It was a standard and wonted response from an Indian politician when being confronted with questions on human rights abuses in Kashmir – unsophisticated, evasive, ahistorical and blame-shifting. MP Shashi Tharoor takes it to a new level through his disturbing conception of illusions that he tries to exhibit during a recent interview with Tim Sebastian, a Deutsche Welle journalist, who interviewed him on the subject. Defensively pompous but clearly chagrined, he took refuge in blatant lies and in obfuscation of truth and statistics, interestingly investigated and stated by India’s own institutions. He parroted the same line as other spokesperson of Indian polity and Indian armed forces, fervent apologists of pervasive violations inflicted on civilian population of Kashmir.
Tharoor emphatically states ‘there isn’t a single crime or misbehaviour even in Kashmir that hasn’t first been exposed by an Indian individual by an Indian person or authority, by an Indian media person or an Indian NGO. Indians are the first to bring these up. It’s impossible to hide wrongdoings in Kashmir.’ Exactly what are these “misbehaviors” and “wrongdoings” that he is talking about? Not only by India’s own Human Rights Commission, interlocutors appointed by the government, Jammu and Kashmir state legislature and India’s Supreme Court but international entities like United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and many more respected and credible organizations have consistently highlighted the human rights abuses committed by armed forces with impunity since the onset of popular resistance in the valley in 1989. Crimes against humanities which Mr. Tharoor euphemistically calls “misbehaviors”, are rapes, mass rapes, sexual humiliation, torture, torture of sexual nature, mass graves of humans, massacres, forced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, unlawful detentions and killing and maiming of teenagers and children during protests. Tharoor’s lexicon reveals a systemic strategy of denial especially when he uses the word “misbehaviour”. In 2004, the army dismissed a soldier, Lance Havildar Krishna Bahadur, from 3 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) in the Pahalgam district in Kashmir after he was found to have raped a 60 year old woman. He was awarded a one-year rigorous imprisonment for “misbehaving”, not for rape.
The first blunt lie that stumbles out of Tharoor is his claim that these”misbehaviours” are first exposed by Indians and its institutions. Till date, Kashmir is yet to witness fair and unbiased media coverage of what really goes on in the valley, from the perspective of Kashmiris. None of the human rights abuses, not a single one, was first acknowledged by the Indian media, let alone by the Indian army or the state. Indian media have long been accused of being the extended arm of the Indian state in Kashmir. It has, by and large, only tried to represent the state narrative through its biased and one-sided journalism. Through its vitriolic and nationalistic debates, Indian media has been instrumental in demonising the popular protests and have selective imagery reportage to portray the unarmed protesting Kashmiris as disposable. Therefore, Tharoor’s assertion of “first to expose” the crimes of armed forces sounded surreal. The state’s response has remained on the same line as it was in 1991 when it called the reports of rapes by intentional human rights watch-dogs as “massive hoax orchestrated by militants and their international allies.” Perhaps Tharoor, an established writer, can pen down and enlighten the concerned constituencies as to where these cases have been “first exposed” and who are these Indians and Indian institutions that “first acknowledge” the cases of abuse.
Tharoor, like other statesmen, does not attempt to prevaricate during the interview. He chooses to falsify the facts. He states that the reported cases of violence were exposed, investigated and punished quickly. According to an Amnesty report, from as recent as 2015, “to date, not a single alleged perpetrator of a human rights violation has been prosecuted in a civilian court. Victims and their families routinely face intimidation and threats from the security forces when attempting to bring cases against soldiers. The climate of impunity encourages human rights violations to continue. Faith in the government and judiciary is almost non-existent in Jammu and Kashmir”. The report further states, ‘the central government denied permission to prosecute under Section 7 of the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in each of the 70 cases brought against the members of Army or paramilitary forces.’ Section 7 of the AFSPA gives immunity to members of the security forces from prosecution by requiring permission from the central government before members of the military or other security forces can be prosecuted in civilian courts. These 70 cases are the ones that were brought forth to the central government and represent a minuscule percentage of the actual number of human rights abuses that have taken place in Kashmir. The 2012 report from the interlocutors, appointed by the government of India, highlighted the ‘failure to book those guilty of human rights violations’.
After making false claims of prompt investigation and prosecution Tharoor went on to say, ‘sadly, one of the realities in Kashmir is that the armed forces and the authorities are blamed for a number of the actions undertaken by terrorists. People are too scared to blame the terrorists because they fear for their own lives.’ So, according to Tharoor, Kashmiris have been making false complaints against the armed forces for the abuses committed by “terrorists”. Through this assertion he does not only undermine the human rights claims of a community in resistance but slander the victims of crimes against humanity.
In the process of doing so, he diminishes the reputation of the respected institutions of India including the apex body of law, the Supreme Court of India which has, in a ruling from 2012, categorically questioned the conduct of the armed forces. Sebastian also reminded Tharoor of an NHRC report from 2010 which stated, ‘extra-judicial executions have become virtually a part of state policy.’ As recent as in 2016, a group, including a former External Affairs Minister, visited Kashmir and suggested the State and Central governments to ‘improve the human rights situation in Kashmir & encourage more humane attitude by the security forces with the public’.
Nothing can be so effortlessly contradicted and rendered nonsensical than Tharoor’s pontification when he calls Kashmiri people scared of “terrorists” and hence not filing complaints against them. Kashmiris do not look so scared when they come out in lakhs on the streets of Kashmir raising anti-India and pro-freedom slogans. These are not the faces of scared people in spite of the indiscriminate bullets and pellets from the guns of armed forces that have killed, maimed and blinded scores of youth and children when they come out to protest the encounters of militants. Knowing and having faced the army brutality in the last 29 years have not stopped these “scared” Kashmiris in trying to protect the militants from being captured by army during search operations.
Tharoor looked vexed when reminded of India being the largest democracy in the world but with a disturbing human rights records in Kashmir. He stumbles and clumsily asks Sebastian – do you think terrorists respect human rights? Sebastian responses, ‘but you are a democracy. You are held to a different standard, unless you are quite prepared to be on the same point as terrorists or government terrorists’, was befitting. He accepts that the 1987 election, that led to the popular secessionist movement and armed rebellion, was rigged. However, in arguing that all the elections thereafter being fair, he tried to scrounge for legitimacy from those very “terrorists” that he has been lamenting about throughout. He burst out (now calling them militants, not terrorists) , ‘even the militant parties have not accuse these elections to be rigged’. At some point during the interview, Tharoor’s responses become almost laughable especially when Sebastian asked him if he is ashamed of the human rights situation in Kashmir. Tharoor jumps to the convenient topic of British occupation of India and charged at Sebastian, a British, retorting,‘are you ashamed of them too?’ Unlike Tharoor, Sebastian emphatically responded ‘yes’ and also pointed to Tharoor’s contradiction of having called British occupation as obnoxious in his latest book but being in denial when it comes to Kashmir.
Tharoor’s blatant lie or misinformation about one of the most important human rights treaties, ‘United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment’, amounts to committing intellectual perjury, for he is not only a statesman but has worked at the United Nations for 10 years. He forcefully insists that India has ratified the treaty which is a lie. India has signed the treaty in 1997 but has yet to ratify. Proposals to codify the crime of torture in a Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010 lapsed in 2014 as it fell short of the standard required under the Convention.
Making shockingly imaginary claims in the interview, someone who was an UN under-Secretary General for no less an important portfolio but Communication and Public Information, Tharoor reveals his lack of grip over facts. This brings serious doubts, though much delayed, over the suitability of the post that he had held at the UN, an entity, as Sebastian emphasizes during the interview that holds human rights dear.
Such falsified claims and insinuating assertions on Kashmir from the representatives of the Indian state, relating to human rights abuses by armed forces, is nothing new and oft-repeated. However, such unabashed and brazen lies from an otherwise eloquent and well-expressed politician once again expose the deep rot that plague the Indian polity when it comes to maintaining India’s disputed territorial hold over Kashmir. Crimes against humanity and impunity to protect the perpetrators of these crimes is legitimized in kashmir through AFSPA and time and again defended by such politicians with their lies and deception. Tharoor made such irresponsible glib talk with the intention of winning over an argument, wantonly making statements without having any concern for the truthfulness or the factuality of it. Such carelessness in speech decried any sense of accountability for his words. In his unmitigated fervour to sound nationalistic, he sounded hollow and upheld the indefensible, the illegal. With this interview it seems Indian polity has hit a new low.