Huda ul Nisa in conversation with human rights professional Parvaiz Matta
Tell us about your academic background?
After graduating in Science I joined Kashmir University in 2003 and did a PG Diploma in Human Rights, HR. At that time there were few people working in the area of HR and because of conflict I thought it would be good to do a course in this field. Kashmir University launched an HR diploma course in 2003, but in 2007 they wound it up. They thought that they were training youngsters to become anti-state. Afterwards I did PG in Sociology as well.
What inspired you to get into researching and documenting human rights related issues?
There were episodes that worked as a trigger for me. My maternal uncle was killed in a fake encounter in 1993. In 1995 for the first time I was taken out for an identification parade in a crackdown. I was a kid. I was late for the parade and one CRPF officer beat me and used abusive language. All the elderly people were beaten ruthlessly, it was a bad experience. India is a country which brags about human rights and fundamental rights, but when we talk about Kashmir these are only theoretical concepts. All sections of the society have been badly persecuted here.
How difficult has the job been?
It has been difficult because kind of job is something that Indian state doesn’t like. They don’t want people to be in this profession. Initially in this job I used to get very emotional and would cry after listening to the pain and sufferings of the people.
In Kashmir you face peculiar issues and risks as a human rights worker. Tell us about your experiences.
Surveillance is one of the issues. I have learnt that if you want to deliver in the society either you can be high profile or you can remain low profile. I chose to remain low profile and I got interesting things to do. Risk is always there. When I was documenting mass graves in Kupwara area, I was able to enter that graveyard with the help of a local man. There was an SOG camp near the graveyard and they could easily see what we were doing there. I turned my back towards them and started clicking pictures. Had they seen me doing that they could have taken any action against me.
Give us a brief profile of your work.
It starts with research, then going to the areas, talking to the people, documenting their testimonies in a very comprehensive manner. After that we look for the legal aspects whether the FIR has been lodged or not. We offer legal assistance to the families. Initially we we focus on the compensation for the families. But if a family wants the punishment for the perpetrator, that doesn’t happen because of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
How has your work as a human rights professional changed you over the years?
It has killed my emotions. Earlier I used to get depressed after seeing the miseries of people, but then I met thousands of families and every family has the same story. All the stories have become part of my life. I have interviewed some people who have survived gruesome torture. One person was made to eat his own flesh. So, that emotion thing has died down over the years.
What are the challenges you face as an HR professional in documenting HR-related issues?
The biggest challenge is that you document a lot. You have huge information about a case, but you can’t do anything for the family. When they ask you that nothing has been done in this regard you have no words for them. They are exhausted and for obvious reasons. They have been fighting for their case for the past 20 years. They don’t want to give the same statements over and over again.
Has enough work been done in the area of HR in Kashmir considering the scale of the problem?
I believe only 20% of work has been done in this area. There is a lot more to do. It’s our social responsibility to work on HR issues. But because of constant surveillance, threats and harassment, people avoid working in this area.
How can the work of HR professionals like you make the authorities accountable and create an atmosphere where human rights are treated as a serious issue?
There has to be a comprehensive documentation of all the cases like disappearances, mass graves, fake encounters, sexualized violence. Since 2009 we have been making a good use of RTI (Right to Information) Act. Earlier we would ask police for any information and they would never give it, but because of RTI we have been able to collect huge information.