Iltija Mufti: Govt is treating Kashmiris as if it’s a master-slave relationship

Kashmiris have been painted as anti-nationals, as people who need to be taught a lesson. No other countryman has an empathy for Kashmiris and that is what scares me the most, says Iltija Mufti

Iltija Mufti  
Iltija Mufti

Ashlin Mathew

There has been a clamp down in Jammu & Kashmir for more than 200 days now. What is the situation there now?

It’s not just the Valley, but there is a lot of disgruntlement amongst Ladakhis and people in Jammu. There was a rally in Ladakh las week where they spoke about their concerns on domicile, people outside Ladakh showing an interest in buying land. People in Jammu are concerned that outsiders will take their jobs and land. The concerns are everywhere. You might see it more prominently in Kashmir or Srinagar, but the media doesn’t report what is happening in Leh and Jammu.

I still can’t consider it a Union Territory, so if you were to through the entire state and conduct a referendum on the move by the government, all the disgruntlement will show up. This siege is unmatched, it’s not just physical, but emotional too. It is the feeling of being fearful that is unprecedented even in India; it is the feeling that if you speak up, it will come with consequences. A draconian law,the Public Safety Act, was slapped on three former Chief Ministers of the state.

Kashmiris have been painted as anti-nationals and as people who need to be taught a lesson. None of the other countrymen have any empathy for Kashmiris and that is what scares me or us the most. This is the land of Mahatma, who spoke of compassion and ahimsa, the government has suddenly cut off 8 million people for more than 200 days and there’s not even a squeak.

What has BJP’s politics done to your state and to the country?

BJP is creating an atmosphere of intolerance in this country. Initially, they were attacking Muslims and Christians; Christians are called rice-bag converts. Now, Dalits are being targeted too. This BJP government is all about an upper-class leadership and their supremacy.

When Pakistan started out as an Islamic state, Muslims there would have never imagined that at some point they would be told that they are not good enough to be Pakistanis.Initially, it was about Hindus and non-Muslims, then it became about Shias and then Ahmaddiyas. So, intolerance doesn’t stop with just one community. We also have to realise that the one who is intolerant is the problem, not the victims and those affected by it. The criteria of sifting through people is actually a disease. It doesn’t stop at one point; it will not stop with just Muslims.Their next target will be Dalits. They need a perceived enemy to function.

Muslims are a minority in this country, so how can they even be the enemy? To justify the violence, they invoke and distort history by speaking about Mughal rule. The itinerary of the US President Donald Trump includes a visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra which was built by the Mughals. He was not taken to a mandir. Please don’t misunderstand; the temples in this country are extremely beautiful too. The question is why should we own one part of history and paint the other as diabolical.

India’s strength is its diversity. There is no one language, one culture; that’s what makes India chaotic and beautiful.

Now, we have people who want to homogenise it. They talk of one language, one culture and in a country like India, it will backfire. Several people in the country feel that since the violence has been reached them, they will not be affected.

The protests in Kashmir has been intermittent unlike before. How do you view this change?

I don’t know what the people of the state can do when they are not even allowed to use VPN (Virtual Private Networks). The government in Kashmir is completely inefficient. We got so much snow in November and the government sent people to clean it only after the third or fourth day. It’s quite revealing that they are treating it like a master-slave relationship. The reason they give for doing it is that they are going to civilise us. It is projected as if it is a ‘civilising mission’ when the truth is that they are there to plunder and pillage, much like the colonial powers before.

The sense of insecurity that people have is not about their religion but about their identity.They feel that by taking our land and selling it to outsiders, they will be made state subjects. Then they will get voting rights. That fear is legitimate and palpable. You cannot write these fears off. Look at the government’s actions for the past 6 months. It is a colonial project especially when they talk of auctioning off land and privatise electricity. People feel violated and they are losing their right to speak up. All of this is while rules are being violated.

How do you think this clamp down will affect the people psychologically?

I can’t speak for everyone else, but I feel so repressed and I’ve never felt this in my own country. I have never felt that if I say something, they will slap a sedition case on me. What BJP is doing is that they are purposely conflating themselves with the country. So, what has happened to Kashmir in the past six months is that it has become an open-air prison. There is an overwhelming presence of armed personnel every 20 ft in the city; you’ll see barricades everywhere and concertina wires intermittently. People are frisked and checked at every point.It is a state in siege where the people are made to feel that they are in a war zone and mentally it is extremely traumatic.

BJP does not even want the pretence of democracy in Kashmir. They recently cancelled the Panchayat elections. How do these moves affect the local morale?

In a state like Kashmir where the BJP government is denying people an opinion, denying people to participate in democratic functions, it is quite dangerous. They have recently cancelled the Panchayat elections. In Kashmir, there is a trend where young men have chosen militancy and when something like this happens, people are likely to see that as the only option.

When people ask me about Pakistan, and I say if the government is going to push the people of the Valley towards Pakistan, the government can’t blame them. Kashmir is unlike any other state, so when people are not given chances to protest in a democratic manner and dissent is being stifled, people will look to other options. To use a cliché, dissent is like the safety valve of a democracy. The other options that people look towards are not necessarily better than what they are being deprived of. In Kashmir, when something like this is done, then chances of the people being radicalised is much more than any other state in India. But that’s what this government is not realising. They are behaving like an ostrich with its head buried in the sand. They do not want to face reality. They do not even want to take ownership of the decision they have taken. The Home Minister Amit Shah has not
visited the state even once after the abrogation of Article 370.

This is very much like their demonetisation decision where they are only able to take the decision, but what follows later, they don’t know what to do. They don’t know how to handle the fall out.

Do you think BJP would have gained in Jammu and Ladakh with the abrogation of Article 370?

BJP used to have some support in Jammu and that also has gone now. BJP will never be able to gain support in Jammu and Kashmir. If you were to do snap polls in Jammu today, BJP will lose. BJP can forget about increasing its footprints in the Valley, Jammu and Ladakh. The people of the entire state are upset. BJP also realises this.Every delegation of ministers who were brought to the state were taken to Jammu more often than Kashmir. This is their attempt to reach out to the people as BJP only understands vote-bank politics, which is why they want to appease the people of Jammu. It won’t work this time unless of course they play up a communal incident again.

It’s been more than 200 days and the government has not shown any inclination for dialogue. What do you think the future holds?

I do not think that BJP will talk to any of the stakeholders. They are drunk on power and they are intoxicated by their mandate. The only hope now is the Supreme Court or international community putting pressure on the leadership. Whichever foreign envoy comes to Kashmir, they are taken on a curated picnic and all of them say that the restrictions must be lifted. The government is not even willing to do that. Social media has been blocked for the past seven months. How much longer will the government justify this digital blockade under the guise of security?This government abused the word security to the extent that our basic rights have been curtailed. The BJP government wants to make it seem that if Kashmiris are given access to internet, the city will implode. This is just utter rubbish.

Kashmir is seem to be angry with PDP. How will it affect the party’s credibility in the state?

PDP’s credibility was put at stake because we entered into an alliance with the BJP. Kashmiri people are not angry with us because we deprived them of anything, they are angry because the same people who stripped us of the special status are the ones we collaborated with. They are angry that we went with them. I think that anger is justified and legitimate.

The anger is not just against PDP. We have to see the overall picture too. How do Kashmiris feel about the rest of the country? How do they feel about the Indian government?

How is your mother Mehbooba Mufti doing?

My mother realises that she is going to be detained for a long time. But as her daughter, I must say that whether it is her or the other detainees, they must come home now. All those who have been detained are being held on flimsy, silly grounds. This has gone on for the past 7 months now.

What are the restrictions placed on you when you are back in Kashmir?

I am not allowed to move freely at all. Wherever and whenever I have to go out, I have to inform them in five-six hours in advance about the journey. They will tell me if I can go or not. I have to seek permission from the Special Security Group (SSG),which comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Since I have Z+ security, they use that to curtail my freedom and movement in the city.

As per rules, I have to only inform them and not seek permission. But now they have made it that I have to ask them where all I can go.

You have now been fighting for the rights of your mother and Kashmiris. But, there seems to be a lot of anger against you as well. How do you feel?

I have my good days and bad. I feel like I’m taking at the cost of my life and sometimes you feel bad when you hear abuses all the time from the people you are trying to speak up for. This is not my profession. I know in my mind that once the political detainees are released, my role will end. So, it is not something I will do for the rest of my life. I knew what I was getting into. I know that once they are released, I do not have to speak up. Right now, there is a complete vacuum and by letting that vacuum be, only BJP’s narrative is going to come out. I do not want that to be the only narrative around.

I do not want to be the spokesperson for the entire state. This happened by accident.

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