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Published in the 16-30 Apr 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

JKLF exhibits 1.5 million signatures to press self-determination case

By Zafarul-Islam Khan

The Milli Gazette Online 

New Delhi: Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) recently organised here an extraordinary exhibition in the history of the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination. Held at the Gandhi Peace Foundation premises in Delhi under the banner of "Voices for Peace, Voices for Freedom", the exhibition displayed 1.5 million signatures of Kashmiri people demanding self-determination. The signatures consumed one ton of paper. 

A host of prominent personalities, diplomats and intellectuals attended the exhibition which also exhibited 340-hour-long un-edited video tapes about detention and interrogation camps run by Indian forces at various locations in the Valley of Kashmir, around 5000 demonstrations in 5000 Kashmiri villages and coverage of the signature-gathering campaigns during the last few years as well as over 5,000 still photographs.

Booker Prizewinner Arundhati Roy said after visiting the exhibition, "People of Kashmir are sandwiched between security forces and militants. There are 800,000 Indian troops present in Kashmir. India doesnít need this huge presence of Army to flush a few thousand militants, but they have been sent to control the local population. These soldiers are occupation forces." Militancy was spreading across many parts of India, "primarily because of oppression," she said, adding that "Democracy means nothing for oppressed people."

Professor Kamal Mitra Chenoy of Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University attributed lack of democracy in Kashmir to the 57-year-old dispute. "Oppression of Kashmiris, use of force against civilians through unlawful acts is basically the reason which hits the idea of India. Those who oppress others canít live themselves free," Chenoy said. He critised the Indian media for its Kashmir reportage. 

Noted Gandhian leader Nirmala Desh Pandey, said while speaking during the exhibition: "This campaign has been done in true Gandhian way to demand your rights. It is a democratic exercise and it is the only way to achieve what you want to achieve. One of former Indian generals told me that non-violence is the biggest weapon. He told me that those who take up arms can be dealt with easily, but it is difficult to deal with people linked with non-violence movements," she said after inaugurating the exhibition. 

Indiaís former envoy to UK and noted journalist Kuldeep Nayar confessed that human rights violations have taken place in Kashmir. "There is no one," he said, "who can deny that human rights violations are happening in Kashmir. I met Yasin Malik first time when he was on fast unto death to protest against violations in Kashmir," Nayar recalled. "He wanted to meet me and when I enquired what he wanted, he replied Amnesty International team should be allowed to come to Kashmir." 

"And when I later went along with other colleagues to Kashmir," Nayar said, "we prepared a report which Pakistan later exploited in United Nations." 

Eminent columnist Praful Bidwai said "Weíve to innovate new methods to fight for justice and Yasin Malik has made an innovative and imaginative method." 

In his speech, JKLF chairman Yasin Malik said "Kashmir issue can be resolved only through genuine dialogue process between India, Pakistan and representatives of Kashmiris. Iím here with the mandate of trust and with message of peace," Malik said pointing to the signature campaign material. Malik termed it as the Kashmiri peopleís verdict for peace and inclusion in the India-Pakistan dialogue. 

Malik requested Indian intellectuals to support the voice of people for Kashmir. "You have to engage Kashmiri people in the peace process, if you want acceptable solution of Kashmir issue," he said. 

In 2002, MORI, a British agency, carried out a survey which established that Kashmiris were satisfied with Indian rule. Malik said that MORIís survey covered only a small number of Kashmiris and that his supporters had visited almost 5,000 villages over the last two years. "We have recorded the most transparent and democratic verdict by people and every form marks the identity of the person interviewed," claims Malik. "Every village told us a new story."

The signature campaign was organised by the JKLF chief Yasin Malik who abandoned armed struggle since 1994. Founded in 1965, the JKLF is the oldest Kashmiri secessionist movement. It was the first to raise arms against the Indian army and administration in Kahsmir. Since JKLF demands an independent Kashmir, even Pakistan opposes it on its side of Kashmir where the JKLF is headed by Amanullah Khan who fled from Britain in 1984 after the murder of the Indian diplomat Mahatre who was kidnapped by JKLF people in Birmingham. As a result, India promptly hanged JKLF founder Maqbool Butt who was at the time incarcerated in Tihar Jail near Delhi. Butt's grave still lies inside the jail boundaries amid Indian fears that if located outside it will become a popular rallying point for Kashmiris.

Yasin Malik, who has spent many years in Indian jails, says that despite renouncing armed struggle in 1994, Indian security forces have killed 600 members of his organisaiton since. He himself, Yasin claimed, was arrested 100 times during this period and was subjected to six murder attempts since. "Was Gandhi ever sent to interrogation centres by the British?" Malik asks, adding that it was "enough provocation for me to go underground again, "but despite of this we continued non-violent movement." He says that if Kashmiris are sidelined from the Indo-Pakistan peace process, Kashmir will witness more violence.

Launched in June 2003, the signature campaign was undertaken by the organisation demanding inclusion of Kashmiris in any future talks to resolve the Kashmir issue. 

The party also plans to organise such exhibitions in leading Indian universities, the US and Europe. Yasin Malik hopes to continue his efforts to cover the remaining parts of Kashmir and collect more signatures to support JKLF case.

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