(New York) – The Indian government’s unilateral actions in Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019 caused enormous suffering and rights violations of the Kashmiri population, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government revoked the province’s special constitutional status and split it into two separate federally governed territories.
Indian authorities also failed to protect religious minorities, used draconian sedition and counterterrorism laws to silence peaceful dissent, and invoked foreign funding regulations and other laws to discredit and muzzle nongovernmental organizations critical of government actions or policies.
“The Indian government has tried to shut down Kashmir, hiding the full extent of the harm caused there,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of addressing growing attacks on minorities, Indian authorities bolstered their efforts to silence critical voices in 2019.”
In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the Chinese government, which depends on repression to stay in power, is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades. He finds that Beijing’s actions both encourage and gain support from autocratic populists around the globe, while Chinese authorities use their economic clout to deter criticism from other governments. It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future.
Prior to its actions in Jammu and Kashmir, the government deployed additional troops to the province, shut down the internet and phones, and arbitrarily detained thousands of Kashmiris, including political leaders, activists, journalists, lawyers, and potential protesters, including children. Hundreds remain in detention without charge or under house arrest to prevent protests.
The government failed to properly enforce Supreme Court directives to prevent and investigate mob attacks, often led by BJP supporters, on religious minorities and other vulnerable communities. Since May 2015, extremist Hindu groups have killed 50 people and injured over 250 amid rumors that they traded or killed cows for beef. Muslims were also beaten and forced to chant Hindu slogans. Police failed to properly investigate the crimes, stalled investigations, ignored procedures, and filed criminal cases against witnesses to harass and intimidate them.
Nearly two million people from tribal communities and forest-dwellers remained at risk of forced displacement and loss of livelihoods after a Supreme Court ruling in February 2019 to evict all those whose claims under the Forest Rights Act were rejected.
In the northeast state of Assam, the government published the National Register of Citizens, aimed at identifying Indian citizens and lawful residents following repeated protests and violence over irregular migration of ethnic Bengalis from Bangladesh. The list excluded nearly two million people, many of them Muslims, including many who have lived in India for years, in some cases their whole lives. There are serious allegations that the verification process was arbitrary and discriminatory. While there is a right to appeal, the government plans to build detention centers for those denied citizenship after appeal.
The government has also said that citizenship verification will be implemented across the country and that the government will amend the citizenship laws to include all irregular migrants from neighboring countries, but excludes Muslims from the list.
The Indian government’s actions in Kashmir have led to loss of livelihood and access to education. The repression resulted in international criticism including in the United States’ Congress, the European Parliament, and the United Nations Human Rights Council. Throughout the year, UN experts have raised concerns over a series of issues in India, including extrajudicial killings, potential statelessness of millions in Assam, possible eviction of tribal communities and forest-dwellers, and the communications blackout in Kashmir.