WE want freedom. The majestic Rashtrapati Bhavan resounded with these plain words of Zamrooda Malik, aunt of 12-year-old Wamiq Farooq who was killed in police firing on January 31. Speaking in a choked voice, Zamrooda told President Pratibha Patil that the family was still waiting for justice. She was part of a women's delegation that had called on the President in New Delhi on September 29. We do not want a compensation of Rs.5 lakh as we do not wish to sell the blood of our innocents. Our package is azadi, she said as the President listened in rapt attention.
Zamrooda produced a medal and the certificates of distinction that Wamiq had received. He was silenced by the bullets when he was playing in the field, she sobbed, and asked for justice. The way the President heard us shows how vibrant our democracy is. There is scope for all kinds of voices, even the call for azadi, that too in Rashtrapati Bhavan, said Indu Kilam, a college teacher who was part of the delegation. This makes India different.
The delegation's meeting with the President was organised by the Women's Initiative of Peace for South Asia (WIPSA), headed by Mohini Giri and Syedah Sayidain Hameed.
Another voice in the group was that of Zamrud Habib, head of the Muslim Khawateen Markaz, a constituent of the hard-line faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Zamrud was in the Tihar jail for five years on charges of channelling funds for the separatist movement in Kashmir. She too echoed the demand for azadi.
When the President asked what azadi meant to her, Zamrud said, What you demanded from the British. Hameeda Nayeem, the wife of the detained separatist leader Nayeem Khan, pointed out how women and children were suffering in Kashmir for holding peaceful protests. We are suffering and we want that you intervene as a mother to put an end to the killing of innocents, she told Pratibha Patil. When the President sought to know about her understanding of azadi was , Hameeda said, Maybe Kashmiris will surprise New Delhi once the dialogue starts. We may have a structured relation with India.
Poonam Dhawan, a professor at Jammu University, maintained that the views in Jammu and Ladakh were different from what people in Kashmir said. A comprehensive process is necessary to look at all perspectives, she said.
The women identified as Sisters for Peace struck a chord with civil society in New Delhi, with whom they shared their tales of misery. Parveena Ahangar, chairperson of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, brought the participants at a meeting to tears by narrating her experiences during her search for her son, who had been arrested by the security forces in 1990. So far there is no clue, she said. Why is there no law for the Army, the CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force] and the BSF [Border Security Force] who are involved in thousands of missing cases? she asked. Parveena said resolutely that until we get justice the fight will go on.
The voices of these women helped the WIPSA urge the government to take effective steps to ensure justice. Citing the United Nations resolutions, it has demanded that women should comprise half the members of the group of interlocutors to engage with the people of Kashmir, which would be formed as suggested in the eight-point formula announced by Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram. It also demanded the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and sought a probe into the 108 deaths in Kashmir Valley since June.
The set of recommendations was given to Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai, who spoke at the concluding session. This is the beginning of a process to voice our concern for our sisters in Kashmir, said Mohini Giri. However, the event did not pass without criticism. Members of the Panun Kashmir, an organisation of Kashmir Hindus who left the State after trouble started there, protested against giving space for those asking for azadi and tried to disrupt the proceedings.
We are for reconciliation and we share the grief, pain and agony of our sisters and daughters in Kashmir Valley. We do not believe in religion in this context but humanity, Syedah Hameed said at the conclusion of the event.Shujaat Bukhari