India faces a “war-like situation” in Jammu and Kashmir, a senior spokesperson for the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) told Conflict Zone.
“There are 42,000 people that have been killed [there] because of terrorists operating with the support of a country to our west,” said Baijayant Jay Panda, referring to Pakistan.
In August, New Delhi stripped Indian-administered Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status and imposed direct rule. Both India and Pakistan lay claim to all of the territory.
Panda said, however, that it was wrong to describe the move as a “lockdown.”
As of September, up to 4,000 people had been arrested in the area, according to government data seen by Reuters.
Panda told Conflict Zone host Tim Sebastian that many had already been released. An Indian official in the same Reuters report in September said it was likely around 1,200 people were still being detained at that time.
“These restraints have been put into place because we had a choice of either having temporary restraints or permanent losses of lives,” Panda said.
Tim Sebastian pressed the BJP vice president on the numbers arrested: “You haven’t told me what these people had done … Why 4000 people were detained. You haven’t told me why.”
“I don’t know that it is 4000,” said Panda.
“But I will tell you that if the same detentions had happened in 1947 and 48, which we believe should have happened, then Jammu and Kashmir would have been integrated to India.”
More than 200 politicians were also reported to be among those arrested.
Earlier this month, Amnesty International called for the release of all detainees being held without charge or trial. In most cases, the organization said, lawyers and family members were not told the whereabouts of detainees or the grounds for their arrests.
Sebastian asked how that could be right in a democracy.
“When you have a war-like situation, the law that has been in place there allows for a certain period of detention,” Panda said, referring to the Public Safety Act, which allows detention of up to two years without charge or trial.
The “war-like situation” in Kashmir was also cited by Panda as the reason for retaining the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the region, while it had been removed from two other states.
“In Jammu and Kashmir, we are facing an undeclared war from across the western border. And this is not getting adequate attention. You need to focus on that.”
Sebastian challenged Panda that it was this law, which allows New Delhi to decide whether cases against soldiers can be heard by civilian courts, that had blocked accountability for security forces accused of human rights violations.
“[In] the world’s largest democracy, decisions are not taken by individuals,” Panda said. “There are checks and balances in place.”
The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Cristof Heyns, said in 2013 that retaining the law “runs counter to the principles of democracy and human rights.”
Panda said AFSPA would be removed in Kashmir when the situation there was “normalized.”
Climate of fear?
Free speech in India has also been under close scrutiny with warnings that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist BJP has created a climate of fear in the country. Indian economist Amartya Sen echoed this in a recent interview, saying, “People are afraid now. I have never seen this before.”
Jay Panda rejected that freedom of speech had been squeezed in India.
“Where do we hear this? We hear this in television debates, we hear this in newspaper columns, we hear this on online statements, we hear this in public protests in India. That’s a bit ironic, don’t you think?”
In its 2019 report, Freedom House said journalists in India “risk harassment, death threats, and physical violence in connection with their work. Such attacks are rarely punished and some have taken place with the complicity or active participation of police.”
Panda said attacks on any journalist were “shameful” and maybe some people were complicit “at a lower level,” but there were prosecutions.
“I can tell you very comprehensively it is not the Indian state, it is not the Indian government and it is not the BJP which condones this,” he said. Source: DW