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No Human Rights – in Theory or Practice

Jun 25 2012 - Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 1948, in the aftermath of the Second World War, world leaders embarked on a process of ensuring the rights of every individual in the world.

The theory and practice of human rights is a much-studied topic in every single region of the world – except in conflict-ridden Kashmir, where human rights education is still a distant dream.

Not a single college or university curriculum offers a course on human rights. No degrees, diplomas or official training on the subject exists.

“It is highly unfortunate not to have human rights courses in the education system. It is a lacuna,” said Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a human rights expert who lectures in the Law Department at the University of Kashmir.

Back in 2003, under mounting pressure from faculty members like Showkat and his colleagues, the University began a year long post graduate diploma in human rights.

“I worked very hard to get the course started. We really needed it here,” Showkat said.

The course lured scores of local students, particularly from legal backgrounds. Initially, it was funded by the University Grants Commission (UGC) of India.  But two years into the programme, the UGC stopped the grant and the state government prepared to take over the bursary. When it failed to do so, the University of Kashmir stepped in to take up the liabilities and run the course under its own watch.

But in 2009, professors were informed that the course had been scrapped.

While the varsity administration claims the course was halted due to insufficient staff and infrastructure, many see this as a direct result of government polices designed to suppress human rights defenders across the region.

“The shutting down of the course came soon after (political unrest) in 2009. It was simply to ensure that people do not get empowered (through awareness) of human rights,” an official, speaking under condition of anonymity, told IPS.

Ever since the commencement of armed struggle against Indian rule in 1989, Kashmir has witnessed an unrelenting wave of human rights violations in the form of massacres, enforced disappearances, killing of youth and custodial deaths. During the past few years, increasing numbers of youth, including a minor below 18 years of age, have been killed and detained for speaking out about human rights abuses.

In 2008 mass protests against the transfer of 99 acres of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, to set up shrines and temporary shelters for Hindu pilgrims, rocked Kashmir.

In 2009, the dual crime of a murder and rape allegedly involving security forces triggered months of political agitation.

Khurram Parvaiz, a human rights activist, believes the closure of the human rights course to be a part of state policy.

“The students enrolled in the programme started conducting research on some grave human rights issues in Kashmir. They starting exposing the human rights violations in (the Valley),” he told IPS.

This created a stir, since the state government does not facilitate any kind of political research at any level of education, he added.

Though the course was still in its infancy, its rapid growth put the government on edge, Parvaiz noted.

“On one hand the state government says it is against violence but on the other hand it is chocking those who speak out against violence.”

For students, the absence of a human rights course does not only signal a shrinking of career opportunities but also stifles chances of social change.

“Human rights not only refers to killings or massacres, but (addresses) protection of children’s and women’s rights too. When we have no knowledge on the subject, we can neither defend our rights nor those of the (vulnerable),” Aamina Khan (not her real name), a law student at the University, told IPS.

Aamina’s friend, Yusra, says the suppression of human rights education by authorities is pushing Kashmiri society into a darker stage.

“If authorities were serious about ending human rights violations in Kashmir, such courses would have been propagated rather than closed down.”

The eminent local lawyer Nazir Ahamd Ronga considers human rights education a crucial element of society.

“Human rights violations are a burning issue in Kashmir and people lack awareness on it. Educating youth about it is extremely important,” Ronga told IPS.

He said that a department dedicated solely to the study of human rights should be established in the Valley.

Particularly in a conflict areas like Kashmir, Ronga said, knowledge about human rights needs to be spread far and wide. “It is through educating people on human rights that we can ensure a better future. We (desperately) need people to work in this field.”

B.A.Dabla, a prominent professor of sociology, said the situation in Kashmir calls for the inclusion of human rights education at all levels of education. Other experts like Prof. A.G. Madhosh stressed that the university authorities should consider starting the course again.

“We cannot block any type of education for youth. They need exposure to every kind of subject to compete at international levels,” Madhosh remarked.

When asked if there were any plans to restart the course, Prof. Laief, head of the Law Faculty, replied in the negative.


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