Saturday, 11 December 2010

‘Kashmiri struggle couldn’t remain indigenous’, says Asia Andrabi

‘Kashmiri struggle couldn’t remain indigenous’, says Asia Andrabi

Posted by K4Kashmir on December 11, 2010 in Kashmir, Pakistan | 0 CommentEdit
‘Kashmiri struggle couldn’t remain indigenous’, says Asia Andrabi
Aasiya Andrabi, Head of Dukhtaran-e-Millat
Murtaza Shibli

Aasiya Andrabi is a well known Kashmiri woman activist and head of Dukhtaran-e-Millat or ‘Daughters of Faith’ which she founded in 1981 to fight for the rights of Kashmiri woman. That is why Aasiya fought for special reservations for women in buses, ostracised families that demanded dowry, and married off poor girls. She staged a rally in March 1987 against pornographic films, when foreign films were being screened all over Srinagar. DeM cadres carried brushes and cans of paint under their burqas and painted posters showing nudity.her apparently social reformation was not allowed and she and her activists were beaten and hounded by the police.

In 1990, when the popular armed resistance movement started in Kashmir, Aasiya was first to lend her support to it and has ever since as she believes that armed movement is the only way India can be pressurised into the settlement of the Kashmir problem. As a result of her support to the armed resistance, she has been arrested several times and her organisation banned. The Indian government has blamed her funding terrorism as well as being an armed ‘terrorist’ but the charges have never been proven. In October 2004 she started a campaign against the sexual exploitation of Kashmiri women at the hands of Indian paramilitary forces. But the then pro-India government led by Mufti Sayeed arrested her and put her behind bars. The scandal fully broke out in public in May 2006 with thousands of Kashmiris protesting in the streets. Due to the public pressure the government had to arrest many, including police and government officials. This interview was held at her residence in Srinagar in May this year.

What is your assessment of the current situation?
It is full of confusion. There are bundles and bundles of confusion in here and it is because of the role of Pakistan and the role of so-called Kashmiri leadership.

What went wrong?
The Kashmiri struggle couldn’t remain indigenous. We became pawns in the hands of agencies whether ISI or others. The Kashmiri leadership shouldn’t have totally relied on Pakistan. And after 9/11 when America changed its policy towards the whole of the Muslim Ummah, Pakistan has come under tremendous pressure and it seems that they can’t with stand it. This has led to the same situation in Kashmir as was in 1971 after Pakistan lost its war with India.

So what is the problem?
The problem is with Pakistani agencies. They want people to be on their pay role and anyone who resists, they try their best to curtail their influence. I am a staunch Pakistani supporter but Pakistani media would never give me any coverage as I am not on their agency pay roll and I refuse to listen to their directions.
So you think Pakistani agencies are the reason that Kashmiri leadership has failed?
Pakistani government has betrayed us a lot, not only today but in 1965 as well and long before also.

If this is the case, then why are you supporting Pakistan?
The government is betraying us, but we support the ideology of Pakistan. Our leadership is to be blamed as well for falling into the trap.

So what should the Kashmiri leadership do? Oppose India, oppose Pakistan or oppose both?
To oppose India is obvious as we have never been a part of India. As far as the Pakistani government and its policies are concerned, we have to oppose them and their policies and we should do it openly. We should show them that Kashmiris have a stand on this issue and that it is our problem. We should also let them know that Pakistan is no more our master and they can’t dictate us. They should know that we want to fulfil our dream of Pakistan which includes Kashmir in it as well that has been denied since 1947.

Why should we go with Pakistan rather than be independent of sorts?
It is actually the ideology behind Pakistan that is why we want to go with Pakistan.

As a Kashmiri I don’t want to be held hostage to some ideology framed by a bunch of people some decades ago.
It is not the ideology framed by imperialists or any other people. It is the ideology that there are two nations – Hindus and Muslims and I support that.

That two nation theory was destroyed by the Pakistani leaders themselves with the creation of Bangladesh.
That doesn’t mean it is a rejected theory. It is what Allah says in the holy Quran. That is why I am a supporter of Pakistan, not because of the Pakistani government. I want to merge Kashmir with Pakistan.

But what if people of Kashmir don’t want to be part of Pakistan?
As far as I know the Kashmiri people are Pakistanis by heart, but at this stage they have just been shocked by the attitude of the Pakistani government towards us and are angry.

But this shock might turn into anger and they could refuse to be part of Pakistan anymore?
If they refuse to be part of Pakistan then there is a choice of independent Kashmir.
Will you support Independent Kashmir if the Kashmiri people chose to be so?
Yes I will have to respect the wishes of the people and support it. But I don’t think that at this stage the majority of the Kashmiri people would like to be independent. My first choice would be to be part of Pakistan. But now that Pakistan has betrayed us, if there would be a choice between independent Kashmir and India, I will definitely support Independent Kashmir.

If you say that Pakistan has betrayed us both previously and now aren’t they then our enemies?
Yes the Pakistani government is our enemy at this time but not the people of Pakistan.

But it is the Pakistani people who make this government. We can’t distinguish between the two for our political relief.
One has to distinguish between the government and the people. In Kashmir we have a pro-Indian Congress government imposed on us as well, but we are not its supporters or we don’t consider ourselves Indian. Here people are all up against India.

Pakistani people have always helped Kashmiris in whatever way they could and once we become part of Pakistan, they will always be there for us.

There is a general sense of helplessness among the Kashmiri people at the moment. What is the reason and what do you think is the way out?
There is no doubt that people feel very helpless as they feel no body is coming forward to their rescue and no body is talking about Kashmir and the sufferings of Kashmiris. Pakistan’s negative role for the last couple of years has catalysed this feeling and multiplied the psychological sufferings of the Kashmiri people. Another reason is that the lack of leadership has compounded the suffering as well.

Our leadership is corrupt and they are making money at the expense of Kashmiris’ sufferings. At the present only Syed Ali Geelani is voicing the sentiments of Kashmiri people and therefore people should support him. The only way out is for the Kashmiri people to come forward, otherwise they will be re-sold as happened at the time of Sheikh Abdullah. People have to resist the moves of some so called leaders to sell out the sacrifices of Kashmiri people.

What is the worst thing about the behaviour of Kashmir leaders?
There are many, but one I find really disgusting; the Indian army is killing, torturing our youth and raping our women, but these so-called Kashmiri leaders are enjoying their security.
You earlier said that Kashmiris are disheartened and sad that no one in the world is supporting or understanding us. But there was a time that Iran openly and fully supported the Kashmiri struggle.
Yes Iranians did support us and we are thankful to them for that. But unfortunately that support could not continue or materialise in the long term. The reason is that our leadership failed to win over friends as they did not reach out to the world. They did what they were told to do by the Pakistani agencies.

Iran is a great nation with historic ties with Kashmir but as of now their Kashmir policy is diluted and they are silent at the sufferings of their brothers and sisters in Kashmir.

I haven’t asked you about the ‘peace process’ going on between India and Pakistan.
I don’t think we have any objection if there is well meaning peace in the region or for that matter in the whole world. Peace is the best gift human beings can offer to fellow human beings. But what India and Pakistan are doing is depriving Kashmiris of their right to live with dignity in the name of peace which is not acceptable to us or for that matter any nation or group of people who are subjugated and want justice.

Therefore, we reject this so-called peace process as it is nothing but the betrayal of both India and Pakistan of their commitments to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

What do you say about President Musharraf’s proposals on Kashmir?
I don’t even want to talk about him let alone his proposals. If you ask me the person I hate most on the face of this earth… it is General Musharraf. He is a real dictator. He has dictated the whole Pakistani nation for the last few years and now he wants to dictate the Kashmiris as well and impose his will upon us.

Do you think President Musharraf will be able to influence Kashmiri leadership?
As far as one part of our leadership is concerned they definitely listen to his commands.

And what is the reason for that?
Nothing more than their material interests.

Are you saying that Pakistan is bribing them with money to subvert or buy their allegiance and ideology?
Money is one of the important factors in this game. That is why our leadership is in the hands of Pakistani agencies. I can understand there could be very many compulsions for Kashmiri leadership living in Kashmir or in Pakistan to toe the Pakistani line. But what about those Kashmiris living in the West and claiming to be representing Kashmiri people? They too are parroting the same words as uttered by General Musharraf. This is a tragedy that most of the Kashmiri leadership here and abroad are corrupt and receive money from Pakistani agencies to further their agenda. These people are not sincere and have no stake in Kashmir and the sufferings of its people. They are just there to make money and fame. They have no practical role in the Kashmir problem or its solution. They are enjoying their life and luxuries that came in the name of Kashmir.

Can you elaborate a bit more on what you are calling corruption among the Kashmiri leadership?
The so-called Kashmiri leadership made money from both India and Pakistan and many times from both at the same time. Money came here for two purposes. One was to corrupt our leadership which, if they kept for themselves I wouldn’t mind. However, a massive chunk of money came for relief of the Kashmiri people, but they didn’t get that and the leaders kept that for themselves.

When there was no money, our movement was going on very well, but since the money came we are on a constant decline. I was offered money by the ISI officials. They tried to corrupt me. However, I refused the money and told them that they are the people who have corrupted Kashmiris and Kashmiri leadership. Pakistan absolutely and deliberately corrupted Kashmiri leadership so that they can dance to their tunes.

In 1998 I went to London and Dr Ayyub Thakur organised a meeting for me. I saw with my own eyes that women attending the function gave me money and their ornaments and asked me to take it for the Kashmiri victims. They told me that they have sent a lot of money to the Kashmiri victims. I was shocked and surprised to learn that. Money came in millions to Kashmir and I wonder where that money is? These leaders have no idea that they are profiting on the sufferings of the Kashmiri people. [Aasiya became emotional, and voice choked and she started crying saying that she knows hundreds of families, orphans and widows who have nothing to eat or wear].

These leaders, I don’t know how they go on foreign tours and wear religious garb, but they are profiting from the money that was for the relief of Kashmiri victims. How they dare to do this, I don’t know.

Previously your organisation has worked with the London based Mercy Universal to implement relief programmes in Kashmir. What is the current situation?
I don’t know. Our contacts snapped in 2002 when the government falsely implicated us that we were funding militancy, though we were running training centers for widows and orphan girls. After that we have had no contact with Mercy Universal as we were banned and currently we don’t know if Mercy Universal is doing anything in Kashmir.

In the recent by-elections, quite a remarkable number of people voted and this is for the first time during last 18 years. Don’t you think this as a failure of the pro-freedom movement?
This is true that voting was different from the past, but I don’t see it as any failure of the pro-movement sentiments. If you heard interviews of the people who voted, they all said that they voted for their roads and local administration which has nothing to do with the status of the Kashmir problem or its solution.

As a women’s group what have you done for the suffering women of Kashmir?
Well it’s not a question of women, it is a question of the suffering of the whole people. We have very limited resources as we don’t get money from agencies or Hurriyat Conference. We are taking responsibilities for some orphans and their education. Many of our members are widows themselves with children.

From last year we have embarked on a plan to try to rehabilitate women involved in flesh trade due to their poverty, but then I was arrested. I know this is a big issue and we need to address it. These women need rehabilitation and are compelled by the circumstances.

Those charities who claim to be working for the victims in Kashmir are to be blamed as they collect huge amount of money but do not send that to Kashmir. Some where down the line the money gets lost.

We have so many widows, but we don’t have a tradition of remarrying them. Isn’t this a problem?
It is a very big problem. In 2000, I called upon all the Muslims of Kashmir for taking more than one wife and the media asked me whether I will allow my husband taking a second wife. I will support and insist that my husband shall go for a second marriage preferably a widow, if and when he is released from prison.

I talked to my own party members to prepare their own husbands to prepare them for second marriage. But our culture and family system is such that we are not able to do that. I think I have failed in this despite putting my best energy to it. We have strange customs and notions of piety. Our society respects women who do not remarry which is rubbish, as women have their own social, physical and emotional needs which can’t be ignored. You ask me how hard it is to live without a man, as I have the bitterest experience. I have to endure a mountain of difficulties negotiating with life and small children while my husband is in prison and it is very very hard.

There is another problem. If some widow marries another man, she has to leave her children for two reasons, first the new husband won’t take the children or if at all he is prepared, the former in-laws of the women are forcing her to abandon her children and they take them.

The woman then chooses not to marry for she will other wise loose her children. This is such a tragic situation and primarily women suffer out of this. First she loses her husband and then the society does not support her. Remarriage is not an option for her as our society is far too underdeveloped as remarriage of women is not seen as positive or encouraged, and when some women are brave enough to remarry and start a new life, the new husband is not willing to take her children. Therefore the women who has braved and challenged the bad social practice and wanted to get remarried, she looses her children. Naturally, therefore, she chooses to stay with her children otherwise the children will have no roof over their head. Our organisation is looking after few such orphans who lost their fathers to the strife, either killed by the army or died in an encounter, but when their mothers were brave enough and remarried, they lost their mother as well, as the new husband wouldn’t take the children.

I wanted to hire a house for these roaming orphan girls who are going from house to house. I want to hire a house and put some of these there. Even people here are afraid of giving money. We opened a bank account, but the government ceased that account as well, therefore, we are not allowed to operate.

You had such an important role to play for the suffering Kashmiri women, but as you are involved in politics, the government is really tough on you.
I don’t believe that. In the beginning, Dukhtaran-e-Millat was not a political organisation. We came onto the scene challenging India’s imposed culture not Indian occupation. But we were hounded, arrested and stopped to carry out peaceful activities.

Just a few years back, we were doing relief work – purely relief work. We were helping widows trying to rebuild their lives, feeding orphans and we never publicised it as not to link it with our political work so that no one can say that we are doing politics at the expense of the sufferings of widows and orphans. But still we were booked under terrorism. The Indians blamed our relief work saying that we were financing terrorism. Our organisation was banned under the Terrorism Act and I was arrested. Thus hundreds of widows and children we were supporting were left in the lurch.

If feeding orphans and building shattered lives is terrorism, what can you expect from the Indian state? Where is the space, whether we were making a political statement or running a relief camp? India sees every Kashmiri as a challenge and they crush us indiscriminately.

The recent scandal now known as the sex scandal has rocked the whole of Kashmir. What do you feel about it?
The whole Indian army and the local police are involved in this operation and it is part of India’s plan and strategy of counter-insurgency. India is corrupting our culture and Indian secret agencies are grooming young girls. Indian political leaders and the army and intelligence officers are paedophiles who are exploiting Kashmiri girls as young as 14 or 15 years old. Some of them are lured and others threatened that if they do not go with the army or intelligence or police officers, their family members will be killed. There is a very small proportion that is willing to be part of it, and they too have financial difficulties as they have lost their parents in the present strife.

Many times you have classified the present Kashmiri armed struggle as jehad. But my perception is that in Kashmir innocent people were killed, kidnapped and tortured in the name of jehad. That is surely not jehad, that is ‘fasaad’ [anarchy].

I don’t say that is jehad. What I said is that the movement against the Indian occupation is jehad. If someone kills, kidnaps or tortures people, burns houses, causing havoc; that is terrorism not jehad.

What is your opinion about the armed struggle? Do you justify militancy now?
I have always justified armed resistance movement in Kashmir. India has left us with no option and there is no future for any politics in Kashmir.

Why do you say that?
We have seen it since 1947. India has never heeded the political opinion of Kashmiris. They have always treated us with contempt and they still do. It is only because of the armed movement that India is still saying Kashmir is a problem. Otherwise, our so called leaders have thrown in the towel and they are making money with both hands from both India and Pakistan.

Why can’t this movement be inclusive so that Kashmiri Pandits and others get involved as well?
That can’t be possible. Pandits are happy with India and they are getting huge economic incentives and why should they like to be part of Pakistan?

But do you agree that Pandits or any others have the right to oppose the Kashmiri movement, and that they have a right to voice their opposition to the ideas of azaadi and differ from the majority of Kashmiri Muslims?
Of course they have every right to form their own political ideology or oppose ours. We should have the same right to oppose them.

But let us assume that tomorrow Kashmir becomes part of Pakistan, what do you think the Pandits rights’ will be knowing that they opposed it in the first place?
Listen. They are part and parcel of our society. They will have the same rights as any other person. There are millions of Hindus in Pakistan and Pandits will have much better rights than what Indian Muslims are enjoying at the moment.

Dr Shabir Choudhry
"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -- George Orwell.

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