An interlocutor in chains

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IT is now over a month since Khurram Parvez was stopped by immigration officials at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi from boarding a plane to Geneva, where he was due to speak on the situation in Kashmir at the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council. A day later after his return to Srinagar, he was arrested on the ground that he was inciting people to throw stones. Yesterday, it was exactly a month since a Srinagar court ordered his release. Instead of following the court’s orders, the police shipped him off to Kot Bhalawal jail in Jammu under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act.

 

Parvez can be detained for anywhere from six months to two years under this act without trial.

 

As many as 483 Kashmiris have been detained under the PSA since July 8, when the current bout of unrest began, the highest ever in such a short period of time — it was 360 in 2010 — since the law came into force in 1978. In a report in 2011, a year after the stone-throwing protests during which the PSA was used widely, Amnesty International called attention to the draconian provisions of the law, under which, it said, up to 20,000 people had been detained since 1989. The then Home Secretary Samuel Verghese had told Amnesty: “We have to keep some people out of circulation”.

 

Describing the PSA as a “lawless law” used to detain people without giving them an opportunity for fair trial, Amnesty said the detentions were a “revolving door” mechanism to lock up those whom the government could not, through proper legal channels, keep “out of circulation”. Amnesty called for the repeal of the law as “it violates international human rights law and standards by providing for detention without trial while denying the possibility of judicial review and other safeguards for those in detention required under international human rights law”.

 

Pushed by Amnesty’s scathing conclusions, the government, in 2012, amended the PSA to reduce the maximum period of detention. In the case of persons “acting in any manner prejudicial to public order”, this was reduced from 12 months to three months, extendable to 12 months; in the case of persons acting in “any manner prejudicial to the security of the state”, it was reduced from two years to six months, extendable to two years.

 

But forget Amnesty, justice, human rights, and high principle: There are few takers in India for the moral high ground these days, particularly on issues relating to Kashmir. Instead, consider why the government, in its own interests, should not have jailed Parvez. More than three months since protests broke out after the Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani was killed, the unrest in Kashmir continues. The Valley has now been shut down for more than 100 days, the longest in its history. On the one hand, is a protest calendar issued by separatist leaders that tells people living in the Valley the timings and the kinds of protests for the entire week, day by day. On the other hand, there are government-imposed restrictions, including 56 straight days of curfew.

 

In the first week of September, an all-party delegation went to Kashmir in an effort to break the logjam. They met as many as 300 people in about 30 delegations. These included members of political parties, civil society groups, university teachers, students, traders, tourist operators association, and fruit growers. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, in her capacity as the head of the PDP, appealed to the Hurriyat to meet the all-party delegation. The Hurriyat declined, saying it had no official invitation. And no official invitation was issued because of the Modi government’s declared “redlines” of not talking to the Hurriyat. Three leaders in the delegation who broke ranks to knock on Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s door were rebuffed.

 

The delegation left Srinagar empty handed. It became painfully apparent — if it had not become so before — that the mainstream political parties are powerless to influence the current situation. And it will also become clear soon, if it has not by now, that the Centre and state governments will need to build bridges, on the one side to the separatists, and on the other to the kids on the street. Both governments will at that point need the assistance of people who have credibility in Kashmir today.

 

A human rights lawyer, Parvez partnered respected civil society organisations in Delhi and Mumbai to build youth outreach programmes in Kashmir aimed at weaning young people away from violence, helping them to deal with their situations and build leadership. He has also associated himself with inter-regional dialogue in Jammu and Kashmir. Different communities from Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh participate in these dialogues to discuss disagreements over issues of common interest that threaten to destabilise peace between communities and regions. These dialogues help to narrow differences and promote social harmony. Perhaps the most significant initiative in which Parvez participated from 2011 onwards — along with Sanjay Tickoo of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti — was the Kashmiri Muslim-Kashmiri Pandit dialogue. Together they discussed the reasons for the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990 and accepted that the two communities had different perspectives on that exodus, which both need to understand and respect. Parvez also facilitated a meeting of Pandits with Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

 

Notwithstanding the Srinagar police assessment of Parvez as an “anti-social element known for his anti-national activities” who has “achieved a prominent position in separatist camps under the cover of being a human rights activist”, there are few people in Kashmir today who are taken as seriously. By jailing him, the Centre and state government have locked up a possible interlocutor, a bridge-maker, at a time when such persons can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Indeed, there is some ground to believe that he was already playing such a role.

 

Notwithstanding the Srinagar police assessment of Parvez as an “anti-social element known for his anti-national activities” who has “achieved a prominent position in separatist camps under the cover of being a human rights activist”, there are few people in Kashmir today who are taken as seriously. By jailing him, the Centre and state government have locked up a possible interlocutor, a bridge-maker, at a time when such persons can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Indeed, there is some ground to believe that he was already playing such a role.

If this is not enough, here is something else, especially for all those now espousing the cause of the Baloch in their struggle against Pakistan. As chairperson of the Manila-based advocacy, Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), he was also championing the cause of the disappeared in Balochistan. In June, AFAD’s statement condemning disappearances around the world, included this line: “As for Pakistan, enforced disappearances continue with impunity, particularly in Balochistan, KPK and Sindh. When bodies were later found, they bore apparent bullet wounds and torture marks.” In these realpolitik times, that alone should qualify Khurram Parvez for immediate release.

The Article First Appeared In The Indian Express

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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