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'Delhi has to engage Kashmiris politically'

Last updated on: August 11, 2016 08:52 IST

'The problem in Kashmir is not about pellets, bullets or tear gas.'
'It is the government's policy and intention to criminalise the protest.'

IMAGE: A policeman fires tear gas shells at fleeing agitationists during a protest on the outskirts of Srinagar. Photograph: Danish Ismail/Reuters

If you recently went online, you may have encountered a social media campaign called #KashmirBlindSpot.

Khurram Parvez of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, the man behind the campaign, hopes this social media outreach will highlight the damage pellet shotguns used by the security forces in Kashmir cause.

The campaign's Web site mentions that the indiscriminate use of pellet shotguns has resulted in an estimated 105 civilians being partially or totally blinded since protests broke out in the Kashmir valley last month over Burhan Wani's death.

In an interview with Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf, Khurram, a human rights activist, addresses the Kashmir issue and what he thinks needs to be done.

Why did you launch this campaign against pellet guns?

This campaign is a creative one, and we are asking for a ban on pellet guns.

The situation in Kashmir is not getting enough attention and therefore, we want to create awareness. The message is through Braille.

Through this campaign, we are saying that we are being attacked in the eyes, but why is the world losing its sight?

Why can't people see? They are attacking our eyes, but the people of the world are not able to see our situation.

This is a very sarcastic way to garner attention.

The Jammu and Kashmir high court has told the government that the State must not use pellet guns. Why is your campaign still on?

Jammu & Kashmir high court on pellet guns

'A pellet is a round ball loaded with lead. If it penetrates the eye, which is a water ball, the damage is done. Can't you use other methods like water, tear gas?'
'These are your people. They have anger. They are protesting. That does not mean you should render them disabled. You have to protect them.' Hope it (the use of pellet guns) is reviewed.'
-- What the Jammu and Kashmir high court recently observed about the use of pellet guns in Kashmir.

They have only passed an observation, not an order. They have the power to pass an order, which they did not do, but said it is for the government to decide.

How many people in Jammu and Kashmir have lost their eyesight in pellet gun firing?

The number is more than 300. According to doctors, these people will have some amount of loss of vision (for life).

Another 100 people unfortunately will be blinded.

What is the history behind the use of pellet guns in Kashmir?

I would like to correct you, it is not a pellet gun, but a pellet shotgun. It is live ammunition used to kill people.

The pellet shotgun must be immediately banned. It is used only in Kashmir and not in any other conflict area.

The pellet shotgun has a cartridge and hundreds of pellets and we have seen that some people have even lost their lives. This is no more non-lethal.

The pellet shotgun has been used since 2010 as the government said it cannot use tear gas or open fire as that was causing deaths.

To avoid further casualties, the government started using pellet shotguns.

Many people have lost their vision (but the government does not seem interested in giving up the use of pellet shotguns.

Probably, they think they do not have any other means to control the people who come onto the streets, but the issue is: Why does the government not allow people to come onto the streets?

It is the democratic right of the people to express disgust against something. Why would they (the government) not allow that?

Protests take place across India, but it is only in Kashmir that people start throwing stones and mobs turns violent.

That is not true. If Indian journalists want to believe this lie, they can.

People only throw stones when the pellet shotgun is used or live ammunition is used on peaceful demonstrations.

In 2008, more than a million people came out onto the streets and there were huge demonstrations. No one was injured then because the police chose not to fire.

If the police opts not to fire, then there will be no violence.

Violence will go on in Kashmir till they stop criminalising the protest.

It is the State which has to stop the violence.

IMAGE: A boy stands next to a wall painted with graffiti as a policeman stands guard during a protest in Srinagar. Photograph: Danish Ismail/Reuters

As a human right activist you can always seek a meeting with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to discuss the pellet shotgun issue. Have you ever meet the government?

We have always been trying to persuade and petition the government. Today it is Mehbooba, earlier it was Omar Abdullah. We have always petitioned them and reminded them about this problem.

The problem in Kashmir is not about pellets, bullets or tear gas. It is the policy and intention of the government to criminalise the protest.

To use violence as a political means is the problem.

The Government of India has to stop the violence and engage the people of Jammu and Kashmir politically, which it refuses to do.

We see protesters in Kashmir waving Pakistani flags on television. It is provocative and anti-national. Don't you think it is wrong to do so?

That is okay, Kashmir is disputed territory. Kashmir is not (like) any other territory of India.

Why does the Government of India talk to Pakistan? From 1947 till date, they have held several talks with the Pakistani government. There are so many bilateral declarations and statements -- in 1966, 1972, 1998, the Agra Declaration -- where the Government of India with Pakistan says they will resolve Kashmir.

You don't say that about Bihar or Gujarat. You only say that about Kashmir, so what does that mean?

There is a United Nations resolution on this and if this is a disputed territory, then there are aspirations of the Kashmiri people who would want to be independent.

Some would be want to be a part of India and some would want to be a part of Pakistan.

Therefore, a referendum is a must to know what Kashmiris want. And if you want to criminalise the waving of Pakistani flags, then do so, but they have been doing it since 1947.

Why are you critical of the Indian media?

A section of the Indian electronic media has been inciting violence.

The Indian media says Kashmir is an integral part (of India), how come?

They are campaigning for the Indian State. It is a lie.

If Kashmir is an integral part, then why do we have Article 370 and why has India been talking to Pakistan every now and then?

Whether it was the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) or the UPA (United Progressive Alliance), why were you talking to Pakistan that you will have a peaceful resolution of Kashmir?

There can be peaceful dharnas, fasts unto death through which people have successfully put across their point, but why violence?

We are not going to take lessons from Delhi on how to hold protests.

The burden of peace-building should not be on the people of Kashmir, it should be on the Government of India because they hold the territory.

Many believe Burhan Wani was a terrorist, hence, it was right to kill him in an encounter. So why are Kashmiris protesting a terrorist's death?

The Indian people can have any opinion on Burhan Wani and they are free to have an opinion. At the same time, the Kashmiri people are also free to have their opinion.

The Kashmiri people feel Burhan Wani was a hero.

Don't impose your understanding on the people of Kashmir. The people of Kashmir do not think of Burhan Wani as a terrorist. They think of him as a hero, therefore they participated in his funeral.

The people are not saying why did you kill him? No one is saying you should not have killed him. People are saying they have the right to participate in his funeral.

Why are young Kashmiris ready to die for the cause of 'azaadi,' which they know they will never achieve?

The people of Kashmir do not want to surrender whatsoever. How many ever people the Government of India kills or maims, the people of Kashmir are not going to surrender.

Don't young Kashmiris feel they have a future in booming India compared to a failed State like Pakistan?

Pakistan as a failed State is the dream of the Indian people. This is a dream more than analysis.

Come on, Pakistan is a failed State!

Listen to me. That can be your opinion. Kashmiris feel India is a failed State. You have 30 per cent of the population below the poverty line. You have half of the people who don't have homes to live.

Every day people die of hunger in India. Kashmir has not seen any hunger death in the last so many decades.

I don't think India's prosperity appeals to Kashmiris.

We have seen 400,000 to 500,000 Indians come to Kashmir every year as labourers. They work in Kashmir as migrants.

They are from Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh. They get their livelihood here. I don't think India's economy is rosy. It might be rosy for the upper middle class and rich people like the Birlas, Tatas, Ambanis.

But you cannot deny that Pakistan is a failed State.

Don't compare India to Pakistan. You are using Pakistan's image against the people of Kashmir.

The people of Kashmir have nothing to do with Pakistan's image. Why should I be defending Pakistan's image? Why should you be raising this question of Pakistan against Kashmiris?

Because Kashmiris raise Pakistani flags.

Pakistani flags are shown to irritate Indians and you are getting irritated. That is the success of the Pakistani flags here.

IMAGE: Khurram Parvez, human rights activist. Photograph: Kind courtesy Khurram Parvez's Facebook page

How do Kashmiris see Mehbooba Mufti as chief minister?

It is not about any personality, whether it is Mehbooba or Omar Abdullah or anyone else. People in Jammu and Kashmir feel they are powerless and they are part of the facade which has been created by the Indian government.

These elected people are seen by the people of Jammu and Kashmir as representatives of India. They are not seen as the people's representatives.

That is why on the ground you will not see Mehbooba or Omar Abdullah's party workers or their MLAs.

Are they somewhere on the scene? Where are they? Are they to be seen (in this crisis)? No. They can't come out.

They have moved out of their own homes. They feel threatened by the same people who voted for them.

The message is clear. People who voted in the past voted for their small little interest. They voted because of their vulnerability, because development has been held hostage by the Government of India to votes.

People have to vote, otherwise they will not get roads in their villages. People will have to vote or they will not get jobs, irrigation and electricity in their villages.

This vote was used by the Government of India for propaganda that it is a vote for India.

People don't vote for India, people don't vote for their political ambitions. People vote for their daily needs.

It is not only in Kashmir. It is so even in Bihar or Uttar Pradesh. So that vote is not for political aspirations. If you want to find out what people want to vote for, then a referendum is the best way to ascertain whether the people of Kashmir want to live with India.

So the people of Kashmir want roads, electricity and development from India, yet they hurl stones at Indian policemen and soldiers!

Are you serious about this question?

Yes, I am asking you this question.

The people of Kashmir pay taxes as well and pay for electricity. Nothing comes free, all this money comes from our own taxes.

Don't tell me this is coming as an act of benevolence from the Government of India.

The view is that India subsidises Kashmiris.

That is a very problematic view.

The view in India is also that Mehbooba Mufti is a pseudo-separatist, she is supporting pro-freedom groups in a clandestine manner by ensuring the supply of rations. What does it mean?

They are saying it should all be choked. They should have an economic blockade. Aap inka khaana bandh kar dijiye, aap inka ration bandh kar dijiye, yeh log bheek maangengey (Stop the supply of food to the Kashmiris, they will beg). This is fascism. Extreme fascism.

IMAGE: People look out during a curfew in Srinagar. Photograph: Danish Ismail/Reuters

Many Indians feel terrorism is imported from Pakistan and is not native to Kashmir.

I am not a politician and I speak in a very straightforward manner. The Indian argument that militancy in Kashmir is a problem because Pakistan sponsors terrorism, then you can say this is propaganda. You will start believing your own lie.

But India has captured Pakistani terrorists in Kashmir.

Don't jump the gun. In 1998, Parliament passed a resolution that the other part of Kashmir (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) is an integral part of India. By that logic, they are also a part of India.

What is the population in that part of Kashmir? 35 lakh (3.5 million). What is the number of Kashmiris who migrated from here to that part of Pakistan in 1947, particularly Jammu? The number was 5 lakh (500,000) then.

Their number has swelled up today to 20 lakh (2 million). So the number of people in that part of Kashmir which would be around 50 lakh (5 million), why do you think they will not get involved in the struggle?

They are involved. Most of the people who are getting arrested or killed here are from there.

I won't deny that Pakistanis have not participated in Kashmir's militancy. They have.

These people (the terrorists) are either from Pakistan administered Kashmir or Pakistan. Their number is not more than 3,000.

That is a lot of terrorists. When 3,000 people come from a different country to spread terrorism in India, don't you think that is wrong?

We are not talking about right or wrong. We are talking of what is happening.

According to the Government of India 21,000 militants have been killed in Jammu and Kashmir.

Out of 21,000, 3,000 people came from outside. I understand you saying it is managed from outside, but there is a huge number of Kashmiris killed and that number is 18,000 people.

28,000 local Kashmiri militants have been arrested and therefore this cannot be the fringe.

Pakistan cannot mislead Kashmiris.

Can you say that all Kashmiris who are participating in the freedom movement are controlled and sponsored by Pakistan? Of course, not.

This is a mass movement and this cannot be sponsored.

Do you think Kashmir has become like the Israel-Palestine problem, which has no solution and that the killings will go on?

India is no Israel, so please don't compare India to Israel, and Kashmir is not Palestine either.

A lot of Indians compare Kashmir to the Israel-Palestine conflict which has no solution.

Kashmir has a solution and India cannot afford to linger on this problem by trying to pose that it is like Israel.

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf / Rediff.com
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