CHANDIGARH — Leading public intellectuals, political and civil liberties activists, who were forcibly stopped from proceeding towards the trouble-torn valley of Kashmir, today slammed the Centre, the J-K administration and also the Punjab Government and said all these were hand in glove when it came to unleashing repression on the beleaguered people of Kashmir.
Former Sikh cleric, Jathedar Giani Kewal Singh, former registrar of Baba Farid University of Health Sciences Dr Pyare Lal Garg, Socialist Party's Balwant Singh Khera, International Democratic Party's Karnail Singh Jakhepal, former SGPC member Jaswinder Singh Advocate, academic-turned-political activist Prof Manjit Singh and several others said they were befuddled that it was the Punjab Police that was stopping them from proceeding peacefully for a completely democratic, peaceful mission.
"We were trying to reach out to the people of Kashmir and try and understand the conditions in which they find themselves currently, but it was shocking to see that conditions in Punjab were no different for anyone who raised a voice in support of human rights," the delegation members told a press conference at Chandigarh today.
Giani Kewal Singh
said the extraordinary effort made to stop the delegation, which had publicly announced its mission at Amritsar before starting, comes close on the heels of the regime's repression against students and farmer bodies that wanted to hold a protest in Chandigarh in support of the Kashmiri people earlier this month.
"We have a very special relationship with Kashmir. When people of a particular faith were facing atrocities in Kashmir, the Ninth Sikh Master Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji stood up for them and attained martyrdom. As those who hail that tradition of martyrdom, we have no other choice but to stand up for those now facing repression," said the former jathedar of Takht Damdama Sahib.
"We understand that the Kashmiri people today are facing conditions that Jews faced during the Nazi regime. The State, with its words and actions, is making clear that it considers the entire people of Kashmir as its enemy. The people are practically jailed in their houses. The bazars are shut. Children are not getting milk. People are not able to find vegetables. The sick have no access to medicines. Patients cannot reach hospitals. Hospitals cannot procure medicines. Worse of all, Kashmiris cannot speak to you, the media, and you cannot speak to Kashmiris, which is your right, the right of the journalists," Dr Pyare Lal Garg said.
"We are a little surprised why the media is not fighting for its right to go to Kashmir and speak to the Kashmiris," he added.
The delegation had proceeded to Kashmir under the banner of Pind Bachao-Punjab Bachao, a broad-based platform fighting for farmers' and labourers' causes, human rights, and reforms in health and education sector.
Karnail Singh Jakhepal said the delegation included many senior former government officials, whose credentials are too well known. "If these people are not being allowed to even go near the border of Jammu and Kashmir, you can well imagine what must be happening in the streets of Kashmir," he added.
"We as a forum condemn war mongering by both Indian and Pakistani regimes, and we do not want the governments to take away resources from citizens' welfare and divert these for weapons' procurement. Our youth need jobs, they need education, they need healthcare. Governments have no money for all this, but they are spending massive resources to repress Kashmir," Jakhepal said.
Balwant Singh Khera, who has a lifetime record of fighting for citizens' causes, said leading Punjab intellectuals have come out forcefully against the ex-parte decision of the Modi government to scrap Art 370 and Art 35-A and thus strip the Valley of its special status.
He also condemned the Centre and Kashmir administration for thwarting efforts by politicians like Rahul Gandhi, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Yashwant Sinha to visit Kashmir.
Khera said political parties like the Shiromani Akali Dal are today answerable and accountable to the people for their criminal silence and overt and covert support to the Narendra Modi and Amit Shah regime which have been attacking the letter and spirit of federalism in India.
"Why is the SAD not explaining why it made a somersault from fighting for more autonomy for the states akin to Art 370 to now supporting the Modi government that is jailing an entire people?" they said.
"If the conditions in Kashmir are as good as the Centre tells us, then why not end the restrictions in Kashmir? Why not even allow us a delegation of responsible citizens and public intellectuals to reach out to Kashmiris and interact with them?" Khera said.
Other delegation members included senior journalist, author and activist Dr Megha Singh, social activist Harinder Manshahia; Khushal Singh, Kendri Singh Sabha, Chandigarh; Principal Sham Singh Garhdiwal and Jaswinder Singh.
Prof Manjit Singh said August 5, 2019 is now weighing heavy over August 15, 1947. "While August 15 is the day we commemorate for attaining freedom, the Modi government has given us August 5 that will become a mark on the calendar when an Indian regime cast aside all Constitutional guarantees to repress its own people."
"The saddest part is that Punjab is perhaps the only region in the country now where citizens are still finding some space to raise their voice, but the way Punjab Police dealt with the delegation, even this voice is being muzzled," he said.
He said cases like those of Pehlu Khan, Tabrez Khan and scores of others killed in lynchings, the abdication of its duty and role by the judiciary, the repressive State, the breakdown of democratic institutions, the near takeover of enforcement agencies like the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI all show that India's democracy is facing very serious and tough times, and the world is watching us.
Lt Gen (retd) Kartar Singh, who served in Kashmir for several years in different capacities, said he regrets that he could not travel with the delegation, but extended all support to voices raised in support of the Kashmiri people who are victims of partisan politics. Senior journalist and writer Sukhdev Singh and known Sikh history expert Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon were also present at the press conference.
ROLE OF PUNJAB POLICE
The delegation members condemned the behaviour of Punjab Police SP Manoj Thakur who not only stopped them at Madhopur but also misbehaved with them. "We asked him to show us any rule, any order under which he was stopping a group of citizens from travelling well inside the territory of Punjab, but he remained adamant and did not allow us to proceed," Dr Garg said.
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