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The courage to say sorry

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Jo chup rahegi zubani khanjar, lahoo pukarega aasteen ka…

(If the dagger doesn’t reveal itself, blood of the innocent will speak)” — Urdu couplet.


The innocent bloodletting that has been going on for years in Jammu and Kashmir had to attract attention at some point. The current focus on human rights violations in the state was bound to come about. The J&K government has, rightly, although belatedly, ordered an inquiry into the plight of missing civilians since 1990. This is not only a daunting task in itself but will also be a real test of the government’s commitment towards Kashmiris’ human rights. Let time decide whether the government is simply trying to ‘white-wash’ the truth or is really serious about restoring its credibility by punishing the culprits.

As ever, once again the human rights violations in J&K have agitated the public mind. But the unfortunate aspect of the human rights scenario is that militants, security forces and even politicians are all equally responsible for committing wrongs on innocent people.

While some are directly responsible for the crimes committed against innocent human beings, others are guilty of collaborating; some others are culpable for remaining silent in the face of grave violations for the sake of so-called ideology or national interest.

Obviously then, it should not be difficult to comprehend that talking about human rights is nowadays a selective business, depending which side of the divide one belongs to.

The ongoing violence in Kashmir has not only destroyed the social fabric there but dehumanised society too. Under such conditions, it is not too difficult to imagine how a ‘victim’ today becomes an ‘oppressor’ tomorrow.

In an atmosphere where hate and reaction are driving passions, the demand for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) makes some sense (refer Omar Abdullah’s Guest Column, Truth and Reconciliation, on February 11). But one will have to bear in mind that though TRC is a post-conflict mechanism, it is not a bureaucratic exercise to account for the number of deaths and their causes. It might include these functions as well, but it is primarily a social function based on forgiveness and reconciliation.

In his book No Future Without Forgiveness, head of TRC in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu argues, “True reconciliation cannot be achieved by denying the past…; nor is it easy to reconcile when you live daily with a reminder of what has caused the alienation. We speak of reconciliation then as not simply the restoration of broken relations, but as the restoration of humanity, often the first step in the journey toward personal and social healing. Implicit in this first step is a kind of existential rebalancing of the self.”

Reconciliation is not selective forgetting either; rather it is to confront the bitter truth. In the case of South Africa, “the decision to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission came out of the need to know in order to be reconciled. As one witness before the Commission put it, ‘I want to forgive, but I need to know whom, and for what I forgive’.”

It is, therefore, a state of mind where a wronged wants to know the truth to relieve himself from pain, anguish and hate. The wrongdoer wants to unburden himself, by offering apologies and seeking forgiveness from the wronged. Ultimately this leads to moral empowerment by seeking forgiveness and accepting apologies. The process helps to restore the humanity of both the oppressed and the oppressor.

For the collective catharsis to happen in Kashmir, violence has to come to an end, social peace has to be ushered in, and moral restitution has to take place.

All the actors, sundry or important, who have in some way, wittingly or unwittingly, contributed in the making of the human tragedy in Kashmir have to come forward and face the reality of the bitter truth.

The Prime Minister of India will have to acknowledge on behalf of the state, and the leadership of the country, that right from 1947, tremendous wrongs have been inflicted upon the people of Jammu and Kashmir; that, there has been “an element of deception in our dealings with the people”. President Musharraf will have to take the moral responsibility on behalf of his leadership and the state of Pakistan for exporting the element of violence into Kashmir’s political milieu that has played havoc with the lives of the people. Farooq Abdullah will have to seek forgiveness for rigged elections and shrinking of the political space because of which Kashmiri boys were pushed to the brink and ultimately towards violent ways; Mufti Sayeed for his tenure as the Union Home Minister, the period when Kashmir experienced the worst kind of human indignities and physical sufferings.

The protagonists of violent campaigns then — people like Shabir Shah, Yaseen Malik and others — will have to accept responsibility for introducing violent means of agitation which lacked the clarity of thought and a well-defined course of action. Governors who were at the helm during President’s Rule will have to accept that they unleashed far greater military reprisal than the threat posed by the militancy, which crushed the sprit of innocent people.

People like me are at fault too, for we took up the gun and took our people to an unknown territory and then left the course without bringing any succour to the hapless masses. And helpless anonymous citizens, who were witness to grave injustices, and flights of people from their homes, too will have to be ready to repent for their silence.

We all have to gather the courage to say ‘sorry’. We are sorry for what happened. Let’s now turn the leaf of history for the betterment of the people of India and Kashmir. And let’s seek forgiveness.

(The writer is a former militant and now runs an NGO in Srinagar.)