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Civil Society Dialogue on Human Rights, Justice and Peace in Jammu and Kashmir June 10-11, Srinagar (J & K)




































 

After 11 years of silence and deepening mistrust, civil society actors and groups form various parts of India and Jammu and Kashmir took the initiative to link up across the divide and wrest back the "lost" space for civil and humanitarian initiative for justice, peace and human rights in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). On June 10 and 11, 2000, for the first time since the outbreak of engulfing violence by militants and state forces in Jammu and Kashmir, a two-day meeting of about 90 civil society actors from various parts of India and Jammu and Kashmir was held in Srinagar. Its significance is further reinforced by the fact that it clearly privileged the importance of democratic process to realise a "just" peace which is of critical importance at this juncture when there are a growing number of interventions to impose a peace without justice. The Srinagar initiative explored the possibility of jointly strengthening the struggles for a just peace, protection of human rights and enabling community level activists to cope with the traumatic impact of violence on society in Jammu and Kashmir.

 

Background

Since 1990 when the upsurge in popular protest morphed into militancy, the "Kashmir" issue has been appropriated by militarised nationalism on both sides of the border. In Pakistan, the religious right appropriated the Kashmir issue claiming that "protecting the honor of Muslim brothers and sisters and recovering their homeland from foreign oppressors" was the "sacred" duty of every Muslim and therefore, that of the Pakistan State. In India, both the religious right and the secular nationalists projected the struggle of the Kashmiri people as an assault on the integrity of the nation as well as its secularism. Together they whipped up a militarised nationalism in the name of "fighting Pakistan’s proxy war" thus setting the context in which defending the territorial integrity of the "Motherland" became both the "divine duty " as well as the "secular commitment" of every Indian. In Kashmir itself it altogether militarised the struggle legitimizing violence and squeezing out the space for popular struggle. The victim on all fronts has been the legitimate aspirations of the people and the democratic struggle against oppression and the fascist response of the state. The most unfortunate development of this hijacking of the Kashmir issue by the religious right and ultra nationalists is that in both countries people struggling for substantive democracy and genuine reforms shied away from engaging with the Kashmir struggle, anxious to avoid entrapment in the manipulative politics of militarised nationalism.

The Srinagar initiative, a dialogue between civil society groups from various parts of India and Jammu and Kashmir, comes as a recognition that the people who are at the forefront of the struggles for substantive democracy, justice and peace in India and Pakistan share common aspirations and objectives with the struggling peoples of Jammu and Kashmir and therefore, these struggles are mutually strengthening or mutually weakening. The suppression of civil and political rights and the consequent obliteration of space for popular struggles in Jammu & Kashmir therefore, has consequences for the strength of movements for democratic struggles in various parts of India and similarly in various parts of Pakistan.

This perspective is reflected in the Statement of Understanding which was adopted by a group of Kashmiri activists from both sides of the Line of Control as well as a few Indian and Pakistani civil society actors who had come together in Kathmandu on July 16-17, 1999at the invitation of South Asia Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR). The participants of the Kathmandu meeting had formed a "Core Group" which was given the mandate to work for building alliances between civil society groups of Jammu and Kashmir and various parts of India and Pakistan. They began consultations with the representatives of the popular mass movements and civil society organisations in India and Pakistan. Some of them also participated the the Fifth Joint Convention of the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy which was held in Bangalore, India on 6-8, April 200. The Bangalore Declaration of April 8, 2000 adopted by the 5th Joint Convention of the Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy also called on its members and state/provincial chapters to build alliances with civil society organisations of Kashmiri people on both sides of the border. This commitment of Pakistan India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy is symbolized in the Forum’s decision to hold the meeting of the National Committee of India chapter in Srinagar. The Pakistan chapter, it is understood, will also be initiating a civil society dialogue with Kashmiri civil society groups on their side of the border in July-August this year.

The SAFHR initiative catalyzed the emergence of the Jammu &Kashmir Federation of Civil Society Organisations (JKFCSO). Members of about 20 civil society organisations representing business and commercial interests, lawyers, doctors, teachers, environmentalists, human rights activists, women and child rights activists, writers, poets and trade unions of Jammu and Kashmir came together to form this federation. In a place where the government and its various agencies ruthlessly suppress any form of popular expression of dissent and where the militant organisations look upon every civil society initiative at alliance building with suspicion, forming an independent civil society organisation was not an easy task. The pioneers of JKFCSO took considerable risks in taking this step. As the participants from Jammu & Kashmir candidly admitted, they would never have dared to speak up let alone organise a civil society meeting without the demonstrated solidarity of civil society groups from various parts of India.

The Srinagar initiative is supported by the South Asia Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR) a Kathmandu based regional public forum oriented towards promoting a culture of peace within a democratic framework. SAFHR works through a network of 35 partners comprising civil society organisations committed to promoting human rights and peace in the region. The two national chapters of Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy are partners of SAFHR.

 

The Meeting

The two-day deliberations began with a public meeting on June 10, which was attended by over 200 persons from various parts of Kashmir and Jammu in addition to the delegates from outside Jammu and Kashmir. The delegate sessions on Human Rights, Civil Society Alliance Building and Peace and Political Initiatives were attended by about 90 delegates of which 40 were from outside Jammu & Kashmir. Delegates included lawyers, human rights and social activists, retired armed forces personnel and civil servants, doctors, teachers, engineers, psychologists and journalists.

In the two-day dialogue, it became starkly evident that in the last ten years of conflict all space for democratic dissent and popular struggles for social justice had been completely destroyed. The ubiquitous violence of the Indian State, which permeates all aspects of life of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the systematic denial of justice in the name of "national security" has convinced the Kashmiris that they can never get justice from the Indian State. New Delhi may claim that the UN Security Council Resolution of plebiscite is no longer valid but most Kashmiris still believe that the political status of Jammu and Kashmir is not yet settled. This unsettled nature of the territory’s political status has created a sense of insecurity among the people which is further compounded by the increasing numbers of custodial killings, widespread use of torture, custodial rape and enforced disappearances. New Delhi’s interventions in Jammu and Kashmir throughout the last 50 years are seen essentially as attempts to manipulate different classes and communities of Jammu and Kashmir and buying them over through grant of privileges.

It also became apparent that failure of the Indian civil society organisations and mass movements to intervene in Jammu and Kashmir has alienated the people of Jammu and Kashmir from Indian civil society. Many Kashmiri participants asked the delegates from different parts of India as to why they did not intervene in Kashmir before. They emphasised again and again that what they wanted from Indian civil society was not "relief" but partnership in their struggle for human rights, justice and peace. The delegates from Jammu and Kashmir pointed out that despite the claims to the contrary by the local administration, it was clear that the social delivery systems had collapsed, Public Health Centres had ceased functioning and more than 400 schools in the valley were still closed. Environmental degradation in the subcontinent’s prime reserve forests had reached crisis proportions. There was critical need for a humanitarian response to reach out to the people of J & K after 10 years of neglect.

For most of the delegates who had come from various parts of India, it was their first exposure to the human face of the Kashmir story. The killing by a BSF officer of Rafiq Bakal, a local shopkeeper of Lal Chowk brought home to the visiting delegates, the arbitrary state terror which still stalks ordinary civilians in the heart of Srinagar. The two-day intense deliberations, in plenary and working groups, was in many ways the first interaction between civil society actors of a "victim community" and a "non-victim community". For civil society actors from outside Jammu and Kashmir it was an eye opener to discover that despite the near destruction of the social capital of Kashmir, there were independent initiatives for the care of orphans; the Association of Parents of the Disappeared demanding justice for the missing; Green Kashmir campaigning to save DAL Lake and the forests and a Student initiated Helpline to help needy students and give career counseling.

Given the professional orientation of the delegates who had gone to Srinagar from various parts of India, four concrete areas of joint activity were identified at the first dialogue of civil society activists.

One - Mobilising for joint struggles for peace, justice and democratic rights. Activities like joint rallies and public meetings will be organised in different parts of India so that the struggle for peace and justice in J & K can be supported by the democratic struggle groups in various parts of India. Mass organisations and other civil society groups would be encouraged to send volunteers to Jammu and Kashmir to participate in political and social struggles

Two - Joint activity on human rights. Activities were envisaged both at the level of theory and practice. Introduce at the University level in the state a course on human rights education as has been incorporated in other universities in various parts of India under a University Grants Commission scheme. At a more practical level, a legal cell would be constituted to assist in jointly pursuing cases of gross human rights violations.

Three - Counseling and training for trauma affected. The objective was to assist the Kashmiris to cope with the impact of generalised violence and especially that of torture at the social level. A core group of trained psychologists, doctors and social workers with experience of working in trauma affected areas would work at the community level in different parts of J & K training professionals and activists.

Four - Joint Solidarity Campaigns to Save the Environment ? Establish solidarity links with environmental movements in various parts of the country and strengthen information sharing and skills and training for environmental activists in J & K

( The Srinagar Declaration adopted by the Two-day dialogue is enclosed) SRINAGAR DECLARATION Adopted on 11, June, 2000, at the Plenary of a two day conference on "Peace and Justice in Kashmir", held in Srinagar.

We, members of civil society from various parts of India and Jammu and Kashmir, Convinced of the indivisibility of democracy, peace, justice and human rights in Jammu and Kashmir (hereafter, J&K):

Deeply concerned at the trauma and turmoil experienced by the people of J&K, particularly over the last eleven years:

Conscious of the suffering of the civilians, particularly women, children and the aged; Recognizing the virtual collapse of health and educational services in the state:

Distressed at the widespread unemployment;

Anguished at the attempts to create a divide between various communities in J&K;

Outraged at the misgovernance and rampant corruption in the state;

Saddened by the insensitivity demonstrated by major sections of India’s media towards the plight of the people of J&K;

Demand immediate steps for the cessation of all forms of violence and repression, including the withdrawal of security forces to the barracks and reciprocal measures by militants;

Seek an immediate release of all Kashmiris detained under TADA, NSA, PSA, Armed Forces Special Powers Act and all other draconian legislations, a repeal of all such laws and a guarantee for protection of civil and political rights;

Appeal to the civil society of India and Kashmir for providing immediate relief to all victims of violence in J&K, especially women and children;

Urge the government to take immediate steps for the restoration of health and educational facilities and the economic resuscitation of the state;

Reiterate the need for the revival and strengthening of the age-old traditions of tolerance, pluralism and communal amity that have flourished in J&K;

Condemn the apathy of the central and state government to corruption and misgovernance in the state;

Appeal to the media to report truthfully to the Indian people the situation prevailing in J&K;

Oppose division of J&K along religious, sectarian or regional lines;

Demand an immediate and unconditional tripartite dialogue for a resolution of the Kashmir issue, in consonance with the wishes of the people, to ensure sustainable peace, democracy and justice in J&K.

 

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