The London School of Economics hosted a seminar on Understanding Jammu and Kashmir, organised by the Kashmiri Pandits Cultural Society UK, LSESU NHSF Hindu Society, LSESU India Society, LSESU Sikh Society with support from Voice of Dogras, Queen Mary Indian Society, King’s College London India Society, UCLU Indian Society and Imperial India Society.
Key speakers were Dr Gautam Sen, former LSE lecturer, writer and international political economist; Col (Dr) Tej K. Tikoo (Retd), a Kashmiri Pandit, vice president of the AIKS and the author of the book, Kashmir: Its Aborigines and Their Exodus; Tarek Fatah, Canadian/Indian writer, broadcaster, secular liberal activist and Bob Blackman MP, Conservative MP and voice of Jammu and Kashmir in the British Parliament. The session was co-chaired Kapil Dudakia, political commentator and Lakshmi Kaul, founder of KPCS UK. Brief interventions were made by Ranbir Singh of the Hindu Human Rights and Syed Zafar Abbas from the Shia Muslim community.
Col Tej Tikoo spoke about the changing demography of J&K. He said, “The Jammu and Kashmir issue has been hijacked by a stretch of land between Verinaag and Uri heavily populated by Sunni Muslims. From 1971 to 1989 it became a political conflict and it did not become a religious problem until Zia ul Haque came into power in 1977.”
Dr Gautam Sen spoke of the Governments of India and Pakistan and the internationalisation of the issue; referring to the geo-political fall-out in the region, he said, “India has already defeated Pakistan thrice and it will never give up Kashmir. The worry is the geo-politics and that Delhi comes under direct threat if Kashmir is under threat.” Talking about the debate on Article 370, he said, “Article 370 must not be touched at least not now; it will lead to civil war which Pakistan wants to internationalize Kashmir. It is unfair to say that Article 370 protects the people of Kashmir when its original inhabitants have been expelled and demography changed completely. The trouble in Kashmir is because of the armed insurgency by Pakistan. In fact Pakistan Army without Kashmir has no raison d’être; hence will never settle over it.”
Tarek Fatah was outspoken about the role of Islamic radicalisation and influence of Pakistan in the Kashmir trouble. “We are fooled and charmed by the Aman ki Asha Tamasha (quest for peace drama). We fail to recognise the dangers of radicalised Islam, something which the valley witnessed in 1990. We are living in an era of vote banks and a lack of a brave government which will call the problem what it really is. This sadly means KPs will never go back to the valley. Hence, you have to ally with whole lots of other people including Muslims who are fighting jihadi terrorism. Speak the truth and make allies. This is the only way to go forward,” he said.
Bob Blackman, MP, emphasised the need to highlight the Indian perspective in the British Parliament. He said, “The MPs will represent what their constituents lobby them for and if you do not lobby your local MP about your plight, nobody will speak on your behalf. You must document personal stories of tragedy and share them extensively so that people are aware.” He made a plea for opening a Holocaust museum for Kashmiri Hindus in London to educate about the dangers of Jihadi radicalisation.
After the Q&A, the 200 students found the seminar highly educative. Danish Alvi from Pakistan quoted poet Iqbal, “ Mazhab Nahin sikhata apas mein ber rakhna, hindi hain hum hamwatan hain Hindustan hamara (Whether it is India or Pakistan, our heart is still Indian. Faith doesn’t preach hatred. We are all Indians and India is our home).”