On the day of Khurram Parvez’s arrest on September 16 and minutes before he was taken to police control room for a medical check up, he spoke to me briefly for two minutes. His words were brief too. “You have to be brave,” he said to me. His voice, like always – as it sounds to me – was reassuring and spirited. In these years that I have known him, first from distance as a young journalist visiting Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) office for stories and attending their report release events and now as a colleague at the same office – Khurram’s spirit is constant and contagious. If not for his unwavering spirit in the face of this great challenge, we could not have fought his unlawful arrest the way we have.
Khurram’s arrest has come at a time when state violence against civilians in Kashmir is at its most atrocious scale; more than 95 people have been shot dead and over 15000 are injured; not to speak of the crackdown on people in which thousands have been arrested in administrative ‘illegal’ detentions. Khurram hadn’t remained silent during all this. He had criticized, as he has courageously done before – the current spate of violence of the state and repeatedly said that it’s not new, the pattern is all too familiar for Kashmiris. In his criticism of the state violence and the narratives which support that violence – Khurram had vociferously demanded that the ‘Indian state should end violence in Kashmir by ending its intransigence’. This was in reaction to the statements made by pro-India politicians in Kashmir appealing people of Kashmir for maintaining peace.
The arrest of Khurram under the draconian Public Safety Act shows the extent to which the state can go in Kashmir to repress people. In his work at JKCCS, Khurram had established exactly that; the systematic repression of Indian state against Kashmiris and people’s resistance to this violence.
The arrest of a prominent human rights defender of Kashmir under Public Safety Act also serves the purposes of deterrence for the state; it sends the signal to those who have been dissenting with the violence of the state that State can act against anyone in Kashmir. It creates an atmosphere of fear and fear often always works in the favour of state. Although Khurram’s arrest has seen an international campaign demanding his immediate release, the campaign in Kashmir hasn’t moved at the same pace. The local campaign for his release is limited to the JKCCS and in fewer and fewer columns of newspapers. There are no protests and demonstrations demanding his release. It’s a sign that fear is working. The state has arrested a human rights defender who all his life has been exposing it’s violence and contradictions and that too fearlessly – Khurram hasn’t been arrested before, and by arresting Khurram the state has successfully made its intention known. The neutralization of others will happen on its own. The state doesn’t need to act.
Obviously, the charges brought against Khurram in the PSA order are false and mindless. Khurram’s name doesn’t figure in a single FIR among the four the police has attached in the PSA dossier. The charge of ‘incitement of violence’ against Khurram is similar in nature as the ban order on Kashmir Reader newspaper. It’s without any evidence and lacks the legal merit of ever standing up to trail. But in intent, the arrest of Khurram and the ban on Kashmir Reader are aimed to silence the voice of people. The state in Kashmir wants to leave no traces of its violence against people: no newspaper to report it and no human rights defenders to bring it to accountability.
The arrest of Khurram is both shocking and revelatory. His arrest exposes the state of its carefully manufactured ‘democratic credentials’ and validates the work Khurram has been doing for several decades: that the Indian state is the perpetrator of violence and repression against people of Kashmir. With Khurram’s arrest, those voicing the demand of holding state accountable for its atrocities in Kashmir should only grow louder and stronger.
Often in office, when situation looks bleak – the thought of how Khurram would have liked us to respond to this challenge helps us go forward with our work; which is to keep documenting the violence of state in Kashmir. Khurram believes in the principle of fighting the violence of state with knowledge and truth. His dedication to this principle has made possible the work JKCCS has done over past several years.
The kind of work Khurram and JKCCS has done has helped in creating a coherent understanding of the military occupation that Kashmir is under: its structure, its systematic violence, its logic and its purposes. It has made possible that discussion on human rights abuses in Kashmir doesn’t just revolve around the violence of the state as an aberration in its rule but something more fundamental: violence which is the essence of the state’s control over Kashmir. When violence is at the core of State’s rule in Kashmir, it’s by exposing this violence that demands for right to self determination become in sync with demands for human rights. After all, right to self determination is also a basic fundamental human right. The work JKCCS has done, notwithstanding the lame criticism it receives for its human rights work, is an outstanding contribution to creating a knowledge base for the abuses of Indian state in Kashmir. As Khurram has said it before, “The only way we can fight state is by non-violent means of knowledge and speaking truth.”