Remember Aasia*


The Lok Sabha elections of 2004 were very important and special for India. The Shining India brigade was up against the people of India. In Kashmir, the election had a different significance: these were the first general elections after many bogus elections and results, when the government itself had announced that after decades a non-rigged Lok Sabha election was going to take place in J&K. People were told that this election would be far more transparent and accountable than even the 2002 state assembly elections.

A group of people from India and Kashmir had come together as independent election observers team, brought together by the newly constituted Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), supported by different people’s groups from mainland India. The group had many eminent names, including Gautam Navlakha, Adv. Balagopal, Adv. Parvez Imroz, Zaheeruddin and others who were demanding free & fair elections. In the very early stages of the election process itself the monitoring group had won the attention of international media and the UN monitoring team, for accurate and bold reportage. Among the enthusiasts who were active volunteers from the valley included: Khurram Parvez, Aasia Jeelani, Adil, Bashir, Sajjad Hussain, etc. 

On this fateful day, to monitor elections, different teams left for different areas of Kashmir valley. One of them was the vehicle with Khurram and Aasia, who were assigned North Kashmir. In a few hours, the coordination office of JKCCS received a call from north Kashmir stating that the vehicle detonated an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and that the driver died instantaneous, that others were being hurried to different hospitals. Aasia did not survive the attack either, leaving Khurram with near fatal injuries. It took several surgeries, thanks to Dr. Mathew Varghese of St. Stephen’s Hospital, Delhi and solidarity and prayers of several hundreds and thousands of people to bring Khurram back to active life, despite the loss of his lower right limb.

The IED surely was not planted to take the life of Aasia or attack the human rights defenders, involved in Election Monitoring. But what got written off as collateral loss in the history of Kashmir conflict was a very precious life, of a woman comrade, who could impact the future of Kashmir’s life, society and politics.

“Throughout the history of conflict, the face of war has been masculine. Men have predominantly declared and fought wars, while wives and daughters fought their war to raise their families and maintain a home amid tragedy, loss and uncertainty. But when a woman crosses over and raises her fist against the oncoming fire, her face becomes an emblem and inspiration to a movement...” Aasia wrote these lines just a few months before her tragic death, in what was her passion, ‘Voices Unheard’, a women’s human rights magazine for Kashmir.

“War in all its forms brings destruction to civilisation and brings an era of peace to an abrupt end. Nations are drawn to darkness and history bears testimony to this fact. Yet, all wars are not fought without a reason. Whatever be the cause, the fact remains that they bring untold misery to humanity, no matter in which corner of the world they are fought...” she wrote with immense clarity in her editorial for the Voices Unheard. 

While eager to script a new future for Kashmir, Aasia was very clear about the sacrifices and the pain and cost to such. She believed in Kashmiris and Kashmiriyat when she wrote these words before her tragic demise: “The years of unending violence has immunised the psyche of the Kashmiri people, making them more resistant and closed to our outer influences. Suffering incessant miseries, they emerge strong, fearless and more resolute than before...”

Salute to martyrs; salute to our comrade Aasia Jeelani. Salute to the women crafting peace at the cost of violent deaths. Salute to their understanding that all oppressed people, including Kashmiris will emerge more resolute, in the face of incessant miseries, violence and oppression.