Speaking at the Kashmir Peace Conference 2015, held in New York on 7 December, human rights activist, Khurram Parvez, convenor of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, focused on the context in which human rights abuses in the state of Jammu and Kashmir were perceived. ‘You cannot understand human rights if you don’t understand the context. Human rights abuses are taking place all around the world, in many places, including in India,’ he stated. ‘But the difference is these are happening because of aberrations, deficiencies in governance, and because people transgress the law. What is happening in Kashmir is not an aberration, it is part of an institutionalised policy of the Indian government.’
Highlighting the publication in September of the report of the International Peoples’ Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir and the Association of Disappeared Persons, Structures of Violence, The Indian State in Jammu and Kashmir, Parvez described how the report involved the documentation of 333 cases of human rights abuses which they had attempted to litigate in different courts. ‘Our argument is that if we don’t do it we will never be able to prove that human rights abuses are taking place.’ With information coming from both police and government sources, he emphasized that in the cases under review, including Kunan Poshpura in 1991 and the massacre of Sikhs on the eve of President Clinton’s visit to India in March 2000, there were 972 alleged perpetrators. ‘In all these cases we have gone to the courts and tried our best to find justice within the Indian system.’ But, he said, they were not able to get justice. ‘People were being engaged in the process but justice was not being delivered.’ At least, he said, the Indian government admitted the incidents had taken place. ‘They are not my figures but have been provided to us by the government.’
‘We tried to examine why no one has been prosecuted,’ he continued. ‘We found out that it requires a sanction to prosecute anyone from the Armed Forces and that sanction has not been given in a single case.’ Furthermore, Parvez emphasized that the cases they had reviewed were not the only cases. ‘There are thousands of others. Filing a First Information Report (FIR) is a big task in itself, it can take 1-2 years to get the police to register a complaint, so you can imagine how difficult it is for people to fight for justice. Then there is a phase of investigation and sometimes the charge sheets have not been honoured. This is especially true in circumstances where the army feels itself above the law’. Repression and cover-up has become institutionalised, he said. In terms of delivering justice, he emphasised that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has ‘has become a stumbling act. It has to go.’
Parvez also explained that one of the main reasons relating to disappearances was the monetary incentive for killing a ‘militant’ in Kashmir. ‘If you want to make money you have to kill a militant.’ According to government figures, there are only 150 militants left in Jammu and Kashmir and so invariably those killed were claimed to be unidentified foreign militants. But he asked, ‘how do you know the nationality of people if they are unidentified?’
Turning to discuss the role of the international community, he related how previously it had used human rights abuses to push India towards dialogue. But, he said, the Indian government views dialogue as an ‘end in itself’ and the rights of the people cannot wait for the resolution of the dispute. ‘We are being held hostage for even our basic needs. Even when dialogue is taking place, human rights are being abused. We accept that the Indian government needs some time for resolution but that does not mean the rights of the people should be suspended. We believe there has to be a process, now in Kashmir, for improving human rights abuses on the pattern of special procedures. If it was done for Sri Lanka and Rwanda why not for Kashmir?’
‘Human rights are a world problem,’ Parvez continued. ‘They are not an internal matter. We have seen the transformation of the movement from violence to non violence.’ But, he warned, there was a trend among young people again resorting to violence. ‘It is very sad for us, that young people should want to use violence. But the argument they use is that our voice does not reach anywhere.’ While India continues to ‘legitimise’ its presence, he pleaded for the international community, whose assistance to date had been ‘dismal’ and all the organisations working for Kashmir to bring pressure to lobby for a United Nations ‘probe’ on the situation in Kashmir. Without such intervention, he said, ‘we cannot proceed forward.’ Instead of working to resolve the issue, both the governments of India and Pakistan have used the situation in Kashmir for political rhetoric, side-lining the aspirations of the Kashmiris, whereas the inhabitants of the state ‘need a respectful and dignified place in the dialogue.’
When examining how to break the deadlock, Khurram Parvez said that he saw Kashmiris having ‘tremendous aspirations’ and involvement in the movement but they lacked a plan. ‘Because of the brutalisation and the conflict syndrome some of us have lost hope, we have started believing that azadi will never come. I think we need first to believe that it will come. The crimes that we have witnessed by the government are horrible but the worst crime would be when we lose hope. For deadlock to break there has to be synchronisation of the Kashmiri stakeholders.’ This did not necessarily mean unity as there would always be different stakeholders but that all efforts should be towards one goal.
Emphasising the diversity in the state, while opposing the hegemony of India, he warned about perpetuating the hegemony of a particular group in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. With the exception of a ‘handful, the Hindu community in Jammu do not identify with us at all.’ Jammu was never part of the valley, nor were Gilgit and Baltistan. Can we force them to live with us? Would they also not have the right to secede from Jammu and Kashmir territory?’ Reiterating that these were ‘very serious’ questions which needed to be asked, he concluded by stating that solutions would only come from the inhabitants of the state. ‘The best solution is when they sit together and see what do we have to offer each other. What could be the way forward in terms of governance. Do we have a plan? How will we be a state which is not exploiting the poor? We need to think about these issues very methodically in a detailed manner.’
The Kashmir Peace Conference was organized by International Education Development. Victoria Schofield is the author of Kashmir in the Crossfire and Kashmir in Conflict.