HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH Behind the Kashmir Conflict: Abuses by Indian Security Forces and Militant Groups Continue



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Under Siege: Doda and the Border Districts

Rajouri, Punch, and Doda lie between Jammu and the Kashmir valley in the rugged foothills south of the Pir Panjal mountain range. The area is poorly developed, with minimal road links and communications. Its population is roughly divided between Hindus and Muslims and includes a variety of linguistic groups other than Kashmiris.

Although the mountain passes along the border areas of Rajouri and Punch have long been used as transit areas for militant groups crossing over from Pakistan, they did not become a focal point of militant operations until after 1995, when the Indian counterinsurgency forces had driven many of the militant groups from their strongholds in the Kashmir valley. The geographic shift also reflected a shift in the tactics and character of the militant groups who began to operate in the area. Having suffered a political schism, and having lost a large number of senior leaders who were captured and then apparently executed in late 1994, the JKLF declared an end to its military operations in 1994. The principal groups engaged in armed conflict with Indian forces after that point were the Hizb-ul Mujahidin and a number of small groups, including Harakat-ul Ansar and Lashgar-i Toiba. All are pro-Pakistani; the latter two are believed to include members who are Pakistani and Afghan.

Munir Khan, superintendent of police in Doda, told Human Rights Watch that he estimated that there were 700-800 militants in the area. Because of the rough terrain, the militants have an advantage over the security forces and can launch attacks on remote areas that are difficult for the police and army to reach. He blamed the militants for inflaming communal tensions in the region.

The militants are trying to communalize the issue... There is an escalation, a worsening cycle. I have seen it in Baramula where militants undertake a certain action and the security forces fight back. But contrary to the militants, we are accountable: We must answer to our superior officers ... and we face inquiries, departmental elections, and legal action. The population is 48 percent Hindu and 52 percent Muslim. Any action has a reaction. Even Muslims are killed by the militants-95 percent of the Muslims do not voluntarily support the militants. There are two ways of pressure: money, and outright coercion. Money matters. The local militants want to surrender. This month [October 1998], eleven did and four were killed. The mercenaries put pressure on the people via threats. The security forces can't protect everyone at all times. As for the actions by the security forces, mistakes do happen, but we repent, and it is not willful. And even if it is not intentional, we have to answer to many forums. This is a proxy war. Collateral damage is much higher in this type of war. Things happen in the heat of the moment.4

Beginning in 1995, militant groups began to systematically attack Hindu villagers in the area. Although militant groups had targeted Hindu communities and individuals previously, these new and apparently indiscriminate attacks were marked by a viciousness that had not previously been seen in the conflict. Nineteen-ninety-eight was a particularly bad year; more than 200 civilians were killed in attacks by these groups. In 1999, militant groups used the occasion of the historic summit between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan on February 20 to massacre twenty Hindu civilians in three separate attacks in Kashmir.

The Indian government blamed "foreign" militants for those attacks and has continued to argue that the conflict in Kashmir has largely become a fight between these foreign forces-which it claims number in the hundreds-and its own troops. At the same time, government forces have targeted local Muslim villagers whom they have accused of providing support for the militants. In fact, some of the attacks appear to have been carried out by local groups or those that have local members. In response to the attacks, the government has deployed the RashtriyaRifles to conduct extensive combing operations in the mountains and cordon-and-search operations in the villages in search of the militants and their suspected supporters.5

The brutality exhibited by the army during these operations appears designed to punish local villagers suspected of supporting the militants and as such, is reminiscent of the behavior of Indian forces in the Kashmir valley in the early 1990s: whole neighborhoods and villages have been surrounded, the residents beaten and subjected to other abuse, and property damaged or destroyed. Those detained most frequently are young men who because of their age or appearance are suspected of being militants; torture of detainees is routine. There are consistent reports that some Indian troops have raped women in these villages. Indian forces have also summarily executed suspected militants; an unknown number of detainees has disappeared following arrest. Witnesses and survivors have named one army unit in particular as being responsible for rape, torture, and extrajudicial execution: the Eighth Rashtriya Rifles.

Since at least 1996, the security forces-principally the Indian Army-have armed local Village Defence Committees (VDCs) in Doda, Udhampur, and the border districts to assist in security operations. The basis for recruitment is previous military service; for historical reasons, the only men with military experience are Hindu. Most Muslim men who served in the military at the time of independence left after partition for Pakistan. Thus, the only men who have previous military service are Hindu, with the result that the VDCs have become a communally based militia sponsored and armed by the Indian Army but operating outside of its chain of command. Members of the VDCs have accompanied army soldiers during cordon-and-search operations in Muslim villages and neighborhoods. They have been responsible for serious abuses, including extrajudicial executions and assaults. Human Rights Watch interviewed one Muslim member of a VDC who had been ordered to do manual labor for the army:

The security forces and the militants used to come to our village and beat us. But after I set up the VDC, the situation got worse, not better. The army has told me that I have a choice either to work for them or join the militants. The muezzin [prayer-caller] was told not to call for prayers from the mosque. Muslims have been made a target. Our village is half Muslim, half Hindu. Our job was to guard the village. But the army has asked us to do construction work for them. I refused, and then they beat me. This happened yesterday.6

Human Rights Watch staff observed recent bruises on the man's body.

Because of the relative inaccessibility of many of the villages of these districts, there is little documentation of human rights abuses. Lawyers and journalists from the valley seldom visit the area. One local human rights organization, the Forum for Human Rights and Communal Harmony, has documented incidents of abuse, but unlike in Srinagar, there are few local lawyers available to take up cases.

Rape and Torture in Doda

Indian forces and paramilitary militias working with them have been responsible for rape throughout the conflict. Although the Indian government has prosecuted and punished a number of security personnel for rape, many cases are never investigated. Reports of rape from Doda and other border areas have increased since the crackdown in these areas began in 1997.

The case of S. illustrates the army's practice of assaulting villagers in punishment because they believe they have supported the militants, or as a means of terrorizing them so that they will not do so. S. about fifty, a resident of Ludna, Doda, told Human Rights Watch that on October 5, 1998, the Eighth Rashtriya Rifles came to her house and took her, her husband and her eight-month-old grandson to their base in the village of Charote, some fifteen kilometers away. There they were separated. She said:

They began beating me. They said that we had been feeding the militants. They used electric shocks on my feet. I was raped. They stripped off my clothes and said they would kill me. There were many soldiers and a captain. The captain raped me, keeping everyone else outside. He told me: "You are Muslims, and you will all be treated like this." He was a Hindu, but he told me that he was a Muslim, and that his name was Shahnawaz. He forced me to confess that I had been feeding the militants. This happened on the first night. I was there for fifteen days. Then we were released.7

Ten days after their arrest, while the family was still in Charote, S.'s daughter, daughter-in-law and son were arrested and taken to another army base in Gundna village, where they were held for two days before being released.

When the family returned to their home they discovered that all of their belongings had been taken, including Rs. 10,000 [U.S.$ 250] and jewelry. At the time that Human Rights Watch interviewed S., she had not yet filed a police report but had received medical treatment from a local practitioner. She stated that she was still in pain.

Residents of Marmal, Doda, told Human Rights Watch that in early October 1998 the army cordoned off some twenty villages in the area for fifteen days and during that time took some of the local women to the army camp. Although the women did not talk about what had happened to them, from their behavior the other residents believed that a number of them had been raped.

They are looking for the militants. But they are unable to find any. So they harass the local population .... Our womenfolk are taken into the army camp, all separately. They round up the women, then take two or three in the evening. They come back after two or three days. They are very shy then, and don't want to talk about what has happened to them. The army has pressured them not to speak about what happened.8

4 Interview with Superintendent Munir Khan in Doda, October 23, 1998. 5 Before 1993, the army was generally far less involved in counterinsurgency operations in the towns and larger villages of the Kashmir valley, although it did operate in more remote areas and along the Line of Control. 6 Interview in Doda, October 23, 1998.

7 Interview in Doda, October 23, 1998.

8 Interview in Doda, October 23, 1998.



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