In an interview with Pankaj Mishra in 2010, Basharat Peer spoke of the attention Americans needed to put towards Kashmir. He also spoke of his visit to America in 2006 where he had gone with great expectations that people might talk Kashmir in detail and express their opinion. To his surprise people would not care and some would not even know about it. Similarly, Kashmir’s first hip-hop artist, Roushan Illahi, popularly known by his stage name MC Kash, went to tour Europe in 2016 as a student of peace to raise general awareness around the world about Kashmir. I met him before his visit and he was so ambitious and purposeful about his effort of telling the outside world about the world’s most militarized zone. Contrary to his expectations, he would be shocked by the responses as some people would even ask him, “What is Kashmir?”
Kashmir is again facing a cold war like situation, as I have time and again been likening it to one of the most repressive periods in American history. We are losing lives like cattle and nobody seems to care about it. So many people have already lost their lives in this bloody war that it is hard to count the number and we cannot afford to lose lives anymore. With the ideological shifts that are being observed across the militant struggle and its failure to achieve any desired result, many are keen on highlighting the human perspective of the war that has grown too old now. Guns are guns and it does matter where they come from. Romanticizing the militant struggle will not produce a Che Guevara for us in times like this and all of us should be afraid of the situations it can lead us to.
I went to Delhi this year as a student of human rights. The awareness that I wished to raise had a different level. For example, if I tell someone that I belong to Kashmir, my expectations won’t be hurt. Even if I get a negative response, the assurance is that I will get something to really discuss and deliberate upon.
The saddest part of this discourse is that Kashmir has never been portrayed as a human rights issue. In the eyes of most people it is an India-Pakistan territorial issue. With the negative media attention, that has been working tirelessly to tarnish the image of Kashmiris across India and negate its human side, most people view it through the prism of ‘national interest’.
The politicization of human rights in Kashmir is the saddest reality to observe and think upon. In 2005, a pro-government militia known as ‘Salwa Judum’ was formed to tackle the insurgency in Chhattisgarh. In addition to allegations of murder (500 cases) and arson (103 cases), 99 allegations of rape were submitted to the Supreme Court, with no single FIR (Firstpost: May 30, 2013). Prominent human rights organisation, People’s Union for Civil Liberties raised allegations against Salwa Judum. In 2011 its formation was ruled out by the honourable Supreme Court owing to its illegal and unconstitutional nature. A similar organization called the Ikhwan was formed in Kashmir in 1995. They unleashed a reign of terror across Kashmir killing people in huge numbers. The brigade was supported by the government of the time and diminished slowly until the return of ‘normalcy’. However, its formation and functioning was never criticized in Delhi and the cases of such abuses were investigated in a less number of cases. Denial by different governments to try the cases of human rights abuses led to a renewed kind of struggle in the valley.
When Afzal Guru was hanged in 2013, it was not a punishment to Ghalib (Afzal’s son) alone but a collective punishment to all the Kashmiri children. As Mirza Waheed put it correctly in his famous piece for The Guardian that the “noose (could) extend beyond the gallows”. While people in Kashmir were mourning, leading to more and more deaths, the mood in Delhi was severely harsh.
The first victim of the pellet horror in 2010 was a teenager named Irshad Ahmad. How pellets were indiscriminately pumped into the body of 11-year-old Nasir will haunt us for the rest of our lives. Similarly, how Faizan Bashir, a 12-year-old boy was produced before a Srinagar court to be prosecuted as an adult still remains a major challenge to all those who practise human rights law. Is there anyone to justify it? What holds the families of all these victims together is the faith in criminal justice system. For example, Tufail Mattoo’s (a young boy killed by police in 2010) father has shown exemplary valour and his fight against the state apparatus is an inspiration to all of us. While we all champion the cause of child rights, let’s remember those in Kashmir who have lost their vision and become unseen targets of the violence.
In the fall of 2015, I met Parveena Ahanger, popularly known in Kashmir as the ‘Iron Lady’. After the disappearance of her son during 90s, she rose as a sensation championing the cause of all those subjected to enforced disappearance. On a note of promise and hope, she held my hand and told me so selflessly, “Bring justice for us, my son. Make sure what happened to us does not happen to the next generation.” While we debate violence against women, let’s remind the state of Kunan-Poshpora and Asiya-Neelofar double rape and murder and the denial of justice thereof. The collective conscience that was on display in the case of Nirbhaya was not seen in the ones that of course shook the collective conscience of Kashmir. A moderate Indian response to a question like this would be: But rapes are common in India, why only raise hue and cry about Kashmir? Little do they realize that by denial of justice to the victims, rapes are legitimized and the language that is being spoken to them is that of power and a military might, which cannot be fought. The message is to terrorise and make rape political in Kashmir.
Politicization of human rights is the saddest thing that has ever happened to Kashmir. To start a peace process in Kashmir, observance of human rights and justice cannot wait. In a world marred by wars and dangerous diplomacies, opportunistic policies of nation-states are never there to resolve longstanding disputes. Their businesses are running as long as the disputes remain unresolved. We cannot expect anything from the outside world. People can have sympathy for us but ultimately you have to battle the state apparatus. The message therefore goes straight to the people of mainland India that they are the main party who can start a renewed peace process in Kashmir. Politics can wait, resolve of the greater issues can wait, and even Azadi can wait; but human rights, their observance and redressal cannot wait.