IT would be a grave mistake to consider the fact of five public figures from New Delhi going to Srinagar on Oct 25 to talk to the Hurriyat leaders, as signifying an end to the political impasse gripping Indian Kashmir since nearly four months.

The group’s leader, a former BJP cabinet minister Yashwant Sinha, told the media after talking to the highly respected Syed Ali Shah Geelani that they did not constitute a ‘delegation’ as such; that they came strictly in their individual capacities and had no mandate from the Indian government. They also met Mirwaiz Umar Farooq for an hour after which he held a press conference. The visitors met others as well, including Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.

They obviously came with the blessings of the government. Mirwaiz had been released from prison only the day before and put under house arrest. It all boils down to how they assess the situation; what they report to the government and how it responds to their report.

Kashmiri memories go back centuries.

The crucial questions, of course, are (a) whether the hardline Modi dispensation at all intends to do anything substantially different from its present position; (b) whether it has the capacity to do so; and (c) whether there is any common ground between the aspirations of the Kashmiris, which the Hurriyat leaders espouse, and the BJP government’s stand.

The situation in Kashmir today is far worse than what it was even at the peak of the militancy from 1989 to 1994. As of Oct 11, at least 300 people have had their eyes so badly damaged by injuries from pellets fired by the security forces that their chances of recovery are “barely minimum”. Many pellet victims have been rendered “legally blind”. In which other strife-torn part of the world would one see such barbarities? In the Israeli-occupied territories of Palestine?

Nearly 100 have been killed since the murder on July 8 of Burhan Wani, the Hizbul Mujahideen commander. Nearly 500 have been jailed without trial under the draconian Public Safety Act 1978. On Oct 7, a group of editors, academics, former bureaucrats and former judges issued a closely reasoned analysis of the act and demanded its repeal. All in all, 7,000 persons, including 25 boys — minors around 12 to 13 years — were taken into custody; and 2,300 FIRs filed.

What memories of such a dispensation will linger in the minds of these boys and their families? The October issue of Caravan contained a photograph of window panes broken by security forces of homes in Kashmir that were covered with blankets by the residents to protect themselves from the elements. It says this is done ‘commonly’. The motive? To draw people out for a confrontation — assaults or arrests, sometimes both, follow.

On the one hand is New Delhi’s grim resolve to crush a people’s revolt against Indian rule and on the other, a strong determination on the part of the people and their leaders not to submit to any accord like the ones of the past. Kashmiri memories go back centuries.

On Oct 6, the press recalled it was on Oct 6, 1586, that Kashmir lost its sovereignty to the Mughal emperor Akbar. He is not a hero in Kashmir. After his army was defeated twice, Akbar tried a ruse. He offered friendship to King Yusuf Shah Chak and invited him to Delhi; then put him in prison in Bihar.

Not too long ago, one Haseeb A. Drabu sought to bring back the king’s remains with the Indian government’s help.

In 2015, Drabu drafted the Agenda of Alliance with Ram Madhav, the RSS leader seconded to the BJP. It froze the status of the hollowed Article 370. Weeks earlier, Drabu had drafted the PDP’s election manifesto which sole­mnly promised to res­tore Article 370 to its original strength as a guarantee of Kashmir’s autonomy. He later became finance minister in the PDP-BJP coalition. This episode illustrates the people’s centuries-old yearning for freedom and their repeated betrayals by politicians.

Like individuals, nations have also put the past behind them provided they are assured of a promising future which breaks from the past. This cannot happen in one go. It is necessary, therefore, to devise an interim arrangement which reduces tension and paves the way for negotiations on a final settlement, as Geelani proposed to his visitors.

The elements of an interim accord must be: release from house arrest or prison of leaders, political prisoners, and civil libertarians like Khurram Pervez. Cases against alleged pelters of stones must be withdrawn. The rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly must be respected. The Public Safety Act, 1978 must be repealed. There must be an independent inquiry into the security forces’ gross excesses since, at least, July 8.

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

Published in Dawn, October 29th, 2016


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