Restore normal life in Kashmir: top Indian court

Ex-CM Farooq Abdullah arrested under controversial law

Reuters . New Delhi | Published: 19:17, Sep 16,2019 | Updated: 00:14, Sep 17,2019


An Indian security personnel stands guard on a deserted road during restrictions after scrapping of the special constitutional status for Kashmir by the Indian government, in Srinagar, August 23, 2019. -- Reuters photo

India’s top court said on Monday the federal government should restore normal life in Kashmir as soon as possible, as a partial shutdown of the disputed region entered its 42nd day.

India stripped its portion of Muslim-majority Kashmir of autonomy and statehood on August 5, shutting off phone networks and imposing curfew-like restrictions in some areas to dampen discontent.

Some of those curbs have been relaxed, but mobile communications in the Kashmir valley are largely still blocked, and more than a thousand people are likely to still be detained, according to official data.

‘We direct Jammu and Kashmir to make the very best endeavour to make sure normal life returns,’ India’s Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said on Monday, after a panel of three judges heard several petitions relating to Kashmir, which is also claimed by Pakistan.

The court had previously said authorities there needed more time to restore order in Kashmir.

One of the Supreme Court judges, Sharad Arvind Bobde, said the situation in Kashmir, where thousands have died since an armed rebellion against Indian rule began three decades ago, as ‘a terrible state of affairs’.

A written submission by the government said restrictions were still required in order to maintain law and order, and that they had prevented widespread casualties seen in previous periods of unrest.

‘Not a single life has been lost since the abrogation of Article 370,’ said Tushar Mehta, India’s Solicitor General appearing on behalf of the government, referring to the action of India’s constitution granting autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir state.

Separately on Monday, local media reported Farooq Abdullah, a three-time former chief minister of the state, was detained in state capital Srinagar under the Public Safety Act, a special law that allows for detention of up to two years without trial, and has been criticised by rights groups as draconian, reports TIMES.

A current member of India’s parliament, 81-year-old Abdullah was previously under informal house arrest.

Abdullah is the first pro-India politician who has been arrested under the Public Safety Act, under which rights activists say more  than 20,000 Kashmiris have been detained in the last two decades.

Amnesty International has called the PSA a ‘lawless law,’ and rights groups say India has used the law to stifle dissent and circumvent the criminal justice system, undermining accountability, transparency, and respect for human rights.

Abdullah’s residence was declared a subsidiary jail and he was put under house arrest on August 5 when Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government in New Delhi stripped Jammu and Kashmir of semi-autonomy and statehood, creating two federal territories.

On August 6, Indian home minister Amit Shah denied to the lower house of Parliament that Abdullah had been detained or arrested.

‘If he (Abdullah) does not want to come out of his house, he cannot be brought out at gunpoint,’ Shah said, when other parliamentarians expressed concern over Abdullah’s absence during the debate on Kashmir’s status.

Many anti-India protesters as well as pro-India Kashmiri leaders have been held in jails and other makeshift facilities to contain protests against India’s decisions, according to police officials.

Kashmir’s special status was instituted shortly after India achieved independence from Britain in 1947. Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in its entirety, but each controls only part of it.

India has often tried to suppress uprisings in the region, including a bloody armed rebellion in 1989. About 70,000 people have been killed since that uprising and a subsequent Indian military crackdown.

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