”In times of war only Dead can smile”
Anna Akhmatova(Russian poet)
In 1990s Kashmir saw worrying levels of violence and relationship between Indian state and Kashmiris was completely broken. The only corridor of faith connecting Kashmiris with India was the ‘India Democracy project’. Contemporary India according to an eminent sociologist is a ‘Republic Day Parade of silences”. The silences on Kashmir are unbearable and dangerous. Right-minded people in mainland India need to think Kashmir seriously. In this context there is need for “Friends of Kashmir committee 2.0″ which can build a healthy and positive public opinion on Kashmir related matters. In order to enlist the support of all political parties, Mridula Sarabhai whom Sarojini Naidu described as the ” Joan of Arc” of Gujarat established the first ‘Friends of Kashmir committee’ on December 10, 1952 to fight for the civil liberties and democratic rights of the people of Kashmir. As India is fast becoming a majoritarian democracy and Kashmiris are looked with suspicion the public spirited Indians need to speak out through a forum which can be ‘Friends of Kashmir committee 2.0’ . In the lines to follow I shall look into the role of first committee in order to inform the second.
It was with assistance from Subhadra Joshi, Shah Nawaz Khan, Amar Nath Chawla, Bishwa Bandhu Gupta, Sikandar Bakht, HKL Bhagat, M Farooqi, Anees Kidwai, BPL Bedi that Mridula Sarabhi established the first “Friends of Kashmir committee” to counter the propaganda against Kashmir and kashmiris. This was a forum of civil society actors who fought for the rights of marginalized Kashmiris. In 1950 Delhi-Srinagar relationship deteriorated to unimaginable level. The democratic institutions viz free media and civil society had not taken roots. The initiative taken by Mridula acted as a bridge between India and Kashmir. The period from 2014-19 in many ways reflects the vacuum in Kashmir and unfortunately Indian state’s only outreach to common Kashmir is through military- bureaucratic arm of the state.
To counter the allegations of certain political forces and communal press, the “Friends of Kashmir Committee” led by Mridula organized public meetings in different parts of India to apprise the people that there was no conspiracy to kill Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee and that his death was due to natural circumstances. Dr Mookerjee was arrested with tacit approval of the government of India as it wanted to keep his arrest beyond the jurisdiction of the supreme court of India. It was apprehended that Supreme Court of India would have given a judgment in his favor and would have ordered his release. It is a different matter that the efforts of committee did not succeed. There was a group within congress which was not prepared to absolve Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah for the alleged conspiracy. After the dismissal of Abdullah in 1953 Mridula with support from the committee took the initiative of looking after family members of political prisoners so as to develop a political connect with them. Mridula got Farooq Abdullah admitted to the Medical college in Jaipur in Rajasthan. The then chief Minister of Rajasthan Jai Narain Vyas held Sheikh Abdullah in high esteem and agreed to look after his son. On many occasions Farooq Abdullah felt uncomfortable in the college where he was ragged by some doctors and students who subscribed to the ideology of the RSS. Having been in freedom movement since 1930 Mridula was fully aware of the hardship and agonies political détenues and families as they were isolated not only from their relatives, friends and well-wishers but also from their breadwinners underwent. In a letter to Mridula Farooq Abdullah expressed his wish to get into All India Medical Institute in Delhi so that he could be near Panditji. Farooq wrote a letter to Mridula: You know very well Bahenjee, that Panditji is the only hope we have in India, after all the troubles i have gone through in the Medical college Jaipur, because of my being Sheikh Abdullah’s son, are so great that it makes me mad at times, so much so that i may have to leave my studies and this country. I cannot stand any more of these troubles merely because people believe that my father is a traitor .Time alone will show who is a traitor…. i am anxious and worried .kindly help me out”.
Mridula Sarabhai felt that there was a press campaign against Sheikh Abdullah, similar to that which was started in Pakistan after Badshah Khan’s arrest in which he was completely misrepresented and misunderstood. The Pakistani media had accused Abdul Gaffar Khan of working for an independent Pakhtoonistan and the government arrested him on charges of sedition. Many in Pakistan accused him of being an Indian agent. Mridula took the issue of Gaffar Khan’s arrest to Amnesty International which declared him “Prisoner of the year” in 1963. In India likewise many people accused Sheikh Abdullah of being a Pakistani agent. To give currency to the story that Sheikh Abdullah is a foreign agent a pamphlet entitled ” conspiracy in Kashmir” in the name of the “Social and Political Group” was distributed in Kashmir and also to members of parliament, office-bearers of congress and many others .Mridula did not believe in the bonafides of that document and discovered that Gulam Mohammad Mir Rajpouri and Manohar Nath Koul were the co-authors of that document and were known in Kashmir as opportunists. Mridula rebutted the charges believing that this is going to create bad precedent s and endangering the political life of India. In order to keep the Indians better informed about Kashmir, Mridula circulated a report in which she contradicted the impression that peace and tranquility prevailed in the valley. According to her: a reign of terror has continued…persecution is going on with unmitigated fervor, unrelieved by any avenue of freedom..under trials are being kept in separate cells, that is, in solitary confinement..”
The “Friends of Kashmir Committee2.0” shall have to understand that there is an emotional and intellectual partition happening between Delhi and Srinagar. State is managerialising the violence. The political grid is crumbling and security grid is talking about targets and no pain is felt by any one. Daily killings are read out to people each evening as weather reports. There is remilitarization of new areas. Everywhere elections help solve problems and in Kashmir they seem to create them. In his resignation letter Rahul Gandhi says “free and fair elections require neutrality of institutions. Elections cannot be free if one party has monopoly over financial resources”. The Friends of Kashmir(if there are any left) can play a very important role in given circumstances. In my ideal moments I wonder what happened to the liberal, argumentative and passionate Indian fighting for the rights of others. Martin Luther king said” hate is too great a burden to bear”.