Civil rights groups call for talks
12 June 2000
The Asian Age
Srinagar: A two-day conference of members of civil society from across the country held here has called for the cessation of all forms of violence and repression in Jammu and Kashmir. The recommendations include the withdrawal of security forces from populated areas and their return to the barracks and reciprocal measures by militants. Addressing a joint press conference, Admiral Ram Das (Retd.), president of Pakistan-India Forum for Peace and Democracy, its general secretary and noted peace proponent Tapan Bose, and their local host Parvez Imroz, a well-known Kashmiri lawyer and human rights activist, said that the participants of the conference were convinced of the indivisibility of democracy, peace, justice and human rights in Jammu and Kashmir. The participants, according to the Srinagar Declaration adopted at the plenary of the conference, were deeply concerned at the trauma and turmoil experienced by the people of the state, particularly over the last 11 years. They were conscious of the suffering of the civilians, particularly women, children and the aged and recognised the "virtual collapse" of health and educational services. They were distressed also at the widespread unemployment and anguished at the attempts to create a divide between various communities in the state. The members of the civil society, the declaration adds, were outraged at the "misgovernment" and "rampant corruption" and saddened by the "insensitivity" demonstrated by major sections of India"s media towards the plight of the people of the state. The conference sought an immediate release of all Kashmiris detained under Tada, NSA, Public Safety Act, Armed Forces Special Powers Act and all other "draconian" legislations, and a repeal of all such laws and guarantee of civil and political rights. Mr. Ram Das said that he and his colleagues had detailed discussions with Kashmiri opinion-makers and members of the society to assess the ground situation in the state. While former chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, Maulvi Omar Farooq, wanted immediate relief be given to the victims of violence, most of other people were convinced that peace with honour had become imperative for the society. He said a tripartite dialogue between India, Pakistan and Kashmiri representatives could well lead to an amicable solution of the issue of Kashmir. The conference made a passionate appeal to the "civil society of India and Kashmir "for providing immediate relief to all victims of violence in the state, especially women and children, urged the government to take quick steps for the restoration of health and educational facilities and the economic resuscitation of the state. It reiterated the need for the revival and strengthening of the age-old traditions of tolerance, pluralism and communal amity that have flourished in Jammu and Kashmir. The conference condemned the Centre and state apathy towards alleged corruption and misrule in the state and appealed to the media to report truthfully to the Indian public the situation prevailing in the state. The declaration opposes bifurcation of the state along religious, sectarian or regional lines. It demands "an immediate and unconditional tripartite dialogue for a resolution of the Kashmir issue, in consonance with the wishes of the people, to ensure sustainable peace, democracy and justice in J&K." Others who attended the conference included Rita Manchanda, Suhasni Mulay, Gautam Nowlakha from the Kathmandu-based South-Asian Forum for Human Rights, Rambir Sameeda of the Maulana Azad Institute for Peace, veteran journalist Ved Bhasin, writer-freedom fighter Krishan Dev Sethi and a host of local lawyers, journalists and human rights activists. While Ms Manchanda wondered why the children who lost their fathers in the conflict but whose mothers were alive were called orphaned, Zaffar Shah, president of Kashmir High Court Bar Association, advocated that the Indian flag should fly at half mast in Jammu and Kashmir to "acknowledge what it is engaged in the state." He added that the Kashmiris lacked a military and economic might but they had a cause to espouse. Dr Hameeda Khan, a Kashmiri academic and human rights activist, was notably critical of the Indian security forces role in the state. She accused them of using rape as a weapon of war like Nazis and revenge like Soviets. Mr. Sethi described the Kashmir dispute as "mother of all the ills" in the region. He said he supported the armed struggle of the Kashmiris because"whenever and wherever there is repression, there has to be resistance." He, however, added that in a conflict like Kashmir a time comes when the two sides have to sit down across a negotiating table to and find a solution. Mr. Bose and some other participants on Sunday also joined the protest sit-in staged by JKLF chief, Yaseen Malik, and others at a city square against the extra-judicial murder of a local shopkeeper by the paramilitary forces. While speaking on the occasion, Mr Bose said that he and his colleagues had come to Kashmir not for tourism but to share the grief of the people. "Our hearts also beat for Kashmiris,"he assured an angry crowd.