Travel and Travail

Guaranteeing the right to travel, Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 1966), signed and ratified by India, reads: “Everyone has a right to leave the country, including his own, and this right should not be (subjected) to any restrictions.”  Travel documents are issued to citizens, including dissidents, all over the world, the only exception being Jammu and Kashmir in Asia where the government uses them as an instrument to control and collectively punish a defiant people. This has had an adverse impact on all spheres of civil society, with consequences on education, trade, religion, employment and human rights.

Intelligence sleuths, it has been reliably learnt, have prepared a blacklist which the establishment calls the “Security Index,” with as many as 60,000 families from the Kashmir Valley alone. It must have swelled considerably since its existence was leaked to the press a few years ago. Though judicial recourse, suggested by legal experts as remedy, has worked in some cases, authorities by-and-large have not honoured court orders.

In a landmark judgement in October last year, the High Court held that acquitted individuals have a right to hold passports. Humayun Yusuf Jan, a reputed businessman of the city was arrested by a security agency under Section 3/25 of the Indian Arms Act (FIR No 130/97), but later acquitted by the court. Notwithstanding this, he was denied a passport. When he took legal recourse, the court ruled that acquitted persons could not be denied passports, and directed that he be issued the document within four weeks. Jammu and Kashmir also has the distinction of having a different variety of passports, called ‘restricted passports’ by locals, meant only for particular countries. And passports issued after August 1, 2004 carry a new info line. Introduced by the local intelligence chief in 2004 to deprive Kashmiri students of educational opportunities in Pakistan under the SAARC programme,  these ‘restricted’ travel documents have drawn severe criticism from human rights defenders and the civil society, with experts maintaining that being vital documents, passports could  not be vandalised by police officers. Such niceties, evidently, do not apply in Kashmir where a police officer decides whether someone gets a government job or can go for Hajj.