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Mainstream, Vol. XLIX No 6 , January 29, 2011

Questions and Answers on Kashmir Issue

Monday 31 January 2011, by Sailendra Nath Ghosh

The following are the author’s answers to the questions he received on phone in response to his three articles on Kashmir published in the Mainstream.
You have been eloquent about Kashmiriyat. What is so special about it? You have also said that Wahabi Islam has eclipsed Kashmiri culture. What is Wahabi Islam and how could it submerge Kashmiriyat?

Ans: Kashmiriyat is a culture founded in the teachings of Shaykh Nooruddin, who was also called Nund Rishi. His father was an early convert to Islam in Kashmir in the fifteenth century. Shaykh Nooraddin accepted and preached Islam in the sense Sufis preached it. Sufism was close to Hindu philosophy. Moreover, Nund Rishi accepted the Shaivaite yogini, Laleshwari, as his mentor. Laleshwari stood for an equalitarian social order. Besides, he derived inspiration from Hindu Rishis and Buddhist monks and followed their ways of meditation-cum-quest for spiritual ascent. Kashmiriyat was, therefore, a confluence of many sublime trends of spiritualism.

Recently, in a talk in Kolkata a Kashmiri scholar, Syed Faiz Butt, gave a nice illustration of Kashimiriyat which prevailed before the onset of Wahabi Islam. The bridegroom’s party coming for the marriage of a Muslim girl used to be hosted by Hindu neighbours; and the Muslim neighbours used to entertain the party accompa-nying the bridegroom for a Hindu girl. This was a grand occasion for inter-religious bonhomie.

The Wahabi brand of Islam was founded by Mohammed ibn Abdal Wahabi of the Saudi royal family in the eighteenth century. It regarded veneration of saints as sacrilegious, considered all non-Muslim communities as “non-believers”, and urged Muslims to fight against them. Thus, it was a message of hatred against followers of other faiths. The Ottoman Sultan fought against the Wahabis and, with the help of the Eyptian ruler, drove them into the desert in 1818. Later, the Wahabis regained control of Arabia, captured the Persian Gulf coast, and continued sporadic disorders into India. (Iran, however, remained Shiite, outside its influence.) In the fourth quarter of the 20th century, petro-dollar-rich Arabia succeeded in spreading Wahabi Islam’s influence even more. In post-partition India, after the State of Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India, when some US diplomats offered the bait of an independent State of Kashmir by separating it from India, Kashmiri Muslim separatism raised its head and Wahabi Islam found a fertile soil.

You have called for a repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). This power is now enjoyed by the Army and paramilitary forces in the disturbed areas. The Army opposes its repeal and feels that the repeal will give insurgents an advantage. It will help the insurgents to rebuild their bases. Can you deny the soundness of the armed personnel’s arguments?

Ans: The Indian Army is a highly disciplined force, known for its patriotism. It repulsed the well-entrenched Pakistani intruders from the Kargil heights, not on the strength of the AFSPA but by its patriotic fervour and death-defying valour. With the same capital resources, it will succeed in the disturbed areas. In fact, the AFSPA has lately become a hindrance to them instead of a support. I shall explain how this happens, later.

Before that I must point out that the AFSPA is inherently an act against natural justice. It gives the armed forces the authority to kill anybody in a disturbed area on suspicion. No question will be asked and everybody will have to presume that the killing was necessitated by the exigency of the situation. It is not only draconian; it is inhuman.

In a disturbed area within the country, the capture and interrogation is often more productive than killing because capture yields more information and saves our people from more casualties. When this is considered, killing becomes less productive.

Moreover, long use of special protection breeds undesirable trends. The AFSPA has been in use for 52 years in the North-East region and for 10 years in J&K. Instead of quelling insurgency, it has been providing a wider recruiting base for the insurgents. This is because some armed men, in recent years, have been tempted to stage fake encounters and kill innocent civilians, possibly in the hope of promotions or cash rewards. Two or three incidents like these are enough to wipe out all the good work done by the armed personnel over the decades and to set a whole population aflame. Such incidents spur hostilities among the local people and undermine the armed forces’ rear base and make the armed personnel vulnerable. This is exactly what has been happening in the North-East region and Kashmir Valley. Does our armed command realise this?

Sometime back news appeared in the press that a total of 1500 cases of human rights violations were registered against the Army and that, on investigations by the Army, it was found that only four per cent allegations were true. This led to the punishment of 144 persons; some armed men were dismissed, some were jailed. But this was superficial reporting. Information regarding how many years’ jail for what kind of offence was withheld. People wondered whether only five-to-six years’ jail sentence was meted out to deliberate murderers. If the armed forces’ High Command could have been sterner from the outset, such incidents would have been nipped in the bud. Demands for the repeal of the AFSPA would not have arisen. Admittedly, there were not many cases of fake encounters and deliberate murders of innocent persons were few. But as I said earlier, two or three such cases could stir a whole region’s revolt.

If the AFSPA is so draconian and counterproductive, how did our Supreme Court uphold it in its judgment in 1997, in the case filed by the Naga People’s Movement against the Union of India?

Ans: The complaints about fake encounters had not emerged by then. Later, the Government of India appointed the Justice Jevan Reddy Committee to find out if the Act had outlived its utility. The Committee unanimously recommended, around 2005, that the Act should be abolished. Due to the Defence Forces’ opposition, the govern-ment did not act on the Committee’s recommen-dation.

J&K’s Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has been blaming the AFSPA for all his troubles in the State and does not acknowledge any of his failures. Does this mean you agree with his view?

Ans: Not at all. The National Conference led by the Abdullahs, the PDP led by the Muftis, and the Congress Party led by Ghulam Nabi Azad and Saifuddin Soz have shirked their political tasks. During the last two decades or more, when Pakistani agents were busy propagating Wahabi Muslimism and building networks of saboteurs and terrorists in Kashmir, these political leaders did not do any political or ideological campaign in defence of traditional Kashmiri culture and inter-religious harmony. When the Muslimist zealots struck fear in the hearts of, and drove out, the Kashmiri Pandits, these political bodies and personages remained silent spectators.

An interesting sideline story is relevant here. An Imam, who is in charge of Florida’s Islamic Centre in the USA’s state of Texas, makes a distinction between pious Muslims and the Islamists, saying that the former are loyal to the pristine values of Islam while the latter are Islam-mouthing violators of Islam (that is, peace). The inheritors of Kashmiriyat like the Abdullahs, the Muftis and people like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Saifuddin Soz had ever greater reason for making this distinction and declaring that these separatists are disloyal to the Koranic concept of oneness of all creation and spoilers of harmonious existence. But these Kashmiri stalwarts remained nonchalant and non-resistant. As a result, Wahabi Islam had a walkover in the Valley. Separatism became widespread.

The Union Government has been doling out large sums for the welfare of the people of Jammu and Kashmir but because of these leaders’ laxity and misgovernance, these sums have lined the pockets of the State-level politicians and bureaucrats and corruption has become rampant. Pervasive corruption has caused the people’s revulsion. They consider it a gift of the Indian Union.

The State of J&K has its own Constitution. Therefore, it has more powers than any other State of the Indian Union to devolve greater powers on its zilla parishads and gram sabhas; but it has kept them under bureaucratic strangle-hold and prevented them from the taste of even the power which panchayats in the rest of India have. Like the Government of India, it passed the State’s Right to Information Act. This could have been a powerful instrument in the people’s hands against authoritarianism. But it did not at all implement this. For these non-performances, the Kashmiris wrongly lay the blame on the Indian Union.

The National Conference leaders deluded themselves into believing that until the Indian Union agrees to give maximum autonomy to Kashmir bordering on its sovereignty, no autonomy needs to be given to the State’s people. Their alibi is that these autonomies are meaningless unless Kashmir’s near-sovereignty is guaranteed in the Indian Constitution. Their reluctance to give autonomy to the Jammu and Ladakh regions and to the districts recoils on themselves and makes J&K a divided house.

Arundhati Roy says Kashmir needs azadi from India, and the hungry and ill-fed, ill-clothed people of India, too, need azadi from Kashmir. What do you say to this?

Ans: The National Conference, PDP and State Congress party, who have an understanding of international politics, particularly the politics of Pakistan and China, do not want azadi from India. They know secession from India in the name of azadi will condemn them to slavery. Only the Mirwaiz Omar-led Hurriyat does not realise this.

Similarly, Arundhati Roy does not realise that in the event of Kashmir’s formal indepen-dence, even the UN will not be able to safeguard this impendence and prevent tighter encirclement of India by China. That will force India to spend much more for defence purposes. The bhukha and nanga (the hungry and the ill-clad) people of India will have to bear greater burden.

Syed Ali Shah Gilani and some other leaders of Kashmir demand the right of self-determination. Self-determination has an irresistible appeal to all. Can we deny it?

Ans: Far from denying any people’s right of self-determination, we should make it real and substantial. In the usual kind of self-determi-nation that has taken place in other countries, separation from the parent body takes place and an election is held, in which the top leaders of the race or religious community form the govern-ment but the democratic rights of the masses do not improve at all.

Here we have proposed the Gandhian model. Each village should be constituted as a village republic within the great Republic of Federal India. The powers of the village republics have been delineated earlier in my first article’s section IV. There can be no greater self-determination than this. In no country of the world, the people have greater self-determination than in the proposed constitutional set-up.

But there have been no takers of this proposal among the political leaders. Neither the leaders of the Indian Union, nor of Kashmir Valley have responded to this proposal.

Ans: No neta (leader) who wants to keep people under his/her thumb would ever like this proposition. Only a mass movement for providing in the Constitution the gram sabha’s powers to take the basic decisions concerning the villagers’ own lives can bring about this transformation.

Nowadays gram sabhas are so constituted as to be too large covering several thousands of persons and hence happen to be dysfunctional. In consequence, panchayats, which are supposed to be the gram sabhas’ executive arms, override the gram sabhas. This is a topsy-turvy situation. It is like the Cabinet becoming superior to the Legislative Assembly. The constitutional provision for village republics, in which every adult resident becomes the village assembly’s legislator (decision-maker), will bring about a sea-change, ushering in a revolution in people’s power.

Kashmir gives the whole of India an opportunity. If for overcoming the separatism of a considerable section of Kashmiris, the leaders of the Indian Union and the pro-India Kashmiris agree to embrace the concept of village republics, it will be a boon to all.

The BJP is pressing for the abrogation of Article 370. What do you say to this?

Ans: The BJP’s line will only increase the Valley people’s alienation and hence volatility. That will help Pakistan to internationalise the issue and also send more infiltrators. The BJP should realise that the Indian Union’s greatest victory will come when the Kashmiris themselves will demand deletion of Article 370. This miracle can happen if the Gandhian formula of “each village is a republic within the great Republic of India” is implemented. This is the power of governance in people’s hands which no other country in the world has even proposed. Yet, this is the goal towards which the world is inexorably moving. For, there is no other path to satisfy the world people’s urge for democracy.

The author is one of the country’s earliest environmentalists and a social philosopher. He can be contacted at sailendranathghosh@yahoo.com and sailendernathg@gmail.com

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