The case of Kashmir lockdown, in August 2019, “demonstrates how civic space can be sought to be completely erased, within a formal democratic framework,” said South Asia State of Minorities Report 2020, by Minority Rights Group International.
In August 2019, New Delhi revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s (J-K) limited-autonomy and broke down the erstwhile state into two federally-governed territories: J-K and Ladakh. The report further highlighted the alleged human rights violation in J-K since the “regressive constitutional changes in August 2019, accompanied by a communication blackout, mass detentions, and a movement lockdown”.
“The most alarming recent example of democratic backsliding has been in India, where the rise to power of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after general elections in 2014 has led to the hardening of authoritarian tendencies … in the highly militarised Indian-administered Kashmir, [the] civic space has now been almost completely erased after the revocation of the region’s limited autonomy in August 2019.”
The report also noted that the right to peaceful assembly in Kashmir “has become virtually nonexistent”, where authorities continue to impose regular curfews and lockdowns. “Pellet firing shotguns and other less-lethal and lethal weapons continue to be used with impunity against civilians in Kashmir,” the report added.
“Muslims in Indian-administered Kashmir have also come under renewed, state-led attack and a complete erasure of civil and political rights,” the report said. However, the report added, civic space in conflict-affected Kashmir has always been restricted, the “most recent round of attacks on ‘basic freedoms’ were, however, quite unlike anything before in their being all-encompassing and systematic”.
South Asia State of Minorities Report 2020 also stated that India has become a “dangerous and violent space for Muslim minorities” ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government introduced amendments to the Citizenship Act last year, reported Scroll.
The annual report looks at the status of civic space and personal liberties accessible to citizens, especially minorities, living in South Asian countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
It said that while civic space is under threat the world over, India’s case was unique in terms of the “alarming setbacks” that have “taken place at an extraordinary pace, over the span of a few years”.
The report said that the BJP assuming power nationally in 2014 “unveiled a new and now frontal attack on religious minorities and other vulnerable groups. This has had a chilling effect on civic space for Muslims and Muslim-community-based organisations and activists specifically,” it added.
The report stated: “Hate crimes against minorities have seen a spike – taking the form of mob lynching and vigilante violence against Muslims, Christians, and Dalits. BJP also strengthened and expanded a series of discriminatory laws and measures that target religious minorities. These include anti-conversion laws, blamed by human rights groups for empowering Hindutva groups to ‘conduct campaigns of harassment, social exclusion and violence against Christians, Muslims, and other religious minorities across the country’. Laws ostensibly meant for the protection of cows continue to provide institutional backing for similar campaigns against Muslims and Dalits.”
However, the situation has “exacerbated significantly” since BJP returned to power with a “brute majority” in May 2019, the report said. In quick succession, it enacted a slew of measures aimed at signalling to Muslims “particularly its will to brutally subjugate”, it added. As per the report by Scroll, which quoted the report, the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, which regulates foreign donations to entities in India, has been “further weaponised against progressive and minority NGOs”.
Besides, human rights defenders have increasingly come under attack for “protesting discriminatory laws and practices have faced restrictions, violence, criminal defamation, detention and harassment”, the report said.