Kashmir: Where the truth doesn’t matter

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Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai

Srinagar—NPR’s Julie McCarthy was in Kashmir earlier in September and reported on how different the unrest seems now compared to previous years. “First of all, there’s this unprecedented kind of force being used. There’s these high-velocity pellet shotguns for crowd control. And it’s left thousands of people riddled with pellet injuries. And a lot of them have damaged eyesight. And some demonstrators have thrown stones, attacked police stations and government buildings. And, unusually, this started in rural areas. And it has spread throughout the Kashmir Valley. And it’s lasted over 60 days. That’s also unusual.”
Perhaps it’s not enough to point out that the champion of this latest uprising, a person who was slain in a fashion frequently called “extrajudicial” by others in the press, and whose killing was the primary provocation for the current uprising, was a self-declared militant who had used social media to resist the Indian occupation. He was someone who had become a symbol of the true spirit of resistance in the hearts of all Kashmiris.
The protest over Burhan Wani’s killing was obviously different. Really different. Kashmiris are not a violent people. The country has throughout history been known for its peaceful communal relations among Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Muslims. Yet it expressed a state of frustration that had reached a boiling point. His killing set off a protest movement that was unusual in its scale. As many as 200,000 people attended his funeral in direct violation of a state curfew order that should have kept people immobilized in their homes.
One wonders why the honoring of the dead with a funeral procession would scare the daylights out of India. Enough to shoot them with shotguns? These guns weren’t, it should be added, pointed at infiltrators sneaking across the Line of Control (LoC). They were pointed at moms and dads, sons and daughters, of Kashmiris. Perhaps some Pakistani agent was handing everyone a Snickers candy bar to show up, but Kashmiris seem to have had sufficient incentive without such inducements to risk life and death, blindness and permanent disability to let their feelings be known, notwithstanding any goodies from Pakistan. Mani Shanker Aiyar, former Federal Minister of India confirmed it on July 25, 2016, by saying, “It is time we stopped blaming Pakistan for everything going wrong in the Valley, recognize our own errors, and take action to make the required course corrections.” India’s determination to put down any demand for azaadi had also reached a new level that expressed seemingly a deep resentment and hatred for all that Kashmir stood for, or a complete disregard for their standing as human beings. Any respect for due process, human rights and the traditions of democracy were nowhere to be found. Women and mere babies were being shot in the streets. Hundreds had been blinded and maimed for life. For what? Because they had a difference of opinion about under what kind of government they wanted to live? Because they wanted to have a say in their own future? Because they asked for democracy but got bullets instead?
“Wani should have served as an alarm bell for the government system,” said Siddharth Varadarajan, a former editor in chief of the English daily The Hindu. “Why would a young man, instead of taking up engineering, adopt a course that any reasonable person would tell him would end up in death?”
One man who might have had something to say about it is Khurram Parvez, a Kashmiri human rights activist and winner of the 2006 prestigious Reebok Human Rights Award who now sits in jail on charges under the Public Safety Act. The PSA is in fact applied to anyone seen as a threat to India’s good public image. And Parvez was sure to do some damage to it.
On September 14, Parvez was detained at New Delhi airport and prevented from flying to Geneva, Switzerland, to attend the annual session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The following day he was arrested and held without charges but later released under a court order. He was then arrested again on September 16 and charged under the Public Safety Act.
Parvez’ knowledge of the crimes of India is undoubtedly quite comprehensive. As a co-founder and coordinator for many years for the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), he was deeply involved in the issue of disappearances. According to the JKCCS, on the issue of “disappearances”, — Kashmiris who have simply vanished after being taken into custody by the armed forces — Parvez could have provided very damning testimony. A report issued back in 2011 by The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, estimated that around 10,000 people had gone missing in the previous 20 years, many ended up in several thousand unmarked graves that have been discovered in more than 40 different communities in Kashmir. The practice India had adopted of just yanking people off the street, executing them, and then burying them in some unknown place has continued to this day.
To press charges against such a high profile human rights activist speaks to the impunity and brazenly undemocratic means to which India will stoop to enforce its will. It does this for all the world to see while at the same time saying that it has done no wrong. The mask is quite visible, like you would see on Halloween, while the masked man says there is no mask. Well, maybe not. India’s true face apparently is the mask, or can be seen through a very transparent one, which is the image of a monster creeping through the alleys in the dark, seizing little boys, and eating the flesh of their mothers.
In his Opening Statement, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on September 13, “I believe an independent, impartial and international mission (in Kashmir) is now needed crucially and that it should be given free and complete access to establish an objective assessment of the claims made by the two sides.”
The rejection by India was particularly upsetting. “States may shut my Office out,” he added, “but they will not shut us up; neither will they blind us” — a not so subtle reference, perhaps, to the hundreds of people blinded by shotgun pellets in Kashmir. “Human rights violations will not disappear,” he said, “if a government blocks access to international observers and then invests in a public relations campaign to offset any unwanted publicity. On the contrary, efforts to duck or refuse legitimate scrutiny raise an obvious question: what, precisely, are you hiding from us?”
India’s image suffers far more from the obvious duplicity and an incorrigible unwillingness to confront openly its wrong-headed policies than it would if it just laid its cards on the table. The flaunting of its inhumanity — as if to say, we’re going to do it and you can’t do anything about it” — is only deepening its commitment to permanent conflict and suffering in Kashmir. Its public posture of blaming Pakistan for its troubles in Kashmir is also fanning the flames of a nuclear holocaust. It’s time for the international community to act decisively and intervene in the interest of global peace to settle the Kashmir dispute to the satisfaction of all parties concerned.—KMS