Jammu and Kashmir day was celebrated for the third year in running in the UK Parliament to mark the 70th year of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India by the then Maharaja Hari Singh with a packed room and in the presence of key dignitaries….reports Asian Lite News
Originally celebrated as Accession Day, the date symbolises the union of the Kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir with India which was later ratified in the State Assembly.
To mark the occasion Major Gaurav Arya, a war veteran and former member of the XVII Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment of the Indian Army was invited all the way from India to deliver the keynote address. The day was dedicated to the memory of the many soldiers and members of Indian Armed Forces who have sacrificed their lives on the line of duty.
The programme was hosted jointly Jammu Kashmir Festival team led by Lakshmi Kaul, Curator & Director, Jammu Kashmir Festival and Bob Blackman MP.
Ms. Madhu Sethi, Counsellor (Political and International Organisation) graced the occasion by her presence and also delivered a speech congratulating the Jammu Kashmir Festival team for commemorating the date as Jammu and Kashmir Day, establishing the importance and relevance of this date. Also present among the dignitaries was leading businessman and philanthropist Mr. Rami Ranger who in a highly emotive presentation gifted to Maj Arya “Don’t Break Up India”, a book on the life of his illustrious father Shaheed Nanak Singh.
To honour Maj Arya and to mark the immense contribution of the Indian Armed Forces, Mr. Blackman presented the Indian symbol of remembrance, the Marigold Pin Badge as a token of love and respect to the Indian Armed Forces. Mr. Blackman while speaking of the importance of the date, 26th October displayed a copy of the Original Instrument of Accession saying that the accession was full and final and ratified via a completely democratic process.
Lakshmi Kaul, Curator & Director, Jammu Kashmir Festival welcomed Maj Arya to the UK, “It is a pleasure and a privilege to have a soldier who not only fought on the line of action on ground zero defending the Indian borders but someone who despite a severe injury has continued to defend the honour of Mother India via his contributions in the media. Through him the members of public are able to see the true life of a soldier and what hardships they go through in defending the borders. The celebration of Jammu and Kashmir Day feels complete today as we honour the brave martyrs, the soldiers and jawans serving the Nation on the borders as we speak as well as their families who sacrifice a lot to make everyone feel safe and secure. We must never forget what they do for us. So today, as we celebrate 70 years of the founding of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, we must not forget the role of the Indian armed forces from across Army, Police, CRPF etc in defending the life and honour of the people of India.”
A unique opportunity for audience to hear the perspective of the Indian soldier that has been lacking in the UK saw a lot of enthusiasm and excitement in the audience.
Known popularly as The Patriot, Maj Gaurav Arya delivered a highly inspirational speech with utmost humility, laying out facts on the table and busting some of the popular myths around the role of Indian Army in the K conflict. Introducing his regiment, he said, “I am from the Kumaon regiment and I am wearing my regimental tie today. In defending Kashmir and in defending Jammu and Ladakh, Maj Somnath Sharma posthumously received India’s first Paramveer Chakra and I am from his regiment.”
Stating that the Indian Army is a moral army, Maj Arya said, “Indian Army is a moral army and for 70 years, it has stood between India and misfortune. We are not strong simply because we have the best weapons, we are strong because we are right.”
Acknowledging the gross human rights violations by Indian Army in Kashmir, Maj Arya said, “Yes there have been human rights violations by the Indian Army and it was wrong. Every one of the soldiers responsible for these violations have been punished; many of who are currently in the Tihar Jail in India. If a member of the Indian Army does wrong they are punished. However, there are gross human rights violations of the Indian Army personnel posted in Jammu and Kashmir, where they are abused and attacked by terrorists – what about the human rights of the army officers and jawans?”
Maj Arya also acknowledged the gross human rights violations of minorities in Pakistan and those of the Kashmiri Pandits who suffered persecution at the hands of Islamist fundamentalism. He added that it was after the insurgency in 1989-90 that the Indian Army was first deputed in the valley. Prior to that there was no need for the Indian army to be present in the valley which was largely peaceful.
Maj Arya’s hard-hitting speech dispelled a number of popular myths around the role of Indian army including the strength of the Indian army posted in Kashmir valley. He also spoke about the actual essence of ‘Azadi’ freedom struggle in Kashmir and said, “Whilst Jammu and Kashmir has its own flag and its own constitution, why then do the freedom fighters in Kashmir valley hoist ISIS or Pakistan flags? This is not an indigenous movement but a externally funded movement. None of the terror groups operating in Kashmir are of local, Kashmiri origin. They all have Arabic names. The only separatist organisation to have Kashmiri origin was the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) which has now been dissolved.”
A 25 minutes long keynote speech by Maj Arya was followed by an hour long Question and Answer session with the audience asking him questions ranging from the plebiscite and UN resolution to role of army on the Siachen glacier, questions were raised about the role of civil society in Pakistan and on the process of peace building which were responded to by the guest speaker.
In responding to the question, how will we change the narrative, Maj Arya responded clearly, “We already have a narrative which simply needs to be discussed more often in the UK. The effort is to kill terrorism so that no terrorists are created and young people are prevented from being radicalised.” Upholding peace and harmony, Maj Arya said, “We want peace with Pakistan but we want peace with honour. We call India, Bharat Mata (our Mother India) – if we don’t defend your Mother’s honour then who will? As a soldier, I have no malice against the people of Pakistan – they are like us. The problem in Pakistan is not the people but the Deep State and the Pakistani Army. Once democracy prevails in Pakistan in the true sense, then India and Pakistan will have a peaceful co-existence.”
In addition to speaking at the Parliament, Maj Arya also participated in a panel discussion at Oxford University on Friday, 27th October. There was also a debate at Kings’ College London on Saturday, 28th October where he spoke along side academic and writer, Victoria Schofield, human rights activist and the son of JKLF Chief Hashim Qureshi, Junaid Qureshi; writer and human rights campaigner from Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, Dr Shabir Choudhary; academic and political commentator, Prof Z U Khan and Lord Nazir Ahmed.
The otherwise peaceful debate at Kings’ college was disrupted when Lord Nazir Ahmed spoke in a highly provocative tone against India and made direct attacks at the fellow panellists and audience, pointing fingers at them in a highly defamatory tone. It is alleged that Lord Nazir Ahmed tried to influence the student organisers to dropping Maj Arya from the panel and also tried to change the order of the programme on the day via his office. The student organisers and authorities have received complaints against Lord Nazir Ahmed since the event from the attendees.