The state came under `democratic’ rule in October 1947 but democracy was never allowed to flourish. While Hari Singh refrained from introducing preventive detention laws, the ‘democratic’ rulers immediately ‘hired’ Defense of India Rules to detain people. Political workers professing a different ideology were exiled, tortured, humiliated and even killed. Interestingly, nobody was killed in a fake encounter during Hari Singh’s regime, no body disappeared after arrest and the Maharaja made it a point to implement court orders in letter and spirit.
In 1924, when the Viceroy of India, Lord Reading, visited Kashmir Saad-ud-Din Shawl submitted a memorandum seeking measures to put an end to the woes of Kashmiris. The authorities somehow came to know about the memorandum. Shawl and Khawaja Noor Shah Naqashbandi, who was a Tehsildar were exiled.
Shawl did not remain silent during his exile and worked hard to muster support for the Kashmir cause. He remained in constant touch with Dr Sir Muhammad Iqbal, Mian Amir-ud-Din and others. For hours together they would discuss plans to liberate Kashmiris from the clutches of the Dogra rule. He would address gatherings at Lahore and Peshawar to tell the outside world of the developments in Kashmir.
Saad-ud-Din’s activities gained momentum forcing Maharaja Hari Singh, who had ascended the throne following the death of Partap Singh, to revoke the exile order. The exiled duo returned to Kashmir in 1927.
The popular government on the other hand exiled thousands of political workers. Most of them could not return to their native places till date. Prominent among them include Chowdhury Abbas, Allah Rakha Sagar, Muhammad Yusuf Qureshi, GN Gilkar and Agha Showkat Ali.
The democratically elected governments at New Delhi and Srinagar ignored as many as 20,000 appeals from different groups seeking a probe by Amnesty International in Jammu Kashmir. The much awaited visit commenced from May 17 last year. And, when did New Delhi allow the Amnesty team to visit Kashmir? There is no denying the fact that AI has expressed concern over rights abuses in Kashmir. It has also sought repeal of laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Disturbed Area Act and Public Safety Act (PSA). In its 2004 report, the AI went to the extent of saying that laws like AFSPA and Disturbed Area Act instigate and encourage fake encounters, custodial killings and enforced disappearances. But of late, the AI’s interest in Kashmir has diminished. There was a time when AI issued its statements on Kashmir from London headquarters. Now all such statements are issued from Amnesty’s New Delhi office. Valley based human rights defenders perceive it as a major shift in AI policy. Quoting ‘informed sources’ they say the AI is greatly influenced by New Delhi.
The people of Kashmir especially the relatives of the disappeared persons have repeatedly urged the government to constitute a commission to probe all disappearances. The demand has been ignored till date. On the contrary the government has been giving conflicting statements to create confusion. The government has been selective in announcing probes. Chittisingpora massacre of 35 Kashmiris was not probed. Similarly other major massacres were not probed. Zahid Farooq’s killing was probed but Wamiq’s killing was ignored.
Mahaja Hari Singh had the gut to allow a fundamentalist group like Majlis-e-Ahrar to probe July 13 massacre. It took the ‘autocratic’ Maharaja less than two months to allow Ahrar team to visit Kashmir. The state government also took two decades to constitute a commission of enquiry. And, when it has finally been constituted it has limited mandate. It has to probe recent civilian killings only.
The Majlis-e-Ahrar was considered a fundamentalist group even in Kashmir. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah did not like them and in his statement issued from jail flayed their involvement in Kashmir affairs. According to Shabnam Qayoom, Sheikh Abdullah had a truck with the Maharaja’s men and the statement was issued at their behest. (Siyasi Inqilaab, Vol I).
Meanwhile in Kashmir, the government and local leaders reached an agreement. They were released and urged not to meet the Ahrar team during its stay in Kashmir. And that is exactly what happened. The Prime Minister no doubt tried to sabotage the probe and even succeeded in it. But, can anybody deny credit to Maharaja for allowing a ‘fundamentalist group’ to probe an incident in his territory?
And last but not the least, Hari Singh always respected judiciary. All political prisoners would be produced in courts on time. The bail and release orders were strictly implemented. He never resorted to extra-judicial means to safeguard his interests.
Hari Singh, therefore, has the distinction of being more democratic and transparent than the rulers who do democracy a favour every five or six years by taking people to polling booths through coaxing, cajoling and at times by intimidation.