I asked Mehbooba to resign after 2016 uprising: Nayeema
Didn’t see any seriousness in PDP on self-rule agenda
I should’ve quitted PDP when it entered into an unholy alliance with BJP
Betraying own people in the DNA of Kashmiri leadership
Police kept mum in high profile rights violation cases
Two DGPs did not respond to Kulgam rights violation case
The ‘Nanne Kour’ of ‘Zone Dab’, an editor at BBC’s Urdu Service in London for 22 years, author of a well-received book in English language ‘Lost in Terror’ published by Penguin India and ‘Deshat Zadi’ in Urdu language, the daughter-in-law of the famous Kashmiri poet, Peerzada Ghulam Ahmad Mahjoor, and wife of the former BBC Hindi Service editor, Abdal Mehjoor, the former Media Advisor of the Peoples Democratic Party and Chairperson of Jammu and Kashmir State Commission for Women, Nayeema Ahmed Mehjoor has worn many hats.
In an interview with Rising Kashmir Op-ed Editor, Daanish Bin Nabi, she talks about the commission she headed and the challenges she faced, why she joined politics and how she see the PDP and the Muftis, and the state of journalism in Kashmir. Excerpts
Did your being close to Mehbooba Mufti qualify you for the appointment of the Chairperson of the Jammu and Kashmir State Commission for Women?
My appointment as Chairperson of the women’s commission was not a favour to me. Coming from such a rich journalistic background and exposure to world politics through my association with British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and then working as mere chairperson is nothing. Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti were after me since 1997. Both kept pestering me to join politics but I always refused. It was in 2013, on the insistence of Mufti Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti, that I finally joined Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) because of the previous record of their government. I had made it clear to both that I will never join electoral politics because I was a witness to what had happened during 1996 assembly polls when I covered those farce elections for BBC. Honestly, I have no confidence and faith in the election process in Kashmir. I had travelled across the world, especially to Pakistan and know many political circles in India and Pakistan. From (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee to (Parvez) Mushraff, from Nawaz (Sharif) to Imran Khan, I had a chance to meet everyone. I thought that somewhere down the line, my expertise and association could help the party as far as the initiation of dialogue process among the stakeholders was concerned. It was only with this perception that I decided to join the party. My perception changed soon when I asked myself why the father-daughter wanted me to join politics because there was no such role in the party. I also didn’t see any seriousness in the PDP on the self-rule agenda. After a few months of government formation, I was offered to head the commission. This is how I landed up in the women’s commission.
PDP contested 2014 polls asking people to vote against BJP and then your party joined hands with the same party.
That’s the biggest tragedy of Kashmir. I wasn’t a part of any decision-making body of PDP. I suppose this is how political parties work.
You could have left PDP at that very time.
Yes, I should have, but I thought if I leave, may be people think otherwise. I asked Mufti Sayeed if he thought joining hands with the BJP was the right decision. His reply, ‘We have no other choice’ was not convincing. I did realise that Mufti sahab was not happy with the alliance. He had soon realised that this BJP was not what it was during the times of Vajpayee. But, he would hardly share his inner feelings.
Where did the alliance go wrong?
Allying with BJP in 2014 was a historic blunder. We sought vote against BJP and then joined them. It was a betrayal. It was cheating.
You betrayed your own people?
Yes, we should not have betrayed our own people. It is in the DNA of Kashmiri leadership to keep betraying own people.
Wasn’t your joining PDP a wrong decision then?
Yes, it was. My first wrong decision was to join politics where people like me are only for showcasing. There is no space for reason and logic in our politics. Secondly, when they entered into an unholy alliance, I should have quitted that very time. I always thought that the confidence that both the father and the daughter had after they joined hands with the BJP that they might have an understanding with New Delhi to resolve Kashmir. I always thought that the father-daughter duo had something in their kitty due to which they had taken such a bold decision. But I was proven wrong.
Do you regret your decision?
Yes, I do. It will remain a black dot in my memory.
You were heading Jammu and Kashmir State Commission for Women during the 2016 uprising. Apart from daily killings, there were reports of daily harassments by the government forces, especially in south Kashmir. What did you do to stop such incidents?
I put my stand before Mehbooba Mufti that she should resign. The commission raised questions and involved many NGOS in India about the extra use of force by the concerned authorities but in Kashmir, law and order swallows human rights.
During the peak of 2016 uprising, the government forces stopped a few women from Kulgam who were accompanying an injured youth. They harassed them and tried to rape them when they were on way to a Srinagar hospital.
Not only in this case, the commission remained vocal about the Handwara incident as well.
And what happened to the Kulgam case?
It was due to our efforts that the case was investigated through Police and other agencies. Our team met women who were harassed but we could not do much because there is such a system in place in Kashmir where you yourself get frustrated at one point. There were many other cases and I wrote to Divisional Commissioner and DGP to circulate a letter about taking cases seriously. We had asked for the report of this case within seven days but even today, the commission received nothing. The commission was completely helpless in such circumstances.
So you are saying that Jammu Kashmir Police did not help you with the Kulgam case?
Sometimes Police helped, sometime they did not. Whenever there was any high profile case, Police always kept mum. In Handwara case, Police helped us by providing protection to the victim or placing the female Police with the victim. I tried everything in my capacity but sometimes you feel that you are being let down from every side as there was no seriousness or coordination between different institutions here.
Everywhere, even higher officials save their skin. This is due to the conflict here. Everything gets linked to militancy and law and order. Here, we don’t take cases on merit.
According to your investigation who was involved in Kulgam case?
There were a few. I was told about the involvement of some SPOs too. There was another problem with this case. The witnesses were afraid to talk due to the wrath they had to face from Police afterward. There was fear among them. There was a woman who came from Kulgam and then met us at her relative’s place in Srinagar. It is one of the reasons why the investigation was not taken to the logical conclusion. At one point, I was asked by a woman that I should protect myself. Such was the fear.
Did you take up these issues with Mehbooba Mufti?
She was very helpful. She would instantly ask Police to look into the matter and provide report in such cases. But then the end result was not there due to the system. She would always say do a proper investigation and take all the cases seriously. But then commission couldn’t do it independently. The commission is completely dependent on the police. So the commission had to wait for the reports to come but when those reports never came.
Did you take up it with DGP of Jammu Kashmir Police?
I did write letters to two DGPs Rajendra Kumar as well as Sheesh Paul Vaid. I don’t think there was any response.
Where did the PDP-BJP alliance go wrong?
The alliance was an irony. When (Narendra) Modi publicly snubbed Mufti (Sayeed) sahab at Sher-e-Kashmir ground, it indicated that something was wrong between the two parties.
Did the party members ever talk about leaving the coalition?
I have never been part of the party meetings apart from a few meetings that took place after the death of Mufti sahab. Initially, I attended a few meetings. I did not find any concrete proposals being discussed or see any planning happening. In the meetings, the party leaders would praise this and that, nothing else. There was no critical thinking done on issues of critical importance. The members also feared speaking openly. They only tried to keep the other one happy. After these useless meetings, I thought I had wasted my precious time.
What is your stand on Article 35-A?
A number of people have asked me that were not rights of the women getting violated under the Article 35-A but Jammu Kashmir High Court’s decision says Article 35-A does not violate the rights of any human or any woman. If one looks at the property rights that is also not a violation because a woman gets her share from husband’s side as well. It’s all compensated. If she is losing something from her father’s side, she is getting it equally from her husband’s side. So there is no problem with the property rights of women too. This is part and parcel of the constitution and Article 370. I am in complete favour of retention of this article.
How can it be defended in the Supreme Court?
Firstly, there should be no violent protests or damaging of public properties. Second, there needs to be a joint front from Kashmir. We have been hearing that NC, PDP, civil society and other organisations have fielded their lawyers to defend us in the apex court. I am against this division. There needs to be a joint team of ours, a strong team with a strong argument. It will also send a strong message to the world that we all are united. They all should come at a single platform as this is a matter of our integrity and identity. Whosoever is doing petty politics on this grave issue isn’t the son of the soil. More importantly, it is basically the responsibility of the mainstream parties to defend us in the court. We never asked mainstream parties to give us Azadi. But this is the least they can do for the people of Kashmir. They should protect these two articles and prove to the people that, yes, they are pro-people and that they are here to protect the identity of the people.
What are you views about the recently published UNHCR report on human rights abuses in Kashmir?
The report was a bit overshadowed with the death of Shujaat Bukhari as both the developments happened on the same day but the report damaged the democratic claims of the Indian government internationally. I must say, it was a damning report. Unfortunately, the local media did not play it up in the manner it should have like the international media outlets and the media outlets in mainland India. Kashmiris also need to highlight that report.
What has been your highlight being the head of the commission?
When I joined the commission in 2014, there were around 3000 pending cases and by the time I resigned, only 100 cases were unresolved. I had also started legal awareness camps and programmes across the State. We used to organise around 30 to 40 such camps each year.
What about the cases like Kunan-Poshpora?
As far as the case of Kunan-Poshpora is concerned, it is still in the Supreme Court. We cannot do anything to it. But I recommended to Mehbooba Ji that we should do something for these victims. She had announced a model village as well for such women where one of components was generating income for them. I think the proposal is being implemented now.
What about Aasiya-Neelofar case?
There was a CBI report in this case and I couldn’t do much. I am so sorry for this case but then no one from Aasiya and Neelofar’s side came to meet me. No one came to me for the follow up for this case and I also did not touch or follow up the case. Not even my predecessors at the commission have ever touched this case.
And why did you act partially in the case of the wife of the University of Kashmir employee, Abdullah Danish Sherwani?
Danish’s spouse (who is from Pakistan) had sent me a message on WhatsApp saying she was being harassed. I called both the parties to my office twice. Both the times, Danish came to meet us along with his parents but his wife never showed up to present her viewpoint. Danish told us to listen to his point of view but we refused and told him that we would listen to his wife first. The only excuse she gave for not showing up was that she was being threatened. Then we told her over phone that to meet as per her convenience. But she did not show up even then. She told us that she could not face her husband and kept giving excuse after excuse.
But in the media, she said you ignored her?
When I read it in the media I called her up again asking her why she was making such a statement. She reacted saying she had not said so and was only misquoted by certain sections of the media. I could not have ignored her as I knew that she was suffering and wanted to help her.
There are also allegations that you never touched high profile cases?
Can you cite examples?
There was this case of a retired navy officer of Jammu?
This is not right. We followed it like any other case. We got it reopened and offered all possible help to the officer. The cases are decided on merit and after taking everybody’s version…
What about Kathua case?
It was the commission which was first on the ground. It was only due to our efforts that the then chief minister formed the SIT and the case came into limelight. It was the stand we took and that’s how it came to forth.
Where do you think media houses have gone wrong?
Now-a-days, most media is paid media. There is no impartial and independent media. The only thing viewers and readers want from media these day is truthfulness. Unfortunately, there is no truthfulness. There are only twists and turns given to a story to stratify one’s own agenda. Had media been impartial, Kashmir situation would not have deteriorated to such an extent. There is only one side of the story and that is government’s side of the story. We don’t want to listen to the other side of the story.
And how do you view Kashmiri journalists?
Given the situation in which Kashmiri journalists are working, I salute them. For the past few years now I have been seeing how journalists are working here. From London, I used to view all journalists with a different perspective but now being on the ground myself, I witnessed the pulls and pressures which they are going through. People know who is doing paid journalism here and who is doing the real journalism. When life is under threat, it is but understood how much only can write and dig for stories.
Has Modi government’s Kashmir policy failed?
Yes, it has. Since, last three years there has been a confrontational attitude from New Delhi as far as Kashmir is concerned. This confrontational attitude has witnessed a backlash. Resultantly, we are seeing kids and youth taking up a violent path. This government has completely pushed youth to the wall. In early 1990s, Outlook magazine had a cover on Kashmir which said if referendum is held in Kashmir over 80 percent will vote for independence. Now see today, over 90 percent will vote for Pakistan if the referendum is held now. It is only because of the confrontational attitude of Modi government.
What about dialogue with Pakistan?
There definitely needs to be a dialogue with that country. Pakistan is a stakeholder as far as Kashmir is concerned. Had Pakistan not been a party to this dispute, why would New Delhi engage with it from 1947 to the tenure of Manmohan Singh? Since Modi assumed power, they are trying to change the narrative of Kashmir discourse and have consistently been saying that Kashmir is India’s internal issue but it is an admitted fact that Pakistan is a party to this dispute.