Kashmir Problem Thrives on Denial of Human and Democratic Rights

By Balraj Puri
1st April 1999


I valued an opportunity, first of its kind, to interact with army officers on the issue of human rights at a seminar organised by 15 Corps at Jammu on 21 December. It indicated the degree of importance that the subject as also the maturity that the army had acquired. It reaffirmed army's commitment that violations of human rights was not a part of a deliberate policy of the army.

It would have been more useful if the occasion was used for a thorough and frank debate on type of violations, reasons thereof and measures to minimise them. But the organisers seemed more keen to use the seminar to answer the charges of Pakistan and the militants or their over ground outfits.

That the state of human rights is very bad in Pakistan is neither a news for me nor any matter of consolation. Those who vexed eloquence at the seminar to prove that India’s record of human rights is better than its western neighbour did their country no honour. Nor are excesses of militants a valid alibi for similar excesses of the army. For one is in revolt against the nation, its government, laws and constitution while the other has vowed to protect them. Those who presented the case of the army or those who sought to glorify its role presumed that human rights issue was “another game plan of the proxy war waged by Pakistan to defame India and its forces”. It amounts to either an unwarranted attack on Indian human rights activists and their patriotism or recognition of only those activists who are part of Pakistan’s propaganda machinery.

As a freedom fighter and a proud record of over five and a half decades of service to the country, it is much beneath my dignity even to refute any aspersion on my bonafides. Jayprakash Narayan had said, “I might be lacking in patriotism, but it is difficult for me to believe that people of Kashmir have voted freely in election in 1957 and 1962.” Emotional bonds that he had thus established with them enabled him to play the vital role of winning them and their leader Sheikh Abdullah back into the mainstream of national policies in 1975. He also contributed a lot in mobilising international support against Pakistan’s attempt to forcibly grab Kashmir in 1965 and for emergence of Bangladesh.

That Pakistan has given arms and training to Kashmiri militants and is now sending non-Kashmiri militants who do commit excesses was more credibly exposed by international human rights organisations like Amnesty and Asia Watch as also Indian human rights groups than by all the government propaganda. Their role should therefore be welcome; also for improving the performance of the security forces. Those who write off all of them as an adjunct of Pakistan’s proxy war are, in fact, trying to give Pakistan a monopoly of sympathy for the victims of human rights violations which are inevitably committed in varying degrees by both sides of the proxy war. If some of the victims look towards Indian human rights activists for sympathy and redressal, is not it a national gain?

True some of the reports of Indian human rights organisation have been quoted by Pakistan in international fora. But so would be the case with the judgements of the courts, findings of the National and State Human Rights Commissions and reports of the press. Should all these institutions be abolished? And is it the case of the government of India that no violations of human rights have ever been committed by its security forces ? Would it carry better conviction ? In fact all that is expected of the government is to prove its earnestness in checking them.

For this purpose an active human rights movement in J&K State is as much a national asset as any other institution mentioned above. It is not that the militants always take kindly to the work of human rights activists who are exposed to risks from both sides. While Jalil Andrabi was allegedly killed by the security forces, many people in Kashmir accuse the militants of killing Hirday Nath Wanchoo, Dr. A.A. Guru and Prof. Abdul Ahad. Those who killed them damaged their own cause. Looking back objectively, one can trace the beginning of Kashmir problem and its growth to its present dimensions to denial to the people of the state as much civil liberties, democratic and human rights including right to freedom of speech, right to protest and form an opposition party, right to vote and to elect a government of their choice, as have been taken for granted in the rest of the country.

Whenever these rights were restored Kashmir became as much part of the country, emotionally and politically, as any other part. The greatest triumph of India after independence was willing accession of the Muslim majority state of J&K to India in 1947 as the national leaders had supported the democratic struggle of the people against its ruler.

Today it has become biggest problem of the country. Soon after accession of the state to India, Sheikh Abdullah, who was the hero of Kashmiri nationalism, with unprecedented popular support, came to power. But he cannot be credited for tolerance of dissent and commitment to democratic values. He ruled in a constitutional vacuum in which government officers could become leaders of the National Conference and vice versa. The first fissures in the monolithic politics of Kashmir and the leadership of the regimented NC occured when Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Qarra parted company with Sheikh Abdullah in 1948. I pleaded with Nehru that his loyalty to the country need not be routed through Abdullah and that his democratic right to oppose the state government should be recognised. Nehru dismissed my suggestion with the plea that nothing should be done to weaken the Sheikh. Qarra and his group remained under persecution. In sheer desperation he raised the first pro-Pakistan voice in Kashmir in June 1953 which disturbed the equilibrium of Abdullah who in order to steal the new thunder of the challenge to his authority started making anti centre noises. His differences with the centre gradually were enlarged due to other factors also, leading to his dismissal and arrest in August 1953.

In the election to the state constituent assembly, National Conference led by the Sheikh won all the seventy five seats. While nobody dared file a nomination paper against it, in Jammu region, nomination papers of opposition candidates were rejected. Again it was the only state where government officers could become office bearers of the ruling party and vice versa. In such a regimented set up, secession became the only outlet of popular discontent.

Similarly I pleaded with Nehru that a pro-India party, by providing a proper channel to anti government sentiments which developed after Abdullah's arrest, would prevent them from becoming anti-India. For this purpose I proposed to organise state branch of the Praja Socialist Party.

Nehru again dismissed the idea as he would not like to weaken Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad despite all his faults. When we arrived in Srinagar to formally inaugurate the party in November l954, the party president Asok Mehta along with all of us were physically beaten and bundled out of the valley. In 1958 G.M. Sadiq led his leftists group out of the NC to form a pro India opposition Democratic National Conference. But the national leaders and the press were again alarmed over what they called "disunity in the rank of the nationalists values”. The two parties were thus pressurised to reunite in 1961. The entire national media hailed it as a triumph of national interest. In 1967 Bakshi Ghulam Mohd. revived the NC when the ruling national official group led by Sadiq had converted it into Pradesh Congress Committee. Nomination papers of its candidates in 38 constituencies were rejected. Number of duplicate ballots were in circulation which I personally presented to the Chief Election Commissioner. He simply argued that Bakshi also used to do that. In fact the election to the state assembly were never fair. That Sheikh Abdullah won cent per cent seats in the first elections in 1951 does no credit to his popularity and to his stature as a great leader. However, whenever opposition party was tolerated and people had right to protest and choose their government freely an anti India sentimentally got sublimated.

After Sheikh Abdullah’s return to power, he acquired real moral and political legitimacy when his party defeated the main opposition Janata Party in the fairest first ever election in 1977 when people of the state for the first time recognised the potentialities of being Indian citizens. The fact that they could elect a government of their choice and could defeat even the party at power in Centre gave an enormous sense of confidence to the people of Kashmir in being Indian citizen.

It was a similar experience in election in 1983 when Farooq Abdullah led his party to victory against the Congress Party which had by now become the ruling party at the centre.

The beginning of the present phase of Kashmir problem can be traced to his dismissal in 1984 and his reinstatement in 1986 when he agreed to form a government in coalition with the Congress Party. It was biggest blow to the self respect and dignity that the people of the state had acquired. It blocked all secular outlets for protests. The manipulation in the elections of 1987 further blocked democratic avenue of protests also Having been frustrated in expressing their discontent through the method of ballet many Kashmiri youth took to the method of bullet.

The moral of above experience is that in case of Kashmir, loyalty to India and loyalty to government of India have always been treated as synonymous. It was due to this policy that the the secessionist movement started after 1987. However, it can again be proved that the way the movement was sought to be checked added fuel to fire. In June 1988 a demonstration held in Srinagar to protest against the sudden and steep rise in power tariff was fired upon killing three persons. The demand for an enquiry was rejected as it was condemned as anti national. Soon it acquired all Kashmir protest which turned violent.

Spoardic terrorist acts started thereafter. At early hours of 20th January 1990 Srinagar city was cordoned for a wholesale and ruthless search of every household. It provoked wide spread protest. The protesting processionists were allowed to come from different parts of the city to the place called Gow Kadal where they were fired upon which resulted in killing of 35 persons, the highest number of persons ever killed in a day in Kashmir till that day. While no gain of the operation was clamied, it triggered off a mass insurgency.

How counter productive is ruthless firing would be indicated by the way funeral procession of Moulvi Farooq was fired upon. Though according to popular perception he had been killed by militants, the firing in a narrow lane of Srinagar which killed over 60 mourners merely succeeded in diverting popular wrath from against the militants to against Indian government.

Number of such incidents can be quoted. Whenever people became disillusioned and angry with Pakistan their sentiments were submerged by some tactless act of the security forces. The success of the security forces in getting seige of the Hazratbal lifted brought appreciation for the Goverment of India from all over the world. But soon after killing of 50 persons at Bijbihera by the BSF did more damage to the goodwill that India had earned. List of such incidents can be multiplied. Even in 1998 when militants killed 26 Kashmiri Pandits at Wandhama, every Mulsim was visibly shocked. Next day killing of 7 Muslim youth in Kishtwar, by the security forces was exploited by Pakistan to give a call of Bandh throughout Kashmir and Pakistan and thus tried to submerge the sense of shock of Kashmiri Muslims by a wider Muslim protest. The series of mass killings of Hindus in Jammu region had similarly loaded the Muslim population with a sense of quilt but killing of 19 Muslims in Surankote allegedly by the army tried to unload their guilt and thus in a way facilitated the task of militants to extend their activities.

It can be proved with abundant empirical evidence that independent monitoring of Human Rights violation serves the best national interest, prevents further alienation of the people, prevents defaming of India abroad and helps in improving the discipline of the security forces.

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