THE GANGSTER RULE: INDEPENDENT TESTIMONY
The so-called Peace Brigade which had been brought into being to victimise and harass the pro-Pakistan elements and had been publicly praised by Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq and his supporters, now began paying 'attention' to his Democratic National Conference and Indian critics of the Bakhshi regime. On 10th November, 1954, Mr. Ashok Mehta, a member of the Indian Parliament and a top leader of the Praja Socialist Party who later became Chairman of the Indian Planning Commission as well as a Central Minister, was attacked in Srinagar; so was Shrimati Vasanti Shroff, a lady worker accompanying him; her shawl and purse as well as a blanket belonging to another member of the party were snatched away.' Mr. Ghulam Ahmed Masudi M.L.C. and a member of the Democratic National Conference, was attacked and injured at Pulwama on 25th August, 1958. Mr. Balraj Puri, another Socialist leader, was manhandled at Jammu on 25th October 1958 and expelled from the State. That Kashmir had been gradually converted into a vast prison, is borne out even by independent observers. Among them was Mr. S. M. Bennet, a Conservative member of the British Parliament who along with Mr. Tomney, a labour M. P. visited occupied Kashmir in 1957. Describing their visit, in the course of a speech delivered at Caxton Hall, London on July 10, 1958, and Mr. Bennet said:
I. Hindustan Times, 12th November, 1954.
I will tell you frankly that I was treated almost as a political prisoner from the moment that I arrived. I was never allowed to talk in Jammu to a single individual; even when I went on a walk in the cool of the evening I was accompanied by an official; and I wasn't even allowed to stay in Jammu town itself, but was politely put up in a Guest house outside the town. When I went up to Srinagar I was similarly put in a Guest house, away from the city, and when I asked them whether I could go into the town and speak freely to the people I was told that I could not, for the sake of my own `protection', because if I did, the local population would be so indignant that they might well maltreat me! I also asked if, as similar facilities had been offered to me in Azad (Free) Kashmir, I could go to some of the prisons and in particular if I could interview Sheikh Abdullah, but I received a firm refusal to both requests.
Outside too, and carefully though I was watched, there were moments (which were never matched, 1 must add, on the other, the Pakistani side of the armistice line), when individuals did press little bits of paper, crumpled up, into my hands when they thought no one was looking, making some really pathetic appeal to let their troubles and their problems be ventilated, and sometime amounting to a direct plea to the Western World to intervene."
The entry of Mr. Bazaz's Voice of Kashmir, Delhi was banned in February, 1955. Mr. Bazaz was himself arrested in Delhi on 8th September 1955 under the Preventive Detention Act and released after a year. He had set up the Kashmir Democratic Union which was campaigning from Delhi for a plebiscite as well as the restoration of civil liberties. It held a convention in Delhi in early 1953 which demanded the handing over of the State administration to Admiral Chester Nimitz and the abolition of the permit system which had been introduced since 1948 to govern travel between India and the State. Another group working for a just solution of the Kashmir dispute in order to bring about lasting reconciliation between the two countries was the Delhi-based, End Kashmir Dispute Committee, headed by Mr. Lakhan Pal. He was also subjected to abuse, harassment and frequent incarceration.
The periodicals 'Free Thinker', 'Piam-e-Nau', the 'Nawa-e-Muslim' and 'Aastana' were also banned. 'Free Thinker' was edited by Pandit Shyam Lai Yachu and Comrade Mir Noor Muhammad and published from New Delhi. Foreign correspondents were not allowed to enter Kashmir even as late as 1957. Correspondents of 'Daily Telegraph' and .Daily Express' London failed to obtain the necessary permits. Mr. George Evans of the Daily Telegraph withdrew his application as a protest, after waiting for 18 days. Comparing this state of affairs with that obtaining in Muzaffarabad (Azad Kashmir), he wrote in the issue of the paper dated the 21st October, 1955:
"The most striking contrast is that while Mr. Nehru's government excludes observers from Indian occupied Kashmir, whom it suspects might voice criticisim of conditions there, no such discriminatory censorship is applied on this side of the cease-fire line."
He quoted Secretary General of the Government, Khan Abdul Hamid Khan (who later became President), as having told him:
"We do not bar any one from entering even if we know he is coming to find fault. No doubt criticism can be made as about any country in the world, but we believe we had achieved much to be proud of. And certainly we have nothing to hide. You are free to go anywhere you like and observe for yourself."
"Permission to enter Azad Kashmir is necessary but it seldom takes more than few hours to get it. The day after applying I drove unconducted across the frontier."
Mr. Richard Greenough of the Daily Mail, London who visited Srinagar in the first week of February 1957 had a strange experience. Says he:
"Two recent demonstrations of mob violence against myself and another British correspondent here were carefully 'fixed' by a high quarter of the Kashmir Government; I have good grounds for believing. Demonstrations were intended to impress on me the pro-Indian feeling of the people here and also the degree of hatred and bitterness felt against the British, the United Nations and the West generally for favouring the Pakistan request for a plebiscite. They were also intended to try to scare me off talking to those who oppose integration with India. They undoubtedly exist, stifled though they are."
Stephen Harper of the Daily Express London wrote in the paper's issue of 5th February:
"I had scarcely arrived in Srinagar, the capital, last week when a mob swarmed round my car. They shouted 'Murder him—we don't want British reporters here'! Car doors and canopy were ripped off. Hands grabbed and tore at my clothes. Little baskets of Charcoal—carried around for heat—were poured over me and burned my face.
Today I discovered that the mob gathered as a result of a telephone call from a Government official to the home of the brother of the puppet Premier Bakshi."
Mr. Aneurin Bevan, British Labour Party leader, was in Srinagar on 8th April, 1957. Deputations of the Plebiscite Front and Kashmir Political Conference acquainted him with the lack of civil liberties, represssion of opposition and incarceration of a large number of their members. They also told him that a majority of Kashmiris stood for accession to Pakistan and demanded a free and impartial plebiscite.i
A ban on the holding of public meetings in Srinagar was defied on 7th March 1957 by a large number of people, some of whom were arrested. On 12th May seven persons who formed themselves into a procession and started a demonstration in the heart of the city were arrested under Rule 50 of the Security laws. A ban had also been imposed on the holding of public meetings within a radius of 10 miles in Anantnag district.