Parveena Ahangar’s son disappeared 30 years ago: five years ago she was a Nobel prize nominee; three years ago she won Norway’s prestigious Rafto prize. On 28 October, her trust—funded for the last decade by a United Nations body—was among 10 raided by the National Investigative Agency.
Srinagar: More than a year after the testimonies of 32 Kashmiris—including militants, shopkeepers, vendors, drivers and other civilians allegedly tortured by the army, police and other security forces—were endorsed by a former United Nations Special Rapporteur, the National Investigative Agency (NIA) raided the two human-rights organisations responsible for the report.
The organisations, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), were among 10 NGOS, trusts, foundations and journalists raided as part of a crackdown against alleged “terror funding”.
Journalists and spokespersons of political parties alleged the raids—the NIA has conducted similar raids over the last three years on separatists, business people, politicians—were part of a larger design to suppress free expression and dissent in J&K.
The raids came a day before outsiders were for the first time allowed to buy land in J&K, part of what they said was a process to accelerate demographic change in what was a state until last year and is now a union territory.
On 28 October, the NIA said that it raided at least 10 locations in Srinagar, Bandipora district of North Kashmir and one location in Bangalore.
The NIA searched the premises of Agence France-Presse’s Kashmir correspondent Parvaiz Bukhari; the Greater Kashmir Trust, which is run by Kashmir’s leading English daily, the Greater Kashmir newspaper; offices of rights activists Khurram Parvez (coordinator of JKCCS) and Parveena Ahangar, chairperson of the APDP; and offices of non-profits across Srinagar, Delhi, Anantnag, Baramulla, Budgam and Kulgam.
The agency said it seized “several incriminating documents and electronic devices”. A day later, the NIA raided more NGOs/trusts/foundations in parts of the Valley.
The NIA said a case was registered on 8 October against these organisation under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code or IPC and sections 17 (raising funds for terrorist act), 18 (conspiracy), 22A (offences by companies), 22C (offences by companies, societies or trusts), 38 (membership of a terrorist organisation ), 39 (support given to a terrorist organisation) and 40 (raising funds for a terrorist organisation of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967.
The cases were registered, the NIA said, on receipt of “credible information” that the NGOs and trusts were collecting funds “domestically and abroad through so-called donations and business contributions etc and are then utilizing these funds for secessionist and militant activities in J&K”.
Why Parveena Ahangar Is A Target
The APDP is an advocacy group run by parents of Kashmiris who have disappeared since 1994. It was founded by Parveena Ahangar, popularly known as the Iron Lady of Kashmir, after her son disappeared in 1990.
Ahangar was a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 and the recipient of Norway’s prestigious Rafto Prize in 2017. The APDP is funded by the United Nations and organises monthly protests in Srinagar demanding authorities to reveal the whereabouts of their “disappeared” kin.
In a statement on 29 October, the Rafto Foundation criticised the raids on Ahangar and Parvez and demanded that authorities drop all charges, “fully restore all their freedoms” and return seized property.
“We find the accusations directed against Parveena Ahangar and Khurram Parvez to lack any credibility, and condemn the abuse of UAPA act to harass citizens of Kashmir and silence their freedom of speech, organization, assembly, movement, communication, or to disrespect their property,” said the Rafto Foundation statement.
The APDP has been documenting human-rights violations in Kashmir for more than two years. On 23 October 2019, more than 65 days after the abrogation of Article 370, Ahangar’s trust released a report on pellet victims of Kashmir.
The APDP report titled ‘My World is Dark’ spoke of state violence, in particular those injured by pellets from shotguns since the 2016 unrest in Kashmir. It recorded testimonies from 300 victims of pellet-gun firing and went on to say how the injuries “completely transformed the victims’ lives and destroyed their futures, rendering people unemployed and impoverished, in a helpless state”.
A statement issued by APDP after the raids Ahangar denied any association with foreign organisations. The APDP statement said its funding between 2009 and 2019 came from the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.
The documents that the NIA seized, Ahangar said, contained “details of the names, identities and incidents of human rights abuses by security personnel”. The agency later seized several documents and electronic devices, including Ahangar’s mobile phones.
“There is a grave apprehension that the same may be accessed by other agencies, and/or lead to adverse consequences and reprisal against victims and families who have testified and are pursuing justice,” the APDP statement said.
What The Reports Revealed
In February 2019, the APDP and JKCCS released, as we said, the first detailed report on torture in Jammu and Kashmir “perpetrated by the Indian State” from 1990 onwards.
Titled ‘Torture: Indian State’s Instrument of Control in J&K’, the 560-page report documents 32 cases of alleged human-rights violations and “brutality” by Indian security forces. Of these only 27 had been investigated by the State Human Rights Commission, said the report, which was endorsed by a former UN Special Rapporteur.
The report alleged that nearly “70% of torture victims in Jammu and Kashmir were civilians (not militants) and 11% died during or as a result of torture”. The alleged torture included electrocution, water-boarding and sexual torture, which the government has repeatedly denied.
On 18 March 2019, three UNHRC Special Rapporteurs wrote to India inquiring about steps taken to punish security forces or provide justice to victims and their next of kin in 76 cases of torture and “arbitrary killing” in J&K since 1990.
On 14 June 2018, the UN released the first-ever report on alleged human rights violations in both Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
India reacted sharply to the UN report, terming it “fallacious, tendentious and motivated” and said the government was “deeply concerned that individual prejudices are being allowed to undermine the credibility of a UN institution”.
Within 13 months, the UNHRC released its second report on 8 July 2018 and reiterated its accusations of rising human-rights violations and the killing of civilians by state authorities over the past year.
3 Years Of NIA Raids
NIA raids in Kashmir have been conducted over the last three years, during which several separatists, businessmen, politicians and journalists were either detained or summoned to its headquarters in New Delhi.
In 2018, the agency also sought the unedited version of an interview of female separatist leader Aasiya Andrabi with this reporter. Critics in Kashmir alleged that New Delhi has used the NIA to suppress dissent and free expression in the Valley.
Former Chief Minister and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti said, after the most-recent raids, that the NIA had become “BJPs pet agency” to intimidate those who refused to fall in line.
“At a time when J&K’s land & resources are being plundered, GOI wants media publications to write op-eds about diabetes & yoga,” Mufti said on Twitter. “In BJP’s ‘all is well’ charade, truth is the biggest casualty. Any journalist unwilling to become a part of Godi media is targeted.”
“NIA raids on human rights activist Khurram Parvez & Greater Kashmir office in Srinagar is yet another example of GOIs vicious crackdown on freedom of expression & dissent,” said Mufti.
Journalism Is Not A Crime
After 5 August 2019, journalists have faced a new level of state intimidation and harassment from the authorities in Kashmir. Many have been booked, summoned and intimated by the authorities in the course of their work.
On Thursday, eight Kashmir journalist bodies jointly criticised the “continuous harassment” of journalists in Kashmir and NIA raids at AFP’s Kashmir correspondent Parvaiz Bukhari’s residence.
“We see it as a broader tactic to intimidate and silence professional journalists, who have been reporting on the region without any prejudice for decades,” the statement read. “For decades journalists in Kashmir have been working under extremely hostile conditions and this constant harassment only obstructs the delivery of professional obligations.”
A day earlier, Kashmir Editors’ Guild, a body of top news editors in the Valley, said the media were “targeted, demonised, vilified and raided” by both state and non-state actors. The Guild said that while the NIA, after a five-hour wait, said the 28 October raid was on the Greater Kashmir Trust and not the newspaper, the management of the newspaper said the investigating agency checked computers and took away hard drives.
Srinagar-based journalist and political analyst Gowhar Geelani said the latest raids on journalists were meant to create “psychological fear” among journalists in the Valley.
“Normal journalism and opinions have been criminalised,” said Geelani, against whom unspecified charges were filed under the UAPA in April 2020. “The message is clear: they want you to toe the government line and become its PR arm.”
“The idea is to create permanent psychological fear among the Kashmiri population, so that nobody speaks about the land grab, demographic change and facts on the ground,” said Geelani.
Kashmir Times editor Anuradha Bhasin said the raids conducted by the NIA were an attempt to impose silence and ensure “not even a whisper” of dissent in J&K.
“It’s very shocking that human rights activists and journalists who are talking about human rights, justice and peace should be raided like this,” said Bhasin.
Bhasin’s newspaper was evicted from its offices by the J&K government on 19 October and despite stay orders, valid only till 30 October, from the deputy commissioner, Srinagar, the estates department refused to unlock the office. The government has given no reason for the eviction and made no comment.
In 2019, Bhasin had moved the Supreme Court against restrictions imposed on the media in Kashmir after Article 370 was abrogated. The government stopped releasing advertisements to the Kashmir Times after that and Bhasin was evicted from her government apartment in Jammu on 5 October.
The Big Picture
Political parties said the NIA raids were part of a larger design evident since the 5 August 2019 removal of Articles 370 and 35-A of the Constitution. These articles had granted semi-autonomous status to the state of J&K, allowing a separate constitution and state flag, the power to legislate in all matters except finance, defence, foreign affairs and communications; and guarantee property rights to residents.
The government imposed a military clampdown over five months, cutting off the region from the outside world by blocking mobile phones, internet and other communications. Thousands, including leaders and workers of mainstream political parties were detained, terror charges were filed against journalists, and social media users questioned by police.
“The latest raids are nothing but to impose silence on the voices that are against the government,” said PDP spokesperson Najmu Saqib. “The facade was finally lifted yesterday, and now it’s clear why BJP revoked special status last year.”
Saqib said the raids occurred against the backdrop of a 27 October order that allowed outsiders to buy land in J&K.
“There are and there will be human-rights violations when you have over 700,000 troops in Kashmir,” said Saqib. “It is the job of human-rights activists to raise voices, if there are any excesses. You are muzzling these voices, so that the world doesn't hear anything from Kashmir.”
(Auqib Javeed is a Srinagar-based journalist.)