“Making a Spectacle Out of People’s Pain and Agony”: An Open Letter to Amnesty
On 13 August 2016, Amnesty International India organized an event in Bengaluru as part of a campaign to seek justice for victims of human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir. The event, which was conducted on the premises of the United Theological College, involved discussions with families from Kashmir – featured in Amnesty International India’s report, “Denied: Failures in accountability for human rights violations by security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir”. Even as an FIR has been filed against AI on the basis of a complaint filed by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), reportedly for offences like ‘sedition’, ‘unlawful assembly’, ‘rioting’ and ‘promoting enmity’, this open letter by Kashmiri citizens to AI addresses many aspects of an event that was organisationally and politically problematic.
Dear Amnesty International,
We, the citizens of Kashmir living in Bangalore, and concerned citizens of Bangalore, are utterly disappointed and appalled by the way the Broken Families event was organised in Bangalore. The treatment that was meted out to the Kashmiri families and artists who participated in the event is completely unacceptable. While we appreciate your concern about an egalitarian way of listening to all sides of the story, it was grossly unjust on your part to make the last minute exception and provide space to individuals who claimed to be representatives of Kashmiri Pandit community, and whose ulterior motive was to hijack and disrupt the entire event. It was completely unthoughtful of you to be least concerned about the sensitivities attached to the event, and to let the Pandit community make a mockery of the pain, loss and sufferings of Kashmiris Muslims, particularly of the families who were present at the event — of a father whose son was tortured to death, and a mother who was handed over the skeleton of her son two years after his abduction by the Indian armed forces. Moreover, it was absolutely irresponsible on your part not to think about the security of the individuals, thus allowing the humiliation and the hostility artists were subjected to by the police and ABVP goons to take place.
It goes without saying that mismanagement on your part turned the event into a disaster, and you conveniently let it happen. Your staff seemed more concerned about adding new contacts to your database, not to mention chai and vada outside, and less about the families and artists who were left completely on their own. In a futile attempt to cover up, it was sad to see you trying to shout down the Kashmiri audience but not those who actually wreaked havoc by booing you and relentlessly asking you to mind your rhetoric and figures. In fact, the moderator on the panel seemed more focused on her own work on Kashmir than on rebutting the points of the Kashmiri Pandit representative on the panel who discarded, in a sweeping move, all your efforts to highlight the plight of the Kashmiri Muslims who have been subjected to everything that could fit under the rubric of violence in the last twenty-seven years by the Indian armed forces. Not only did you allow him to absolve the armed forces of the heinous crimes they have been committing with absolute impunity in the North East and in Kashmir for decades now, but you also permitted him to trash your own report on the human rights violations by the Indian armed personnel in Kashmir. The way Kashmiri Muslims on the panel were treated was another sad sight altogether. In the absence of a proficient interpreter who could translate properly what the panelists had to say about their agonies, you chose an inarticulate Hindi-speaking person for a non-Hindi speaking audience who seemed least interested in what they [the panelists] had to say. Instead, the interpreter’s inefficiency further belittled the pain of the bereaved.
Consequently, we saw a stark reinforcement of Brahmanical hegemony when, in a supposedly exclusive event for families who have lost their loved ones to the state brutality in Kashmir, a Kashmiri Pandit, whose presence was imposed on the already suppressed people under mysterious conditions, was given the lead to take the debate wherever he desired. On the other hand, we saw diktats being issued to Kashmiri artists to do what Amnesty wanted them to do, just like a benevolent patron who takes pride in talking about slaves but refuses to talk about their liberation, for they serve the purpose better in chains; unchained they are worthless.
While you hailed democracy and tolerance when asked about the assimilation of the Kashmiri Pandit representatives in the programme, and we respected your decision, the allusion to democracy and tolerance was beaten hollow when MC Kash was forced to cut his performance short. You cited time constraints, fine, but can one ask what consumed the time allotted to him? An intrusion that was allowed by you without consulting the people who were projected as the sole focus of the event. How could one steal someone’s democratic right and allot it to someone else? What kind of democracy and tolerance were you practicing? Moreover, when cops tried to drag and push MC Kash, why did nobody from your staff intervene? Had Kashmiri boys not formed a chain and protected him from further humiliation, he would have been left at the mercy of the cops.
In your first statement [in the aftermath of the event], you vaguely referred to people who raised slogans at the event, but what about the ABVP people and the same Kashmiri Pandit who was the sole focus of your democratic values and tolerance, who labelled you a ‘Taliban funded’ organization – why not a word about them? Why no mention of the people who lodged an FIR here against you for organising an anti-national event? As a ‘global movement committed to defending those who are denied justice and freedom’, how could you not value dignity and respect, without which any form of justice or freedom is nothing but dishonest and hollow rhetoric?
This letter is meant to register our protest against the way you created a spectacle out of a people’s pain, agonies, and sufferings, and felt no remorse or regret about the humiliations and hostility they were subjected to. We hope that, in the future, whenever you organise events where sensitivities are involved, you will make sure that people are treated with dignity, equally and not as pawns. We also hope that your approach towards organising such events in times like these has been properly thought through.
We thank you for your time.
First published in Raiot. Republished here with minor edits for clarity.
Images courtesy Raiot.
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