Khurram Shehzad
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Human Rights Defender Khurram Parvez is named Time’s 100 Most Influential People

Khurram Parvez, a prominent Kashmiri human rights defender, has been named Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2022. Khurram is currently lodged in a Delhi jail. He was jailed by the Modi-led Indian government in November 2021 under the anti-terrorism law, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The National Investigation Agency (NIA) accused him of “terror funding” and “conspiracy.” Khurram is chairman of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) and program coordinator of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS). JKCCS is a prominent human rights group in Indian-administered Kashmir that frequently publishes reports on killings, enforced disappearances, torture, mass graves, human rights abuses, internet shutdown and elections in Kashmir.

Khurram Parvez had to be silenced.

Time magazine called Khurram Parvez a “modern-day David who gave a voice to families that lost their children to enforced disappearances, allegedly by the Indian state.” The magazine added that “he had to be silenced, for his was a voice that resounded around the globe for his fierce fight against human-rights violations and injustices in the Kashmir region.” Khurram was earlier detained in September 2016 from Delhi Airport when he was on his way to attend the 33rd UN Human Rights Council Session in Geneva. He was first released after a court-ordered his release but was subsequently arrested under Public Safety Act (PSA). He was released from jail after 76 days after an order from Jammu and Kashmir High Court (J&K HC). J&K HC termed his detention “illegal.” 

Khurram Parvez was also a target of a bomb attack in 2004. He was on an election monitoring and fact-finding mission in Lolab for JKCCS when an improvised explosive device (IED) blew up his car, killing his colleague Aasiya Jeelani and the driver. Khurram was seriously injured and lost a leg.

JKCCS’ Work in Kashmir.

Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) has been documenting and publishing reports on human rights violations in Kashmir. Most recently, JKCCS released a report on the communication blockade in Kashmir. After the revocation of the special autonomy of Kashmir in August 2019, the Indian government blocked all forms of communication, including the internet and mobile network. The rights group in its 2020 report called the communication blockade “digital apartheid” and a form of “collective punishment”. 

Also read: Jammu & Kashmir: a year after the abrogation of article 370

JKCCS has also monitored and published reports on elections in Kashmir. It brought attention to the existence of mass graves in Kashmir through several of its reports. Further, it documents enforced disappearances in Kashmir. The group has also published reports on torture, killings and various other human rights violations committed by Indian security forces in Kashmir.

Also read: The Rise of Hybrid Militants in Kashmir

Also read: Kashmiri Leader Yasin Malik is Sentenced to Life Imprisonment

The rising cost of dissent in Kashmir.

Ever since Narendra Modi led Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power, there have been rising concerns about the human rights situation in India. Anti-terrorism law, U.A.P.A., with its roots in a colonial-era law has been misused to silence human rights defenders and critics. It is very difficult to get bail under the law. 

The human rights violations in India-administered Kashmir have been on the rise especially since India revoked the special autonomy of the region. Jammu and Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority region in India. The region is disputed between India and Pakistan. An armed conflict started in the region in the late 1980s.

Khurram Parvez’s arrest is not an isolated case. There have been a plethora of such cases of government critics being jailed under the anti-terrorism law. Many journalists in Kashmir have been accused of anti-national activities for reporting facts. Even if courts order their release, they are re-arrested under Public Safety Act (PSA).

Also read: India Gags-up Media in Kashmir

Ever since Khurram Parvez was jailed, JKCCS does not seem to be functional. Its website is inaccessible and its social media handles have been inactive. People who used to report on human rights have been jailed and silenced. Kashmiri local newspapers have been browbeaten into self-censorship. Local press in Kashmir has now been reduced to a bunch of stenographers. Those who resist have been denied advertisements, banned, or jailed.   

Even government employees who have been critical of the government have been terminated. In fact, the Manoj Sinha-led administration in Kashmir has been doing background verification of government employees in Kashmir. Even those government employees who have been critical of the government in the past have been terminated for security reasons. Therefore, the cost of dissent in Kashmir has been raised by the BJP government after the abrogation of the special autonomy of Kashmir.