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An Open Letter To Yasin Malik

A true commitment to non-violence should not be conditional and fragile. Gandhi did not say: "Give India independence or else I will unleash terrorist brigades on you." That was Jinnah’s method, not Gandhi’s.

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An Open Letter To Yasin Malik
An Open Letter To Yasin Malik

Dear Yasin,

The Dialogue on the Future of Jammu & Kashmir organized by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies gained enormously by your presence on November 7, 2009. We recognize that the overlap in timing meant you had to rush to Delhi after registering your attendance at a TADA court hearing in Jammu. I also appreciate the fact that despite provocative slogans against you by a group of Kashmiri Pandits opposed to your presence in the Dialogue, you sat through the meeting to the end and not only explained your politics but also made a public commitment to consider some of the solutions proposed at the meeting as a starting point for a wide spectrum dialogue for the resolution of the Kashmir problem.

However, your outbursts of anger, disappointment and your cynical comments directed at the civil society organizations of India seem to me so misplaced and misleading that they demand a public response; a lot of them were directed at Manushi and at me. Since they have been widely reported in the Kashmiri and Pakistani newspapers, hence my response is also through the media.

For those who do not know the background, let me summarize your grievances as stated in your presentation at the Dialogue. You said that you had given up the gun at the urging of civil society organizations in India, that you took to "Gandhian methods of struggle" due to our persuasion. However, despite your move to non-violent means of struggle, you feel "betrayed" by the human rights community in India for ostensibly failing to help you achieve your political ends. You also claimed that subsequent events and your failure in achieving "azadi" have convinced you that Gandhian methods do not work in today’s India. In your view, they worked only while the British ruled India because the British provided a supportive environment for non- violent struggles.

What proof do you offer for that conclusion? That Gandhi was not subjected to third degree torture by the British, nor was Gandhi killed in an encounter with the police! No responsible leader would provide this form of naive praise of the British. You cannot dismiss the brutalities of the British colonial regime so easily. You don’t have to go too far—just read the life story of Badshah Khan—Gandhi’s most valued colleague and the most inspiring satyagrahi of that period. The brutalities inflicted on the army of satyagrahis mobilized by Badshah Khan—popularly known as the Frontier Gandhi— would put to shame even the apartheid regime of South Africa. Lakhs and lakhs of non violent satyagrahis were tortured in British jails. Many innocents were murdered in cold blood. The manner in which unarmed women and children were massacred in Jallianwala Bagh by General Dyer was not an isolated example of British brutality. Hundreds of thousands of satyagrahis took deadly beatings without raising their hand even in self-defence during the Salt Satyagraha. The cruel treatment routinely meted out to the Indian peasantry in extracting unprecedented high revenue and confiscating their lands arbitrarily for failure to pay ruinous usurious revenue, not sparing them even during crop failures, led to millions dying in unprecedented man made famines and left many more millions destitute, malnourished and terrorized. 

You claim to have taken to Gandhian methods and claim that the movement for "azadi" in Kashmir is non violent —all on the grounds that some years ago you gave up the gun. Dear friend Yasin, you gave up the gun after you were arrested and jailed, not while you were on the outside, fighting. You never gave up supporting and defending those who continued using the gun. In the November 7 meeting, you declared openly that you are proud of having been the first one to take up the gun for the cause of Kashmir. When a young Kashmiri Pandit commented: "You may have given up the gun but that does not mean Kashmiri Muslims gave up the gun. The Hizbul Mujahiddin is also comprised of Kashmiri youth." Your response was: Since the Indian government did not hand over "azadi" to the "non-violent" JKLF, and since human rights organizations in India failed to persuade the Indian government to do so, Hizbul Mujahaddin are justified in taking up the gun. Yasin bhai, a true commitment to non-violence should not be so conditional and fragile. Gandhi did not say: "Give India independence or else I will unleash terrorist brigades on you." That was Jinnah’s method, not Gandhi’s.

As one of many people committed to strengthening democracy and human rights in India, one of my mandates is to ensure that even those who take to terrorist means, are given fair treatment, due process, and a fair trial, and that innocents are not targeted by security forces while combating terrorism. Our primary task, however, is to try to prevail upon the Indian government that draconian laws should not be used to crush democratic dissent. I don’t think I have failed in being consistent about those issues. I have often done my best to intervene with the government of India to defend the Constitutional rights of you and your colleagues, even when I have strong differences with your political goals and means you make use of to achieve them. 

For example, when you asked me to intervene on behalf of some of your colleagues held in detention centres who you claimed and seemed to me to be innocent, I did so without hesitation. I even succeeded on some occasions in helping get them released—your verbal assurance that they were not involved in any terrorist crimes was an important consideration in my efforts. Do you think you could get such relief for your colleagues if they had been arrested on account of suspected terrorist links in England—a nation you so ardently admire— or in the US—the country you had put most faith in to help you gain "Azadi"?

In the November 7 meeting, you expressed your annoyance over the fact that representatives from Ladakh, Jammu, Poonch, and Rajouri had been invited. You dismissed their presence with open contempt saying: " Is this a mohalla meeting that we have gathered all these people to discuss local affairs?" This attitude of assuming that it is only Kashmiri Muslims of the Valley— and that too of a certain political persuasion— who ought to have the right to determine the future of the entire state of J&K has created huge fault lines and murderously hostile camps in the State.

No one organization has the right to be the sole spokesperson of the Kashmiri people. The strong voices opposing your politics in Jammu, Ladakh and even within Kashmir have to be given their due importance.

While you expected human rights organizations in India to help you secure "Azadi"—you have allowed the concept to remain so fuzzy that I have not yet understood what concretely you mean by it. I have spent hours trying to persuade you to work out the concrete modalities of your plank of "Azadi" and explain to us how your Azadi will be any different from the bloody 1947 Partition of India. What will be the fate of minorities in your 'Azad' Kashmir? What happens to the rights of those in Kashmir, Jammu, Rajouri, Poonch, Leh and Kargil and those in the Valley who do not wish to secede from India and do not want to live in your mythical Azad Kashmir? I never got anything resembling an answer. It also makes me very uneasy that the JKLF does not even have a constitution, leave alone any democratic machinery for managing its affairs.

Why on earth would human rights organizations help you partition Jammu & Kashmir in as senseless a manner as Jinnah did the entire subcontinent? Even for the November 7 Dialogue, I repeatedly requested you to give a concrete statement in writing on the form and content of Azadi. You said you don’t believe in putting things down in writing. Instead you preferred to talk about your personal trials and tribulations, how 600 of your JKLF cadres have been killed in encounters by security forces. Much as I mourn the loss of those lives, much as I deplore how our security forces sometimes lawlessly eliminate or brutalize those suspected of terrorism, Yasin bhai, you have to recognize that, unfair as it seems to you, those who live by the gun have to be prepared to be hunted down by the gun.

You say you are still proud of the fact that you took up the gun because without that the Kashmir issue would not have gained due attention. This is not how morally committed non-violent satyagrahis reason. That is not how those who draw inspiration from Gandhi should earn world attention. One does not become a satyagrahi by merely laying down arms, that too without ever expressing remorse for having unleashed a reign of terror and violence. A satyagrahi does not romanticize the power of the gun, especially when it has already caused havoc for millions.

To qualify being a satyagrahi also means:

  • Being an unconditional soldier of peace by actively opposing all forces of violence. Unfortunately, your love affair with the gun is not yet over, or else you would not claim to be proud of having been the first one to take up the gun as a means of furthering your politics; Even today, you do not condemn terrorist killings without reservations.
  • Being committed to the path of Truth ( Satya) as a permanent seeker rather than as a self declared authority on Truth. A satyagrahi cannot be selective in choosing facts to suit his political arguments, which you often do. Being able to face unpalatable facts about one's own movement and an ability to take diverse view points and perspectives into account is vital for adhering to the path of Truth. A truth seeker does not indulge in mere partisan politics nor does he/she overstate his /her case, as you often do
  • Being able to keep one's anger under check and control so that it does not distort one's vision. A Satyagrahi does not demonize his/her opponents, nor does he/she hold malice and ill will towards others whose politics and vision are at variance from that of the satyagrahi. You seem to be in a permanent state of upset with people who do not agree with your politics.

It was a very revealing moment, Yasin, when you told me after one of your visits to Pakistan which I quote from memory: 

"I have now realized the great difference between the human rights activists in India and Pakistan. The Indian activists mostly come from ordinary middle class families so they are small minded. The Pakistani human rights activists are mostly from aristocratic families—daughters of generals and wealthy land owning aristocrats. Therefore, they are large hearted and have a broader vision." 

You have been understandably impressed by their pampering and hospitality extended to you. But you would do well to remember, many of them pamper you because you are a thorn in the flesh of the Indian establishment. They do not pamper their home grown secessionists--the Baluchis, the Pakhtoons and Sindhis, who wish to break away from Pakistan, as they do you.

You would also do well to remember that the aristocratic elite of Pakistan has done a poor job of defending their own democracy. They have also done a poor job of resisting the growing influence of the Taliban over their polity and civil society. Pakistan Administered Kashmir has a much poorer track record of democracy than the Kashmir you inhabit. The diverse ethnic groups and regions in Pakistan have far fewer rights than minority communities and regions have in India. No matter how well they treat you personally, the aristocratic elite of Pakistan are unlikely to deliver the "azadi" you are seeking. 

Kashmiri society is being torn asunder by the conflicting ambitions of its leaders. As you well know, the mutual hostilities and suspicions of various Kashmiri leaders have even taken murderous forms. That is why it is vital to bridge these divides and important that diverse leaders come together to thrash out differences and explore common ground. Many of those who attended the November 7 meeting considered it an auspicious start of a new process whereby secessionist leaders who had never sat together on a common platform with mainstream political parties not only came together to seek out a consensually acceptable peaceful solution but also agreed to carry forward the debate around the concrete and innovative new Self Rule formula presented by the PDP.

Instead of expecting the human rights community in India to become your followers, instead of expecting them to fight your battles for you, it would be far better if you worked out a political platform that was more in consonance with their perspective. For all their limitations and humbler origins, the Indian middle classes which dominate democratic rights organizations in India have succeeded far better in keeping the authoritarian tendencies of their rulers under a measure of check and control. J& K has too many gun toting self appointed spokespersons of Kashmiri people. What it lacks is a vibrant community of people committed to strengthening human rights and democratic freedoms. Such voices have been marginalized or crushed by the gun in J&K. Reviving that tradition needs much greater courage and conviction than required for taking up the gun. I hope to see you occupy that space in the coming years.

With good wishes,

Madhu Kishwar,
Founder Editor, Manushi
Senior Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies
November 14, 2009


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