During this interview, professor SAR Geelani shared his thoughts on Kashmir’s freedom movement and on democracy in India to Keyboard Journal. This interview was done on October 5th 2019.
It has become more than two months after the centre abrogated article 370 and 35A and shut Kashmir in all ways. Kashmiri student community in India is also facing a crucial uncertain crisis. How do you look at this situation? Do you see any resistance coming up in India against this?
This is unprecedented crisis in Kashmir. Article 370 was the only link between India and Kashmir which the government chose to break themselves. Article 370 hollowed up the years; apart from being a façade it is nothing else. The government chose this time because they knew that the apple harvesting time is coming up and 70% of people are dependent upon them. Their livelihood is connected with the apple. In the harvesting season it is their livelihood, they have to come out from their houses for work, so that people will be compelled to come out, but people have resisted it. They have shown their resentment by a non-cooperation means with the government of India. People have shown it, let’s see with this abrogation people of Kashmir had been demanding their right to self determination which has nothing to do with article 370. Article 370 was a ploy for people who are pro India. With the abrogation of these articles the government of India completely eradicated the pro Indian groups. The way they had done it is demeaning people of Kashmir. It is humiliating to them. They have made it clear to the people of Kashmir that their future is not secure with India. It is a clear message to the people of Kashmir.
People of Kashmir are responding the way they should respond. They are responding. The state could not curb them with all might which they had, 10 lakh military over there. They couldn’t curb it. Unfortunately the BJP is getting away with all kinds of lies. The reasons which they were given for abrogating the article 370 is that Kashmir will prosper, there will be development. If you see development indicators, human development indicators Kashmir is far ahead of Gujarat also, Modi’s own, Amit Shah’s own Gujarat. Kashmir is far ahead of that. They had been lying to people. Kashmir had always been the victim of lies. It has been victim of falsehood of government of India. They are still going on with that falsehood. They are lying to their own people. I think for Kashmiris, for those who struggle for the right to self determination, those who struggle for their freedom, they have made their job easier. It is pro India camp which has been eradicated. But the way they have done it, they have violated their own constitution, they strangled the Indian constitution. Petitions on article 35 A and article 370 are laying in the Supreme Court. They have in a way bypassed their judicial system as well. If they were doing it, there are procedures which they have not followed. They haven’t talked to the people. This is bluntly scrambling all the democratic values.
Kashmiris knew Indian democracy; it is a façade, nothing else. There is no democracy. But now this question is for Indians, for people of India. Would they like to see India as a democratic country in future? If yes, it is an occasion for them to rise and call this bluff of the government and tell the world that this is undemocratic. Democracy doesn’t mean that somebody wins with a majority comes to the power. If that was the only criterion for a country to be democratic, for a person or a party to be democratic, how could Hitler a fascist come to power in the German parliament, he came up with a thumping majority, but we still call him ‘fascist’. What is the difference between what they are doing today, trampling human rights of people, and their whole politics is based on hatred. What is the difference between Hitler’s politics and their politics? If Hitler was called a fascist why not the BJP, why not the RSS, why not the dispensation in India which is right now? It is for the people of India to know that there is a fascist element in the power right now. They have to fight this fascism, it is for them to. Kashmiris will do, Kashmiris will fight, and they will fight it out. They know that their land is under occupation, they will get rid of this occupation, they will definitely get rid of it; they have been struggling for that.
The question mark is for Indians, they want to get rid of this fascism in their country or they want to see their country being turn into complete fascism. Over the last five, six years this has been happening. Lynchings are going on. Muslims are being lynched in the name of cow, in the name of beef, similarly Dalits are being lynched; the danger is that it has become socially acceptable in this country. There is no outrage. Society has accepted it. People of India say we are the largest democracy. In this democracy barbarians are killing people in the streets and that’s becoming acceptable. All innocents are now in jails. Professor Saibaba, accused in the Bhima Koregaon, Elgar Parishad case, so many people are put behind the bars, without any evidence against them. On the other hand there are people who have lynched people, with enough evidences of video footages. But they are still set free.
On the one hand you have people who are innocent behind the bars; the trial is not started for many, many years. They are just behind the bars, they are not getting bail. On the other hand you have Sadhvi Pragya Singh and the like; they are being honored, garlanded and given a seat in the parliament of India. People of India should understand where they are going, which direction this country is going. It should be a worry for them. We Kashmiris will fight it out. We know our land is under occupation, we will get rid of the occupation one day or the other. It should be a worry for people of India. They should not only pay the lip service, they should technically do something.
Whatever the protests are going on, more of them are there is no coordination kind of protests, it is more of symbolism rather than resistance. It is not resistance, it is just symbolism. It is just saying “I am not part of the decision” that doesn’t absolve you of your responsibility. You say you are the larger democracy. Then whatever decisions the government takes you are part of it. You are saying that I am not part of it, I resist it is just symbolism that will not help. There is no resistance against it.
BJP doesn’t have number in the Rajya Sabha. But the way the bills are being passed in the Rajya Sabha, you should know what is going on. If you say that I am against the bill then you walk out of the Rajya Sabha, you are by walking out are actually giving them more power. You are helping them, differently. It is easy way out. This symbolism will not help. It is like government of India’s stand on Palestine. They say Israel is occupying and no Palestinian has the right to have their own land other than they are the largest buyers of arms from the Palestine, they are so close to Israel. That is hypocrisy. Somehow this hypocrisy is everywhere. They have to shun this hypocrisy and come out clean. There is no movement against lynching. There are protests here and there that are not a movement.
With the abrogation of the article 370, they want to change the demography of Kashmir. The moment it gets implemented the demography of Jammu will change. We have refugees from Pakistan who have come in 1947. They are not refugees from Kashmir, they are refugees from Pakistan. Kashmir was not part of India. It just got in. Since then they are not citizens of Jammu and Kashmir. They don’t have voting rights in the local Assembly; they have in the Indian parliament. As it gets implemented these people will get citizenship in Jammu. They just want to change the demography. People had been talking about 1990’s Kashmiri Pandits exodus, but nobody talks about. Until 1947 Jammu was a Muslim majority town, Muslims were butchered in Jammu. There are some accounts that say five lakhs to six lakhs Muslims were butchered. There are accounts that say some less. I met an old man in Jammu, he said from his family 200 people killed, an extended family. Nobody talks about that, how Jammu’s demography was changed that way. The army was involved in that, in 1947 when they entered Kashmir. Nobody talks about that. Their plans are to change the demography of Kashmir. This is what they are planning to do.
How far do you think the electoral politics of India has eased the abrogation of article 370?
Electoral politics is placed is the main culprit in whole things. Not only about Kashmir, but overall, mob lynching, hatred, BJP has come up with hyper nationalism which is based on hatred. Nationalism is based on hatred. Whenever fascism comes it uses nationalism, hyper nationalism as a vehicle. Hitler is doing the same thing. RSS, BJP is doing the same thing. Because of these electoral compulsions opposition, whether it is congress or left parties they couldn’t take BJP head on. They could not explain to people their nationalism is based on hatred. Sometimes the electoral compulsions compel them, they got into this ploy of nationalism. They thought that they can counter them with nationalism. They might lose the vote. People might think they are anti nationals. See, in 2016 when JNU incident happened, there was ‘freedom square’ in JNU, the square in front of the administration building. Meetings were there on every day, conducted by JNU teachers association, all intellectuals; stalwarts came over to speak there. The whole debate started with the freedom of expression and freedom of speech. The entire lectures which went on in that are about nationalism and anti-nationalism. A movement that started with the question of freedom of expression and freedom of speech and nobody speaks about it. You are talking about nationalism and anti-nationalism. You are actually falling into the trap of BJP. Till ten or fifteen years the RSS have never unfurled the tricolor flag on their office in Nagpur. The same RSS held a big tricolor flag in their hands and they all got entangled in that. So they fell in the trap. Just having those electoral compulsions in their mind. Even the lectures and speeches compiled in to a book are called Nationalism and Anti-nationalism. I think there are two three people in one month who spoke about freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Unfortunately the moment they finished their lecture the organizers said that they don’t subscribe to the views that are expressed by these people. These are electoral compulsions. The electoral politics is the basic culprit.
Congress is also playing soft Hindutva. If you go with Hindutva why would you go with soft Hindutva? Why can’t you go with the original thing? Why do you want to have something duplicate? There is really a huge degeneration in the left parties. The left parties are not challenging their nationalism, based on hatred. They are not challenging it because they will lose the vote. People might think that they are anti national. That is the basic thing. How will that revolution happen when you don’t change the mindset? That only would result in a complete upside down, they don’t want to change the minds of people, just want vote from them! How would you bring around that revolution you talk about? These are mere words. Hollowed words. Secularism has no meaning. There is no secularism. Muslims are the minority in India, they are so scared. The best test for the democracy is you have to see how the minority feel in. No minority will feel secure here in this system.
The demand for a referendum has a long history in Kashmir’s resistance movement. Do you think that would be anytime soon actualized?
In October 1947 Indian army landed in Kashmir and there was an agreement between Indian government and the Maharaja. There were only three things Maharaja had given to India, defense, communication and foreign affairs. In the beginning we had our own president, our own prime minister. If you remember Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, he died in the jail. We had a visa system. You need to get a permit to enter Jammu and Kashmir. No Indian could enter Jammu and Kashmir without that permit. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee tried to enter without that and he was arrested there and he died there. Till late 1950s this system was there.
In 1953 Sheikh Abdullah was arrested, he was the prime minister then. The whole arrangement was under 370. In 1948 it was India who took the Kashmir question to United Nations. It was taken to UN Security Council asked for a resolution that the people of Kashmir will be given right to self determination. It is for them to decide on, whether they want to be independent, whether they want to be with Pakisthan, or be with India. There are many resolutions. A commission was formed under which United Nations military observers maintaining the line to check ceasefire violations, they still have office here in Delhi, they are in Srinagar; they are in Baramulla, everywhere over there. This was the whole system. India had agreed upon that. It was India who took the question to United Nations. Since then the demand for right to self determination is there, it is not a demand, it is a right, a basic right. To attain that right, they will move on. They had been struggling for that for more than seventy years, they definitely will move on till they achieve this right.
In one of the hearings of the petitions filed at the Supreme Court against the current siege in Kashmir, the Chief Justice said that the court doesn’t have any time and they prioritized Ayodhya case’s daily hearing before Kashmir. For the Supreme Court Kashmir is not a priority. how do you respond to this?
When Anuradha Bhasin’s matter came up, against the communication blockade and other things it is unfortunate that the Supreme Court which has to actually guarantee the rights of the people, they are giving government time to trample those rights. Knowing that what is happening, more than eight million people in the clampdown. People don’t have access to basic rights. Schools are closed, colleges are closed; life is at a standstill. Many lives have been lost. Unfortunately the Supreme Court is not moving. In the first hearing they said we should give them some time. You have to see what is happening with the democracy here.
Supreme Court is the last resort where people look to get their rights protected. And if judiciary is also becoming an instrument of oppression then it is a matter of grave concern. It should be a matter of grave concern. Recently when they constituted a five member bench, this five member bench gave government of India one month to respond to petitions. The next hearing is fixed for fourteenth of November. And the abrogation of article 370 will come into effect on 31st of October. It was reminded to Supreme Court, it was told to Supreme Court through the petitions, asking the court to stay the government order. But they didn’t stay. They didn’t ask the government to maintain the status quo. They are just giving them a go ahead. What are they doing? They could have asked the government to stop it till they decide. They are violating the Constitution of India. The court is guardian of Constitution. But it is not happening. A very serious concern people should have that where are the democratic institutions? This is the way the institutions are being used, the way Hitler was helped by the institutions is happening here. Just forget! There is no media left. So called mainstream media is an extension of BJP. It is BJP’s media cell, nothing else. Any journalist in a mainstream media, any analyst…all are trying to legitimize the government’s unconstitutional move, and Supreme Court saying that when eight million people’s rights are trampled upon and Supreme Court saying that we have to balance between people’s rights and the national security, what is that nation? Is it that land you call nation? Or the people which you call nation? You can snatch all the rights of people, and say that it is in the interest of national security? What is that nation? What is that national security? It should be concerned to the people of India, they should think about where they are going.
Similar stand we have seen taken in the case of Afzal Guru too?
Yes. Definitely yes. In Afzal’s case, I have said this before. It was a farce created, complete farce. He was not given a fair trial at all. So when it comes to Kashmir it is always like that. Unfortunately when it comes to Kashmir, Indian electoral parties are in unison. They speak one language. They know that people’s rights are being snatched away they will say, “it’s okay”. They can sacrifice anything for national security. I remember when I was in Delhi University’s hostel, there were lots of students around, friends around, they used to talk to me. I would tell them about the atrocities Indian security forces are committing there in Kashmir. They will not believe it or they will not understand it. TN Sheshan was the chief election commissioner, there were elections in Bihar and security forces were posted there to conduct the election. I remember some of my Bihari friends came back and said: “Geelani, we never believed you when you talked about atrocities by the security forces but after seeing the security forces conducting elections we have seen the atrocities over there.”
Today they have found a Kashmiri, tomorrow it will be someone else. It is for people of India to think about it. Kashmiris wouldn’t be the last victims of this mindset. Now NRC is coming. People at the helm of affairs, Amit Shah, Supreme Court had banned his entry in Gujarat one point of time. Remember? He was banned from entering Gujarat. He was not deemed fit to be in the society. Today he is at the helm of affairs. You have Narendra Modi, who was known as Butcher of Gujarat. It seems like in this kind of electoral system the moment you win the elections it is like taking a shower in Ganga, where all your sins are gone. For Gujarat pogrom he was not given visa to US. See this, what is happening? This is the degeneration of everything. It is a normal thing in India now. If this is democratic India then the people of India have to think of this, this government is democracy, largest democracy than Hitler’s. Today you are building detention camps, for so called infiltrators, what is the difference between these camps and Nazi camps? Where is outrage? What is democracy then? What is left there? What are the human rights people are talking about? Mere talks will not do. Lip service will not do. This is time for resurrection.
A journalist asked me the other day, “There are Indians who welcomed it and celebrated it”, I said you know Kashmiris are suffering, and those people who celebrate the sufferings of others can’t be called civilized people. They are barbarians. People don’t celebrate suffering of others. Human beings cannot celebrate the suffering of others. If India calls it a civilization, barbarism can’t be called civilization.
On September 26th, Sikhs and Tamilians protested in Delhi in defense of Kashmir. Do you think this alliance can be strengthened and widened to other states of India?
We had gone to United Nations’ headquarters together to submit our memorandum that day. It was on 26th. On 27th Modi and Imran Khan were about to speak at the United Nations. We wanted to submit the memorandum before that, so it will reach the secretary general of UN. I am very thankful to friends from Punjab, not only Sikhs, the Punjab University students, students from different universities were also there. And hundreds of Tamilians who came all the way from Tamilnadu. There was a large number of Sikhs too. Sikh organizations like Dal Khalsa’s general secretary Kamalpal Singh, their president Harpal Singh Seema were all there. Around five to six hundred people came from Punjab. They have suffered, they know what is happening. There are continuous protests in Punjab. We wanted to hold this protest at Jantar Mantar. We had an appointment at UN office at 3.30. From there we wanted to proceed. Permission was granted, in the middle of the night, they cancelled it. In the morning they tell the permission is cancelled. We held the protest. We were not allowed to go to Jantar Mantar. Started from Gurudwara, many a kilometers long march, we sat down on the road.
You talk about democracy, you have a designated place for protests, and you are not allowing protest even at that place. You are not allowing people to come together and raise voice against the tyranny, against the oppression. When we went to the UN office to submit our memorandum, we had a confirmed appointment. Including Sikhs and Tamilians we were six people. When we reached, there was a large contingent of Delhi police over there. They had put barricades, for six people. They were not even allowing us to go to the office. Finally some Indians came and asked what is the matter, we said we came to submit the memorandum, we have to go inside. They said there is no permission. One of them said, “I have come to receive your memorandum here” I said, “No, we will not hand over the memorandum to you, we will hand it over to the people inside.” Then he says, “I am being sent to receive it”, I said “okay, ask that person who sent you to talk to us, because we have confirmation for six people to meet them.” This is supposed to be a neutral place, but again in this neutral place, you are not granted access. Finally five people went inside, we talked to them, and they said unfortunately it is Delhi police who is doing it.
I think the people of Punjab understand and they empathize with people of Kashmir, that’s why there are continuous protests in Punjab unlike in the other states. We had been doing this together for past years too. In 2010 we held a protest. From Punjab and Tamilnadu, people came in support for Kashmir. We were part of their protest on the 25th anniversary of the attack on Golden Temple, the protest was held in Delhi. Even Sayed Ali Shah Geelani was also part of it. This alliance is going on.
I see that the oppressor is one. There is one system which is oppressing. It is oppressing Dalits and Muslims in this country, it is occupying Kashmir, it is oppressing people in North East, and it is oppressing people in Punjab and other places. It is for the oppressed to come together. If the oppressed come together, they will definitely have strength. Ideally they should come together and do. We have come together; definitely we have to stay together, till we achieve our goals. This will be strengthened. I think there is a large need for this, people who had been oppressed, I would say Indian Muslims are poor in this system, because they can’t even raise their voice. There is so much of fear, they are so scared. All these nationalities, all these people who are oppressed, they should come together and fight this fascism.
There were lots of arrests on Public Safety Act even in July 2019 itself. There are thousands in jail. Thousands of Kashmiris. People here say 4000, 5000; not that, it is a huge number, from 10,000 to 15,000. All jails in Kashmir are full. Hundreds have been shifted to jails in UP and Haryana. Agra, Bareilly, Allahabad, all these jails. Similarly hundreds of Kashmiris are shifted to four to five jails in Haryana. There are hotels which have been turned into jails, like Centour hotel. Centour hotel is a jail, all big shot politicians housed there. They are jailed in that five star hotel. There are other hotels in many places other than Srinagar and hundreds in police stations and other places. Among them are minors. Nine year old boys. Kids. There are many about whom you don’t have any record. They are not given any trials. This Public Safety Act was created by Sheikh Abdullah. It was actually created against the timber struggling in Kashmir. But it was hardly used against timber smugglers it was always used against the political activists. From Sheikh Abdullah to Farooq Abdullah, the governor, everyone use it against the people who demand right to self determination.
Under this draconian law you can keep someone behind the bars for two years without any trial or charge sheet. In the case of a leader like Masrat Alam, you have to give a dossier, on what basis you imposed the Public Safety Act on a person. Magistrate gives that dossier. Then you can challenge it in the high court, there are around 300 cases pending in the Srinagar High Court against PSAs. It takes around six months to get it quashed, once it is quashed, the High Court orders to release the person. The person is released from the jail and arrested from the jail again. The person will be taken to some police station again will be charged with the PSA. Masrat Alam’s case was quashed I think thirty times. They had been doing this. Only new thing is this, now a person like Farooq Abdullah gets charged with PSA. People of India know about this draconian law. But they never talked about it. Farooq Abdullah was using it against Hurriyat activists. Today people of India talks about it because it is charged on Farooq Abdullah. The irony is here, there are habeas corpus petitions in the Supreme Court. You have to produce the person the petitioner demanding. In case of Tarigami when Sitaram Yechuri filed it, it was not Tarigami who was brought in to show that yes, he is here. Yechuri was asked by the Supreme Court to go and meet him there. It is the travesty of the justice. Yechuri was asked to go there. He was asked, you can just go and meet him, don’t engage in any political activity. Talking about democracy!
The Supreme Court, guardian of your constitution, is gagging. The Supreme Court is gagging individuals, the institution which is gagging people, asking people not to talk about it to the press, how do you expect them to revoke the gags on eight million people of Kashmir? People of India must be concerned about this degeneration of institutions. People of Kashmir had been fighting for more than 70 years, they will go on. It is for people of India to understand this and think.
I think today there is a need for them to start once again the battle for freedom. Indians are not free. It is not a democratic society anymore. They are under a fascist rule. The sooner they realize the better for them.