Anuradha Bhasin is Executive Editor, Kashmir Times. She is a writer and a peace activist involved in campaigns for human rights’ violation victims in Kashmir, crimes against women as well as India-Pakistan friendship. Apala Kundu of CRG interviewed her in June 2018. The following is excerpted from it.
Q: In a recent editorial in Kashmir Times, as well as in your talk today, you say that Indo-Pak relations presently continue to be haunted by the spectre of the Partition. Why does this historical event continue to be of such relevance today, in terms of violence at the borders?
A: For 70 years, all of our problems, we left them unresolved. We need to go beyond the partition. The souring of the relations between the Congress and the Muslim League, that is the birth of the demand for Pakistan and that is where the animosity lies. Post-Partition, we have never addressed these issues, we have never spoken about it. The two countries that were created out of it, we were drunk on the entire celebration of becoming independent and we did not make a move. This despite the fact that at the border, there was a huge number of chilling killings. This is a memory that has been resurrected by so many writers. But apart from that… I think there was a need to talk about it to resolve the issue of animosity for better relations, but we kept that animosity alive for so many decades. Kashmir is a consequence of that animosity. At the same time, it also perpetuates more animosity. So it’s a very complex relationship.
Q: Do you think enough is being done to address the issue of border violence now?
A: Nothing is being done. Over the years with the rise of the Hindutva powers… Congress governments have been extremely ruthless in their treatment of Kashmir right from the very beginning, right from our Prime Ministers, and the most flexible of democrats such as Jawaharlal Nehru. Even he was highly suspicious of Kashmir’s politicians. Sheikh Abdullah was his friend, but he put him behind bars. So that kind of trust deficit always existed between Kashmir and New Delhi. These are Muslims, they can be closer to Pakistan, such feelings were always there. But even under the last UPA government which exacerbated the policy of brutalising the people of Kashmir (2008, 2010, it happened during the UPA rule), at least they followed up every phase of brutality with some cosmetic efforts of reaching out. What has happened with this Hindutva government, barring this one month period of ceasefire, there is not even any pretense about any kind of humane approach. Now, whether the ceasefire was a new line of thinking on the part of BJP, or just a ploy to project the Kashmiris in worse light as villains who could not be trusted – was the purpose of the ceasefire to promote such a dialogue? At the end of the day, the ceasefire is over, the government has pulled out of the alliance, and Governor’s Rule has been imposed on Kashmir. They are trying to form their own government there, which will have greater powers, more direct control. They are talking about Operation Manhunt and Operation All Out. What does this all mean? These add to the vulnerability of the people. There is a feeling that in the perception of the security apparatus, lines between the militants, the stone pelters and the civil society activists will be completely obliterated. The rise of the BJP RSS impacts the Kashmiris more. What makes them more venomous is how the BJP operates even outside the state – the beef lynchings and love jihad and the raking up of Islamophobia. And they feel like Muslims who have always felt so Indian are not being accepted. This increases the trust deficit between the two parties. Additionally, there have been all kinds of human rights violations – increasing communalisation of regions and polarisation in Kashmir. During the 2014 floods, nothing was done. Any kinds of killings earlier, during the UPA government, there would be denial. People earlier would approach the police station to register their cases. Since 2016, very few people are going. Why? One, there is no faith in this government. Two, for those who have gone the police has registered counter cases against them. So there is this celebration of human rights violations. Look at the human shield case, the Farooq Dar case. Let alone denial, they are rewarding that man for what he did. At the same time, they are calling him a stone pelter, which he was not. There is a celebratory tone to all these human rights violations. For the RSS and BJP, Kashmir is a pet project and a twin project. The Congress had insecurities with regard to the Muslim majority state in India. RSS and BJP, they have contempt for the Muslim majority status of the state. At the same time, they want to use Kashmir as a tool. The Kashmir narrative is very seductive for the rest of the country. When nothing is working, Kashmiri bashing and Pakistani bashing will get you votes. That is why we (Kashmiris) expect more violence, more trouble. As of now, I see no hope.
Q: In view of the Kathua rape case, what in your opinion, has been the effect of rise in right-wing politics, on politics within Jammu & Kashmir, particularly on land rights and rights of the dispossessed?
A: The Gujjars and the Bakkerwals are pastoral communities. They live off the forests. They have been demanding for a long time that the J & K Forest Act be brought into power, the national act. J & K has been extending central laws but when it comes to people- friendly laws, they never do it. All politicians are the same. Nothing is stopping them from framing something on similar lines. They can have their own law, they haven’t done that. J & K does not have a tribal policy in place. In mid-February last year, Mehbooba Mufti had mentioned that till there is a tribal action policy in place, these tribals will not be forcefully evicted from the forests. BJP is making a lot of trouble about that. What has happened is that since 2014, when they came into power, PDP and BJP being from two different ends of the pole, decided to divide Kashmir and Jammu regions between themselves, treating one state as two states. And in the Jammu region, the BJP was instrumental in getting a lot of these tribals evicted from the forests. There was a massive campaign against it. There was this sense of vulnerability, and the people were asking for J & K Forest Rights amendment, tribal policy, and saying that we shouldn’t be evicted from these areas. At the same time, the BJP was trying to build up their campaign that these people were pro-militant, pro-terrorists and pro-Pakistanis. So when the Kathua rape and murder case happened, I don’t know how much of it was politically pre-meditated. There is this one man who wanted them out of their village. Was there a bigger push there? Even if there wasn’t, political groups were trying to play politics. With respect to these rights, it’s becoming extremely difficult now, because in a polarized society (in the Jammu region, the Hindus are in brute majority), it’s very difficult. (The rise of right-wing politics) does impact the entire discourse of forest rights, the rights of the nomadic tribes to live a decently, a safe and dignified and peaceful life, their use of forests. All these human rights are made so vulnerable.
Q: You are a journalist yourself, part of the media. And in many ways, the media is responsible for sensitising public opinion pertaining to violence at the borders. However, today in your talk you disparaged the projection of Jammu & Kashmir related news on national media.
A: Specially, you look at the television channels. It has been happening through the 90s, even when the print media was there. But print media didn’t play that negative a role. At least they abided by some professional ethics. Television media has reduced itself to an absolute mockery. You open any prime-time programme, between 8 and 10, you open any news channel, you find some demonization of Kashmiris. They will invite a few people, and they will start branding them. Nobody realises how vulnerable Kashmiris already are, the kinds of cases that can be lodged against general people, even peace activists, and how it affects peace issues.
Q: So the disconnect in terms of news coverage does impact possibilities of peace then?
A: Of course, it does!Because it creates a public opinion. I mean, even in the 90s, alot of these journalists would come to do stories and later complain that their own newspaper organizations would not publish their stories. They were trying to project Kashmir on their own terms, and nobody wanted to see the reality. Nonetheless, print media was still guided by some ethics. But the television channels have completely turned away from it.
Q: What does the recent dissolution of the PDP-BJP alliance bode for Kashmir?
A: There is no alliance today, as we speak, because the BJP has pulled out of it. It never bode well. It shouldn’t have been there in the first place. But the timing (of dissolution) is odd, and it doesn’t resolve anything. Questions are now being asked and should be asked. Why have that alliance then when you had to pull out. That alliance has played a major and a crucial role in creating the kind of chaos that exists there. It was the mistrust against the alliance, and against Hindutva politics that pushed the Kashmiris to more violence. That’s one of the reasons.