‘We Are Casual Labourers’

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Engineer Rashid in an Interview with Tasavur Mushtaq

Er Rasheed. (KL File Image)

Kashmir Life: You are a lawmaker but you can’t get a passport?
Engineer Rashid:
It is how things run in Kashmir. Issuing passport to me is not a big thing because I feel happy and enjoy in my sufferings. The bigger thing is that you can just imagine that how a common man is facing the music of a statecraft.

KL: What kind of cases you are actually facing?
ER:
In fact, I myself even don’t know.  There are FIR’s which are politically motivated. They every time want to keep my mouth closed. I am not proven guilty by any court. They have not even produced challan before a court, except in one case. Sach bolne ki saza mili hai. You may know I have lodged 35 cases in State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), eight cases in high court against an appeal verdict which was given by SHRC in my cases as the government is not acting on the verdict of SHRC. Especially, I raised my voice against forced labour. In my area, we were subjected to forced labour [by army]for 13 years which was the humiliating and most shameful act for the state of India.

Similarly, after becoming MLA I have gone for protests which lasted for two days even without any interruption continued for night and I succeeded in removing two army camps and got one road reopened, getting people released and I by the grace of God, my sincerity and  efforts of my people have helped in ensuring that as on date there is not even a  single case in my constituency where someone is booked under that draconian Public Safety Act (PSA). You can see other constituencies how people are suffering. My constituency is unique.You must be aware when I raised clemency issue of Afzal Guru, how the state reacted, how assembly acted like a cinema and how Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti managed that resolution should go to the dustbin. We are working like casual labourers. If anytime we try to speak as per our conscience, we are made to face the music and that is the only reason I have been denied the passport. I will fight it out as I filed the petition in the court. Denying passport is not important for me but important is that I am happy. The world should know that how Kashmir is being run by the state of India and what the fate of so-called democratic institutions is.

KL: What have been your experiences as a lawmaker?
ER:
Good as well as bad. I first disagree with the word lawmaker because in papers we may be but practically we may be called as lawbreakers. In our history, we have never passed a private members bill at least to the best of my knowledge. What laws we are talking when our autonomy has been eroded, the instrument of accession done with India was conditional and then we today feel shy in talking on those things. I will again repeat word unfortunately which I never wanted to is that we are behaving like puppets though we are not puppets. People have given us vote not only for paani, bijli and sadak but also to address their political aspirations. People gave enough time to Hurriyat and mainstream but everybody failed them. You can see draconian PSA, disturbed areas act. We can’t remove AFSPA which we could have easily done.Autonomy which we could have fought to restore, resolution of Kashmir issue where we could have worked out. What have we done?

KL: What are the changes you brought to your area after becoming the MLA?
ER:
Army and police rule are just a story of past in my area, I am telling you with confidence that people in my area can stand with their heads up. I have made security forces accountable and I have also tried to make people accountable that they should not do anything that unnecessarily can give somebody a chance to harass them.I have tried to do justice to my people in my little capacity. It was an ignored constituency and me by the grace of God have ensured as on date that not even a single penny of my constituency should be diverted. I have tried to keep a close watch on the developmental works and the main good thing is I have been spending maximum of my time with my people and I have tried to maintain a balance between sentiment and development as both are interrelated. You can’t ignore one at the cost of the other. I have not done any political exploitation. My conscience is clear that I have tried to do justice with people irrespective of their political affiliations. Our people have suffered since last 23 years. We have lost about one lakh people, there are thousands of orphans, I have tried to fulfil my social obligations by starting a trust, Joint Effort Trust, and we collect from sadqa, zakat, ushur and other donations from good people and try to help the poor in getting education, medical care, etc.

KL: You lived in Kashmir for most of the last 23 years. What have been your experiences? In that backdrop what is your take on AFSPA?
ER:
The worst experience which I had was the forced labour in my area. We were subjected to forced labour for 13 years from 1990 to 2003. It was February 3, 2003, that I led a protest march when a youth Shabir Ahmad Pir was killed in custody and another Habib Kumar was critically tortured. It was a result-oriented protest and atrocities and forced labour got to an end. I was myself subjected to about 350 to 400 days of the forced labourer. Army treated us as slaves. We were supposed to wash clothes of army, patrol their roads, construct bunkers, any damn thing.In this, fifty villages suffered and I was not an exception. It was also because of AFSPA and other draconian laws there was no accountability. That is why I protested last year when Prime Minister visited Kashmir and I had written an article in the local daily, ‘Say Sorry Mr PM’.

I was used as the human shield at least on two occasions and I had a narrow escape. I was picked up and taken to the worst interrogation centre Cargo, then to central jail, CIK Humhama and Rajbagh. I had to pay bribe not less than Rs one lakh by selling land and few cattle to get myself released. It was these atrocities which forced me to come forward against them. I found no way better than participating in elections. So experiences are very bitter. I have seen hundreds of youth dying in front of me, getting handicapped, sisters turning widows.I have not come from the sky and like other politicians I had not any dynasty background. I have seen things from grass root level, right from the beginning since 1990. So, I think we have seen a lot of trouble. I have been tortured by the army twice or thrice during these years.

I am one among many who tasted AFSPA. I have lost many of my close relatives in the ongoing struggle so I think like other Kashmiris I have suffered the worst. The worst of all was that my own house was used as temporary army camp for about 4 months. The most barbaric thing which could ever happen.  From November 1997 to February 1998.In the evening they used to come in the darkness and knock at the door, get inside, the Major rank officer used to head them.They used to bundle all my family members and lock us up in one room. We were told that if this thing gets exposed you all will be dead. My house is at outskirts of my village where they suspected militants move often on this road, and see the tragedy of Kashmir we could not reveal it to anybody for 10 long years until I became MLA. I want to weep but who is listening. This is my question to Hurriyat people. Let you come and join hands, at least we can tell people what we have gone through.I have suffered, ask me how I have suffered. Neither was I an MLA nor any leader at that time, I was a common man. Answer me what have you done to reduce my sufferings.

KL:  Where does Engineer Rashid stand between Autonomy, Self-rule, and achievable nationhood?
ER:
For God’s sake tell me what you mean by autonomy, self-rule, and achievable nationhood. Firstly they don’t believe in their own ideology. They are just tools of exploitation while enjoying the Indian power. Tell me those people who could not speak a single word about Afzal Guru’s resolution, how they can talk of autonomy, self-rule and something else. It is all stupid. They have miserably failed. It will be Government of India and Pakistan who can talk and deliver.At the end of the day, it can be only militant leadership which can compel India If they come to table and get something for Kashmiris. It is they who highlighted the issue and not achievable nationhood, self-rule, and autonomy. I think now only hope is that Salahuddin should come to the table as head of UJC, otherwise our political leadership has failed, whether it is Hurriyat or mainstream.  I have no hesitation in saying that HM is an indigenous movement.

ER: What is Engineer Rashid For? How do you see Kashmir in next few years?
ER:
My simple ideology is Kashmir is a disputed territory and needs resolution. I am too weak a person to do it of my own. If the principle of natural justice is done we should be given chance to have the plebiscite. The plebiscite is the best thing that can be done. The policy of India as on date is to get Kashmiris tired so that they can forget which I think never is going to happen. I have respect for Indian state but they should not lie. Once we pelt stones they say ok come and talk, once there is the traffic jam in Lalchowk, they say everything is normal and let us not talk. If India says that Kashmir has voted for India in elections then let them have plebiscite and people will vote for India. Why is India afraid?If they have invested in Kashmir, they should have told Kashmir what is wrong in being with India. The answer to their fear of failure is that they have always handled Kashmir on the barrel of the gun. They have never tried to treat them as their own people and that is the reason why Kashmiris have gone away from India.

KL: You are a sitting MLA but don’t have the facilities which your other colleagues are enjoying. Why is it so?
ER:
I had all the facilities for first six months, now I don’t have any. It is my decision.  I have given it up two years back. MLA is honourable because of people and if people are not respected what I have to do with the protocol and all that. Police and administration have turned deaf and dumb to the people, how can they be my protectors. Our youth is scared of the uniform, how I can be comfortable with them.They have kept two men here, but I have nothing to do with them. I visit different places in my own Maruti car which I have got after taking the loan from J&K Bank. I am entitled to get fuel, two drivers, PSO’s and every other facility but I dare to say that I belong to my people.

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