The recent spate of summary dismissal of government employees in Jammu and Kashmir by the union territory’s administration for purported ‘anti-national’ activities without even holding an enquiry militate against transparency and accountability, and are manifestly hostile to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, writes DR RADHA KUMAR.
ON the September 16, 2021, the administration of Jammu and Kashmir, headed by lieutenant-governor Manoj Sinha, issued an administrative order titled ‘Verification of Character and Antecedents of Government employees’ (GO No. 957-JK (GAD) of 2021). Under the order, a government employee can be dismissed for mere “association with” any person involved in or aiding acts of “sabotage, espionage, treason, terrorism, subversion, sedition, secession, facilitating foreign interference, incitement to violence or any other unconstitutional act.” Further, a government employee can also be dismissed if their immediate family or anyone sharing the same residential space is or has been involved in any of the acts listed above, “directly or indirectly”, because they might subject the employee “to duress, thereby posing a grave security risk”.
In other words, a government employee in Jammu and Kashmir risks dismissal if they are connected by mere proximity to someone who may sympathize with those who seek Kashmir’s separation from India, even if they do not share those sentiments, and indeed, may oppose them. If this sounds like punishing one person for another’s transgressions, the injustice is further compounded by the fact that in such cases, the government employee has few rights to challenge his/her dismissal.
The September order is the latest in a series of steps beginning July 30, 2020, when the Jammu and Kashmir administration constituted a committee to scrutinize and recommend cases for dismissal of government employees, headed by chief secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam (GO No. 738-JK(GAD) of 2020). Invoking Article 311 of the Indian Constitution, the general service rules of the Jammu and Kashmir administration were amended to dispense with the requirements of a hearing and enquiry prior to dismissal, if it was in the interests of national security.
In April 2021, a six-member task force headed by the former state’s additional director-general of police (CID) was appointed under GO No. 355-JK(GAD) of 2021, to identify government employees who may have been involved in ‘anti-national activities’. The task force was mandated to recommend dismissals under Article 311(2)(c) to a committee that would, in its turn, forward the names of civil servants to be dismissed to the relevant authorities. On April 30, government schoolteacher Idrees Jan, college professor Dr Abdul Bari Naik and Pulwama Naib Tehsildar Nazir Ahmed Wani were dismissed by order of lieutenant-governor Sinha, who proclaimed himself satisfied that an enquiry would not be in the interest of the security of the state.
Between May and July 2021, over a dozen government employees were dismissed in Jammu and Kashmir ‘in the interest of the security of the state’. In May, deputy superintendent of police Davinder Singh and two teachers, Bashir Sheikh and Ghulam Ganie, were dismissed. Davinder Singh had been arrested on January 10, 2020, and jailed for facilitating two Hizbul Mujahideen militants. On July 11, eleven government employees were reported to have been terminated at the task force’s recommendation, including an orderly held to abet and harbour Lashkar-e-Ta’iba terrorists, and another orderly suspected of supporting the Hizbul Mujahideen. Two teachers from Anantnag were also dismissed over alleged propagation of ‘anti-national’ sentiments. Jabbar Paray and Nisar Tantray, former employees of the Jammu and Kashmir education department, were dismissed on account of their alleged secessionist ideology. Shaheen Lone of the power department was sacked over suspected arms-smuggling to the Hizbul Muhahideen. Abdul Shigan, a constable dismissed at the committee’s fourth meeting, was suspected of carrying out attacks on the security forces. The children of prominent secessionist Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Hizbul head Syed Salahuddin were also dismissed. By July 20, 2021, total dismissals numbered eighteen.
The September 16 order was followed by another six dismissals, including of policemen and teachers alleged to be ‘over ground workers’ for terrorist groups. Teacher Abdul Hamid Wani, a militant who had given up arms and been rehabilitated, was said to have been an organizer of protests following the death of Hizbul Mujahideen’s Burhan Wani in 2016. Teacher Liaqat Ali Kakroo was apparently dismissed for having been arrested in 2002, though he was subsequently acquitted. Two others – a police constable and a junior assistant in the road and building department – have been charge-sheeted by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) and are currently out on bail. A forest range officer was dismissed for gun-running and smuggling counterfeit currency, and another police constable was dismissed for looting arms.
The charges against most of the dismissed are serious, but since no evidence has been placed in the public domain, it is unclear whether they are founded in substance. Judging from media reports, the dismissals fall into two categories: one, the ‘mere proximity’ listed in the September 16 order, along with retrospective punishment for having once been a militant/militant sympathizer; two, actual criminal activity such as gun-running.
That the two cannot be equated is obvious. Mere proximity to secessionists and/or militants cannot be grounds for dismissal unless it can be shown that the employee in question has committed a crime. Their susceptibility to influence cannot be presumed – and even if it is, it does not lead to commission of a crime. If a causal chain between proximity, influence and crime is to be presumed, then a sizable chunk of both our national and our state administrative services would have to be dismissed.
Worryingly, the succession of dismissal orders from 2020 till the present reveals yet another reversal of the strategies deployed in the peace-making period of 2002-14. The rehabilitation of surrendered militants was a policy developed during the 1990s that the army continues to attempt to implement even today. Thousands of former militants were re-integrated into civilian occupations as a result; very few took up arms again. The policy was extended in the 2000s, to those Kashmiri militants stranded in Pakistani-held Kashmir that wished to give up arms and return to their native land. Indeed, the jobs for Salahuddin’s children were part of a peace-making initiative that was intended to result in his return too (after giving up arms). That did not happen, for a variety of reasons.
Even had the Indian government trusted his assurance when given, his involvement in the murders of so many could not easily be papered over. Nor was it likely that Pakistan would allow him to return, as a surrendered militant – for his handlers, his death would be preferable.
Irrespective of the failure of the peace initiative, there is little in the public domain to show that his children, or those of other militants, have engaged in activities that threaten the security of the state.
In 2010, when noted journalist Dr Dilip Padgaonkar, Information Commissioner M.M. Ansari and I were appointed interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir by the union government, one of the first small confidence-building measures that we recommended was to remove the requirement to query passports for those related to militants. Merely being related, we argued, was not grounds for suspicion, let alone denial, of a fundamental citizenship right. Our request was met with sympathy in the Union Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the requirement was removed. The police verification process in such cases was rigorous enough without the requirement, which had been found to be susceptible to misuse.
The issue of misuse is infinitely compounded by the Jammu and Kashmir administration’s service orders from July 2020-September 2021. With the removal of all provisions for transparency or accountability, grave charges can be made against government employees, leading not only to their loss of livelihood but also social stigma. Yet those who make the charges do not have to prove the charges in either a court of law or in the public domain. The employee has no right to even access the purported evidence against him/her. What is to prevent arbitrary dismissal whenever the fancy takes a chief secretary or a lieutenant-governor?
In the highly-charged atmosphere that has prevailed in the valley since the vitiation of Article 370 and bifurcation of the former state into two union territories, steps such as these are liable to be seen as a witch hunt – especially given that the vast majority of dismissals are of local employees, and the decisions to dismiss are taken by union officials with limited or no knowledge of the former state. Indeed, it is difficult even for outside observers to see these orders as anything but manifestly hostile to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
(Dr Radha Kumar is a feminist, academic and author, and was a government-appointed interlocutor for Jammu and Kashmir in 2010-11. The views expressed are personal.)