Indian Kashmir * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Indian Kashmir *

Indian Kashmir *

Partly Free
49/100
Overview: 

Control of Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since 1948, and Indian-administered Kashmir enjoys substantial autonomy under Article 370 of India’s constitution. However, separatist and jihadist militants continue to wage a protracted insurgency against the government. Competitive elections are held, but they are often marred by violence. Indian security forces are frequently accused of human rights violations, but few are punished. Civil liberties are curtailed during times of unrest.

Key Developments: 

Key Developments in 2018:

  • In June, the state’s governing coalition broke down, leading to the imposition of Governor’s rule for six months, followed by the imposition of President’s rule in December.
  • The security situation remained precarious; at least 451 people were killed in terrorist violence in 2018, compared to 358 such deaths in 2017.
  • In June, a prominent Kashmiri journalist, Shujaat Bukhari, was assassinated by unknown assailants in Srinagar—the first such murder in the region in nearly a decade.
  • Municipal elections were held in October for the first time in 13 years, though polls were marred by opposition party boycotts and threats of violence, and turnout was low. Panchayat (local council) elections in November and December saw higher turnout in some constituencies.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

POLITICAL RIGHTS: 22 / 40

A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 9 / 12

A1.      Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 3 / 4

Ordinarily, a chief minister—typically the head of the largest party in the lower house—is entrusted with executive power. The process for selecting the executive is an internal party matter. However, the withdrawal of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from the governing coalition in June 2018 prompted the resignation of the chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, and the six-month imposition of rule by State Governor Narinder Nath Vohra. The state governor is appointed by the president of India, under the advice of the central government.

After Governor’s rule expired, the state in December came under President’s rule, placing the central government in charge of state affairs. The transfers took place according to the law. As of the end of the year, it had not been decided whether state assembly elections, slated for 2019, would be called early.

A2.      Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 3 / 4

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 past elections. However, in the April 2014 national elections, turnout was less than 40 percent in all districts in the Kashmir Valley due in part to threats of violence. State assembly elections held in November and December 2014 were marked by higher turnout.

Municipal elections were held in October for the first time in 13 years, though polls were marred by opposition party boycotts and threats of violence, and turnout was low. Panchayat (local council) elections in November and December saw high turnout in some constituencies.

A3.      Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 3 / 4

The legal framework governing elections is broadly perceived as fair. Elections are overseen by the Election Commission of India, a respected and largely independent body. However, intimidation of election workers and electoral authorities by militant groups can interfere with the orderly implementation of electoral laws and regulations.

B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 9 / 16

B1.      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? 2 / 4

The state permits a competitive multiparty system. While new political parties must register with the Electoral Commission, parties may generally form freely, and there are mechanisms by which independent candidates may stand for office. However, normal party politics are often disrupted by militant violence, intimidation, and separatist boycotts.

B2.      Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 3 / 4

For more than a decade, state-level power has rotated between the two largest Kashmiri parties: the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC). The Hindu nationalist BJP has made significant electoral inroads in recent years.

B3.      Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 2 / 4

Militant violence, intimidation, and separatist boycotts negatively affect the ability of people in many areas to assert their right to participate in political processes.

B4.      Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2 / 4

The state constitution allows all permanent residents over 18 the right to vote in state assembly elections. However, refugees from Pakistan are not entitled to permanent residency rights and may not vote in state elections. They may vote in parliamentary elections.

While Kashmir’s chief minister in the first half of 2018 was a woman, women are generally underrepresented in politics.

C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 4 / 12

C1.      Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 2 / 4

India has never held a referendum on allowing Kashmiri self-determination, as called for in a 1948 UN resolution. 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.

C2.      Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 1 / 4

Corruption in Jammu and Kashmir is widespread, and while the government has taken some steps to combat it, these have yet to bring about lasting improvements. A 2011 law established an anticorruption commission with far-reaching investigatory powers. The commission has processed more than a thousand complaints since the first commissioners were appointed in 2013 and has filed a handful of bribery charges against public officials. However, few corruption cases result in convictions. A survey conducted by the Indian think tank CMS in 2017 found that 84 percent of respondents believed corruption in the state to be increasing.

C3.      Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 1 / 4

The state administration generally operates with opacity. In January 2018, the PDP-led government faced renewed allegations of making large numbers of illegal appointments based on nepotism.

CIVIL LIBERTIES: 27 / 60

D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 9 / 16

D1.      Are there free and independent media? 2 / 4

Print media thrive in Jammu and Kashmir, and online media have proliferated, providing new platforms for public discussion. However, threats of government reprisals, including the detention of journalists under the Public Safety Act, continue to intimidate media workers.

In June, a prominent Kashmiri journalist, Shujaat Bukhari, was assassinated by unknown assailants in Srinagar—the first such murder in the region in nearly a decade. The August arrest and detention of another journalist, Aasif Sultan—who was still being held at the end of the year—has raised further concerns about press freedoms.

D2.      Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 2 / 4

Freedom of worship is generally respected by the authorities. However, communal violence between Muslims and Hindus periodically flares up, and many have been injured and killed as a result. The alleged rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl by a group of Hindu men in January inflamed religious tensions in 2018, leading to sometimes-violent protests and clashes.

Separately, a ban against Muharram processions, which take place during a Shia period of mourning at the Islamic New Year, has been upheld for decades.

D3.      Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 2 / 4

Academic freedom is often circumscribed. Authorities monitor the research produced at Kashmiri universities, and a combination of proactive and self-censorship discourages students and professors from pursuing sensitive topics of inquiry. Colleges and universities were closed for over half of 2016 owing to unrest; further closures took place in 2017 and 2018.

D4.      Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3 / 4

While private discussion is robust, fear of reprisals by government or militant forces can serve as a deterrent to uninhibited speech. The government frequently suspends access to mobile internet services, particularly in the southern districts of the Kashmir Valley, citing security concerns.

E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 5 / 12

E1.      Is there freedom of assembly? 1 / 4

Freedom of assembly is frequently restricted during times of unrest. Requests for permits for public gatherings submitted by the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) are often denied. Separatist leaders are frequently arrested prior to planned demonstrations. Curfews were repeatedly imposed in parts of the state in 2018 in response to unrest and militant violence.

E2.      Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 2 / 4

Although local and national civil rights groups are permitted to operate, they are sometimes harassed by security forces. The separatist APHC is technically allowed to function, but its leaders are frequently subjected to short-term detention.

E3.      Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2 / 4

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

F. RULE OF LAW: 5 / 16

F1.       Is there an independent judiciary? 1 / 4

Courts are politicized, and act as an extension of Indian executive and military authority. The government and security forces frequently disregard court orders.

F2.       Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 2 / 4

The courts in Jammu and Kashmir, already facing large backlogs of cases, are further hampered by intermittent lawyers’ strikes.

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. The state’s Public Security Act allows detention without charge or trial for up to two years, though 2012 amendments barred the detention of minors under the law.

F3.       Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 1 / 4

After several years of relative stability, security in the state deteriorated sharply after the 2016 killing of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, a popular separatist militant leader. The situation remained volatile in 2018, when at least 451 civilians, security personnel, and militants were reportedly killed in militant-related violence. Indian authorities in May announced that troops would respect a ceasefire over the month of Ramadan, but it collapsed after a rise in terror-related incidents.

Indian security personnel have continued to carry out arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, forced disappearances, and custodial killings of suspected militants and their alleged civilian sympathizers, and generally enjoy impunity. In June, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report highlighting human rights violations in the Kashmir region since 2016; the report condemned excessive and extrajudicial violence committed by Indian security forces, including the 2016 use of pellet guns against civilian protesters.

Militant groups based in Pakistan 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 in Jammu and Kashmir. The OHCHR report also detailed severe rights violations committed by active militant groups.

Women 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

F4.       Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 1 / 4

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, such as Sikhs and Gurjars, have been targeted in the past, but such reports have recently become less frequent in recent years.

Women face some societal discrimination.

G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 8 / 16

G1.      Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 2 / 4

Freedom of movement is curtailed by both state and federal authorities. Curfews were imposed in parts of the state in 2018 in response to unrest and militant violence.

While the Indian government has loosened restrictions on the travel of foreigners to some areas within Jammu and Kashmir, internal movement is disrupted by roadblocks, checkpoints, and periodic protest-related shutdowns or curfews. Kashmiri residents face delays of up to two years to obtain and renew passports due to heightened levels of scrutiny.

G2.      Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2 / 4

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. While Jammu and Kashmir permanent residents can exercise property rights, outsiders are prohibited from acquiring property in the state.

G3.      Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2 / 4

Many women face domestic violence and other forms of abuse.

G4.      Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2 / 4

Affirmative action in areas such as employment exists for members of several marginalized social groups. Child labor is reportedly prevalent in the region, but the government has taken few steps to combat it.

Explanatory Note: 

*Indicates a territory as opposed to an independent country.