National and International Issues

Kashmir: Liberty or Death

Professor Dr. Maqsood Jafri, an eminent scholar and educationist, pens down his views on the martyrdom of Kashmiri leader Ashraf Sehrai while in Indian custody.

The right to self-determination is the democratic, humane and legal right of all oppressed and subjugated nations. East Timorese are Christians who rebelled against the domination of Indonesia’s Muslim majority. Namibia gained self-determination by defeating South Africa’s apartheid. Muslim Eritrea gained freedom from Christian Ethiopia. People of various nations have sought self-determination and independence from subjugating nations. It is pertinent to mention that India is not only subjugating an overwhelming Muslim majority in the disputed territory of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJK) but has also unleashed brute force against all minorities in the Indian state. However, India and Pakistan had agreed under the Liaquat-Nehru Pact (Delhi Pact, 1950) signed by their Prime Ministers, wherein, it is stated that: “The Governments of India and Pakistan solemnly agree that each shall ensure to the minorities throughout its territory, complete equality of citizenship irrespective of religion, a full sense of security in respect of life, culture, property and personal honor, freedom of movement within each country and freedom of occupation, speech and worship subject to law and morality. Members of the minorities shall have equal opportunity with members of the majority community to participate in the public life of their country, to hold political or other office, and to serve in their countries’ civil and armed forces. Both governments declare these rights to the fundamental and undertake to enforce them effectively”. 
It is extremely sorrowful that since Liaquat-Nehru Pact, all Indian successive governments have been violating the aforesaid Pact but the people of IIOJK have suffered double jeopardy at the hands of Indian forces. India has absolutely violated UN resolutions on the Kashmir dispute. According to the UN resolutions, India is bound to hold a free and fair plebiscite in the State of Jammu and Kashmir but on the other hand, the travesty of the matter is that India has unleashed brutal force to strangulate the voice of Kashmiris and to undermine their just claim of freedom from Indian yoke. India is persistently and consistently perpetrating unprecedented atrocities on unarmed civilians in IIOJK. Even renowned political leaders suffer at the hands of the Indian forces. 
Recently, a prominent political Kashmiri leader Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai has been a victim of Indian aggression which resulted in his custodial killing. He was 77 and died in police custody. He was admitted in a hospital from a jail in the southern Jammu region. His son, Mujahid Sehrai said that his father was denied proper medical care while he was in jail. He further stated that he approached a court on April 16, 2021 with a petition seeking proper medical assistance but the court was yet to review it, and meanwhile he died in custody. After years in and out of prison, Ashraf Sehrai was once again arrested in 2019, as part of a wave of thousands of detentions after India revoked the autonomous status of the IIOJK. He was sent to prison in 2020. His family said he had been expecting to spend a long time in jail. The New York Times published a report on his death, wherein his commitment to the cause is highlighted by his peers: “All his life he preferred suffering over comfort, and he died because he did not compromise on his political ideology,” said Mohammad Ashraf Laya, a political activist and longtime friend, who spent time in prison with him. “Once convinced of something being right, nothing would make him compromise.”
All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), the main pro-freedom group in IIOJK, in a statement said that Asharf Sehrai was left unattended in jail until his condition worsened. It also expressed concern about the health of hundreds of other Kashmiri political detainees as India faces a massive health crisis because of an explosion of Coronavirus cases and IIOJK is also under great impact of COVID-19. Last week, the APHC stated that the prisoners in jails are being denied even the basic amenities, leading to serious health problems among the prisoners. Presently, there are hundreds of political prisoners including eminent leaders like Yasin Malik, Shabbir Shah, Asiya Andrabi, Advocate Shahid Ul Islam, Altaf Ahmed Shah, Ayaz Akbar, Peer Saif Ullah, Raja Mirajuddin Kalwal, Syed Shahid Yousaf, Shakeel Ahmed, Farooq Ahmed Dar, Naheeda Nasrin, Fehmeeda Sofi, and Zahoor Ahmed. The travesty of the matter is that the most prominent political leaders like Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq are under house arrest. 
Indian Bharatiya Janata Party government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has adopted extremist Hindutva ideology to subjugate minorities all over India with particular emphasis on the ethnic cleansing of Muslims. It is pertinent to state that there are many incidents of organized ethnic cleansing of Muslims all over India. For instance, in late 2013 during the anti-Muslim riots in Muzaffarnagar, many Muslims were mercilessly killed and around fifty thousand were displaced. This ethnocide was repeated on the pattern of the Gujarat massacre and further the ground was prepared to repeat this tragic and malevolent incident in IIOJK.  
Narendra Modi is all out to subjugate Muslims since he has the fascist mindset of Hitler and Mussolini, which is evident from the empirical findings about the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat during his tenure as the Chief Minister. Recently, the citizens of Assam have been perturbed by the National Register of Citizens policy. It is another step to marginalize and victimize the Muslims of Assam. The Chair of the U.S. Government’s Advisory Commission on International Religious Freedom, Tony Perkins, has voiced concern over India’s drive to register citizens in the North Eastern State of Assam amid fears that it could disenfranchise millions, most of them Muslims. The Indian claim to be a secular state has been nullified and falsified by the pernicious, undemocratic and inhumane policies of BJP government led by Narendra Modi. The official policy and ideology of the BJP is based on Hindutva. It historically reflects Hindu extremism and nationalism. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Hindu Sena are all extremist and exclusive Hindu organizations with the aim to target all minorities, particularly Muslims. The Hindutva movement is based on a homogenized majority and cultural hegemony of Hindus. It is an extreme form of conservatism, dogmatism and ethnic absolutism. With this mindset, the government of BJP has illegally annexed Occupied Kashmir with India and revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. It must be mentioned here that the religious Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita (4: 7-8) says: “Whenever there is a decline of Dharma (righteousness) and a predominance of Adharma (unrighteousness), O Arjuna, then I manifest Myself. I appear from time to time for protecting the good, for transforming the wicked, and for establishing world order Dharma (righteousness)”. Is the bloodshedding of innocent minorities a virtue? Is it a righteousness? Is it not wickedness? Do these aforementioned religious groups of India act upon the teachings of their scriptures? Actually, these religious maniacs and hardliners are spreading evil deeds and a fallacious ideology, mocking even their own religious teachings. 
It is pertinent to mention here that Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, a Hindu ideologue and fundamentalist, established RSS on September 27, 1925. His aim was to set up an organization in order to strengthen the Hindu identity, authority and domination especially over the Muslims and Christians of the Subcontinent. The ruling BJP has ideologically adhered to the fascist mindset of RSS and adopted it as their political face. RSS is to BJP what Schutzstaffel (SS) was to the Nazi Party in Germany. Nathuram Godse, who killed Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the father of the Nation of India on January 30, 1948 was also a committed follower of the ideology of RSS. In a chilling interview with Time Magazine in 1993, a zealot of RSS, Bal Thackeray, said: “There is nothing wrong if Muslims are treated as Jews were treated in Nazi Germany”. These were the goons who killed Graham Staines, an Australian missionary who was burnt to death along with his two sons in Odisha by a Hindu mob of Bajrang Dal activists. Besides Muslims, Sikh, Christian, Jain and Buddhist groups have accused RSS of decimating their identity and trying to subsume their religions into Hinduism. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was introduced to the RSS when he was eight years old. His close cabinet ministers, civil and military advisors are active members of the RSS. Since BJP came into power, RSS has registered the highest growth in membership since it was formed, especially between 2015 and 2016. Now the BJP-led government has adopted the policy of using this fascist organization – RSS – in IIOJK to intimidate, harass and kill innocent Kashmiris. RSS has almost six million members in India and now the focus is on pro-freedom population of IIOJK.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir is the main dispute between India and Pakistan. It is an unfinished agenda of the partition of the subcontinent. The partition of the subcontinent was the product of Two Nation Theory. The holding of free and fair plebiscite in the state of Jammu and Kashmir to decide this dispute was sanctioned by the resolutions of the United Nations. The Kashmir dispute is still on the agenda of the UN. India has been using delaying tactics to undermine the legitimate struggle of the unarmed people of IIOJK. The freedom struggle for the right to self-determination is a lawful struggle demanding for a free and fair plebiscite. The Kashmir dispute is an internationally recognized issue, which should be resolved in accordance with the UN Charter and UN Security Council resolutions. India has been consistently backing out from all bilateral and international promises and commitments, therefore, Kashmir being a nuclear flashpoint between two nuclear states seeks urgent attention. 
It is encouraging that after the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution on August 5, 2019, many international personalities have shown serious concern about the Kashmir dispute. It is important to quote a few such important personalities, for instance: The Office of UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres has issued the statement: “The Secretary-General has been following the situation in Jammu and Kashmir with concern and makes an appeal for maximum restraint. The position of the United Nations on this region is governed by the Charter of the United Nations and applicable Security Council resolutions”. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretariat also issued the statement: “The General Secretariat (GS) of OIC has been following with concern developments in Jammu and Kashmir as a result of the unilateral decision taken by India. The GS reiterates solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It calls for the immediate lifting of the curfew, restoration of communication and the respect for the fundamental rights of Kashmiris”. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a statement asserted: “We are concerned about Muslims’ situation in Kashmir. We have good relations with India, but we expect the Indian government to adopt a just policy towards the noble people of Kashmir and prevent the oppression and bullying of Muslims in this region”. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey shared his concerns over the situation and in its statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said: “We are concerned that the annulment of Article 370 of the Constitution of India on 5 August 2019 which accords a special status to Jammu-Kashmir could further increase existing tensions. We sincerely hope for the resolution of the problem through dialogue and within the framework of the relevant UN resolutions by observing the legitimate interests of the people of Jammu-Kashmir as well as Pakistan and India”. China’s representative to UN, Zhang Jun said: “The Kashmir issue should be resolved properly through peaceful means, in accordance with the UN Charter, the relevant Security Council resolution and bilateral agreements". Jeremy Corbyn, UK Labor Party’s leader, made a strong statement on the Kashmir issue: “The situation in Kashmir is deeply disturbing. Human rights abuses taking place are unacceptable. The rights of the Kashmiri people must be respected and UN resolutions implemented”. 
Patrick Henry, a founding father of the United States made this statement during the Second Virginia Convention in 1775: “Give me liberty or give me death”. In the present scenario, the Kashmiris are chanting the same slogan of liberty from Indian yoke. The Indian state is mercilessly shedding blood of innocent Kashmiri youth but the Indians do not know that the Chinar (Poplar) Tree is the national symbol of Kashmir, whose leaves glow like flames. The blood of martyred Kashmiris has sprouted in the form of tulips. The couplet of great Urdu poet Sahir Ludhianvi candidly represents the deplorable bloodbath of Kashmiris. He says: “Blood is blood, when it flows it condenses”. I would urge all lovers of democracy, justice and freedom to come forward to show solidarity with the freedom movement of Kashmiris. It is my belief that no matter what India is doing to oppress Kashmiris, the freedom movement will reach its logical conclusion. I would like to share my poem about Kashmiri martyrs titled “Martyrs’ Graveyards” published in my book Seeds of Sanity (1995):

None can deter us to break the shackles
The granite slabs a pathetic saga.
The fire of faith will burn to ashes
The castles of Indian elusive arrogance.
The graveyards in Bandipura and Bijbihara;
All sacred spots where youths are reposing. 
Seem glorious than the shining stars. 
Drenched in blood is the soil of Kashmir. 
Heartless perpetrators of brutalities excel
In the macabre art of butchering the youths.
To quench their insatiable thirst for blood,
The morbid hounds are after their lives.
Unprecedented thuggery of the Indians
Like dark scars tarnish our bright brow. 
The tide of events has awakened the slumbered.
Who were denied the rights to live honorably.
O, the graveyards; You are holy like nuns. 
We revere you for preserving our brave sons.

The writer is an eminent author, poet, educationist and columnist based in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Email: [email protected]

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