Guest Post by Mahum Shabir
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
Maybe it is silly to think that the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy will listen to the sorrows of a young Kashmiri woman-you have a billion more people to worry about. Maybe your interest in this letter would be piqued if I began by telling you that we have something in common-an education from two of the world’s best universities, yours from Oxford, mine from Harvard. Maybe it shouldn’t take a reference to where one went to school to get attention on a serious ethical issue at the center of democratic governance in India but nothing else has worked so far. I hope jaan pehchaan will work its wonders this once too.
I do not want to discuss the UN plebiscite of 1947 or the struggle for Azadi or Indian interests in hydroelectricity in Kashmir or the millions of other complicated questions that surround the K word. I have just one question that I believe has the shortest and simplest answer a question can have. No.
Should unarmed civilian protestors be killed with bullets by the armed forces in a democratic country?
The answer to the above question is ‘No’. Because that would be what the Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad sanctioned before the protests there turned into a mess. That is also what the King of Bahrain oversaw during the Arab Spring. I am sure you know that both of these countries are dictatorships, their leaders dictators but India is a democracy and you the Prime Minister. So how do you, as the man at the top of this democracy, sanction the murder of unarmed civilian protestors–not once, not twice but more than 200 times since 2008? Unlike your notorious neighbor where the armed forces have a will of their own the executive in India oversees everything-an executive elected by people just like the ones you authorize the killing of. If nothing else, you have 200 fewer voters to convince in the next elections. If nothing else, just the words ‘fewer voters’ should pine you. But you never won an election in your life. Maybe, this letter should be directed to someone else but then I wouldn’t know how to introduce myself.
I could also point you in the direction of democracies that have not resorted to the indiscriminate killing of unarmed civilians in the face of massive riots, petrol bombs, youth unemployment and political upheaval. Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, the United Kingdom to name some. I am afraid even the fledgling trying-to-be-democracy in Egypt has a better record than you do. I could follow with a lecture in non-lethal riot management, the use of rubber bullets, water cannons and all else but I suppose you already know that. I know you know that because your education department is stressing the study of human rights in colleges in India. I read a newspaper article about it and it was a front-page feature. I don’t suppose the killing of another unarmed protestor in Baramulla today will make the front page of a national daily but he would want you to take this piece of advice, from his fatal experience for your human rights course-the right to life is the most basic one, when lose that we cease to be human and those authorizing its violation because we protested cease to be democratic.
[ The author, Mahum Shabir, says that she has seen nothing but war in Kashmir since the day she was born. She says that this piece is part satire, part literary absurdity, part truth. ]