It seems that everybody has had their say about what happened during Salman Khurshid’s talk at SOAS University last week. Everybody from “The Business Standard” to “The Kashmir Walla” seems to have an interesting take on what we did. Yet it seems, once again that the majority of those who reported on our display of dissent didn’t think to ask the Kashmiri, but she too shall speak.
Salman Khurshid, India’s Foreign Minister, came to London to hail Indian democracy, all of its great advances and endeavors across the land of the Taj Mahal. He spoke about India and how his country was on the pinnacle of carrying out “the largest democratic process on earth” whilst conveniently failing to mention that it is the army of his nation, which makes our home the world’s most militarised zone. He did not touch upon the corpses of the numerous International Human Rights accords violated by Indian policy, instead he shrouded them in his country’s flag of democracy.
You must all know the English phrase “The elephant in the room.” Well even this poor elephant gets more attention than us Kashmiris. Now what Salman did not realise is, is that there was not only one elephant in the room that day, there were three. He’d very tactfully decided to skirt around us, maybe in hope that there wouldn’t be an elephant so vocal amongst this budding young crowd of students. But we all know Kashmiris have a knack of being very upfront about things and this new generation definitely has some great lungs on them.
We hadn’t sat through this farce, amongst what was for Mr. Khurshid an international audience, to leave without being heard. He’d said his part, made some interesting comparisons between India’s quest for minerals in the North West to the movie “Avatar” and talked about India’s internal problems in regards to democracy. Apparently these didn’t stretch very far beyond the statements made by the Aam Aadmi Party on social media. And if you were fooled by that, then rather you than me.
At this point, even though I’d arrived with a plan, and a point to make I couldn’t help but feel that by failing to mention Kashmir when discussing the internal problems of the Indian democracy Salman had already unknowingly admitted that Kashmir was not “India ka core issue”. In fact to some extent, to me at least, it indicated that it wasn’t an “internal” part and it was very far from an “integral” one.
However I couldn’t ignore the fact that as it is Indian state policy to do so, he would play the “atoot ang” card whenever it pleased him. And besides this undertone, this private victory I sensed was not at all in any way vocal enough. How could this man, who was amongst those who perpetrate the brutal occupation of our people; perpetrate genocide in Kashmir and commit unparalleled Human Rights abuses, be allowed to stand before us championing the very same state for its democratic advances?
Fahad Shah stood up to question Salman on his silence about Kashmir, he questioned the rhetoric designed by Mr. Khurshid whilst making the statement that India was working towards a seat in the UN Security Council. Fahad termed very eloquently that this was all “complete bullshit” and I’m sure many Kashmiris agree.
Then I stood, the moderator asked me to be seated to which I replied “With all due respect sir, my country has been waiting 67 years for answers.” I asked how 700,000 troops in our home is in anyway democratic? Mr Khurshid wanted to speak, but I was not done. I asked how enforcing 8,000 disappearances is democratic? Where is the democracy in raping 10,000 Kashmiri women? Why has the world’s largest democracy not granted us our UN Plebiscite promised by Nehru?
The moderators of the event started shouting and asking for me to stop and let Salman speak, I told him we’d been listening for 67 years. He made a joke “I’m not even 67 years old….” The hostile crowd made up of mainly Indian students cheered him on. But that doesn’t stop a Kashmiri.
He said I was allowed to have a point of view, that he wouldn’t coerce me into believing his. I replied “But you do. Only last week Kashmiri students were charged with sedition for supporting the Pakistani cricket team, was that not coercion?” He tried to tell us that the charges were dropped because he opposed them. Maybe Mr Khurshid did oppose these charges, but I argue that he only did so because the sedition case caused more media outrage than any other Kashmir story has in a long time. Ask why this was.. It was because Kashmiris spoke out and caught the media’s attention. This bad press was only tearing at the already fragile lie of the great Indian democracy, so did Mr Khurshid really have any choice but to oppose the charges? Could India really afford to allow their democracy to be pulled to pieces by Kashmiris? The answer is no.
But more importantly even after dropping the charges will the coercion cease? No, in fact it will continue, in many cases it will escalate. We didn’t know then that India would kill Farhat Dar, 17, in Bandipora in cold blood with a bullet to the chest, just days after this encounter, but they did. So Mr Khurshid’s statement “I will not coerce you into believing my opinion.” Was, and I will quote Fahad here “Complete bullshit.” India killed another Kashmiri child whilst its Foreign Minister claims “no coercion”
After our disruption, which the third Kashmiri in the room filmed, the talk was shut down. A vote of thanks was given and no more questions were taken. One of the members of the Indian Delegation accompanying Salman told me to get lost. Nice diplomacy, hey? Is India’s democracy so fragile that two Kashmiris taking up just 5 minutes of Salman’s time in the spotlight was enough to scare away the Foreign Minister?
Some, including Salman claimed that by standing up in such an assembly and airing our views we were not respecting a democratic process and to this I have a few questions to ask. Is freedom of speech not my democratic right? It might not be in India, but it sure is in England. Is a room full of Indians including the Foreign Minister jeering at one Kashmiri and attempting to bully her into silence not coercion? Is it not a direct representation of what India does and has always done to Kashmiris?
Had I been child with a stone in Kashmir, I would have been shot dead. That is the reality. Knowing this and that our people have endured over 67 years of brutal occupation how does India, or anybody else whose silence has allowed the carnage to continue, have the nerve to dictate to me the manner in which I can and cannot protest?
Kashmir has been the elephant in the room of the South Asian subcontinent and absent from the minds and agendas of policy makers and influencers globally, for far too long. We as Kashmiris have a responsibility to ensure that this does not continue.
In my country there are a generation of children mourning over the dead bodies of their peers and the world is silent. In this situation it is not the mode of dissent that matters but rather the number of people reached by the noise we make. Protesting at a talk by Salman Khurshid is a means, but is far from an end. In fact, I argue it is only the beginning.
They may discredit our modes of protest, but they cannot argue with the facts on the ground.
India is an occupier and like every occupation in history, it too shall see its end.
Here’s the video if you’ve not already seen it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dWiHwqe0Uc