Sheikh Abdul Rasheed, 42
Langate MLA Sheikh Abdul Rasheed is popularly known in Jammu & Kashmir as ‘Engineer Rasheed’, a reference to his professional qualification. Rasheed was a separatist and then became a human rights activist. In a candid chat, he tells Baba Umar what the Centre needs to do to solve the Kashmir issue. Excerpts:
You are opposed to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Can the State really do without it?
The removal of AFSPA is important because it gives tremendous powers to security forces. Without lodging FIRs, troops can search houses, arrest people and even kill without accountability. The Act has to go to bring out the human face of troops. It is just to make them accountable. When the government says the number of militants is decreasing, why not reduce the number of troops and remove AFSPA as well?
There is talk of repealing AFSPA from a few districts. How do you view this move?
Ironically, we are being told that it will be withdrawn from Srinagar and elsewhere. I am not against it. But the Act should be repealed from the areas where it has been violated the most. In Kupwara and other districts, where militarisation is highest, AFSPA’s consequences have been felt more. Here there is no accountability and the media presence is almost nil.
You have accused the army of forcing you and thousands of others into unpaid labour for 13 years. How did it happen?
From 1990 to 2003, people of 50 villages in Kupwara and Handwara were being taken for forced labour (begari). During the day, we would erect bunkers, carry water cans and wash their clothes and at night people had to clear roads of explosives with their bare hands. Everyone was humiliated, even women were not spared. I did begari for 400 days. In this regard I have filed a case against the government and the army with the State Human Rights Commission. In 1997, school teacher Abdul Khaliq of Honga village in Handwara was asked to climb a tree and chop its branches. He fell down and died. We aren’t second-class citizens. I am demanding a public apology from the army, state and Central governments and proper compensation for their work and the humiliation they suffered.
You were instrumental in removing army camps and vacating a key stretch of the road in your area. Has it made any difference?
You must ask this question to the villagers who had been humiliated at the army’s notorious Rawalpora and Chutipora camps. Moreover, the Checkpuran Road, which was occupied by troops for 19 years, had blocked a vital link between villages, forcing people to travel 20 km to reach the other side when the actual distance was only 2 km. On 28 June 2010, we made the army vacate it after a 28-hour protest. To make the police and army accountable, I’ve lodged 17 FIRs against them after becoming an MLA. To protest the continuous harassment of people, I’ve surrendered my security. I haven’t had police protection for the past 10 months.
You don’t support autonomy or self-rule as a solution to the Kashmir dispute. What kind of solution are you looking at?
In the Assembly, BJP members said, “Jo mangega Pakistan, usko bhejo qabristan” (Those who demand Pakistan should be sent to the graveyard). I don’t want to be with Pakistan. But since India took Kashmir to the UN, which advocated the right to self-determination, giving Kashmiris a choice to accede to either India or Pakistan, it has become a legal right of Kashmiris to voice their support for either of the nations. If someone wants to stay with India, he shouldn’t be killed and if someone chooses Pakistan he shouldn’t be harmed. What’s the harm if someone asks for Pakistan? Legally and technically he is right.
‘I have lodged 17 FIRs against the police and armed forces after becoming a legislator’
Separatists are calling for a plebiscite. Do you agree?
That’s a secondary question. First, India should accept that Kashmir is disputed. It must understand that more than 1 lakh people haven’t died for autonomy or self-rule but for the resolution of Kashmir. India must also realise that the youth who are pelting stones aren’t miscreants or drug addicts; they are reminding India of its commitments. India must hold a serious dialogue with Pakistan and fighters of the United Jihad Council and not Hurriyat members.
Do you mean Hurriyat leaders are irrelevant?
Militants gave two decades to Hurriyat factions, who failed to deliver. So it’s Syed Salahuddin whom India should talk to. Militants have a greater role in the dispute because they have been fighting and losing men.
‘One lakh people haven’t died for autonomy or self-rule but for the resolution of the dispute’
Are you among those who see a similarity with Egypt?
No. It’s ridiculous to draw an analogy. Egyptians wanted change of guard through fair elections. In Kashmir even if Syed Ali Shah Geelani becomes the CM, the dispute will never end. Because by changing the government you won’t solve the political aspect of the dispute.
You had a meeting with the interlocutors. Was it fruitful?
I assembled the people of Handwara and asked them to talk to the interlocutors. In one voice all of them demanded azadi. I told the interlocutors to take the message to the PM and inform him that people aren’t confused and if the Indian government doesn’t agree to azadi, what is the other option? But the irony is that for Delhi, Kashmir becomes “atoot ang” (inseparable part) and sometimes a law and order or terrorism problem. Sometimes, Kashmir is an internal affair and sometimes Delhi calls for talks on it. Delhi changes its stance 10 times a day. It won’t help.
You also want change in the nomenclature of the chief minister and governor. How will that help?
In the next few days, I am proposing a Bill to name the state’s governor and CM as president and PM respectively. It will be a move towards restoring the eroded autonomy J&K enjoyed before 1953. The NC and PDP are demanding the state’s empowerment; let them begin it by backing my Bill. Let the president be from Jammu or Ladakh, I don’t have a problem but the parties must support my Bill or else they will be exposed before the people.