India’s Draconian Laws
Posted on July 8th, 2009

Amjed Jaaved

 On May 29, a housewife Neelofar (22) and her sister-in-law 17-year-old Asiya went missing in occupied Kashmir. Their dead bodies were later recovered from Rambiyar stream. The local residents were convinced that they were assaulted and killed by Indian-army personnel. However, the local police shrugged off the matter as a routine death by drowning.

Following villagers’ sustained protests, the `state’ government was forced to initiate an inquiry into the incident. The commission, led by Justice Muzaffar Jan, was asked to `find out the causes and circumstances leading to the death of the two women, fix accountability and punishment, recommend remedial measures to prevent recurrence of such incidents, and establish the role of government agencies including police and the civil administration’. The Commission rejected the police account of the incident. It confirmed shoddy investigation by the police, civil administration, medical team and the Forensic Science Laboratory to cover up the truth. But, it refrained from pinpointing that the criminal assault was committed by army personnel.

Indian army and security forces commit human rights violations in the occupied Kashmir with impunity, sheltered by Armed Forces’ Special Powers Act and similar laws. That’s why not only the protestors and opposition political parties, but also the `state’ government demanded repeal of the black laws. On his visit to the valley, India’s Home Minister P. Chidambaram promised to `relook into the law giving special powers to armed forces’. However, it is eerie to note that the Indian Army Chief, in an interview to a private TV channel, NDTV, defended retention of AFSPA as a shield for the Armed forces in the occupied territory. He minced no words to flatly admit: “AFSPA is needed to protect the troops legally [against their crimes].”

India claims to be the “world’s greatest democracy”. But, its shiny face has been scarred by its repressive inhuman laws. We would focus only on two such laws, Indian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act [AFSPA], and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The cataclysmic impact of these laws is that they clothe police, armed forces and security personnel with emergency powers without explicitly abrogating people’s fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution (a fundamental right per se cannot be usurped or altered). These laws are called “draconian’ as penalties under this law are akin to those stipulated in Draco’s code of 610 BC to forestall future revolts by common men.

The code provided death penalty for even trivial offences like stealing an apple, or an earthenware utensil.

India’s Telegraph Act makes intercepts inadmissible as evidence. But UAPA allows it. Like its predecessor, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, it also attaches evidentiary value to the telephonic, telegraphic and internet conversations. Any mischievous police officer with malafide intent can misinterpret a conversation to send a person to the gallows. The brutality of the law was brought into limelight when S. A. R Geelani, a Kashmir lecturer in Delhi University was implicated for attack on the Indian parliament (December 13). He was awarded death penalty by the fast-track court on the basis of wrong translation of the three words “Delhi kya korua”, “what has happened in New Delhi”, picked up from his one-minute conversation with his brother.

The police stock witness translated the three words as “what have you done”. The Kashmiri equivalent for the police translation is “yeh kya korua” which the lecturer did not say in his conversation. After two years of his solitary confinement in death cell, the appellate court acquitted the lecturer honourably when the lawyer, Ram Jethmalani, submitted correct translation of the words. Interestingly, the prosecution’s misinterpreted transcript of conversation lasted for two minutes while the actual conversation took only one-minute’s duration.

The conversation between S. A. R Geelani and his brother Shah Faisal was in Kashmiri. Not to speak of linguistic mastery, the person intercepting the conversation on December 13 did not know a single word of Kashmiri Language. Next day, the Special Cell brought in an “expert” to translate the conversation. But the Special cell’s expert was a person, who knew only tidbits of Kashmiri language, not intonations or linguistic nuances. He was educated only up to the sixth grade.

He could only read and speak Hindi, not write it. As such, his spoken translation of the conversation was converted into a written text by another person. What a pity! It is this translation that was used as key evidence to charge Geelani. It appears unreasonable even for the most fertile imagination to stretch the meaning of the words “what have you done in Delhi” as a reference to participation in the December 13 attack on Indian parliament. The background to the conversation is that the lecturer’s brother, as instructed by their worried mother, wanted to know why Geelani had cancelled his plans to visit Baramullah (IHK) during the Eid Holidays.

Till the draconian laws are repealed, India’s reign of terror in occupied Kashmir will go on unabated.

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