I do not know, if I am the right person to talk on a subject that otherwise is domain of ‘intellectuals’. Those in the words of JKLF leader Mohammad Yasin Malik are supposed to ‘provide voice to the voiceless and place truth before the people’. Looking inwards, I do not fall in the category of ‘intellectuals’ as defined years back by two important contemporary international scholars Noam Chomsky and Edward Said.
The role of intellectuals in contemporary Kashmir came under discussion at a seminar on “Prisoners of Kashmir and our responsibilities” organized by JKLF in remembrance of Dr. Abdul Ahad Wani the slain Professor of International Law of Kashmir University. The immediate cause for the seminar on prisoners was awarding life imprisonment to two JKLF activists, Nazir Ahmad Sheikh and Showkat Ahmad Khan by the TADA Court.
Leading lights of Kashmir from historian Dr. Sheikh Muhammad Iqbal to top Kashmiri poet Rehman Rahi were amongst the speakers. It was, undoubtedly, a class of litterateurs on the dais and in the audience, some of them having received highest awards in literature and poetry but in strict sense there was no intellectuals like Franz Fanon, Jean Paul Sartre or Eqbal Ahmed who are remembered for raising their voice against denial of freedom to Algeria. Still, getting such a motley group of historians, poets, writers, medicos and professionals with varied interests and beliefs under one umbrella to talk about prisoners in the jails and speak about awarding of life imprisonments to some activists of JKLF and other organizations was an achievement for the organizers. In his speech at the seminar JKLF leader made some important points:
1. Kashmir struggle feels orphaned now.
2. The discourse set by the movement has been shifted towards good governance.
3. An impression is going to New Delhi that Kashmiri have psychologically accepted defeat.
4. Role and engagement of the Indian civil society with JKLF in 1994 and awarding of life imprisonment to its activists?
The points raised at the seminar are largely a statement of facts. Notwithstanding every point in itself demanding an in-depth analysis but at the same time, these are no jigsaw puzzle. In fact, the process that led to this situation or state of affairs started much earlier. Some see seeds of dissension in the very birth of the multi-party combine and its document of compromise but the vertical division in the multiparty combine in 2002 was it louder manifestation. Historically, schism in the ranks of the leaders’ right from 1933 has taken a toll of the people’s struggle and hugely contributed to their miseries. Having suffered one after another setback, in the post 1993 scenario it was believed that leadership would draw lessons from the past mistakes and lead to the logical end. Nevertheless, there seems no light across the dark tunnel- it is on only historical forces that often operate in such bizarre situations and throw up situation that enables nations to achieve their goals.
Of all the points raised by Mr. Malik, the most important that calls for immediate attention and is likely to dominate the political discourse during coming months is awarding of life imprisonment to some of activists of JKLF and other parties. Reminiscent of the 1965 movement of courting arrest (civil disobedience) for right to self-determination led by Molvi Syed, the JKLF also courted arrest in supporting of its demand of withdrawing punishment against its members. In the life imprisonment given to his party cadres, he feels that some senior members of Indian civil society have betrayed him.
In 1994, at the persuasion of some senior civil society members the JKLF announced unilateral ceasefire and switched over to nonviolent political movement- as was led by Gandhi against British. The decision for dropping of guns was perhaps taken with tacit understanding that the cadres of JKLF will not be persecuted and killed. Those in jails would be released and cases against them would be withdrawn. They will be allowed to breathe freely as political workers. True, as a follow up some of its members were released on bail but their cases were not withdrawn as should have happened.
For understanding, why New Delhi, engaged civil society vigorously during 1993 and 1994 in Kashmir calls for recalling of developments at the international level regarding Kashmir during these years. And how these developments had made New Delhi to look at softer options Pran Chopra writes it, ‘India did not want to partake of any sophistry or naïve diplomatic inventiveness whether American or others.’ Moreover, it was during this period when hints were dropped about ‘porous border’ and ‘joint management’ as an alternative solution. There were reports that behind the scene the GoI had engaged with Kashmir leaders in jails and outside to see end of ‘insurgency’ in the state. However it were members of the civil society that were the front runners. It is also important to understand, if the civil society was working independent of the government in New Delhi or it was working as its softer face to see end of the “guerilla warfare in the state”. Ostensibly, most of the civil society members from Prof. Khusroo to Kuldip Nayar that visited Kashmir during nineties had a brief from the GoI- the brief was simple to see end to what was termed as armed insurgency.
In his autobiography Kuldip Nayar writes how he was roped in Kashmir by Narasimha Rao and takes credit for convincing Malik about the “futility of using arms”. (Beyond the lines (pages 343-344). In lieu of ceasefire, there was no formal agreement between Indian civil society and JKLF but apparently there “was tacit agreement that all cases registered before 1994 against JKLF activists would be withdrawn”. Nor there was any kind announcement by the government assuring safety to the cadres of the organization in recognition of verbal agreement between leader of the party and the civil society. The JKLF leader reposed complete faith in Indian civil society more particularly in Kuldip Nayar to quote him about Malik saying to him “aap ki zaat mein mujhe yakin hai.’
The trust was immediately breached as Sumantra Bose writes in Kashmir Roots of Conflict, ‘Malik was not successful in persevering what had remained of JKLF’, and after ceasefire, three hundred activists of the group were killed. Quoting Malik he writes, “that since mid-1994 he had lost almost hundred activists to continuing Indian operations.’ (page 130). The fact remains that despite provocations the JKLF abided by its decision and adhered to non-violence- that graduated to a level during 2008.
If there was a tacit understanding or a verbal agreement between JKLF leader and the Indian Civil society, it’s moral obligation (of the civil society) to see the government respecting its agreement