KASHMIR: A GENERATION IS BEING EXTERMINATED BY FORCE ALONE
By Abdur Rahman Chowdhury
The people of Jammu and Kashmir, like the rest of the people of undivided India, wanted an end to the colonial rule. That happened in August 1947 through the division of the united India. But the freedom for the people of Jammu and Kashmir was very short-lived. Their rulers, not their representatives, made unilateral decision and declared unification with Indian Union. The ruler’s decision was influenced by his religious affinity in contrast to the hopes and aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The government of newly independent India welcomed the arbitrary decision of Dugra Maharaja as opposed to the wishes of the people. The Indian government thus failed in its first democratic test. It respected one man’s decision over the expressed desire of the people of the state.
What followed this arbitrary decision of the state ruler taken in concert with the Indian government is now history and known to the people of the world. Before the people could wake up to witness the consequence of the flagrant denial of their wish the armed militia from across the border started marching towards Srinagar, the state capital. The armed forces of India put up a resistance but by that time one third of Kashmir fell into the control of Pakistan. The matter came before the United Nations Security Council which advised both India and Pakistan to cease armed confrontation. It also decided that the fate of the state would be determined by the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan accepted the decision of the United Nations.
The irony is people of Jammu and Kashmir were never provided an opportunity to decide the fate of their homeland. India gradually shifted from its solemn promise and began integration of the state to the Indian Union. In March 1984, when the United Nations Security Council took up the matter for discussion Mohammed Ali Careem Chagla, the then Education Minister and leader of the Indian delegation dismissed the option of having a plebiscite to determine the will of the people of Jammu and Kashmir on the pretext that in the past seventeen years general elections had taken place three times all over India including Jammu and Kashmir and people of the state had voted overwhelmingly in favor of Indian National Congress which stood for national integration. Mr. Careem Chagla claimed that what was already completed could not be made more complete and termed the notion of plebiscite irrelevant. He instead, advised the Pakistan government to mind its own business and grant the right of self determination to the people of Paktunistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
Being disillusioned Pakistan government made an attempt in September 1965 to integrate Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan by armed action. The attempt led to a full scale war between India and Pakistan but the fate of Kashmir remained undecided. Pakistan tried again in 1999 to disintegrate Jammu and Kashmir by force from the rest of India but did not succeed. There was international condemnation and Pakistan had to suspend its military action. It could be mentioned here that people of Jammu and Kashmir never lent support to armed action from across the border. In fact it was the villagers who informed the Indian army about the infiltration in September 1965 and stood behind Indian government during the war. Neither the Indian government nor its military leadership ever appreciated this gesture of the people of the state.
Kashmir has a unique situation. It is the only Muslim majority state in the Indian Union. All other states have mixed population with Hindus being the majority. The secular India has never been fair in its treatment to the Muslim population. They are routinely being singled out for outlawed activities including terrorism. The State Government of Gujrat is notorious in its treatment against the Muslim population. Since the destruction of Babre mosque in Ajodhya, Utter Pradesh in 1992, a number of communal riots have taken place in Gujrat and the state administration, at the direct intervention of its Chief Minister, ensured that the Muslims were persecuted. Thousands of Muslim population including women and children were the victims of the carnage.
Being cognizant of the fact that Hindu India would not be fair with its Muslim population the people of Jammu and Kashmir moved a step further and tried to live with the Indian Union. They wanted some safeguards against encroachment of their distinct identity and culture. The Indira Gandhi- Sheikh Abdulla agreement accepted these safeguards and the people of Jammu and Kashmir came to terms with the changed reality. Their trusts were however short lived and after the death of Ms. Gandhi the Indian government initiated its onslaughts on the agreement. When people stood up in protests the government responded with brutality. As more and more people joined the protests police brutality was replaced by inhuman army brutality. Rape, abduction, torture and killings became the most common arsenal of the armed forces against the unarmed protesters. Kashmiri-Canadain Council, a human rights watchdog reported that 47,455 people have been killed in Kashmir since October 1989.
Arunditi Roy, the conscience of India who earned the wrath of the communal forces in India, recently reported that many new mass graves have been found in Indian part of Kashmir. Independent People’s Tribunal, a human rights watchdog headed by Justice H. Suresh, former Judge of Bombay High Court, reported in September 2010 that “In Kashmir, there is one soldier for every twenty people. There are 500,000 armed troops, 300,000 army men, 70,000 Rashtriya Rifle soldiers, 130,000 central police forces as against the total population of 1 crore (10 million). In the past 20 years, a generation of Kashmiris has grown with soldiers at every street corner “often even in their living rooms” (Sunday Times of India, 13th June, 2010). The grievance of the people is that instead of confining the role of the military and security forces to that of external defense and as against militants, it is regularly and continuously used for domestic repression. This excessive militarization has resulted in wiping out all space for the exercise of democratic rights by the people, the result being terrorization of the people at large. This has resulted in ruthless action on all dissent, and at the same time the military indulges in acts of violence against people with impunity.” The Tribunal observed that one of the impacts of excessive militarization is large scale detention, extra-judicial killings and custodial deaths.
Draconian laws have been enforced in support of the militarization. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, has been in force in Jammu and Kashmir since 1987. Section 4 of the Act states that armed forces officers have only to form an “opinion” to consider what may be necessary, and then on the basis of such “opinion” they “can fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing death against any person” and they can “arrest, without warrant any person” and “enter and search without warrant any premises” at any time, and use force to achieve this objective. The Act gives them full protection against any prosecution or legal proceedings in respect of anything done or “purported to be done” in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act. The result is that in Kashmir, arbitrary arrests, detention, torture and custodial deaths, rape and midnight raids into homes and disappearances have become routine. The Tribunal noted that “the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978 is especially draconian in nature, falling far short of meeting international human rights standards, and has become notorious for its rampant misuse at the hands of the armed forces. Under this Act, the maximum period of detention is two years, without trial, for “persons acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of the State.”
The Tribunal confirmed that “Prisons in Jammu and Kashmir are full of detainees booked under the infamous PSA, with reports suggesting that even minors have been arrested and detained under this law on a number of occasions. Furthermore, very often the PSA is slapped on a person again and again, at the end of successive periods of two years, thereby making the actual period of detention much longer. Farooq Ahmed Dar, one such detainee, had to spend sixteen years in prison before he was finally released in 2006. There have been various instances where political leaders and common people have been slapped with successive detention orders despite the fact that Courts keep on quashing them. This is done only with a purpose and intention not to release the detenue.” The Tribunal further confirmed that “in 1993 there were 7000 habeas corpus petitions pending in the Jammu & Kashmir High Court. Some of the petitions are still pending. In 2001, there were 35000 civilians under detention and quite a number of them still continue to be inside, while the Courts remain judicially paralytic. In quite a number of cases where the victim had been killed, the courts have not even awarded any compensation to the next of kin. We have also some cases where the complainants have been made to go from one court to the other for nearly two decades, with no relief whatsoever.”
This was the situation in the past and this is the situation today. The people of Jammu and Kashmir are being bled white under the watch of the international community. The Indian government is acclaimed as the product of largest democracy in the world but it does not want to talk to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and find out what are they looking for. It is well known that people take up arms when all democratic options have been exhausted. Insurgency is the product of persecution, discrimination, neglect and deprivation. As long as the situation in Jammu and Kashmir remains as it is now the insurgency will grow stronger and spread farther. The insurgency has already spread to seven states including Madhya Prodesh and West Bengal and the security forces are nervous at the ever growing strength of the insurgency. In July this year, around 100 police personnel were killed in West Bengal alone. There is no reliable data available about the casualty of the armed forces and civilians in the seven states but the number of casualty is deemed significant. Khalistan movement in Punjab has been suppressed through brutal means but it has not died down. Vehicles with banner “Long live Khalistan” are still noticed in the streets of United States and Canada.
The irony is the international organizations like OIC which is composed of Muslim countries has failed to stand by the people of Jammu and Kashmir. OIC has the political weight to put pressure on the Indian government to come to terms with the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It can persuade India and Pakistan to withdraw their security forces from Jammu and Kashmir, initiate meaningful dialogue with the representatives of all groups of the state and accede to their legitimate demands. OIC can form a contract group comprising of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Indonesia and entrust it with the responsibility to approach all parties including the Pakistan government, find an acceptable formula and bring the bloodbath to an end. International community has waited too long and allowed India to exterminate a generation in Jammu and Kashmir by force alone. Time is now running out fast. Let’s remind ourselves that Kashmir belongs neither to India nor to Pakistan. It belongs to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and none else.
· The author is a former official of the United Nations