Thursday, June 11, 2009

How serious are we about our Human Rights?

Bhaiyoo mea bacha (brother save me), moajee mea bachao (mother save me).
~Cries of the two girls allegedly gang raped inside an army truck by Indian troopers in Shopian, as heard by an eye-witness

I don’t know how a non-Kashmiri may react to this. As a Kashmiri, despite having acquired a different accent in alien lands, I can very well identify with the sad shrieks that purportedly came from the army truck. We mostly call for our mothers or brothers whenever we are in pain. We think, in our simple world view, that they are our guardian angels -- in dreams, in life, in death. And will come to protect us. Every single time. That explains why Asiya and Neelofer – now sleeping an eternal sleep in the peach fragrance of countryside Kashmir – must have hollered the way they did. And that is why the poor man, shivering in his old hut, is speaking the gospel truth.

My first reactions as I read the news story was this: How dehumanized have we become? There are people – and the tribe is swelling -- who have become bored with the narrative by now. They seem to be insulated at the moment -- and hence -- they foolishly think, such a thing might never happen to them. That is such a make-belief attitude because in reality no one really is immune. In choosing to prefer economic well-being over human rights they allow for the door to be left ajar, and a likelihood for such an atrocity to recur in future. May be, just may be, the economic realities of life make everything secondary, even inherent rights one gains as a human being.

I was talking to a friend in London, fiercely tutored, Ivy League, deeply interested in Kashmir affairs. He observed that there is no push for human rights in Kashmir from the people at the helm of affair: be it the state or the separatists. The truth be told there is no human rights set-up in Kashmir. It is not that people are unaware – they understand what living in occupation entails. Kashmiris however don't seem to care about these things collectively; even though it is in our interest. 'I think they don't care because human rights don't lead to a financial gain', my pal quipped. We have become an individualistic society – like so many other societies around the world -- pretty much interested in personal fortunes.

The debate about human rights should be at the core of our consciousness. Unfortunately it isn’t. We remember our human rights only when there is a rape or a murder or a dead body is thrown out of a speeding SOG van. If human rights was what people valued more than a stable economic system and job creation then they should have been clear that the valley will not vote until there is a proper human rights protection and the enforcement of human rights violations in Kashmir. Instead we voted a bunch of people, who make a crooked pile, into power. Do we expect an elected MLA to speak up sincerely for human rights? [Ms Mufti’s antics can be squarely dismissed as political gimmickry] As long as lowly people salute them and open doors to their cars and as long as their lofty Karakul’s sit intact on their petty heads, anything goes.

In Kashmir there is no communitarian sentiment or communitarian institutes which will have a serious impact in terms of consistently advocating and defending the rights of people. The marches and protests do help but can they solve our problems. Perhaps not. It is like saying lets march against Pinochet and he will give us human rights. Omar -- the CM, says his officials misled him, Umar – the cleric is mum. The Bar Council is meek. Most voices are either disparate or desperate. If the leadership is like this how can there be a human rights centered movement in Kashmir? Old boy Geelani can’t certainly pull it off, alone.

That leaves the people in a conundrum. One will find it surreal that one day they will support the government [which oppresses them], next day they will deride the CM for hurting them; following on, they will be back to the government for patronage, give them support, knowing fully well that they will hurt them again; and lo and behold they do hurt them again. Now that is both odd and erratic.

The people of Kashmir do not deserve to suffer just because they voted a bunch of lackeys to power. Or just because our leadership isn’t up to it. Till date we have not shown consistency in our actions and as a result, the government knows that a protest means nothing and that we will bear the insults for a few days and then things will be back to normal. It is the utter lack of consistency and lack of development of institutions by Hurriyet that is responsible for our directionless response. One cannot play ping pong with government and give in every time they ask for votes. That makes us politically immaterial.

We can, perhaps, begin by developing an intellectual culture in Kashmir and start working towards a human rights oriented approach. Till then, I am afraid, the body-bags will come.

PS -- The women in the picture are mothers whose sons have gone missing, after being picked up by the army, in Kashmir. Srinagar, June 10, 2009