“Whether it is a hydro electric project, Indus water treaty, it is the people of Kashmir who have to live with the consequences”

Beyond the visible causes for September 2014 deluge in valley, lie the subtle reasons rooted in the network of occupation. The recently released document by Coalition of Civil Society (CCS), entitled ‘Occupational Hazards’ has brought to fore the uncounted repercussions of militarization of Kashmir. In conversation with Saima Bhat, the researchers behind the report, have added another dimension to Kashmir issue

Fatimah-and-ShrimoyeeShrimoyee, a human right lawyer, has practiced law in Delhi and Mumbai courts. She is presently pursuing PhD from JNU and is in Kashmir for last two years, working with JKCCS. She has already worked on the reports of Salian massacre and Kunan Poshpora case. During floods she was in Delhi but when floods turned deadly, Shrimoyee returned and fought to reach out to people. And it was then she decided to document the situation.

Fatimah, a political science graduate from Delhi University had joined JKCCS before floods and when her own house was inundated, she was called up by Shrimoyee to join her for the work and soon the two girls were out to document the September deluge.

 

KL: You were a private practicing lawyer in Delhi, what attracted you to come to Kashmir?

SNG: I am a human rights lawyer and have worked on gender and sexuality issues, human rights, evictions, labor issues, forest laws, domestic issues. Frankly I had read about Kashmir and I knew there were very grave human rights abuses but when I came here it made me to question my own politics.

Right now it is easy not to take moral positions but Kashmir forces you to look at the hard questions about your own country. Some friends call me that I am honorary Kashmir but I feel it is important for me to say that as an Indian what is happening here is wrong and more Indians should be saying it because it is happening in our name. What India is doing in many states is wrong and what it is doing in Kashmir is very wrong.

KL: How was Kashmir different from what you read about it and when you came here?

SNG: while in Delhi, I had worked on disappearance cases for an organization but I never met a real person whose family member was disappeared. I used to read about it and I was horrified even then but when I came here I realized how systematic it is. It is actually a state policy. It is not accident or aberration, it is a bureaucratic system of controlling people and I don’t think one can realize that when they are far away.

You see human rights as a scandal, something that is outrageous happening far away, but when you come here you realize how much systematic it is. Like Kunan Poshpora, I had only read about it but when I came here and visited the place, I realized how systematic operation it has been. There were two cordons, three interrogation centers, there was a chain of command, there was a system to torture.

KL: Recently JKCCS released a report ‘Occupational Hazards’ on the recent September deluge and you were the researchers. How was occupation responsible for floods when it was a natural calamity?

Researchers: Environmental destruction caused due to warfare and prolonged occupations is an established fact all across the world but when it comes to the context of Kashmir no one acknowledges the fact that the presence of these military installations and heavy occupation throughout the valley causes a lot of damage to the environment.

The occupation of ecologically fragile geographical lands of the valley has bearing on the ecology and we have analyzed that the highlands, in a river valley are suitable to have civilizations but here what we see is that all the civilizations have been pushed to the flood basins and highlands remain occupied.

There is one section in the report that talks about occupation of highlands as the military policy which is strategically useful for military’s surveillance and area domination.

The other is militarized development like the operation Sadbhawna and Goodwill or community development projects which the Indian army sees as the part of military strategy.

Infrastructure, development, hydroelectric projects have a huge bearing on the disaster vulnerability of Kashmir. It somehow gets ignored and it’s always the administrative failures or the people’s greed or ignorance that gets the blame. But there is a structural reason, both why the administration’s democratic process doesn’t work and why disaster vulnerability and ecological fragility of the whole place is increasing at such a great rate. This is the reason why we have disasters in Himalayan region so frequently, particularly in Kashmir that is linked between militarization, occupation and the flooding.

Around 15 hospitals and almost all highlands are occupied but ultimately these forces didn’t bother to rescue locals.

KL: This is a conflict zone and governed by various international laws, ecology, do you think those laws are followed by the occupational forces?

Researchers: First of all India doesn’t even acknowledge it is an international dispute. They see it as a bilateral issue and whatever internal rebellion, political insurgency happens they see it as a law and order problem.

But in actual terms all International laws of occupation, humanitarian laws, and environmental laws must be applicable. So their overwhelming discourse is to deny the international nature of Kashmir and for strategic reasons all big powers are aligned with India this time.

And yes of course we do believe that all International laws related to occupation must apply.

KL: You hold forces responsible for deteriorating glaciers. What do you think would be the consequences of not de-militarizing the glaciers?

Researchers: We are already seeing the consequences of the kind of ecological disaster that is unfolding before our eyes. We are having late snowfalls, droughts, unseasonal rains; these are all outcomes of the kind of ecological destruction that has been going on the whole region. And I am not saying that it is only because of the militarization but there are other factors as well.

Whether it is a hydro electric project, Indus water treaty, it is the people of Kashmir who have to live with the consequences.

Amaranth yatra is a militarized project and as Kashmiri you know what happens every year during the yatra. So there is a deep relation between the militarization and the destruction of the ecology of whole Himalayan region.

KL: You have done extensive research on floods. Do you hold forces responsible for the climatic change as well?

Researchers:  Main thing what militarization does is that it obscures its own impact. We cannot do a study on Kolahai, Toasmaidan, you can’t see what is happening in Uri because they are all militarized enclaves. There is possibility of scientific research and I see them as the contributing factors. Like Kandizal should be breached or not. Why military decisions were taken when civilians were at stake.

For that matter take the example of railways. Why is the alignment connecting all the camps and why is it not in the form of a ring like it happens in the railway plan. But it is very evident from the government documents that it was for the movement of men and material towards Ladakh, which is the biggest priority of the railway line. If you read the railway project you will see how militarized the project was.

KL: What role did Indian government play in the September floods?

Researchers: State was in hand in glove with media and there was propaganda throughout. Central government didn’t acknowledge their negligence. Like central water commissioner had no flood monitoring stations here, despite knowing the history of Jehlum floods. National Disaster Management Authority doesn’t mention floods as one of the natural disasters that can befall Kashmir.

They have such a strong intelligence grid, real time surveillance footage were released, they are second largest importers of drones, what are those drones doing but then it was only for defensive purposes and not to save people.

They blamed state government for everything but state government themselves are puppets of the central government.

KL: You researched a lot during floods. What do you think about the role Indian Army played while rescuing the locals. If we look at the New Delhi based media the army is a hero. Do you agree with them?

Researchers: No, I think our findings are contrary as most of the people we spoke to were not rescued by the army or NDRF but by the community volunteers. For first 72 hours the military were busy rescuing themselves in Badamibagh. Then there was a clear hierarchy of the rescue, starting from their officers  and then bureaucrats, police, SDRF chief, tourists and then other Indians.

Between these tourists and other Indians they were too choosy, migrant workers were lathicharged at Humhama while as tourist were given free air tickets. Muslim workers were also discriminated, who were evacuated by bus and sent out after a week only.

International protocol is you have to rescue most vulnerable first but here people in hospitals were rescued only by local volunteers.

They even exaggerated the number of rescued people, first day they said we rescued 25,000, next day it was 50,000, and then 75000 and 100000, they had 70 helicopters at the peak of the rescue operation but the only list they made public was they rescued 981 people, which is there on NDTV website, who were those 2 lakh people who supposedly were rescued then?

KL: How do you take the response of state government viz a viz handling the flood situation? What should have been done instead?

Researchers: State government really functions under the direction of Indian government and particularly the military, so control of territory is the primary aim of Indian state when it comes to Kashmir.

There is complete lack of accountability and democracy has been hollowed out and at the end of the day it is the part of occupation.

South drowned first and then it was Srinagar but what state did? They didn’t even bother to inform people about the floods.

KL: After September floods, Kashmir is still under the threat of another flood and earthquake. Do you think state as an institution is ready to handle any natural calamity?

Researchers: No not at all. There will be another flood or an earthquake, people will die again but they will never take responsibility and they will never be prepared because disaster management incorporating risk management factors into this is not a priority; security and national interest will always dictate what has to be done.

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