'Kashmiris must be allowed to vent their anger and get justice'

'Kashmiris must be allowed to vent their anger and get justice'

In an exclusive interview with GK Senior Editor Arif Shafi Wani, Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan, on his recent visit to Kashmir, talked about various issues confronting Kashmiris and Muslims in India.

 

 

Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan, 66, is a journalist, author and a prominent Muslim community leader in India. He studied in India, Egypt and UK. Dr. Khan is the chief editor of the leading Indian Muslim English publication The Milli Gazette (www.milligazette.com) and the current President of All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat (AIMMM), an umbrella body of Indian Muslim organizations.

In an exclusive interview with GK Senior Editor Arif Shafi Wani, Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan, on his recent visit to Kashmir, talked about various issues confronting Kashmiris and Muslims in India. 

The flood victims in Kashmir are still craving for compensation even a year after the floods. Do you believe that Government of India was and is slow is undertaking the rehabilitation process? 

Indian government lost a golden opportunity to win the hearts of Kashmir by failing to solve the humanitarian problem of rehabilitation of flood victims. The floods were not a problem of Muslims or Kashmiris, but it is a sheer humanitarian issue. Lakhs of houses were damaged and business sector was ruined in floods. Many people were rendered homeless and still many Kashmiris are living as refugees. Ironically, the Government led by BJP at centre did not show it really cares for people of Kashmir. India gave one billion dollars to Nepal but not to the Kashmiris.

Do you mean that BJP-led Government adopted a different yardstick when it came to Kashmir?

Yes. Kashmiris are Indians at least for now and the current dispensation should not have discriminated with them. Whatever (help) was announced at that time when Mr Modi (Prime Minister) came to Kashmir has not been implemented. They (Government of India) should make good their promises and help the Kashmiris to stand on their feet again. They should help ordinary Kashmiris and businessmen to give them a feeling that they are also equal citizens and are respected here. When earthquake devastated Gujarat, whole India went there and helped them, but this did not happen in Kashmir. This was natural that government should have itself come out quickly and solved all problems that arose out of the floods. Besides rebuilding, government should have looked into the problems that caused the floods, Like so many wrong administrative decisions have been taken where buildings were allowed to be constructed in fragile zones or setting up of the railway tracks which stopped the spread of flood waters. All these problems can be solved if there is a will.

Humanitarian problems which arose after floods have the prime requirement to be answered quickly. Despite passing of one year, I am so sorry that so many people are still homeless and living like refugees here. This should not have happened and this is blot on the record of Mr Modi.

  

RSS is gradually making inroads in Kashmir and some separatists have said there are tougher times ahead for Kashmiris. How do you perceive the development?

Tougher and challenging times are ahead not only for Kashmiris but for Muslims of India as well because for the first time RSS is able to rule India through its political face BJP and Kashmir in a way as partner of the ruling government here. The fascist ideology of RSS is dangerous as it believes in certain ideas which exclude others. Kashmir should be cautions of nefarious designs and fascist ideology of RSS which propagates that only certain people or particular tradition, religion and culture has the right to rule and flourish and others should vanish and be excluded from public life. This kind of thought wherever it appeared in Germany during Nazis actually devastated that country. I think this kind of politics, which BJP and RSS pursues, will also be detrimental to India and destroy it to a great extent. India emerged as liberal and democratic country and whatever BJP and RSS are doing is antithesis. They want to create a fascist society here. Maybe they will be able to attract some people in many areas including Kashmir also but it will be at the expense of liberal India, the 21ist century India and those who voted for BJP. At the time of elections, these parties raised slogans of progress, but after they came in power those slogans have been forgotten and buried. What is happening now is these parties are trying to Hinduise the whole society and impose a certain culture. They have changed text books and history. All this is bad and harmful for this country. It will destroy the India for which people shed their lives for its independence. This is all going against their visions and dreams. 

Kashmiri have been suffering from past 25 years due to delay in resolution of Kashmir issue. There is a feeling among Kashmir that Muslims in India have not been able to play a proactive role in supporting their cause and resenting suppression against them?

I don’t agree. It is true that we did not support the separatist movement, but we were always against the injustices of the state, Army or police, murders and disappearances. We always raised our voice to extend support to Kashmiris. We always have been holding protests, sit-ins and even wrote to Prime Minister. We do all kinds of things which are done in a political and democratic system. If you look at the record of Mushwarat, you will find in its every sitting, we have one or two resolutions about Kashmir. Whenever there has been any human rights violation in Kashmir or for that matter the demand for revocation of black and illegal law of AFSPA, we always have been speaking against it. So we have been never silent about Kashmir. We have been saying it clearly that whatever promises India has made to Kashmiris should be respected.

Kashmir issue has been lingering for past nearly seven decades. Wars and even talks between India and Pakistan have failed to resolve this bone of contention. In this scenario, do you believe that Kashmir issue will ever be resolved?

Kashmir is left over problem of partition and it has to be solved. We have been calling upon India and Pakistan to should sit together and sort Kashmir issue so that peace prevails in this sub-continent. We wish both the countries should be able to progress the way other regions like Europe are progressing, but here we are not doing it because we are fighting on non-issues which should have been settled long ago. Even today after 70 years we are not able to settle very small things. Issue like Siachen and Sir Creek which were settled in negotiations are still pending between the two countries because a political decision has not been taken to sign agreements on them.  At least India and Pakistan should in good sense and with sincerity eliminate all these problems which are possible. European countries, Austrians, French , Germans, British were fighting for centuries, but now they are all friends and have opened borders between them. You can take single Visa to visit these countries and nobody will ask you for your passport. This is the way that others are showing us, Similarly, Malaysia and Indonesia were fighting for so long. Now they are friends like single country. India and Pakistan should also show some wisdom. We claim that we are wise but our behavior does not prove it.

You have been alleging that Indian intelligence agencies are pumping money to plant stories in media? Can you cite examples?

That is true. A journalist working with a national daily has been having close relations with IB which plants stories through him. Even senior journalists from his newspaper told me that he has close relation with IB. I cannot say he was getting money or not, but even having such relations when intelligence agencies uses a reporter to plant stories is not good journalism. It is more close to paid journalism. It must be happening more in Kashmir because of the situation and forces which are fighting each other here. 

You have been closely monitoring reportage of media in Kashmir in past over two decades. Has media in Valley been able to give voice to the sufferings of Kashmiris?

I think Kashmiri media has been highlighting the issues confronting people. But I think but there is dearth of investigative reports. Reporters should go out to the families or the victims to dig out facts. When you do that, a lot of things come out. We have recently published a book on Akshardham attack in Gujarat. This is the way we adopted our people. They went out to every victim, family, police station where cases were registered, interviewed advocates who took part in legal battle and a new story has come out. It gives a different picture about Akshardham. It is also media in form of a book because such a big story cannot be published in a single issue.

 In some Muslim dominated districts of Jammu, armed Village Defence Committees mostly having members from minority community are deployed by the state. Do you think this nurtures a feeling of insecurity for Muslims?

 Actually, I am totally against giving guns to civilians and that too belonging to a certain religion. 90 percent of people in VDC are Hindus. This is a bad and illegal decision. You cannot differentiate on these grounds and it actually breeds communalism, separatism and exclusion. VDCs should be disbanded right way because this is not the way to face certain situation which arouse here due to militancy. Muslims in Jammu are being discriminated.

There is a new pattern – young educated youth are joining militant ranks particularly in south Kashmir. Is it a dangerous pattern? 

It is off course a reaction to whatever is happening here. But I personally think this is not the right decision. These small groups of youth cannot face a force like Army. I think this is suicidal act on their part and it is not going to be helpful to solve this (Kashmir) problem. They may be quite faithful to what they are doing but it is a wrong decision.

Government has squeezed political space for dissent in Kashmir. What can be its ramifications? 

The new Government in Kashmir is closing all democratic avenues available before it. This is bad and this will force people to encourage people to pursue violent path and it subsequently can have serious ramifications. If you can assemble in Delhi and stage protest, why not in Kashmir? If people here are allowed this, lot of problems will be solved. Kashmiris must be allowed to speak out, vent their anger and get justice also. If a police or army is involved in any sort of violations, they must be properly dealt with according to the law. I am sorry this is not happening.

Government wants to create peace and harmony is Kashmir but by its actions, it is doing the opposite. At the same time, civil society here should demand that the political rights, human rights and civil rights that are enshrined in our constitution must be available to every citizen in Kashmir.

It has been nearly seven decades since partition. With passage of time have Muslims been able to get their rights guaranteed under constitution of India.  What status at present do Muslims enjoy in India ruled by BJP especially after the demolition of Babri Masjid and Gujarat massacre? 

Muslims in India are paying the price of partition even today. Lot of our problems are directly related to what happened in 1947. First of all, the flight of elite from north Kashmir to Pakistan created a vacuum which has not been filled even today. Muslims are made to carry legacy of partition. Muslims are reminded everyday that they are responsible for partition and ‘if they don’t agree with ways of certain people, they should migrate to Pakistan.’ People in BJP are saying it openly. Even people on responsible positions including a BJP minister said ‘if you (Muslims) don’t like here, go to Pakistan.’ This kind of thinking is illegal and unconstitutional. But it has a background. It is not coming out of vacuum. Muslim community is general after the Bangladesh emerged in 1971 came out of this mindset that there is a possible way of getting to Pakistan. There is no charm in Pakistan right now. But there are relations. So many people from here went to Pakistan. About 6 million Indian Muslims went to Pakistan at that time (Partition). One part of the family is here and another on that side. This creates problems but it is limited to certain people.

How do Indian Muslims perceive the hanging of Muhammad Afzal Guru and Yaqoob Memon?

 I think these were hasty decisions. The hangings were a clout as a legal decision, they were purely political. So many other people are in queue for hanging for the past 30-35 years. Their mercy petition is awaiting decision for years together. But here in this case (Memon’s) whatever happened was a political decision by people who wanted to send a certain message to their followers or their enemies that India is capable of doing this and that if a certain behavior is seen we will behave is this way.

As head of conglomerate of Muslims organizations, what was your reaction on Yaqoob Memon’s hanging?

I did not take it lightly. I at once issued a statement saying that hanging of Yaqoob Menon is a judicial murder. He was not involved in whatever happened. It is said he was involved in the plan, otherwise in its execution he was not present or involved. There was no direct evidence against him. Some witnesses who said he had participated in meetings, later retracted saying they are forced to say that. You know Indian police is very efficient in torture and getting confessions by torturing people. This happens in almost every such case. Memon’s hanging was sheer political and not part of normal criminal justice system. This is the sense which still prevails among Muslims community in India.

People of minority communities particularly Muslims have been having issues with the New Delhi based media. How do you perceive their reportage on issues concerning Muslims?

Indian media is biased against Kashmiris and Muslims in rest of the country. In India, whatever they publish usually is negative things about Muslims. Whenever there is good news, it does not get coverage or is buried in inner pages of newspapers. There are exceptions but normally this is the case. When somebody is arrested, it gets breaking news coverage and when the same person gets acquitted, it is not even mentioned.