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Let the people enjoy freedom from AFSPA and batons
I was a Visiting Fellow in Belfast in February-March 1997. It was before the peace process was put in place, and tanks rolled through the city every day, cutting up transit points and streets and shopping places with their basilisk and muted presence.

The silence was interminable, and I shall always remember Belfast for its great beauty, the cherry trees in bloom and the intellectual atmosphere heady with conversations and friendship which transcended the battle lines between Catholics and Protestants. I wrote about it in a textbook which Oxford University Press has reprinted in paperback called "Structure and Transformation."

Since we are comparative sociologists we often use case histories from other societies to explain our own. What does AFSPA mean for individuals in Kashmir and the North East? The evidence is very vivid and for decades now, we have seen the photographs and the reports. Is there a solution? Yes, give the people an opportunity to express their views. Allow the intellectuals and the artists to mediate on their behalf. Respect the commission which calls for the withdrawal of the AFSPA. Ask why soldiers from the northeast are called in to quell the Maoists and why internecine tribal warfare is used as an arm of the state. As a mature democracy, we have every right to ask that the people should tell the State what it wants.

If Narendra Modi demands that his crime of protecting lumpen proletariat and organized communalism should be seen in the light of the past, then allow that Dostoevskian privilege of repentance and regret to others, once justice has been served. The Supreme Court should not be devalued, and the jurisdiction of citizen obligations should be imposed upon the soldiers. This can only be done, if AFSPA is removed.

In 2004, I spoke at University of Warwick in a conference on war. The speaker with me was a woman who spoke on the rapes committed by Russian soldiers on citizens of Poland, so many that the children born of these violations were without a father when the army vacated their country. Coincidentally, in a cherry grove, picking fruit, in the company of visitors to a Benedictine Abbey, (for one of the nuns had written a thesis on Advaita and The French Monastic experience,) a student of sociology from Paris told me she did not know who her father was, because her mother had been raped by a Russian soldier. How utterly traumatic and coincidental! She told me this because I asked her about her family back home.

I have had many students who have come to us in JNU from Kashmir and the North East. They believe that their education can make a difference to their people. They have sometimes described the conditions in which they live, sometimes in Ph.D thesis which have to be cleared by the surveillance and ethics board of the university. I know that Jamia Millia and Delhi University also have such an archive of people who have lived under surveillance for decades.

One of my students from Arunachal Pradesh told me that there are people who wake up in that part of their house which has a boundary that runs through their abode. So he wakes up in India, and has his breakfast in China. I can only say that these valiant scholars bring to the class room the wonderful sense of their jubilation and their right to life and a future.

My happiest memories are of my visit to Kashmir, when I was seventeen. I went to all the places tourists wish to visit, including Anantnag, Sonmarg, Gulmarg and Srinagar, in the company of my cousin and his family who had come all the way from Kuwait. Syrian Christians, they had lived, worked and studied in the Gulf, but saw Kashmir as their ultimate idea of visiting paradise. That was in 1974, and I had accompanied them because none of them was Hindustani. That was the first time I saw the saffron flower, delicate and violet, embroidered onto their firans (cloaks) and their shawls. How I longed to own a firan.

Now, that the return to Kashmir for the Pandits is fore-grounded by the acceptance of history as a time keeper, let the people be free, without reference to religion or race. Give us all a chance to visit these so called zones of fear, without anguish. Let the young girls sing without fear of baton, or mufti, for that is the only way we can defend our country and the constitution.

About the Contributor: Prof. Susan Visvanathan teaches Sociology at JNU, New Delhi. She has authored The Children of Nature: The life and legacy of Ramana Maharshi (Roli 2012), Nelycinda and Other Stories (Roli 2012) and many other books.

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