Sampat Prakash is like any grandfather, technologically unaware. He shouts into the phone believing that it is his due diligence to perform such antics for the person on the other side to hear him.
He also gesticulates and sensationalises his speech with tone modulations – quintessential of a leader and mass mobiliser.
Speaking with fervour, passion, and a high sense of emotions, he may change the perception of what a Kashmiri Pandit is typically imagined to be.
As the Modi-led government has presented to its supporters and patrons, a dream about the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley, the topic of their exodus has dominated media and social circles again.
After their painful and forced migration, that dates 30 years back to this day, some measures – effective and inconsequential – have been taken by successive governments to rehabilitate the exiled community out of the Valley.
However, after the events on August 5, 2019, it was reiterated and reported across various sections of the media and political mediums that the reading down of Article 370 was a step towards the resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits in their homeland.
But Sampat Prakash, an octogenarian, Kashmiri Pandit, and celebrity trade unionist, who had fought tooth and nail to protect the law of 'his' land, deems 370 as the supreme identity of the Kashmiri Nation.
Calling himself a Kashmiri Brahmin, whose ancestors "have lived and thrived on the land since the past 5000 years," the super-energetic 84-year-old recalled his years of struggle, resistance, and activism while speaking to The Logical Indian.
The veteran President of Jammu and Kashmir Government Employees' Trade Union Federation, and Pensioners' Federation Senior Citizens, Civil Society, Sampat Prakash foremost, expressed his dismay at the present state of his people, who he believes have let down the region's 30 years of struggle and strife by keeping quiet over the snatching of their special status.
Excerpts from the interview:
Can you elaborate on the resistance you have led for the protection of Kashmir's special status?
In 1967, I gave a call for the total strike of J&K's government employees, teachers, public sector workers, including essential services, for demanding our right to avail benefits provided to other Central and state government employees. We wanted the same pension and allowances that were being enjoyed by government employees of other states. The people of Jammu and Kashmir were denied this over Article 370 and thus we went on strike and I led the movement.
Due to my 'leader' status, I was arrested and lodged in Tihar Jail, Jammu, under Preventive Detention Law passed by the Indian Parliament. In my detention order, it was mentioned – 'my activities are prejudicial to the security of the state.' Anyway, I challenged it from my prison cell, in the Supreme Court, by filing a habeas corpus petition. My question was, why I was detained under a law passed by the Indian Parliament because my state's assembly hasn't passed the same law. Our accession to the Indian Union was based on three points – communications, foreign affairs, and defence - that the Indian government had jurisdiction over, but this 'detention' was not under their purview.
My petition was referred to a 13-member bench headed by the then-Chief Justice Hidayatullah, who gave a judgement that is recorded as Sampat Prakash vs State of Jammu and Kashmir. For the first time in the country, 13 judges of the Supreme Court heard my writ petition for seven consecutive days, making it a historic event. Eventually, they dismissed my petition, but I was released citing humanitarian grounds - that I was only a leader and mobiliser, fighting for my people's rights, non-violently.
So, from 1967 to this date I have been campaigning that the 'great' Article 370 and 35A is our defence and identity.
Even in 2018, when there was danger looming over our identity I gave a call for a strike that saw all types of participants from students, government employees, to shikara-waalas.
Article 370 is supreme and the identity of the Kashmiri nation.
If all of the Valley has always agitated for the preservation of the Article, how was it managed to be abrogated?
They first dissolved our State's legislature, and then the Kashmiri politicians could not find common ground to form a front as they were fighting amongst themselves to constitute the government. Had they come together, the assembly would not have been dissolved and nobody would have touched Article 370. The Governor (Satya Pal Malik) could not have recommended its dissolution and the Indian Parliament would have had no opportunity to take up their cause of abrogating it.
What would this mean to the future of people who have been represented by you since six decades?
The future is a disappointing picture and I am worried. My people should have come out immediately as 35A was slashed out, 370 was emptied out, and the state was carved into two union territories!
If anti-CAA protests can be organised, the people of Kashmir should have organised a mass civil disobedience!
Why does their silence affect you so personally?
Because I have fought for my state for 60 years! I have conducted 1300 strikes during my trade unionist days, I have been in jails - serving sentences, I gave my youth to the struggle and I have been honest and transparent with every activity.
Where is the intelligentsia of Kashmir? They could have done a sit-in, brought the whole world to its notice!
If the Kashmir society has made a blunder this time, history will not forgive us.
Speaking of historic blunders, you have seen, lived, and borne the brunt of the exodus. You are probably one of the few eyewitnesses who are still living in their homes after the mass exile of Pandits. What is the biggest misconception of the exodus propagated in the minds of the Indian commoners?
My humble submission is – it was an uprising in 1990s when the anger had reached a blasting point in the hearts and minds of the common Kashmiris. No Kashmiri Pandit left the Valley on his/her own will. No child, man, woman, fled Kashmir on their own accord. They did not leave willingly to settle outside, neither did the majority Kashmiri Muslims crowd the streets with communal turmoil to throw the Pandits off their land. There were no riots and no collective demands, this is an accident of history.
Then what led to such circumstances?
Since December 1989, there were selective and targeted killings of Kashmiris – including Muslims, who the militants believed were a detriment to their cause. Intelligence gives varied numbers but around 500 were killed, of which most were Hindus and the rest were Muslims.
Also, I want to highlight that most of these killings were not by the recognised militant outfit at that time. They were carried out by notorious lumpens who paraded themselves as 'militants' and later became counter-insurgents who killed Kashmiri civilians on behalf of the Indian Army.
But, the biggest crime at that time was not this. It was the collective khamoshi (silence) of the majority Muslims who did not take to the streets to protect the microscopic minority of Pandits. It was also in contravention of the ethics of Islam that say: it the duty of a Muslim to protect the minorities in his/her land.
Just like the ongoing blunder, they made a blunder of not protesting against the killings of their friends and neighbours who were murdered by these lumpen-militants.
Apart from the 'lumpen-militants', as you call them, do you suspect that the exodus was planned by the then-Governor Jagmohan?
For exodus, Jagmohan played a role, a very criminal role. If he wanted to move them out fearing their safety over the trend of Pandit-killings, he could have given them refuge in a safe spot in the Valley. Why were they moved out?
There are so many stadiums in districts. Pandits could have been kept there instead of tents in Jammu!
You are more upset over the majoritarian silence of the Kashmiri Muslim intelligentsia during the exodus, why?
Because this is our culture. Our Kashmiriyat.
In 1947, when the whole subcontinent from Peshawar, Lahore, Delhi, Mumbai, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra, was in flames, in Kashmir... not a single drop of Pandit blood fell on the ground in any village, lane, and bylane.
Kashmiri Pandits were protected by Kashmiri Muslims of 1947. They made history asserting the fact that – we, have a secular and composite culture.
For instance, in some villages where there were only 50 Pandits, the 400-500 Muslims gave them shelter during a time of catastrophe even when there was no rioting.
Mahatma Gandhi also said at that time: "Mujhe sooraj ki kiran Kashmir se nazar aayi" (I saw the rays of the rising sun from Kashmir).
But, in 90s, Kashmiri Muslims gave death to this glory by keeping mum.
In Jammu, over one lakh Muslims were massacred by the henchmen of Hari Singh and right-wingers. In Kashmir, when they (Pandits) were a microscopic minority amongst 33 lakh Muslims, they could have been wiped out of existence in two hours. But that didn't happen. They protected us (Hindus) with pride!
However, in 90s, the Muslims didn't speak against the killings of Hindus, and they didn't even testify that the killing of Omkar Nath, Jagan Nath, Ganjoo is against the Qu'ran.
This will always be an inerasable ilzaam (allegation) on them (Kashmiri Muslims).
How did you manage to stay back and how is your life now in Kashmir?
No one has ever come close to me with a threat. I have not even taken special protection that a few Pandits, who stayed on in the 90s, avail today. I am loved by all Muslims and Pandits alike, in fact mera toh militants ke gharon mein roz ka aana jaana hota hai (I pay regular visits to militants and their families).
But do not think that I support their politics of violence, no! I speak against them on their faces. I urge them to leave the culture of the gun and try to persuade them to organise massive civil disobedience. They can achieve their goal with such strategies.
Unfortunately, now when such an assault on our identity took place, the majority is quietly suffering. Chup chaap baithe hai (They are sitting quietly in their houses).
Do you think they are quiet due to fear?
If these things can scare a Kashmiri phir toh Kashmiri timid nikla! (Kashmiris turned out to be timid).
When the community has fought for over 30 years – a fight that has caused 2 lakh of its youngsters to become martyrs; due to which there have been so many killings, then it is their duty to react to what is being done to them now! Be it delayed!
30 years of sacrifices and prison sentences and what not... won't it all be rendered worthless by this deafening silence?
This can also mean that the Kashmiris' trust on the mainstream political parties and Hurriyat is finished, over. Because if you look into our history, you'll find that we have agitated over every small thing. Why not now? When Geelani, Yasin, and Mirwaiz gave calls for strikes, was not everything shutdown in solidarity?
If things aren't happening now, it is because the trust is over. It is deeply saddening and worrying.
Had people mobilised on their own, what would the Indian state have done? Massacred us? Ran a tanker over us? We have seen it all.
What would you wish to say to the Kashmiri youth who can probably hear your message through this article?
Kashmir will not forgive you. History will not forgive you. When such an 'atom bomb' was dropped on you on August 5, 2019, you stayed put! Why haven't you come out in rage?
Yeh koi chooti baat nahi hai aur Kashmiri tareekh tumko maaf nahi karegi (this isn't a small deal and Kashmir's history will hold us accountable).