Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik says the current government is pushing a whole generation of Kashmiris towards armed struggle.
Yasin Malik, chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was a militant when the Kashmir armed insurgency began in the early 1990s. After being imprisoned for some years, he chose the path of non-violence. In this interview, Malik talks about Kashmir, its struggles, aspirations and the Indian state’s response. Excerpts:
How do you see the situation in Kashmir after Burhan Wani’s death in an encounter last year?
There was already public anger because the government of India has choked all kinds of political spaces. Nobody is allowed to express his views and political narratives. Nobody is allowed to hold a public meeting. So these youths, who were the participants of a non-violent movement, were beaten ruthlessly in police stations. The police stations have become a mockery. This is the reason they pick up arms and there was such public outburst. Again, the Indian state used security forces [to quell protests]. They killed more than 100 people, hundreds of people lost their eyesight, hundreds if not thousands are in jail. This has been the status since 1947 – to survive in Kashmir amidst the might of armed forces and the might of fear.
During the 2016 protests, Hurriyat leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and you came together in the name of a ‘joint resistance movement’. How did this come about and what about the future?
We were together from 1993-94, then we split. Now we see this as the time for us to have a united voice because there is an onslaught going on from the Indian state against its own people. There should be one voice against these kinds of issues and I hope this unity will continue. We are trying to get more and more strength.
Any talk of Kashmir’s political future usually hinges on four different positions – plebiscite, pro-Pakistan, pro-India and autonomous status. How do you see this?
Who will decide this? The better choice is the right of self-determination. The people will decide collectively whether they want to go with Pakistan, whether with India, or if they want to be an independent entity. It should be decided by the people and not by any individual. We must collectively respect the democratic verdict.
Union home minister Rajnath Singh said the “idea of plebiscite is outdated” in parliament. What is your view on his statement?
There is an Instrument of Accession which is the only link between India and Kashmir. The Indian state gave an assurance that the accession was temporary and that when law and order was restored, the people of Kashmir would be given the choice to decide their future. That was conveyed by India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk when he said, “I have pledged to give the right to decide your future. Even if it will be used against us, it’ll leave me in pain. But I’ll have to accept it”. He said the same thing in parliament too. Then he took this case to the United Nations.
Now when the people of Kashmir are coming forward to ask for their right, the Indian state is resorting to oppression. Young boys are put behind bars, they are beaten, tortured, killed. This is what is going on in Kashmir. This shows that the Indian state does not believe in the values and principles of democracy and justice.
Recently, Indian army chief Bipin Rawat said stone-pelters are trying to save militants. What do you make of his statement?
See, there is a political, public uprising. The Indian state uses pellet guns and tear gas shelling against non-violent protestors. The protestors are just using the stones. With stones, no security personnel is killed. But security forces have killed more than 100 civilians. Thousands of people have been injured and hundreds have lost their eyesight. It would seem the Indian state wants to push a whole generation of Kashmir to armed struggle.
The Kashmir issue has at times also been portrayed as a religious conflict, with the Kashmiri Pandit exodus as proof. What do you have to say about this?
The Kashmir issue is a matter of the people’s right to self-determination. In self-determination, everybody has the right to vote, whether they are Muslims, Pandits, Sikhs, Dogras, Buddhists. The citizens of the united state have the right to vote under the right of self-determination. That is our stand. Let the people decide what kind of system they want.
Being in non-electoral politics, how do you see the BJP’s way of handling government?
It is not just in Kashmir that people have felt insecure. Minorities – be it Muslims, Christians, Dalits, writers, artists, intellectuals or civil society groups – feel insecure about their identity. Anybody who writes against the state is targeted. In Kashmir, every week we see a new offensive statement by them. I do not know what type of politics the BJP wants. There was a time when people thought that [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee would resolve the issue using good phrases and poetic verses. Now the BJP just wants to fight, they want to break the will of Kashmiri people. So the Kashmiri people have decided that we will not allow them to break our will.
How would you compare Vajpayee and Narendra Modi?
Vajpayee was a poet. It was his wish to be remembered as the prime minister who was loved by the people. Modi’s concern is to be remembered as a leader the people fear, who feel threatened with his name. That is the difference.
Do you see any possibility of peace talks?
I don’t think so, because the stand of the Indian state is too arrogant. They are speaking the language of arrogance, the language of fear. How do I see any rays of hope?
What would you like to say to the people of India?
I appeal to the people of India to not see Kashmir through the eyes of the Indian media. If you want to see the Kashmir and understand it, then come to Kashmir. The Kashmiri people are peace loving. Our democratic right – self-determination – is being curbed by the Indian state. We are simply asking for that right but in return we are being killed. If one aims for real peace in South Asia, then India will benefit, Pakistan will benefit and so will Kashmir.
According to you, how are Kashmiris seeing the election process? The Srinagar by-election saw a turnout of only 7%, and it seems the vote for the Anantnag seat is being put off indefinitely.
Basically the Indian state always uses elections say the Kashmiri people are satisfied with Indian state. In the electoral process, all mainstream parties tell the people the vote has nothing to do with the Kashmir dispute but is just for ‘bijli-pani- sadak (electricity-water-roads). Then these people get exposed, so people know they are all collaborators of the Indian state, [which] is the reason the people have decided to boycott the by-elections. It is also a message to the Indian state – the freedom movement is very dear to the Kashmiri people, it cannot be [suppressed] by an Indian-sponsored electoral process.
The unrest that erupted during the Srinagar by-poll is still continuing in various forms. Now we see educational institutions in Kashmir also witnessing student protests. What is the reason for this?
It is unfortunate that the Indian security forces have not spared students. They entered the Pulwama degree college and have beat students ruthlessly, which led to students from all schools and colleges across Kashmir coming on to the street. See how they were badly beaten on the streets. One girl is right now in the hospital, how she has suffered. She has been directly hit by CRPF personnel. She is in ICU and more than 400 students are injured. This is done by Indian Security Forces to the student community in Kashmir. This is the very state which said that it was always concerned about the education of the Kashmiri people. Now they have closed colleges, and again stopped the internet, social media.
Maga. Tamizh Prabhagaran is a journalist and documentary filmmaker from Chennai.
The interview has been edited for clarity.