Tribute to Balraj Puri

In the sad demise of Shri Balraj Puri at Jammu India has lost a great champion of human rights and a political analyst of high repute. He was 86. He was participant in momentous political events such like ‘Quit India Movement’ of 1942’ and ‘Quit Kashmir Movement’ of 1946’ in association with Sheikh Abdullah and Pt. Prem Nath Bazaz against Dogra Ruler Maharaja Hari Singh. He did his utmost to prevent outbreak of communal violence or check its spread in Jammu in 1947 and on many occasions thereafter- even at the risk of his life. Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, sought his opinion on Kashmir affairs on crucial occasions. Puri always tried to bridge the gap between Nehru and the Sheikh Abdullah. He rendered great help in the conclusion of Indira-Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah Accord in 1974.

Puri’s activities encompassed various fields– from active social and political to academic and journalistic work of high standard. His friends and associate are writing about his many-faceted work elsewhere. However, I would confine here myself to some aspects of his human right work in which I had the privilege to associate with him on few occasions.

Jayprakash Narayan had inaugurated the Citizens For Democracy in April 1974 at Delhi and he became its founding member. I came in touch with him at that time. He was also founding member of the PUCL in 1976. He was member of the National Council of both the organizations for several years and was very active.

Militancy had started in Kashmir at the end of 1989 and by the start of January 1990 Jammu & Kashmir was under Governor’s rule under Jagmohan. Militancy was at its height leading to killings of large number of people– both Muslims and non-Muslims whom the militants suspected as government agents and it led to exodus of Kashmiri Pandits on large scale. On the other hand the entire Kashmir valley was placed under army rule and the Kashmir police was sent to the barracks by Jagmohan as he suspected almost all the Kashmiris. Clashes between militants and security forces were the daily occurrences and indiscriminate firings by the security forces in retaliation was resulting into large number of casualties of the innocent people. Curfew used to be imposed between 21 to 22 hours daily which was causing great deal of misery and hardship to the people and this situation continued for several months. Patriotic Indian journalists were crying for blood and asking Governor to block the electricity, water supply and the other essential necessities from reaching the people with a view to discipline them. There were frantic messages to the PUCL and CFD from the people in the valley requesting for sending a team to investigate into human rights violation by the security forces.