Thank you for giving me an opportunity to speak to you about a people who are victims caught in the longest running conflict in the world- not of their making. Our lingering political uncertainty, since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 into India and Pakistan, is the cause of our immense suffering over the past 70 years. A line was drawn through our land , tearing apart our families, friends and loved ones, not allowed to meet one another leading to a human tragedy. Ours is a saga of broken promises and manipulation, deceit and occupation. When India took our matter to UN that same year and promised before the word that people of Kashmir would be given the fair chance of self determination to decide their destiny and Pakistan agreed to the same, people of Kashmir believed. After all, this chance was extended to the people of Junagadh and Sikkim in India and so in all fairness would be to them. But despite the passing of umpteen resolutions in the United Nations vetting the promise, till date we are awaiting its fulfilment and generation after generation we continue to live a life of hell in what is known in the world as ‘the heaven on earth’.
India, which calls itself the world’s largest democracy insists that Kashmir is its integral part – no matter what. If it has to kill all Kashmiris for that, so be it. It is not prepared to listen to Kashmiris, to what they want. What matters to India is the territory of Kashmir and not the people as Kashmiris witness every day. More than seven hundred thousand Indian troops are used as an instrument of control to hold on to the territory of Kashmir and its people against their will, making Kashmir the most militarized zone in the world.
The past 70 years have been an endless struggle for the people of Kashmir as they vehemently resist this control. They want Azadi (freedom) not occupation; they want the democratic right to choose not coercion but we are all dearly paying for this.
All our basic rights and civil liberties have been either snatched or curbed, to prevent any challenge to the state. The security machinery of India set up in our land has been given sweeping powers and complete immunity from accountability or prosecution under legal a cover such as the Armed Forces Special Powers act(AFSPA). Other legal sanctions to ensure peoples submission include the draconian ‘Public Safety Act’, the disturbed areas act and so on. More than four people cannot assemble in any place under section 144 of the criminal procedure act. All this has naturally led to brutal oppression – killing torturing, disappearance and imprisonment of thousands and thousands of people as they defy and resist these measures.
Since 1989, when the peoples struggle for self determination became a mass movement, more than 80 thousand Kashmiris have been killed, thousands of innocents have disappeared and around and six thousand buried in mass graves, and this continues. These, my friends, are not figures, these were human beings of flesh and blood, to whom Kashmir was the land of birth, to which they belonged and where they would live out their dreams. There are thousands of cases of torture, so bone chilling that one fails to believe that it is perpetuated by the same people who suffered the same under the British colonial rule when they were demanding the same rights.
Humiliation and harassment at the hands of the forces is an everyday feature in the life of a Kashmiri who is at their mercy, as the forces are spread out in every nook and corner of the land to man it, turning Kashmir into one huge jail and its inhabitant’s captives. This occupation is pushing our educated youth to a path of armed resistance, which is a grave concern for us.
Repeated mass uprisings in 2008, 2009 and 2010 or in the most bloody summer of 2016 are met with the same response -ruthless repression. Year 2016 saw the state crushing us and our resistance to its unprecedented brutality. As protestors hit the streets, forces immediately responded with lethal effect, firing bullets and metal pellets into the crowds. In four months, one hundred and twenty civilians were killed, including eight women. Over seventeen thousand were injured, the youngest among them was four year old Zohra , with lacerations to her abdomen and legs. But most shocking was that nine seventy two people, who were shot in the face, with eyeballs ruptured by metal pellets, many among them losing eyesight permanently including 14 year old Insha whose face was pierced by the pellets when she was in the kitchen.
Justifying the use of pellet guns to blind people, the state called it ‘a necessary evil we will have to persist with’. The New York Times, in its editorial, described such inhumanity by a modern day democracy as the ‘epidemic of dead eyes’. Twenty thousand were people arrested. The entire population of the Valley was barricaded inside its homes under the longest curfew in the history of curfews in Kashmir. Mobile phones and internet connectivity was disconnected. The press was gagged, local newspapers banned, journalists harassed and attacked on a daily basis. Essential supplies blocked. Hospitals were attacked and even ambulance drivers shot at. Families in intense distress were without information about their loved ones. Nocturnal raids by forces vandalizing homes, destroying house hold goods, damaging vehicles, breaking window panes, beating up inmates, burning harvested crops damaging apple orchards and even firing upon electric transformers to cut off electric supply! The themes -penalize and terrorize the population into submission- till they give up.
Obviously there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that barricades an entire people for months on end, blinds youngsters, kills on a daily basis, censors information imposes draconian laws only to keep up a facade of normalcy and control. This is not only unethical, unjust, immoral but also unsustainable. The status quo has to change.
Kashmir conflict is primarily about the people of Kashmir. Our struggle is rooted in the quest for dignity, basic rights and self determination fundamental to human existence and we are determined to achieve it.
The most simple and direct way for this is to hold the promised referendum. Let India, Pakistan and the world honour its commitment made to the people of Jammu and Kashmir through the United Nations and hold a referendum giving the people of J&K a chance and choice to decide their destiny. It is most democratic and fair.
Or, to get this issue on the table for an imaginative solution among the three stakeholders to the dispute India, Pakistan and the people of J&K to the satisfaction of all, especially the most affected party -the people of J&K. For that, as the way forward, India has to give up its stubbornness and engage with the sentiment in Kashmir and simultaneously India and Pakistan have to talk to each other. The process of conflict resolution is a process of deliberation and discussion but before that, it is about being on the same page in terms of sincerity and willingness to solve the problem. If that part is overcome, frameworks and options immediately open up. One available framework to start with is the four point agenda of Vajpayee and Musharraf era in 2004. It talked of progressive military de escalation to begin with, a huge relief for the people of Kashmir.
Unfortunately for the people of Kashmir we are also held hostage to the internal and external dynamics of Indo-Pak politics. India and Pakistan have to get together and begin to think of Kashmiri’s as people demanding freedom from the tyranny of victimization that is being forced on us and for which we are paying a massive price. Our people are in turmoil everywhere: almost every day a youth is martyred, and all it becomes is political grist for them. As the dispute lingers, the people of India and Pakistan are also paying a price.
Why should anyone, we ask? Sending human beings to live on an ice glacier in Siachen or die in avalanches guarding barren mountains, what kind of national pride is this? It is totally inhuman and thoughtless. You cannot be treating human beings as instruments. It is time to think about these things to reach out politically and find humane solutions. It is the responsibility of the leaders in India and Pakistan to understand this and to initiate steps for resolution.
Let us put an end to this and release the subcontinent of this burden. Only then can we look forward to a new beginning where all our peoples can live in peace with dignity and honour, where petty politicking can give way to harmony and happy co existence, where both the countries can divert their resources from huge military upkeep to eradication of poverty and illiteracy afflicting both of them.
The solution to Kashmir my Friends, holds the key.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq
Chairman All Parties Hurriyat Conference
The above is the transcript of the video address of APHC chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq at the panel discussion titled “Kashmir-Breaking the impasse” which was part of the two day India Conference held at the Harvard Kennedy School for Business and Government on the 12th of February 2017, attended by a distinguished audience and large number of students.