Baba Jan: ‘Che Guevara’ of Gilgit-Baltistan
Dr Simrit Kahlon
Baba Jan Hunzai is not a terrorist, he is the chairperson of Progressive Youth Front of Pakistan Occupied Gilgit-Baltistan and member of the central executive committee of the Pakistan Labour Party; a simple and motivated social activist who had the courage to raise his voice for the sake of his people. For this, he along with his associates was imprisoned, incarcerated like a common criminal and tortured by the authorities in Pakistan.
A massive landslide hit Attabad in January 04, 2010, killed 19 people and blocked the Hunza river so formidably that a 23 kms lake was formed. Three villages in Gojal, North Gilgit got submerged rendering thousands of people and families homeless. Baba Jan was in the forefront of an agitation to seek compensation and a new life for these hapless people. He along with a 100 people was arrested for allegedly ransacking a police station and torching a government office after the death of a displaced person and his son due to police firing on an agitation.
On September, 8, 2011 he made a video of himself where he said that his unnatural death would be attributed to the Pakistan’s Inter Services of Intelligence (ISI) and then he handed himself over to the authorities. He was arrested for spreading sedition and subject to severe torture by the ISI for three days. Over a period of time Baba Jan became the symbol of the struggle in Gilgit-Baltistan where the youth consider him to be the ‘Che Guevara’ of their deprived land.
In a rare case, even the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan took up his case and the Senate Committee of Human Rights called the chief secretary of Gilgit-Baltistan to explain as to why the youth leader was kept in jail and tortured. Chairman of the Committee, Senator Afrasaib Khattak, went to the extent of reprimanding the chief secretary when he described Baba Jan as an anti-state activist.
Baba Jan was released from prison about a year later in mid-September 2012 with a kidney badly damaged due to incessant beatings and acute psychological trauma due to merciless torture.
The man is physically broken and psychologically fragile but his spirit is very much intact. He continues to fight for the rights of his people. He is in the forefront of the angry protests against Pakistan’s expansionist designs and blatant colonisation of the land that is essentially disputed. Baba Jan is now a strong voice against forcible occupation of 2800 square miles of the regions land mass by the Chinese and annexation of Kohistan and Chitral into the Pakistan federation. Kohistan has been integrated into the Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa even though historically it forms a part of Gilgit-Baltistan. Similarly Chitral, which was formerly a Princely state that had affinity with Gilgit-Baltistan, has also been integrated to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“People have been kept as slaves here,” says Baba Jan while speaking about his beloved Gilgit-Baltistan. “In order to strengthen the clutches of that slavery outside forces and local government have instilled fear. Government is bluffing people and human rights institutions by setting up a puppet system here. This set up has no political and constitutional base,” he adds most forcefully.
Another cause that Baba Jan is quite vocal about is the large-scale migration of Pushtuns from the restive North-West and Punjabis from the politically influential province of Punjab to Gilgit-Baltistan. They are changing the demographic profile and creating a volatile Sunni-Shia divide. Due to a series of well organised targeted attacks in 2012 that led to the murderous killing of about 60 Shias in 2012 on the Karakoram Highway (KKH) itself the community members are now reluctant to use the key road link that connects Gilgit-Baltistan to the rest of Pakistan. Thus, the people have been practically imprisoned in their own lands.
Many nationalist groups including the Progressive Youth Front of Baba Jan have started a movement for resumption of trade with India and Afghanistan through the historical routes of Kargil, Chorbat, Astore and Ishkoman. In view of the colossal humanitarian problem being faced by the people of Gilgit-Baltistan due to their dependence on a single communication link (KKH), India should move towards opening an alternative link from Kargil that has been demanded for many years now.
India has a moral and humanitarian responsibility towards the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and this can be best met by extending support to fearless warriors of the cause like Baba Jan who are ready to bear any pain and deprivation for the sake of their people. It is such voices that Indian needs to take to the rest of the world to expose the duplicity of Pakistan and the covetousness of China.
Col. Jaibans Singh
A lot has been written on Article 370 but it does not seem to be enough, after short intervals the matter again comes up for discussion. As with many things in India especially those concerning Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) rigid postures have been adopted and a prestige issue has been made out of the whole matter. The recent debate on the issue where triggered by a rally at Jammu on early December, 2013, addressed by the BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Now a situation has arisen when several Muslim groups are also demanding a review of the provisions of the article. Craly, a more pragmatic view of the matter is necessary.
How is it that a billion plus citizens of this country are surviving happily without the provision of Article 370 that seems to be a matter of life and death for some political leaders of J&K? Is the rest of India withering under political restriction simply because Article 370 is not applicable to them? The fact is that Article 370 does not give any such facility to the people of J&K that can enhance their life in any manner.
There is lot of hue and cry being made about migration of people into the state if Article 370 is revoked. The question is – who in his right mind would like to migrate to an underdeveloped, regressive state like J&K? What does the state have to offer in terms of business and career opportunities? There are hordes of young people from J&K (including Kashmiris) who are moving out in search of a career since there is no opportunity available in the state, so who would like to come in?
This bogey of migrants causing social disruption also needs to be seen in perspective!! Thousands of people come to Delhi daily in search of work. As the workforce increases so do the opportunities and the cycle goes on. It is not as if Delhi is going to crack up under the population pressure, the government of the day handles the situation rather effectively. J&K is not likely to witness an annual intake equal to the daily intake of migration in Delhi; surely the State Government can manage this much for the good of the state.
There are many other matters which display a petty petulance and vested interest. Take the instance of the tenure of the State Assembly. In J&K the Assembly’s fixed tenure is six years while in the rest of India it is five years. This is considered to be a right that is to be guarded with utmost zeal. What is conveniently forgotten is that the tenure was changed from five to six years in concert with a similar change brought about in the rest of India during the draconian years of emergency. The rest of India reverted back to the original five years as soon as emergency was revoked but J&K is continuing with the six year pattern. Does this sound logical?
There are many progressive legislations and provisions of the Central Government which cannot be extended to the J&K because they have not been legislated upon by the State Government. It is well known that Panches and Sarpanches in the state are fighting for empowerment of the Panchayat’s which is not coming by because 73 and the 74 amendments to the Constitution of India have not been extended to the state. More serious is the loss being borne by the all important Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes who are not availing the benefits of central schemes. Dr Javed Rahi, a Scheduled Tribe activists says that his people are not against Article 370 but the article is against them since the Forest Rights Act, 2001 and the SC/ST Atrocities Act of the Central Government have not been extended to J&K. Deepak Kumar, a social activist working for OBC’s in Jammu and Kashmir says that OBC’s in other parts of the country are getting 27 percent reservation as per the recommendations of the Mandal Commission while in J&K they have not even been identified. An astound revelation is that J&K is lagging behind in rights of children, The Right to Education Act is not applicable to the state for which an argument is given that the state already has a provision for free education for children up to class XIII.
Omar Abdullah has increased the number of schools, yet the enrolment has shown a sharp decline. It is only if right to education becomes a fundamental right by law that the government will be called upon to provide all necessary facilities to ensure proper education. Does the government have the will to do so?
The list of the State Government’s apathy to the general public under the garb of Article 370 can fill volumes. Over here it would suffice to say that the government shows great alacrity for implementing of such schemes that bring in money from the centre like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan but when it comes to converting the concept into a binding law the government baulks.
The general public would like to get a response from the government on the issues that it has been raising since the debate on the article has taken centre stage, yet again, after the address of Narendra Modi at Jammu. The crunch lies in looking at the matter from a public rather than the legal perspective since laws are made for the benefit of the people. If the leadership in J&K can prove that Article 370 is helping the people in any way, by all means, it should continue; but if the contrary argument is relevant based on the facts of the situation then its revocation should be pursued actively.