By Advocate Abdul Matin
Dr Muhammad Qasim has completed 23 years in prison. He is languishing in jail for holding political views that are unacceptable to the ruling establishment. He has lost half his eyesight, and has been advised surgery by doctors. He is taking medicine regularly for his chronic intestinal ailment. His heart disease is a matter of serious concern for his family and well-wishers.
Sayyid Tasaduq Hussain, senior advocate J&K High Court, has this to say, “Dr Muhammad Qasim, an outstanding political ideologue and writer of contemporary Kashmir, is suffering incarceration for holding political beliefs unacceptable to the establishment and he has been convicted under an infamous anti-terrorist legislation in a trial that was manifestly wanting in judicial fairness.”
Dr. Qasim is of the firm belief that freedom of religion is the birth right of every human being, and thus he also opposes the ban on religious conversion. His views on the economy of Kashmir, too, are based on a close reading of ground realities. For him, a group of rich businessmen in Kashmir have an economic monopoly while on the other side is a class of people that can hardly afford two meals a day. It is this section of society which suffered most in the war-like situation.
His political views regarding Kashmir are based on historical realities, justice and logic. He doesn’t consider Dogra ruler Hari Singh as a public representative and thus rejects his accession to India. He is of the opinion that the Indian National Congress with the help of Sheikh Abdullah created such an atmosphere for Hari Singh which ultimately forced him to sign the document of accession. At the same time, Dr. Qasim did not accept the cooked-up version of history that Indian forces landed in Kashmir only after the document of accession was signed by Hari Singh – just as an authority on Kashmir, Alastair Lamb, in his book mentions that Indian forces were already here and even received their companions on 27th of Oct, 1947.
He raises the question that if Indian rulers are asking the Hurriyat Conference leadership to prove its representative character, what about Hari Singh? Was he an elected representative of the Kashmiri people? How was his decision of accession accepted? If as a ruler he had a right to take such decision what about the ruler of Junagarh, whose decision to accede to Pakistan was not accepted by Indian rulers? Another relevant aspect of this so-called accession is that Hari Singh signed the document of accession at a time when the public movement against him was at its peak and he signed the document only after quitting Kashmir.
According to Dr. Qasim, the battle between the people of Kashmir and Indian rulers is basically a battle between the history of Kashmir and Indian occupation. He advocates that this problem must be solved according to the wishes of Kashmiris, as promised by India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Nehru, who, from 1947 till his demise (1962), repeatedly took pledges before the world, Pakistani rulers, Indian parliament and people of Kashmir on a plebiscite.
He is also very disgusted with the political leaders of the state. He says it is people like Sheikh Abdullah, Ghulam Muhammad Bakhshi and Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq and then Farooq Abdullah, Mufti Sayeed and Ghulam Nabi Azad who are giving a political shield to Indian military occupation in Kashmir. He says that for mere power and personal interests the state political leaders mislead the Indian government about the ground realities in Kashmir. He pleads that it is not a problem in Kashmir but the problem of Kashmir which the Government of India should address. He blames state leaders for misguiding the Indian government that the problem in Kashmir is unemployment and that is why Indian leaders are announcing economic packages and job schemes.
Dr. Qasim agrees with Raj Mohan Gandhi that to solve the Kashmir issue fairly it is compulsory for Indian leaders to make their subjects aware about the historical realities of Kashmir. He considers that be it the so-called accession of Hari Singh (1947), Nehru-Abdullah agreement (1952), Shastri-Ayub agreement (1966), Indira-Bhutto agreement (1972), Indira-Abdullah agreement (1975),Vajpayee-Nawaz agreement (1999), all of them failed to solve the Kashmir dispute as they did not take into account the wishes of Kashmiris. He stresses that even if today any agreement takes place regarding Kashmir between leaders of all sorts, where the wishes of people are ignored, it would be one more attempt in futility and it won’t change the hearts and minds of people about Delhi.
Dr. Qasim is the first political leader who put forward a three point formula for changing the freedom movement of Kashmir into a self-reliant movement: 1) After taking the militant organisations into confidence the Hurriyat and other political organisations should draft a bottom line on the Kashmir issue; by which he means not a solution within the sovereignty of India but that there are various options even outside Indian sovereignty and the political and militant leadership should unanimously choose one of them. 2) Political organisations should not accept monetary help from any government or agency and instead should raise funds locally. 3) They must snap all relations with the intelligence agencies of Delhi and Islamabad.
Actually, it was this political farsightedness and practical vision for which he was sentenced for life in a case he was implicated in by the state authorities, sans any witness and only on the basis of a so-called confessional statement – even after the Jammu TADA Court had honourably acquitted him and his two colleagues. Dr. Qasim is the first-ever Kashmiri scholar and political ideologue who has been sentenced to life solely on the basis of his political views. It is also surprising and a unique case in the history of the TADA courts too that a lower court acquitted someone and the apex sentenced him for life!
—The writer is Chairman, J&K Human Rights Guild