'We have completely failed to show the truth in Kashmir': 2017 Rafto Prize winner

'We have completely failed to show the truth in Kashmir': 2017 Rafto Prize winner
Interview: The 2017 winner of the Rafto Prize for human rights spoke with The New Arab about his thoughts on the long-running Kashmir dispute.
6 min read
28 November, 2017
Parvez Imroz spoke with The New Arab [Faisal Khan/TNA]
Parvez Imroz is a well-known human rights lawyer and activist at the Jammu-Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCSS) and the 2017 recipient of Norway's prestigious Rafto Prize for human rights.

In this interview the lawyer talks about the vision behind his work, his activism, the Rafto prize and the role the international community can play in resolving the long-running Kashmir dispute.

Irfan Mehraj: Your organization, the JKCCS, has led the way in not only exposing state violence against civilians in Indian administered Kashmir but also showing how non-violent activism can operate within a highly militarized place like Kashmir.

Can you talk about the vision behind JKCCS and the role of civil society activism in conflict resolution?

Parvez Imroz: We live in the era of globalization, and the global civil society has played a very important role for promoting peace and human rights all over the world.

Normally, the role of civil society in a democracy is to exist as a medium between the people and the government, but in a conflict zone like Kashmir, where the state is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity and getting away with it, the role of civil society is to expose state violence and bring relief to the victims, then seek accountability.

We initiated the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society with the aim of achieving international acknowledgement for the conflict in Kashmir and put in place efforts to resolve this conflict.

The Indian government is not even acknowledging it as a non-international armed conflict, thereby depriving people the guarantees that they are entitled to in this circumstance.

We have to reach to the international community first as many people know nothing about Kashmir

The main aim of JKCCS has been to document the war crimes perpetrated here with impunity by India's seven-hundred-thousand strong army that's just the troops deployed in Kashmir alone.

They have been given complete impunity:- legally, politically and morally – some  of the worst forms of impunity, where the perpetrators are rewarded for their crimes and made national heroes.

Many have committed crimes in Kashmir which are in violation of international humanitarian law. Our thrust has been to document these rights violations and war crimes, then lobby civil society around the world – including in India - to stop the violations.

IM: You are the recipient of the prestigious 2017 Rafto award for human rights. How important do you think this award is in piquing international interest in Kashmir's rights abuses?

PI: I think that the award is a major breakthrough for Kashmir before the European community and before the European civil society and particularly in Norway.

Norway has been active in engaging in various conflict areas to promote peace and conflict resolution around the world. After visiting Norway, I feel there is a reasonable level of understanding about the Palestinian conflict, the Kurdistan dispute and other disputes in the world.

But there still remains very little knowledge about the Kashmir conflict and the sufferings of the Kashmiri people. I have engaged with Norwegian academics, government officials and other civil society members and I feel very optimistic about the future. They were shocked to know the reality of Kashmir, so it really was a breakthrough.

Parvez at protest TNA
Parvez Imroz at a protest against disappearances in Kupwara [JKCCS]

IM: Kashmir is the oldest living conflict in the United Nations, with large-scale documented cases of human rights abuses, yet the Indian state has managed to divert international scrutiny towards the grave human rights situation in the valley.

Do you feel Kashmiris have not done enough or have the international bodies simply failed in pressuring India?

PI: There are many realities that we have to confront. India is a very big country and has the image of the largest rising democracy in the world.

They have successfully created a deception surrounding Kashmir by portraying the Kashmiri struggle as terrorism. And unfortunately, after 9/11 the rising Islamophobia in the west has been somewhat helpful to India for its image in front of the international community.

Therefore the image of India, and also the soft power of India have given leverage to Indian state. But on the ground in Kashmir, the reality is a complete contradiction to what India claims. Therefore, things have become blurred for the international community.

The other factor is that the attempts of the Kashmiri diaspora, which has huge numbers in Britain and Europe, have not been very successful. They have completely failed in highlighting the truth about Kashmir before the European community.

Some groups have also been engaging with European governments and in other parts of the world - but they have failed to engage with civil society, which is more powerful and can pressurize governments over crimes being committed in Kashmir.

We believe that many governments are finally interested in trade relations with India and cannot now confront them, which is a rising economic power and a huge market for European countries.

Read more: India hits Kashmir's independent media where it hurts

in office TNA
Parvez Imroz in his office [Irfan Mehraj]

IM: What future role do you see the international community playing to help resolve the Kashmir dispute?

PI: We have to reach to the international community first as many in the international community know nothing about Kashmir. These people are only buying the propaganda of the Indian government.

For that, Kashmiris have to work like the Palestinians have worked.  We have to convince the international community because truth is on our side and facts are on our side.

The international community has to be engaged. It's a slow process. It can't be done in one stroke.

The international community also cannot have selective morality on Palestine, on Kurdish struggle or other struggles but then ignore Kashmir.

We also have to convince them how resolving the Kashmir conflict is important for them also.

We are seeing the fallout of civil war in Syria and how this has affected the whole of Europe. What about Kashmir, which is a nuclear flashpoint?

India's new interlocutor in Kashmir raises little hope

IM: What has been the impact of human rights documentation and litigation on the people of Jammu and Kashmir? 

PI: In certain areas, we have very much succeeded.

For example, our campaign on enforced disappearances has led to a situation where this has almost stopped.

The discovery of mass graves, which are now confirmed by government institutions like the JK State Human Rights Commission, has made a lot of difference.

The larger society has also been responsive towards to our work, especially the younger generation. We have institutionalized the culture of accountability in Kashmir and people have reposed faith in that.

Our long-term strategy is to institutionalize Kashmir's collective memory and we are very hopeful that people understand this work and its importance for our future. 

Irfan Mehraj is a ​journalist based in India administered Kashmir​. He has covered human rights, culture and education in the region. He is the founding editor of Wande Magazine (www.wandemag.com), an online magazine of long-form writing.

You can follow him on Twitter at @IrfanMeraj.