To counter insurgency in the Valley, all military action in Jammu & Kashmir is governed by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). Enacted in 1958, it has long been considered unconstitutional. According to Kashmiris, the Draconian AFSPA has destroyed lives by the thousands because it can target “just anyone.” Haunted by killings, torture, forced disappearances, illegal detentions, and senseless destruction of property, Kashmiris constantly live in fear.

Here is a quick look at why AFSPA is controversial:

  • The Act is ambiguous over what it means by “disturbed area.” The declaration of any area as ‘disturbed’ under Section 3 “remains the prerogative” of the State’s Governor or Delhi.
  • Section 4(a) of the Act states that even a non-commissioned junior officer can order his troops to shoot to kill “if he is of the opinion that it is necessary to do so for maintenance of public order.”
  • Section 4(b) allows the military to destroy “any” property from which armed attacks “are likely to be made” or which has served as a hide-out for people “wanted for any offense.” This has led to the destruction of innumerable homes and other buildings in the State, even as collateral damage.
  • Section 4(c) allows military personnel to arrest without warrant, with whatever “force as may be necessary,” any person against whom “a reasonable suspicion exists that he is about to commit a cognizable offence.”
  • Section 4(d) allows the entry and search, minus a warrant, of premises, to make arrests as allowed under Section 4 ©, or to recover any person “believed to be wrongfully restrained or confined,” or any property “reasonably suspected” to be stolen property, or any arms or explosives “believed to be unlawfully kept in such premises.”
  • Section 5 states that, “any person arrested and taken into custody under this Act shall be made over to the office in charge of the nearest police station with the least possible delays.” This rule has been violated umpteen times.
  • Section 6 exempts army personnel from prosecution, stating, “No prosecution, suit or legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of powers conferred by this Act.”

Stories run rife about how Indian troops barge into and ransack houses without a warrant and even beat people up on the back of mere suspicion or ‘inputs’. Often, without giving any explanation, armed personnel are known to take over a house while its inhabitants watch in terror as the forces rummage through their personal belongings. Locals remain in fear that they could become victims of a fake encounter and be dismissed as foreign militants. The powers the armed forces carry under AFSPA worry Kashmiris, for they know that if needed, security forces can kill based on mere suspicion and get away with it. Human rights activists have consistently asserted that the Act violates Fundamental Rights.

The International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir (IPTK), a local NGO, holds the mirror up to us when it points out that extrajudicial killings and torture are part of normal occurrences in the Valley. What is worse, western organisations shy away from raising a protest as they want to keep their relations with New Delhi intact. The IPTK claims that the presence of the Indian Army in Kashmir between the years 1989 and 2009 led to more than 70,000 deaths. It asserts that these killings were a result of the armed forces occupation, are regarded as ‘acts of service’ by officers and when verified, result in promotion and cash rewards. The one million military and paramilitary units in Kashmir continue to guard the Valley with impunity, and in doing so, Delhi has ensured conflict rages in the region ceaselessly. [1]

India continues to deny the same.

Another Act, The Public Safety Act (PSA), 1978, of Jammu and Kashmir is also a source of grief to locals. Under the law, anyone can be arrested and detained without a warrant, specific charges, “prevent him or her from acting in any matter that is prejudicial to the security of the state or the maintenance of the public order.” Under the act, a person can be held two years without a trial and need not be produced before a court. Since the 1990s, the PSA has been used extensively to book people, including separatists, their supporters and voices of dissent. In fact, there has not been a single year since the 90s when the number of detentions under the PSA has come down to two digits.”[2]

Kashmiris have continued to suffer because of it, with human rights activists terming the law as undemocratic since it denies legal aid to a detainee. What is worse, earlier, detainees under the Public Safety Act could not be sent to prisons outside Jammu and Kashmir. This changed in July 2018, when the state administration scrapped the clause. After August 5, 2019 the civil society report has noted that nearly 37.4% of the detainees in PSA related cases are lodged in jails across India.

Apart from the above two Draconian Acts, Kashmiris continue to endure killings, forced disappearances, and damage to property due to terrorist activities by militants.  

Living under the shadow of the gun, Kashmiris are stuck in no man’s land.


[1] Humra Quraishi, Kashmir: The Unending Tragedy

[2]How the Public Safety Act Continues to Haunt Kashmir by Mudasir Ahmad for The Wire

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