Freedom in the World
Indian Kashmir *
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Negotiations between India and Pakistan over the divided region of Kashmir were called off in the midst of Pakistani shelling across the India-Pakistan border in September 2014, which reached its highest level in decades. The South Asian Terrorist Portal recorded 193 deaths in Jammu and Kashmir in 2014, including 32 civilians. Pakistani forces violated the cease-fire agreement 16 times in August alone. However, reports suggest that insurgents have been unable to cross the international border.
National parliamentary elections were held in April 2014. The Indian government dispatched security forces to ensure elections proceeded peacefully. Although separatists called for a boycott, 43 percent of voters turned out. State-level assembly elections were held in November and December. Despite another boycott call in the Kashmir Valley, turnout was substantially higher than in past years.
According to official figures, 282 people lost their lives in devastating floods during 2014. The response of the state government was largely ineffective, requiring the Indian army to intervene in the rescue effort. The government has not resettled many of the displaced nor provided sufficient funds for reconstruction of homes.
Political Rights: 22 / 40 (+2) [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 9 / 12 (+1)
India has never held a referendum allowing Kashmiri self-determination as called for in a 1948 UN resolution. The state’s residents can change the local administration through elections, which are supposed to be held at least once every six years. However, Jammu and Kashmir enjoys substantial autonomy under Article 370 of India’s constitution. All laws passed by the Indian parliament, except those related to defense, foreign affairs, and financial matters, require the assent of the Kashmiri legislature to come into force in the state. Like other Indian states, it has an elected bicameral legislature and a chief minister entrusted with executive power. An appointed governor serves as symbolic head of state. Members of the 87-seat lower house, or legislative assembly, are directly elected, while the 36-seat upper house has a combination of some members elected by the assembly and various local councils, and some nominated by the governor.
Elections for national parliamentary seats and the state assembly in 2014 were broadly free and fair, with reduced levels of voter intimidation, harassment, and violence compared to the past. In the April national elections, turnout was below 40 percent in all districts in the Kashmir Valley due to threats of poll violence, and 4,306 of 4,773 polling stations were declared sensitive throughout the state prior to the elections. The Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKN), in power at the state level, lost its 3 seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 3 seats out of 6 total (after winning none in 2009) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) won 3 seats. The first stage of voting on April 24 was marked by large youth protests and an election boycott. At least 600 mainly youths were preventively detained prior to the second stage of voting on April 30.
At the state level, assembly elections were held in November and December. High turnout was due in part to anti-BJP mobilization after the party’s win in April elections. No party won an absolute majority. The most successful parties were the PDP and BJP with 28 and 25 seats, respectively. The PDP was expected to enter into a coalition government in early 2015. The Election Commission and the security forces were praised for their handling of the process, which saw unusually high turnout. Heightened security measures and contingency plans in case of violence ensured the most successful and participatory contest in years.
Panchayat (local council) elections were held across Jammu and Kashmir in 2011 for the first time since 2001, and were described as the first truly open such elections since 1978. Although separatist groups urged citizens to boycott the polls, turnout was reported at about 80 percent. More than 700 panchayat leaders resigned in 2012, facing death threats after several were assassinated. Municipal elections originally slated for 2011 have been repeatedly delayed.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 9 / 16 (+1)
The state is governed under a multiparty system, but normal party politics and electoral activities are often disrupted by militant violence, intimidation, and boycotts. For more than a decade, state-level power has rotated between the two largest Kashmiri parties, the PDP and the JKN. However, in the 2014 elections, the PDP and the national BJP won the most seats in a landslide, and are expected to form a coalition government. This would mark the first time the Hindu BJP has been represented in government in this Muslim-majority state, reflecting broader political participation by minority groups over the last several years. Nevertheless, observers questioned the BJP’s ability to build trust with Kashmiri Muslims, who are a minority at the national level, where the party campaigns on a platform of Hindu nationalism.
C. Functioning of Government: 4 / 12
Corruption in Jammu and Kashmir remains widespread and among the worst in India, though the government has taken some steps to combat it. The 2011 Jammu and Kashmir State Vigilance Commission Act established an anticorruption commission with the power to investigate alleged offenses under the state’s 2006 Prevention of Corruption Act. Its first commissioners were appointed in 2013, and it has made some arrests of public servants on bribery charges. However, in August 2014 the term of the commission’s chairperson expired, and no new chair had been appointed by year’s end. In 2014, the state also established a Lokayukta—a state-level anticorruption body.
Civil Liberties: 29 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 9 / 16
The 1971 Newspapers (Incitement to Offences) Act gives district magistrates the authority to censor publications in certain circumstances but is rarely invoked. Conditions have improved since protest-related violence in 2010 led some newspapers to suspend circulation and curfews inhibited journalists. Foreign journalists are generally able to travel freely, meet with separatist leaders, and file reports on a range of issues, including government abuses.
Print media thrive in Jammu and Kashmir, and online media have proliferated, providing new platforms for public discussion. There are more than 1,000 registered publications in the state. However, threats of government reprisal, including the detention of journalists under the Public Safety Act (PSA) and the withdrawal of official advertising from publications, continue to intimidate the media. Journalists also face threats from militant groups. In May 2014, several journalists were harassed and injured by police who hurled rocks at them while they covered protests against the death of a Srinager man killed by security forces in April.
Freedom of worship is generally respected by the authorities. However, intercommunal violence between Muslims and Hindus periodically flares up, and many have been injured and killed as a result. In July 2014, Hindus undertaking a pilgrimage in Jammu and Kashmir were attacked by extremists; dozens were injured and authorities canceled the pilgrimage to avoid further violence. Supplicants at a popular Hindu shrine were also harassed in July.
Academic freedom is also circumscribed. Authorities monitor the research produced at Kashmiri universities, and a combination of official and self-censorship discourages students and professors from pursuing sensitive topics of inquiry.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 6 / 12
Freedoms of assembly and association are often restricted. Although local and national civil rights groups are permitted to operate, they are sometimes harassed by security forces. The separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) is allowed to function, but its leaders are frequently subjected to short-term preventive detention, and its requests for permits for public gatherings are often denied. Separatist leaders are frequently arrested prior to planned protests. A number of pro-independence or anti-Indian government protests were held in 2014. The chairman of the group the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples League (JKPL), Mukhtar Ahmad Waza, was detained several times throughout the year to prevent his participation in demonstrations against human rights violations committed by Indian forces. Separatists were also detained during state elections.
Protection of labor union rights in Kashmir is generally poor.
F. Rule of Law: 6 / 16
Courts are politicized and act as an extension of Indian executive and military authority. The courts in Jammu and Kashmir, already backlogged by thousands of pending cases, are further hampered by intermittent lawyers’ strikes. In 2014, for example, one strike followed the assault of a lawyer from the Jammu high court by a police officer. The government and security forces frequently disregard court orders. This has led to low levels of public trust in the judiciary.
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. Indian security personnel based in Jammu and Kashmir carry out arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, forced disappearances, and custodial killings of suspected militants and their alleged civilian sympathizers. Army personnel in Budgam district killed two civilian schoolboys in November. Separatist leaders, including APHC Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, were detained to quash plans of a large protest of these killings.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah supported revoking the AFSPA in four districts where militant activity is rare, and in the 2014 assembly election campaign the PDP advocated revoking these laws. The army opposes the move. Amendments to the PSA in 2012 prohibited the detention of minors and instituted new rules to reduce the amount of time prisoners are held before trial.
Militant groups based in Pakistan continue to kill 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 in Jammu and Kashmir. A total of 193 civilians, security personnel, and militants were killed in terrorist-related violence in 2014, up from 181 the previous year.
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. Many continue to reside in refugee camps near Jammu. Other religious and ethnic minorities, such as Sikhs and Gurjars, have been targeted in the past, but such reports have dissipated in recent years. Local Sikh organizations expressed solidarity with the aspirations of the state’s Muslim majority in the 2014 elections.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 8 / 16
Freedom of movement is curtailed by both the state and federal authorities. The Indian government restricts the travel of foreigners and other Indian citizens to sensitive areas within Jammu and Kashmir, and roadblocks and checkpoints disrupt travel. Kashmiri residents face delays of up to two years to obtain and renew passports due to heightened levels of scrutiny. 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.
Women face some societal discrimination as well as domestic violence and other forms of abuse. Female civilians continue to be subjected to harassment, intimidation, and violent attacks, including rape and murder, at the hands of both the security forces and militant groups. In January 2014, a telephone line was established within the state to provide support free of charge to women who have been victims of harassment or abuse. Women are underrepresented in government, though the PDP is headed by a woman.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year