Indian Kashmir*

Not Free
PR Political Rights 7 40
CL Civil Liberties 20 60
Last Year's Score & Status
28 100 Not Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.
* Indicates a territory as opposed to an independent country.

header1 Note

Freedom in the World reports assess the level of political rights and civil liberties in a given geographical area, regardless of whether they are affected by the state, nonstate actors, or foreign powers. Disputed territories are sometimes assessed separately if they meet certain criteria, including boundaries that are sufficiently stable to allow year-on-year comparisons. For more information, see the report methodology and FAQ.

header2 Overview

Control of Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since 1948, and Indian-administered Kashmir long enjoyed substantial autonomy under India’s constitution. However, the region’s autonomous status was revoked in 2019, and what had been the state of Jammu and Kashmir was reconstituted as two union territories under the direct control of the Indian central government. The move stripped residents of many of their previous political rights. Civil liberties have also been curtailed to quell ongoing public opposition to the reorganization. Indian security forces are frequently accused of human rights violations, but few are punished. Separatist and jihadist militants continue to wage a protracted insurgency.

header3 Key Developments in 2020

  • In the wake of the region’s 2019 political reorganization, internet access and freedom of assembly remained severely restricted in 2020, and many of the thousands of Kashmiris who were detained during the previous year’s crackdown were still in confinement.
  • The Indian government issued legal amendments in March and October that made it possible for more Indians to claim permanent residency and buy land in Jammu and Kashmir, raising concerns that the government was attempting to change the ethno-religious composition of the Muslim-majority territory.
  • The killing of a militant leader by Indian forces in May set off a wave of protests and a violent response from police that left at least one person dead and dozens injured.
  • Economic conditions worsened during the year due to the ongoing security clampdown as well as new movement restrictions that were imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 0.000 4.004

Prior to 2019, the state of Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed special autonomy under Article 370 of the Indian constitution. A chief minister—typically the head of the largest party in the state legislature’s lower house—was entrusted with executive power. Under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019, adopted by the Indian Parliament that August, the region’s autonomous status was revoked, it was downgraded from a state to a union territory, and the Ladakh area was separated to form a second union territory. Executive authority in each now rests with a lieutenant governor appointed by the president of India on the advice of the Indian prime minister. In Jammu and Kashmir, the lieutenant governor is to be assisted by a chief minister and cabinet responsible to an elected legislature with limited powers, though no such legislature had been elected by the end of 2020. Manoj Sinha, a former Indian minister belonging to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was appointed as lieutenant governor of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2020. Radha Krishna Mathur, a former bureaucrat who was appointed as lieutenant governor of Ladakh in 2019, remained in office during 2020.

The process by which Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomous status and statehood were revoked drew criticism and doubts about its legality. Opponents and other observers argued that the central government had improperly delayed state elections beginning in 2018 and then hastily adopted the reorganization law with little debate.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 0.000 4.004

Until the passage of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act in 2019, the region had a bicameral legislature. The lower chamber, the Legislative Assembly, was composed of 87 members directly elected for six-year terms to single-member districts. The upper chamber, called the Legislative Council, comprised 28 indirectly elected members and eight members nominated by the governor. The 2014 elections were broadly free and fair, with reduced levels of voter intimidation, harassment, and violence compared to past elections. The state legislature was dissolved by the governor in late 2018, ending attempts by local parties to form a new governing majority after the BJP’s withdrawal brought down the last coalition government, but central authorities then extended direct rule and postponed new state elections through the summer of 2019, when the Reorganisation Act rendered them moot.

Under the arrangements adopted in 2019, the new union territory of Jammu and Kashmir would have a unicameral legislature with limited powers and at least 83 elected members. (As in the old assembly, another 24 seats associated with constituencies in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir would be left vacant.) However, elections were not expected until 2021, following the demarcation of constituencies. The new union territory of Ladakh will continue to be administered solely by the lieutenant governor, with no legislature of its own.

Local elections to Block Development Councils in October 2019 were extensively boycotted by local mainstream political parties. However, in elections for District Development Councils that were held in November and December 2020, an alliance of Kashmiri parties that supported regional autonomy won control of 13 of the 20 councils, despite complaints that its candidates faced restrictions on media coverage and freedom of movement during the campaign. The BJP, whose workers were subjected to militant violence ahead of the vote, placed second and emerged as the largest single party. Separately, the BJP suffered losses but retained control in October elections for the Autonomous Hill Development Council in Leh, a district in Ladakh.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 2.002 4.004

The legal framework governing statewide elections prior to 2019 was broadly perceived as fair. While intimidation of election workers and electoral authorities by militant groups sometimes interfered with the orderly implementation of electoral laws and regulations, the process was overseen by the Election Commission of India, a respected and largely independent body.

The Indian Parliament adopted the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act swiftly and without significant input from Kashmiris, fundamentally altering the electoral system and effectively stripping residents of substantial voting power.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 1.001 4.004

Until 2019, a competitive multiparty system had operated in the region. While new political parties had to register with the Election Commission, parties were generally able to form freely, and there were mechanisms by which independent candidates could stand for office. Notable impediments to normal party politics included militant violence, intimidation, and separatist boycotts.

Political activities were almost completely suspended after August 2019, as security forces detained thousands of party members and activists without charge, including the leaders of mainstream Kashmiri parties and the local branch of India’s opposition Congress party. Former chief ministers and incumbent lawmakers were among those detained, and despite a series of releases, many remained in detention for much of 2020.

After the last elected chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, was released in October, her People’s Democratic Party (PDP) formed the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) with several other Kashmiri parties, including its former rival, the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC). The new group sought to restore the region’s autonomy under the Indian constitution.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 1.001 4.004

For more than a decade, state-level power had rotated between the two largest Kashmiri parties: the PDP and the JKNC. The Hindu nationalist BJP, which currently governs in New Delhi, has made significant electoral inroads in recent years; it participated in a coalition government with the PDP from 2015 to 2018.

The postponement of state elections, the 2019 reorganization of the region, and the related mass detentions effectively reduced the ability of opposition groups to compete and enter government in Jammu and Kashmir for the foreseeable future. The PAGD accused the government of curtailing its ability to campaign freely ahead of the District Development Council elections in November and December. While the alliance won those elections overall, the councils manage local development matters and have little governmental authority.

The union territory of Ladakh has a centrally appointed executive and no legislature, meaning no rotations of power through elections are possible at the territory level. Elections are still held for district-level development councils, but as in Jammu and Kashmir, their powers are greatly overshadowed by those of appointed officials.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 0.000 4.004

The activities of separatist militants and a heavy Indian security presence have long impaired the ability of people in certain areas to participate freely in political processes. Since August 2019, tens of thousands of additional Indian troops have been deployed to the region to quash any public expressions of opposition to the Reorganisation Act. The deployment was accompanied by reports of intimidation and violence against civilians, and more than 5,000 people, including peaceful protesters, were arrested in the second half of 2019.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 1.001 4.004

The former state constitution granted all permanent residents over 18 the right to vote in state assembly elections. While the region had a female chief minister until early 2018, women have generally been underrepresented in politics.

Prior to the 2019 reorganization, historical refugees from Pakistan, who are disproportionately Hindu, were not entitled to permanent residency rights and could not vote in state elections, though they were able to vote in Indian parliamentary elections. Such individuals were allowed to vote in the development council polls in Jammu and Kashmir for the first time in November 2020.

During the campaign period for the council elections, Muslim Kashmiri candidates and their parties were allegedly disadvantaged by continued detentions, police interference, and movement restrictions, many of which were imposed for security reasons.

The 2019 reorganization left the largely Buddhist and Shiite Muslim population of Ladakh without elected government institutions at the territory level. There are still two Autonomous Hill Development Councils representing Ladakh’s two districts, Leh and Kargil, but many in Kargil vocally opposed the 2019 changes, and a broad coalition of political groups in Leh—including the local BJP branch—threatened to boycott the October 2020 council elections until the central government promised to address local concerns about land rights and other implications of Ladakh’s new status.

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because the region’s 2019 reorganization left the largely Buddhist and Shiite Muslim population of Ladakh with no elected government institutions at the territory level, and ongoing detentions and other restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir were reported to have disproportionately affected Muslim politicians and parties ahead of District Development Council elections in late 2020.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 0.000 4.004

India has never held a referendum on allowing Kashmiri self-determination, as called for in a 1948 UN resolution. Jammu and Kashmir long enjoyed substantial autonomy under India’s constitution, but since 2019 it has been ruled directly by the central government through an appointed lieutenant governor, as has the newly separated territory of Ladakh. There are legal provisions for an elected legislature in Jammu and Kashmir, although its powers will ultimately be limited, and no legislature was in place during 2020. Many laws that had been passed by the state government have been subject to repeal or amendment under the new system, and more laws passed by the Indian Parliament now apply to Jammu and Kashmir. The union territory will no longer be permitted to formulate its own laws regarding policing and public order.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 1.001 4.004

Corruption is widespread. A 2011 law established an anticorruption commission with far-reaching investigatory powers. The panel, known as the State Vigilance Commission, processed more than a thousand complaints after the first commissioners were appointed in 2013, and it filed a handful of bribery charges against public officials. However, few corruption cases result in convictions. In 2020, the commission was dissolved after the Jammu and Kashmir territorial government repealed the underlying law.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 1.001 4.004

The administration generally operates with opacity, and the changes in the administrative status of the region in 2019, coupled with severe restrictions on press freedom, have further impeded transparency. Several official agencies intended to promote transparency and good governance, including the State Information Commission, were shut down in 2019 and 2020.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 1.001 4.004

Until mid-2019, print media were thriving in Jammu and Kashmir. Online media had proliferated, providing new platforms for news and information. The announcement of the region’s changed administrative status was accompanied by a severe clampdown on the activities of local and foreign journalists. The authorities continued to disrupt internet service during 2020; limited mobile and fixed-line service was gradually restored, but high-speed mobile connectivity remained blocked at year’s end. Protracted curfews and restrictions on movement, caused in part by COVID-19 lockdowns, also made it difficult for media outlets to operate for much of the year.

A new media policy introduced in June 2020 gave government officials the authority to examine and censor content for “fake news, plagiarism, and unethical or antinational activities.” Several journalists were questioned or charged over their work during the year. In April, for example, journalists Masrat Zahra and Gowhar Geelani were placed under investigation for allegedly “glorifying antinational activities” and “glorifying terrorism,” respectively, through their social media posts. In October, authorities raided the offices of Greater Kashmir, a prominent English-language newspaper, as part of a larger series of raids targeting alleged funding for “separatist activities.” Also during 2020, there were reports of journalists being beaten in connection with their work by police and other security forces.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 2.002 4.004

Freedom of worship is generally respected by the authorities. However, communal violence between Muslims and Hindus periodically flares up, and many have been injured or killed as a result. A ban on Shiite Muslims’ Muharram processions, which take place during a period of mourning at the Islamic new year, has been upheld for decades. Authorities closed some mosques for months in the wake of the 2019 revocation of autonomy, and many were shuttered again for about five months during a COVID-19 lockdown before restrictions were eased in August 2020. Also that month, security forces violently dispersed Muharram processions in Srinagar, causing multiple injuries.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 1.001 4.004

Academic freedom is often circumscribed. Authorities monitor the research produced at Kashmiri universities, and a combination of censorship and self-censorship discourages students and professors from pursuing sensitive topics of inquiry. Colleges, universities, and schools were shuttered for most of 2020, first on security grounds and then because of the coronavirus pandemic. Remote learning was severely impeded by the ongoing restrictions on internet access.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 2.002 4.004

While private discussion has sometimes been robust, fear of reprisals by government or militant forces can serve as a deterrent to uninhibited speech. The mass arrests of politicians, activists, protesters, and others after the revocation of autonomy in 2019, which continued into 2020, were apparently aimed at curbing free expression and likely had a chilling effect on the rest of the population.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 0.000 4.004

Freedom of assembly is frequently restricted during times of unrest. The authorities often reject requests for permits for public gatherings submitted by the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). Separatist leaders are frequently arrested prior to planned demonstrations, and violent clashes between protesters and security forces are not uncommon.

Curfews were in force in parts of the region during 2020—including in the period surrounding the anniversary of the revocation of the region’s autonomy—and lockdowns to stem the spread of the coronavirus further curtailed people’s ability to congregate and express dissent. The ongoing disruptions to phone and internet services served to prevent the planning of protests. Nevertheless, security forces clashed with protesters on multiple occasions, using tear gas and shotguns that fire metal pellets to disperse crowds. The killing of a top militant commander, Riyaz Naikoo, by Indian forces in May set off a wave of protests that left one person dead and dozens injured.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 1.001 4.004

Although local and national civil rights groups are generally permitted to operate, they are routinely harassed by security forces. The separatist APHC is technically allowed to function, but its leaders are frequently subjected to detention. In 2019, the central government imposed a five-year ban on the group Jamaat-e-Islami (Jammu and Kashmir) and arrested its top leadership, claiming that it was engaged in separatist activities. Many of the arrests that followed the revocation of autonomy in 2019 targeted independence advocates, human rights lawyers, and other civic activists. Efforts by civil society to monitor human rights violations during the subsequent crackdown were hampered by the suspension of internet and telephone services. In October 2020, the National Investigation Agency conducted raids at the offices and homes of human rights activists and nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers as part of a probe into alleged funding for “separatist activities.”

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2.002 4.004

Although workers have the right to form unions and engage in collective bargaining under Indian law, union rights are inconsistently upheld in practice.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 1.001 4.004

Courts in the region are politicized and typically act as an extension of Indian executive and military authority. The government and security forces frequently disregard court orders that impose constraints on their actions. In January 2020, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that the indefinite internet shutdown in Kashmir was unjustified and violated constitutional rights to free speech and expression, but authorities were slow to ease the shutdown, and mobile internet access remained restricted at year’s end.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 1.001 4.004

Due process rights, including access to a timely trial, are hampered in part by large backlogs of cases and intermittent lawyers’ strikes. In addition, broadly written legislation, such as the unpopular Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Disturbed Areas Act, allow security forces to search homes and arrest suspects without a warrant, shoot suspects on sight, and destroy buildings believed to house militants or arms. Under the AFSPA, prosecutions of security personnel cannot proceed without the approval of the central government, which is rarely granted. Following the 2019 reorganization of the region, the central government now has the sole authority to declare an area “disturbed” under the AFSPA, which activates enhanced powers for security forces. The Public Safety Act allows detention without charge or trial for up to two years, though 2012 amendments barred the detention of minors. The law was used to jail mainstream political leaders and others in 2019 and 2020. Many such detainees were held in parts of India outside Kashmir.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 1.001 4.004

After several years of relative stability, security deteriorated sharply following the 2016 killing of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, a popular separatist militant leader. The situation remained volatile in 2020. At least 321 civilians, security personnel, and militants were reportedly killed in conflict-related violence over the course of the year.

Indian security personnel have continued to engage in torture, forced disappearances, and custodial killings of suspected militants and their alleged civilian sympathizers, and they generally enjoy impunity for such abuses. In 2019, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report highlighting human rights violations in the Kashmir region over the previous year, updating a similar 2018 document; the report condemned excessive and extrajudicial violence committed by Indian security forces, and criticized the Indian government’s refusal to investigate reported violations.

Militant groups have killed pro-India politicians, public employees, suspected informers, members of rival factions, soldiers, and civilians. The militants also engage in kidnapping, extortion, and other forms of intimidation. The OHCHR report detailed severe rights violations committed by active militant groups. Among other types of incidents during 2020, militants were suspected of having targeted and killed several BJP workers ahead of development council elections.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 1.001 4.004

A pattern of violence targeting Pandits, or Kashmiri Hindus, has forced several hundred thousand Hindus to flee their homes in the region over the years, and many continue to reside in refugee camps. Other religious and ethnic minorities, including Sikhs and Gurjars, have been targeted in the past, but such reports have become less frequent. Women face societal discrimination. They are also subject to harassment, intimidation, and violent attacks, including rape and murder, at the hands of both the security forces and militants. Gay, transgender, and other LGBT+ people are generally marginalized in Kashmiri society.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 1.001 4.004

Freedom of movement has been heavily curtailed by the authorities. Strict curfews were imposed in connection with the region’s 2019 reorganization, and coronavirus-related lockdowns were added during 2020, with the severity varying somewhat by location and over time. Even when curfews are not in place, internal movement is disrupted by roadblocks, checkpoints, and periodic protest-related impediments. Kashmir residents face delays of up to two years to obtain and renew passports due to heightened levels of scrutiny.

In March 2020, the Indian government altered domicile legislation to make it easier for refugees and Indian nationals from outside Kashmir to establish permanent residency and obtain government jobs in the region, extending eligibility to those who had lived there for 15 years or studied there for seven years. The change would benefit many long-term residents who had lacked domicile status, but critics alleged that the government’s aim was to alter the Muslim-majority territory’s demographic composition. Tens of thousands of new domicile certificates were issued during the year.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2.002 4.004

Property rights are undermined by displacement and military activity related to the conflict, and the regulatory environment constrains the establishment and operation of new businesses. In October 2020, the Indian government substantially altered dozens of laws governing land ownership in Jammu and Kashmir, ending long-standing restrictions on property acquisition by people who were not permanent residents of the region. Ladakh was not immediately affected by those changes. The new legal framework also gave the government and the military enhanced powers to reserve and manage land for development and strategic purposes.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2.002 4.004

Many women face domestic violence and other forms of abuse. There have been reports of women being killed in dowry disputes, and conservative social customs limit the choice of marriage partners for individuals.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2.002 4.004

Certain social groups are subject to economic marginalization, though some are also eligible to benefit from affirmative-action policies in areas such as employment and education. Child labor is reportedly prevalent in the region, and the government has taken few steps to combat it. Militant groups have been accused of recruiting children as fighters.

On Indian Kashmir

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  • Global Freedom Score

    27 100 not free