India & Kashmir: Breaking the silence

27 April 2013

In Kashmir, the scale of human rights violations—from collective punishment and assassinations, to custodial deaths and disappearances—is staggering. Yet little of what goes on in that Himalayan region reaches the outside. Those who resist Indian rule, the Indian government tells the world, are fundamentalist jihadis backed by Pakistan. But the reality is quite different. Kashmir is an unsettled issue, dating back to the disastrous 1947 British partition plan to divide the subcontinent in two: a Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan. Today, Kashmir is one of the most volatile places on the planet.

Pankaj Mishra writes for the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, the New York Times Book Review, and the Guardian. He is the author of Butter Chicken in Ludhiana, An End to Suffering, Temptations of the West, and From the Ruins of Empire.

ISR regular contributor David Barsamian, host and founder of Alternative radio (www.alternativeradio.org), spoke with Mishra in Boulder, Colorado.


David Barsamian: In your introduction to a collection of essays Kashmir: The Case for Freedom, you wrote: “Once known for its extraordinary beauty, the Valley of Kashmir now hosts the biggest, bloodiest and also the most obscure military occupation in the world. With more than 80,000 people dead in an anti-India insurgency backed by Pakistan, the killing fields of Kashmir dwarf those of Palestine and Tibet.

In addition to the everyday regime of arbitrary arrests, curfews, raids, and checkpoints enforced by nearly 700,000 Indian soldiers, the Valley’s 4 million Muslims are exposed to extrajudicial execution, rape and torture, with such barbaric variations as live electric wires inserted into penises.”

And then you proceed to ask the logical next question: “Why, then, does the immense human suffering of Kashmir occupy such an imperceptible place in our moral imagination?”

Pankaj Mishra: There are several reasons for this, particularly in the last decade or so, there has been this idea of India emerging as a great economic power and also as a strategic ally of the United States. There has been a lot of bad news coming out of India that’s not been reported internationally, certainly not in the Western press. I think the government also places very heavy restrictions on reporting out of Kashmir, even on foreign correspondents.

Many of them start their tenure by going to Kashmir and being shocked and appalled, because nothing has prepared them for what they see there, so they go and do these anguished reports about this horrific situation. Very soon the government cracks down on them, and they are told to stay within their limits. And for the next of their three or four years in India , they observe those limits, because the price is you might have to leave your job or it might become harder for your newspaper to maintain a bureau or an office there. So there isn’t really enough reporting happening of the kind that happens, for instance, in Tibet. Even though the Chinese government does not allow journalists to go there, still reports filter out all the time. And when there is a massive event there, like the riots in Lhasa back in 20 08 09, it’s on the front pages and in the headlines for days on end. Continue reading

How Occupied Kashmiris “Celebrate” Freedom

Jashn-e-Azadi (How We celebrate Freedom)

a film by Sanjay Kak (2008)

Synopsis

It’s 15th August, India’s Independence day, and the Indian flag ritually goes up at Lal Chowk in the heart of Srinagar, Kashmir. The normally bustling square is eerily empty – a handful of soldiers on parade, some more guarding them, and except for the attendant media crews, no Kashmiris.

For more than a decade, such sullen acts of protest have marked 15th August in Kashmir, and this is the point from where JASHN-E-AZADI begins to explore the many meanings of Freedom – of Azadi – in Kashmir.

In India, the real contours of the conflict in Kashmir are invariably buried under the facile depiction of an innocent population, trapped between the Terrorist’s Gun and the Army’s Boot. But after 18 years of a bloody armed struggle, after 60,000 civilians dead (and almost 7,000 enforced disappearances), what really is contained in the sentiment for Azadi, for freedom? Continue reading

Indian Govt should restore ‘civil and political rights’ of Geelani Sahib immediately: Dal Khalsa

 Amritsar (Punjab)
 25 Feb 2013
CHAIRMAN HURRIYAT CONFERENCE (G) JANAB SYED ALI SHAH GEELANI

Chairman of Hurriyat Conference  Syed Ali Shah Geelani

Condemning his continued house arrest in New Delhi, the Dal Khalsa has urged the Government of India to release chairman of Hurriyat (G) Conference Syed Ali Shah Geelani immediately.

In a statement party head H S Dhami termed the detention of Geelani Sahib ever since the hanging of Afzal Guru on Feb 9 as ‘illegal and unjust’. Taking a dig at Indian civil society and eminent human rights activists based in the capital for their stoic silence, he said the government has stooped too low to gag the voice of Kashmiri people.

Urging the civil society to speak up against state’s highhandedness, he urged the officials of UNHRC, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to intervene and take stock of the ground situation vis-à-vis rights violations.

He said the government was highly mistaken that by detaining Geelani Sahib it could break his resolve for carrying forward the struggle for Kashmir’s self-determination.

Accusing the Union Home Minister for his flip-flop position on “Saffron terror and RSS sponsored terrorism”, Mr Dhami urged Mr Sushil Kumar Shinde to restore the civil, political and human rights of Geelani Sahib immediately and allow him to be with his people and family members.

Arundhati Roy on Indian-Pakistani war clouds and the ‘secret’ hanging of Afzal Guru

Does Your Bomb-Proof Basement Have An Attached Toilet?

Afzal Guru

Afzal Guru

An execution carried out to thundering war clouds

What are the political consequences of the secret and sudden hanging of Mohammed Afzal Guru, prime accused in the 2001 Parliament attack, going to be? Does anybody know? The memo, in callous bureaucratese, with every name insultingly misspelt, sent by the Superintendent of Central Jail No. 3, Tihar, New Delhi, to “Mrs Tabassum w/o Sh Afjal Guru” reads:

“The mercy petition of Sh Mohd Afjal Guru s/o Habibillah has been rejected by Hon’ble President of India. Hence the execution of Mohd Afjal Guru s/o Habibillah has been fixed for 09/02/2013 at 8 am in Central Jail No-3.

This is for your information and for further necessary action.”

The mailing of the memo was deliberately timed to get to Tabassum only after the execution, denying her one last legal chanc­e—the right to challenge the rejection of the mercy petition. Both Afzal and his family, separately, had that right. Both were thwarted. Even though it is mandat­ory in law, the memo to Tabassum ascribed no reason for the president’s rejection of the mercy petition. If no reason is given, on what basis do you appeal? All the other prisoners on death row in India have been given that last chance.

Since Tabassum was not allowed to meet her husband before he was hanged, since her son was not allowed to get a few last words of advice from his father, since she was not given his body to bury, and since there can be no funeral, what “further necessary action” does the jail manual prescribe? Anger? Wild, irreparable grief? Unquestioning acc­eptance? Complete integration?

After the hanging, there have been unseemly celebrations. The bereaved wives of the people who were killed in the attack on Parliament were displayed on TV, with M.S. Bitta, chairman of the All-India Anti-Terrorist Front, and his ferocious moustaches playing the CEO of their sad little company. Will anybody tell them that the men who shot their husbands were killed at the same time, in the same place? And that those who planned the attack will never be brought to justice because we still don’t know who they are. Continue reading

The hanging of Afzal Guru is a stain on India’s democracy

Despite gaping holes in the case against Afzal Guru, all India’s institutions played a part in putting a Kashmiri ‘terrorist’ to death

The Guardian, Sunday 10 February 2013

Police bring Afzal Guru to court in Delhi in 2002

Indian police bring Afzal Guru to court in Delhi in 2002. Photograph: Aman Sharma/AP

Spring announced itself in Delhi on Saturday. The sun was out, and the law took its course. Just before breakfast, the government of India secretly hanged Afzal Guru, prime accused in the attack on parliament in December 2001, and interred his body in Delhi’s Tihar jail where he had been in solitary confinement for 12 years. Guru’s wife and son were not informed. “The authorities intimated the family through speed post and registered post,” the home secretary told the press, “the director general of the Jammu and Kashmir [J&K] police has been told to check whether they got it or not”. No big deal, they’re only the family of yet another Kashmiri terrorist.

In a moment of rare unity the Indian nation, or at least its major political parties – Congress, the Bharatiya Janata party and the Communist party of India (Marxist) – came together as one (barring a few squabbles about “delay” and “timing”) to celebrate the triumph of the rule of law. Live broadcasts from TV studios, with their usual cocktail of papal passion and a delicate grip on facts, crowed about the “victory of democracy”. Rightwing Hindu nationalists distributed sweets to celebrate the hanging, and beat up Kashmiris (paying special attention to the girls) who had gathered in Delhi to protest. Even though Guru was dead and gone, the commentators in the studios and the thugs on the streets seemed, like cowards who hunt in packs, to need each other to keep their courage up. Perhaps because, deep inside, themselves they knew they had colluded in doing something terribly wrong. Continue reading

India: “The jails are full of Soni Soris”

The Hindu, April 3, 2012

by Divya Trivedi

SISTERHOOD: Women narrate their stories. Photo: Divya Trivedi
[SISTERHOOD: Women narrate their stories. Photo: Divya Trivedi]

Women prisoners reveal the shocking conditions of their confinement –custodial violence, which has no sanction under law, is a part and parcel of the system

Following a minor altercation with the warden in Ward No. 8 of Tihar Jail, Zohara Baratali received severe blows on her lower abdomen that made her bleed for a full month before she succumbed to her injuries. That was a decade ago.

Last year, unable to bear the trauma of being stripped, beaten and sexually assaulted by three policemen inside Pratap Nagar Police Station in Jaipur, Seema Singh tried to end her life by jumping in front of a train. She did not die, but became a paraplegic for life. That did not deter the authorities from arresting her. Last week, the hearing for her bail application was adjourned, yet again.

The All India Meet on Women Prisoners & Custodial Violence held in Delhi on the weekend threw light on the plight of women prisoners in the country. Custodial violence, which is illegal and has no sanction under law, is a part and parcel of the system, with Soni Sori’s case having brought it into the forefront. The speakers shared their concern over the use of women’s sexuality to torture and criminalize them, with police reports usually mentioning these women as those with ‘low’ character. According to them around 99.9 per cent of women prisoners in the country belong to the backward Dalit, Adivasi and minority communities.

Trade Union activist Anu said, “The class divide runs deep in jails. If you are dressed well and look affluent, you won’t be asked to do a lot of the work. But others have to be on their feet all the time, even an 80 year old woman is not spared.” Speaking of her days in Tihar Jail, Anu said that the moment one enters the jail, even as an under trial, the perception is that the person is a criminal and an atmosphere of fear is created. Violence and abuses are a part of that fear psychosis. Continue reading

India: “Third Maoist letter to Odisha CM; Abducted MLA requests CM to release tribals jailed on fabricated charges”

Odisha Diary, Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Report by Manoranjan Routray; Koraput : The media in Koraput today received a third letter from the CPI (Maoist) Party regarding release of kidnapped BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka. The letter, addressed to media persons, lashes out at the Naveen Patnaik Government for deliberate inaction on demands stated by CPI (Maoist) Party in exchange of the release of the captive BJD MLA. CPI (Maoist) Party has criticized Government for repeatedly sending requests for appointing negotiators despite the Party’s clear statement that they do not want any mediators and expect the Government to use mediapersons to convey their willingness to act on demands released by the Party to the media ten days ago.

It may be recalled that leader of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS) Narayanpatna Nachika Linga had already given a statement in media that their organisation has nothing to do with kidnapping of the BJD MLA. In this context the Party letter asks why then is the Government repeatedly asking for the mediation of CMAS in the matter of release of the captive BJD MLA ? The Party therefore concludes that the Government is trying to buy time by deliberately delaying decision on mediation and action on the stated demands. The letter asks media to reflect whether Government, which is repeatedly asking the CPI (Maoist) Party to abjure violence, is itself bound to this principle ? And whether or not the State is indulging in violence by launching combing operations ? Continue reading