Why are people protesting in Kashmir

A Citizens’ Report on the Violations of Democratic Rights in the Kashmir Valley in 2016

12 May 2017: On 11 May 2017, a citizens’ report on the violations of democratic rights in Kashmir, titled ‘Why Are People Protesting in Kashmir?’ was released, followed by a panel discussion moderated by Gautam Mody of New Trade Union Initiative, and member of the citizens’ team that visited Kashmir, who also introduced the report and stressed its key demands. The panel included Indira Jaising, Senior Advocate and former Advocate General of India, Sanjay Kak, filmmaker and Kavita Krishnan of All India Progressive Women’s Association and also member of the citizens’ team that visited Kashmir. The gathering was further addressed by Rajendra Ravi of National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements and Ashok Choudhary of All India Union of Forest Working People as well as well-known human rights defender from Kashmir, Khurram Parvez, who was arrested late last year under the draconian Public Safety Act for a period of over 2 months.

The report is the result of an effort, part of which twenty-five citizens of India visited Kashmir in November last year to document first-hand the situation that emerged in the summer of 2016, during the protracted civilian protests that followed the killing of three Hizbul Mujahideen commanders, Burhan Wani, Sartaj Sheikh and Pervaiz Lashkari on July 8, 2016 by the Indian Army and Jammu & Kashmir Police. The killings was followed by a cycle of public protests and demonstrations to be met with violence and repression by state forces, which claimed the lives of 102 unarmed civilians, injured 15000 in pellet firing and shelling, and resulted in the indiscriminate arrest of hundreds, many on false charges.

Nearly a year later, in 2017, little has changed. After the winter lull, the Kashmir Valley has erupted, once again, in what appears to be another popular uprising. In the face of a ‘muscular policy’ prescribed by the central government, Kashmiris have picked up stones, cameras and computers to document and protest state violence. This condition of volatility serves to reproduce a gruesome cycle of violence, of which the instance of the blatant and humiliating use of a human shield in the form of Kashmiri civilian tied to an Army jeep, the killing of nine civilians on the day of by-poll elections on 9 April 2017, and the most recent killing of Lt. Ummer Fayaz are all a part.

Importantly, it is the role of the State to ensure that the current atmosphere which appears to be breeding oneupmanship and revenge, leading to a spiral of abductions and killings, is put an end to and attempts to a political resolution to the situation sought. This is necessary to save precious lives and to uphold the democracy that India claims it is. As Kashmir continues to be caught in a cycle of violence and protests, for the past year, the discourse of a section of the mainstream, including the media, on Kashmir has been provocative, seeking to demonize Kashmiri protestors, dispel any urge to understand and address the issues framing the conflict, and justify the severest repression and humiliation of Kashmir’s civilians.

The report is a report of conversations, interviews and discussions this team had, with ordinary people of Kashmir, whose lives have been disrupted, who have lost members of their families to pellet, bullets, PAVA and the PSA, and whose democratic rights have been clamped down.

These citizens, who represent social movements, human rights organisations, peoples’ groups and trade unions, have spoken with lawyers, trading and business communities, state government employees and their unions, members of student unions, human right defenders, political organisations and parties, social welfare organisations, doctors and paramedics, scholars and journalists. This report is a conversation between a citizen of India and a protester in Kashmir, attempting to answer – why are people protesting in Kashmir? The report stresses the need to recognize the Kashmir conflict as a political issue and find democratic, political means to address it.

On the occasion of the release, Gautam Mody emphasized the extent of violations of every single kind of protection one may find in International Human Rights Conventions as well as in the Indian Constitution in the Kashmir valley. He went to reflect the overall sentiment of the widely diverse group to state, ‘we were, as many of you would note, a very mixed group, from a variety of organisations, with very different political backgrounds, but collectively we recognised that there is a popular upsurge, there is a strong movement on the ground, and a democratic system must have a means to address that’. Kavita Krishnan spoke on the need to listen to what Kashmiris have to say while recognise the complexity of the context: ‘We need to ask what is it that the people of Kashmir are asking and hear their demand for self-determination, listen to the historical nature of this conflict and hear the many takes on the shape and form of self-determination being articulated. But for that we will have to listen to them and reject all the propaganda that is fed to us, to ask, what is it that they are demanding?’

Sanjay kak, in responding to and commenting on the report noted the historical sense of betrayal felt by Kashmiris towards Indian civil society for turning their backs on them, and called out to Indians to speak out on Kashmir for the dangerous consequences it holds for Indians: ‘Indians must reflect on Kashmir and think about it for their own sake, because there goes the future of many other parts of India. You cannot allow the use of a gangrenous way of governing a state and believe that that gangrene is going to stop at the Pir Panjal and it’s not going to cross over.’ Indira Jaising pointed out to the importance and relevance of using International Conventions and the Indian Constitution as benchmarks for assessing the condition of democracy in a land, noting at the same time nature of violations of each of these benchmarks in the context of Kashmir. She further pointed out to the existence of International Conventions that India is a signatory to that recognise the Right to Self-Determination.

Khurram Parvez pointed out for the need for Indians to recognise the Kashmiri demand for self-determination and Independence, echoing the sense of betrayal Indian civil society on this count in the past. He spoke of leading voices from this section that persuaded leaders in Kashmir to talk, but while setting aside the demand for azaadi. ‘Why do we have to talk, if it’s not for azaadi’, he asked.

The event ended with a brief round of interaction with the audience and the press.

Read the full report Why are people protesting in Kashmir?