By Dr. P.S. Sahni and Shobha Aggarwal
“We, all of us, have to hang down our heads in shame for all the follies and crimes that are taking place in Kashmir today … we ourselves have forfeited the trust of the people of the Kashmir valley … India’s democracy can never sustain itself by stamping the jackboot on the people … Kashmir summons us to heed the voice of our conscience.”
— Nikhil Chakravartty, Mainstream, May 1, 1993
Much blood has spilt in the Kashmir valley since Nikhil Chakravartty penned these words. Atrocities on Kashmiris have worsened, but their urge for azadi soars high. The present Kashmir uprising has resulted in extrajudicial killings of more than 100 civilians; more than 15,000 injuries, 1000 blindings and 8000+ arrested or jailed. The longest continuous general hartal observed in Kashmir since July 8, 2016 has no parallels even during the civil disobedience movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi during India’s freedom struggle against the British colonial rulers. The daily protests in Kashmir have been peaceful; violence ensued only after peaceful protests were sought to be disrupted by the security forces, when stone throwing would start. But where are the rulers in Delhi and their junior dispensation in Jammu and Kashmir? Why is the Indian Government wary of dialogue with movement leaders in Kashmir?
The all party parliamentary delegation did visit Jammu and Kashmir in September 2016; but even the basic political courtesy of temporarily releasing the movement leaders from jails or those under house arrest was not undertaken. Nelson Mandela’s guiding principle – only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contract – was conveniently overlooked by the Indian Parliamentarians who may have even forgotten that Nelson Mandela had visited India at the behest of the then Prime Minister of India, Shri V. P. Singh in 1990.
The movement leaders of Kashmir uprising wanted to share their thoughts through a letter to the Nation upon completion of the 100th day of the present phase of struggle; the scheduled press conference was not allowed; internet and telecommunication had already been cut. The Indian national press obligingly censored S.A.S. Geelani’s letter written while in house detention. Just a glimpse through a few lines of this letter will do.
“…freedom is the right of every human being and it is a right we are destined to achieve. If ever a people have made themselves deserving of freedom, it is us who never lost the sight of our goal of freedom… No occupier has ever given anything to the occupied except killing, maiming, raping, exploiting and humiliating them… Our fight for freedom is the fight to liberate our minds from the Indian control… The liberation of our territories is inevitable.” and
“…international Community has … stressed upon the resolution of the dispute. UN General Secretary, OIC, UNHCR, Amnesty International, NATO, European Union and many other world bodies voiced their concerns strongly in their own ways.”
The passion for azadi in this letter mirrors a similar urge for freedom penned by Martin Luther King, Jr. in a letter dated 16 April, 1963 written from jail:
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed … justice too long delayed is justice denied … There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”
This letter came after the civil rights leader intentionally allowed himself to be arrested during a demonstration against racial injustice. This prompted President John F. Kennedy to introduce major civil rights legislation.
Both U.S.A. and India are functional democracies, each with their own constitution and judiciary. Martin Luther King, Jr. was only trying to get the constitutional guarantees and latter day judgements of the courts in U.S.A. to be honoured and implemented. Article 370 of the Indian Constitution – which accorded special status to the Kashmiris has been subverted and diluted to a point where it affords them no real protection or safeguards. The Kashmiris feel cheated and aggrieved. The Kashmiris are asking for the implementation of the U.N. resolution. After all it was India – and not Pakistan – which had referred the dispute (pertaining to Kashmir) to the U.N. on January 1, 1948. In a resolution dated 13 August, 1948 the U.N. asked Pakistan to remove its troops, after which India was also to withdraw the bulk of its forces. Once this happened a “free and fair plebiscite” was to be held to allow the Kashmiri people to decide their future. Presently India is hiding behind the Shimla agreement and is thwarting attempts at U.N. or third party mediation. Talks between India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri people could pave the way for a resolution. There is no logic in denying talks.
The Indian government could take a cue from the British colonial rulers in India on how to go about with honest intentions during negotiations. During the period of nearly two hundred years of British rule, it was during the last two decades or so that mainstream political parties openly demanded and agitated for political independence from the British. Lord Irwin, the Viceroy of India announced on 31 October, 1929 that the government would hold a Round Table Conference (RTC) with Indian representatives in London. The first RTC opened on 12 November, 1930 at London but was boycotted by the Congress party because many Congressmen were in jail; and British had rejected the demand for discussion on complete independence. However on 25 January, 1931 Gandhi and all members of the CWC were released from jail unconditionally and on 5 March, 1931, Gandhi-Irwin Pact was signed.[iv] True, independence was declared much later on 15 August, 1947.
Why can’t Government of India release all political prisoners from jails/house detention in Kashmir and hold unconditional talks with leaders of the movement? If the British, too, had dealt with Indians the way Government of India is presently dealing with Kashmiris, India would not have achieved freedom way back in 1947. Political activists fighting for azadi have to be treated with respect and on equal terms by the rulers.
The rulers in Delhi cannot be oblivious to freedom struggles elsewhere in the world. Nelson Mandela had spent a total of twenty seven years in jails in South Africa. He had endorsed the use of violence early in his life as a freedom fighter. The White racist regime in South Africa was a police state with a Constitution that enshrined inequity and an army that responded to nonviolence with force. Yet even this apartheid Government was forced to hold meetings between the African National Congress (ANC) and the National Party representatives; secret meetings took place outside South Africa. In prison itself Nelson Mandela was able to meet President Botha and later President de Klerk. A special committee was formed that included Mandela and four senior and powerful representatives of the Government. The secret committee met 47 times and included Minister of Justice; Commissioner of Prisoners; Director General of the Prisons Department; and Head of the National Intelligence Service.
At home the Indian Government has not shied away from talks with other separatists groups; thus talks with Naga separatists’ leaders have taken place both in India and abroad. Three erstwhile Prime Ministers of India viz Narasimha Rao, H.D. Deve Gowda and BJP’s very own Atal Bihari Vajpayee during 1995 to 1998 have met the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Isak-Muivah [NSCN (IM)] leaders respectively in Paris, Zurich and Paris again. Mr. Rajesh Pilot, the then Minister of State for Home met them in Bangkok in 1995. After the ceasefire agreement signed between Government of India and NSCN (IM) on July 25, 1997 over 80 round of talks were held subsequently. For the NSCN (IM), the Modi Government continues from where Vajpayee left. Why then dialogue is not being initiated with Kashmiri people?
The 2010 Parliamentary delegation to J&K yielded no results. The Interlocutors’ Reports gather dust. The present rulers in Delhi are indulging in masterly inactivity for a political resolution of the Kashmir issue; the latter continues to be treated as a law and order problem.
Prime Minister NarendraModi ought to delve into the works of Plato, the greatest philosopher of ancient Greece born in Athens in 428 or 427 B.C. Plato’s works are in the form of dialogues, where several characters argue a topic by asking questions of each other. Modi has reportedly gifted a copy of Bhagavad Gita to President Obama of U.S.A. and to the Japanese Emperor Akihito. Gita itself is set in a narrative framework of a dialogue between Arjun and Lord Krishna. At the most minimal NarendraModi would appreciate the importance of a dialogue. Even in the later day developments of Peace building, dialogue is one of the primary concepts in the process of conflict resolution.
There is no escape from a political dialogue for the rulers in Delhi.
—Dr. P.S. Sahni and Shobha Aggarwal are members of PIL Watch Group and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
—This article first appeared in countercurrents.org