Security forces employ excessive force against protesters in Kashmir
In early 2017, anti-India protests by local residents in Kashmir led to deadly clashes. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, tensions in the region frequently lead to excessive use of force by Indian security forces. In particular, the use of lethal force in response to projectiles from protesters has contributed to a dangerous environment wherein the right to assembly has been restricted.
On 14th April 2017, shocking footage emerged of Indian security officers using human shields to block missiles being thrown at military personnel during protests. This incident reflects the level of impunity for abuses committed against civilians protesting in Kashmir. Video evidence of the incident can be found below.
Here's the video as well. A warning can be heard saying stone pelters will meet this fate. This requires an urgent inquiry & follow up NOW!! pic.twitter.com/qj1rnCVazn— Omar Abdullah (@abdullah_omar) April 14, 2017
On 14th of January 2017, a protest ended in violence when Indian authorities used tear gas and warning shots to disperse demonstrators on the streets of Srinagar, protesting against Indian rule in the region. The video below highlights the worsening tensions in the region.
The killing of a popular militant commander by Indian security forces in July 2016 has been perceived by many as the beginning of a downturn in respect for civic freedoms in the region. A worrying decline in respect for freedom of assembly in Kashmir and, in particular, the use of excessive force by security forces against unarmed protesters has contributed to an environment of distrust and fear.
On 9th March 2017, a 15-year old protester was shot dead by Indian security forces in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. Protesters had mobilised over an operation by security forces against suspected militants in the village of Padgampora. During the confrontation, Indian security forces allegedly used tear gas, pellets and live ammunition against protesters as the situation quickly escalated. 15-year old Amir Nazir was killed after getting caught in a gunfight that injured at least four other people. Another protester, 22-year old Jalal-u-din of Tahab, was also killed in the clashes. Hospital reports note his cause of death as suspected respiratory failure after overexposure to tear gas. Indian authorities claim that the crowd ignored repeated orders to stay away from the area.
On 28th March 2017, another three people were killed and 28 injured in a protest when a gunfight broke out in the southern Kashmir town of Chadoora. The protest had erupted after Indian security forces attempted to detain suspected militants hiding out in the town. Demonstrators threw rocks at security personnel, who responded with tear gas and projectiles. Eye-witnesses claimed that the authorities deliberately fired live ammunition into the crowd after tensions reached a boiling point. Protests continued for several days in response to the lethal use of force.
On 9th April 2017, a tense by-election in Kashmir was marred by more clashes between protesters and Indian security forces. As separatist factions called for a two-day protest to boycott the poll, demonstrators forced 70 polling stations to close and voter turnout plummeted to just seven percent. Eight people were killed and over 200 injured as protests turned violent. The situation is reported to have escalated after protesters stormed a polling station in Budgam district, near to the main city of Srinagar, which led to clashes with security forces. As news of the unrest spread, the situation escalated with security forces using tear gas, pellets and live ammunition in response to missiles thrown by demonstrators. Authorities imposed a curfew on freedom of movement in the wake of the deadly clashes.
As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, freedom of association in India has been negatively impacted by the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). The new legislation has contributed to a situation wherein groups in receipt of foreign funding have been unable to renew their operating licenses. With thousands of CSOs being refused licenses or awaiting approval for renewal, civic groups have used the judicial system to fight back against restrictions on accessing international funding. On 31st January 2017, the Lawyers Collective, a CSO that was denied its FCRA license, won a court battle over its assets being frozen by Indian authorities. During the case, judges ruled that applying the FCRA law against certain Indian civil society groups was unwarranted, stating:
“[The FCRA grants authorities power to] regulate or even prevent associations from accepting foreign funds. It did not permit the government to stifle the very functioning of individuals or associations”.
While the case is a small victory for Indian civil society, the CSO's leader, Indira Jaising, claimed that the organisation was unfairly targeted in retaliation for filing cases against the head of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Amit Shah. An estimated 1,300 Indian CSOs have been refused FCRA licenses and many thousands more still await approval from authorities.
In case you missed it, a key court decision in India: "NGO Lawyers Collective gets interim relief from Bombay HC" https://t.co/tNHpqiRslM— ICNL Alliance (@ICNLAlliance) March 10, 2017
In another development, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court of India to conduct a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry into corruption cases of CSOs in receipt of government funds. The case has been ongoing since 2011. On 7th January 2017, the Supreme court ordered that all the government funded NGOs should be audited. Despite the ruling, mechanisms to implement the audit have not been clarified, leaving many CSOs unable to comply with the new regulations. Many have called for a coordinating body, or nodal agency, to assist in regulating civic groups receiving over Rs 25 lakh (approximately 38,700 USD) or over 75 percent of their income from the government.
On 5th April 2017, recognising the need of for a coordinating body to oversee civil society, the Supreme Court of India issued an order appointing a National Institution for Transforming India as the nodal agency to implement the regulations. CIVICUS Monitor partner, the Voluntary Action Network India (VANI), has been advocating for the formation of the nodal agency and views this is a positive step by Indian authorities to promote an enabling environment for CSOs.