This interview was taken on 30 June 2016 by Faseeh Ahmad EK, a research scholar at University of Hydrebad. It is published for the first time, as the valley mourns for the demise of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the tallest figure in Kashmir movement on Wednesday.
In the stories about Kashmiri resistance, slogans reverberating the Friday afternoons, in the dreams of a Kashmiri boy I met in an orphanage and in every discourses around Azad — freedom of Kashmir, Geelani was the central figure. “Kon Karega Tarjumani.. Syed Ali Shah Geelani’ (who will represent Kashmir, Syed Ali Shah Geelani) echos in every street in Kashmir valley.
Since 2010, Syed Ali Shah Geelani has been under house arrest. Cocooned within four walls of the house, his Friday prayers and Eid celebrations are all in the same room.
On that early Ramadan morning, I met Geelani at his house heavily guarded by Indian forces. When enquired about Kashmir, I said it was excellent. He replied, “We are facing the worst form of state terrorism. The worst.”
Though his deteriorating health was plaguing him, at 86, his words and memories remain strong and resonate with power. He says, “I have lived in jail for 16 years and have had around a dozen of assassination attempts against me, but here I am.”
What is the core issue of Kashmir? Why can’t Kashmir be a part of India?
You see, when India was divided into parts, the division was based on the two-nation theory. The area where there was a Hindu population to join India and a Muslim population to join Pakistan. As all we know, Pakistan was formed based on Muslim populated areas. There were nearly six hundred Rajwade and states those were not directly under British control. So the then governor-general of India, Mount Batten, gave guidelines to the people on 25th July of 1947. He gave the instructions to those states that they are free to join Pakistan or India. However, they must consider that their boundaries are connected to which dominion in the first, and then the population, whether Muslim or Hindu. So the second guideline entered was about the religious and cultural affiliation of the people of the states.
According to this guide, Jammu Kashmir was a natural part of Pakistan. Because 750 miles, not meters, 750 miles of Jammu and Kashmir boundary are connected with Pakistan. Also, eighty-five percent of the population were Muslims. 85%! So the religious and cultural affiliation was also associated with Pakistan. So there was no justification for Jammu Kashmir to become a part of India.
Unfortunately, India is facing us. They didn’t consider any of these guidelines, and on 27th October 1947, they sent armies here to Jammu and Kashmir. They occupied by gun power, from that period till date. India is here occupying Jammu and Kashmir just on the gun power. In January 1948, India took the case of Jammu and Kashmir to United Nations Security Council under the late Mr Jawahar Lal Nehru. India claimed that Jammu and Kashmir is a part of India. The leaders who have come here said that their army would vacate Jammu and Kashmir when it becomes a permanent part of India. But their claim was not accepted by the UN Security Council.
They declared that Jammu and Kashmir is not part of India. However, it is a disputed area, and Jammu and Kashmir people should be given the right to self-determination. In total, eighteen resolutions have passed. All those resolutions have been signed and admitted by India and Pakistan, and the world has witnessed them. The people of Jammu and Kashmir are demanding the implementation of that resolution. The people of Jammu and Kashmir, irrespective of their location or religion, whether in Jammu or Ladakh or the Valley or any other places, are Muslims or Hindus or Sikhs or Christians or Buddhists; those people should be given the right to self-determination. They would decide whether they want to be with India or exit to Pakistan.
Unfortunately, India is suffering from the arrogance of power, and they are by this power occupying the Jammu and Kashmir. In 1947, the prime minister of India, late Jawahar Lal Nehru, had promised, pledged, and committed to the people here in Lal Chowk in the presence of late Shaikh Muhammad Abdullah in a public gathering. He pledged that India would give the people of Jammu and Kashmir the right to self-determination to decide their future. In August 1952, he declared in the parliament that the commitment given to the people of Jammu and Kashmir would be not only for the people of Jammu and Kashmir but also for the people of Pakistan and the world community. That has to be fulfilled at any cost. He has said that he does not favour forced marriages or forced occupation. The J&K people will be given the right to self-determination. Since then, the people of Jammu and Kashmir are fighting for the right to self-determination that India has committed, declared, signed, and admitted in eighteen resolutions.
Now six lakh people of J&K have given their precious lives for this just and noble cause in the fight for their right to self-determination. The Indian bullets have taken such several precious lives. But, unfortunately, the Security Council of the United Nations has not given any heed as far as the general demand of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Other countries also are not paying any heed to the request of the population of Jammu and Kashmir. At this juncture, you can understand that materialism has occupied the whole world. There is no justice, or there is no respect for the human or their just and noble causes. This is why Jammu and Kashmir people didn’t succeed yet to gain their rights from the Indian occupation.
But we are determined to continue our struggle for the just and noble cause because we are on the right path. As far as India is concerned, they have now occupied all parts of Jammu and Kashmir by gun. There is no justification for India to invade Jammu and Kashmir. There is no just cause or legal sanction for India to have Jammu and Kashmir under their control. So this is a very brief history of Jammu and Kashmir.
So You believe Kashmir can stay with Pakistan?
As far as the resolutions are concerned, there are only two options, India or Pakistan. If the recommendations get implemented, we have declared that the people will decide whether to be with India or exit to Pakistan. Democratically we must respect the voice of choice for individuals, and India, Pakistan, and the world community should accept that.
Is your focus on UN resolution rather than a free Kashmir?
We have declared this point also. Suppose all the three parties that are India, Pakistan, and the real representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, sit around the table; all the three sides, by consensus, decide that the whole Jammu and Kashmir should be given independent status. In that case, we will think about that also.
What are the factors that make the leaders here work on different platforms?
We are united. The conception you have is not proper. We are united on the fundamental point that Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed territory. The people of Jammu and Kashmir should be given the right to self-determination. As far as the main point is concerned, we are jointly demanding that the right to self-determination should be granted to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. We are not divided as far as this central point is concerned.
But there have been conflicts between the people who stand for a modern democratic state and those who stand for an Islamic state in many postcolonial Muslim countries, as we have seen between Maududi and Jinnah or in Egypt or recently in Bangladesh. How do you see this?
As a Muslim, you must try to understand Islam. Islam is not a religion. Islam is a system of life. A complete system of life. Islam says that the Islamic system has to be adopted democratically. I repeat, democratically, not by force or not by a gun. Democratically you are accepting socialism, or communism, capitalism, or any other isms; why not give a chance to Islam or the Islamic system to be adopted by the people? What is the reason? There is no justification. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood came into power through the democratic system, but they were not allowed. After one year, the army took over with the help of America and other western countries. All their leaders are this time under jails, and Mr Morsi has been given 40 years of incarceration. They were democratically coming into power. There was no justification for the army to vacate them and come into force.
Islam is a complete way of life. As far as I studied Islam, I assure you that Islam is the only system that respects human beings, complying with the peace between the people. Its bases are on justice, not blind power and blind force to rule the people. I will tell you a verse from Sura Maidah, verse number 8, “Do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness”. So whenever a Muslim ruler is ruling a place, he is bound to be just to each living there.
As a Muslim, you have to give justice to everybody, whether your friends or enemies, to those people. So many verses are teaching that there is no discrimination between the people. The only bias is adamant on Taqwa. Otherwise, there is no discrimination between human beings by religion or by caste, by language, profession, and by a country not at all. As the prophet said, all the people are the family members of Almighty Allah. Only those whom Almighty Allah respects are those who serve the human being without any discrimination.
You see what’s happening in India. India is under the control of RSS ( A far-right Hindu nationalist group), and they are not accepting the Muslims or Sikhs, or Dalits to prevail there. Only Hindu should rule the country. Considering fifty-seven Islamic nations, the Islamic system is not staying anywhere. There the people are neither regarded as equal, and they are not united.
It is twenty-three years since the Hurriyat Conference has formed .it has been following peaceful protests like hartals and rallies. Is there any change in strategies to be expected as the loss from this side is very big? Many martyrs, mothers, youths, sisters.?
Yes, the loss is very high, but we have to continue. I told you that India is suffering from the arrogance of power; they are not paying any heed to these struggles. But the sacrifices have been given by Jammu and Kashmir for their just and noble cause, lots of sacrifices. I told you that six lakh people had given their precious life for this cause. In 1947, five lakh people were massacred by the Indian army, Patiala army, Dogra force, Dogra army, and Jammu’s communal elements. They joined and declared that all the Muslims would come to Jammu’s city and send them to Pakistan. When the Muslims reached there, the Indian army, Patiala army, Dogra army, and communal elements, RSS and their allies, they killed mercilessly, and nobody took any notes. Late Gandhi was living at that time, and he has not made any comments on this massacre, and Nehru took no action. There was a leader Shaikh Abdulla; he has not taken any action on this killing. It is miserable and unacceptable.
What are your approaches towards the armed struggles in Kashmir, and what impacts may it bring to the other movements in the valley?
It is a compulsion. When you put the youths to the wall, there is no compulsion not to take the gun. It is a compulsion. I told you in clear terms that India is not paying heed to the peaceful struggles of the people here. See, I am under house arrest since 2010. Continuously, whenever I am in Srinagar, I am kept under house arrest. I am not allowed to offer a Friday prayer or Eid prayers. I am not in a position to come out from these four walls. I can’t go to any public meetings or any other functions. So this is the situation. There are no court orders or any written order that says I am under this article, so that I am under house arrest. Not at all. It is at the point of the gun. You can see the vehicle standing here for twenty-four hours without a move. They are ordered to keep Geelani under these four walls. So, in this situation, how can you expect the people not to take the gun. There is a compulsion. They are not being allowed to demonstrate peacefully.
These difficulties are the bottlenecks of the movement. It is true, but we have no option. We have to continue beyond these bottlenecks in a way; we have to do it. We have to face all these things and continue our struggles because we have unshakable faith as we are on the right path. If we give our lives, then we are successful.
How do you see the changes in the approach of the Indian state towards Kashmir after the Modi government has come to power? Are there any changes?
There is no change. Congress was also hard on the Kashmir issue. But these people are apparent, and they are openly crushing the voice of the people of Kashmir. By their force and their might, the military might. So as far as the system is concerned or the cause is concerned, there is no visible Change in Indian policies to Jammu and Kashmir problem. But these people are using blind force against our people and our peaceful activities.
In a time of increased attacks towards Dalits and Muslims in India, How do you see the hopes on the larger association of oppressed groups?
That must happen. That must, all the Muslim, Dalit, Sikh, and Christian population should unite. They should come under a common platform and fight against this BJP and RSS system and the system prevailing in India.
Congress is not trustworthy. They were always trying for power and had no sympathy, particularly with minority communities. They were more than forty years in the rule. But they have not fulfilled the commitments they have given to the people during the prime election times. They are giving so many high promises to the people. However, when they come in power, they forget all these promises and commitments they give to people.
How bout the economic status of occupied Kashmir?
As far as the financial side is concerned, we have our resources but unfortunately snatched by India. They are seizing our land immensely. Wherever they find free lands, they occupy those land by gun. They are cutting the trees in the forests. One example I will give. In the Shopian district, 5200 canals of forest have been taken by the Indian government to construct their cantonment. Forest officers say three to four lakhs of trees will be cut in the Shopian district, which is the same situation where the Camps are near the forests. They are very openly cutting the trees. They make furniture and send homes and their states. The army took around nine hundred kanal of land in Beerwah in 1980 to make the cantonment when Sheikh Abdulla was the chief minister.
The water resources are also under the control of India. They do the projects, and they carry power to Delhi. Then they give that power to Rajasthan to Haryana and many other parts of India. However, as far as Kashmir is concerned, we suffer from electricity, particularly in January, February, and March. The economy is weakened, we are forced to depend on India in every aspect of life. They have made this particular situation that we are not independent of any element or need of life. We are dependent on India. You must see that the medicines coming here are also not pure. They keep on bringing in policies that make us more sufferers and dependents on India. They are raping our sisters and women, and no actions are taken against the criminals. They are setting the houses on the ground, and there is no action. The individuals are killing the innocents, particularly the youth, have no action against the killers. There are villages Kunan Poshpora in the district of Kupwara. In 1992, more than 50 daughters and women were commonly raped by the BSF army, and to date, there is no action against the people who raped our more than fifty women. No action has been taken. So the situation is as a whole. I will tell you that the occupying forces have raped more than 6000 girls, daughters, our sisters. The millions and millions of houses have been gutted and raised to the ground by Indian troops, Many inhumane crimes, and not a single action.
There have been multiple student protests in India like ” Remember Kunan Poshpora” and more. Such voices are heard from different academic spaces in India. However, the students from Kashmir and others who stand for Kashmir have been targeted recently. How do you see such student politics?
The courts are also standing for the government and not concerned about delivering justice. Not at all. They are also in favor of the government. As far as the administration is concerned, they are also for the government. Any of these people have no power to bring justice to the suffering people. Not at all. So this is the very grave situation which we people are facing. The worst kind of state of terrorism we are facing.
As far as Indian Muslims or student groups are concerned, they are significantly under pressure. They are not in a position to raise voice against these atrocities or the human right violations we the people of Jammu and Kashmir are facing.
Yaumul Quds will be celebrated in Kashmir. We see it be very high in Kashmir compared to any other part of the world. How do you take the relationship between the Gaza and Kashmir?
There is no connection other than we are under a great prison. We do not have a passport to go outside India; we are not allowed to go to Jammu, which is part of Jammu and Kashmir. As far as the Jammu region is concerned, they are entirely under the control of the Indian Army, Indian administration, and particularly this administration under BJP and RSS. We, people, are not allowed to cross the tunnel to go to Banihal or the city of Jammu. Not at all.
What about the coalition government in Kashmir?
You understand without any doubt that this is the rule of the BJP. The alliance parties are only to show the people. They have a chair, but no power, not at all. Power is in the hands of the BJP in every aspect. Alliance is just a show cause. They don’t have any power.
How are the people of Anantnag voting for Mehbooba Mufti even after allying with BJP?
This is the point of weakness as far as our society is concerned. The people are giving the blood, and they are also casting the votes. It is a very grave problem for our people. People have given, I told you, six lakh people have given their lives for a just and noble cause. But unfortunately, whenever the election time comes, the people cast a vote. We direct them, but this is a weakness that we accept which should not be done and which is being done.
I told you, in these aspects, the people are fragile. They are not following the guidance of leadership.
What is your Eid message to the people of India?
In India, Muslims and other communities should come on a common platform; they should work in India for pure democracy by peaceful means. As far as the law is concerned, that should be adopted. A vast population of Muslims in India is in jails. In the prisons, 22% are Muslims. So you can understand the position of Muslims as far as the Indian government is concerned and that system continues. So my humble request to the people of India is that they should not fear. They must raise their voice against those human rights violations, particularly which are taking place in Jammu and Kashmir. But this is their obligation and compulsory as far the human rights violations are carried out by the Indian forces. Not only about Muslims, but many other minorities and backward communities also suffer from the majority rule. Muslims with other communities should raise voice for all these oppressed people. This is their bond towards Islam and the Islamic system. They are bound to enhance the voice for all those suffering from the rulers and by the system that is not based on justice.