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Author Arundhati Roy defends Kashmir statements

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NEW DELHI – Indian author Arundhati Roy, facing possible sedition charges over remarks she made about disputed Indian Kashmir, said on Tuesday she had only been calling for “justice” for the region.


The Booker prize winning Indian author, Arundhathi Roy

Roy’s statement came after police in New Delhi said they were weighing whether to bring sedition charges against the Booker prize-winning author over comments she made about Kashmir in recent days.

The author of the novel “The God of Small Things” issued a statement Tuesday saying her remarks urging “azadi” or freedom for Kashmir were “fundamentally a call for justice.”

The region has been beset by anti-India violence, curfews and strikes since early June, when a 17-year-old student was killed by a police teargas shell. Since then, a total of 111 protesters and bystanders have died.

“What I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned or have their fingernails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians,” she said in an emailed statement.

Arundhati, who has emerged in recent years as a prominent social activist, has spoken out on two occasions in recent days on Kashmir, in one instance sharing a stage with hardline separatist Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has objected strongly to Roy’s remarks, calling them “seditious” and accusing the Congress-led government of “looking the other way” by not taking any legal action against Roy.

Law Minister Veerappa Moily said the comments were “most unfortunate”. While there is freedom of speech, “it can’t violate the patriotic sentiments of the people,” Moily said, according to the Press Trust of India.

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan each hold part of Kashmir but claim it in full. India insists that Kashmir is an “integral part” of the country.

The Himalayan region, which has triggered two wars between the nuclear-armed neighbours, has been wracked by a militant insurgency against Indian rule since 1989.

Rebel violence has declined sharply since the start of a peace process between India and Pakistan.

Roy said in her statement that she had read in Indian newspapers that she might be arrested on charges of sedition for her remarks supporting freedom for Kashmir.

“I said what millions of people here (in Kashmir) say every day. I said what I as well as other commentators have written and said for years,” she said.

“Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice,” she said.

Geelani also faces the threat of sedition charges for comments he made while sharing the podium with Roy, according to the Indian media.

When told of the possible charges, the elderly separatist leader said 90 such cases had already been filed against him.

“Let this be the 91st,” he declared.

U.N. concerned over Kashmir unrest

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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has expressed concern over the weeks of violent anti-government protests in Kashmir which have killed more than 30 people, dragged in more troops and locked down the disputed Himalayan region.

A separatist strike and security lockdown has dragged on for nearly a month-and-a-half in Muslim-majority Kashmir, a region at the core of a dispute between India and Pakistan.

“In relation to recent developments in Indian-administered Kashmir, the Secretary-General is concerned over the prevailing security situation there over the past month,” Farhan Haq, Ban Ki-Moon’s spokesperson said in a statement.

The Secretary-General has called on all concerned to exercise utmost restraint and address problems peacefully.

But security forces, to quell the daily street protests, have launched a major crackdown across Kashmir and detained at least 1,400 people. The arrests are fuelling more anger.

Most separatist leaders have been arrested or placed under house arrest.

The government has ordered a judicial probe into the deaths of 17 people, mostly protesters, in an attempt to end the crisis amid the biggest demonstrations against Indian rule in two years across the Valley.

But separatists have rejected the magisterial probe and termed it mere eyewash.

The Indian government has blamed separatists and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant group for stoking the latest protests but Kashmiris say the pro-freedom demonstrations are mostly spontaneous.

Most of those killed in the protests are teenagers and many who take part in daily protests are young. Kashmir’s new generation of radicalised separatists may prove a big challenge to New Delhi in future.

Analysts are worried that if New Delhi fails to check the growing protests, deaths and rights violations Kashmir could slide into a fresh phase of armed uprising that could hurt peace efforts between India and Pakistan.

Peace in Kashmir is seen as crucial for improving relations between the two. Both claim the Kashmir region in full but rule it in part.

According to the U.N. statement, Ban Ki-Moon has encouraged both India and Pakistan to rekindle the spirit of the composite dialogue, which was initiated in 2004.

One of the oldest U.N. missions, the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), still monitors a 1949 ceasefire line dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

India urged to reduce military presence in Kashmir

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SRINAGAR: India should reduce its massive military presence in occupied Kashmir, boost its economy, and give more powers to elected officials to improve the lives of people in the troubled Himalayan region, an international security think tank said on Thursday.


India has an estimated 700,000 soldiers in Kashmir, fighting nearly a dozen militant groups since 1989. More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the ’89 uprising and subsequent Indian crackdown.

“Replacing military-led counter-insurgency with accountable policing and reviving an economy devastated by violence and conflict, would instil greater confidence among Kashmiris,” the International Crisis Group said in a report titled “Steps Towards Peace: Putting Kashmiris First”.

“It is in New Delhi’s interest to be regarded as a sincere partner committed to improving Kashmiri lives, not as an occupying force,” it said.

India has an estimated 700,000 soldiers in Kashmir, fighting nearly a dozen militant groups since 1989. More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the ’89 uprising and subsequent Indian crackdown.

The Brussels-based organisation urged New Delhi to devolve authority to Kashmir’s elected representatives and take “other vital steps to win over its alienated public”.The region “remains heavily militarised, and draconian laws that encourage human rights abuses by security forces remain, fuelling public resentment that the militants could once again exploit,” the report said.

Human rights workers have complained for years that innocent people have disappeared, been killed by government forces in staged gunbattles, and suspected militants arrested and never heard from again.

“Another Mumbai-like attack would have a devastating impact on bilateral (Pakistan-India) relations and could conceivably bring the nuclear-armed neighbours to the brink of war,” it added.