BHARAT BHUSHAN, The Telegraph ,7 Feb 2007
Srinagar, Feb. 6: Has Kashmir become a blind spot for Indian human rights activists and the media?
Kashmiri civil society activists certainly believe so. The serial killings in Noida, near Delhi, they point out, occupied the nation’s attention for days on end. But Indian civil society and media did not get agitated in the same way with the exhumation of bodies of innocents killed by the security forces in Kashmir.
“The Indian civil society seems to have written off Kashmir and Kashmiris. In the 1990s, human rights activists used to come here. But now hardly anyone comes,” laments Pervez Imroz, a lawyer and head of J&K Coalition of Civil Society.
Khurram Pervez, a human rights activist, who lost a leg while on election observation duty in the last Assembly election, also feels the same way. “Indian civil society activists are very clear about opposing communalism. They showed their power of lobbying with the media during and after the Gujarat riots. But when it comes to Kashmir, they don’t mobilise public opinion in the same way. They talk of minority issues (Kashmiri Pundits) but ignore custodial deaths and disappearances,” he points out.
Imroz believes that several factors have contributed to this. “It could well be that India’s many problems engage their attention. But I think everyone in India is under the influence of ultra-nationalism. The Indian media indulges in self-censorship and does not do anything to harm the army’s image. What is surprising, however, is that they find time to make strong statements about Iraq but completely ignore developments in their own backyard in Kashmir,” he points out.
He says about 10,000 Kashmiris have disappeared, about 70,000 killed in the conflict and there are about 2.5 lakh torture victims. “A large number of youngsters have been rendered impotent because of torture. Even after the introduction of several confidence-building measures between India and Pakistan, the ground situation has not changed. The security forces operate with the same impunity as earlier,” Imroz claims.
“Indian commentators wax eloquent about everything on TV but when it comes to Kashmir they all talk of ‘valiant Indian soldiers’. Why is that on Kashmir everyone follows the state’s line of curbing militancy with its full might? Why do we have to be Indian first before human rights violations in Kashmir are addressed?” asks Khurram.
Imroz argues that while the government is expected to support the army, it is the civil society which can hold it accountable. “In the present situation, there is no Indian civil society engagement here, Kashmiri civil society has not come up and the international community has disengaged itself,” he points out.
Imroz says that respecting human rights also concerns Kashmir’s future. “We see it as an investment in the future of Kashmir. We want to build institutions to protect democracy and dissent to ensure that our future is not worse than our present,” he says.
He claims that attempts to build alliances with human rights organisation in the rest of India have been relatively less successful than with the European civil society organisations.
Khurram points out that in the 1990s no one had invited Indian human rights activists to come to Kashmir but yet they came on their own. “But we still appeal to the Indian civil society organisations to come here and see for themselves what is happening here. At least they should take note of the crimes against humanity taking place here,” he argues.
However, Imroz seems sceptical when he says: “I feel about Indian civil society what Leo Tolstoy said about the man who sat on another’s back, choking him and forcing him to carry him — yet he assures himself and others that he feels sorry for him and wants to lessen his burden by all means except getting off his back. I don’t want to name such people in Indian civil society but they are there.”