Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Playing the "370 Card": Whether it is RTI or Police Reforms, J&K goes its own way to feed a corrupt system

J&K's 'no' to police reforms evokes concern

Arjimand Hussain Talib

(Arjimand, 33, is from Srinagar and matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering from Bangalore University. He is also an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany. Arjimand writes regular weekly columns for the Greater Kashmir and The Kashmir Times since 2000 on diverse issues of political economy, development, environment and social change and has over 450 published articles to his credit. Arjimand is currently working as Project Manager for Action Aid International (India) in the Kashmir region and is a member of its International Emergencies and Conflict Team (IECT). His forthcoming books: " Kashmir: Towards a New Political Economy", and "Water: Spark for another Indo-Pak War?" are scheduled for release in 2008.)

Admidst the hullaballoo over the forest scam in the Legislative Assembly throughout the budget session, one very significant development seems to have gone almost fully unnoticed. The J&K government's reported "no" to government of India in adopting and implementing the much-needed police reforms on the pretext of "abnormal conditions" has come as a rude surprise. What is more disturbing is that all this has passed by even without a murmur at the civil society level as well. Although Opposition, National Conference's silence on the issue is understandable, what is surprising is that pro-freedom parties and other human rights groups are silent too.

After years of dilly dallying, police reforms are becoming a reality in India today – courtesy its Supreme Court's landmark judgements to ensure replacement of the current Police Act and that the recommendations of various commissions and committees having been created since 1970s are implemented. Even as most of the States in India are in the process of consideration and implementation, J&K's rude "no" needs to be protested.

Ours is a State which needs police reforms the most, primarily because we are grinding under a twin saw. J&K's policing system is not only carrying along all the baggage of the British and Dogra Maharaja reins, we are also living with the extra-constitutional laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Disturbed Areas Act and a serious Official Secrets Act. Police as an organisation in J&K, its role, police-public relations, political interference with its work, misuse of police power and police accountability and performance evaluation are such areas where reforms cannot be put on shelf any more.

J&K's policing system continues to be highly influenced by the colonial police law passed in India 1861. Although policing is a state subject in India and J&K State by virtue of its separate constitution is supposed to have additional powers with regard to policing, yet today this state enjoys least powers in its policing system. The manner the government of India has come to influence the policing and security systems leaves policing hardly as a State subject for J&K today. As such it becomes all the more important for us to initiate meaningful reforms.

Lack of transparency in the transactions of the police in J&K, often facilitated by the extra constitutional laws and colonial policing practices, is a serious problem. There is a huge scope for transparency even as the 'sensitive' areas are guarded from undue 'exposure'. The Model Police Act has called for transparency in all police activities except for the areas of operations, intelligence that is used to plan and conduct investigations, privacy of the individual citizen and judicial requirements. There is nothing wrong in making these exceptions in J&K's context as well. These exceptions would also take away most of the reservations that protagonists of the current policing system might have for the reforms.

Another dimension of this is concerning the powers of the District Magistrate. In J&K the powers of a District Magistrate continue to be abused by executive political authorities. There is a dire need to make the police accountable to the law and not the District Magistrate and political executive as is generally interpreted.

It has been stressed in Model Police Act that police performance should not be evaluated primarily on the basis of crime statistics or number of cases solved. In J&K, police officials' performance continues to be rated on the basis of the number of 'militants' killed, arms and ammunition recovered, information sought about people indulging in "anti national activities" and so on. This system of performance evaluation and rewarding has developed a kind of jungle law within the police in J&K State. We must not forget that when recently a number of custodial murders of innocent civilians were uncovered here, involving many police officials, it was the lure of promotions and cash prizes which had clearly motivated those police officials to committing those heinous acts crimes against humanity.

The biggest problem in J&K polity has been that there has always been an untypical convergence of powers and interests between political executive, police and bureaucracy; which creates such a unique power bloc where the checks and balances of a normal democratic system simply dissipate. It has been emphasised by the Model Police Act that the basic role of the police is to function as a law enforcement agency and render impartial service to the law, without any heed to the wishes, indications or desires expressed by the government which either come in conflict with or do not conform to the provisions contained in the constitution or laws.

One of the areas of concern which is being addressed in rest of India is the murky system of promotions and transfers of police officers. The Model Police Act has recommended that before promotion to the rank of Superintendent of Police, Deputy Inspector General of Police or Inspector General of Police, all India Police Service officers should be required to undertake a pre-promotion course, followed by an examination and an objective selection process. This procedure needs to be adopted in both IPS and KPS cadres in J&K and would go a long way in eliminating undue political interference in police. It has been recognised that the threat of transfer or suspension is the most potent weapon in the hands of the politicians to bend the police to their will. All this has resulted in serious erosion of rule of law and loss of police credibility as a professional organisation.

The serious dearth of women police officers and police stations in J&K also needs immediate action. The way male police have been dealing with women filing complaints in police stations and the manner male police have been treating peaceful women protests on the streets cannot by any stretch of imagination be a system of a democratic set up.

Time has come for us to have a State Security Commission and a State Police Commission, setting up of Complaint Cells at district and State levels and create systems of checks and balances to make this institution people-friendly and modern. Time has come for civil society to put their act together for making police reforms possible in J&K. Organisations like Common Wealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), which has maintained silence on police reforms in J&K, while playing a good role in making them happen elsewhere, must also come forward to play its role.

(Daily Greater Kashmir February 3, 2007)

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