BENGALURU: The abrupt end of an event organised by Amnesty International India on Saturday to highlight the plight of families in Kashmir resulted in verbal clashes between groups of people.
The organisers had been told to end the discussion exactly at 8.30 pm. While the programme was fraught with arguments and counter-arguments, the abrupt ending in the middle of a performance by Kashmiri rap artist MC Kash led to tempers flaring.
The artiste told The Hindu that he had expected to play five songs, all pertaining to the conflict at the “land of bloody crackdowns”.
The cutting short of his second song (as the police insisted the mikes be switched off) led to the crowd of young Kashmiris shouting pro-Kashmir Independence slogans. Even as some members of the student community attempted to calm them, outside the hall at United Theological College, a group of Kashmiri Pandits were shouting “Bharat Mata ki Jai” while demanding that students “be arrested for seditious statements”.
There were multiple flashpoints in the discussions, which interrupted the proceedings. The small group of Kashmiri Pandits and the students sparred over the depictions of the Indian Army, as well as attempts to control the narrative.
Amnesty International’s Broken Families campaign featured three Kashmiri families whose kin were killed during military action in the troubled region.
An emotional Ali Mohammad Shah, whose son was killed by army personnel in 2002, says the army had picked up his son for interrogation.
“He was dropped off at Beerwah police station and clearly, he had been tortured. He could not even speak. He slipped into coma and died the next day…He was innocent, and was killed just based on suspicion,” he said.
Similarly, the fates of Shahzad Ahmad Khan — who was killed in a fake encounter on the India-Pakistan border — and Manzoor Ahmad Mir — whose body was found 16 years after he was allegedly kidnapped by the Army — were told in stirring narrations. The campaign started in Bengaluru, and will proceed to other metros of the country and end in a petition to be submitted to the government of India.
As I write, the custodians of Indian nationalism are protesting outside the United Theological College, Bangalore, against the so-called “anti-national” event organised by the Amnesty International India (AII).
An FIR has also been lodged against the organisers. Local news channels are flying overhead with video clips of the event, and the demand to “punish the culprits” has again found its foothold on the technology of representation – of Kashmir and Kashmiri Muslims (KMs), an insane lot whose unwelcome presence on the symbolic crown of India, that crucial integral part, has tainted that blessed piece of land ever since the infant yet the benevolent state of India came to their rescue, and thenceforth, never failed to demonstrate its might obsession and love for the land to the extent of necrophilia and sadism.
Of the ideal figure of the soldier, someone who is infallible and could be recognised and vouched for from afar, for the courage, bravado, valour and his impeccable accuracy to shoot them right in the heart and head, but mind you, all out of love. An overt demonstration of this love was seen yesterday at the venue where families from Kashmir who have lost their loved ones in last twenty-seven years were expected to narrate their stories. Hasb-e-aadat, I reached the venue much before the event was supposed to begin. As a passive viewer, looking around at some familiar and some unfamiliar faces, I saw two elderly gentlemen entering the Tagore Hall at the UTC. After exchanging a few introductory remarks with the organisers, they sat down for a brief discussion. I have no idea what transpired between them. But soon I was told by a journalist friend that the two gentlemen have demanded to be part of the event representing the Kashmiri Pandit-side of the story and AII has accepted their demand. Perplexed with this last minute inclusion, I checked the event details on AII’s Facebook page but found nothing of this sort mentioned there.
Minutes before the start of the event, a group of Kashmiri Pandits (KPs), followed by some media people, entered the hall and sat in the front. Tara Rao of AII started her welcome address by explaining the nature of the event and the reason for the last minute inclusion. The moment she alluded to the displacement of KPs in 1990s, the first shout went up asking her to correct her figures. My anticipation of the event plunging into a chaos had rather started coming true too soon. Her short address rather took a long time to finish amidst of the objections raised by the audience. This was followed by two video screenings depicting the stories of custodial killings of innocent Kashmiri Muslims by the Indian armed forces. The events moved on with occasional tremors until a panel, comprising family members of those killed by Indian armed forces, moderated by journalist Seema Mustafa were called on the stage.
To my surprise, Seema, instead of keeping the purpose of the event in view and starting with the family members, went on to ask the KP member on the panel to narrate his story. The gentleman who introduced himself as an “old journalist” started off by praising the role of Indian armed forces in Kashmir and North East, therefore outrightly discrediting the story of a father who narrated the tale of how his innocent son was killed by the army for no reason just before a while and a mother who was handed over the skeleton of her son two years after army had abducted him.
The gentleman went on to state that Indian army is the most disciplined army in the world and discarded the accusations against them as completely baseless. This time, the objections were raised by the Kashmiris Muslims in the audience. The moderator looked clueless and found no words to rebut the mendacious claims of this gentleman with the Amnesty’s own findings on the role of the army in Kashmir. By this time, the event had plunged into a complete chaos, and perhaps the organisers realised their ‘generous’ mistake, but it was too late. Heated exchanges took place between the KP and KM members in the audience for a prolong period of time.
The last segment of the event was MC Kash’s performance. The moment he was called on the stage, the KPs and the media personnel left the hall. Kash could hardly perform for 5 minutes when an AII staff held up a placard asking him to cut his performance short citing the time constrains. Humiliated Kash left the stage protesting the treatment meted out to him. But this wasn’t the end of it. By this time, to my surprise cops had already entered the hall and one of them tried to manhandle Kash while he was leaving the hall. But a few Kashmiris made a human chain around him to save him from further humiliation. The organisers did not make a squeak against the presence of police inside the hall or their aggressive behaviour towards Kash and other Kashmiris.
All wasn’t over yet. We were asked to leave the venue. However, at the entrance, the police did not allow us to go out and stuffed us back into the hall. In the middle of pushing, I heard the first slogan from outside of the hall – Bharat mein rehna hoga, Vande Mataram Kehna Hoga, and saw the same KP gentleman along with all his subordinates arguing with police to arrest the AII staff and all Kashmiri “terrorists” inside the hall.
The same rant of nationalism and ‘these people are threat’ to India’s integrity and national security went up again and again. The KP gentleman who on the panel had maintained that all Kashmiris have equally suffered in last two 27 years, called the AII a “Taliban-funded antinational organisation.” They were joined by the infamous Kabbadi team of BJP aka ABVP who then went on to demand immediate arrest of MC Kash and all Kashmiris who raised slogans of Azadi inside the hall.
Somehow, the AII people managed to stuff the families into the bus and took them back to the hotel at 9:30pm without any police protection. Some ABVP members were seen following the bus on their vehicles.
Interestingly, a couple of my friends and I got to interact with a few ABVP people outside. And as usual, they had no clue what was going on inside the hall. One of them even told us that they were told that some Kashmiri students are raising anti-army and anti-India slogans inside the hall. That’s why they were protesting.
P.S While in a separate letter, I will be asking some questions to the AII about the way the event was organised and the humiliation Kashmiris families and artists were subjected to, this is a brief account on the events that took place yesterday.