It was the typical Edinburgh October morning when I woke up, no sun and cold (freezing would define it better) breeze sauntering around, I checked my schedule for the day, nothing too serious, so I went back and cuddled myself to my bed and few minutes later my Phone started to vibrate and on checking my Facebook, Muhammad Faysal posted on my wall. I looked at it, Oh someone is showing the Channel 4 Documentary titles Kashmir’s Torture trail here in Edinburgh Tonight and that too just 10 minutes walk away from where I live. I thanked Faysal for informing me about it, so there was the purpose for the day. I started texting my friends and classmates telling them to come to Appleton Towers, the venue of the screening.
I left half an hour early and reached 15 minutes early to the scheduled time along with 3 of my friends, 2 of who were Kashmiris. When I walked into the auditorium ,(lecture hall actually) I looked around and found this massive lecture hall almost empty. Few people mostly young women were there. And at the front, on the screen was the poster that has been synonymous with us Kashmiris for last 3-4 years. I felt a bit sad that there weren’t many people here, completely ignoring that fact that it wasn’t 7 yet.
The hosts Beenish Khan and Jack McGinn had not arrived yet, though I saw Jack in the hallway putting posters for another rally happening in Dundee on Friday. As the time neared, people started to come in, mostly young students. Jack McGinn came in and introduced himself. Jack is a student of Arab World studies at the University of Edinburgh. Soon Beenish Khan arrived as well. The lecture Hall, which looked desolate barely 15 minutes ago, now looked like a primary school class on its first day, 100-120 people were there. Jack introduced Beenish Khan and gave a little bit background about the documentary and what their aims were to hold this screening, to hold a meaningful discussion at the end of the documentary
So the lights were switched off and the documentary started. I had watched this documentary on Channel 4 when it was first aired in July this year and the pain and suffering shown in the documentary was enough to make your eyes moist, so I was glad that the lights were not on. Most of the Kashmiris have seen the documentary but who haven’t can see it from here The Kashmir Torture Trial on Channel 4
Throughout the screening of the documentary you could hear the sighs of the audience when people narrated their suffering, the most for the old man up from the mountain areas whose limbs had been chopped when he narrated his horror and that girl who was raped at 16.The documentary finished and the lights came on, I looked around saw moist eyes and horror on the faces, because of what they.
Without any further delay Beenish started the discussion with first giving a background of the history of the Kashmir conflict and then telling her tale and the reason behind tonight’s screening a started. Her Grandparents were from Azad Kashmir or what I corrected her to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, who were separated like countless others by that LOC and how it effected her family, and when she recently heard about it, she went around looking for information on the subject and then with the help of Edinburgh University Student Association, Islamic Society of Edinburgh and few others decided to hold a screening for fellow students at this premier university.
History of Kashmir conflict, which Beenish was narrating, seemed biased and distorting the facts. There wasn’t anything about Tribal Raid or the Maharaja’s accession to India or the role Vallabhai Patel played, or the reason why the Indian Army came to Kashmir and never left. It all seemed to be taken from Pakistani Websites and news portals but irrespective of this, Beenish had done an amazing job so far.
At this point though I decided to take it in my own hands and speak out. I spoke about Kashmir Conflict, the tribal raid, the arrival of Indian army, Plebiscite front movement, the 1987 elections, the gun movement, and the mass protests in late 2000s. Everything that came to my mind. People in the hall looked surprised to hear and watch these horrific things about Kashmir.
Almost all of them declared they never heard about it, most of them didn’t knew that where exactly Kashmir was on the map. An Indian student from Bengalore stood up and apologized on behalf of Indians and blamed the Indian Media for not highlighting the HR violations. An American student of Journalism pointed out that Ladakh and Jammu are safe and they don’t seek freedom but they do want to be free from Kashmir and accede to India by their own will.
Questions were asked to me about the current situation and the mass uprisings of 2008, 2009 and 2010, I answered and informed them about the Shopian double murder and rapes by Indian Army, the Machil fake encounter, Amarnath Land dealings and the road blockade by the BJP sponsored Hindu goons. I went on and on and told the tales of Kunanposhpora and how Indian media and army never acknowledged it, the massacres of Sopore, Gawkadal, Chittisinghpora, Handwara and countless others. The mass graves and the custodial disappearances. These were not mere statistics or stories but they were stories of our pain, our horrors, and our blood. They were stories of our Kashmir, a forgotten conflict.
Discussion went on, people gave their perspectives.
A couple who had spent their honeymoon in Kashmir told about the beauty of the land and what we can do to highlight the issue. One student at the back told us about how he has not heard back anything from his Kashmiri friend since 2010 and he does not know what happened to him. Most people felt that Indian media and government has portrayed this as a religious war, an India vs Muslim thing which it was not. It was the violation of human rights. It was about not giving people their right, the right to self-determination, the right to FREEDOM.
As happens in every activism meeting or conference here in UK, at the end, the hosts ask ‘what now? ‘So ideas floated around, everyone suggested their own things, but the main aim was to highlight the issue, get the attention of the local population and put the pressure on MSPs (Members of Scottish Parliament) and MPs to raise the issue in the parliament. From holding cultural events to having Kashmiri Societies in the universities and building a network of student societies across Scotland and UK.
This was named as Kashmiri Solidarity Movement. Jack, Beenish and me plus few other volunteers accepted the responsibility of carrying this forward and promoting it and holding events and meetings whenever required. It was decided that every Tues 7-9 we would meet again to discuss our future course of action.
The important points that all came out of the discussion were:
1) The need to highlight Kashmir issue in all the big Universities of Scotland and then England on the same scale as Palestinian movement.
2)To make a group called Kashmir solidarity movement which will carry these things forward.
3) To hold a demo or rally in front of Scottish parliament, on 26th of October this year
4) A day to highlight the tortures Kashmiris have endured
5) Speak to MSPs from Scottish Parliament next week and inform them about the issue and request them to raise it in Scottish Parliament
6) Hold cultural events highlighting cultures of Kashmir.
This is a dream start and something that I never thought would happen. Non-Kashmiri activists fighting our battle, helping our cause and I was feeling proud that I was part of it. At the same time I was wondering what have our Leaders been doing. Why haven’t they taken this approach than just giving out Hartaal Calendars? Why don’t they fund societies in Universities across the Globe who can inform and highlight the issue to local population and to the fellow students? Why don’t they do this and do that, all these questions evaporated into the thin air when Faysal requested me to write about it. I was hesitant at first but I agreed, thinking maybe on reading this we might find more Beenishs and Jacks in other parts of the world.
I am not a writer but I tried my best to re collect the happenings and put them here. I wish we find more Jack Mcginns, Liam O Hare’s, Beenish Khans than Fai’s and others.