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Published in the 16-29 Feb 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Kashmiris: a question of identity
By Mukundan C Menon

"Kindly show us where we belong. Please return back to us our self-identity", this was the impassionate plea made by Chairperson of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), Yasin Malik, while answering questions at a Seminar, "Moving Towards Peace in Kashmir", at the World Social Forum, Mumbai, on January 20. 

"India describes J & K either as their own State or Pak-occupied Kashmir, while Pakistan terms it as "Azad" Kashmir or India-occupied Kashmir. The key to solve Kashmir problem is to tell us, the Kashmiris, what our identity is and where we should exist", this emotion-filled plea of Malik was received with applause by the packed audience in rapt attention who included notable personalities like writer Ms. Arundhati Roy. 

Yasin Malik at CHRO seminar 

The Seminar, organized by Confederation of Human Rights Organizations (CHRO), Keralam, was addressed by speakers from India and Pakistan who presented their respective views on the history and dispute of Kashmir, its resolution, and by dealing with topics like right of self-determination, the question of federalism or its absence in present-day India, conversion of Line of Control (LoC) into a permanent India-Pak border, the issue of Kashmiri Pandits, etc.

The notable speech was of the JKLF Chairman. His lengthy presentation was dealt with the genesis of armed struggle in Kashmir, his own bitter experiences both inside jails and interrogation centres, the deliberately adverse health inflicted upon him during years of incarceration, killing hundreds of his comrades after they surrendered arms in 1993, and his decision to launch a non-violent Gandhian movement in Kashmir after his release from jail in 1999 which he still continues.

The Indian Government, he said, is keen to have continued terrorism in J & K because they are afraid of a non-violent atmosphere. "The Government pushed Kashmiris into terrorism after they led non-violent agitation for four decades since India's independence. Without holding honest elections, artificial people's mandate was created and thrusted upon all through these years. The atrocities committed by security forces only helped to create more terrorists."
Recalling the horrible mass rape of 42 girls and women in Kupwara district in 1990 by security forces, Malik said : "Even the District Magistrate confirmed it. However, a team of intellectuals who came on a probing mission said that the incident was mere imagination of the victims. However, even after a decade now, nobody is willing to marry a girl from that village. I've little faith in such intellectuals."

Notably, Yasin Malik's presentation on peace in Kashmir in WSF was not totally in an atmosphere of peace, as it invited protests and interruptions from a handful of Kashmiri Pandits, including women, among the audience. They were, however, not the "Kashmiri refugees", but settled in Mumbai metropolis on employment. (One of them later told this correspondent that she stays at Colaba, Mumbai's foremost posh locality). The moment Malik rose to speak, one man under the influence of liquor shouted: "Kashmir is ours"!
Refusing to succumb to their emotional diatribe, Yasin Malik patiently advised the Kashmiri Pandits to return to the valley instead of remaining in Mumbai and Delhi at the mercy of the authorities. "They must return to the Valley by imbibing for themselves the spirit of Kashmiryat", he said and explained : "The foundation of Kashmiryat is not politics. It is based on the philosophy of one Hindu woman saint and a Muslim male saint. Our Kashmiri Pandit mothers, sisters and brothers must come back to their land. 

It is their land, too, upon which they have every right as we do have." Malik also said that this is the appropriate time for Kashmiri Muslims to play a constructive role so as to "collectively restore our own culture for which we are famous all over the world". 

Stressing that the aim of JKLF is the return of Kashmir Pandits and formation of a secular-democratic Kashmir, Yasin Malik said that the Valley is known for its traditional communal amity as the Kashmiri Muslims always respected Hindus. "Kashmir is the lone Muslim-majority province anywhere in the world where cow-slaughter was abolished. There is no Hindu household in about 50 kms radius of the foremost Hindu shrine, Amarnath, but only Muslims who are protecting and preserving it since long", he pointed out. Narrating his own personal experience, Malik recalled how a Kashmiri Pandit woman cried after seeing blood oozing out of his hand when he was administered drip at a hospital following his hunger-strike last year. 

At the conference, a Kashmiri Pandit lady wondered whether, instead of dividing Kashmir into Muslims and Hindus, anybody can speak about the Valley and peacefully sing a song. Readily agreeing, Yasin Malik sang a song: "Sailing on a sinking boat in the midst of the sea, I can safely reach my destination only if the whole world listens to my words of cries..." 

"The peace initiative in Kashmir can be completed only through Kashmir's Independence", Malik said in no uncertain terms. He challenged Prime Minister Vajpayee's Independence Day message from the Red Fort last year that the J & K elections had proved that majority of Kashmiris were happy to be with India. "Kashmiris have no role in Vajpayee-Musharaff talks. I myself collected 800,000 transparent signatures from just two districts of Kashmir demanding Kashmiri participation in any talks on its future. On the other hand, even according to the Election Commission, a total of 2,81,000 votes were cast for the ruling People's Democratic Party."

A week after the WSF Seminar, responding to J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's invitation to Vajpayee to contest the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls from Srinagar constituency, Yasin Malik challenged the Prime Minister to contest against him at Srinagar to test whether his Independence Day message was right or wrong.

In his speech, leading Pakistani peace activist and professor at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Dr. Parvez Hoodhbhoy, ardently stressed for lasting peace between India and Pakistan. "Let there be no more possibility of another war between us. We cannot afford to have it, because that will ruin both Pakistan and India". According to him, emotions on Kashmir needs to be cooled down. "Let us settle on the LoC, although it pains me to say that Kashmir has to be divided. But, since we cannot afford to have another war, let us have a soft border and live and learn to live as friendly people by recognizing our humanity."

Another notable Pakistani speaker Karamat Ali, director of Pak Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), Karachi, urged Pakistanis, Indians and Kashmiris to move beyond notions of nation-state and, instead, look to the future as South Asians. "Religious and national concepts are both dangerous, which brought us nothing but destruction and calamity. We must reject them. We must come out of the straightjacket", he stressed. According to Karmat Ali, all the governments in the sub-continent are failures since they function by surrendering to World Bank and IMF.

Other speakers were editor of Kashmir Times Ved Bhasin, activist and writer Balraj Puri, Associate Professor of JNU Dr Kamal Chenoy, and editorial adviser of Economic and Political Weekly Gautam Navlakha. Ms Akhila Raman of Kashmir-Forum, California, USA, chaired the Seminar, while Prof. P. Koya, Chairman of CHRO, delivered the welcome address.

Notably, the Seminar was held amidst threats from Hindutva Brigade which targeted against the organizing body, CHRO of Kerala, and its leaders terming all of them as "Anti-India and anti-national". Days before the Seminar, direct threats of "dire consequence" reached CHRO leaders, apart from loudly proclaiming it with hysterical war-cries in Also, articles and items from The Milli Gazette were lavishly quoted in support of their anti-national charges and claims against the CHRO leaders.

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