There is an unusual addition to the list of separatist organisations in J&K — the Kashmir Bar Association (KBA).
According to the Union Home Ministry, the Bar is one of 49 separatist organisations currently operating in the state. This disclosure was made in response to a Right to Information application filed by Aditya Raj Kaul, a Kashmiri Pandit youth activist.
The Bar has questioned the government’s decision. It says its objectives are apolitical and, hence, it cannot be categorised as a separatist organisation. “The KBA is a body of lawyers practising in the J&K High Court. The advocate general, government advocates, public prosecutors and standing counsels for various government departments, public sector undertakings and banks are its members,” said its president Mian Abdul Qayoom.
The high court gives licenses to lawyers after verifying their antecedents and after the police have certified they aren't involved in illegal activities. “The license can be cancelled if a member is found guilty of professional misconduct,” he added.
What may have prompted the government to make this categorisation is the fact that the KBA constitution calls for finding ways to resolve the Kashmir issue in accordance with the wishes of the people. But Qayoom finds nothing wrong in this. “When India and Pakistan are engaged in negotiations on Kashmir, why can’t the KBA or its members strive for resolution of the contentious issue?”
Legal experts said the government should clarify. “Any group whose objective is to enable J&K to secede from India can be called a separatist organisation. We don’t know the objectives of the KBA,” said former law minister Shanti Bhushan.
Qayoom said it was the professional duty of Bar members to provide legal aid to those (read militants) who approach them. “By doing so, they can’t be said to have indulged in any illegal act.”
He also rubbished charges that the KBA prevented lawyers from pleading the cases of accused in the Srinagar sex scandal involving ministers, legislators and police officers. “We didn’t pass any resolution, neither did we stop any member from representing the accused. The decision was left to the lawyers.”