‘You can’t have absolute unanimity about any strategy’

  • Kashmir Ink
  • Publish Date: Jan 16 2017 2:05PM
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  • Updated Date: Jan 16 2017 2:08PM
‘You can’t have absolute unanimity about any strategy’Photo: Habib Naqash/GK

After more than four months of another soul-sapping cycle of protests, curfews, killings and blindings, Kashmiris are beginning to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives again. What started as a spontaneous outpouring of grief over the killing of popular Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8 soon spiralled into a familiar Azadi agitation. Of those who led this latest phase of the “freedom movement”, the most important was, not surprisingly, Syed Ali Shah Geelani

That this was despite the state keeping him under constant house arrest all this time speaks to Geelani's standing as the preeminent leader in the separatist pantheon. Since September 20, a posse of CRPF personnel is guarding his residence in Hyderpora, Srinagar, in addition to the police, strictly regulating his interaction with people and even journalists.

Kashmir Ink, though, managed to get an interview with the Hurriyat Conference chairman. In this exclusive conversation, he reflected on a wide range of issues – the losses and gains of the 2016 uprising, why he opened his door to the “unofficial” delegation led by BJP elder Yashwant Sinha while refusing to meet the All Party Delegation of MPs at the crest of the unrest in September. “Every phase is expected to push the basic cause nearer to the goal,” he explained. “We need not get disheartened that we did not get the desired outcome.”

Excerpts from the conversation.

What do you think are the gains, if any, from the latest round of anti-India uprising in Kashmir?

On 8 July, Burhan Wani was martyred along with his two associates. Lakhs of people flooded south Kashmir to offer funeral prayers but the police and armed forces showered bullets and pellets to stop them, resulting in 44 deaths in just two days. Death and destruction continued unabated and it snowballed into a full-fledged uprising, and for the first time the cry for Azadi reverberated throughout Jammu and Kashmir, from Pir Panchal to Karnah, from Ramban to Gurez. 

People were convinced, beyond any doubt, that for our very existence, and to save the future of coming generations and for permanent peace and prosperity, we have no other option but to get rid of the occupation once and for all. Not only in India, the issue was discussed globally as well, and the forceful voices demanding our basic rights were given a hearing. This acknowledgment of our voice, our rights was one of the major gains of this uprising.

But a significant section of the population is disappointed with the outcome. There's a perception that the expected gains from all this sacrifice didn’t materialise?

Revolutionary movements and freedom struggles have different phases, and each phase is expected to push the basic cause nearer to the goal. We need not get disheartened that we did not get the desired outcome.

There has also been criticism of the Hurriyat’s strategy, for example, the issuing of the weekly hartal calendars.

Protest calendars qualify for both affirmation and criticism. You can’t have absolute unanimity about any strategy. Indian forces, along with the local police, were on a rampage. Daily killings, numberless injuries, hundreds of blindings, night raids and ransackings were at their peak. How could people resume their daily routines in such a situation? Calendars were not given for sightseeing or any sporting activity.

In hindsight, do you think hartal was an ideal strategy to steer the massive protests that broke out in the wake of Burhan's killing?

The hartal was not a result of only Burhan Wani’s killing. It was an expression of the resentment and protest against the barbarism that's prevailing across the length and breadth of the state.

There's an argument that hartals cripple Kashmir’s economy and far from taking people near Azadi, only push them farther from the goal and, thus, indirectly help New Delhi.

There is no doubt that hartals cripple the economy, but when your life, honour and dignity is at stake every single day, then, in such an alarming situation, everything else, including the economy, comes second.

There is also criticism that instead of leading, the Hurriyat follows whenever there is a mass uprising. 

Everywhere in conflict zones, the oppressor punches you hard to subjugate you. People oppose and resist in different ways, but even peaceful protesters are showered with bullets and pellets, which only causes the anger to spread through a larger territory. Leaders need to channelise this anger, come to the forefront and guide the masses in different ways, which may be applauded by some of the people and criticised by others.

Why did you agree to meet Yashwant Sinha's delegation when you had refused to meet the All Party Delegation of MPs in September? Sinha's group is now claiming credit for the improved situation in Kashmir.  Do you see anything substantial coming out of these meetings, and the delegation's recommendations to the Indian government?

The decision to not meet the parliamentary delegation was taken unanimously by the joint resistance leadership on the same day their visit was announced, for reasons that are well known to everybody. They had announced they would not meet people like us, but some members came here in their individual capacity, which was only meant to give an impression that we were negotiating with the Indian government. It was to denounce that misconception that we didn’t meet them. 

The decision to meet the delegation led by Yashwant Sinha, too, was taken jointly. They had made it public that they were coming to see for themselves the pain and misery we are being subjected to. We only put our suffering in words and narrated to them.

In the 2016 agitation, over 90 civilians were killed. Hundreds of mostly young people were blinded by pellets, and thousands were arrested, slapped with PSA and thrown in jail. Has the united Hurriyat leadership thought about helping the victims and their families financially, to ensure their treatment and rehabilitation?  And what about those who have been blinded, and the families of the people killed?

This dance of death and destruction has put a huge responsibility not only on the leaders but the entire population to come to the rescue of the affected families. Concrete, collective and institutionalised efforts are needed to address such issues and to do so one needs some space. You know the repression unleashed by the state in the grab of law and order, the hunting of the youth and their incarceration under the PSA, the night raids and the destruction of property seems to be unending. The people who initiate and coordinate relief activities for affected families are in jail or under house arrest or evading police raids – all of which makes it hard to do such work. Still, we are trying our best to address these grave issues.