Human Rights Situation in Kashmir Post Abrogation of Article 370

On May 4, 2020, three AP photojournalists were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Kashmir siege of 2019. The photographs shed light on the new reality that the people of Kashmir had been living in post the abrogation of Article 370 by the Indian Legislature. The communications blockade in Kashmir had made it difficult to ascertain the actuality of the events happening at the ground level which the photographs brought to light.

Human rights abuse in the state of Kashmir have been a matter of international concern since the 1990s. However, the magnitude by which such abuses have increased post the scrapping of Article 370 and 35A is quite alarming. This article seeks to address the denial of some of the most basic rights to the people of Jammu and Kashmir by the Indian Government.

How it Began

Before revoking the Articles which granted special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Government of India arrested all pro-India politicians of the state, deployed 10,000 extra troops and imposed an all-encompassing communications blockade[1]. The people and the political leaders of the state were neither consulted nor informed of the Government’s decision to renounce the autonomy granted to Jammu and Kashmir. The Government of India completely disregarded the right to self-determination of the people of Kashmir which is granted to them under Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. (ICCPR)

Now, almost 10 months after the state was stripped of its special status and divided into two Union Territories, the elected representatives of the state continue to remain under house arrest. The democratic system of the state has become defunct. The residents still continue to face a partial communications blockade and restrictions on their freedom of movement, but these aren’t the only issues they encounter.

Arbitrary Arrests

Several thousand Kashmiri politicians and opposition activists have been held under preventive detention ever since the Government of India announced its decision to scrap Article 370.[2] An August 2019 report mentioned that around 4000 people had been detained [3] in the initial days post abrogation. Those detained included, amongst others, politicians, academics, journalists, businesspeople, separatists and those who allegedly had a history of participating in violent protests. In October 2019, Reuters reported that 144 Kashmiri children had been briefly detained since the lockdown was imposed in August. [4]

These arrests have not come without serious allegations of torture and beatings.[5] There were also reports of excessive force being used by security personnel against civilians. The J&K Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) in their annual human rights report have detailed extra-judicial killings, detentions under the controversial Public Safety Act (PSA) and habeas corpus petitions filed in courts pre and post-August 5. The report notes that while the Government of India has refused to acknowledge any civilian killing, the documented cases of killings by JKCCS and APDP post-August 5 at the hands of state forces reveal otherwise. “JKCCS and APDP have been able to document at least six killings at the hands of the Indian armed forces following the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5”, it reads.[6]

Furthermore, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) grants full impunity to the soldiers in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This is also a matter of grave concern since it paves the way for legalizing the use of excessive force by these persons.

Reports had also surfaced alleging that the Indian government was detaining people for expressing any form of criticism or dissent. Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organisation, reported in September that Kashmiris were being detained with no recognisable offence as their charge and authorities were deliberately delaying habeas corpus petitions[7]. The annual human rights report of the J&K Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) had recorded a total of 412 habeas corpus petitions from August 5th to December 31st.

In addition to this, prisoners were being moved to prisons in other states subsequently hampering, and in many cases, denying them access to legal aid and visits from friends and relatives.[8]

In March 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs revealed that since the 5th of August, 7,357 people had been arrested in Jammu and Kashmir.[9] It is unclear how many of them were minors. Even though many of them have since been released, hundreds are still detained under the draconian and controversial Public Safety Act which allows for persons to be arrested without a trial or charge for up to two years.

India is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This Covenant under Article 9 prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. The Government of India has violated its obligations under international human rights law by subjecting Kashmiris to prolonged detention without a charge.

Communications Blockade

In addition to being holed up in their homes for 10 months, Kashmiris have been experiencing an additional sort of alienation from the rest of the world. The Government of India has taken strict measures to control all forms of dissent which includes an all-encompassing communications blackout. Kashmir has experienced 55 internet blackouts in 2019 alone. The internet shutdown after August 5th became the longest ever imposed in a democracy when it crossed 213 days.[10] Only authoritarian regimes such as China and Myanmar have cut off the Internet for longer.[11] It is no doubt that the ban has adversely affected students, doctors, politicians, and numerous online businesses. Due to the communications blockade, curfews, and militant threats, within five months post abrogation, the economy of Kashmir had lost INR 178.78  billion and more than 90,000 jobs in the sectors of handicraft, tourism and information technology.[12]

Seven months after the blanket ban on communication, 2G internet access was intermittently allowed from late January for certain sites subject to total surveillance, detention for accessing disallowed sites, and discontinuance by government authorities at any time.[13]In early March, broadband was restored in the state. The partial lifting of the ban came after the Indian Supreme Court’s ruling in January which declared the right to internet as a fundamental right protected under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court, however, refrained from directing the full and immediate restoration of internet in Kashmir. In 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) had recognised the right to internet as a human right available to all persons. The UNHRC made it clear that barring online expression is equivalent to the muzzling of the voice. This, however, has not prompted the Indian Government to lift the ban. 

High-speed internet is to this day, still banned in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. On May 27th; the Indian Government extended the internet ban in Kashmir till June 17. According to the government order, the decision to limit internet connectivity in the disputed region was “necessary” and in the interest of the “sovereignty and integrity of India.[14]

In light of these events, 48 rights groups from around the world have written to the World Health Organisation (WHO) to press the Indian Government to restore internet in Jammu and Kashmir in order to equip the state with the requisite information to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.[15]

International human rights instruments, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ensures freedom of expression to all. The right to freedom of speech and expression includes the right of people to freely seek, receive, and provide information and ideas through all media, including the internet, and this right has been violated by the Indian Government’s extended communications blackout.

International Concern

Multiple world leaders, international organizations and human rights bodies have expressed their concern about the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir post abrogation of Article 370 and 35A and have urged the Indian Government to fulfill its human rights obligations under international law.

At the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet expressed her deep concerns about the human rights situation in Kashmir and appealed to the Indian Government to ease the restrictions on Kashmiris. In November 2019, the US Congress introduced a resolution condemning human rights violations in Kashmir. Three weeks later, in December a second resolution was introduced in the US Congress which called on the Indian Government to lift the communications blockade, release all arbitrarily detained people, and to keep in mind its human rights obligations. Even the EU Parliament introduced a draft resolution on the Kashmir issue. 

Several nations have raised their voices in support of Kashmiris.  The Chinese envoy in Pakistan had said his country will stand by Islamabad in comments related to Kashmir, and Beijing had in a joint statement with Pakistan referred to Kashmir as a dispute that should be resolved “based on the UN Charter, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements”. Prominent leaders in Muslim-majority nations have spoken out, such as Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.[16]

Last month, six leading global rights bodies jointly called upon the Indian Government to release all arbitrarily detained Kashmiris.[17] On May 26th, Kashmiri scholars associated with the Kashmir Scholars Consultative and Action Network (KSCAN), an interdisciplinary group of scholars from various countries and regions, has sought intervention by the UN General Secretary, António Guterres, on an urgent basis to prevent forced demographic change in occupied Jammu and Kashmir.[18]In addition to this, several academics and renowned journalists have written about the human rights situation in Kashmir. All of this goes to show that the human rights situation in Kashmir post abrogation of Article 370 is a serious matter of concern that cannot be overlooked and has not been overlooked by the international community.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The Indian Government’s actions with regard to Kashmir go against a great number of democratic values and that the systematic denial of rights to Kashmiris must end is not a matter of much debate. Global rights bodies have recommended certain actions to be taken to ensure the restoration of rights to Kashmiris. These include:

  • Lifting the lockdown imposed in August 2019
  • Immediate release of all arbitrarily detained persons including journalists and politicians
  • Full and immediate removal of the communications blockade
  • Repealing or amending the provisions of the controversial Public Safety Act that allows prisoners to be detained for up to two years without a charge or trial
  • Repealing or amending the provisions of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that grants full impunity to the security personnel deployed in “disturbed areas”

Most importantly, the Indian Government should strive with sincerity to fulfill its obligations under international human rights law and grant to the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir, the right to freely express their opinions, the right to freedom of movement and assembly, the right to self-determination and the right to a free and fair trial among others. 

[1]Kashmir leaders placed under arrest amid security crackdown”, The Guardian, August 5, 2019.

[2]“India: Free Kashmiris Arbitrarily Detained”, Human Rights Watch, September 16, 2019.

[3] “About 4000 People Arrested In Kashmir Since August 5: Govt. Sources To AFP”, The Hindu, August 18, 2019.

[4]“Nine-year-old among nearly 150 children briefly held in Indian Kashmir: court probe”, Reuters, October 1, 2019.

[5]“‘Don’t beat us, just shoot us’: Kashmiris allege violent army crackdown, BBC News, Kashmir, 29 August 2019.

[6] Annual Review of Human Rights Situation in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir(January to December 2019), J&K Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), available at

[7]” India: Free Kashmiris Arbitrarily Detained”, Human Rights Watch, September 16, 2019.

[8]“India: Arbitrarily Detained Kashmiris Must be Freed”, Amnesty International India, April 7, 2020.

[9]“India: Arbitrarily Detained Kashmiris Must be Freed”, Amnesty International India, April 7, 2020.

[10]“What Life Is Like Inside The World’s Longest Lockdown”, Time, May 5, 2020.

[11]“India’s Internet shutdown in Kashmir is the longest ever in a democracy”, The Washington Post, December 16, 2019.

[12]“Kashmir Economy suffered a loss of Rs. 17,878 cr in 4 months after Article 370 Abrogation”, The Indian Express, 17 December,2019.

[13]“Kashmiri scholars from around the world write to UN chief, others on Kashmir”, Kashmir Media Service, May 26, 2020.

[14]“India extends Jammu-Kashmir internet ban until June 17”, Anadolu Agency, May 28, 2020.

[15]“Kashmir internet restrictions figure in a letter written by 48 rights groups to WHO”, Kashmir Patriot, May 27, 2020.

[16]“The Siege in Kashmir Is Damaging India’s Image Abroad”, The Wire, October 10, 2019.

[17]“Six global rights bodies call on India to release detained Kashmiris”, The Express Tribune, April 8, 2020.

[18]“Kashmiri scholars from around the world write to UN chief, others on Kashmir”, Kashmir Media Service, May 26, 2020.

Huda Syed from School of Excellence in Law, Chennai

“I have a growing interest in the field of international law and human rights law. I love to speak and write about contemporary social, political and legal issues. “

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