Khurram Parvez is a prominent Kashmiri human rights activist. He is the Chairperson of Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances [AFAD](which has won the 2016 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award) and Program Coordinator of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society [JKCCS]. Khurram is a recipient of the 2006 Reebok Human Rights Award.
We are publishing his interview in two parts. In the first part, you get to read about his school & college days, why he went for activism, challenges he faced while working, solutions of Kashmir conflict, What majority wants, his reaction on being prevented from boarding flight to geneva and being charged under Public safety act in which he was kept in jail for 76 days.
In the second part, he talked on role of religion in conflict, secularism in India, gender discrimination in Kashmir, stone pelting, kashmiri minorities, PDP-BJP alliance, message for students.
Please tell us about your early life, education and your aspirations at that point of time?
I have studied from Burn Hall School in Srinagar, a Christian Missionary School. I studied there till my 10th and then studied in Biscoe School, srinagar for my 11th and 12th. I did my bachelors in Commerce. Initially I wanted to be a part of some leading business companies and that’s why I did my bachelors in commerce. But that was the time also when I my interest shifted. I was in Delhi for a while and I came back and joined Masters in Mass Communication in Kashmir University (in 2001.) I am very passionate about human rights of Kashmiri people. Around the year 2000 I also became a part of Jammu Kashmir coalition of civil society.
How did your interest come into human rights?
In 1990 my grandfather Ali Mohd Mir, my maternal grandfather, he was part of a protest that took place on January 21st. There were 10,000 people protesting against the molestation of few women in Srinagar City by the CRPF. They were fired upon by the CRPF and around 50 people lost their lives that includes my grandfather as well.
I was only 13 then and that’s how I was introduced to the situation here. Through the discussions we heard about the situation because there were curfews and killings everywhere. This inspired me to get involved in the Kashmiri political struggle. But there was nothing much I could do as a child so I started getting informed and read about the situation. That’s how I slowly got involved in the human rights movement.
What kind of challenges does an activist has to face while working in a conflict zone like Kashmir?
In Kashmir there are lot of challenges for a human rights defender. To start with, the government does not allow the recognition or registration of NGOs, if they are working on human rights. There are threats, intimidations, attacks.. many of my colleagues have been attacked in the past. In 2004 I was attacked myself. My car came under this attack in which my colleague and driver died. I was injured and I lost my right leg. It was amputated because of that blast.
And before this the president of my organisation, advocate Parvez Imroz was attacked several times. He was shot at in 1996 and in 2005 his house was attacked. In 2008 there was a blast in his house.
So these threats, intimidations, and attacks are a very normal routine for the Human Rights defenders in Kashmir. There are other things also, for example, there is resource crunch. Because when the government does not allow you to get registered, it’s very difficult to raise funding and we are an organisation which relies completely on local support, local donations.
It is not easy to survive without money and we do find that a big challenge here. That is the reason why most of the people who are associated with us, who help us, are volunteers. Because we don’t have enough resources to do the work, the reports come delayed from our side.
But we are happy doing this work because it’s part of our commitment. It’s part of our passion. These difficulties are the reality of Jammu and Kashmir and within this reality, we have to work.
So if a student who is willing to pursue human rights as a career, what would you like to say them?
We have always been encouraging young Kashmiri people to do human rights activism. We don’t recommend Human Rights as a career. We think that people should have their own careers. Whether they are a journalist, engineer, doctor, lawyer whatever else they are doing..this should be the part of their passion, their commitment.
This work is something which they should do in a voluntary manner. If they wish to contribute for the greater good of the society. Because we feel that for this, they do not need to be paid. They should have this spirit of voluntarism and enthusiasm.
When was the first time you got a threat from the government?
The first time was in 2002. I personally started getting threats from different people, anonymous calls and lot of things.. so it is started in 2002 for myself but for my other colleagues it is started much before.
Any problem from the militants side?
Yes, of course. There are times when we has criticized militants also. Whenever they do wrong, we criticize them as well. There are times when they have also expressed fear, anger against us. They don’t want us to do reportage against them. They don’t want us to condemn them. Their way has been just that they have talk to us and they have tried to pressurize not do this work.
But we would of course. If we have not given up on our work against the armed forces, why would we give up on our work against the militants?
If they do wrong, we speak and we feel that it’s our moral responsibility to speak against the wrongs. Whosoever is perpetrating those wrongs. Weather its militants, police, Army or even politicians.
So anyone, who is involved in any wrong, as human rights defenders, we will speak against those wrongs.
If you have to give your opinion, What is the solution of Kashmir conflict?
We are human rights organisation and as human rights organisations, we believe in democratic rights. We believe that the resolution of Jammu and Kashmir has to be democratic in its orientation. Referendum is the best way to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir problem.
We feel that all people of Jammu and Kashmir, weather Indian administered part or Pakistan’s administrated part, all people should be given the right to determine their own future. They should be allowed to decide weather they wants to be with India or with Pakistan or whether they want to be an independent country.
India boasts about it’s credentials of democracy. Therefore Indian Government and Indian people, who believe in democracy, should have no objection to this democratic principle and democratic mechanism of resolution of Jammu and Kashmir dispute.
What majority want in your opinion? To go with Pakistan, remain with India or to become independent?
I think majority always want a solution outside of India. Anything which is not Indian occupation, majority is happy with that. But in the given circumstances, as the hostility in the discourse of Government of India has increased. When they are talking more about integral part. When they are against the Independent Kashmir. That’s the reason why you would see there is an increased expression of pro-Pakistanism in Kashmir.
The people at the Grass root level say that if India is going to an extreme, we should also take the discourse to an extreme, which is pro Pakistan. But generally, I personally believe, that majority want Independence in Jammu and Kashmir.
You were stopped from boarding a flight to Geneva. What was your first reaction at that time?
I was of course very unhappy and very agitated that I have not been allowed to go to United Nations. But I understood that this is how state gives you feedback. If the government is not happy with you, at some point of time, government will Express that unhappiness. It depends on the government, how ugly it wants to be, in giving their feedback. Government of India choose its ugly way of giving me feedback that they were unhappy with me and I was not allowed to board the flight to Geneva. They were worried about my Participation in 33rd session of the United Nations Human rights council.
Also, immediately after mine return to Kashmir, I was arrested and kept in jail for 76 days (under public safety act). I think government was unhappy with my work. I don’t know how human rights defenders can make a government happy.
The reason was clearly our work. The work which we have done over last many years and through that work, the kind of lobbying which we do now at international level. The government was not happy with that. I don’t know how human rights defenders can make a government happy.
Do you think the govt was trying to send a message to youngsters in Kashmir that if an eminent and well known human rights defender can be charged with PSA….anything can be done with the unknown faces?
That was also and added messaging of it. They wanted to give a message to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Particularly the educated young people. That if they can arrest the person with my credentials, anyone else can be arrested. They wanted to create a scare campaign amongst the young people.
But I don’t think that they achieved any success with that. Because since my arrest and then my release, nothing has changed. The fear is being used and overused by the state but people at the Grass root level, particularly younger people, they are not feeling scared at all. They are coming out, protesting. Despite the fact that they know the consequences could be either Bullet, pellet or arrest.
So, if by my arrest they wanted to create a deterrence, it has not worked for them.