“India has a colonial approach towards Kashmir. You have to put the issue before people – maybe hold a referendum,” says Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, leader, All Parties Hurriyat Conference
Aasha Khosa | August 18, 2016 | Kashmir
PM Narendra Modi finally spoke about Kashmir. He talked of Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat. How do you view it?
I wonder if the PM said anything important at all. It is all the old rhetoric about development, misguided youth in Kashmir etc. The reality is that the Valley is up in arms against India. There is a clear writing on the wall – literally so, and if some people don’t want to read it nothing can be done. The present government in Delhi has an ostrich-like attitude towards the situation in Kashmir. They love to believe that it is just a section of people who are agitating and overall it’s all hunky-dory. They believe that giving laptops to people in Kashmir will solve a problem which is essentially political in nature. This cacophony of India has to stop. New Delhi must acknowledge that Kashmir is a political dispute. BJP has been feeding lies to the Indian people on Kashmir. They must tell the people that it is a 60-year-old political dispute and stop blaming Pakistan for everything.
What are the reasons for the current turmoil in the Valley?
The present situation is a continuation of what you saw in 2008, 2010 and earlier in the 1990s. It is a festering wound. Why every time New Delhi has to learn about the reality of Kashmiris’ anger the hard way? These leaders must realise that the vote that the people had cast in elections was not for India but for issue of governance, and sadak, pani and bijli. Why can’t they have a referendum in Kashmir the way it happened in Britain recently to determine what people want? A generation of young Kashmiris has grown up hating India, and alienation and ager is increasing with each passing day. Delhi is not even ready to acknowledge the core issue. They say a few people and Hurriyat leaders are indulging in protests and violence. It’s easy to blame us but what they don’t tell people is that Hurriyat leaders have been virtually under house arrest for years. [Syed Ali Shah] Geelani has been under house arrest for six years. I too have been put under house arrest 47 times in one year. I have not been able to lead namaz at Jama Masjid [of which he is the mir waiz or head priest] on 16 Fridays.
How is the situation now?
They have imposed curfew in Srinagar and other towns. Now they have started a new propaganda that the situation has gone out of the control of even the Hurriyat leaders. How will we have control if we are under constant house arrest? If this is the reality then who is responsible? Who is there to channelise the anger of a young generation who are out on the streets? Even if they want to talk, who are they going to talk to? They say, how can they talk to stone throwers?
Modi has also invoked Vajpayee’s memorable words. Isn’t that quite a thing?
Modi is using Vajpayee’s words but the spirit of his words is nowhere to be seen. Vajpayee too had begun by offering an economic package for Kashmir during his first visit to Kashmir. However, he soon realised the actual problem and in his last visit to Kashmir he talked about the need to have an out-of-the-box solution to Kashmir. Vajpayee had said that humanity is bigger than the constitution. This was a real out-of-the-box idea wherein he had taken care of our ideology which otherwise could not be accommodated within the parameters of the Indian constitution. He sent us to Pakistan by clearing our papers; when we spoke to president Pervez Musharraf. Vajpayee had shed the beaten track and made new beginnings on Kashmir in the sense that even if our demand for tripartite talks was not met, at least we were able to get trilateral talks initiated. Hurriyat was talking to Delhi and Islamabad, and India and Pakistan were talking to each other. Point is that unless India gives up the bogey of Kashmir being its integral part, things cannot move forward.
The PM has also talked about the need for Kashmiri children to have laptops and bats in their hands and not stones…
The PM talks the language of money. He wants to give the laptops to them and I bet they will throw these at his face. You can’t buy people with money. Earlier too the government of India had given Kashmir a Rs 1,800 crore financial package and later there was another one of Rs 12,500 crore. Did that change the political reality? In fact, Kashmiris feel insulted each time the government of India talks of giving financial packages to them. The fact is that since 1931 five generations of Kashmiris have struggled against Indian occupation. But honestly the initial generations were not so alienated from the Indian mainstream as they are today.
Are you prepared to hold a dialogue with the government at this stage?
The dialogue that we entered with the government at the initiative of Vajpayee had ended in 2006. I remember we had given written suggestions to the government in July . The interlocutors appointed thereafter had submitted their report in 2010. The government has a tendency to act on Kashmir only in the time of crisis. Otherwise, it touts that Kashmir is calm. Security experts will point to the rising flow of tourists and shikaras which are carrying tourists in the Dal Lake to tell the world how peaceful Kashmir is. The present dispensation at the centre seems to have no clear-cut policy on Kashmir. One sometimes hears about the [Ajit] Doval doctrine. The state has miserably failed this time. They shot pellets in the eyes of young boys. Mind you, the images of children with pellet injuries have hurt people more than the news about deaths in firing. This has added to the sentiment of hate against India. It is for this reason that the leaders of the National Conference and PDP dare not more out of their homes, for they know, being pro-India parties, people will lynch them.
How can this unrest end?
This has to end one day and some kind of normalcy will return. But one day it will start again. Unless you address the main problem, it will continue. Forget walking the path to address the core political issue in Kashmir, this government is not even taking baby steps. Now streets are speaking. This could lead to anarchy, and who should be held responsible for it?
Why you are not asking people to end the protests since it is costing lives?
The government here has locked all spaces of democratic expression – be it religious, social, seminars, radio or TV for us. They have choked all democratic space for dissent. Yes, we have a different ideology than theirs but they need to fight us politically and not by putting us and our workers in jails and under detention. If we are not allowed to join the discourse on Kashmir how will you even find the solution?
What is the solution you have in mind?
Kashmiris today feel the same way as the Indians and the Pakistanis were feeling under the British rule. India has a colonial approach towards Kashmir. You have to put the issue before people – maybe hold a referendum the way it was held in Scotland [on remaining part of Great Britain].
How will you get the referendum conducted in a state which is divided between three countries?
If the UN resolution on Kashmir is implemented then the plebiscite would have to be held in all the regions of the state including Gilgit-Baltistan [in PoK]. In that case we will prevail upon Pakistan to withdraw its army from these areas. But India is not ready to implement the UN resolution. It is not even ready to allow Hurriyat leaders to engage with Pakistan. India has made Kashmir into a most militarised zone.
Isn’t it because India has a hostile neighbour?
The army has been on the borders since 1947. But now they are fighting Kashmiris. They have unleashed state terror after failing to suppress the rebellion. Today militancy is at its lowest in comparison to the 1990s. In Kashmir, in 2008 a new chapter of people’s resistance was started – the rebellion moved from violence to non-violence. However, today the militancy is making a return because of the state terror. Today why did people like Burhan Wani pick up gun? What can people do when you have closed all chances of dialogue? Dialogue has to be part of resistance.
Are you ready for a dialogue if invited by the Modi government?
This government only knows how to deceive people and hence there is no question of accepting an offer. Also, when the security forces are continuing to fire pellets on children how can you have a dialogue? BJP has to decide in totality. Right now they are offering words without any spirit. The government has to walk extra mile and work on the four-point formula which includes steps like opening the borders and demilitarising Kashmir. They’ve got to be honest in it.
People of the rest of India keep asking what Kashmiris want. Can you answer them?
Sadly, the people of India challenge their government on everything expect Kashmir. Nobody wants to go to Pakistan, but India must realise they can’t treat Kashmir as any other state.
Is it fair that the resourceful Kashmiris have sent their children out of the state for studies while students here are not able to attend school due to unrest?
Yes, some people will always have that option. But today that is not the issue facing us. When pellets are being pumped into their eyes how will children go to school? At least 15 children have gone blind in the ongoing unrest. Who will dare to send their children to schools?
Is there any place that has won freedom by prompting children to throw stones on security forces?
Children are pelting stones because each one of them has had a bad experience at the hands of security forces. Burhan, for example, was angry when a security man had hit his bicycle when he was a kid. Likewise, most of the kids who are pelting stones have been brutalised – somebody’s ball has been snatched, someone has seen an elder being beaten. This is why most of the youngsters could relate to Burhan Wani and mourned his death. They are the kids who have grown in a conflict situation.
How is Mehbooba Mufti handling the current crisis?
She sits all day in the secretariat. Be it Omar Abdullah or Mehbooba, both are stooges of the centre. Otherwise, why would Omar say that he was kept in the dark about the hanging of Afzal Guru and why would Mehbooba say that she didn’t know about Burhan Wani’s killing? If they are telling the truth why did they not resign?
This interview was conducted earlier this month. An edited version of it appears in the August 16-31, 2016 edition of Governance Now
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