Iltija Mufti, daughter of Mehbooba Mufti, the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president, feels that Kashmir has been turned into an open air prison by the BJP-led government in India. Recently allowed by the country’s Supreme Court to meet her mother, who has been under detention following revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy and statewide clampdown, Iltija speaks of a simmering rage in the Valley faced with an unprecedented information blockade for nearly 60 days now.
Gulf News: You have emerged as a vocal voice against the revocation of Kashmir’s special autonomy. From a private person to a critic of the BJP-led government in Delhi — what brought about this transformation in you?
Iltija: The government of India wants to smother Kashmiri voices. It has illegally detained everyone from elected representatives, party workers, civil society members and hasn’t even spared minors. In such an oppressive atmosphere, I wasn’t left with any choice but to speak up. I have received veiled threats but I am not the one to get bullied. I am here to tell the truth.
Q: The government of India maintains that Kashmir is getting back to normal.
A: Depends on how one defines normal. They have come up with ridiculous templates of normality such as traffic movement. The truth is that the state is on the verge of an economic, humanitarian and medical crisis. This unilateral and ill thought decision has paralysed the state, ravaging any sense of normality it ever had.
Q: In an effort to restore normality, the state government is planning to open schools and colleges in the valley shortly. Do you think such a step might help restore day-to-day life in Kashmir?
A: As a parent would you risk sending your child to school in such a surcharged atmosphere? They are merely doing this for optics. To restore normality, they should lift restrictions completely including ban on telecommunications, release political detainees and those detained illegally. They have the audacity to issue such statements when the truth is they still haven’t come clean on the detention of thousands of minors.
Q: How do you respond to allegations that two or three political families in Kashmir (including yours) benefited from the largesse over the years and are squarely responsible for the current mess in the valley?
A: Miss Mufti and Mufti sahab both were chief ministers for not more 5 years in total. PDP wasn’t an heirloom that was passed to my mother. She worked incredibly hard to create a regional force with the sole motive of restoring people’s dignity. Having said that how do they explain promising Aditya Thackeray the deputy chief minister’s position, knowing he hasn’t fought a single election? What about Rajnath Singh’s son, Poonam Mahajan and even India’s National Security Advisor’s son? Dynastic politics is all right elsewhere? Successive central governments have always treated J&K as a political cash cow and institutionalised state repression. Instead of shifting blame they need to take responsibility of this illegal and undemocratic decision.
Q: Have you been able to see your mother in detention? What exactly is the status of her custodial detention and how is she coping under confinement?
A: I was only able to see her after the Supreme Court allowed me to do so. We live in a country where a mostly pliable media fawns over the Prime Minister meeting his mother, but maintains criminal silence despite knowing that the government has detained thousands of innocent minors. My mother is distressed about the current situation and feels like Kashmir has been pushed to the brink.
Q: Both as a daughter, whose mother is in prison, and as a Kashmiri, what has troubled you most during the last two months?
A: The fact that 8 million people have been incarcerated for the past two months, stripped of their rights and dignity. What has happened to the collective conscience of this nation? Are Kashmiris sub-humans? We have a government intoxicated with absolute power that feels it has carte blanche to commit constitutional hara-kiri. This feels like Godse and not Gandhi’s idea of India driven by hatred, bigotry and selective persecution.
Q: India’s Supreme Court has fixed November 14 to hear pleas against Article 370. Clearly, there is not much urgency from the apex court on this matter. What is your take on this?
A: I feel deeply disappointed. One by one the institutions essential to keep the government in check are crumbling. What purpose will a hearing on 14 November serve when the JK Reorganisation Act will be passed on 31 October itself? BJP is deluded to think they are here to rule forever. BJP is not India and India certainly isn’t BJP.
Q: Amit Shah, India’s home minister, recently posed a question, asking ‘where the restrictions in Kashmir are?’ Is he stating plain facts here?
A: He also claimed that Farooq Abdullah, a former chief minister, was never detained and then went onto slap the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA) act on him. The government machinery is well oiled when it comes to obfuscating the truth. Fact is that Kashmir has been turned into an open air prison where oppression has been unleashed on people. How does he explain the unusually high military to civilian ratio? You can cage people not their sentiments.
Q: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan warned about an impending ‘genocide’ in Kashmir in his UNGA address. Do you think things are that awful in Kashmir?
A: Home Minister in a public meeting reassured Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians that they wouldn’t be declared as illegal migrants. Why did he deliberately omit Muslims? He uses the words termites and vermin as euphemisms for Muslims. A BJP chief minister refers to Muslims as green virus. In a country where Muslims are being lynched for trivial reasons, apprehensions of Kashmiris are justified. It’s the only Muslim majority state in India after all. It appears that they are just interested in Kashmiri land and resources. Kashmiris for them are only a nuisance and ough to be taught a lesson.
Q: What exactly do you think, Iltija, is the way out of the current crisis in Kashmir?
A: If this government has any sense left, it should opt for a face saving by reversing this illegal decision. Otherwise it’s fraught with dangerous long-term consequences for Jammu and Kashmir. But it’s quite clear they don’t care since the Indian economy is in dire straits and they can only invoke abrogation of article 370 to win elections -- their sole obsession.