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Tools of suppression

Public Safety Act or PSA and Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) are the readily available weapons for the government in Jammu and Kashmir to whip and whisk people who differ with it. While PSA gives civilian government power unlimited, AFSPA is a military tool to suppress peoples’ aspirations. Since July last year around 1000 people have been booked and jailed under PSA across the valley. Though many of them have been released but many more are still behind the bars. Many more are reported to be in line to be charged and jailed under this law. PSA provides for arresting and jailing a person without trial for two years on mere suspicion that he/she may disrupt law and order in the state or may act in a manner prejudicial to the security of the state. The Act bypasses all the institutional procedures and human rights safeguards of ordinary criminal justice system in order to secure a long detention term. The order of the detention under the PSA cannot be held to be inoperative or invalid on the grounds of technical issues, vagueness, nonexistence of one or more grounds or that the grounds are irrelevant, or the officer had no territorial jurisdiction to make such detention (section-10A of the Act). The government has powers to restrict or stop circulation of any documents in and out of the state and may seize those documents to prevent entry. The Act also empowers the government to declare any area as prohibited or protected and can restrict entry thereto. Interestingly, PSA has impunity provision as well. Section 22 of the Act states that no suit, prosecution or any legal proceedings shall lie against any person for anything done or intended to be done in good faith in pursuance of this Act. This is almost similar to the impunity armed forces enjoy for their actions under AFSPA. Hundreds and thousands of civilians have been shot at and killed by armed forces across Jammu and Kashmir in the name of combating militancy. On many occasions the capricious use of gun by the men in uniform caused embarrassment for the government forcing it make claims of probe into the killings. However, the legal cover provided to armed forces under AFSPA always came in the way. Only last month, when a posse of soldiers shot at three young and unarmed youth at Ganowpora in Shopian, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti claimed that FIR was lodged against the erring army officer. But she was contested by her bosses in central government that her government does not have any jurisdiction to register FIR against any army officer in presence of impunity the armed forces enjoy under AFSPA. It was against this backdrop that the ‘erring’ army officer’s name was not mentioned in the status report of the case the state government filed in Supreme Court on Monday. The Supreme Court has directed the state government not to probe the FIR till next date of hearing next month. The two laws are a double-edged blade hovering over the heads all the time. According to unofficial reports around one lakh people have died since late 80s when armed trouble started in the state but every time the perpetrators escaped under AFSPA. The story of PSA is no less tragic. More than 30,000 people have been arrested and jailed by different governments on different occasions in Jammu and Kashmir under this law since its promulgation in 1978. The reprehensible law is a legacy of Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah, whom people of Kashmir used to address as “Sher-e-Kashmir and Asia Ka Buland Sitaraa”. Shiekh Abdullah’s Ja’nnasheens (heir apparent) Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah only but carried their family legacy with all the passion and fervor. One had expected that after its rise to power, PDP would do away with the law or, at least, amend it to stopped its misuse. But it is unfortunate that the PDP has not proved different. It even proved worse. Most of the persons presently facing the brunt of the law are the common people who hit the streets in protest against the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.