“Kashmiris are resilient. We will fight our own battles. But Is this the kind of democracy that people in India want to tolerate”
Almost 100 workers and activists from various unions were in attendance on 5th June 2017, to listen to Com.Pervez Khurram from Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), talk about the importance of the Kashmiri struggle for independence and resistance against the Indian state. The meeting was organised by the All India People’s Forum (AIPF) and Working People’s Trade Union Council (WPTUC). Workers affiliated to AICCTU, WPTUC, PTS participated. The meeting was presided by Com. Durairaj, General Secretary of WPTUC who began the meeting by emphasising the need to understand what is happening in Kashmir where innocent people are being murdered in the name of counter terrorism.
Com. Gautam Mody, General Secretary of the New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), Prof A. Marx, writer and civil rights activists and Khurram Parvez spoke to the workers. Com. Mody was part of 25-member team of Indian citizens who had visited the valley in November last year to interact with various human rights organisations, trade unions and Kashmiris, who are victims of the brutal assaults by the army. Their interactions and views about the recent conflict has been published as a report titled “Why are people protesting in Kashmir”. Click here for the report.
Com. Mody began by saying that effort was not merely to find out what is happening, but to also find out why this is happening and to provide solidarity with the Kashmiri people in their struggle. The report Tracing the history of the struggle over the last seven decades, he said that when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was arrested in 1953, it was the first time that a democratically elected government was ousted by the India. This set the tone for the struggle for Kashmiri independence which has been unrelenting leading up to the armed struggle in the late eighties, later crushed by the Indian army as well as state sponsored militia.
However, this phase of struggle is different, asserted Com. Mody. “What we are seeing now is the highest form of civil disobedience. The anger has transcended beyond the cities and towns to whole of the region and has spread across both gender and generation.”, he said. Asserting his point, he narrated one instance where a funeral procession for a young boy who was killed by the army, was attacked. “The army is acting with a vengeance. So, it is not enough that they are merely killing the boy, but they loot belongings, break homes, refrigerators and television screens and in the end they pump bullets into the electricity transformers. The people in the village don’t call the electricity board for help, they fix it themselves. This is what true civil disobedience is”, he said. He went on to say that BJP led government wants to keep the Kashmir pot boiling to consolidate its upper caste Hindutva vote bank who are fiercely anti muslim and continue to believe the state’s narrative of Pakistan sponsored terrorism. Noting the significance of beginning these series of meetings in Tamil Nadu, he said that that it was the first state to demand nationhood and call for the right to self-determination. In conclusion, he appealed to all trade unions and left-progressive forces to build the widest possible coalition to defend democratic rights. “There are people here who are fighting wage struggles in factories and crimes against women, but these local fights are not enough. Unless we defend democratic rights in Kashmir and engage with the national question, there will be no more space for us to build a progressive left movement”, he said.
Professor.A.Marx recalled his experiences in 2008 when he visited Kashmir during a fact finding mission led by Dr.Balagopal. He said that the state had the largest army presence with almost 8 lakh soldiers for a population of 40 lakh people who were armed not just with dangerous weapons, but with repressive laws like the Public Safety Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Talking about the recent incident of a youngster being tied to an army jeep to be used as a human shield, he said that the young man was not a terrorist or a stone-pelter, but someone who had gone merely to exercise his democratic right to vote. Prof.Marx also said that we must stand in solidarity with the Kashmir people and demand that a referendum must be held. For this, the Indian government must be forced to accept that the territory is disputed and be willing to dialogue with separatists as well as the Pakistan government. “There is no difference in the way that the BJP or the Congress are dealing with the Kashmir issue. There was only 7% voting in the recent bye election, people in Kashmir have lost faith in the Indian democracy”, he said.
In his fiery concluding speech, Com.Parvez Khurram challenged the left and progressive forces to question the actions of the government who are carrying out murders in the name of defending Indian people. Drawing parallels between the Eelam struggle of Tamil people in Sri Lanka and the Kashmiri struggle, he said “When Kashmiris heard about the atrocities of the Rajapakse government, we were able to relate to it. We were disturbed by it. But in this case, there has been some attention to the issue in the international arena. The United Nations has called for an enquiry into the genocide. But in case of our struggle, there is no dialog and no one to hold the Indian government accountable for their crimes.” During the India Pakistan war, the Indian government went to the U.N seeking a cease fire and during that time, the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru promised that there would be a referendum when the situation improves, resolutions were passed to that effect, but nothing has been done till date. Pakistan, which does not even claim to be a democracy has changed its position from claiming that Kashmir is its territory to admitting that it is disputed, but the Indian government which claims to be democratic is now calling Kashmir an integral part of its country.
Highlighting the army’s presence, Com.Khurram said that Kashmiris understand different states and regions of the country only through their interactions with soldiers. Their perceptions of different states is based on how brutal or less brutal the soldiers from each of these states are. With a presence of almost 7.5 lakh army personnel in the region, it is the largest presence of armed forces anywhere in the world. Clearing up misconceptions, he said that the Indian media continued to perpetuate misconceptions such as Kashmiri resistance being sponsored by Pakistan and limited to a small group of misguided youth. He also added that kashmiri participation in periodic elections to the assemblies and parliament cannot be construed as a vindication of India’s claim to Kashmir. “When Kashmiris vote, we vote for a particular party to represent us and govern us. It is not a vote in support of the Indian state. Just as some in Tamil Nadu may vote for ADMK or the DMK, yet believe you need a separate nation. This is a ridiculous question that we are asked. Just because we vote, it does not mean that we wish to stay with India”, he said. However, he also said that several of the existing armed struggle leaders had all tried peaceful means to fight for independence and fought elections in the past, “Many leaders who went on to set up JKLF had participated in elections before, some had even one. But often they would be arrested, even tortured and forced to resign. In 1987, the elections were clearly rigged. It was such measures by the Indian state that frustrated kashmiri belief in elections and pushed them to take up arms.”
Narrating horrific instances of violence, he said that 70000 people have been killed of which the Indian government claims that 22000 were militants. This cannot be verified as these may have also included innocent people, fake encounters, etc. 8000 people have disappeared and there are more than 7000 cases of rape, sodomy and molestation. Despite well documented evidence of these crimes, there have been no prosecutions. In one instance in February 1993, more than 50 women were raped by soldiers. The case dragged on in the courts for several years and is now in the Supreme Court registry. The judicial system does not want to hear these cases and according to a response to an RTI query there has not been a single prosecution against an army personnel for crimes against the Kashmiris. “The AFSPA and the PSA are being touted as laws necessary for the protection of the army and to boost their morale, but what about the crimes committed by them? Can rape happen in the line of duty? The government continues to not only defend, but celebrate actions like using human shields. What kind of a democracy is India, if people are celebrating a war crime”, asked Com.Khurram.
Ending with a stark warning, Com. Khurram said that it is high time that Indian people stand up for democratic rights and challenge the Indian government on the crimes they are committing. “Kashmiris are resilient, we will fight our own battles. But you, need to fight this battle for your own survival. Whatever the government learns in Kashmir about how to suppress people, they will implement in other parts of the country. So I appeal to you, join the fight not to save Kashmir, but to save India”, he said.
On 4th June, Com. Khurram, had addressed a public meeting organized by ‘Ilam Tamizhagam’ (Young Tamils Movement) with many IT workers in attendance. Workers and organizations representing them have decided to take forward the discussions on the legal and political issues arising from Kashmir.