NEW YORK: Renowned Indian activist and novelist Arundhati Roy has decried the silence of the international community over the continued “brutal Indian occupation of Kashmir” and said Kashmiris should be given the right to self-determination.
“Kashmir is one of the most protracted and bloody occupations in the world — and one of the most ignored,” she told a large audience at the Asia Society during a discussion on “Kashmir — a case for freedom”.
Under the Indian military rule in Kashmir, Ms Roy said, freedom of speech was non-existent and human rights abuses were routine. Elections were rigged and the press controlled.
She said the lives of Kashmiris were made miserable by gun-totting security personnel who harassed and terrorised people with impunity, adding that disappearances were almost a daily occurrence as also kidnapping, arrests, fake encounters and torture. Mass graves have been discovered and the conscience of the world remains unstirred.
The outspoken activist, who surprised the audience with her candour, called for demilitarising Kashmir as a step towards peace in the region. “Why the international community doesn’t see that when you have two nuclear-armed states, like Pakistan and India, there couldn’t be a better thing than a buffer state like Kashmir between them, instead of it being a conflict that is going to spark a nuclear war.”
Ms Roy accused US President Barack Obama of stepping back from calling for a solution of the Kashmir issue after initially supporting it, but relenting after seeing `consternation’ in India over his remarks.
“He (Mr Obama) hasn’t said a word about Kashmir since,” she said, adding that the US president was more interested in selling military aircraft and Boeings to India.
The apathy towards Kashmir, especially in the western world, Ms Roy said, was because of their pursuit of commercial interests in India where they were more eager to “sell their goods than human rights”.
She said India had also successfully used the argument that if it gave up Kashmir another Islamic state would emerge — a prospect the West feared. “That’s why India had made no effort to bring back to the valley Kashmiri Pandits who fled to camps in New Delhi at the height of the 1998 uprising in the state. Aren’t 700,000 troops enough to protect the Pandits?”
She said so little was known about the atrocities being committed by more than half a million Indian troops, the continuing repression and indignities let loose on Kashmiri men, women and children.
More than 700,000 troops were concentrated in the tiny valley, with checkpoints at every nook and corner of Kashmiri towns and cities. The huge Indian presence, she added, was in sharp contrast with 160,000 US troops in Iraq.
Ms Roy alleged that Indian army or security personnel were killing young children, adding that Kashmiris were not radical Islamists or jihadists as India portrayed them. She deplored the Indian government’s attempts to demonise Kashmiris who were moderate Muslims.