Indian media is seen as a PR agency of the Indian army. They have always covered up their war-crimes and distorted realities of Kashmir.
Muhammad Faysal is a storyteller from Kashmir, a youth diplomat, a volunteer and a teacher on weekends. Born in 1990 during the beginning of the Kashmir uprising, he witnessed the tyranny unleashed on his people. He plays football in the local league in Srinagar, finding a momentary escape from the occupation in the noise of the crowd. He blogs at muhammadfaysal.tk and can be reached at twitter.com/_Faysal
DNA had the pleasure to talk to Faysal to discuss the recent developments in Kashmir and various other things in this comprehensive interview.
Question: Tell us a little bit about Burhan Wani who was recently murdered by the Indian forces.
Muhammad Faysal: Burhan Wani, the armed fighter, was killed by Indian forces along with his two associates on the third day of Eid. He wasn’t just an ordinary run-of-the-mill armed fighter, who joined the ranks and inevitably got killed in one of the longest armed insurgencies in the world, but he had rattled not just the state but the older generation too. He’s the result of a humiliating response of the military complex, he’s a response to the brutal occupation, he has become an epitome of a will to defeat a military might.
For many in Kashmir, Burhan was seen as the 21st century Ashfaq Wani. Ashfaq was the pioneer of the armed revolution in 1989, he was well read and from an affluent family much like Burhan. He took on the arms as a response to the daily humiliation that had become unbearable. The day Ashfaq was killed; armed resistance received a shot in the arm. He became an overnight icon, a Kashmiri Che or a Moktar for the people who had enough of being a background between two states. It was time for Kashmir to take it upon them, to be counted as a nation with their own will. Ashfaq led the caravan of this 27-year-old insurgency.
In 2010’s Ragda uprising, 128 Kashmiris, mostly young men and women, were killed brutally in street protests that had engulfed the entire Kashmir. Two young brothers were having a joy ride on a bike. Halted at a checkpoint by a posse of Indian forces, they were subjected to humiliation which has become a part of our daily lives. The older economics student was beaten up, while his 15-year-old brother fled through the paddy fields of the countryside in South Kashmir. Something had snapped inside of this younger brother, he refused to accept offers of his parents to move abroad for studies. A few days later, the younger one joined the band of armed fighters in the jungles. He then became Burhan Wani.
Q: What made Burhan Wani so different from other armed fighters?
MF: What made Burhan different from other armed fighters was his ability to use technology. He disseminated his videos which struck a chord with his generation. His videos mocked at the might of the military complex of India in Kashmir. With all the network of their informers, the militia, and a 700,000 strong military presence, they couldn’t find a way to counter Burhan’s use of social media. He had become an overnight folk hero. A 21st century armed resistance had begun and thus South Kashmir became a ready recruitment ground to be a part of Burhan’s group.
From sobriquets such as Robin Hood to Burhan Bhai, to games in his name where you play as Burhan versus the military, or the way his videos became viral, or how his pictures ended up in phones of the pro-freedom youth of Kashmir. Burhan made inroads with him and he infused the idea of armed resistance.
With the way Burhan’s new age armed resistance was striking at the military establishments, it resonated with a lot of people that after making peaceful protests impossible, an armed response was inevitable.
Q: What were the scenes like in Kashmir after his death?
MF: His death was inevitable; to partake in guerrilla warfare against a million men strong state, with their entire machinery and collaborators network, we all were waiting for this day. But somehow, when the news broke, the third day of Eid became a night of national mourning. I have never seen in my entire life, Kashmiris mourning the death of an armed fighter. They say it was similar to the funeral of Ashfaq, but the magnitude of Burhan’s martyrdom is massive. This time, the epicentre was not Srinagar, which has been put under siege and has become easier to crush, but the villages and towns of South Kashmir; a territory unpredictable, where the resentment and anger against the military establishment runs deep.
Around 400,000 Kashmiris went to attend Burhan’s funeral in his hometown Tral. Multiple funeral prayers were held, funerals in absentia were offered all over the valley. Protesters were fired upon, according to the latest over 30 people have been martyred; the toll may increase as we see hundreds of casualties being brought to hospitals in Srinagar.
Q: The Indian army even raided hospitals afterwards. Tell us how was it like?
MF: In the hospitals of Srinagar, the police started recording videos of attendants and the casualties. The hospitals were raided by spies with the help of police. As we were volunteering at the hospitals, the police raided the biggest hospital of Kashmir, Sher I Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences. The informer was recording the details of the casualties; he was taken into the car which resulted in heavy protests. The irony of our lives is that even hospitals are not safe. Many injured who received minor injuries fled hospitals to avoid detention and reprisals from the police.
Like always, Kashmiris have always stepped it up whenever they are faced with odds. Hundreds of volunteers have prepared soup kitchens at the hospitals and the blood banks are receiving ready donors. The only one who truly supports us is we ourselves.
As I type this, I hope I can make it to the office to use the internet so that you could hear these stories. The noise of tear gas and screams of people demanding their right to freedom echoes in the air. Kashmir will make it like we always have, but how many of us are a bullet away from being a number, you know better.
I believe Kashmir must resonate with the young Pakistanis, to create bridges between two major youth populations through cross-cultural exchanges.
Q: After Brexit, you wrote a blog about India leaving Kashmir. Some were calling it “Kexit” and some are calling it “Kashout”. Do you feel it’s a good time to put pressure on India?
MF: It’s always a good time to put pressure on India. It has been almost seven decades since they reneged on their promise to millions of people in the erstwhile Jammu Kashmir. They have signed the resolutions in the Security Council along with Pakistan. Here’s India’s founding father, “We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it.”
(3 November, 1947, All India Radio broadcast, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India)
Instead of staying true to their words, they delayed, distorted and demeaned the right of Kashmiris to their political future.
Quebec has had multiple referendums in Canada, so has Scotland and even Catalonia is holding its own from Spain. It shows us that the borders and artificial boundaries cannot hold the aspirations of a people hostage.
Q: Historically speaking Kashmiris haven’t ruled Kashmir, their own region, since 1586. The yearning for freedom by this point is natural. What do you say about it?
MF: Absolutely, our history goes back to the Buddhist period. We have never accepted foreign rule since the Mughal invasion. You might be surprised, that stone pelting was part of Kashmiri warfare which was used against Mughal soldiers in Kashmir.
The foreign rule has always been brutal in Kashmir, and there has always been resistance. Yes,we haven’t been in an actual power in Kashmir, but our resistance is as old as our occupation. It will continue, as it is ingrained in our history and DNA.
Q: The British sold Kashmir for mere 7.5 million Nanakshahi rupees; along with the money the deal included one horse, 12 goats, and three pairs of cashmere shawls. This is a fact that Kashmiris have to live with. Tell us about it?
MF: Well, probably this is the biggest slave trade that has happened in the history of mankind. Among the many crimes of the British Empire was this Treaty of Amritsar.
Allama Iqbal, whose grandfather migrated from Kashmir after this trade, speaks in his longing for his homeland:
Dahkan, Kisht, Joey Va Khayaban Farukh’tand
Qaum-i- Farukh’tand Va Che Arza’n Farukh’tand
Peasant, the land, the stream, the avenues sliced
A nation was sold and how cheap was it priced?
The Dogras may have bought us for money, but they couldn’t take our resistance and neither our spirit to be free. Our resistance has lasted longer than their rule.
Q: Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had promised a plebiscite, what happened to this promise?
MF: India betrayed its promise to the people and the local collaborators which were kept entertained with this illusion. Pakistan later in Shimla gave a detrimental blow to this plebiscite movement which had started in 1953 after Prime Minister Abdullah was arrested in a coup.
This betrayal and subsequent clampdown on the people of Kashmir is what triggered the armed uprising in the 1990s, one of the longest-running guerrilla wars in the history.
Q: In the recent past you interned in a popular Pakistani newspaper. What was the experience like for you?
MF: It was a great opportunity to learn about Pakistan first hand. I travelled in trains and buses speaking to the real Pakistanis in villages and small towns. It was wonderful how they see Kashmir and their love for the Kashmiri people. But in the cities, the new generation stays aloof from the Kashmir movement. I believe there are two reasons; the lackadaisical attitude of the new-age Pakistani politicians who have only used Kashmir for their benefits and the failure of Kashmiris to reinvent their movement to the new generation in Pakistan beyond ‘taranas’ and rhetoric.
I believe Kashmir must resonate with the young Pakistanis, to create bridges between two major youth populations through cross-cultural exchanges. Not just that there need to be more interactive spaces, online and offline. Over the last many years, the social media interactions have helped gain knowledge of attitudes of the people in both nations. It’s healthy and it’s a start, but let us continue developing it further.
Q: In Syria, the popular revolution was brutally crushed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad, but Syrians are striving to topple the dictator even to this day. How inspiring is that for Kashmiris?
MF: Any uprising against tyranny, occupation and oppression anywhere in the world resonates with us. We feel their pain, we bleed with them and our prayers are always with them. We cannot pick and choose causes if we demand freedom for ourselves; we must stand by those who demand theirs.
AJK was freed by our forefathers to make it a revolutionary state to free Kashmir. Look where it is now, sifting between politicians who damaged its sanctity. A stronger, transparent and real autonomous Azad Kashmir can only strengthen the cause of Kashmiri self-determination
Q: Some Pakistani nationalists often try to hijack the Kashmir issue making it all about themselves and completely sidelining the Kashmiris. How infuriating is that?
MF: Absolutely, gone are the days of Zafarullah Khan Jamali, Liaquat Ali Khan or Zulfiqar Bhutto who would speak and listen to Kashmiris. Now, unfortunately, in both India and Pakistan, politicians speak about us, but not to us.
We want allies to our cause, not politicians or those who appropriate our sufferings for their own interests.
Q: In all of the occupied regions of the world the occupiers have always tried to change the population dynamics of the region. We have seen that in Xinjiang and Palestine. How has India carried out this policy?
MF: Let us go back to that horrific 1947. The world remembers how partition led to a mass genocide in India and Pakistan. But, somewhere along the line, the genocide of Muslims by Dogra army and Patiala Brigades (who formed the major chunk of Indian army) is forgotten.
Over 214,000 Muslims were massacred by Hindu marauders who belonged to a fascist organisation called RSS with the help of Dogra army and Patiala Brigade. There was a massive migration of Muslims from Jammu to Pakistan via Sialkot border. When Mohandas Gandhi ‘found hope in Kashmir’ he was sleeping when Muslims were butchered with swords and their women were raped.
There are about 1.2 million Kashmiris who are actually refugees from Jammu and Kashmir. Sialkot has the maximum number of Kashmiri origin refugees during this genocide.
Now there have been a lot of reports of settlements and army colonies in Kashmir. The demographic threat has always been there, but it is increasingly becoming an actuality. The removal of state subject law (which was instated in 1927) is an eyesore for Indian politicians, not that it has stopped them from these ideas of settlements, but that will be detrimental.
Our Hurriyat leadership has been very active in opposing these schemes. The people are rallying behind them. We are not against Kashmiri Hindus coming back to their motherland, but it becomes a problem when their sufferings are used as a political punching bag in forms of different Trojan horses.
Q: Tell us about the role Indian media has played over the years in covering Kashmir.
MF: Indian media is seen as a PR agency of the Indian army. They have always covered up their war-crimes and distorted realities of Kashmir. Nowadays, Kashmiris watch Indian media for a good laugh. The media personalities behave like school bullies and sometimes their obnoxious levels reach to a point of hysteria.
Kashmiris are well-read; they read Said and Foucault, take inspirations from Che Guevara to Omar al-Mukhtar. They cannot be fooled by their stupidity any longer. With the help of social media, there’s dissemination of ideas which is helpful in building a national narrative to counter Indian narrative.
We have an ever increasing number of bloggers, artists, writers, poets and thinkers who are building the capacity of our resistance movement. Although a lot more should be done, but we are on the right path.
Q: What do you make of the lacklustre role the UN has played in regards to Kashmir?
MF: The UN is caught in the web of geopolitics and so are we. But they are the only institution who can possibly make a change in the world. So we are positive, we need to make ourselves diplomatically strong to make things happen.
Q: Whenever Pakistani celebrities go to India they never really talk about Kashmir. What do you make of this sycophancy?
MF: I am sure like any other Pakistanis; they are allies to the cause of Kashmir. But I don’t think they would like to jeopardise their business to take a stand from their privileged position in India. But what stops Pakistani celebrities in Pakistan from speaking up for Kashmir is surprising.
In 2007, Junoon minus their Kashmiri origin Ali Azmat front man toured Srinagar. Their concert was right behind a notorious PAPA II, a torture camp that would even put Guantanamo to shame. Salman Ahmad didn’t speak against the atrocities, but he sold Kashmir in the name of peace.
Q: Kashmiris, who are themselves occupied, have given refuge to Uyghurs, Rohingyas and others. Tell us about it?
MF: A few days back, I along with my friends distributed aid among the Rohingya families who have taken refuge in Srinagar. We understand their pain and we will always stand by those who are surviving oppression. This is basic humanity that cannot be outraged by our oppressor.
Q: Generally speaking how do the Kashmiris view Pakistan and its people?
MF: We love Pakistani people and their devotion to Kashmir. We see Pakistan as our ally, but they shouldn’t forget that Kashmiris are still under a terrible occupation.
Focus on Azad Kashmir, strengthen its institutions and listen to Kashmiris there too. Make their politicians accountable, hardly any media attention in Pakistan is devoted to AJK, giving a free hand to corrupt to thrive there.
AJK was freed by our forefathers to make it a revolutionary state to free Kashmir. Look where it is now, sifting between politicians who damaged its sanctity. A stronger, transparent and real autonomous Azad Kashmir can only strengthen the cause of Kashmiri self-determination.
Q: We always hear about this Black Day or ‘Youm-e-Siah’. How is it commemorated in Kashmir?
MF: For the colonised and the occupied, every day of occupation is a black day. We remember our cause and the promises of the martyrs. On these ‘black days’ we are put under a curfew, and our internet is shut down. It’s our black day but a day of shame for India and the world for forgetting Kashmir.