Sunday, November 8, 2009

CSDS Seminar on “Multi-Party dialogue on Political Future of Jammu & Kashmir”

I have a Maths test on Wednesday but I just can’t study. My mind refuses to concentrate. Two years ago, when Rashneek bhaiya made me write a speech for World Refugee Day, he said that Kashmiri Pandits were viewed as ‘collateral damage’ of the Kashmir issue by ‘intellectuals’. I understood what he meant but never really faced this harsh reality head on. Yesterday, as I listened to leader after leader talk, I understood how  insignificant we actually were to the ‘main issue’.

(Click to enlarge - Report in Punjab Kesri)

Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat from Moderate Hurriyat Conference looking towards Yasin Malik.

I came to Teen Murti in time only for the post-lunch session. I can only give you a brief summary of the first session (garnered from various sources). Abdul Ghani Bhat talked the usual about dialogue between India, Pakistan and Kashmir for peace and reconciliation. Muzzafar Baig accepted that Kashmiri leaders had time and again sold their conscience to India and Pakistan to remain in power. On the subject of Kashmiri Pandits, he said that all Kashmiri leaders wanted the safe return of KPs to Kashmir. He also said that his mother still cried, on remembering their KP friends and neighbors. Shafi Uri of NC talked about the NC’s willingness to negotiate with PDP and other parties on the autonomy document presented by NC in July 2000. Balbir Punj and Tarun Vijay demanded the removal of Article 370. 

CSDS fellow and seminar organiser Madhu Kishwar seen here defending Yasin Malik.

The post-lunch session started with Madhu Kishwar of CSDS calling everybody for a group photo with Yasin Malik; Ramesh Manwati of Panun Kashmir was the only person who refused to be part of the photo. Kishwar then announced that Ram Jethmalani had to attend a press conference at his residence and so would absent himself for some time. Jethmalani started the parting message by holding Yasin Malik’s hand (YM had come straight from the Jammu TADA court, where his presence was needed in the Rubbaiya Sayeed kidnapping case, and was seated beside him) and welcoming his ‘dear friend and honored guest’. Importantly, he mentioned that the problem in Kashmir started due to the coincidence of two events happening together. First, the Russians left Afghanistan and the terrorists in Kabul became ‘unemployed’, and second, India started rigging elections in Kashmir. He also said that it was the highest virtue of an Indian to love Pakistan, and that the entire discussion should be in the spirit of ‘love and affection’. After he left, Ellora Puri from Jammu talked of how it had always been ignored that the state was actually made of three geographically and culturally distinct regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. She proposed a federal system within the state, with the three regions having three separate ‘councils’.

JKLF Terrorist and Rapist Yasin Malik at the seminar.

 Protesting Civil Society members in the seminar. 


Panun Kashmir's Ramesh Manwati at the seminar.

Ram Jethmalani at the seminar.

After her, Sanjay Tickoo of Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (representing KPs who were still living in Kashmir for these 20 years) spoke. He first wanted to discount the notion that KPs fled because the then Governor Jagmohan told them to do so, quoting that in 1998, there were 19,000 KPs in Kashmir, whereas in 2008, there were only about 3000. This proved that conditions in Kashmir were far from being conducive to their return. He also demanded a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” to be set up by the Indian Parliament where the different stake-holders could voice their grievances and demands. Ramesh Manwati of Panun Kashmir showed a report published in a national daily in which the government had placed “Relief and Rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits” under the topic of Animal Husbandry. That aside, he talked a little about the concept of Panun Kashmir. He also talked about how 150 temples that had been desecrated and demolished in 1990 and blamed the media, civil society and HR groups for turning a blind eye to the plight of KPs. I personally thought that both speakers could not manage to convey either the past or the future in the right perspective, but it is pertinent to note that Madhu Kishwar interrupted both their speeches about 2-3 times, chiding them like recalcitrant children whenever they even mentioned 1990. We were expected to forget everything and start afresh. There really wasn’t any time for telling reality to the world. We were asked to make “tall demands” of the future. I know that rationally we should do that, and to an extent, we did do that too. What infuriated me was that only we were admonished for speaking about the old truth. Mehbooba Mufti went on and on about Kashmir being a “chota Iran” and how Accession to India had isolated Kashmir from the rest of Central Asia and West Asia. (The main point of her talk was more like propagating PDP’s agenda – she kept asking if India was ready to trust Kashmiris and uniting the 'two Kashmirs' - PoK and IK). There was a Mr. Tahir Khurshid Raina (Mr. Three-In-One – Rajouri and Poonch representative cum PDP member cum Yasin Malik supporter) who talked about how war had ravaged Rajouri and Poonch and how all these years they had few basic facilities. Yasin Malik went on to give the entire history (read: justification) behind his proud taking up of arms (reiterating that it was not an unemployment issue at all). But no, Madhu Kishwar did not have the guts or the rather the inclination to stop them and ask them to talk about the future. Only we were supposed to listen and digest.

I know we haven’t been the only sufferers – far from it. But I believe that if you remove KPs from the context of the Kashmir problem – it becomes a clear case for YM’s ‘freedom struggle’. I don’t pretend to know much about the workings of Kashmiri politics but to an outsider, ignorant of the ethnic cleansing in 1989-90, there would be little wrong in YM’s story (which he skillfully recited yesterday) of 3rd degree torture from Indian authorities, leading to ‘armed struggle’, leading to jail and finally “Gandhian enlightenment”. He was ‘forced’ to pick up arms and then by the strength of his character and the overwhelming sentiment of ‘azadi’ in Kashmir, he chose to become non-violent (despite seeing ‘600’ of his ‘friends and followers’ dead after coming out from jail). The intellectuals present yesterday knew both of our displacement and the ‘armed struggle’ but chose, peacefully, to keep them separate. They didn’t, of course, have any explanation for the former. It just happened. And now Kashmiri Pandits needed to go back to Kashmir to reverse history and show that everything was normal. As simple as that. As moral, just and enlightened citizens they needed to support the Kashmiris’ right to independence, even if it meant listening to YM saying that he had defeated India militarily, mentally, culturally and spiritually. When Madhu Kishwar showed some sense by asking YM how practical his notion of azadi was, Ram Jethmalani cut her short and said that he found no problem whatsoever with YM’s proposal.

When YM was announced as a speaker, I had thought that we would pounce on him during or after his speech with questions. Then Sushilji got up to protest his presence, as a murderer and a rapist. Once it started, we didn’t back off. The astounding part was how everybody in the room thought that we were irrational liars. They welcomed and pleaded him to continue while admonishing us for not listening to him. He talked about how the problem between KPs and KMs was essentially a “power struggle”, not a communal one. The educated Pandits got insecure of the increasing power with the poor, uneducated Muslims and hence the trouble. He said that he had visited refugee camps in Jammu, and commiserated with the old ladies there; he had the guts to quote a “sher” from Lal Ded. Better still, he said that in KPs, India had found a “weeping boy” for Geneva. Madhu Kishwar and Ram Jethmalani said nothing at all on this and instead scolded the PK representative who raised an objection. I asked YM to shut up on this topic at least; he didn’t have the right to talk about Kashmiri Pandits from his bloody mouth. When Sushilji asked for permission to ask a question, Jethmalani said that he could ask only if he promised to speak in the spirit of “love and affection”. Love and affection to your killers! Of the two questions Sushilji asked, only one was permitted – that of how YM could say that all KMs had left arms when Let and Hizbul Mujahideen continued to operate. The second and more important one, about just how YM could compare himself with Gandhi when he and JKLF had killed so many unarmed, innocent women and children was promptly and completely ignored. We were largely seen as deranged communalists shouting at a hero for no good reason.

When Mehbooba Mufti and Yasin Malik were speaking I really felt like we were banging our heads against stone walls who would never listen. It was suffocating. They had thrown us out of Kashmir and consequently we were left with no say in the ‘current problem’ of Kashmir. We were an ugly face of history that nobody wanted to recall, because we just didn’t fit in. Today, as I scoured newspapers, both online and paper, to see if anybody had reported us, I was shown the raw truth. The news people had got their quotes from YM, Abdul Ghani Bhat, Baig, Mehbooba Mufti and Jethmalani. We had given pamphlets to people explaining why we were protesting against YM but still we were only mentioned in one-liners as disrupters of YM’s speech. Nothing else. Regardless of the cries of rehabilitation and relief – succor for the past in the future – there was after all nothing in the present. Nobody wanted to talk about collateral damage. In the end, Muzaffar Baig, the man who ignited the Amarnath agitation by talking of “demographic” changes in Kashmir due to settlements for Amarnath pilgrims, showed why he was a successful politician. He talked about things I thought only we could understand – he talked about Kashmiri Pandits as a unique unit of civilization; he talked about how individual successes aside, the loss of homeland would always be irreparable.
The program ended there. Baig had said the right things; Madhu Kishwar volunteered to hold a signature campaign for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and also arrange for a private conference between Baig and KPs.


I only hope that we ‘heckled’ YM enough for the time being.

- Radhika Koul