On India’s seventy third Independence Day, the people of Kashmir are under siege!

CONDEMN THE ABROGATION OF ARTICLES 370 & 35A OF THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION, THE DISMEMBERMENT OF J&K & THE BRUTAL SUPPRESSION OF THE VOICES OF THE PEOPLE OF KASHMIR!

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) unequivocally condemns the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A, the unilateral bifurcation and stripping of autonomy of the state of Jammu & Kashmir by the ruling NDA government on August 5th 2019, and the complete suppression of the right of the people to self-determination. By projecting the occupation as an “internal” matter, amidst a total and brutal gag on the voices of the people of J&K, the Indian state has assaulted their identity as a people, and ruptured the very foundation of their relationship with the Indian State.

The Presidential Order extending the Indian Constitution to the whole of J&K, the hurried passing of the J&K Reorganization Bill in Parliament without the consent of Kashmiri people, its elected representatives, or deliberations in the Parliament, is patently undemocratic. This was done by stealthily introducing the Bill to avoid wide public debate, and by clamping down J&K under a military siege. The move was orchestrated by spreading irresponsible rumours of cross-border terror attacks on Amarnath yatris, and false assurances by the Governor of the state who is currently administering President’s Rule under the control of the Central Government, all to serve a premeditated political purpose. Using the same Constitution that granted India freedom from colonial rule seventy three years ago, the Indian state today has completed its colonization of the people of J&K through a fraudulent usurpation of power, which is a betrayal of not just the people of J&K but the whole of India as well.

There is a muscular infusion of boots and steel on the ground, with an initial deployment of 35,000 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel on August 5th, and then another 8000 in the span of twenty four hours, disarming the state police, in one of the most militarised zones in the world takes the current count to about 7 lakh troops on the ground. Reports are emerging of political leaders, intellectuals, journalists, lawyers, grassroots activists, and young Kashmiri boys and youth, more than a thousand in number and counting, being secretly arrested, detained and/or transferred to prisons outside the state so that the government can project an image of “normalcy”. It is presently impossible to ascertain the whereabouts of many of these detenues, although it has recently emerged that several are being held at thanas, army camps, hotels (Centaur Hotel, Hari Niwas, among others), and even at their own homes. Kashmiri girls and women are being sexually assaulted in their homes as they continue to be raided indiscriminately by the forces. Streets remain deserted under conditions of an unending curfew, with constant patrolling by the army and paramilitary forces and vehicles, and checkpoints and barricades at small distances. It is remarkable that even on Eid, mosques and eidgahs were shut down to prevent assembly of people. A massive protest rally of over 10,000 people in Soura on August 9th against the abrogation of Article 370 was met with a military crackdown, pellet guns, tear gassing and indiscriminate arrests and detentions. It is by now clear that the BJP government’s claims of the move having been welcomed by the people, and under conditions of complete normalcy, are blatant lies.

The Kashmiri media is muzzled. With a complete shut down on all channels of communication, including landlines, mobile phones and internet, restrictions on movement, persistent harassment by the army, the attempt is to gag any information on the state of repression and anger in the Valley from reaching out. Despite now running out of newsprint, several local newspapers continue to struggle to bring out daily editions. In sharp contrast, when no such restrictions exist on large Indian media houses, they continue to peddle the official state narrative of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The Supreme Court of India again toed the line of the ruling government by refusing to act on four petitions for urgent hearing on August 13th. These separate petitions challenge: the unconstitutional abrogation of Article 370, the gag on Kashmiri media, and the curfew and clampdown on all forms of communication. The Supreme Court upheld the suspension of all democratic and fundamental rights of Kashmiris at least for a period of two weeks, based on the hypocritical stance of the government that the clampdown is necessary to restore “normalcy”.

The removal of Article 35A is the most visible proof of India’s colonial ambitions. The Article protects the rights of the residents of the state in matters pertaining to ownership and control of land. Its removal is intended to change the demographic composition of the land, and to open it up for corporate loot. Within a week of the abrogation, even as the gag on the people continues, Mukesh Ambani has enthusiastically responded to the call of the Prime Minister to flood the region with corporate investments, while a massive Investment Summit is planned for October 2019. Claims of the BJP government that this move paves the way for women to inherit land, without acknowledging that the military is already the largest landholder in J&K, is farcical at best. Kashmiri women themselves have assertively rejected this so-called “protection” by Indian men, whose chauvinistic rhetoric flooding social media targets the same women as instruments in this colonial project, to be acquired as ‘wives’ as a way to acquire land. This language of conquest is intended towards demographic changes in the region in a manner where the rights, identities and consent of Kashmiri women is entirely invisibilized.

This is not the first time that the bodies of Kashmiri women have been treated as sites of conquest, with a history of mass sexual violence perpetrated by the military and paramilitary forces with complete impunity. We have not forgotten the sexual violence perpetrated by the Indian Army in Kunan Poshpora and Shopian. We have not forgotten all the Kashmiris disappeared and buried in mass graves. We demand an end to this siege on the people of Jammu & Kashmir.

DEMANDS

1. Revoke the abrogation of Article 370 and scrapping of Article 35A and demand their immediate reinstatement. Repeal the J&K Reorganization Bill. Any change in this must happen only with the consent of the people of Kashmir.

2. Reinstate democratic processes to ensure that the people of Jammu and Kashmir are consulted on any action that concerns them, their lives and their community.

3. Stop further militarisation of Kashmir and withdraw all troops.

4. Stop immediately all repressive measures like restrictions on movement and communications black-out that have seriously impacted on the daily lives of women and people of Kashmir.

5. Release all political prisoners.

Ye kis ka lahu hai kaun maraa, Ham than chuke hain ab jii mein,
Har zaalim se takraaenge, Tum samjhaute ki aas rakho,
Ham aage badte jaaenge, Ham manzilae azaadi ki kasam,
Har manzil pe dohraenge, Ye kis ka lahu hai kaun maraa…
– Sahir Ludhianvi (1946)

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)
Convenors: Ajita, Nisha, Rinchin, Shalini
Contact: againstsexualviolence@gmail.com; Website: https://wssnet.org/

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WSS Statement On Arrest Warrants Issued By Jharkhand Government Against Activists And Writers

JHARKHAND GOVERNMENT ISSUES ARREST WARRANT AGAINST ACTIVISTS AND WRITERS UNDER LAW STRUCK DOWN BY THE SUPREME COURT

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) expresses shock and concern at the arrest warrant issued against Stan Swamy, Aloka Kujur, Rakesh Roshan, Vinod Kumar and Babita Kashyap on 17 June 2019, one year after the FIR was filed against 20 writers, intellectuals and activists in Jharkhand on 26 July 2018 based on Facebook posts. All five are vulnerable to imminent arrest as part of the Jharkhand government’s targeted campaign against those defending human rights of adivasis in the state. Continue reading

Open Letter To The Woman Complainant In The CJI Sexual Harassment Case

To the complainant in the CJI sexual harassment case:

We stand by you and your demands to seek justice

Dear friend,

For the past month, we have been public witnesses to the unjust harassment faced by you and your family since the sexual harassment complaint against the current Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi went public.

As women and people belonging to marginalised castes, classes, communities, genders, sexualities and nationalities; as survivors of everyday gendered discrimination, harassment and violence, we at WSS write this open letter to you to say that we will work with you to ensure that due process is followed and that all institutions are held accountable, even at the highest court of the country. Continue reading

THE SUPREME COURT MUST UPHOLD THE RULE OF LAW TO PROTECT ITS INDEPENDENCE

WSS demands an independent inquiry as per law into sexual harassment complaint against CJI, not reprisals against the complainant and illegal detentions of protestors

On May 7, 2019 the “informal in-house committee”, comprising Justices Bobde, Indira Banerjee and Indu Malhotra, returned a finding that the sexual harassment complaint against the sitting CJI Ranjan Gogoi by his former employee carried “no substance”. The Committee has not made its report public or furnished a copy to the complainant. This not only violates due process, but thwarts the complainant’s right to appeal. The complainant was not afforded a reasonable opportunity of being heard, and upon her withdrawal, the proceedings were conducted ex-parte. The complainant withdrew from the proceedings on 01 May 2019 citing “fear, anxiety and trauma”.

The process adopted by the Supreme Court in addressing this complaint of sexual harassment has been illegal and unethical right from the beginning, reflecting a shocking abuse of power by the sitting Chief Justice and a grave subversion of the independent judicial process. The complainant’s “Me Too” disclosure against the CJI, furnished in a signed affidavit to twenty-two Judges of SC, providing extensive details of her experience of sexual harassment, intimidation and victimisation, against herself and her family, was met with an extraordinary hearing on the morning of 20 April 2019 regarding a matter of great public importance affecting the independence of the judiciary. The CJI sat as a judge in his own case (though his name did not appear in the order sheet of the proceedings), offered opening remarks on his honour and reputation, and passed disparaging comments against the complainant, in the presence of two other Supreme Court justices and the Solicitor General. The Supreme Court, it appears, finds the CJI above the very laws that it is constitutionally bound to uphold. The SC has turned inward to protect one of its own, which has come at the cost of the integrity of the highest judicial body of this country.

This was followed by the constitution of the Justice Bobde Committee as an informal in-house panel, ad hoc in nature, in complete violation of the Vishaka Guidelines laid down by the same Supreme Court in 1997, and encoded in the POSH Act 2013. The law requires the presence of external members on the committee to ensure independence and impartiality of the process, particularly since the complaint was against the senior-most Judge in the country. We condemn the manner in which this ad-hoc committee conducted its enquiry into the charges of the former employee of the SC. This committee not only refused to let the complainant bring her advocate/support person to the hearing, but also adopted procedures that deny the complainant the right to fair redressal. The refusal to provide the complainant a copy of her own statements, and proceed with the enquiry ex-parte even when the complainant gave her reasons in writing for withdrawing, is evidence of the ways in which the rule of law were bent to suit the “distinguished” perpetrator. Further, the Supreme Court’s denial to provide a copy of the final report wherein this committee has given a clean-chit to the CJI renders the complainant unable to ascertain on what grounds her complaint was dismissed, the ability to appeal any such decision. Additionally, the conduct of those in power, particularly the Bar Council of India and other state Bar Associations, against one complainant actively discourages complainants from accessing the legal redressal and works to silence those who dare to speak up.

Each of these are due process guarantees that have been won on the backs of arduous struggles by women’s movements to legislate against sexual violence and challenge the patriarchies of law and legal processes. This includes the struggles since the cases of Mathura and Bhanwari Devi, which led to the formation of Vishakha Guidelines, and the widespread civil society protests post December 2012, culminating in the Justice Verma Committee Report, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, and the Sexual Harassment Act, 2013. There were repeated calls by lawyers, women’s and other progressive groups for the Supreme Court, as well as a sitting judge, to abide by the rule of law, more so when its own independence and reputation is at stake.

It bears mentioning that the Supreme Court’s treatment of sexual harassment allegations against their own “brother” judges in the past has also not inspired faith. Complaints against former Justice Ashok Ganguly in 2013, and against Justice Swatanter Kumar in 2014, were also met with ad hoc in-house proceedings, gag orders and defamation suits. Repeatedly, the Supreme Court is failing to hold their own to the highest morals deserving of their office.

Furthermore, efforts have been made to conflate the personal integrity of the CJI with the independence and honour of the Supreme Court. We believe that any individual irrespective of the office they hold, cannot be above the law when charged which sexual harassment, a cognisable offence. This was in fact an opportunity for the Supreme Court to show that the institution can constitute a free and fair inquiry against the highest judicial officer of the country. An inquiry which would have followed the rule of law set up and upheld in the past by the SC would have reposed faith in the public of this country.

Exceptionally, in the present case, the CJI is enjoying further protection of the central government, whose complicity in the matter should raise alarms for all those concerned about the independence of the judiciary. Not only was the extraordinary hearing on 20 April 2019 called on a mentioning by the Solicitor General, but Arun Jaitley, sitting Rajya Sabha MP and Finance Minister, wrote an extensive blog post on April 20, 2019, shielding the CJI and trying to co-opt the sexual harassment complaint into its propaganda of “conspiracies” by human rights activists and movements. It is the same propaganda that has now invited judicial proceedings against leading human rights lawyers and activists supporting the complainant and demanding accountability, namely, Indira Jaising, Anand Grover, Kamini Jaiswal, Prashant Bhushan, Vrinda Grover, Shanti Bhushan, Neena Gupta Bhasin and Dushyant Dave. It is important to note that the CJI, as the master of the roster, continues to exercise authority over all such retributive cases through his power to assign cases. Combined with his presence on the bench on the 20 May extraordinary hearing, it is evident that in order to ensure a completely free and impartial redress to this complaint, it is imperative that CJI Ranjan Gogoi step down from juridical and administrative work, pending a fair process.

The same government’s repressive tactics were in action again on 7 May and 8 May, when the police summarily detained and physically abused more than 70 peaceful protestors on two consecutive days of protests, majority women, who were protesting the grave violation of due process in the Bobde Committee’s proceedings. The complicity of the present government in shielding the CJI, and distorting the narrative of the complainant as a “conspiracy” against the Supreme Court, needs to be addressed frontally by all democratic-minded citizens, as this is a government, which has systematically undermined constitutional institutions of the country through excessive interference, including in the Supreme Court.

The independence of the judiciary is not secured by subverting fundamental due process guarantees, vitiating the environment through baseless allegations of “conspiracy”, questioning the character of the complainant, and taking retributive action against her and those standing in solidarity with her. It is served by abiding by the rule of law, ensuring impartiality in judicial proceedings, and delivering accountability for all those abusing their constitutional powers.

WSS demands that:
• The Supreme Court hold an independent and impartial inquiry into sexual harassment complaint against the CJI as per the Vishaka Guidelines and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013;
• The Supreme Court ensure that the complainant gets adequate legal support, witness protection, and is shielded from intimidation and reprisals during and beyond the proceedings;
• The Bobde Committee release a copy of the Report to the complainant;
• CJI should step down from active juridical and administrative work until the inquiry is under way;
• Accountability for illegal detentions and manhandling of protestors on 7 and 8 May 2019.

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)
Conveners: Ajita, Nisha, Rinchin and Shalini;
Contact: againstsexualviolence@gmail.com

Fact Finding Visit On The Social And Human Development Situation Of People In Lanjigarh And Niyamgiri, Kalahandi &Rayagada Districts, Odisha

Fact Finding visit on the social and human development situation of people in Lanjigarh and Niyamgiri, Kalahandi &Rayagada Districts, Odisha – Interim Observations

(23-27 March, 2019)

  • Context

A fact finding was conducted by 6 members of Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), a nationwide network of like-minded people from diverse political and social movements comprising of women’s organizations, mass organizations, civil liberty organizations, student and youth organizations, mass movements and individuals who take on issues of human rights of women and marginalised communities. The fact finding team visited Odisha’s Rayagada, Kalahandi, Bhubaneswar areas to specifically understand the issues impacting the tribal comprising of DongriaKondh, KutiaKondh, Majhi Kondh and Dalits affected by the violations and violence meted out on them to make way for mining giant Vedanta to do its business. Continue reading

Statement On The Supreme Court Order On Eviction Of Forest-Dwellers

WSS condems Supreme Court Order on eviction of forest-dwellers

A death sentence for millions of Adivasis and traditional forest communities

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) is dismayed and outraged at the Supreme Court order of 13th February 2019, directing state governments to evict Adivasis and other forest dwellers whose claims under the Forest Rights Act have been ‘rejected’.

There can be no greater irony than this – that these communities are being dispossessed in the name of the Forest Rights Act, the law that claims to correct “historical injustices” and restore the traditional rights of Adivasis and other traditional forest-dwellers and forest-dependent communities. Continue reading

An Appeal To The Conscience Of The Nation (On The Bhima Koregaon Case)- Stan Swamy

 

An Appeal to the Conscience of the Nation – on Bhima-Koregaon case –

Stan Swamy

[Foreword: India has vowed to be a socialist, secular, democratic republic. Sadly, all these values are steadily being eroded in the present political developments. About 20 intellectuals, professionals, activists who are working for the fundamental rights of the poor and marginalized and upholding the above mentioned constitutional values are being labeled ‘urban naxals’ and are being harassed no end either as ‘accused’ or as ‘suspects’. Their premises have been raided, their electronic devices seized, serious cases filed. Some are already in prison, others face arrest anytime. I {Stan Swamy) am one of the ‘suspects’, I was also raided on 28th August 2018, even after more than four months Pune police have not made any charges, and when I appealed to Bombay HC [No.4741 of 2018] to quash the FIR against me my petition was rejected. Instead it authorized Pune police to continue its investigation on me, without prescribing any time frame, to see if I have committed any offence under UAPA and if needed take strong legal action. Really an open-ended offer to the police ! Several of the accused have refuted the charges against them. But the court seems to go by police’s version with scant regard to what petitioners are saying.

This is an appeal to all democratic minded individuals/groups/ organizations/ movements/ordinary citizens who are genuinely concerned about the steadily deteriorating human rights situation in our country and to raise their voice against it. – Stan Swamy ]

The following considerations may be taken for what they are worth:

  1. Justice PB Sawant, one of the organizers of the Bhima-Koregaon ‘Elgar Parishad’ event on 1st January 2018, in an interview testified that For years these pilgrims had been going to Bhima Koregaon, no incident happened. Why did it happen last year only? Our sources tell us that these two people (Bhide and Ekbote) were working at least two months before the violence there because they knew many people were going to come because of the 200th anniversary.
    This government wants to protect the Hindutva forces. They have been consistently trying to protect Hindutva activists who had indulged in violence…
    no Maoists were involved in the programme and the activists had been arrested because they criticised the government.

[ Pavan Dahat in HUFFPOST – NEWS, 30/12/2018 ]

Why the Investigating Officer and the courts did not pay attention to the above statement of a respected judge is a point of concern.

 

  1. Various fact-findings took place, the most prominent amongst them was one conducted at the behest of Pune Rural IG, Vishwas Nagare Patil, wherein ex-mayor of Pune was part of the team which visited many places and submitted its report on January 20, 2018. Summarising the report we find the following chronological events narrated in the report. Note the careful planning by communal forces.
  1. On December 16, 2017, one person namely Kaustubh Kasture had posted on Facebook that there would be riot on January 01, 2018, this person is supporter of Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote
  2. On December 30, 2017, Milind Ekbote took a meeting in Bhima Koregaon, whereat he decided to treat January 01, 2018 as black day and ensure bandh  all across the area.
  3. On December 29, 2017, memorial of Govind Mahar, who has legend to his credit of having shown courage to cremate the dead of Sambhaji Maharaj son of Shivaji Maharaj, came to be defiled. This resulted into a riot like situation in Vadu Budruk and adjacent areas, however all the villagers acted with responsibility and sorted out the issue amongst themselves and peace was restored. By December 30, 2017, though the issue at the Vadu Budruk was resolved peacefully, it is said that Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, instigated the villagers.
  4. On December 30, 2017, a message was circulated on social media that there is a meeting called by Sambhaji Bhide in Vadu Village on January 01, 2018 and the supporters should gather in large numbers.
  5. On the night of December 31, 2017 Pradip Kand, Anil Kand and Ganesh Kand were threatening hotel owners to ensure bandh on January 01, 2018.
  6. Women in the vicinity knew prior about the riot on January 01, 2018, President of Tanta Mukti (dispute resolution) Committee, namely Vaibhav Yadav, had stored sticks and swords in his shop a night before.
  7. Suddenly on late night December 31, 2017, a letter was sent to police station, near Bhima Koregaon purportedly written by Bhima Koregoan Gram Panchayat, wherein police were informed about the bandh to be observed next day. [Nihal Singh Rathod in The Leaflet, 6 January 2019]

The Bombay HC while giving credence to the police version of the events has not asked the police whether any other reports were made. Could it have asked for this report to see the other side of the coin?

  1. Within a week, the Pune Rural Police registered at least 22 FIRs, including Anita Sawale’s, in multiple incidents of attacks against the pilgrims across different routes leading to the war memorial. The state government has stated before a Pune court that there are over 1,400 suspects in these cases, and estimated a total loss to public property of over Rs 1.5 crore. In the first information report registered against her complaint, Sawale named Manohar Bhide, president of the Shiv Jagar Pratishthan, Milind Ekbote, president of the Hindu Janjagran Samiti, and their “savarna sathidar”—savarna associates. [The CARAVAN – News – 14 September.2018 by Sagar]

To my knowledge, no courts have directed the police to act upon these FIRs. It is strange that one man’s FIR has galvanized against human rights activists and the defenders of the poor but 22 FIRs got no response and interestingly the judiciary did not comment on it.

  1. The raid of my living room-cum-office by Pune police on 28th August 2018 was illegal and inhuman.
  1. Both the Search Order and the Report-cum-inventory were written in Marathi language which i could not understand.

The search on my premises at 6 am 28th August 2018 by Pune police accompanied by a contingent of Namkum police thana, Ranchi, Jharkhand, was illegal. When I asked to see the Search Warrant the Pune police showed a Search Order. It was in Marathi language which I do not know. Hence I asked them to give me a translation of the Search Order either in Hindi or English so I could understand the nature of the order. The Pune police responded that it was not possible and that the search had to be carried out immediately. Thus they forcibly entered my room and spent three hours scrutinizing everything. They seized my laptop computer, a tablet, a camera, mobile phone and some instrumental music CDs. Then they produced a report-cum-inventory of seized articles which was also in Marathi language and asked me to sign the same. At this point I refused to sign a document in Marathi language which I do not understand until after an oral translation was done.

Pune police had brought two persons from Pune as ‘Panch’ which makes the Search illegal

The law on Search prescribes that a few respectable civilian people in the area be present during the search and that they sign as witnesses. But Pune police had brought two ‘panch’ along with them who signed as witnesses. This is a gross violation of the law and caused injustice to me. There were raids all over India on those who speak against injustices, but these raids did not follow the well-laid procedures. Its illegal nature is blatant.

  1. Torture in Police Custody: Adv. Arun Ferreira, one of the accused, was tortured in Pune Police Custody.

Arun Ferreira alleged in the court that he was beaten up during custodial interrogation. He said that on November 4 around 4 pm, during the interrogation he was punched about 8-10 times by the Investigating Officer (I.O.) Shivaji Pawar. The IO also hit him in the eye. While beating up Ferriera, IO Pawar was asking him questions about Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL). On November 5, he was taken to the Sassoon hospital. Injuries and contusion near eye were noted by the doctors at Sassoon hospital while conducting his medical examination.” [Sushmita in Sabrang News, 6 November 2018]

This is a serious human rights issue. Just last year when the United Nations Human Rights Council was trying to muster the nations of the world to sign the Treaty Against Torture, the Indian envoy loudly proclaimed “The very idea of torture is completely alien to Indian culture” ! On this basis India did not sign the UN document against torture. But everyone knows the police everywhere in India do torture prisoners to extract ‘confessions’. And when even eminent persons who have dedicated their life for the cause of the oppressed masses are subjected to this inhuman practice it is a matter of serious concern. This is also a violation of Supreme Court observing ‘custodial torture’ as a violation of human dignity and degradation that destroys self-esteem of the victim and does not even spare his personality.” [SC – SCC No. 416 / 1997 D.K.Basu vs State of WB]

But strangely enough, the judge at the Pune court did not comment on the petitioner’s mention of the torture. Silence from the judiciary on this vital aspect of human rights is painful.

I have thought these things aloud. I am sharing some questions that popped out. I do hope we can get answers.

[This Appeal is released on the occasion of the Republic Day when India took on the mantle of a “socialist, secular, democratic Republic’.]