Wajahat Habibullah, the former chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities, described his recent visit to Srinagar as having been an “extremely depressing experience”. Habibullah, who has served as a senior bureaucrat of the Jammu and Kashmir cadre, was a member of the five-member team from Delhi led by senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha that visited the valley last week. They were trying to reach out to the people in the valley which has witnessed violent protests for over three months.
Describing his meeting with the Hurriyat leadership including Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani who had just two months ago flatly refused to meet leaders from an all-party delegation who had visited his home, Habibullah said the Hurriyat leadership is under pressure from the people of the valley and it is the duty of the people of India to reach out to them.
Habibullah revealed that all the Hurriyat leaders want a “dialogue” with both the Indian people and the leadership. This was the consensus the team arrived at after taking to Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq (who had been released from jail just ahead of their visit obviously in order to facilitate talks) and Shabir Shah.
Hurriyat leader Yasin Malik had declined to meet the team. Habibullah admitted he was shocked “at the hatred that the people in the valley felt towards us. The situation there is much worse than in the 1990s. During the 90s, one could sense a lot of anger but today there is tremendous resentment at the way in which the situation has been handled specially in the last three months.”
“Families have suffered losses in terms of death, injuries and blindness. People asked me what I was doing for the last three months – why I had not come earlier. I told them that I had a broken leg and had only just started walking. It also takes time to put a group together,” he explained.
Habibullah has often lamented India’s inability to win the hearts of the people of Kashmir by repeating “blunders” that end up proving counterproductive.
The story has been repeated once again, he said. “In 2010, when this all started, there had been a great deal of stone pelting often by school students, I had advised the then IG Police in the J&K government not to arrest them under the Public Safety Act but instead put these boys into juvenile homes. They could have taken over some police or army barracks and created juvenile homes. Instead, they chose to put them in jails with men convicted of murder and worse crimes. I had told the Commissioner in Srinagar that she should go and meet these boys during their incarceration. Even if they condemned her, they would still feel that somebody cared. She did not listen. The result is that these boys have come out of jail with hardened mindsets,” said Habibullah.
“The first thing I told the young boys who came to meet me in Srinagar was that we (our delegation) are not your enemies. Many of these young boys had been abusive to me on Facebook but this was not the case when they met me in person,” he revealed.
Some of the younger generation boys have gone on to get an education and have taken up jobs because they want to serve their own people but Habibullah said, “Even these boys are scared because they can be beaten up and are being seen as traitors by the larger public.”
Habibullah is extremely critical of the way the Delhi media has covered the situation in the valley. “They are not positive at all. They have shown no understanding of the issues or of the gravity of the violence Kashmiris are being exposed to.”
He refused to believe that the burning of schools was the work of Pakistani infiltrators. “During the 70s, when I was SDM of Sopore, the public blamed BSF for the burning down of public properties including schools. The BSF blamed Pakistani infiltrators. The same thing is happening today. There are certain elements out to create mischief and we need to point out who these people are.”
The delegation led by Yashwant Sinha is being seen as part of the Track 2 diplomacy which has been initiated by the government to help restore normalcy.