S. A. R. Geelani: Now I request Arundhati Roy to come and speak.
Arundhati Roy: If anybody has any shoes to throw, please throw them now…
[Some people in the audience: “We’re cultured.”]
AR: Good, I’m glad. I’m glad to hear that. Though being cultured is not necessarily a good thing. But anyway…
[Interruption from some people in the audience.]
SG: Please, will you talk afterwards. Now prove that you are cultured.
AR: About a week or ten days ago, I was in Ranchi where there was a Peoples’ Tribunal against Operation Green Hunt—which is the Indian state’s war against the poorest people in this country—and at that tribunal, just as I was leaving, a TV journalist stuck a mic in my face and very aggressively said “Madam, is Kashmir an integral part of India or not? Is Kashmir an integral part of India or not?” about five times. So I said, look Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. However aggressively and however often you want to ask me that. Even the Indian government has accepted, in the UN that it’s not an integral part of India. So why are we trying to change that narrative now. See in 1947, we were told that India became a sovereign nation and a sovereign democracy, but if you look at what the Indian state did from midnight of 1947 onwards, that colonized country, that country that became a country because of the imagination of its colonizer—the British drew the map of India in 1899—so that country became a colonizing power the moment it became independent, and the Indian state has militarily intervened in Manipur, in Nagaland, in Mizoram, in Kashmir, in Telangana, during the Naxalbari uprising, in Punjab, in Hyderabad, in Goa, in Junagarh. So often the Indian government, the Indian state, the Indian elite, they accuse the Naxalites of believing in protracted war, but actually you see a state—the Indian state—that has waged protracted war against its own people or what it calls its own people relentlessly since 1947, and when you look at who are those people that it has waged war against—the Nagas, the Mizos, the Manipuris, people in Assam, Hyderabad, Kashmir, Punjab—it’s always a minority, the Muslims, the tribals, the Christians, the Dalits, the Adivasis, endless war by an upper caste Hindu state, this is what is the modern history of our country. Now, in 2007, at the time of the uprising in Kashmir against that whole acquisition of land for the Amarnath Yatra, I was in Srinagar and I was walking down the road and I met a young journalist, I think he was from Times of India, and he said to me—he couldn’t believe that he saw some Indian person—walking alone on the road—and he said, “can I have a quote?” So I said, “Yes, do you have a pen? Because I don’t want to be misquoted” and I said, “write down—India needs azaadi from Kashmir just as much as Kashmir needs azaadi from India,” and when I said India, I did not mean the Indian state, I meant the Indian people because I think that the occupation of Kashmir—today there are seven hundred thousand security personnel manning that valley of twelve million people—it is the most militarized zone in the world—and for us, the people of India, to tolerate that occupation is like allowing a kind of moral corrosion to drip into our blood stream. So for me it’s an intolerable situation to try and pretend that it isn’t happening even if the media blanks it out, all of us know—or maybe all of us don’t know, but any of us who’ve visited Kashmir know—that Kashmiris cannot inhale and exhale without their breath going through the barrel of an AK-47. So, so many things have been done there, every time there’s an election and people come out to vote, the Indian government goes and says, “Why do you want a referendum? There was a vote and the people have voted for India.” Now, I actually think that we need to deepen our thinking a little bit because I too am very proud of this meeting today, I think it’s a historic meeting in some ways, it’s a historic meeting taking place in the capital of this very hollow superpower, a superpower where eight hundred and thirty million people live on less than twenty rupees a day. Now, sometimes it’s very difficult to know from what place one stands on as formally a citizen of India, what can one say, what is one allowed to say, because when India was fighting for independence from British colonization—every argument that people now use to problematize the problems of azaadi in Kashmir were certainly used against Indians. Crudely put, “the natives are not ready for freedom, the natives are not ready for democracy,” but every kind of complication was also true, I mean the great debates between Ambedkar and Gandhi and Nehru—they were also real debates and over these last sixty years whatever the Indian state has done, people in this country have argued and debated and deepened the meaning of freedom. We have also lost a lot of ground because we’ve come to a stage today where India a country that once called itself Non Aligned , that once held its head up in pride has today totally lain down prostrate on the floor at the feet of the USA. So we are a slave nation today, our economy is completely—however much the Sensex may be growing, the fact is the reason that the Indian police, the paramilitary and soon perhaps the army will be deployed in the whole of central India is because it’s an extractive colonial economy that’s being foisted on us. But the reason that I said what we need to do is to deepen this conversation is because it’s also very easy for us to continue to pat ourselves on the backs as great fighters for resistance for anything whether it’s the Maoists in the forests or whether it’s the stone pelters on the streets—but actually we must understand that we are up against something very serious and I’m afraid that the bows and arrows of the Adivasis and the stones in the hands of the young people are absolutely essential but they are not the only thing that’s going to win us freedom, and for that we need to be tactical, we need to question ourselves, we need to make alliances, serious alliances…. Because… I often say that in 1986 when capitalism won its jihad against soviet communism in the mountains of Afghanistan, the whole world changed and India realigned itself in the unipolar world and in that realignment it did two things, it opened two locks , one was the lock of the Babri Masjid and one was the lock of the Indian markets and it ushered in two kinds of totalitarianism—Hindu fascism, Hindutva fascism, and economic totalitarianism, and both these manufactured their own kinds of terrorism—so you have Islamist “terrorists” and the Maoist “terrorists”—and this process has made eighty percent of this country live on twenty rupees a day but it has divided us all up and we spend all our time fighting with each other when in fact there should be deep solidarity. There should be deep solidarity between the struggles in Manipur, the struggles in Nagaland, the struggle in Kashmir, the struggle in central India and in all the poor, squatters, the vendors , all the slum dwellers and so on. But what is it that should link these struggles? It’s the idea of justice because there can be struggles which are not struggles for justice, there are peoples movements like the VHP is a peoples movement—but it’s a struggle for fascism, it’s a struggle for injustice, we don’t align ourselves with that. So every movement, every person on the street, every slogan is not a slogan for justice. So when I was in Kashmir on the streets during the Amarnath Yatra time, and even today—I haven’t been to Kashmir recently—but I’ve seen and my heart is filled with appreciation for the struggle that people are waging, the fight that young people are fighting and I don’t want them to be let down. I don’t want them to be let down even by their own leaders because I want to believe that this fight is a fight for justice. Not a fight in which you pick and choose your justices—“we want justice but it’s ok if the other chap is squashed.” That’s not right. So I remember when I wrote in 2007, I said the one thing that broke my heart on the streets of Srinagar, was when I heard people say “Nanga Bhooka Hindustan, jaan se pyaara Pakistan.” I said “No. Because the Nanga Bhooka Hindustan is with you. And if you’re fighting for a just society then you must align yourselves with the powerless,” the Indian people here today are people who have spent their lives opposing the Indian state. I have, as many of you may know, been associated for a long time with the struggle in the Narmada valley against big dams and I always say that I think so much about these two valleys—the Kashmir valley and the Narmada valley. In the Narmada valley, they speak of repression, but perhaps the people don’t really know what repression is because they’ve not experienced the kind of repression that there is in the Kashmir valley. But they have a very, very, very sophisticated understanding of the economic structures of the world of imperialism and of the earth and what it does and how those big dams create an inequality that you cannot get away from. And in the Kashmir valley you have such a sophisticated understanding of repression, sixty years of repression of secret operations, of spying, of intelligence operations, of death, of killing. But have you insulated yourself from that other understanding, of what the world is today? What these economic structures are? What kind of Kashmir are you going to fight for? Because we are with you in that fight, we are with you. But we want, we hope that it’ll be a fight for justice. We know today that this word ‘secularism’ that the Indian state flings at us is a hollow word because you can’t kill sixty-eight thousand Kashmiri Muslims and then call yourself a secular state. You cannot allow the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat and call yourself a secular state and yet you can’t then turn around and say that “we are allowed to treat our minorities badly “—so what kind of justice are you fighting for? I hope that the young people will deepen their idea of Azaadi, it is something that the state and your enemies that you’re fighting uses to divide you. That’s true.
[Some people in the audience: “Do you know what happened to the pundits?”]
AR: I know the story of the Kashmiri pundits. I also know that the story that these Panun Kashmir pundits put out is false. However, this does not mean that injustice was not done.
[People in audience: “Do you know how many Hindus were killed?”]
AR: I think — ok, let me continue… [part of the crowd arguing loudly].
SG: I request everyone to please sit.
AR: Alright, I want to say that, I think this disturbance is based on a misunderstanding, because I was beginning to talk about justice and in that conversation about justice, I was just about to say that what happened with the Kashmiri pundits is a tragedy, so I don’t know why you all started shouting, I think it’s a tragedy because when we stand here and talk about justice, it is justice for everybody, and those of us who stand here and talk about their being a place for everybody whether there’s a minority whether it’s an ethnic minority or a religious minority or minority in terms of caste, we don’t believe in majoritarianism so that’s why I was talking about the fact that everybody in Kashmir should have a very deep discussion about what kind of society you’re fighting for because Kashmir is a very diverse community and that discussion does not have to come from critics or people who are against azaadi trying to divide this struggle , it has to come from within you so it is not the place of people outside to say “they don’t know what they mean by azaadi, do they mean Gilgit and Baltistan, what about Jammu? What about Laddakh?” These are debates that people within the state of Jammu and Kashmir are quite capable of having by themselves and I think they understand that. So, to just try and derail things by shouting at people is completely pointless because I think that people, the pundits in Kashmir, all the time I’ve spent in Kashmir, have only heard people say they are welcome back and I know people who live there, who believe that too, so all I want to say is that when we are having these political debates, I feel I have watched and have been listening to and following the recent uprising in Kashmir, the fact that unarmed people, young people armed with stones, women, even children are out on the streets facing down this massive army with guns is something that nobody in the world cannot help but salute. However it is up to the people who are leading this struggle, it is up to the people who are thinking to take it further, because you cannot just leave it there—because the Indian state, you know what its greatest art is—it’s not killing people—that’s its second greatest art, the first greatest art is to wait, to wait and wait and wait and hope that everybody’s energies will just go down. Crisis management, sometimes it’s an election, sometimes it’s something else, but the point is that people have to look at more than a direct confrontation on the streets. You have to ask yourselves why—the people of Nagaland must ask themselves why there’s a Naga battalion committing the most unbelievable atrocities in Chhatisgarh. After spending so much time in Kashmir watching the CRPF and the BSF and the Rashtriya Rifles lock down that valley, the first time I went to Chhattisgarh, on the way I saw Kashmiri BSF, Kashmiri CRPF on the way to kill people in Chhatisgarh. You’ve got to ask yourself—there’s more to resistance than throwing stones—these things can’t be allowed to happen—”how is the state using people?” The colonial state whether it was the British state in India or whether it’s the Indian state in Kashmir or Nagaland or in Chhattisgarh, they are in the business of creating elites to manage their occupations, so you have to know your enemy and you have to be able to respond in ways where you’re tactical, where you’re intelligent, where you’re political—internationally, locally and in every other way—you have to make your alliances, because otherwise you’ll be like fish swimming furiously around a fish tank bombing the walls and getting tired in the end because those walls are very, very strong. So I’ll just leave with this: Think about justice and don’t pick and choose your injustices. Don’t say that “I want justice but it’s ok if the next guy doesn’t have it, or the next woman doesn’t have it.” Because justice is the keystone to integrity and integrity is the key stone to real resistance.
Month: November 2010
Arundhati Roy: My reaction to…
…(T)oday’s court order directing the Delhi Police to file an FIR against me for waging war against the state: Perhaps they should posthumously file a charge against Jawaharlal Nehru too:
Here’s what he said about Kashmir
1/. In his telegram to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said, “I should like to make it clear that the question of aiding Kashmir in this emergency is not designed in any way to influence the state to accede to India. Our view which we have repeatedly made public is that the question of accession in any disputed territory or state must be decided in accordance with wishes of people and we adhere to this view”. (Telegram 402 Primin-2227 dated 27 October 1947 to PM of Pakistan repeating telegram addressed to PM of UK).
2/. In other telegram to the PM of Pakistan, Pandit Nehru said, “Kashmir’s accession to India was accepted by us at the request of the Maharaja’s government and the most numerously representative popular organization in the state which is predominantly Muslim. Even then it was accepted on condition that as soon as law and order had been restored, the people of Kashmir would decide the question of accession. It is open to them to accede to either Dominion then”. (Telegram No. 255, dated 31 October 1947).
3/. In his broadcast to the nation over All India Radio on 2 November 1947, Pandit Nehru said, “We are anxious not to finalise anything in a moment of crisis and without the fullest opportunity to be given to the people of Kashmir to have their say. It is for them ultimately to decide —— And let me make it clear that it has been our policy that where there is a dispute about the accession of a state to either Dominion, the accession must be made by the people of that state. It is in accordance with this policy that we have added a proviso to the Instrument of Accession of Kashmir”.
4/. In another broadcast to the nation on 3 November 1947, Pandit Nehru said, “We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given not only to the people of Kashmir and to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it”.
5/. In his letter No. 368 Primin dated 21 November 1947 addressed to the PM of Pakistan, Pandit Nehru said, “I have repeatedly stated that as soon as peace and order have been established, Kashmir should decide of accession by Plebiscite or referendum under international auspices such as those of United Nations”.
6/. In his statement in the Indian Constituent Assembly on 25 November 1947, Pandit Nehru said, “In order to establish our bonafide, we have suggested that when the people are given the chance to decide their future, this should be done under the supervision of an impartial tribunal such as the United Nations Organisation. The issue in Kashmir is whether violence and naked force should decide the future or the will of the people”.
7/. In his statement in the Indian Constituent Assembly on 5 March 1948, Pandit Nehru said, “Even at the moment of accession, we went out of our way to make a unilateral declaration that we would abide by the will of the people of Kashmir as declared in a plebiscite or referendum. We insisted further that the Government of Kashmir must immediately become a popular government. We have adhered to that position throughout and we are prepared to have a Plebiscite with every protection of fair voting and to abide by the decision of the people of Kashmir”.
8/. In his press-conference in London on 16 January 1951, as reported by the daily “Statesman” on 18 January 1951, Pandit Nehru stated, “India has repeatedly offered to work with the United Nations reasonable safeguards to enable the people of Kashmir to express their will and is always ready to do so. We have always right from the beginning accepted the idea of the Kashmir people deciding their fate by referendum or plebiscite. In fact, this was our proposal long before the United Nations came into the picture. Ultimately the final decision of the settlement, which must come, has first of all to be made basically by the people of Kashmir and secondly, as between Pakistan and India directly. Of course it must be remembered that we (India and Pakistan) have reached a great deal of agreement already. What I mean is that many basic features have been thrashed out. We all agreed that it is the people of Kashmir who must decide for themselves about their future externally or internally. It is an obvious fact that even without our agreement no country is going to hold on to Kashmir against the will of the Kashmiris”.
9/. In his report to All Indian Congress Committee on 6 July 1951 as published in the Statesman, New Delhi on 9 July 1951, Pandit Nehru said, “Kashmir has been wrongly looked upon as a prize for India or Pakistan. People seem to forget that Kashmir is not a commodity for sale or to be bartered. It has an individual existence and its people must be the final arbiters of their future. It is here today that a struggle is bearing fruit, not in the battlefield but in the minds of men”.
10/. In a letter dated 11 September 1951, to the U.N. representative, Pandit Nehru wrote, “The Government of India not only reaffirms its acceptance of the principle that the question of the continuing accession of the state of Jammu and Kashmir to India shall be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite under the auspices of the United Nations but is anxious that the conditions necessary for such a plebiscite should be created as quickly as possible”.
11/. As reported by Amrita Bazar Patrika Calcutta, on 2 January 1952, while replying to Dr. Mookerji’s question in the Indian Legislature as to what the Congress Government going to do about one third of territory still held by Pakistan, Pandit Nehru said, ” is not the property of either India or Pakistan. It belongs to the Kashmiri people. When Kashmir acceded to India, we made it clear to the leaders of the Kashmiri people that we would ultimately abide by the verdict of their Plebiscite. If they tell us to walk out, I would have no hesitation in quitting. We have taken the issue to United Nations and given our word of honour for a peaceful solution. As a great nation we cannot go back on it. We have left the question for final solution to the people of Kashmir and we are determined to abide by their decision”.
12/. In his statement in the Indian Parliament on 7 August 1952, Pandit Nehru said, “Let me say clearly that we accept the basic proposition that the future of Kashmir is going to be decided finally by the goodwill and pleasure of her people. The goodwill and pleasure of this Parliament is of no importance in this matter, not because this Parliament does not have the strength to decide the question of Kashmir but because any kind of imposition would be against the principles that this Parliament holds. Kashmir is very close to our minds and hearts and if by some decree or adverse fortune, ceases to be a part of India, it will be a wrench and a pain and torment for us. If, however, the people of Kashmir do not wish to remain with us, let them go by all means. We will not keep them against their will, however painful it may be to us. I want to stress that it is only the people of Kashmir who can decide the future of Kashmir. It is not that we have merely said that to the United Nations and to the people of Kashmir, it is our conviction and one that is borne out by the policy that we have pursued, not only in Kashmir but everywhere. Though these five years have meant a lot of trouble and expense and in spite of all we have done, we would willingly leave if it was made clear to us that the people of Kashmir wanted us to go. However sad we may feel about leaving we are not going to stay against the wishes of the people. We are not going to impose ourselves on them on the point of the bayonet”.
13/. In his statement in the Lok Sabha on 31 March 1955, as published in Hindustan Times New Delhi on 1 April 1955, Pandit Nehru said, ” Kashmir is perhaps the most difficult of all these problems between India and Pakistan. We should also remember that Kashmir is not a thing to be bandied between India and Pakistan but it has a soul of its own and an individuality of its own. Nothing can be done without the goodwill and consent of the people of Kashmir”.
14/. In his statement in the Security Council while taking part in debate on Kashmir in the 765th meeting of the Security Council on 24 January 1957, the Indian representative Mr. Krishna Menon said, “So far as we are concerned, there is not one word in the statements that I have made in this council which can be interpreted to mean that we will not honour international obligations. I want to say for the purpose of the record that there is nothing that has been said on behalf of the Government of India which in the slightest degree indicates that the Government of India or the Union of India will dishonour any international obligations it has undertaken”.
–Arundhati Roy, 27 November 2010
From The Hindu: “Hunger in the Valley”
Whenever Kashmir is mentioned, people tend to think either of an idyllic paradise, or of a valley wrought with the suffering of two decades of violent conflict. The aching reality of the convergence of both these images have tended to exclude Kashmir in the popular imagination from the more everyday discourse of poverty and hunger, governance and the delivery of programmes for disadvantaged people.
Official data suggests that indeed levels of poverty are negligible in the valley. As compared with 28.3 per cent people officially estimated to survive below the poverty line in India in the year 2004-05, the comparable ratio for the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the same year was pegged by the Planning Commission a meagre 4.5 per cent. Kashmir is one of the most egalitarian societies in the country, in which land reforms were implemented with greater vigour than in most other regions of India. In the first decade after India’s Independence, big farms were abolished resolutely, and subsequently surplus lands were distributed among landless farmers.
A couple of years ago, I spent 10 days touring villages and slums in Kashmir, investigating the impact of the two decade long conflict on children. Although I did not find evidence during my visit of extreme destitution of the kind I had observed in Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand, I still observed widespread visible poverty, and struggles for livelihoods and food, across the valley.
To read more copy and paste this to your browser, if the link above doesn’t work: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Harsh_Mander/article917406.ece
Aijaz Hussain from Srinagar
From The Washington Post: “Kashmiri Rapper uses Rhythms to Protest Indian Rule”
“If you ask MC Kash, he’s just speaking the truth. But Kashmir’s breakout rapper’s songs court rebellion and could land him in jail.
Kash calls himself a rebel who uses sharp rhymes and beats instead of stones or guns to protest India’s rule over the mostly Muslim region in the Himalayas.
Kash, 20, whose real name is Roushan Illahi, has won a fan base among Kashmir’s youth, whose summer uprising against Indian rule inspired his local hit “I Protest.”
The lyrics – “Tales from the dark side of a murderous regime, an endless occupation of our land an’ our dreams” – tread dangerously close to sedition in India, where questioning the country’s claim to the disputed region of Kashmir is illegal.
“Rap is about straight talk and telling truth in the face, however uncomfortable it may be,” the rapper said on a gloomy autumn day in the region’s capital, Srinagar. “Rap is rebellion. Kashmir is rebellion. MC Kash is rebellion against injustice, oppression and falsehood.”
Kash admitted he was scared last month after remarks by Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy questioning India’s claim to Kashmir generated angry demands for her arrest.
“Then I thought, revolutionaries don’t fear persecution or execution,” Kash said. “If they throw me in the prison … I’ll write on the (prison) walls.”
From Amnesty International: “Free 14 Year Old Boy From Jail in India“Mushtaq Ahmad Sheikh was arrested after allegedly being a part of a large mob throwing stones at police and security forces in the Kashmir Valley. His family only learned of his arrest after locals saw him in a police vehicle. He is currently being held in Kot Bhalwal Jail, which has no special accommodations for children. Urge Kashmiri authorities to end Mushtaq’s detention without charge or trial immediately, and if charged with a criminal offense, Mushtaq be treated in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and be held and tried in special facilities for children…
Sign here: RELEASE MUSHTAQ
More protests on Eid
From BBC: “Protests continue“
Police in Indian-administered Kashmir have fired shots in the air and used tear gas shells to disperse hundreds of protesters in Srinagar.
Protests erupted after prayers marking the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.
The demonstrators emerged from mosques chanting anti-India slogans and hurled stones at police, witnesses said.
At least 111 Kashmiris, many of them teenagers, have died in clashes with police during protests against Indian rule since June.
The BBC’s Altaf Hussain in Srinagar says the authorities want to prevent a repeat of massive demonstrations in the city two months ago on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim festival that marks the end of Ramadan.
Police sealed off Lal Chowk – or Red Square – in the city centre on Wednesday to prevent any further gatherings.
Demonstrations also took place in Anantnag district, south of Srinagar.
Separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Shabir Shah have all been placed under house arrest, police said.
From Kafila, “Dilemmas of ‘Right of Nations to Military Occupation’”
“I support the Kashmiri azadi movement – because I think that keeping a whole people forcibly part of India does not come from the values of the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution. The occupation of Kashmir continues in the name of the people of India, and as one of them, I consider my hands to have some of that blood. For the reasons I have listed [below], I think that the dilemmas in Kashmir are not about the right of nations to self-determination but the right of nations to military occupation.”
1) Identity, not oppression
“They, the Indian nationalists, say that Indian oppression is a result of Kashmiris having picked up the gun. Indian human rights abuse is justified in this narrative because Kashmiris picked up the gun first. In the Kashmiri narrative they picked up the gun because Indian democracy failed them – India rigged a local election in 1987, and no Indian nationalist dares to deny that today. The head of the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir-based United Jihad Council, which is a coalition of militant groups trying to liberate Kashmir from India, is Syed Salahuddin. Who is he? He was one of the leaders of the Muslim United Front that contested the 1989 elections under the Indian Constitution. Kashmiris will tell you that their history and memory of disenchantment with India did not begin in 1989; they will tell you about Maqbool Bhat and Sheikh Abdullah; that there was something of a movement always; that it goes back to not only 1947 but, as Mridu Rai’s book shows, to 1931. Some say it’s even older.
The root of the Kashmir conflict is not oppression but identity. Kashmiris don’t see themselves as Indian. Many Indians don’t understand this. We wonder what their problem is. We think of the historic ties. After all our first prime minister was a Kashmiri!”
2) If this is not colonisation, what is?
“Is Kashmir not under foreign occupation? What are seven lakh troops there, on streets and in bazaars, outside homes and on private land occupied illegally and in the houses of the Pandits who left – what are these troops doing if not occupying territory? Are seven lakh troops in civilian areas fighting the 500 militants India says are still active in the Valley? For a Kashmir perspective on colonisation, see Sameer Bhat’s article on the beginning of occupation. Look carefully at his style of telling the story of 27 October 1947. 27 October every year in Kashmir, like the Indian national independence day of 15 August, is a general strike. The two days are commemrated as ‘black’ days. In your narrative, however, you see the problem of militarisation as only one of human rights abuse, not as occupation. I am guessing you have never been to Kashmir. On my visits I regularly hear things like, “Yeh saala CRPF wala Rajasthan se aata hain aur hamsay kehta hain ID card dikhao. (This bloody CRPF trooper has come here from Rajasthan and asks me to show my identity card).” Travelling in Kashmir, you have to close your eyes to believe that the forces stationed there are to prevent violence rather than enforce the idea in every local mind:this is Indian territory.”
3) What does Azadi mean?
“Partition was done, and the new Republic of India had a Constituent Assembly that put the task of nation building on the back-burner to debate and discuss for four years – four years! – the idea of India and come to a consensus called the Constitution of India. I don’t see why you should deny the people of Jammu and Kashmir this opportunity? Perhaps there may be Partition – parts of Jammu who want to be with India and are contiguous with India can remain with India. Perhaps they may choose to be with an independent J&K. To say that Kashmiris don’t know what azadi means and that India in contrast is ‘at least constitutionally democratic and secular’ is so ironic, if not dishonest, because you haven’t yet given the Kashmiris a chance at constitution-making, and presumed that they may not do so, not be able to do so, or that if they do they will reject democracy and secularism. I don’t know what these presumptions are based on.”
For more points and the full text click here.
From Frontline: “Muzzling Dissent”
“ON October 21, some Kashmiri Pandits, supported by right-wing Hindutva organisations and activists of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, tried to disrupt a convention on Kashmir captioned “Azadi: The only way”, organised in New Delhi. The speakers included leaders who support the Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination or freedom of Kashmir from the Indian state. The most notable among them was Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the chairperson of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference and a fervent supporter of Kashmir’s secession. The other important speaker was the writer-political activist Arundhati Roy. These two became the targets of the mob, which first disrupted the meeting and then vandalised an exhibition of photographs and documents chronicling the history of Kashmir. The protesters demanded that sedition cases be filed against the secessionist leader and Arundhati Roy.
Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, BJP leaders, also pitched in to demand that the Centre bring up sedition charges against Arundhati Roy. The Union Home Ministry showed some interest and even gave the go-ahead to the Delhi Police in the matter.
Although the convention was on Kashmir, the participants included leaders and academics who support the right to self-determination of people and have been waging political battles against the militarised regime of the Indian state in their respective regions. The event took a political turn when the protesters picked out Geelani and Arundhati Roy for attack. By the end of the day, the convention had set off a debate on freedom of speech and the right to express dissent in a democracy. Laws such as sedition and constitutional principles such as reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech began to be discussed in intellectual circles. Many people came out in support of the speakers and their right to express their opinions.
However, on October 26, even as the BJP made vehement demands, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government put at rest the idea of slapping sedition charges on the speakers. It felt such an action would harm the dialogue process that the government’s interlocutors – the journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, the academic Radha Kumar and Central Information Commissioner M.M. Ansari – had begun with the people of Kashmir. Government sources felt the BJP would capitalise on the issue. As such the government had to keep in mind the impact of any action it took as it could be seen negatively by the Kashmiri people. Arun Jaitley accused the government of “looking the other way” when separatist groups met in the capital city. He said if the Indian government thought Kashmir was an integral part of the nation, it should take action against the secessionist leaders.
A Kashmiri Pandit group, Roots in Kashmir (RIK), has filed a case against Geelani, Arundhati Roy and the others who spoke in favour of azadi. Aditya Raj Kaul, the leader of the RIK, said the content of the speeches was defamatory to the authority of the Constitution of India but the Government of India had failed to initiate any action. So he was left with no choice but to file a case directly in the court. Geelani was quoted on national television as saying that there were 90 cases against him and this could be the 91st.
The convention was organised by the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), a group formed in the light of the ongoing struggles against issues such as displacement, state terror, brutal and militarised regimes and draconian Acts such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The majority of the arrests made in the past few years involved political activists. The CRPP, with the underlying assumption that the people had the right to dissent against state oppression, has been demanding the release of political prisoners.
“For the last few years, the democratic and struggling people in almost all parts of India have been subjected to a series of measures and state terror continuously by the governments of different States. Thousands of people have been put behind bars in large areas in most parts of the Indian subcontinent, particularly in regions such as Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Assam, Manipur, Kashmir, Punjab, Tripura, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. The intensity of state repression and the methods adopted by different State governments might have varied from one area to another. Innumerable cases of fake encounter deaths have been reported from Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and other areas,” says a concept note of the CRPP.
All the speakers at the convention were of the opinion that Kashmir was never a part of India historically and that Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, had admitted that Kashmir was the subject of an international dispute and that the matter could be taken to the United Nations so that the people of Kashmir could decide whether they wanted to remain with the Indian Union. But in 1994, the Indian Parliament passed a resolution calling Kashmir an integral part of India. This, they thought, was a betrayal of the aspiration of Kashmiris.
Expressing her strong views on the military regime in Kashmir Valley, Arundhati Roy urged the people of Kashmir to forge a broad political alliance with other democratic struggles against state repression and for the right to self-determination….”
“Indian polity abounds with resistance movements against anti-people development policies and human rights violations. In such a state of affairs, many believe that if India still wants to call itself a democracy, the government has to hear the voices of the people, especially dissenting ones, rather than curb their opinions through censorship or cases of sedition at the slightest provocation.”
FACT FINDING TEAM TO KASHMIR REPORT (Nov 2010)
Since June this year, the Kashmir valley has been torn by mass protests which have been met with overwhelming force by Indian security forces. Curfews and closures have been frequent, often shading into each other. No less than 111 deaths have been registered, of which a large number have been of students and youth in the age group of 8 to 25 years. There have besides, been hundreds of cases of injuries, of both protesters and those who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. An independent fact-finding team went to the Kashmir valley at the end of October to go into the totality of the situation, principally to inquire into the causes for the unconscionably large number of deaths that have occurred in the current phase of mass agitation. The team comprised of academic Bela Bhatia, advocateVrinda Grover, journalist Sukumar Muralidharan and activist Ravi Hemadri of The Other Media, a Delhi based campaign and advocacy organisation, at whose initiative the effort was organised. Each member of the team spent varying lengths of time in the valley, but in total, roughly about twenty-five person days were put in the fact-finding exercise. In groups or individually, the team met the families of almost 40 persons who had been killed since the beginning of the civil unrest. Several individuals who had suffered serious injuries were also met. The team worked out of the state capital of Srinagar, and visited villages and towns in five of the Kashmir valley’s ten districts: Baramulla in the north (Sopore and Baramulla tehsils); Anantnag (Bijbehara and Anantnag tehsils) and Pulwama (Pulwama tehsil) in the south; Badgam in the west (Chadura and Badgam tehsils) and Srinagar itself. Separate sessions were held with journalists and media practitioners, university teachers and students, doctors, lawyers and activists besides officials in the police headquarters and the civil administration. The findings of the team are being released in a series of short reports beginning with following two sections. Forthcoming reports will deal with various facets of the situation that civilians in the Kashmir valley face in a season of unabated turmoil.
REPORT # 1, 12 November 2010
Attack and killing on Pattan hospital premises: urgent need for accountability
Horror stories involving the excessive use of force by security personnel have been rife through Kashmir’s summer of turmoil. But few have been more chilling than accounts of what transpired on the premises of the Government sub-district hospital at Pattan on July 30.
The historic town of Pattan in Baramulla district, situated on the highway to Srinagar, is just a few kilometres from the village of Palhallan, which has attracted a disproportionate measure of repression since the current phase of mass civil unrest began in Kashmir. Palhallan has been under a virtual siege for over two months, shut away from public attention, only now beginning to emerge into the light.
Doctors and other staff at the Pattan hospital vividly recall July 30, when armed personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) forced their way into the hospital early in the evening, shortly after several injured civilians had been brought in for urgent medical attention. They shattered windowpanes, broke down doors and destroyed vital medical equipment, while hospital staff were thrown into a state of sheer terror. Surgeons performing urgent life-saving procedures in the casualty ward and the minor operating theatre, were alerted to the incursion of armed forces and warned to stay indoors.
The more senior among the two surgeons on duty then, judged the risks of not responding to the demands of the armed intruders greater than actually opening the door. He was then attending to between ten and twelve patients on an urgent basis, besides which the casualty ward was packed with the numerous volunteers that had brought in the patients, in the absence of adequate ambulance and stretcher services. His recollection is that there were then about five volunteers within the ward for every patient. A possible panic by the assembled crowd within the casualty ward could potentially have proved fatal for the seriously injured patients under his care.
The moment he opened the door, the senior surgeon found three rifle barrels thrust into his chest. He kept his composure and managed to avert further danger by explaining that he needed to return quickly to urgent life-saving tasks. As he turned to go back into surgery, he saw the CRPF men roughing up numerous other staff and bystanders within the hospital precincts. A car belonging to the hospital’s chief medical officer was smashed, as was a recently acquired ambulance.
Other members of the hospital staff recall that the CRPF men then made their way to the women’s ward where they broke down the door before the terrified staff withdrew into an adjacent room. But for a shopkeeper from the neighbourhood who happened to be on the premises at the time and locked the staff in, drawing the wrath of the intruders on himself, the women staff of the hospital fear that they too might have been seriously endangered. Likewise, three doctors are reported to have locked themselves inside a bathroom in order to avert danger.
Eye-witness accounts of the day’s events at Pattan cannot naturally offer a full reconstruction, since every account is confined within the limited canvas that any particular individual could see. And much would have been obscure to any individual’s gaze in those frenzied moments, when everybody was looking out for his or her own safety. There is however, an account by a family from the village of Palhallan which demands attention, since it points towards a crime that would shock the conscience.
Mohammad Ramzan Sheikh, like several other residents of Palhallan, had been taking part in protests against Indian security forces since the current cycle began with the killing of innocent civilians under the cloak of an armed “encounter” in April 2010. On the afternoon of July 30, he set off to the spot assigned for the protest, accompanied by his 12-year old son, Adil Ramzan Sheikh. Mohammad insists that he always kept the little boy at a safe distance from the epicentre ofthe demonstrations. But on July 30, the boy seemingly escaped the attention of his father. At around 3 pm, Mohammad was informed by telephone that his son Adil had been shot and been taken to the Pattan hospital. He was told that a bullet had grazed his shoulder and the wound was bleeding profusely. But soon after Adil was admitted in the Pattan hospital, his wound staunched and an intravenous (IV) drip administered, his father recounts – based on the narration he heard from others present there – the CRPF personnel raided the premises, ripped out the IV cord from Adil’s arm, pulled him off the bed and shot him dead at point blank range. The main block of Pattan hospital Mohammad asked his informant to bring back Adil’s body for burial. With the roads closed by a heavy security blanket, the body was brought back late evening by some people who carried it on their shoulders. Mohammad reported seeing one wound on his son’s upper back and another wound in the lower chest that seemed to have been caused by a bullet fired at close range. Adil was buried the same night. The family does not have any papers relating to the case. There has been no FIR registered, nor does the family know if a post-mortem report exists.
Doctors at Pattan hospital recall that the boy they received for treatment that day was already grievously injured and offered at first sight, little hope of survival. The circumstances in which Adil suffered the fatal wound remain a matter of conjecture. Doctors think that he could have been admitted to the ward as a case not requiring immediate attention and administered the IV drip. In the turmoil and confusion caused by the CRPF intrusion, he may possibly have been one of many who fled for shelter. Several patients admitted to the ward at that hour are known to have fled when the wrath of the CRPF descended on the hospital, some of them leaping out of the windows. And then, according to various eyewitnesses who have given their accounts to the doctors, Adil may have run towards the compound wall of the hospital which adjoins a school, where he could have taken the fatal bullet from a CRPF firearm.
Whatever the truth about the events that led to Adil’s death, there is little question that Pattan hospital on July 30 suffered an attack which by all acknowledged covenants, puts the CRPF and all other elements party to it, under the cloud of a serious crime. This constitutes a clear violation of International Humanitarian Law, and calls for an urgent and impartial investigation.
From all available accounts of the day’s events, it appears that protests in Pattan began late afternoon on July 30 after news was conveyed of a police firing in the north Kashmir town of Sopore, some 20 kilometres away. Passions were raw after two protestors who took to the streets that day were reported killed in Sopore. When protests in Pattan escalated, with people from Palhallan participating, the forces deployed at the site opened fire. As reported the next day in Greater Kashmir, as many as 90 may have been injured in these rounds of firing. Protesters in retaliation, reportedly attacked the police station and sought to set it afire(1).
Given the severe restrictions on movement in place then – not to mention the various curbs on communication links and the virtual blockading of the press – there have been mixed and varying accounts of the Pattan hospital attack. While Greater Kashmir, reported the attack on the hospital in some detail, it identified the boy who was killed that day as 14-year old Mohammad Rafiq Bhat.
The other two English-language dailies published from Srinagar, Kashmir Times andRising Kashmir, have registered the incident in Pattan in their editions of July 31, though without agreeing on the precise sequence of events.(2) Kashmir Timesreported that security forces had attacked the hospital, ransacked it and beaten patients and staff. Rising Kashmir did not have this detail. Both newspapers however, agreed on the identity of the 14-year old boy who was killed at the time, reporting his name as Mohammad Rafiq Bhat.
A report on the news portal Rediff (www.rediff.com) which may well have been sourced from a news agency within Kashmir, reported the event as follows: “An unruly mob also attacked and torched a portion of the north Kashmir Pattan police station, 30 km from Srinagar on Friday evening.[1 See “Friday Bloodbath: 2 killed in Sopur, one in Pattan”, Greater Kashmir, 31 July 2010. 2 See “4 killed, 17 Injured in CRPF, police firing”, Kashmir Times, 31 July 2010 and “Bullets kill 4, injure 250”, Rising Kashmir, 31 July 2010.]
Security forces had to resort to firing to quell the mob, killing a teenager identified as 14-year-old Adil Sheikh on the spot”.(1)
Within weeks, the reporting had been transformed, with Adil’s death being ascribed not to a randomly fired bullet at the protest site, but to a cold-blooded murder within the hospital compound. Greater Kashmir in a report on the travails of Palhallan on October 6, over two months since the event in question, reported that eight persons from the village had died in the course of the “ongoing unrest”, among whom the first was “twelve-year old Adil Ramzan Sheikh (who) was shot by troopers in sub-district hospital Pattan on July 30”.(2)
The fact that the Jammu and Kashmir Police has filed charges against a few of its own men, apart from some army and CRPF personnel (as mentioned to this team by Director General of Police, Kuldeep Khoda), is an acknowledgment of numerous instances of the illegitimate and excessive use of force through Kashmir’s long summer of turbulence. The incident at Pattan on July 30 falls within the majority of cases where serious investigations have not been undertaken. In the circumstances, security forces have repeatedly breached the red lines which should not be crossed under any circumstances. Medical personnel, ambulances and other facilities have been frequently targeted when they should be under all applicable rules of engagement, exempt from the slightest threat of the use of force.
Pattan doctors recall that on September 6, they were unable to respond to urgent calls to deploy staff to the medical post in Palhallan, after numerous injuries were suffered in the village in a clash between protesters and security forces. Victims had to be transported through dirt roads running at a considerable distance from the highway, rendering a ten minute transit time in to something closer to two hours. In the circumstances, many preferred to take the casualties through to Srinagar directly.
Two lives were perhaps lost that day because of delayed medical care.
Though the staff of the Pattan hospital are outraged at the July 30 attack, they are discouraged from pursuing remedies because of the widespread climate of impunity. They have not sought an intervention by the doctors’ association, because they are aware of its futility. And the quest for criminal prosecution is laughed away. “Who should we file an FIR against?”, asks a witness to the attack: “against all of India?”[1 Extractedon November 12 from: http://news.rediff.com/report/2010/jul/30/jk‐2‐protestors‐injured‐in‐firingby‐forces.htm. 2 “Palhallan: A victim of government ire”, Greater Kashmir, October 6, 2010, extracted on November 12 from: http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/2010/Oct/6/palhallan‐a‐victim‐of‐govt‐ire‐22.asp.%5D
REPORT # 2, 13 November 2010
Palhallan Under Siege
Saqib, a 13-year old in the orchard village of Palhallan in Baramulla district of Kashmir, knew Adil Ramzan Sheikh, a slightly younger boy killed on July 30, in circumstances that remain contentious. He struggles to cope with the abrupt disappearance of a young playmate, but has no serious doubt that the future of Kashmir lies in azaadi. Like most Kashmiris, he is aware of the various options on the menu: between a return to the 1953 situation, a fuller accession to India or Pakistan, or just plain azaadi. And he is able to recite out aloud — almost like a catechism — that the commitments made by “Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru”, necessarily mean that India owes Kashmir the right to decide between these options.
What possibly could azaadi mean to Saqib? A major criterion emerges a little while into the conversation: azaadi means in part, to be free of “Major Sharma”, the local army commander who has made it a regular routine to swagger into Saqib’s school in the company of other soldiers from his unit — all displaying lethal firearms — to threaten children that they participate in protest demonstrations only at enormous risk to their lives.
This fact-finding team had no opportunity to meet “Major Sharma” but was able to assess that he looms large in the consciousness of the residents of Palhallan, since the last many weeks. As the village has suffered a comprehensive lockdown for weeks together, Major Sharma’s iron first has stirred fear within its residents, who hesitate before they go about their usual routines for fear that they may invite an unpredictable and violent retribution.
October 24, when this team visited Palhallan, was the first day in many that the village was exempt from the heavy-handed restraints on movement. These severe restrictions were imposed since an upsurge in protests on September 6 was met with ruthless fury by the security forces. A virtual lockdown of civilian movement was soon afterwards declared in the village. All points of entry and exit were sealed by Indian army units and J&K police deployed in force within the village.
It has not been easy to reconstruct what happened on September 6. The Rising Kashmir report the following day, has recorded a statement issued from the Kashmir range police headquarters — within at the most a couple of hours of the bloodshed — acknowledging that lives had been lost and injuries suffered. The Kashmir range police headquarters then went on, reportedly, to commit itself to an inquiry that would fix responsibility for the loss of life that day.(1)1 “Four killed, dozens injured in police firing in Palhallan”, Rising Kashmir, September 7, 2010, extracted on November 12 from: http://www.risingkashmir.com/news/4‐killed‐dozens‐injured‐in‐police‐firing‐at‐palhallan‐1216.aspx.
Altaf Ahmad Wani Rising Kashmir has reported though, that within two hours, another statement came out of the same source, which claimed that two senior police officials – the Inspector-General for Kashmir range and the Senior Superintendent for Baramulla district – were passing through the highway when their convoy was blocked and pelted with stones by demonstrators from Palhallan and Pattan. The trouble erupted at the point where the highway forks towards Palhallan. Police and other security men then dispersed the demonstrators but found that force had to be applied to “prevent mobs from merging into the police party”. The demonstrators were on this account “chased” away from the spot where they could have posed a danger. This, in the sanitised narration of the security agencies, resulted in injuries to three, who later died.
This team met Altaf Ahmad Wani, a civil engineering graduate in the class of 2005 from the National Institute of Technology, Srinagar, now employed with a project
consultancy firm in Baramulla town. Wani commutes to and from his place of work regularly by public transport. As he returned from work on September 6, he found that the road leading into Palhallan was blocked where it intersected with the highway. He took an alternative route in as a precaution, but as he walked home, found his path meeting with another, down which security forces, firearms at the ready, were in hot pursuit of a group of protesters. Wani sought to flee from the danger but was struck by a bullet on his left leg, just above the ankle. His bone was shattered and he had by the end of October, undergone the first of many rounds of surgery to repair the damage. There is little possibility that he will be able to return to work before four months. Despite being in evident pain, Wani did not let his immobility interfere with his offers of hospitality. He was visibly disappointed that this team chose to decline his repeated requests to enjoy a round of refreshments. As the team took its leave of him, he had his family fill up a bagful of walnuts for us to take away.
Khan Javed, on his way back from a sawmill in Pattan, also took a bullet in his leg at the same time. A blood vessel was cut just below his knee and he had to have a vein and skin graft from his other leg to repair the damage. He was taken to a hospital in Srinagar shortly after suffering his injury as his immediate family remained immobilised and isolated for two entire days because of restrictions on movement that allowed no exemptions. Declared a “model village” in April this year and designated for special attention in terms of funds allocation, Palhallan has been under curfew for a length of time that is difficult to assess. Local residents claim that the village has been under complete closure since at least September 8. Media reports put the duration of the closure at about the same.
The official account though is different. On October 23, Kuldeep Khoda, Director-General of J&K Police, claimed at a meeting with this team, that Palhallan was not under any form of closure, merely under heightened surveillance to check the movements of “undesirable” elements.
Khoda concedes that Palhallan does have ‘genuine’ grounds for grievances. Intake from the village into the state administration for instance, has been way below par. Against one employee for every 25 individuals in the rest of Kashmir, the average for Palhallan is just one in 150. The allocations in development and welfare too may have been below the state average. The residents of Palhallan could not possibly disagree more profoundly. In the local narrative, the village’s contribution to the ongoing movement is a matter of some pride. And this stretches back through the two decades that Kashmir has been in a state of active insurgency. Ghulam Mohammad Waza, a villager who lost a son in the recent phase of disturbances, estimates that roughly eighty “martyrs” to the struggle lie buried in the village graveyard. The eight who have been killed since the current phase of protests began in Kashmir valley, are part of a wider continuum.
The killings of September 6 in Palhallan came after a week of relative quiet in the entire Kashmir valley. Three demonstrators were killed that day – one from Palhallan and two from Pattan — and several injured. Harsh restrictions on movement prevented several of the wounded from reaching medical attention.
Though the official account suggests that the lethal firing followed intolerable provocation and a possible threat to the security of senior police officials, Palhallan residents think that the motive of the shooting was quite clearly to puncture the morale of the civilian demonstrators. The day’s hartal – as determined in the protest calendar drawn up by the Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani – was formally declared over at 2 p.m. and the village was then preparing to resume its normal activities. The shooting, they say, was designed with deliberate intent, to destroy public fealty towards Geelani’s protest calendar.
Following the events of September 6, Palhallan became the focus of much of the protest mobilisations in the valley. On September 17, Geelani announced his protest calendar for the week to follow. A prominent place was reserved for a “Palhallan chalo” call the following day, when people were exhorted to march toward the village to register their outrage at the loss of life and express solidarity with those affected.
Palhallan residents recall that the conduct of the security forces became increasingly lawless and overbearing following this. Raids into the village, forced entry into randomly chosen houses, the roughing up of boys and young men who were identified as possible participants in the protests, and the destruction of household property and assets – including the shattering of furniture and windowpanes — common all through the preceding days, intensified following the “Palhallan chalo” call.
To these tactics of intimidation was added a fresh ingredient of terror through the night intervening between September 17 and 18, when the forces kept up a steady din as they discharged firearms in regular fusillades to warn the village of the dire consequences that lay in wait, if they were to take part in the protests. The mood in the village was inflamed on September 18 and closure as enforced by the security forces, was absolute. But Palhallan’s residents were intent on seeking to go about their business as if nothing was amiss. Ghulam Mohammad Waza, who makes a living as a cook at traditional Kashmiri banquets, set out around noon that day for Pattan where he had an engagement. In the company of another eighteen villagers, he travelled through adjoining fields rather than the heavily policed roads, reaching Pattan after a trudge of one-and-a-half hours.
The next few moments are vividly imprinted in Ghulam Mohammad Waza’s memory. He had just finished lunch and begun work when he was minded to call his son Ali Mohammad, just to check that all was well. He was told by a rather agitated Ali Mohammad, that a young man from a neighbouring house, Ansarullah Tantray, alias Munna, had just been shot dead.
The news was grim, but Ghulam Mohammad Waza was by this time inured to hearing tales of sudden and unexplained deaths. Yet he says, nothing could have prepared him for the telephone call he received a bare ten minutes later, which conveyed the grim news that his son too had fallen to a bullet.
Munna’s father, Ghulam Mohammad Tantray had seen his younger son Naeem Mohammad badly hurt in the September 6 protests. On September 18, he says, Munna was one among a group who gathered in the local mosque for afternoon prayers. He recalls that without the slightest provocation, the mosque was surrounded by security forces who ordered all the worshippers out. This peremptory diktat by the security forces, he says, was accompanied – seemingly for effect – by a few bullets aimed at the door of the mosque and a tear gas shell hurled to make the exit route as painful as possible. Munna, says Ghulam Mohammad Tantray, came out through a door on the side to avoid the tear gas fumes. But he then made the fatal mistake of thinking that the wrath of the security personnel had been exhausted. He was the first of the worshippers to emerge and as he walked towards the front of the mosque to retrieve his footwear, he was reportedly shot dead on sight.
Ali Mohammad Waza then emerged from another mosque in an adjoining mohalla and walked towards the spot where Munna had fallen, perhaps to retrieve his body. He too was shot dead. At the time that this team visited, school-going children in Palhallan were gearing up for their term exams. These had long been delayed and it was obvious that Palhallan’s children were making a laboured effort to shut out all the turmoil and suffering seen from up close, while they turned their attention to scholastic matters. The resilience of civil society in Kashmir has ensured that morale has stood up despite the debilitating closure that the village has been put through. But any complacence about the spirit of resistance being extinguished, would be grossly misplaced.
Anuradha Raman interviews Shobna Sonpar
From Outlook India, “On Kashmir, Essential to Listen Without Agenda”
“Psychologically speaking, the Kashmiris are already outside India and will remain there for at least two generations. The random killing, rapes, torture and the other innovative atrocities have brutalised their society and turned them into a traumatised lot. If you think this is too harsh, read between the lines of psychotherapist Shobna Sonpar’s report on Kashmir,” wrote political social-psychologist Ashis Nandy in a recent column inOutlook. Violent Activism by Delhi-based psychologist Shobna Sonpar is a clinical study of men who walked the violent talk to achieve their goals. Shobna’s depiction of what goes on in the Valley makes Kashmir our own Abu Ghraib where torture and humiliation of young men labelled as militants is nothing out of the ordinary.
Nandy says Shobna’s book should be a compulsory read for policymakers in Delhi, “used to reversing their telescopes so that things look further and further away”. It’s a clinical gaze on traumatised people, he says, coming as it does when fewer researchers are undertaking such studies.
The Centre’s Kashmir interlocutors (Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari) have submitted their report. You must be aware of what they were tasked to do. What would be your suggestions to them? What are the various factors one needs to keep in mind before drawing up a roadmap for dialogue?
Interlocuting has to do with conversation and I imagine that the most important task is to facilitate a change in the cliched discourses on all sides so that a genuine conversation emerges. It is only through genuine conversation that difficult issues can be talked about without self-righteousness, raised hackles and sulks.
Listening without a personal agenda and without having to please some constituency is essential, and hence the choice of a non-political team seems wise. In my practice, I find myself urging warring couples to do what it takes in their heads and in their emotional reactivity to maintain a stance of respectful curiosity about the other instead of blame and judgement. It is in the process of practising this that the ability to read one’s own subjective state without defensiveness and that of others without assuming malign intent, a truly reflective space, becomes possible. Psychologists call this capacity mentalisation. Also, there is the need to have conversations with the government and other sections in India, which perhaps poses a more formidable challenge.
Has anything changed in the Valley since Violent Activismwas published three years ago? If so, what has changed on the ground? Has the violence been scaled up?Since the Amarnath land row, there has been palpable anger across the Valley, particularly among the youth. What is different now compared to some years ago is that the sense of victimisation, the hyper-sensitivity to threats to Muslim identity, the outrage at human rights violations by security forces are being publicly expressed by large sections of Kashmiri society, including women and children, and not just by those who took up militancy. What has also changed is the mood.
Ten years ago, when I first visited the Valley, my impressions were of a collective trauma characterised emotionally by pervasive and intense fear, insecurity, loss, despair and helplessness and socially by atomisation and distrust. On my visit last month, my impression was of a degree of assertiveness and even hopefulness, as well as of greater willingness to form social networks. Thirdly, the activism for protest and resistance has broadened to include violent (stone-pelting is not non-violent; people have lost their lives and their eyes due to injuries inflicted by the slingshots of security forces and stones hurled by protesters) as well as non-violent strategies.
How do you view the call for azadi from new sections of the population (among the stone-pelters are women and children)? What does their participation indicate?
The call for azadi from women is not new. Commentators like Rita Manchanda point out that by 1990 Kashmiris were rallying in the streets, women in the forefront, shouting Marde mujahid, jaag zara ab, vakt shahadat aaya hai (Men of faith rise up, the time for laying down your lives has come).” However, the participation of children and youth in large numbers in street protests is new. There is a generational shift, the new generation has grown up knowing violence, fear, loss and humiliation at close quarters.
What has the study yielded for you as a psychologist? And what were the challenges you faced?
Several things come to mind. One challenge was to deal with the complaint that trying to make sense of political violence is tantamount to justifying such violence. My engagement in this study also pushed me to interrogate the discourses about violence. Much of this discourse is taken up with differentiating legitimate and therefore acceptable violence from illegitimate and therefore ‘bad’ violence rather than the issue of violence (of any kind) versus non-violence. It raised troubling questions regarding the normalisation and ‘moralisation’ of violence—in raising and educating children, as well as in maintaining discipline, honour and perceived entitlements in personal, familial and social contexts. It also raised practical challenges as to the socialisation into, and ‘moralisation’ of, non-violent modes of resolving conflict. I also wondered about the daunting business of breaking cycles of violence that run on victimhood and revenge. The lessons of Tibet and South Africa suggest the importance of a strong moral authority and a containing moral vision that rejects violence.
You have presented accounts of 24 former militants, detailing the tortures they went through at the hands of the security forces. How does the healing process start?
The tortured need physical and mental help, and torture victims benefit immensely from giving testimonies on human rights forums. But I think the legislation on torture currently being discussed needs to be expedited. Torture sustains the construction of a reality that fuels fear in the public about enemies who must be eliminated at any cost. Let me take you to a study in Stanford called the Prison Experiment where a prison-like situation was simulated and where students took on the role of prisoners and guards—the study had to be abandoned after it was found within a week that the guards were turning more and more violent and the prisoners increasingly passive.
Abuse and violence, I feel, are the creation of a system that provides a higher authority which validates such actions that would ordinarily be constrained by norms and ethics.”