Politics

For Kashmiris, Continued Dialogue With Centre the Only Way Forward, Finds Citizens Delegation

The Yashwant Sinha-led delegation of “concerned citizens” has in its report observed that there is anger among the people due to India’s refusal to recognise Kashmir as a politically contentious issue.

Yashwant Sinha-led delegation winds up Kashmir visit. Credit: Twitter

Yashwant Sinha-led delegation winds up Kashmir visit. Credit: Twitter

A five-member delegation of “concerned citizens” – led by former union minister Yashwant Sinha and facilitated by the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation (CDR) – visited Srinagar in October to reach out to its people in the wake of the violence that has plagued the state since the recent uprising. The delegation even managed to reach out to hardline Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and in its report observed that while almost everyone the delegation spoke to “argued for a political solution” to what they perceived to be a “political issue”, there was also a great deal of anger for a variety of reasons.

The delegation comprised former chief information commissioner and former chairman of the National Minorities Commission Wajahat Habibullah, former Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, senior journalist Bharat Bhushan and executive program director of CDR, Sushobha Barve. They said, “Kashmiris believe that today, Indian politics has taken such a turn that there is no willingness to even listen to demands for autonomy. Today, the Kashmir issue is being seen as Hindu vs Muslim and governance is seen as Jammu vs Kashmir.”

Need for dialogue

The group also noted that “an overwhelming sentiment among the Kashmiris” was for “setting up a permanent process of dialogue with New Delhi.”

Having managed to reach out to more groups in the Valley than the all-party delegation headed by  home minister Rajnath Singh had in September, the group said, “One of the reasons why so many doors were opened for us by separatists and ordinary Kashmiris alike, was because they saw our visit as a beginning of engagement with ordinary Indians.” Since the agenda of the alliance between the BJP-PDP coalition government in the state also commits to a dialogue with all the stakeholders, it therefore recommended that “such a dialogue is initiated at the earliest”.

Stating that it was not “limited to any ideology or institution and was not sponsored by anyone”, the group has noted in the report that “no security or financial help was accepted from any institution or government body to ensure that the integrity of the group as concerned citizens was maintained.”

The group said that it met Hurriyat leader Geelani twice at his residence. It also met Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Abdul Ghani Bhat and Shabbir Shah and held consultations with representatives of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Kashmir Economic Alliance, the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, the High Court Bar Association and also with academics, writers, journalists and doctors.

The delegation also had a dinner meeting with chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and met mainstream political leaders like Farooq Abdullah, Saifuddin Soz and Yousuf Tarigami who, it said, were supportive of the initiative.

Coming to its “basic findings”, the delegation said people generally spoke of reaching a “political solution” and it was pointed out that “this is the fifth generation of Kashmiris which is protesting but to no avail”.

Anger both short and long term

As for the reasons behind the current unrest, the delegation was apprised that it was due to both “immediate anger and the long term anger”. The immediate anger was primarily due to “excessive use of force by the security forces”, which has left over 100 dead since July 8 when the violence began in the state following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.

Another reason for the prevalent anger has been the “use of pellet guns” for crowd control, which the delegation said, was the “sorest point” of all conversation with Kashmiris. “They want the pellet guns banned and cannot understand why the government of India is delaying this decision and why Indian security establishment is reluctant to give up this weapon,” it pointed out.

The delegation also referred to how the use of pellet guns has led to eye injuries to a lot of people, including innocent civilians. People in Kashmir have been wondering why they were being used on them when they were not used on protesters during the Jat agitation in Haryana, the protests during the Cauvery water sharing issue in Karnataka or in the Patel agitation in Gujarat.

When it raised the related issue of “stone pelting”, the delegation said most Kashmiri leaders denied that youngsters were being paid to throw stones. “They claimed that this was being done in ‘self-defence’ by unarmed people protesting against India.”

Another sore point has been the “night time raids by security forces”, which the people claimed had “resulted in the destruction of property at Kashmir homes”. One reason the delegation heard was “because the security forces get pelted with stones while returning to camp in the evening, they go back at night in anger to take revenge. That revenge in the form of wanton destruction of property to punish the people.”

Minors also victims of PSA misuse

People also spoke about the “misuse of the Public Safety Act (PSA)the Public Safety Act (PSA)” which, the delegation observed, “is seen as a revolving door process by the Kashmiris to keep people in jail.” It said this “draconian law” was brought into being by Sheikh Abdullah to deal with timber smugglers and thus does not require the victim to be produced before a magistrate and which allows a person charged under the Act to be kept in custody for up to a year. Now, it is being used to keep trouble-makers in jail for longer than a year. “As they are released in one case, another one under PSA is slapped on them in a different police jurisdiction.”

“However, the major misuse of the PSA is against minors. The amended Juvenile Justice Act for the state does not allow the police to arrest minors under PSA. Yet this has happened on a significant scale,” the delegation pointed out. They added that while the separatist leaders put the figure at about 6,000, the government sources put it at 2,500. Even more worrisome, it said was that “there are no juvenile homes or Borstals for confining minors in J&K, so they are kept with hardened criminals which can have a long-term deleterious impact on the minors imprisoned.”

It was also alleged that people from the Valley are being housed in jails in Jammu, against a Supreme Court order.

People in the state are also angry at the “destruction of electric transformers and crops in rural areas”, allegedly by the security forces and charged that “this is again apparently aimed at punishing villagers for either pelting stones at them or protesting against them.”

Emotional and sentimental issue

According to the delegation, there have also been a number of long-term reasons behind the anger of the people in Kashmir. Much of the anger, they said, rose from a belief among most that India has refused to recognise Kashmir as a politically contentious issue and has failed to recognise the emotional and sentimental aspects of the Kashmir issue. Also, the delegation learnt that people were angry because they felt that India has failed to see the psycho-historical aspects of the Kashmir problem and has often tried to reduce it to issues like lack of development or economic growth, a need to create jobs which it has believed will be solved by offering economic packages and incentives. “This has not suppressed the sense of hurt among the Kashmiri people or quelled their political aspirations because these measures do not address the political issue of Kashmir.”

Stop branding people ‘Pakistani puppets’

Other reasons for the anger that has brewed over the years include the belief that all Kashmiris are thought of as “Pakistani puppets”. They said, “Everything that happens in the Valley is being seen through the prism of Pakistan and that this is being done to deny that they are free agents who are raising their own issues with India.” The same argument, people said, was used to equate every protesting Kashmiri with a terrorist and their leadership – especially the Hurriyat Conference – being treated as extremists, when in fact it was organised as a political face of a peaceful protest movement.

According to the delegation, the people argued that “there is a need to recognise that Kashmiris are upset and that there is a sentiment for azaadi”.  If they picked up the Pakistani and Chinese flags, it was not because they wanted to solicit support from these countries but because “they know that this riles India”. And they want to rile India because it does not listen to them.

Kashmiri separatist leaders have also said that unless India and Pakistan talk, there can be no permanent solution to the Kashmir issue. The delegation said “most Kashmiris believe that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sincere in his approach to resolving the Kashmir tangle. They quoted him as saying that Kashmir is an issue which needs to be resolved, and even if Kashmiris want to distance themselves, that has to be done through “cooperation and goodwill.”

There was also a widespread belief that the “Indian public is indifferent to the plight of Kashmiris. This, they believe, is because they have been conditioned and encouraged to view the developments in Kashmir through anti-Pakistan glasses.”

Pandits want parity and security

As for the Kashmiri Pandits living in the Valley, the delegation said they “want to be treated at par with Kashmiri migrants and be given same benefits as them because in a sense, they are also migrants who have shifted from the original villages to towns. This had been agreed to by the former prime minister Manmohan Singh but never implemented.”

The delegation also said that Kashmiri Pandits fear the due to the withdrawal of forces from certain areas their own security might be compromised. As such, of the remaining 850 Pandit families in the state, about 350 families are planning to migrate.

Reopen school, postpone exams

In light of all these findings, the delegation has suggested that the state government begin reopening schools and releasing forthwith, all first-time offenders who are school children and minors arrested under PSA. It has also called for considering postponing school examinations instead of holding them from November 15. It has also called for psychological counselling for repeat offenders and has suggested shifting them to juvenile detention centres.

Compensate and rehabilitate victims

The group has also suggested that the next of kin of the civilians killed or wounded in police be compensated. In addition it asked the government to consider announcing rehabilitation packages for those permanently blinded by pellet guns and free treatment for those who have been partially blinded by pellet guns. Furthermore, it suggested setting up a school for the blind in Srinagar and ordering a judicial commission to look into the excesses by the police, especially the wanton use of pellet guns.

From the Centre, the group has urged an immediate ban on pellet guns. It also asked the government to sensitise the media about the delicate nature of the Kashmir issue so that the situation is not flared in search of viewers and revenue.

The Centre has also been asked to “dispel the perception that Kashmir and Kashmiris are mere tools to be used for electoral purposes,” and reiterate that “Kashmiris are Indians”. It was also asked to “move quickly to give facilities of migrants to Pandits continuing to reside in Kashmir division of J&K.”