported an insurgency, an allegation that Islamabad denies.

Last year, rights group Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies released a report that said investigating agencies have rarely carried out fair and proper investigations in killings committed by military forces.

Jammu and Kashmir government's spokesman Syed Naeem Akhtar welcomed the federal decision to revoke the law from Meghalaya noting that no democratic state can permanently be governed through emergency laws.

"We have to get rid of this law and all concerned parties should together rebuild a conducive atmosphere for its revocation," Akhtar said.

Local Communist Party leader Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami told ucanews.com that the federal government should take a humane approach. There has been a long-standing demand from the people to revoke the law, he said.

"The people are bearing the brunt of conflict and they are yearning for peace," Tarigami said.

Davinder Singh Rana, leader of the state's main opposition party, the National Conference, said at the very least the law needs to be revoked from peaceful areas and be reviewed based on what is occurring on the ground.

Imtiyaz Hussain, a political commentator based in Kashmir, told ucanews.com that the law provides impunity to the army. Its withdrawal will help rebuild the people's trust in the federal government.

"If the Indian government removes this law, people will realize that they aren't being controlled through the barrel of the gun," he said. "It can be done in gradual steps and it will certainly help peace return after three decades."

The law was first introduced by the British in 1942 to suppress the "Quit India Movement" rebellion.  

Along with Jammu and Kashmir, the act is also currently in force in Nagaland and Manipur.

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