Petition in Supreme Court also questions withdrawal of over 9000 FIRs against stone pelters by the Jammu & Kashmir government
Amid a raging national debate on the safety of Army and paramilitary personnel deployed in strife-torn Jammu and Kashmir, the Supreme Court, on Monday (February 25), issued notices to the Centre, J&K government and the National Human Rights Commission on a petition seeking protection for the jawans from stone-pelters.
The petition also challenges the J&K government’s controversial decision of withdrawing over 9000 FIRs that had been filed against Kashmiri people, especially the youth, for their alleged involvement in stone-pelting incidents.
The apex court bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjiv Khanna agreed to examine the petition filed by two youths – 19-year-old Preeti Kedar Gokhale and 20-year-old Kajal Mishra – which sought directives for protection of human rights of the security force personnel deployed in India’s northern-most state.
The NHRC had, last week, taken cognisance of a complaint filed by three children of Army officers alleging violation of human rights of the force’s personnel in recent incidents of stone-pelting in Jammu and Kashmir. In a statement issued on Monday, the NHRC said the complainants have also sought its “intervention for an appropriate enquiry into the incident of stone-pelting and assault by an unruly and disruptive mob on Army personnel in Shopian district of Jammu and Kashmir on January 27.”
Incidents of stone-pelting have become a disturbing phenomenon in the Kashmir Valley and usually break out after incidents of intervention by Army, paramilitary forces or the J&K police to prevent terror strikes or local unrest by alleged separatists.
The decision to withdraw cases of stone-pelting against first time offenders had been taken shortly after Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP had decided to continue its unlikely alliance with the BJP in the state after the demise of former chief minister and PDP founder Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. The BJP and PDP had agreed that the withdrawal of cases against first-time stone-pelters would be a confidence building measure among Kashmiri youth who have been forced to swing towards the separatists in the Valley due to an impression of being unfairly targeted by Indian military and paramilitary forces.
While the PDP-BJP alliance broke leading to Governor’s Rule in J&K, followed by the ongoing President’s Rule, the decision to withdraw the cases against stone-pelters has remained operational. However, the withdrawal of cases has not made a palpable difference in the ground situation with incidents of stone-pelting continuing.
The notices by the Supreme Court have been issued at a time when the Valley is once again hit by upheaval in wake of the recent terror attack in Pulwama which claimed lives of over 40 Army and paramilitary men. An encounter with suspected Jaish terrorists in Kulgam has also claimed the lives of an Army jawan and a J&K police officer. With recurring terror strikes necessitating a crackdown against suspected militants and separatists in Kashmir and the Supreme Court scheduled to hear, between February 26 and 28, a bunch of petitions challenging the validity of Article 35A that grants the northern state a special status, the possibility of stone-pelting mobs returning to the Valley’s streets has become a matter of concern.
In their complaint, the petitioners have said they were “disturbed” by the recent incidents of stone-pelting and assaults by mobs on security forces. The NHRC has observed that in view of the facts narrated and allegations levelled in the complaint, “it will be appropriate to call for a factual report from the Ministry of Defence, through its secretary, to know the present status of the situation and steps taken by the Union government on the points raised by the complainants regarding alleged humiliation and violation of the human rights of the Army personnel in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.” A communication has been sent to the defence secretary, seeking a report in four weeks.
—India Legal Bureau
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