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Khurram Parvez: Nobody can stop the wars of Independence

Khurram Parvez talked to DalitCamera when he visited Tamil Nadu in June first week of 2017 for a talk “Unceasing Waves of People’s Struggle – What is Happening in Kashmir?” organised by ilanthamizhagam.

Dalit Camera: How has Indian national media intervened in the Kashmiri movement and how has it delegitimised the Kashmiri struggle for freedom? What is the strategy of the Kashmiri people in resisting these medias?

Khurram Parvez: If you see, the boom in Indian electronic media is a very recent phenomenon. Last 15 or 16 years. Before that, there was only Doordarshan as an electronic news media and Doordarshan was not giving enough coverage to Kashmir, negative or positive. Even then in the mind of common Indian people what was the perception about Kashmir? The same, what it is today. That the struggle is Pakistan-sponsored. Only difference is that the present electronic media, the wide range of channels, have agitated the people with similar opinion which people already had in India. So, in terms of opinion and legitimacy, I think, it remains the same, with whatever media does and does not. But for Kashmiri people, they do not see Indian media as a source of legitimacy for their struggle. It hardly matters, what they will report. If they start reporting positively about some people, for example, from the movement in Kashmir, those people will have troubles, people will suspect them that maybe they have joined hands with India. Or if they start reporting about the Kashmiri movement positively, people will suspect something is wrong with the movement somewhere. That is the kind of disconnect we have in Kashmir with regard to Indian media. It does not matter what Indian media reports. But what has happened, in the last few years, as a matter of strategy in Kashmir is that people have seen that this new media in India, are very reactionary people. They are the real core of Hindutva, upper-caste Brahmins who are controlling this media. And they were working for BJP since 2012 onwards. So, in Kashmir people saw this as an opportunity as well. That these are people who get worked up on very small-little things. So, people were testing what are the things on which they get worked up. They did exactly all those things only. If you see in the Indian media, situation in Kashmir is horrible, but it is not. It is only in the media that it appears that things are very bad. So, what has happened? Some Kashmiri boys know what irritates them. Every Friday, news will be generated that there are huge protests going on in the valley, but it is small protests which happen at few places. And one, if it is at Jamia Masjid after the Friday prayer and it will take 15 minutes to one-hour at the most. In which some boys, earlier they used to pelt stones and this was not getting enough reportage, they thought that we need to agitate India, we need to provoke them because there is no attention, they don’t think about Kashmir. So, what they did is, they started pulling out these Pakistan flags, and this was just to get attention, that is what exactly happened. Since last 4 years, you see, Indian media is mad about these flags. ISIS was a mistake on part of one Kashmiri boy who did this in stupidity, but then they were the ones who were doing it on their own. Because they wanted to diminish the impact of this Pakistan flag, because Pakistan flag is really a problem for an Indian, a hard-core Indian. So, people were using this as a strategy keeping the movement alive in the minds of India and people and using this as a fire. And these idiots did not realise what they were doing. They have helped the Kashmiri movement this way that, in Kashmir a lot of people would tell you that this Arnab Goswami brigade, they are our allies. They are the allies of Kashmiris. They have brought that attention to Kashmir which we did not have.

Very significantly, if you look at 2002 to 2009, these were 8 years when BJP struck a back-channel diplomacy with Kashmiri leaders and Pakistan. So, there was confidence building, there were square dialogues, and there was this opening of cross-LOC trade in 2009 and a lot of things happened in these 8 years. In the Indian media, what was the representation of what was happening in Kashmir? Normalcy has returned. People were saying that. And a lot of tourists would go also. And in these 8 years around 14,000 people lost their lives in Jammu and Kashmir. But there was a rhetoric of peace which did not allow this to be reported. Out of these 14,000 people, 3404 were civilians and 2451 were armed forces personnel. And 7500+ were militants. So, there was no attention in the media. Then, people realised that we need to do something. So, since 2008, the protest of 2008 was government-allowed and it was spectacular, around 15 lakh people participated in it, but then they did not allow it. What happened since 2010 is the government was not allowing space for a lot of protests, but for every killing people would come out and protest. It started with civilian killing but now it is happening for militants also. It is all part of a strategy. What has happened remarkably is, in the next 8 years, from 2009 to 2017, there is a huge talk about Kashmir, slipping-away, protest, ISI doing this and that, 600 civilians have lost their lives, as compared to previous 8 years’ 3404 with no reportage. In these 600 civilians killed, less number of militants got killed, there is huge reportage. One, of course, is because of social media, and other thing is the exclusion of these corporate news channels, who are completely in the hands of Hindutva and they were using it for their promotion. Kashmiris used it the other way.

Who is creating publicity for Hurriyat and Hizbul Mujahideen? Indian media. We, in Kashmir, could have never imagined these kinds of resources and this kind of sustained work for campaigns, they are doing it free of cost for us.

So, what has happened is that every night these people bark, and they shout. They think that they will scare the people of Kashmir. Is the Indian military presence able to scare Kashmiris, with 7,50,000 presences? If they have failed to scare Kashmiris, what is this Arnab Goswami thinking about himself? Or Rahul Kanwal and others? They think that Kashmiris have been scared of the rants on the TV channel. It did not matter. What it has done actually, for which we thank them, is that it has helped make all Kashmiris uncomfortable with the present status quo. Because what we have seen is that Indian media incites violence now. For last few days, they were talking about Hurriyat and ultimately Hurriyat offices were raided. Previously whosoever was targeted was targeted then. So the violent agenda of India has been set by the media. Hurriyat on its own could never have had such kind of publicity for their work, for their campaigning, for building people, and also for a movement the fear of the aggressor is important which you use to rally and mobilize the people. Who is creating fear now? The media. Who is creating publicity for Hurriyat and Hizbul Mujahideen? Indian media. We, in Kashmir, could have never imagined these kinds of resources and this kind of sustained work for campaigns, they are doing it free of cost for us. And that is why I said they are allies.

Simultaneously the alternative media is also there, and some respectable Indian print media. So Kashmiris have helped in writing the honest narrative of what is happening in Kashmir. The serious kind of people in India, or abroad, who want to understand Kashmir would go for these newspapers which have carried some serious write up on Kashmir. In effect, the Indian electronic media has helped in igniting or sustaining the movement and the alternative media has helped in spreading the honest narrative of Kashmir. The alternative media is still very small.

There is this NDTV thing which has happened yesterday. If you look at what NDTV has been reporting on Kashmir was horrible. Very deceitful. Very sophisticated. All these people who appear today as challenging Modi are actually the people who have helped him. They are being bitten by their own investments. They invested in Modi. Now they are getting it back. NDTV is just the beginning.

Even before what this media is doing now, the Indian people always trusted the narrative of the government on Kashmir. Indian people never trust their governments, except about Kashmir. All lies were always acceptable. And the communal polarisation in Kashmir which India did, to sustain its control in Jammu and Kashmir, was seen as necessary. For Kashmir, India was never secular, India was always Hindu republic. A lot of people here say that BJP has come and that is why things have become like this, but we have seen the original face of India, through Indian army. Army was the only interface between us and India. Indian Army is very Hindu in its orientation. Even when soldiers from Tamil Nadu who come, generally are softer than these North Indian soldiers. But their orientation is also Bharat Mata. And then they talk to you about the movement in Kashmir, they do not talk about it in the political terms, but they do in the mythological Hindu terms. The Indian map as the image of the goddess. And they see Kashmir as the head of the goddess. And the soldiers are telling us that how is it possible that you would sever the head of our Mata. We will not let it happen. So, for them, in Kashmir, this is basically a Hindu struggle to retain Kashmir. And the investment of the Indian government in the dispute has always been, they are saying that they are the 30% minority in the Indian administered part. But if you look at the entire Jammu and Kashmir, the population of Hindus would not constitute more than 15-18%. They ask us what about this minority. It is a very legitimate question. But then, what if we ask you what about your minority? What have you done to your own minorities? It is a country which has completely decimated all its minorities, sectarian, religious and all kind of minorities and even within the religion of Hinduism. What has happened to other Hindus. What is your right to even ask us this question? If this question is coming from marginalised communities of India, I understand why they are concerned about this. But it is coming from the upper caste Hindus in India. What about minority? But they do not talk about minorities; they talk – what about Kashmiri Pandits who are not 30% of our population, but only 2 %? Why are they not talking about the remaining 28% of Hindus? Because they are not upper-caste Brahmins. We would only hear Kashmiri Pandits. In Jammu and Kashmir around 1500 Hindus have been killed in last 27 years, out of which Kashmiri Pandits are 209. But you do not hear about other Hindus. Indian media does not talk about them. So India when talking about Hindus in Kashmir they are talking about Brahmins. But in India, people still get worked up thinking they are talking about Hindus, but they are not.

All Muslim groups and Muslim elites in India, they have also opposed the movement in Kashmir. One of the reasons could be they want to secure themselves and not be lynched, but other reason is also that they see themselves as Indians.

DC: What is the attitude of Muslim organisations in India to the issues of Kashmiris? How do you think they understand the Kashmiri question?

KP: If it is a Muslim issue, all Muslim organisations of India would have supported Kashmiri struggle. They have never supported. In fact, they have always opposed it. And opposed it very vehemently since 1947 till now. Most prominent organisations in India have categorically denounced the Kashmiri struggle and also announced fatwas against it. And then you talk about Jamaat-e-Islami. Jamaat-e-Islami in India and the one in Kashmir are two separate entities, they are not one. They do not want to mix up. If you look at the Barelvi groups, there is interaction between the two. All Muslim groups and Muslim elites in India, they have also opposed the movement in Kashmir. One of the reasons could be they want to secure themselves and not be lynched, but other reason is also that they see themselves as Indians. They see that Kashmiri Muslims should also be comfortable with this, but Kashmiri Muslims are not. And that means it is not a religious movement and if it was at least the Muslims in India would have rallied. They have not. Also, if you see one of the things, distinct among Kashmiris- most of the Kashmiris do not marry Indians, even Indian Muslims. They may marry an Indian Hindu. It is easy to marry Indian Hindu, you will not be criticised at your home. With Indian Muslims, it is difficult. Any kind of attempts to integrate Kashmiris to India will be resisted and marriage is seen as part of the political project of India.

The tone of the Kashmiri movement has slowly become religious. But there is a reason to that. In last 70 years, you would see that, the space for politics has always been denied. Only space available is the mosques. It is a natural space where you do not need anybody’s permission. So, people go to mosque and they assemble there. So, if you go to Mandir and talk about politics, the atmosphere of the Mandir will influence the language. So, because there is no space available. The only space available is mosque. For example, I am not comfortable speaking in a mosque. Because I have to adopt that language. And once I do that whatever I speak becomes religious. But Hurriyat and others have no choice but to do this. Social media is just a new thing. Hurriyat in it’s last so many years of existence- they have to reach out to people. So, what would they do? They would go to the local mosque. Every Friday they would send a number of activists and orators to different mosque. So, they have to speak according to that language. And that is why it appears that the language has become Muslim. That is one reason. The other reason is, Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir, unfortunately did not participate in the movement as a collective, some individuals have, but most of them saw India as Hindu-majority country and they supported India. For them, the self-determination from their side have already been done. They think that they have determined their future, they want to be with India. So, the remaining 70%, some of them want Pakistan and some of them want independence, the language has become increasingly Muslim. And that is why India always can bracket it as Islamic cause. Which it is not, it is the cause of self-determination. You cannot deny the right of self-determination to people because they are Muslims. But Indian want to actually say it, that because they are Muslims, therefore no self-determination. They do not realise how crude they appear by saying so. That they are denying the right of self-determination because only Muslims want it. And that is why I feel that India is on the wrong side of history today, India is on the wrong side of truth today. Israel is using its past victimisation to continue and legitimise its victimisation of the Muslims of Palestine. They say that they are doing it because they want to protect themselves. And India’s narrative is getting very close to the Israeli narrative. And that is why some people in Kashmir do find parallels between Israeli occupation and the Indian occupation.

DC: Why I ask you this question is for example, the very ordinary Sunni groups in Kerala would speak about Palestine after Friday prayer, but they would never say that about Kashmir?

KP: Yeah, because they would be feared that they would persecuted in India for speaking for Kashmiris. But I have a difference of opinion with these Muslim friends in India because, the position of Indian Muslims has become far worse than Dalits today, compared to 1947. Indian Muslims are now second-class citizens. Look at their representation in the government. For example, West Bengal has 30% Muslim population, 70% Hindu, and vice versa in Kashmir. In Bengal, what is the representation of Muslims in the government? Less than 4%. Jammu and Kashmir is actually ruled by Hindus, on the other hand. Only in the last 27 years, the government of India has been pushed to allow Muslims to be part of the government. Today, in the upper bureaucracy and middle bureaucracy, in IAS for example 65% who are posted in Kashmir are Hindu. If you look at the KAS cadre, the Kashmir Administrative Services, around 50% are Hindus. If you see the composition of the High Court, we have six judges who are Hindus out of 8. So, who is ruling Kashmir? If you go back 30 years, this composition was far worse. And that is the reason why language also shifted. Because of the resistance in Jammu and Kashmir, because the movement was getting stronger, India has to try and appropriate Kashmiris, and what it does is it allows more Kashmiris to become collaborators. So, it is creating a new class of rulers amongst the Muslims, they still suspect every Muslim. So, it is problematic for India now, that they, on the one hand, are allowing some Kashmiris to pass IAS, and it is only because of the movements. To the people who get into these services, we tell them very clearly, you are getting what you are getting only because there is resistance.  So, if at all the composition is changing, it is only because of the resistance. So, even those, who are collaborators, have to oblige the resistance and they cannot go against the movement completely, and they remain silent. If you see some of the people who have come into administrative services, they have been very mild in their responses on the movement in Kashmir. They are very careful, because they have to live among the people. The Indian Muslims does not understand this, if they had resisted. The Dalit groups for example, if you compare Dalits’ situation now to that of 1947, many Dalit groups are very assertive now. Dalits are having an increasingly assertive position and they are fighting for their lives. But Muslims are not doing that. Because they think that by fighting they will be persecuted more. By fighting the persecution comes down. It is okay they do not want to talk about Kashmir, but they do not want to talk about themselves. So, we do not expect much from them. Also, I think, may be the history of riots in India has been a reason for their silence. They do not need to support Kashmir but they do not need to be apologetic about Kashmir. We do not need any legitimacy from Indian Muslims. But they can take a position that the government of India should negotiate with Kashmiris, and that is something that is happening in the Southern India. South India, in the last year, at least a lot of Muslim organisations did protest compared to that of North India. We are hopeful.

Dalits are having an increasingly assertive position and they are fighting for their lives. But Muslims are not doing that.

DC: Do you see reservation for Kashmiri students in Educational institutions as part of India’s appropriation project and how do Kashmiri students respond to this?

KP: If you look at 100 years ago, in Kashmir, Muslims were persecuted and things were very bad. We have this local saying that, persecution was such that in every family there was only one trouser for people to go out and that was the level of poverty in Kashmir. So, at that time priorities were different because vulnerabilities were different. So, in 50s, the priority was to take what Sheikh Abdulla was able to get. For example, this transfer of lands to the farmers. India used this process to delay the giving of right to self-determination. Because Kashmiris at that point of time, chose land, because vulnerability level was very high. So, these children who are choosing admission in different colleges, because of this vulnerability in Kashmir that there are very limited opportunities available, limited colleges, limited job opportunities. So, people had to go out and do something on their own. This also came as a benefit of the resistance. In 2010, because of huge protests, government of India, created a policy Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme. And through that, in 2011, they started giving admissions to Kashmiri students across India. Every year around 4000 students are going to different colleges in India. But India is India. And the level of prejudice against Muslims is high, and the level of prejudice against Kashmiri Muslims are doubly high. So, our children, when they came to study India, they face this reality, Indians have not been able to hide their prejudice. They attacked Kashmiris at different places, for cricket matches and for every smallest little thing. I remember, in Bangalore many years ago when I was there, we were told that Kashmiris do not very easily get accommodation. And the reason is that a lot of people say that Kashmiris are very flirtatious. How could this generalisation be there? Kashmiris are very smart and they very easily get girls from the Bangalore community and all. Nonsense like this! This kind of nonsense is being propagated. What do you think would be the reaction of Kashmiri students? How would they feel integrated? They did not. Students who came to India, even before this scholarship scheme, all have become more politically radical against India. So more educated and more radical. Less educated are less radical. But those who got education in India are far more radical than anyone. Courtesy to the discriminatory caste based class-based Indian society. Kashmiris saw the real India.

DC: As far as Kashmiris are concerned, which movement in India is an ally of Kashmiris? Is there a possibility of alliance and dialogue?

KP: There is possibility of solidarity and support with everyone, including the left who do not necessarily believe in secession but despite that there is scope of engagements with them. Because they at least condemn the violence and the conduct of the Indian state in Jammu and Kashmir. About these Dalit groups in India, in the past actually, in the 50s and 60s, there was a lot of cooperation and lots of discussion, between TN leadership and Sheikh Abdulla then. With time, it has gone down and diluted. But there were attempts, that tried to speak, and there is openness from Kashmir to collaborate with Dalit groups. With Nagas, Kashmiris do have a dialogue going on. Sharing of information is happening. Even with Gandhian movement since they condemn the violence. That conversations are happening, but partnerships, not yet, alliance, not yet. I see difficulty in alliance with people who are Indians, who do not question or believe in questioning the nationalistic identity. It is hard because Kashmiris refuse to actually call themselves Indians. And it will be difficult for groups from India to openly support Kashmir unless they have questioned nationality. They are going to be challenged here. The way nationality in India has been discussed, it is very complicated. It is very Hinduised way of representing nationality. It is hard, even for Dalits, to openly come out and support the freedom struggle of Kashmiris.

I see difficulty in alliance with people who are Indians, who do not question or believe in questioning the nationalistic identity.

DC: Kashmir is usually cited as the contradiction to Indian nationalism in liberal academic contexts. Would the narrative of other contradictions be of any help to Kashmir?

KP: Kashmiris have used all this narrative internationally. To expose the contradictions of Indian nationhood, how weak this country is. And I think Modi is helping all us, because the way he positions the nationality of India, is a very restrictive and regressive kind of idea. They are quite honest in their dishonest policy. The arrival of Modi, and the man in line Adithyanath, I think creates an opportunity for all marginal groups to come together and expose all these contradictions. I hope that all of us will use this opportunity.

DC: Stalin had recently warned the centre that if they continue to do this, regarding the Beef ban and such issues, there would be a war of independence.

KP: Will Stalin be able stop it otherwise?

DC: So, do you think Modi-like-persons can ignite secession movements in other parts of India?

KP: I think, the more Kashmiri struggle gets visibility in India, more people in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and North-eastern India-in all these places questions will be asked. Also, their own nationality and sub-nationality questions will emerge. This is going to happen because of the more visibility of the Kashmiri movement in Indian media.  So, I think irrespective of Stalin saying that it will start, I think it has already been started. So, people are back to square one and are grappling with the reality, they are asking “who are we actually?” But there is of course, the other middle class here, which think of Modi as a saving power, as a Hindu masculine man. But I think, there are contradictions between what India is here [what it is in southern parts of India], it is bound to grow. They cannot control people on the basis of a faith in which there is no equality. They have scared Hindus of Assam about Muslims. And they have that scare to win elections. But they can not fool people always. The contradictions of this Brahmanical government, whether it was in the soft form in Congress or whether very brazen way by BJP, I do not think they will always be able to camouflage themselves. The truth about India is going to be known to people. People in India, after 70 years of independence, are still struggling to get clean glass of water, against homelessness, for food. 7000 people die every day of hunger. And India spends more than 20% of its annual budget in defence, most of which goes to Kashmir. Human rights violation which has been perpetrated on the people of Kashmir, there are invisible human right violation for the people of India. How many people die every day because of hunger? Why would this money be spent on Kashmir when people of Kashmir have refused to integrate themselves to, refuse to call themselves as Indians for 70 years? And those people who are happy to call themselves as Indians, what did they get? You have farmers committing suicide. Things will become worse. Modi had promised Acche Din but things are becoming bad. How are they going to address these issues of people? What Stalin had said, I think, whether or not he chooses to lead that, people will do that. At some point of time.

Khurram Parvez, is a prominent Kashmiri human rights activist. He is the Chairperson of Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) and Program Coordinator of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS). Khurram is a recipient of the 2006 Reebok Human Rights Award.

Interview: Shahal B, Transcription: Shahal B