The seventeenth-century Mughal emperor Jahangir, upon seeing the spectacular beauty of Kashmir, said, “If there is paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this.” Today Kashmir is reduced to a veritable hell on earth. It has the dubious distinction of being the most militarized zone in the world. A rebellion against Indian rule, which erupted in 1989, has taken seventy thousand lives. More than eight thousand people have been disappeared. Human rights violations are rampant. Yet barely any of this is the topic of media scrutiny or of concern to Washington policy makers who see New Delhi as a so-called strategic partner. India has successfully sold the line that Kashmiri resistance to its hegemony is illegitimate and is composed of terrorists who are linked to neighboring Pakistan and al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Khurram Parvez is a human rights activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir. He is a member of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. He was interviewed by David Barsamian, the director of Alternative Radio, in Srinagar, Kashmir, on February 18, 2011.
BURIED EVIDENCE documents the violence of militarization in Indian-administered Kashmir. In particular, it details many graves across fifty-five villages in the Bandipora, Baramulla, and Kupwara districts of Kashmir. Talk about this report.
IN 2005, there was a major earthquake in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and on the Indian side as well. On the Indian-administered side, the earthquake struck at villages along the Line of Control, the de facto border. These are areas where for the last fifty or sixty years we were not able to visit. So for the first time, when the earthquake struck, we had an opening to go there for humanitarian purposes. We worked with local groups. Parvez Imroz, one of my colleagues, was with us. He was more interested in human rights work than in humanitarian relief work. We both were asking people questions.
These graveyards were shown to us by locals who told us there are many unidentified people who are buried here. Unidentified graves even existed in our own localities here in Srinagar and elsewhere in Jammu and Kashmir. But they started making sense to us when we saw them at such a mass level in Uri Sub-District. There are many graveyards there but most of them are marked with names. These were unmarked graveyards.
We started investigating and came across a case which we ourselves were looking into. It involved disappeared persons. Three people were murdered by a police officer named Rashid Billa. After killing them, he buried two of them in one of the villages in the Uri area, the place where we had visited. So this gave us the idea that there might be others who have been abducted from Srinagar, Baramulla, Kupwara, Islamabad, and other places and buried elsewhere. What happens here is the security forces or the police kill people in what are called “encounters” and then claim the victims were militants. Encounters are extrajudicial executions where gun battles are staged, evidence planted, and suspects are killed. There is no due process of any kind.
On behalf of one of our member organizations, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, we issued a preliminary report called Facts on the Ground. This report was released in March 2008. Almost immediately we started facing huge surveillance issues and intimidation efforts from the government. In that report we had only mentioned about 940 unidentified bodies in Uri Sub-District. But since then we carried out detailed research. Some of our friends like Gautam Navlakha, Angana Chatterji, and others came. They helped us investigate not just in Uri Sub-District, but also in Baramulla, Kupwara, and Bandipora. We figured out that there are 2,700 unidentified graves in these three districts, at least those which we were able to locate. And in these 2,700 graves there are 2,943 men buried.
YOU ARE part of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. What is it?
IT CAME into existence in June 2000. Before that we were individuals and small organizations such as the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, the Public Commission on Human Rights, and the Students Help Line, a students’ group I was part of. So we came together and formed this coalition of ten different human rights and civil society organizations working together and pooling resources.
AS THIS is one of the most militarized zones in the world, is your work monitored?
THE VISIBLE aspect of militarization is the seven hundred thousand troops. But there are so many invisible things which we are not always successful in telling to the world. For example, what militarization has meant in our lives. Every small thing in Kashmir is monitored. I’ve done human rights work for the last twelve years. Over that time I have forgotten a lot of things. But the files maintained in the interrogation centers and intelligence bureaus are complete. They can give me the details of what I did on what day. They tell us sometimes, “You met such-and-such person on such-and-such date.” We would have forgotten, but they keep a record for us. The surveillance is extensive. Our e-mails and phone calls, even with family members, are monitored. A lot of people here have voice trackers. Their voices are being tracked on any mobile they use.
Sometimes when we are doing an investigation in some area, there is nonstop surveillance. They make it obvious to us that we are being monitored. I am reminded of some of the films I had seen in my childhood about surveillance during the Nazi era. I don’t think that it would be an exaggeration to say it’s much worse than that because techniques have improved.
YOU SAY, “We want to be storytellers,” that “we will write our own history, we will not allow the past to be forgotten.” Talk about the importance of keeping memory and history alive.
IN OUR context in Kashmir, we have suffered not just since 1989 and the eruption of armed resistance against Indian occupation; but even before, in 1931, 1947, 1953, and 1965. So many times we have suffered. Thousands of people were killed, assaulted, arrested, and exiled. But unfortunately, if you hear Kashmiris talking about a movement, they will talk about a movement from 1989, as if it only started then. In 1931 there was a revolt against the maharaja, Hari Singh. It was crushed.
The problem is that we were not able to retain the memory of these events. For example, on the twenty-seventh of October 1947, the same day when India arrived in Kashmir, some of the politicians here were welcoming them. Even though the Indian army was hostile to them, these people who were welcoming them, to save them from the tribal raiders of Pakistan, were shot. Five people were killed on the spot, and many hundreds were wounded. This is not something a lot of people remember.
Then in 1953 some of the leaders were arrested. Fifteen hundred people were killed, according to conservative estimates. But this is not part of our collective memory. This has to be investigated and researched. We as Kashmiris sense there is a disconnect with our past because not many people know what happened, because it was not documented. So what we are trying to do now is to document our present. We are kind of historians of the present. We are writing the history for our future generation so they know what we have gone through and why it is not possible for us to compromise and to surrender. Why is it important to remember? Because if the injustices here are forgotten, they will be repeated.
The kind of work we are doing is not only human rights documentation. We are also documenting the heroic work of those who have remained unsung. We are trying to document their lives so that there is an inspiration for our present and future generations. They will have some heroes who they can look up to and carry forward the struggle against injustice here in Kashmir.
We believe that memory is the most important tool which oppressed people have. Oppressors want us to have amnesia, that we forget everything. The only potent weapon we have as a weak and oppressed people is memory. Our memory will always help us to sustain the struggle against injustice.
TALK ABOUT the difficulties in telling the Kashmir story to Indians as well as to the international audience.
IT HAS been very difficult for us when we document human rights abuses here. They are war crimes because of the scale and the way they are being systematically inflicted on the people. The world does not want to hear this because they think India is a democratic country. How can a democracy do this? And then the other factor is the image of India, which is a country of secularism, nonviolence, a country of Gandhi. For us, we have to convince the world that the people who are ruling us are not mini-Gandhis. But India in Kashmir, and not just here, but also elsewhere where there are struggles for justice, where there are struggles for secession, India has been the same there.
Unfortunately, the world has not paid attention to what India has done, because there are prejudices in the minds of people in the West. We happen to be Muslims, essentially. So that is a prejudice that these are Muslims, so there might be something they are doing wrong. They are violent. India’s violence is not at all paid attention to. Even the smallest things, the attacks by guerrilla groups here, are carried internationally. International media pay a lot of attention to that. The violence of the Indian government, which has resulted in so many injuries and deaths, does not make much sense to the people in the West.
Another liability we have is the negative image of Pakistan. A lot of people think if Pakistan is supporting the cause of Kashmir, then it must not be right. India, on the other hand, has this positive image of secularism, tolerance, and nonviolence. Of course, that is all a facade for us, but it has become a major issue for us to convince world opinion as to the facts. India is responsible and has monopolized the violence. And they have monopolized the information also. India has learned the art of lying and the art of inflicting violence on people and then blaming the very same people for the violence.
OF THE seventy thousand who have been killed since 1989, what proportion is civilian?
MORE THAN 50 percent. The rest are militants, counterinsurgents, political activists, and also the army, the Jammu and Kashmir police, and other paramilitary groups who are fighting here for India.
TELL ME about the disappeared.
IN THE last two decades the army and various armed-forces groups picked people up. And during interrogation either they would die or they would be buried, or God knows what happened to them. So more than eight thousand people have been subjected to enforced disappearances. The government is in denial mode. They say, “We don’t know what happened to these people. They were not arrested.” This is propaganda. But we have documented the families whose lives are shattered because of the disappearance of their loved ones. And they are protesting. Every month there is a protest organized by us and the family members of the disappeared. Their tears can’t be lies, their sobs can’t be lies. This is an issue that must be paid attention to.
We understand that India has reasons not to acknowledge its crimes. But we don’t understand the reason for the noninvolvement of the international community, which seems to be so attracted to what happens in Darfur, Iran, or China and Tibet. Our lives are no different. We also are human. Kashmiris are dying, and they are dying silently because the world prefers to not hear them.
This not hearing for us is some kind of hypocrisy from those who claim to be champions of human rights. We understand the world has concerns for terrorism. We have concerns for terrorism. But terrorism in Kashmir is monopolized by the Indian state. Why would there be no concern from those people who are concerned about violence and suffering in the world? There are international organizations which prefer not to write much about Kashmir, but they would be repeatedly writing about the crisis which might unfold in Kosovo. At present Kosovo is peaceful. There are international groups which write reports that if this conflict is not solved, it will result in mayhem. But this is speculation. Here, there is mayhem every day and there is no international attention.
INDIA HAS conflated resistance to its occupation in Kashmir with terrorism.
SINCE THE uprising in 1989, Kashmiris have used violence as a means to protest Indian occupation. But before that Kashmiris were nonviolent and participated in elections, thinking that elections might be one way to resolve the conflict.
But India, for the last sixty-three years, has used dialogue as an end in itself. Also, India has a history of not negotiating in any of its conflicts—whether it’s Manipur, Nagaland, or Punjab, whether it’s Dalit rights or women’s issues. So why would it negotiate with Kashmir?
It is easier for them to link Kashmir with terrorism, because after 9/11 there is an international prejudice about Muslim struggles for self-determination. India has successfully carried out a campaign equating Kashmir with terrorism. But in the last three years, Kashmiris have made a huge shift from violence to nonviolence. This is significant, a movement went from violence to nonviolence. Normally it transitions from nonviolence to violence. Here, it’s the opposite. This also does not attract international attention. It’s not easy for any society to shift from violence to nonviolence. And we have done it. In 2008 we had more than a million people out on the street and since then we have had very large protests.
But what happened? How has India responded? Again, by violence. And that violence is not acknowledged by international opinion makers. There are very few who visit Kashmir, there are very few who would want to organize a solidarity group like the International Solidarity Movement for Palestine. It seems that Palestine affects all of Europe. There are numerous groups and NGOs and individuals writing reports and books about it. There are hardly a few people in the West who write about Kashmir. But we can’t wait for them, because it is our lives, our homes, our future.
So we have decided to become storytellers ourselves. We are documenting our stories. We don’t know when the West or even the East will wake up. There is no support from Muslim countries, except for Pakistan. What we are trying to do is to document as much as we can with our meager resources and capabilities.
Whatever we are documenting, we don’t think it will only be indicting Indian civil society, which is not involved in the struggle for justice in Kashmir. It is an indictment of them, but it is also an indictment of those internationally who are silent on Kashmir. I don’t know how they justify their silence. There are international figures who speak about Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan—from Nelson Mandela to Noam Chomsky and many others. But there are hardly a few who speak about Kashmir.
YOU MAKE a distinction between human rights violations and war crimes. What do you see the practices of the Indian state in Kashmir as constituting?
IN THE last twenty years the kind of human rights abuses we have seen are institutional. There is systematic state repression. It’s official policy. The rate at which these human rights abuses have taken place is not possible if there is no official acquiescence. When seventy thousand people have died, when more than eight thousand have disappeared, thousands of women have been raped, then it’s an institutional policy of the government and not of the individuals who are part of the state.
For us it’s a war crime committed against a people who are demanding the right of self-determination. The Indian state unleashed a war on the people of Kashmir because Kashmiris are demanding their rights, the restoration of their dignity, and their right to self-determination. Technically, some people would tell us that there are no war crimes because states are not fighting here. But we are a people on whom a war has been imposed by the Indian state. Violence has been imposed on us. The Kashmiri people are at war with the Indian state. That makes us say war crimes are going on.
TALK ABOUT the vulnerability of women and the difficulty, particularly in a traditional Islamic culture, of women coming forward and reporting on rapes.
IN THE last two decades, we have had a number of rape and molestation cases. For example, in 1991 there was a gang-rape case in Kunan Poshposra. More than fifty women were raped on the night of February 23, 1991. Indian civil society people came here to document what happened. Some of them produced very good reports. The Press Council of India people came here and bailed out the Indian army. They said the women are liars. This is a place where, when you are raped, the Indian state apparatus and those in Indian civil society who support the official line come here to rescue the government. While doing so, they make us appear to be liars, who would lie to the world that we have been raped, who would lie to the world that our loved ones have been disappeared or killed in custody. So in this case they said that these women who said they had been raped are lying. There is a report from the district commissioner, the then divisional commissioner, in which they indicted the army, saying that they were responsible for the rapes. But in this case, as in others, there is no justice. No one has been arrested or convicted.
In 2009 we had the murder and rape case in Shopian. Here again the same pattern was followed. They question the character of the women who were killed and raped. In Kashmir the character of the victims is always discussed by our oppressors as if it is legal for them to rape a woman if she’s a prostitute, as if it is legal for them, if a woman is involved in some promiscuity, to molest, or kill them. In this case again the government is still in denial mode. There is institutional deniability. It’s not even an individual denying that he’s not involved in rape. It is the institution which is protecting the perpetrators. That is why I keep saying there are war crimes, because of state institutional support.
Because of these cases where the women do not get justice, what has happened, significantly, is they do not even report molestation and rapes. It’s a very emotional thing when women are raped in our society. People protest against it. And in these protest demonstrations, the government is ruthless. They shoot and kill people. Many people have lost their lives in the last three years. It is very difficult for these women to imagine that after losing their honor when they have been raped and molested, more people have to die for seeking justice. So that has discouraged them from reporting.
But they have internalized this oppression in a different way. In our society the veil has become more prominent in rural areas, where there are army camps. More women are wearing the veil today as compared to twenty years ago. And then also the issue is that in some remote areas women, after a certain age, drop out of school, so their education is affected, because they feel that they are not secure if they go out of the village. Schools are far away and to get there they are afraid of being stopped by the army. In this uncertain atmosphere, nobody feels safe. So they don’t want to take the risk of getting emancipated at the cost of their own lives or at the cost of their honor. Insecurity is affecting the mind-set of our women.
If you talk to doctors and psychiatrists here, they will tell you that half of the Kashmiri population has some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. It is because of this atmosphere of fear and the trauma which they have witnessed or endured. The number of women who are affected by post-traumatic stress disorder is far more than men. It has certainly discouraged women from coming forward in public life, where they could be shoulder-to-shoulder fighting in the struggle for justice. But they are discouraged because of the culture of fear.
YOU SAID thousands of women have been raped.
WE BELIEVE that more than seven thousand women have either been raped or molested. There was a survey done by a European organization. And according to them, from 1990 to 1993, there were more than twelve hundred cases of rape and molestation reported. Since then no case has been reported, because women do not want to report it. So a survey was conducted by some organizations here, and they believe 90 percent of women do not share their stories of rape and molestation.
ARE THERE organizations in Kashmir that offer counseling and support for these women? And how can they reintegrate back into society? Are they able to marry?
THERE ARE some civil society groups formed by women who offer counseling services. And there are some international organizations as well, like Médecins Sans Frontières, Action Aid, and others. They are offering professional counseling. Then there are community organizations which are offering informal counseling sessions for these women.
At the community level the society encourages women to remarry if their husbands have died or disappeared. So the society in rural areas encourages women to remarry because they feel that they need more support and they can’t continue their lives independently; for social and economic security they need to remarry. Remarriage is very much encouraged in rural areas. In some urban areas women live independently. Urban areas are different from rural areas. In urban areas, women consider themselves comparatively safer, comparatively confident that they could carry on their lives independently as well. Therefore, they do not remarry. There are different kinds of support mechanisms in the urban areas. There are professional groups that offer support to these women in urban areas.
There is another sad issue I want to bring to your attention and that is what is called here “half-widows.” These are women whose husbands have disappeared, but not yet been declared deceased. The women are in a precarious legal state and face economic hardship, as they are ineligible for pensions and other benefits, not to mention the unresolved emotional issues. The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons has been documenting this issue and has published a detailed report called “Half Widow, Half Wife.”
AS I travel around Kashmir, I see a network of army camps, interrogation centers, bunkers, watchtowers, command posts, and roadblocks. More than one Kashmiri has told me, “This place is like a jail.”
FOR PEOPLE who come from outside, this kind of militarization is unusual. I will tell you that our young children here, when they go outside Kashmir, the first thing they will say in places like Delhi is, “This is beautiful, but there is something missing in the landscape.” That’s the army. It’s so much in our minds. The militarization is so deep and widespread that young children, when they go outside [of Kashmir], they miss them, miss them in the sense that they feel there is something odd. Why do they not have army camps? They mean so much to us now in a negative way.
For example, these army camps and bunkers have become our landmarks also. If we have to give an address to someone, like for our office, we tell them, “You have to come to the city center, and there is this bunker. Just stop at the bunker and then turn left.” This bunker has become a landmark, sadly. We have become so immune to it that we cannot see them. We don’t want to see them, but they are there. Anyone who comes from outside, for them this is a horrible picture of militarization. And Kashmiris who go out and when they return, that is when they realize how bad it is, how it is affecting our psyche and behavior.
Our behavior is changing because of this kind of militarization. A few years back we were not people who would react violently to incidents. Now we do. In the summer of 2010, there were many instances where children were killed by the armed forces. The people reacted by burning government property. Army camps and police stations were set ablaze because people were frustrated. When we meet people at the grassroots level, they repeatedly tell us, “Enough. We can’t bear any more pain. This is too much for us.” They are unarmed. They don’t know what they’re doing. They set ablaze an army camp. Unimaginable. These army men have guns and they will use them. They know that they will get killed, but they feel that they need to act because they don’t want to live a life of humiliation.
I SAW in a village in Baramulla district an SOG, Special Operations Group, building that had been burned.
IT WAS in Kreeri, where the SOG camp of the J and K police was set ablaze because without any warning they shot directly at protesters, killing two. After that, the entire locality erupted and came out on the streets. They burned down the SOG camp.
Of course, that’s unfortunate. They feel satisfied that they have taken revenge for the killings, that they were not silent. They feel that, at least this time, by doing this they are giving a clear signal to the government and the army that we will not let you kill us anymore. If you talk to the community, that was the motive. They believe that they have to shed their fear and retaliate for any killing. And the only retaliation they can do is come out on the streets in the hundreds and confront the army and challenge them to kill them. That’s what they do every time now.
THERE SEEMS to be a sectarian component to the struggle in Kashmir as well. India is officially a secular state, but as I go around and look at these bunkers and watchtowers and army camps, there are signs of Hindu religious identity.
WHEREVER YOU find these camps, which have gone up in the last two decades, you will find every camp has a new Hindu temple. So the Indian army has not behaved like a secular army. They are building more temples. And there are symbols and slogans like, Jai Bhavani. This is a name of a Hindu deity, which normally people here do not identify with, but the Indian army does.
What is the reason? Why would the army write these slogans or these religious texts on the walls or build temples? Why would they do it? People here are frightened, because they have heard the stories of how settlers began settling in Palestine and how it changed the demography. So here the building of more temples or anything like that scares people. And that’s exactly the fear which people had in 2008 when there were protests against the land transfer to the Amarnath Shrine Board. These are things which scare people. They feel that they can continue fighting the Indian government, and they will, but the government of India and some Hindutva voices in India are hell-bent on changing the demography of Kashmir. The Hindutva groups have been saying it very publicly that the only solution to Kashmir is to change its demography: you need to have more Hindus living there. So these army installations, wherever they are, when they make these temples, scares people. They do not see that this army is here to confront the armed militants. They see them as people who are coming here to occupy their lands. But with occupation they bring a different culture and different religion.
AMARNATH IS a Hindu shrine in the mountains. It’s a major pilgrimage site. Talk more about the face of the occupation. Who are the military and paramilitary? Have you talked to them?
THE INDIAN army and paramilitary groups do not believe in dialogue. That’s not what they are looking for. They do not look for interactions, where people can question them. Officially, at the political level, they invite Kashmiris for dialogue, which I mentioned earlier. But the dialogue is organized in such a way that it is an end in itself. But here on the ground, the government of India and its troops here do not believe in dialogue. They do not believe in talking to the people and listening to their grievances. Because for them every Kashmiri is a liar, for them every Kashmiri is a propagandist, for them every Kashmiri is a potential terrorist. I’m not sure whether you’ve seen that in some of the army camps here they write a slogan: “Respect all and suspect all.” When do you write, “suspect all?” When you do not trust anyone. That’s exactly what they believe. They do not trust anyone. For them every Kashmiri is a potential terrorist who is against the Indian occupation.
The Indian army based here comes from different backgrounds. They are Dalits. They are from South India. They are from Nagaland, Manipur, and Assam. These are people who are otherwise also oppressed in their own lands. So these oppressed people come here to oppress Kashmiris. Kashmiri soldiers are being sent to Nagaland, Assam, or Chhattisgarh to oppress people there. India is successfully carrying forward the British concept of divide and rule. It’s the colonial heritage. They continue it. They believe that they can sustain what India is today only by divide and rule. And they have until now succeeded.
A NEW generation of activists has come to the fore. You’ve mentioned 2008, 2009, and 2010 as examples of when citizens used tactics of nonviolence and civil disobedience as methods of resistance. But they’ve also been successful in exploiting social media sites, such as Facebook and YouTube.
FROM 2008 onward what has changed in Kashmir is the growth of alternative media. It’s difficult for India to stop Kashmiris from using the Internet. They do, of course, shut down some sites. Also they curtailed mobile phone services and blocked the use of text messages. But stopping and blocking the Internet is not something which is going to happen. Kashmiris have successfully used Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other sites. Every Kashmiri has become a journalist, because they do not trust journalists coming from India. Also, journalists coming from outside cannot do much. The Kashmiri journalists, working here, are vulnerable because they work for institutions. They too cannot do much. So Kashmiris are recording the events themselves and publicizing through YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.
YouTube and Facebook have helped in connecting Kashmiris, who are otherwise fragmented by Indian oppression. So after 2008 to a large extent the fragmentation decreased. They started connecting to one another. There were updates coming from different localities on a second-to-second basis. So most of the information for mobilization came from the Internet and not from media outlets.
A KASHMIRI Facebook site had influence on events in Egypt.
MANY KASHMIRIS are connected to Palestinian groups and support the Palestinian resistance. And there are many Palestinians, Iraqis, and Afghans who are friends of Kashmiris on Facebook. So 2010 was a long protest period for Kashmiris. During this time, Kashmiris disseminated information to the entire world through Facebook. And there were people from Egypt, Palestine, and elsewhere, who, if they were interested in knowing what was happening, were in touch with their friends on Facebook. That is how they spread information to people in Palestine and Egypt, saying Look, this is what we have done and we have succeeded. You could also use it. Many friends from Egypt took ideas and were inspired by what had happened here, how protests were organized, how people were mobilized.
DOES THE Indian government challenge the notion that these demonstrations are nonviolent, saying stone-throwing is a form of violence?
THE THROWING of stones is not something Kashmiris initiate. What happens is when they come out peacefully to protest and sit in some place or organize rallies, when they are denied that right to protest or to organize a rally, that’s when they react. When they are fired upon, that’s when they start throwing stones. So they do not take the lead in throwing stones. Stones are a reaction to the indiscriminate force used by the state. Of course, there is no parallel between state force and protesters throwing stones. But they throw stones, which means that they are saying: they do not agree to the force used by the state and they will not bend to it. The throwing of stones is a symbol of defiance for Kashmiris.
LAL CHOWK is the major square in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir. Do you think it could be like Tahrir Square in Cairo?
LAL CHOWK has been our Tahrir Square for the last many years. In most of the demonstrations we organize, Lal Chowk is where we want to hoist the flags at the clock tower. That’s the place which people want to occupy and where the flag is to be raised.
DIFFERENT FLAGS. We don’t have a national flag yet. So there are flags representing different parties. There’s one green flag which people very commonly use here as a religious, Islamic flag. Indians would call it a Pakistani flag, but it’s not. It’s just an Islamic flag, which is green and has a crescent and a star. That’s the flag which a lot of people use. And they hoist these flags atop the clock tower in Lal Chowk.
There have been attempts to sit in at Lal Chowk, but the government tries to foil those efforts. But people resist and sometimes succeed. Lal Chowk is, unfortunately, very red. And that’s what Lal Chowk means. Red square. It has witnessed a lot of bloodshed of Kashmiris. Our Lal Chowk will become the Tahrir, the liberation square, soon. That is the hope of the people of Kashmir.
THE REVERBERATIONS of the uprisings and the successful overthrow of dictatorships from Tunisia to Egypt and demonstrations in Yemen and Libya and other parts of the Arab Middle East might inspire people here.
THE SUCCESS of struggles anywhere inspires Kashmiris. But we make a distinction between what recently happened in Egypt and Tunisia and our situation. We feel these were struggles for revolution, changing the system, but not a struggle for liberation. Kashmiris are fighting for liberation. That is what will come first. And then we may have to fight for revolution. That’s the unfortunate part of any liberation movement.
SO THE focus is on independence from India.
YES. IN Egypt, hundreds of people were killed. But the Egyptian army remained neutral. Here the situation is different. Every state organization—whether it’s the army, the police, the intelligence services, or the bureaucracy—is against us. And even Indian civil society and media are against us. They were used as a psychological warfare mechanism to confuse people here. In Egypt the situation was different. At least the army was neutral. We believe that if the army had come in the way, then it would have been very difficult for the Egyptians. The revolution would have not come in eighteen days. It has taken us a long time in terms of fighting against Indian occupation.
But that’s also because of the scale of the military occupation here. Iraq had a full-blown war; the allied forces, American soldiers, all of them were there. And the total troop strength in Iraq, which is far bigger than Kashmir, was a hundred and seventy thousand. Afghanistan has similar numbers of American and NATO forces. But in Kashmir, the number of troops is around seven hundred thousand in a small area. The concentration of troops is very high. That is what makes it difficult for Kashmiris to use nonviolence and protests as a means to overthrow or push the government of India out of Kashmir. It’s not easy. It’s more difficult than any other place.
YOU SUGGESTED one of the reasons that the international community, for want of a better term, ignores the struggle in Kashmir is that it is majority Muslim. But Bosnia is also majority Muslim. It drew a lot of attention. How do you explain the difference?
ITS PROXIMITY with Europe was the reason for their involvement in Bosnia. Because it was happening in their backyard and they didn’t want to have a conflict so near which could affect them. Kashmir they feel is far from Europe, very far from the United States. It will not have much of an impact on them.
Again, playing into this is the image of India. Many Europeans and Americans see India as a spiritual place. “India is incredible” as the tourist slogan goes.
Another factor is that the Western governments feel an affinity with India. India is their “strategic partner.” That’s what Obama says. But Indians would tell them that they are their “natural partner,” which is one step higher than a strategic partner. They are getting closer. One of the reasons why America and Europe do not feel connected to Kashmir is because there are official and corporate interests in India. The corporations are making efforts to promote India’s image as incredible India. This image is sold to the whole world, that India’s economy is doing so great. Obama recently said that India’s economy is one of the most stable. But I don’t know whether Obama and Americans know that seven thousand Indians die every day because of hunger. This is incredible India. There are 160 districts of India where there is armed conflict going on. This is incredible India. There are 700,000 troops in Kashmir. This is incredible India. This side of India is not presented to Americans or Europeans because of the corporate and strategic interests of their governments with India. They see India as a partner in this region, as a competitor against China. They want to promote India against China.
WHAT KEEPS New Delhi here with that huge military force occupying a population that doesn’t want to be occupied? Is it just about power, or is there some urgent economic interest?
THE ARGUMENT India makes every time is, how can you live as a free country? You need India. You need support from India. But I would argue that it is India that needs Kashmir more than Kashmir needs India. India says What will happen to the Muslims of India if Kashmir secedes? There is a large, 15 to 16 percent, population of India which is Muslim. So they feel threatened that they would become insecure and Hindu groups would lash back and retaliate on the Muslims in India.
And then the other thing is Kashmir’s economic potential. The hydroelectric power which Kashmir produces, almost 80 percent of our electricity goes to India. And it contributes 30 to 40 percent of the electricity for all of northern India. Their growth would be directly affected if Kashmir were not part of India.
AND KASHMIR is also the source of great rivers.
WE HAVE water resources in abundance; we have many glaciers. Also, the strategic location of Kashmir is important. It is a gateway to Central Asia. This gives a territorial advantage to India vis-à-vis Pakistan. That’s the other reason why India wants to keep Kashmir.
KASHMIR WAS divided between India and Pakistan at the time of partition in 1947. What do you know about what’s happening in that part of Kashmir occupied by Pakistan, which the Pakistanis call Azad Kashmir, Free Kashmir.
WE DON’T know much about what is happening because the government of India does not allow us to make calls there, so the connections are not that good. Pakistan allows them to make calls here. But what we know is the situation is not that good on that side also. The good thing there is that there is no state violence. There are no killings, abductions, and disappearances. But there is discontent on the Pakistan-administered side. People are not happy with how Pakistan has dealt with their rights. There is one part of the Pakistan side of Kashmir which Pakistan calls its northern areas, but is basically Gilgit-Baltistan. People did not have voting rights in that area until last year. I’m sure the human rights situation in Pakistan-administered Kashmir can’t be very good, because all across Pakistan it’s bad.
ARE THERE elements in Kashmir that see Pakistan as a model to emulate?
PEOPLE HERE do not look up to Pakistan or want to integrate with it. People like Pakistan only because of its support, not because of what it is. There is respect for Pakistan in Kashmir because it is the only country which supports the struggle here. There is no respect for Pakistan for what it is doing to its own people.
HOW DOES a resistance movement morally isolate its oppressor?
IT’S VERY difficult and it’s something with which we are struggling. What we have tried to do is to highlight the contradictions of the Indian state, between what they say and what they do. We may not have succeeded to a large extent, but we’re trying nevertheless to make people here and internationally aware of the lies the Indian government propagates about Kashmir.
Because what it says to us in Kashmir is that you have to be with us no matter what. We will keep you with us. The situation is “under control” is exactly what the Indian prime minister said recently. Internationally India says it is willing to negotiate, it has offered talks to the people of Kashmir, but locally it says the situation is under control. They will keep on controlling our lives, they will keep on controlling our future, they will keep on controlling our present. That’s what it says to us locally here in Kashmir. Internationally they say we are ready to talk with Pakistan, we are ready to talk with the Kashmiri leadership. But they are willing to talk to the people of Kashmir only to talk, because talk in itself is the end. They do not want to negotiate. These talks are not meant for negotiations.
One of the conditions from the Kashmiri side is that India must concede that Kashmir is disputed. At the moment India does not publicly say that. Instead it says loudly, clearly, and repeatedly that Kashmir is an integral part of India. They don’t really care about Kashmiris. They have been saying Kashmir is an integral part, not Kashmiris are an integral part. That’s their official line so far.
I REMEMBER the first time when I came here in 1966, I was surprised when I was asked, “Did you come from India?” There is a strong sense of Kashmiri identity.
WE FEEL different. There have been attempts from India to integrate us violently with the Indian mainstream, and we have always refused to integrate. We like to watch Indian cinema, we like to listen to Indian music. But that’s it. No further integration is possible. It’s not only India. Even Pakistan. If Pakistan says that Kashmiris and Pakistanis are the same because of Islam, we reject that. We believe strongly in our Kashmiri identity. We are Muslims, we are proud of being Muslims, but that’s not who we only are. We are Muslims, but we are also Kashmiris. And we are very careful in being clubbed with Indian identity. When I am traveling abroad, I have to carry an Indian passport. But whenever I’m asked where I’m from, I tell them, “I’m from Kashmir. I’m a Kashmiri national.” That’s very close to our hearts.
THERE WERE some other cases of atrocities that you have documented and reported on.
WE ARE fighting different cases in court. One of the prominent ones going on is the murder of a seventeen-year-old boy from Srinagar in the Lasjan area who was abducted by soldiers and killed. We convinced the family to file a case. In this case the armed forces have impunity under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. A sanction has to be obtained from the Indian government for prosecuting these armed forces personnel.
In the court we argued for the sanction. The sanction was sought by the J and K government, by the court here. And the sanction was denied by the Indian government, for unknown reasons. But in this case we asked the government of India through the court how many cases they have given sanctions and we asked the J and K government in how many cases they have actually sought sanctions under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. And we were shocked to learn that the J and K government has asked for sanctions in only 458 cases so far. But then we were further shocked to know that in these 458 cases the sanction was not even granted in one case. So the impunity which exists here is almost 100 percent.
There is no scope for justice. The Indian judicial system is dysfunctional. It is supporting the Indian state. That’s why, again, I said these are war crimes, because all the Indian institutions collaborate to perpetuate the crimes against humanity here. There is judicial impunity, there is moral impunity, and political impunity from India. And Indian civil society has hardly questioned what has happened in Kashmir.
They are bombarded with disinformation saying the people of Kashmir are violent. Why are they not happy living with India? How can one be happy living with India with so many people killed and tortured? You would find in every small locality ten, fifteen, twenty people tortured. And torture has resulted in different kinds of disability. There is so much which has happened to the people of Kashmir. It’s an unpardonable crime which has been committed by India.
We believe the only honorable solution is the occupation has to end and for the perpetrators of the crimes committed here to be punished. There cannot be any other redress. There cannot be reconciliation based on forgiveness, based on forgetfulness. We believe forgetfulness would be another crime committed by Kashmiris on themselves, if they forget what has happened to them by the Indian state.
ONE OF the issues often brought up by India is the treatment of Kashmiri Pandits, the Hindus, who left. Numbers of them were killed, others lost their homes.
THE KASHMIRI Pandit minority, which left in 1990, is an important topic for the Indian government to constantly use against us. But Kashmiris believe that they were not forced out. They left because of their own insecurity. Kashmiri Pandits are a religious minority but also a part of the political minority here, which believed in complete integration and accession to India. They were seen as supporters of India. So they felt insecure. When the armed movement erupted, because of that insecurity and because of the fear which was created in their minds by the then government, they left Kashmir, thinking that in a few months the situation would be fine and they would return. So they did not leave forever then. They left because they wanted to return in three, four months, thinking that the army and the police and the government would take care of these Kashmiris who have been, according to them, indoctrinated by Pakistanis and have gone mad. “They will be treated soon and we will return.” I don’t know what this “treated soon” would mean, but these were the words they used then.
During that time, most of the Kashmiri Pandits who were killed were killed for political reasons. For example, Tikla Taplu, the J and K president of the BJP, the leading Hindutva party in India, was killed. So was the chief of the television center here, who happened to be a Kashmiri Pandit. Another person killed was Neelkant Ganjoo. He was the judge who in 1984 gave the death sentence to Maqbool Bhat, a Kashmiri leader. So these were people who were killed not because they were Kashmiri Pandits but because they were collaborating with the Indian state. There were many more collaborators who were Muslim and were killed by the militants. The number of Kashmiri Pandits who have been killed since 1989 to date—the official figure is 209—and they call it a genocide.
We unequivocally condemn all killings of political activists, of minority groups, and they should stop now. There are still some killings going on of political activists from the ruling National Conference Party or the People’s Democratic Party. A few hundred National Conference people were killed. They were not killed because they belonged to any particular religious group. They were killed because they were collaborators. We condemn that.
The campaign against Kashmiris is that Kashmiris were engaged in ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits and they carried out genocide against them. The murder of these 209 people is very unfortunate and a big blot on the secular and pluralistic values which Kashmiris have always professed. There might be some killings which were communal, but most of those killed in the early1990s were killed for political reasons. We have always condemned that because we do not believe that civilian political workers should be killed, even if they are working for the occupation. Communal killings are unacceptable. There is abhorrence here in our society today for that as well as the killing of political activists.
ONE OF the most prominent allies that the Kashmiris have is Arundhati Roy.
SHE IS a great friend of Kashmiris. And if you ask Kashmiris in any village, illiterate or literate—they might not have read her work ever—they like her, because she is among the very few Indians who have helped in giving voice to the voiceless people of Kashmir. Kashmiris feel voiceless because the world is not willing to listen to them. And if someone like Arundhati Roy comes and speaks on behalf of Kashmiris, people here feel morally indebted to her. She has stood up against the Indian government and spoken the truth to the Indian people. Indians are misinformed about the situation here. They feel that there is terrorism going on. They think that Pakistan is brainwashing the youth. They do not know that it’s a people’s movement. And individuals like Arundhati Roy, Gautam Navlakha, Sanjay Kak, and Angana Chatterji are honorable Indians in the eyes of Kashmiris. Ask any Kashmiri about them. They love and respect them.
IF YOU close your eyes for a moment, think what an independent Kashmir would look like.
I BELIEVE the struggle would not end with the independence of Kashmir from India. Our struggle would continue. Those who are fighting today and leading the movement against India might turn out to be monsters tomorrow because they have been fighting monsters. It happens. We are trying our level best to prevent that. We will have a tough time, even after independence, making Kashmir a place of freedom, justice, and nonviolence, a place with no army, a nation that does not exploit its own people.
We do not want our state to be an oppressor, because it would be a nightmare for us if we replace Indian rule with a bad Kashmir rule. We don’t want that to happen. That’s why we are striving hard to promote the values of international humanitarian law and the values of nonviolence, truth, justice, and democracy. And we are hopeful that Kashmir will be better than many other existing nations in the world.
HOW CAN people learn more about what you are doing?
Our website is www.KashmirProcess.org.
One last thing which I wanted to say was that in our society resistance always meant, in traditional terms, fighting injustice. We are trying to redefine resistance. We believe learning is an important component of resistance. We want to inculcate a sense of learning among Kashmiris, because that will be a very important tool to influence international opinion about what India has been doing here. A lot of young people now feel learning is important. We are happy about this and this is something which we will invest more into in the future.