Advocate Parvez Imroz of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a prominent human rights group working in Kashmir, was recently awarded the prestigious The 2017 Rafto Prize for human rights along with another Kashmiri Parveena Ahanger . In this interview with Irfan Mehraj, Imroz talks about the importance of this award for Kashmir, the role the judiciary has played in dispensing human rights cases, and how the international community perceives Kashmir.
You have won the 2017 Rafto Prize award for human rights. How do you see this award helping Kashmir at the international level?
The award is very prestigious in Norway and in Europe. Other activists before me who have been awarded Rafto prize have been able to expand their constituency after this award. Therefore I see this award as a breakthrough for Kashmir in Europe, where due to different reasons Kashmir has not been able to gain wider attention.
There was a huge mobilization in the Norwegian civil society around the Rafto award. The interest shown by the Norway government, their civil society and particularly the academia and the students, who were very much involved, shows how important this award is for them.
It was an occasion, where Kashmir was discussed in a credible forum; where militarization of Kashmir was discussed, and human rights abuses, which are being done in a systematic and institutional manner, were discussed and even those who have been working in Europe for Kashmir, acknowledged that this was a big breakthrough for the human rights situation.
Kashmir is slowly getting recognized as a grave human rights issue at the international level, but it’s not as prominent as Palestine. Why?
Kashmir is getting attention through the prism of India and Pakistan conflict, or because of the nuclear factor. In the political circles at the international level, that is how Kashmir is seen. But there hasn’t been any serious attention paid to the lives of Kashmiris, their condition, the suffering and miseries they have faced from last twenty-seven years due to the extensive militarization and the resultant massive human rights abuses that have taken place. The situation is slowly improving.
However, I will not shy away from saying that the Kashmiri diaspora has failed. They could have done more. But after 2010 and 2016 uprising in Kashmir, the way Indian forces have acted, the introduction of pellet guns and the mass injuries it has caused has definitely gained the attention of international civil society towards Kashmir. Recently, the case of a person from Budgam who was used as a human shield by Indian army major and how the major was later rewarded for it has brought attention to Kashmir because the story became viral. These issues have surely brought attention to Kashmir.
It is true that Palestinians have succeeded in showcasing the human rights violations done against them from the last seventy years. That is because Palestinian diaspora is very active, they are more than five million worldwide. Surely, Kashmiris are lagging behind but the way the Indian army is behaving in Kashmir with impunity can’t be ignored in an era of social media. But I also believe that the attention on Kashmir is not proportionate to what’s happening in Kashmir, as violations are being committed almost daily here. Part of the reason for this is India’s image worldwide and the deception which the Indian state has succeeded in creating before the international community of it being the largest functional democracy in the world.
You have filed hundreds of petitions regarding human rights abuses at the hands of government and Indian forces. How would you assess the performance of judiciary in dealing with human rights cases in Kashmir?
Judiciary has failed the people, it has exhausted the victims and not a single perpetrator has been punished because of the impunity enjoyed by armed forces.Judiciary has not asserted itself in Kashmir. It has powers, but it has failed to assert those powers. The orders of judiciary are not being respected by the executive or by the government. For instance, under the Public Safety Act (PSA) people are being booked repeatedly even though their PSA’s have been quashed.
Judiciary in Kashmir has not been pro-active. Indian judiciary is accused of over-reaching the executive and legislature because of judicial activism but here in Kashmir the judiciary has capitulated in front of the executive. Judiciary has not provided justice to the victims.
In India also, Kashmir related cases have a certain history. The judiciary there has a different approach and attitude towards Kashmir cases. Whether it was Maqbool Bhat’s case or Afzal Guru’s or the cases related to the erosion of autonomy in Kashmir, the Supreme Court has done the job of the executive.
Can you talk a bit about your personal story and why you chose to become a human rights lawyer?
After emergency in India, the civil society in India got quite strong. I was a student there at that time; we were quite influenced by the civil society movement in India. This movement taught me that human rights have an important role to play in judiciary. I felt that one could possibly bring a difference to the people through judicial activism. I joined the Kashmir Bar in 1978. After that I was with PUCL, one of India’s premier human rights organizations. I was their Kashmir convener. Balraj Puri was their convener from Jammu.
And then armed uprising against the Indian rule began in 1989 and all hell broke loose. We decided that we had to do more. After 1989, when I saw massive unprecedented human rights violations taking place, I chose to expose the rights abuses in Kashmir because I had some experience before. With time, we evolved from human rights to a civil society. We thought that in a conflict, the alternative politics of the civil society is very important.
What is the biggest challenge human rights activism faces in Kashmir?
When you are working in a conflict zone, one should not expect things would be smooth. There would be impediments by the government, because you are exposing the government. When you are a rebel and a dissident, the government does its best to silence you and create problems for you. People have been silenced here. After the killing of Jaleel Andrabi, many human rights activists quit. But what is important is that you know what your responsibility is. So, notwithstanding the government response, which constantly monitors your actions and is always looking for opportunities to discredit you, you have to stay firm. Our responsibility is how we can expose the state and do the duty that we believe is very important.The risks we are taking are nothing in comparison to the stakes of Kashmiri people, which is very enormous. The second generation of Kashmiris is now suffering and if the conflict continues, the third generation may also suffer. We must know our responsibility and deliver on it.
Resources are a big challenge too because human rights work is not lucrative. Another major challenge we face is that the victims accept the human rights violations committed against them, and they don’t share. For example, lot of the rape cases have not been reported and it’s not like rapes have not been committed here. But the control of the Army is such that people don’t come to us. Silence of the victims remains the biggest challenge.