Srinagar: In a show of solidarity with the people of Kashmir, a group of prominent academicians, writers, journalists, filmmakers and social activists from different countries have launched an online petition seeking a series of measures, including release of political prisoners, return of mortal remains of Mohammad Maqbool Bhat and Mohammad Afzal Guru, besides a ‘sincere’ and time-bound political process to resolve the Kashmir dispute.
Titled ‘Free Kashmiri Political Prisoners, End the Occupation of Kashmir’, the open petition has been moved on change.org, world’s largest petition platform.
“We write this letter in solidarity with the people of Kashmir who have been living under one of the most dense military occupations in the world, where for every 15 Kashmiri civilians there is an armed Indian soldier,” says the petition that is being widely promoted by non-resident Kashmiris over Facebook and Twitter.
“We express support for the Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination by highlighting and opposing the repression of political dissent in Kashmir through military violence and illegal detentions,” it adds.
Giving a brief about the history of Kashmir, the petition says that since the beginning of armed insurgency against the Indian rule, close to 700,000 armed forces been deployed in Jammu and Kashmir and given unbridled powers like Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which grants the forces effective immunity from prosecution for human rights abuses, including murder, rape, and torture.
“While tens of thousands of Kashmiris have been killed in the violent counterinsurgency campaigns, no serious prosecution of Indian military personnel has ever taken place. Kashmiris have consistently called upon international agencies to press for a democratic solution to the Kashmir question, a solution that would allow Kashmiris the primary role in deciding their political future – as also promised in various UN Resolutions,” the signatories say in the petition.
“Since 2008, the movement for Kashmiri self-determination and liberation from the Indian military occupation has overwhelmingly expressed itself via peaceful protests and vigorous mass mobilizations,” it adds.
The Indian government, the petition says, responded to this renewed struggle “through brutal killings, debilitating injuries (including the use of pellet guns and empty tear-gas canisters to blind and maim), and mass detentions of Kashmiris.”
“Under harsh laws like Public Safety Act (PSA), state authorities have imprisoned thousands of Kashmiri youth and activists. Over 5,000 Kashmiris were arrested in the summer of 2008 alone.”
The signatories have also expressed concern over the government’s policy of keeping most of the cases open “specifically for punitive and pre-emptive purposes” and using them to re-arrest activists, especially before publicly announced civil society demonstrations, and to extract monetary bribes and “espionage work” via threats and torture.
Referring to the case of Sheikh Farhat and Sheikh Imran, who were arrested in 2003 for their alleged link to the recovery of abandoned ammunition truck from West Port, West Bengal, the petition says that the duo went on hunger strikes several times to seek a fresh trial and transfer to a jail in Kashmir.
“Moreover there are many Kashmiris who have been languishing in Indian jails over several years, some without trial—an overwhelming majority of whom are denied a fair chance to defend themselves in court,” the petition says.
The signatories include prominent academicians from the US, Europe, Middle East, and South Asia. Among the signatories are Waheed Mirza, journalist and the author of critically acclaimed novel ‘The Collaborator’; Nitasha Kaul, Visiting Fellow at the Center for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster, UK; Dibyesh Anand, Head of the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Westminster, UK; Sanjay Kak, independent filmmaker, New Delhi; Mona Bhan, Associate Professor of Anthropology, DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana, US; Huma Dar, Lecturer, Asian American & Asian Diasporas Studies Program, Department of Ethnic Studies, University of California at Berkeley, CA, US; Rochelle Davis, Associate Professor, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, Washington DC, US; Haley Duschinski, Associate Professor and Director, Center for Law, Justice & Culture, Ohio University, US; Rafiq Kathwari, social entrepreneur/writer, NY, US; Ather Zia, doctoral candidate, PhD program in Anthropology, University of California at Irvine, CA, US; Mohammad Idrees Ahmad, Lecturer, University for the Creative Arts, UK; Priya Kandaswamy, Assistant Professor Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Mills College, Oakland, CA, US; Suvir Kaul, A. M. Rosenthal Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania, PA, US; Deepa Kumar, Associate Professor, Journalism and Media Studies, Rutgers University, NJ, US; and others.