In the penultimate Positive Solace: Women of Vision, Attika speaks to Mir Urfi, a Kashmiri lawyer and human rights activist, who faces a constant struggle for justice and freedom of movement, not just for her clients.
She is often stopped and made to identify herself by the Indian security forces in her own state: Jammu and Kashmir.
When Urfi began her work as a lawyer she was a woman in a man's world, and even today there are very few female lawyers, especially those willing to take on cases of citizens wrongfully detained.
Since 1949, Article 370 of India's Constitution gives Jammu and Kashmir special status, authorising the region to have its own constitution and state flag. However, this article was revoked by India in 2019, resulting in the voice of the people being silenced. With communication services suspended, a curfew imposed, creating an effective lockdown, and people encouraged to stay off the streets, the state is effectively under martial law.
Oppressive legislation such as the Public Safety Act (PSA), is being used to make indefinite arrests and detentions thereby revoking a person's rights. In fact, the PSA violates many human rights according to international law.
In her day-to-day life, Urfi fights for those unlawfully detained: sometimes, she explains, these people have been held in custody for months or even years. The PSA gives the security forces the right to revoke a person's right to habeas corpus which should force the authorities to bring the detainee to trial. And while India feigns ignorance of its actions, its security forces pursue further injustice.
Urfi says she dreams of a Kashmir where people can live without fear, go out without hinderance, and not feel constantly the threat of physical violence or mental pressure from the security forces. Mental problems have increased due to high levels of anxiety. Upwards of a third of the adult population have been diagnosed with some form of mental condition and Urfi believes this is all related to the stress of living with the present tensions. Even the medical practitioners who treat the people are themselves suffering from heightened anxiety states.
Urfi's mentor was the renowned lawyer and human rights activist Mir Shafqat Hussain who fought all his life for people abandoned by the judicial system. And he played a pivotal role in helping Amnesty International highlight the abuse of humans rights in Kashmir. Urfi has taken over his firm and is now walking in his footsteps.
Urfi tells Attika that the Kashmiri people must be freed from the constant military pressure. “The people need to be given the right to live!” she says.
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