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 about the 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 till 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 but later 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.
What sparked your interest in human rights?
In 1990 my maternal grandfather Ali Mohd. Mir, 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 which includes my grandfather as well.
I was 13 then and that’s how I was introduced to the situation here along with discussions we heard about the scenario 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, intimidation, attacks.. many of my colleagues have been attacked in the past. In 2004 my car came under this attack in which my colleague and driver died. I was injured and 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 ambushed. In 2008 there was a blast in his house.
So these threats, intimidation 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 started much earlier.
Any problem from the militants side?
Yes, of course. There are times when we have criticized militants as well. Whenever they do wrong, we criticize them too. There are times when they have also expressed fear, anger against us. They don’t want us to do reportage against them or to condemn them. Their way of achieving this motive was only to speak with us or pressurize us into not reporting against them.
But we would of course. If we have not given up on our cause 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 no matter who commits them militants, police, army or even politicians.
So anyone, who is involved in any wrong, as human rights defenders, we will speak against them.
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 want to be with India or with Pakistan or whether they want to be an independent country.
India boasts about its credentials of democracy. Therefore Indian Government and Indian people, who believe in democracy, should have no objection to this democratic principle and mechanism of resolution of Jammu and Kashmir dispute.
What majority wants in your opinion? To go with Pakistan, remain with India or to become independent?
I think majority always wants a solution outside of India. Anything which is not Indian occupation, majority is happy with that. But in the given circumstances, since hostility in the discourse of Government of India has increased and they talk more about the integral part and are against independent Kashmir, you 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 had 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 chose its ugly way of giving me a feedback that they were unhappy with me by preventing me from boarding a flight to Geneva. They were worried about my Participation in 33rd session of the United Nations Human rights council.
Also, immediately after my return to Kashmir, I was arrested and kept in jail for 76 days (under public safety act.) I think the government was unhappy with my work.
The work which we have done for past many years and with that work, the kind of lobbying which we do now at international level, the government was not happy. 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 an added message to 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 can be arrested. They wanted to create a scare campaign among young people.
But I don’t think they achieved any success in it Because since my arrest and 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.