Viewpoint: Everyone must have freedom to voice their opinion
I first met her in 1992. She came to London from Jammu and wanted to interview me. Everyone in politics like to give interviews and I was no exception, but for some strange reason I was bit reluctant to see her and give her interview.
Meeting an Indian journalist, from Hindu religious background could have landed me in trouble. Those who formulate policies in Pakistan and on Pakistani side of Kashmir claimed that Indian journalists are, by and large, members of their intelligence services; and they try to ‘infiltrate’ different groups to get information. And this journalist, Miss Prakriiti Gupta, being a member of opposite sex was seen as more ‘dangerous’.
Despite fear of being labelled as ‘pro Indian’ or ‘anti movement’ I still decided to see her, may be because this journalist was a female, and was from Jammu. I was Secretary General of JKLF which was united at that time, and those JKLF leaders who claim to be everything of the organisation now were not on the political scene yet.
It was ‘too dangerous’, I thought, to see her outside, so I decided to give her interview in my office, where I was employed as a Lecturer. During the meeting, before the interview began, she asked me if I was really a JKLF man. I wasn’t happy with this remark, so I explained to her that I was one of the founders of the JKLF, and that I was holding a key position of Secretary General.
"But you are so polite and decent person, you could not be associated to the JKLF", she remarked. This was another blow to me. For a moment I thought she was trying to flatter me, and this strengthened my suspicions about her being an intelligence officer. So being on my full guards, I said to her that we are civilized people. I told her: "JKLF believes in non communal politics and we treat people equally as fellow human beings. We are not fighting for rights of Muslims of Kashmir but rights of all Kashmiris irrespective of their social and religious beliefs."
"But this is not the impression we have of the JKLF in Jammu and Kashmir," she interrupted me and went on to say that, "We have impression of JKLF people being aggressive, violent and savage, who preach hatred and violence and kill non-Muslim subjects of Kashmir."
My impression of her being a member of Indian intelligence was getting stronger. I thought either she has been totally misled or she was trying to brainwash me. I told her what the JKLF stood for, and that we were fighting for our basic rights, and that we preached peace and harmony among all ethnic groups of Kashmir.
She came out with stories where people in the name of JKLF committed crimes against innocent non-Muslim, especially on pundits. I did not believe her and thought that she was making wild accusations against the JKLF and our movement; and she probably thought that I was covering up these alleged crimes, but truth of the matter is that I was not aware of any such incidents where the JKLF people tortured or killed any innocent person, especially a non-Muslim.
I defended the JKLF and she defended her opinion; and she only conceded that perhaps the JKLF people in Britain are more civilized and believe in non-communal politics. It was many years after this interview I came to know through another JKLF person from Srinagar that some people were responsible for killing some innocent pundits and other wrong doings.
So there was some truth in what she said to me after all, I thought, and tried to phone her, but her phone number had changed. During the meeting I tried to persuade her that we need to work together for united and independent Kashmir; and that division of Kashmir or its accession to either of the countries was not in the interest of Kashmiris.
She of course disagreed with me and said that in her opinion her future was better with India and that she could never trust Pakistan to protect her rights. She also said that she could not trust this "Pakistani sponsored terrorism", or trust these "violent people to protect her rights".
I said to her that beauty and strength of JKLF policy is that as a Kashmiri you have right to be pro India or pro Pakistan; and we don’t discriminate people on these grounds. We put forward our arguments and try to persuade people, but we do not impose our views on others.
When she left my office I don’t know what impression she had of me, but to me she was intelligent young Kashmiri girl who did not mince words when putting forward her point of view. After long gap of twelve years I had an email from her which stated:
How are you, remember me or forgotten. Let me remind you. I am Prakriiti whom you took as an Indian spy when I came to interview you. I hope, now you recollect everything. I tried to get in touch with you couple of times but could not.
It may be after over a decade that we are in touch, good to know that you are committed to your Kashmir cause and have now become a celebrity. Great, it is good feeling when one get to see that people one know are doing well in their lives.
Do respond, take care.
Jammu and Kashmir
Despite this long gap she had no problem in recognising me when I phoned her a few days ago. She complimented me for my strong commitment to the JKLF and the cause of united and independent Kashmir, even though in her opinion it will never happen. She told me that she never had any links with any agency, and that it was my wrong assumption. She still works as a journalist, and still believes that her future is safer with India.
I told her what my views were, and that there is no change in my ideological stand, although emphasis has changed. Until mid 1990s emphasis was to refute India’s claim that Kashmir was her integral part, and now everyone accepts that at least that part of Kashmir is disputed. Pakistani authorities have taken advantage of this situation and have claimed that people on their side of the divide are satisfied, and we want to ensure that the whole of the State is seen as disputed.
She emphasised that she is not pro India because of religious reasons, but because India is a democratic and secular state. "I feel my welfare and interests could be safer with India rather than Pakistan, where even Muslims are not safe nowadays."
When I explained possible benefits of united and independent Kashmir, she said I don’t mind living in united and independent Kashmir, but I know it won’t happen; and I am a practical person not a dreamer like you. In other words choice was between India and Pakistan and for obvious reasons she would opt for India.
If she thinks her future is safer with India, as a member of JKLF, I concede to her right to hold this opinion; similarly if someone in the State thinks his/her future is safer with Pakistan, I concede to that right as well. In my view both opinions are important, and we should respect both of them, and must not discriminate against these people for holding these views. What this means is that people who want the State of Jammu and Kashmir to become united and independent, they must not be discriminated either.
(Views expressed here are of writer's only. Writer is a Chairman of Diplomatic Committee of JKLF and author of many books and booklets. Also he is a Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email:Shabir@doctor.com)