Event to showcase plight of people in Kashmir ends in protest in Bengaluru

AI-event-Bangalore Amnesty International India Programmes Director Tara Rao, right, and family members of Kashmiri men who disappeared or were allegedly killed by Indian security forces during the armed insurgency, light candles at an event in Bengaluru | AP

After the recent JNU flare up over Kashmir that has pitched freedom of speech against sedition in the academic debates, a Bengaluru college witnessed a stormy Saturday after some youths demanded a separate Kashmir and resorted to anti-India sloganeering, sparking protests by Bengaluru-based Kashmiri pandits who were among the audience.

A panel discussion on Kashmir, organised by Amnesty International (AI) at United Theological College on Millers Road, was part of a three-city tour of Kashmiri families to showcase their plight through 'Broken Families'—a narration on human rights violation by the Indian Army. However, when a section of the audience, represented by city-based Kashmiri pandits, objected to portraying the Indian Army in bad light, a section of the audience began sloganeering.

Slogans demanding Kashmir’s freedom—Jaan se lenge azadi, jor se lenge azadi, Indian Army se chahiye azadi were countered with more slogans—Bharat Mata ki Jai and zindabad, zindabad, Indian Army zindabad by Kashmiri pandits and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) volunteers who reached the spot.

R.K Mattoo, former journalist and chairman of Kashmiri Hindu Cultural Welfare Trust, Bengaluru, who participated in the discussion, told THE WEEK, “I am a Kashmiri and my heart bleeds for both Kashimiri Hindus and Muslims. But events like this (Broken Families) are ill-intentioned and aimed at creating tension in the country. Why is Amnesty International hell bent on taking these families around the country to cry before people? Kashmiri pundits were hounded out of Kashmir in 1990s and 837 killings of pundits were documented. But no FIR was filed. We fled without a second pair of clothes. Why didn’t the likes of AI not speak a single word about it?,” asked Matto.

The moment Mattoo came to know about the event, he put up a Facebook post, asking the organisers to include their voices in the discussion. He called the organisers and asked them if they had authenticated the claims of the aggrieved families before providing a platform for them to attack the Army. Calling it a “design to malign the Indian Army globally” Mattoo alleged AI was receiving huge funds to do it.

~8575078 ABVP activists smearing black ink on the United Theological College name board

“They had not authenticated the stories of the three families brought from Kashmir to Bengaluru. But they agreed to give me a chance to present my views. During the discussion, I urged all Kashmiris to introspect as to why no one was raising the issue of Kashmiri pundits? Our killers are roaming freely. Who will hear out our narratives? The Indian Army is the most disciplined in the world and why did we not hear of any allegation prior to 1990? Army is deployed in the Northeast, but we have heard no complaints,” said Mattoo.

Mattoo's remarks sparked off slogan-shouting by a few youths (including the families) who blamed the Indian Army for the incidents of violence.

“We told the police not to be mute spectators to seditious activity right before their eyes. They immediately switched off the mikes and asked the people to disperse. ABVP volunteers came in to support us and held protests till midnight,” Mattoo said.

On Sunday, major protests erupted across the city after Kashmiri Hindu Cultural Welfare Trust and ABVP filed separate complaints with the police, alleging sedition and demanding action against the organisers and the participants who indulged in anti-national sloganeering.

The ABVP demanded action against the college for hosting the event and protested the delay by the police in filing the FIR. The complainants have also submitted a video footage of the event.

The cops are seeking legal opinion before filing an FIR into the case.

Meanwhile, the police have detained around 40 ABVP activists for smearing black ink on the United Theological College name board.

MP Prathap Simha, who is the state president of Yuva Morcha, demanded to know why the so-called educated people were providing platform to disperse anti-India sentiment.

“People complaining of human rights violations in the valley should fist stop pelting stones at our soldiers in Kashmir. AI should also worry about the human rights violations of soldiers and their orphaned families. It is a systematic effort to derail the development agenda of the NDA government. The state government should own up moral responsibility for having allowed anti-national activities in the state,” said Simha.

Reacting to the events, Home Minister G Parameshwara said, "I have asked the police to verify if the sloganeering was done by Kashmiri students or outsiders. Action will be taken if there has been any act amounting to sedition."

Reacting to the developments, the AI, in a statement, admitted that there have been calls for Azaadi (freedom) from a section of the audience during the event.

“It is important that media attention to the conduct of some of those who attended the event not serve as a distraction from the important issues of the denial of truth and justice to those who have suffered in Jammu and Kashmir,” said Tara Rao, programmes director, Amnesty International India.

Amnesty International India as a matter of policy does not take any position in favour of or against demands for self-determination. However, Amnesty International India considers that the right to freedom of expression under international human rights law protects the right to peacefully advocate political solutions that do not involve incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, the statement said.

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