There are no banners at Pratap Park, Srinagar today. No one is holding a seminar on the human rights situation in Srinagar contrary to the practice of the past three decades. Srinagar's press enclave that used to be abuzz with activities with speakers talking about human rights violations in the Valley is also silent.
For the past three decades every year on the International Human Rights Day, the High Court Bar Association would hold a seminar, coming out with a report about the condition of detainees in jails. But after the abrogation of Article 370, the Bar hasn’t held a single seminar on the human rights situation on December 10 or otherwise.
Association of Parents of Disappeared led by Parveena Ahangar would also hold protests at Srinagar’s Pratab Park along with scores of people whose relatives were subjected to enforced disappearance in Kashmir over the years. However, since the abrogation of Article 370, the APDP hasn’t held any such protest. In October last year, NIA raided the office and home of Ahanger. During the raids, according to Ahanger, even files containing details of victims were taken away.
Senior lawyer and general secretary of the High Court Bar Association, G N Shaheen says the recent arrest of human rights defender Khurram Parvez has created fear among human rights defenders and lawyers. He said there used to be the practice of holding seminars and talking about the human rights situation in Kashmir but the arrest of Parvez has created a sense of fear among the human rights defenders and the lawyers.
On November 23, the NIA arrested Parvez under UAPA after accusing him of "terror-funding" and "conspiracy". The NIA arrested him after raids at his home and office. The arrest has caused global outrage amid calls for his release. Parvez is also the chairperson of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), an international rights organisation that looks into the forced disappearances in Kashmir and elsewhere in Asia.
The United Nations and international human rights organisations have sought the release of Parvez. Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights has endorsed the statement of the UN Human Rights official spokesman about Parvez.
Observers here say one of the reasons for deafening silence is that human rights activism has been conflated with terrorism and is considered as an anti-national activity leaving no space for civil society activities.
The CPI(M) leader and former legislator Mohammad Yousuf Taragami says silence is itself an expression of whatever is happening in Kashmir. “It is not silence which people want to have. It is forced silence. Breaking silence in Kashmir could lead to a raid and detention for a long period,” he says.
“This silence is a reflection of the unfortunate situation prevailing in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370. Most of the political circles outside Kashmir in mainland India are also silent about Kashmir and that is more unfortunate. In North East, you have one AFSPA but we have many more AFSPAs. People and civil society actors have opted for silence. But it is not by their choice,” he adds.
Since the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, the government has booked 2300 under the UAPA in Kashmir, mostly in Kashmir. Former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad says around 16000 persons including politicians were arrested during the time of Article 370 abrogation. The government has used the UAPA on a wide range of people including two sons of Hurriyat leader Ashraf Sehari. Mujahid Ashraf Khan, Rashid Ashraf Khan were arrested last year under UAPA on charges of raising slogans during their father’s funeral.
Only protests this year in the Valley has been by relatives of people seeking bodies of their kin killed in alleged fake encounters. A day after the killing of three civilians in Hyderpora on November 15, the families of the killed civilians lodged a protest at the press enclave for consecutive two days forcing the police to return the bodies of the two civilians Altaf Ahmad Bhat, 44, and Dr Mudasir. However, the police haven’t returned the body of another person, Mohammad Amir. All the persons killed in Hyderpora were buried in a remote Handwara graveyard around 80 km north of Srinagar, secretly and silently.