How India Alienated Kashmir

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Aijaz Zaka Syed, Arab News

Kashmir_mapAN unjust law is no law, warned Martin Luther King, the celebrated US human rights icon. The Kashmiris have been living with such laws for decades. At least one in every five Kashmiris has at some point or another in his/her life suffered violence, humiliation, torture and old-fashioned abuse at the hands of security forces without any recourse to justice or a distant promise of retribution.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has been a license to abuse, torture and kill the Kashmiris in their own land. A law that confers “special powers” on men in uniform to do as they please and get away with it; a law that the UN says violates “contemporary international human rights standards” and a law that cannot be challenged in any court of law no matter how grave the crime.  

Following the division of the subcontinent in 1947 when India and Pakistan actively courted the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, it was promised a “special status” and special treatment by New Delhi. The Article 370 of Indian Constitution was supposed to protect that “special status” of Kashmir.  We made a lot of other promises as well that are too familiar to revisit here.      

And we have ensured and protected that “special status” of Kashmir by gifting them the AFSPA that offers sweeping powers to the security forces while ensuring their total immunity. This special law has turned the Vale of Kashmir that the Moguls believed was paradise on earth into a beautiful hell.

Is it any wonder then the Kashmiris today find themselves hopelessly alienated and persecuted even as our politicians never tire of pronouncing the state an “integral and inseparable” part of India?
How did we end up here? Who lost the paradise? The answer is out there and everyone knows it. In our desperation and determination to keep Kashmir with us and away from our neighbor, we have ended up losing the Kashmiri people.

Of course, the role played by Pakistani agencies, not to mention groups such as the one led by Hafiz Saeed, who have made a business enterprise of jihad, in adding to the woes of Kashmiris isn’t in anyway insignificant.

But if an entire generation of Kashmiris has grown up loathing all things Indian it is because of the excessive presence of the security forces in the Valley and their heavy-handed approach to the local population. And if there is one thing that epitomizes all that has gone wrong with India’s Kashmir affair, it is the AFSPA. This black law has created a dangerous, ever deepening disconnect and gulf between the Kashmiris and the rest of India. A draconian law that belongs in a police state, not in the world’s largest democracy.

Thanks to these “special powers”, just about anybody could be picked up from anywhere any time, kicked, abused, raped, killed in broad daylight or simply disappeared and no one including the state government can do anything about it.

Security forces are a law unto themselves. And you see their power in full display all across the state including in capital Srinagar. There are more soldiers than tourists or even locals constantly reminding the Kashmiris of the original sin of being born in this land of incredible beauty. Peaceful protests last year saw scores of young people, some of them as young as nine, felled by the bullets of the forces that are supposed to protect them. In the course of fighting terrorists and cross-border infiltrators, we have turned this beautiful land into a permanent war zone and its proud people a hostage in this never-ending conflict with the neighbor. This war has claimed more than a hundred thousand Kashmiris over the past two decades, not to mention the tens of thousands who have gone “missing.”

If the 2,730 unmarked mass graves recently discovered across the state had been found elsewhere they could have shaken the world, as they did in Srebrenica, in Iraq and Rwanda. But they were met with stony silence in the ever-shrill Indian media and its self-righteous Western counterparts.

Human rights groups including the State Human Rights Commission that finally acted on the complaints of thousands of families of “disappeared persons” unearthing graves with hundreds of bullet riddled bodies fear this may be a tip of the iceberg. The dead in Kashmir have finally begun to speak up, as Arundhati Roy so evocatively puts it.  But justice may still elude the victims as long as the AFSPA reigns in Jammu and Kashmir.  And India’s powerful security and defense establishment, including the army, are determined to retain it. And why wouldn’t they? It’s this law that allows the security forces to rule and treat Kashmir as their fiefdom without anyone, including the elected government, questioning their authority and excesses. Despite being a fine and vibrant democracy with robust democratic institutions and judiciary that we can justifiably be proud of, we are yet to realize that no people can be governed at gunpoint. Not in this age and time. Not with black laws like the AFSPA and not by constantly waving half a million guns that have contributed to the alienation of Kashmiri society and radicalization of its youth.  If India is to win Kashmiri hearts and minds, it could do so only with love, compassion, respect and justice.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Middle East-based commentator and can be reached at aijaz.syed@hotmail.com

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Salim Fights For Beard & Wins

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service, MMNS

NEW DELHI: Mohammed Salim, a class ten student must be fairly pleased at the apex court finally supporting his decision to keep a beard. He was expelled last year from Nirmala Convent High School, Vidisha district, Madhya Pradesh for refusing to shave on religious ground. Describing the school’s decision to expel him for sporting a beard as “ridiculous,” a bench of Justices B.N. Aggrawal and G.S. Singhvi said: “Merely because you have a beard, they removed you? So if you are a Sikh, you will not be able to sport a beard. Tomorrow they will say you are not fair complexioned. Nowadays, it has become a fashion for some people to pierce their ears for putting the ring. So such persons will not be allowed to study. Prima facie, it’s ridiculous,” (September 11).

Salim is probably not the only Muslim boy who has faced discrimination at a non-Muslim educational institution. But he is one of the few Muslims to have decided to fight legally for justice in keeping with the fundamental right and duty on religious grounds guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. A major point of his argument was that he was clearly being discriminated against as those belonging to the Sikh community were allowed to keep a beard and sport a turban. If they were being permitted to keep the beard and wear the turban in keeping with religious dictates of Sikhism, why was he–a Muslim-not allowed to sport a beard? Why had he been expelled for refusing to shave on religious grounds?

Supporting Salim’s argument, the apex court bench directed the school to immediately take back the expelled student. Though the verdict has finally gone in his favor, it has not been an easy fight for Salim. He has lost a year in the legal battle. His stand has been: “I will die but not give up my beard. It’s a matter of my faith. Its in my religion.” Now he can go back to school with a beard. Salim plans to resume studies at the same school after Eid.

The ironical twist in Salim’s case stands out in it having been rejected earlier by the apex court. He had appealed in the apex court after the Madhya Pradesh High Court had rejected his plea. Dismissing his petition, Justice Markandeya Katju had made a controversial comment, for which he later apologized. Implying that keeping a beard on religious grounds was equivalent to turning to extremism, Katju had then said: “Talibanization of the country cannot be permitted.” Stating that Salim was expected to follow rules and rights set by the institution, the bench had said: “If there are rules, you have to follow it. You can’t say that I will not wear a uniform and I will wear only a burqa.” “You can join some other institution if you do not want to observe the rules. But you can’t ask the school to change the rules for you,” Katju had said (March 30).

Objecting to Katju’s controversial comments and expressing apprehension over his impartiality, Salim filed a review petition. The order “needs to be reviewed afresh as the core issue of a Muslim’s right to sport a beard as guaranteed by Article 25 of the Constitution (right to practice and profess one’s religion) was violated by the school,” Salim said.

Justices R.V. Raveendran and Katju withdrew the March 30 order on July 6. They requested that the matter be placed before the Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and be posted before another bench. Katju also apologized for his remarks on linking the beard with Talibanization. Salim’s Special Leave Petition was taken up formally last week by bench of Justices Aggrawal and Singhvi.

Undeniably, credit must be given to Salim and those who have supported him for pursuing their point even after it seemed that the apex court had turned down their appeal. Senior advocate B.A. Khan, appearing for Salim, had argued that his expulsion from school for keeping beard was against “his religious conscience, belief and custom of his family.” As per Article 25 of the Constitution, Salim had the right to pursue his religious practice of keeping a beard, Khan said. He described the regulation for shaving it as violative of the provision guaranteed by the Constitution.

In addition to complimenting the apex court for finally viewing Salim’s case, objectively and impartially, appreciation must be voiced for him and his supporters for not letting their stand on religious right get defeated by those who linked a Muslim’s beard with terrorism. True, all Muslim and Sikh males do not sport beards. But the decision to do so is based on their religious perceptions. Certainly, this does not imply that anyone who keeps a beard should be viewed as a “terrorist.” After all, even British writer Salman Rushdie has a beard, so does the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Salim’s case serves as an eye-opener to another hard reality. It still remains a taxing task for ordinary, religious Indian Muslims to convince even the elite Indian class that it is time the latter stopped viewing their beliefs and practices (including the beard) with a tainted approach. What is held as religious should not from any angle be linked with terrorism!

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