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Sedition, Really? A Panelist At the Amnesty Debate Speaks Up

A first hand account of what transpired at the Amnesty debate.

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India
5 min read
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I received a call from Amnesty International, India asking whether I would be free to moderate a short panel discussion as part of a campaign on human rights violations in Kashmir. The task, their team assured me, would be confined to questioning some of the families who had lost a near and dear one about their plight, and their search for justice. No politics, no solutions, no wider canvas, just a short question and answer session with the families.

A first hand account of what transpired at the Amnesty debate.
Kashmir has been on the boil with curfews, strict vigils and constant upheaval. (Photo: IANS)

For me as a reporter, interviews such as these have always been far more interesting and worthwhile than interactions with die-hard politicians. It sounded easy, and as Kashmir has been an area of focus for me ever since I was sent there as a young reporter to cover the years of militancy, it was right up my street.

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So I was in Bengaluru that day, amidst some chaos arising from organisational details. The Amnesty team, mostly young enthusiastic kids, had pieced together a program that sounded good on paper: a video of the victims’ families, a play by a Kashmiri group to illustrate the story as told by a victim’s father, a song by a popular rapper from Kashmir.

Also scheduled in between these events was my 10-12 minute discussion with at most three persons. I protested the time allocated for my little moment in the spotlight as 10 minutes was certainly not enough in my view to get even two coherent sentences out of the traumatised families.

A first hand account of what transpired at the Amnesty debate.
The protest by ABVP supporters in Bengaluru. ( Photo:Twitter/ANI)

When I reached the venue I was introduced to the three panelists: one was the mother of a young boy who had disappeared and whose body was found at a construction site; the other is the younger brother of one of the men killed in the Machil encounter. The third was a Kashmiri Pandit from Bengaluru, a journalist by the name of RK Mattoo who said he would be speaking for the community.

The Amnesty staff briefed me and the others that the discussion would be only about the personal histories insofar as the Kashmiris from the Valley were concerned.

Mattoo was not particularly keen to speak on just the personal trauma of having left the Valley and to give him his due, he made that fairly clear from the start

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Just before the function began, many who had come later with Mattoo occupied the front row seats and positioned themselves in different parts of the auditorium. The hall filled with some from the local Bangalore civil society, some who were interested in what they had thought would be a basically cultural evening, and Kashmiri students.

As soon as the function started, the Amnesty moderator was shouted at when she mentioned the number of the Kashmiri Pandits who had been displaced, with the representatives shouting angrily that she correct it to four or seven lakhs, I am not sure which.

From then on, she was constantly interrupted by them but it became a little quieter when she pleaded that she be allowed to continue, and that the function should not be disrupted.

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A first hand account of what transpired at the Amnesty debate.
The tussle at the venue. (Photo: Twitter/ANI)

The families, as well as Mattoo, lit the candles with the Amnesty staff. By the time the documentary and the play finished, and we reached the panel discussion, there was little left for us to discuss as it had all been covered at some length.

So when my turn finally came, I opened the panel discussion with the observation – in a bid to introduce some calm into the atmosphere – that in my years of writing on Kashmir, I had not come across a single Kashmiri Pandit or Muslim who did not understand the other’s suffering, except of course for the politicised fringe. And that every home in Kashmir had been impacted, either by militancy and terrorism through the 1990s or by human rights violations by the security forces.

I then turned to Mattoo, as the only new element in the discussion, to speak about his trauma.

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He started by observing that the Army was the most disciplined force, or words to that effect, some Kashmiri boys shouted, the men sitting in the front stood up, they all shouted at each other at the top of their voices but, finally, calm was restored.

We went back to a discussion for just about a few minutes, the Kashmiri women ( who had sobbed throughout the earlier narration of their plight) had no idea what was going on. Mattoo spoke of sharing the plight of all; it was a desultory discussion by any standards, more so as the Kashmiri had to be translated and we ended before we even really began.

A first hand account of what transpired at the Amnesty debate.
(Photo: Twitter/ANI)
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Then the Kashmir rapper came on----rap by the way across the world is protest music---he sang a few lyrics about growing up in conflict, and by the time he finished the one song the time was up as per the permission given to Amnesty. The front benchers started trooping out before the rap, but outside a few ABVP chaps had gathered ---I actually did not see them but heard the sloganeering----and Kashmiri youth in the hall were up shouting some slogans for ‘Azadi”.

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  So where is the sedition, except in the minds of those who play dangerous political games. As for the obviously mischievous FIR that has sections of the media frenetic, the part that is actually amusing is of me singing songs! At least someone has upheld a talent that all who know me insist I do not have, even if that someone is the RSS/BJP. As for speeches against the soldiers, that would be like attacking my own father who was an officer of the Army.

A first hand account of what transpired at the Amnesty debate.
Security personnel in Kashmir. (File photo: PTI)

I don’t think I need to even counter this fiction of a prejudiced mind. As for the Army and its role in Kashmir, the Army itself has confirmed its intervention in Machil, that was earlier refuted by many as a false claim by the victims. It has also held a court martial convicting at least six soldiers!

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FIRs today are intended to intimidate, threaten, harass with filth and lies from bigoted minds. Of course decent people do not like to be dragged to police stations and to the courts, but in an environment where the effort is to divide through a propaganda of lies and hate, Gandhi was spot on when he said, “A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.”

(Seema Mustafa, a senior journalist, was present at the event organised by Amnesty International India where she moderated a discussion with families that are victims of human rights violations in J&K. This article was originally published in The Citizen)

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