Friday, October 31, 2008

Will Kashmiri survive Indian script?



Srinagar, Oct 31: It is a war over Kashmir language script, on for six decades. Since 1948 the unnecessary controversy has been allowed to raise its head about script of Kashmiri despite 99 per cent scholars saying there is no problem in Persio-Arabic script of the language but there is need of standardization of the script. Kashmiri, written in Perso-Arabic script, has remained a spoken language up to the present times, though some manuscripts were written in the past in the Sharada script, now not in use.
Kashmiri is written almost entirely in the Persio-Arabic script. But some Kashmiri Pandit (Kashmir Hindus) scholars are attempting to promote a script based upon Devnagri script. Devnagri is the main script used to write Hindi, Marathi and Nepali. Since the start of 19th century, it has been the most commonly used script for Sanskrit and Pali.
In 1951, the then Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, constituted a committee to settle the issue. The committee approved Nask or Quranic script for Kashmiri. But after Abdullah’s arrest in 1953, it was shelved. 
His successors Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad and GM Sadiq also constituted committees. The committees had agreement over the Persio-Arabic script. But disagreement is over the standardisation and use of diacritical marks of Kashmiri. Still, the Government of Jammu and Kashmir, ironically, didn’t issue any notification approving the script for Kashmiri.
The script war has now again come to fore as the Law Ministry of the Government of India has sought translation of the Constitution of India in Kashmiri, but in Devnagri script. 
The issue dates back to 1960s. In 1967-68 the Law ministry had reportedly moved a proposal for the translation of Constitution of India in Kashmiri. But the ministry failed to get a person well versed both in the language and the law. In 1973 the then secretary in the ministry of Law, Government of India, P. Shastri showed interest to have translation of the Constitution in Kashmiri. He approached GN Gowhar who was then working as Munsif. Gowhar however refused. 
The lack of full-fledged translation division in Kashmir compounded the problem. Sheikh Abdullah in August 1975 had convened a meeting to establish translation division in Kashmir. The meeting decided to have translation division in Srinagar in accordance with the Official Languages Act passed by the Parliament of India. But the decision was never implemented.
Some years back the Law ministry picked GN Gowhar, now retired Sessions Judge, to translate the Constitution. The ministry over-ruled its own rules and chose him also to vet his own translated work which otherwise is prohibited.
On February 5, 2007, Gowhar submitted the translated work to the ministry. Since then the Ministry is sitting over the work and not publishing it. The secretary in the ministry had objected to the script and was demanding translation in the Devnagri.
The issue now has become political with the state Congress chief and the Union Minister for Water Resources, Prof Saifudin Soz, conveying to the ministry of Law that the Jammu and Kashmiri Academy has approved only Persian script and “it alone is in vogue.” “Therefore, it is imperative that the Kashmiri translation of Constitution of India must be produced in Persian script alone,” Saifudin Soz has told the ministry in a communiqué.
It seems Soz’s intervention has mellowed down the ministry. “The present Law secretary is seeking only notification issued by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir approving the script,” said GN Gowhar. But, he added, the Government of Jammu and Kashmir has not issued any such SRO.
But the issue has larger dimensions, beyond the translation of the Constitution. Noted litterateur of Kashmir Muhammad Yousuf Taing describes the demand for Devnagri script as part of the culture aggression on Kashmir. The Persio-Arabic script, Taing says, has been brought here by Hazrat Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (RA) and no Kashmiri would imagine giving up the script ‘that is part of our cultural-religious identity.’ Any demand, he says, to abandon the script would be viewed as an attack on our culture. “Ismat Chogtai had advocated Devnagri for Urdu and she was opposed by none other than Sadri Jaffri,” Taing said.
He said Persian script for Kashmiri is simplistic, very good and scientific and any attempt to fiddle with it is playing with fire. He says in past several moves were made to abandon Kashmiri for Devnagri and if any such move is allowed to succeed it would have devastating effects.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Other side

Sajjad to launch poll boycott campaign
Srinagar, Oct 25: The Peoples Conference chairman, Sajjad Gani Lone on Saturday said his party would take out long marches across the Valley urging the people to boycott the polls. The party would launch a village-to-village anti-election campaign from November 12. 
Addressing a press conference, Lone said, “Elections are a futile and an irrelevant exercise as these offer no solution to the Kashmir conflict. Till the polls are over, all the village-level units of the party will be turned into election-boycott units and directed to launch a vigorous anti-poll campaign in their respective areas.”
The campaign, he said, would create awareness among the people on how important it was to boycott the elections. “We will be forming a committee to co-ordinate among all the units of the party to ensure its success,” Lone said. 
Pertinently, Lone has, time and again, been accused of contesting elections by proxy.
Without naming anybody, Lone said that all separatist leaders were welcome to join his poll-boycott marches. “I have nothing to do with elections. This boycott call is an answer to those who would often ask me that I was fighting the elections. It is an answer to those who would issue venomous statements against me. They will see how successful this boycott campaign will be,” Lone said, dispelling the confusion about his contesting the polls. He had a word of advice for fellow pro-freedom leaders. “I request them that they should not humiliate the fellow separatists and label them this or that,” he said. 
Justifying his poll boycott campaign, Lone said elections and boycott were the “twin dimensions” of the democratic concept. “Let the Indian state accept my humble democratic challenge and allow free espousal of the twin dimensions of democracy instead of accepting only one and using brutal force against the other,” he said, adding it was unfortunate that those who call for boycotting the elections were being jailed. 
He said that resorting to such “tactics” only endorsed the selective acceptance of democracy by the Indian state. “The way we look at it, it seems that India is accepting the defeat before the contest. On the one hand, it says that Kashmir is a battle for democracy, but on the other, it puts its military might after the unarmed and peaceful advocates of boycott,” Lone said, asserting that a “coercion process” had already started in several villages to scuttle the boycott campaign.  
Lashing at the National Conference president over his reported statement that elections were an administrative exercise, Lone said, “Omar Abdullah is saying that elections are an administrative matter. But when the Indian prime minister goes abroad, he claims that India has the elected representatives in Jammu and Kashmir. This way he tries to lend credence to a farce called elections.”
Lone asserted that the tactics like arresting workers, leaders and activists won’t deter them from pursuing the boycott campaign. “Let me inform India that we are not afraid of arrests. India will be tired of arresting us, but it will strengthen the resolve of people to fight for their rights,” he said.
Lone said that achievability, dialogue, non-violence and realism were the only means to resolve the Kashmir dispute. “If India really respects these institutions, then it should allow us to go for the boycott,” Lone said. 
The PC chief said that India had eroded the credibility of the institution of dialogue. “But I still believe that dialogue is a sacred institution and bigger than any individual or party,” Lone said, adding it was unfortunate that the government of India didn’t acknowledge several rounds of talks that separatists had with it. “The only acknowledgement to my dialogue with India and to my Achievable Nationhood document is that my family and children have been denied the visa,” Lone said.  
Lone said that the PC would be supporting all programmes of the Coordination Committee. “Our poll boycott campaign is a concurrent programme and in no way it contradicts other programmes. We are doing it with full sincerity and honesty,” he said. “The mass contact programme will start with a long march on foot from Langate to Kupwara on November 12, followed by another long march from Kyunus to Bandipore on November 13, Watergam to Varmul on November 14, Shanghas to Islamabad on November 19 and Noorabad to Kulgam on November 20,” he said, adding the programmes for other areas would be announced separately.

PDP talks self-rule, this time in writing

For: Greater Kashmir, Regional Council, Economic Integration, Native Governor, Local bureaucracy, demilitarization,

Naseer A Ganai 
Srinagar, Oct 25: Ending long suspense over its self-rule vision for the resolution of Kashmir dispute, the Peoples Democratic Party today unveiled the much awaited document with the party patron, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, listing cross border institution of Regional Council for Greater Jammu and Kashmir, economic integration that transcends borders, and constitutional restructuring as the centerpiece of governance under the concept.  
Releasing the document at a press conference at his official residence, an upbeat Mufti talked of ending the long “mental siege” of the people, by making Jammu and Kashmir and AJK a demilitarized free economic zone and an experimental ground for SAARC. He didn’t even rule out “one country, two systems” but he had caveat- sharing of sovereignty without compromising the political sovereignty of India and Pakistan. 
Explaining the contours of the vision, Mufti said the regional council of Greater Jammu and Kashmir would replace the existing Upper House or Legislative Council of Jammu and Kashmir state legislature, a “kind of Regional Senate” whose members would be from both Jammu and Kashmir and AJK. It will have nominees of the governments of India and Pakistan as well and would serve as a major cross border institution to ensure long-term coordination in matters of the state. 
Comparing self rule with National Conference’s autonomy, the document claims, “What sets apart self rule from autonomy is the political context in which they are conceived and operated.” It says the self-rule refers to autonomy from the nation-state of India whereas the autonomy connotes relative autonomy from the government of India. “The two are vastly different in substance and style,” it claims. “The change from autonomy to self-rule means a fundamental shift in the terrain of political discourse and the existing status of the Kashmir issue,” the document says. 
The PDP doesn’t stop there and takes the National Conference head on. It says, “Autonomy refers to empowerment of the government of Jammu and Kashmir vis-a-vis the government of India. “As such it becomes a part of the centre-state debate in the Indian federal set-up. Self-rule, on the other hand, refers to the empowerment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir vis-a-vis the nation of India.” It says autonomy was for the institution of governance, self-rule for a region or geography. Unlike autonomy, which doesn’t have a territorial element, self-rule envisages territoriality. 
For the resolution of Kashmir dispute, the PDP document offers the option of elected representatives of each part of Greater Jammu and Kashmir to hold negotiations with their respective country “within given parameters” as the most practicable and the least complicated.   
New political structure or regional council:
Elaborating the broad features of the regional council of Greater Jammu and Kashmir, Mufti said at present 25 seats reserved for AJK should form part of the Regional Council, which would have 50 members with the respective state assemblies electing 40 and the remaining 10 members being nominated by India and Pakistan. The Council would ensure that the executive functioned smoothly in all “cross-LoC” matters and coordinated inter-government initiatives like dual currency, creation of common space with specific reference to joint management of water resources and creation of energy market. 
Economic integration: 
The document describes the economic integration across the line of control as the critical element of self-rule without disturbing the extent of sovereign authority over delimited territorial space. It argues there is no need to negate the significance of the line of control as territorial division but it is imperative to negate what the document says, its “acquired and imputed manifestations of state competition for power, prestige or an imagined historical identity.” The idea is to retain the former and change the latter and describes it as key to Kashmir solution.   
It calls for establishing of common space, instituting dual currency system, coordinating of economic policy as roadmap for the economic integration. It could start with preferential trade agreement. In the PTA, India and Pakistan would offer tariff reductions. The second stage would be to make Greater Jammu and Kashmir a “Regional Free Trade Area.” 
For this purpose, an agreement would be needed to eliminate tariffs between the two parts of Jammu and Kashmir while maintaining their own external tariffs on imports from the rest of the world including India and Pakistan. Stage III eliminates tariffs between two parts of Greater Jammu and Kashmir and levies tariff on imports from India and Pakistan. This could be later applied to rest of the world, the document explains. 
To facilitate the system, the document advocates “system of dual currency” where Indian and Pakistani rupees are both legitimate legal tenders in Greater Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistani rupee is allowed in Indian Jammu and Kashmir and Indian rupee in AJK.
Constitutional Restructuring:  
Mufti called for an end to application in Jammu and Kashmir of Article 356 of Constitution of India under which the centre can dissolve state assembly and implement the governor’s rule. It also seeks roll back of Article 249 of the Constitution from Jammu and Kashmir. 
Elected native Governor 
The document seeks repeal of sixth amendment of the state constitution. Mufti said the governor should be elected and he should be a native of the state. He said the governor should be elected for six years from regions of Jammu and Kashmir on rotational basis.
Local civil services   
The self-rule calls for rolling back of All India Service Act, 1951 and Article 312 arguing that this could provide clear and unhindered opportunity to local human resource to develop their full potential and it should be trusted to manage state affairs. 
Demilitarization of mindset and withdrawal of troops 
The document calls for demilitarization arguing that it was imperative to create an enabling environment for resolution of the issue. It says the Indian nation-state must realize the only way forward is non-military. “There is no room for armed intervention in Jammu and Kashmir. It says the demilitarization is first about the mindset and then about withdrawal of troops from all civilian areas, which will enhance the stakes of the people in the peace process. 
Legislative demilitarization 
The document calls for repeal of Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act terming it as “legislative demilitarization.” “There is no justification for this to operate any further and it must be repealed to enable the normalization to take root. Its operation and enforceability have no bearing to the level, scale and intensity of violence in the state.” 
On plebiscite and elections under international supervision:   
The document says the plebiscite held simultaneously throughout Jammu and Kashmir or in stages would not be acceptable, primarily because they are based on the plea of religious divide and two-nation theory. “India being a secular country with diverse religious communities can ill afford to accept another partition on religion,” it says, adding that even Pakistan recognizes the fact that the UN resolutions on this subject are not mandatory and are outdated. It further says such a solution could jeopardize the strategic interests of both the countries and a changing borders was not acceptable to either country. It says an election under the international supervision in both the parts of state to chose representatives for holding negotiations regarding the state’s future with both India and Pakistan, also doesn’t appear to be practicable. “This may not lead to an equitable or just conclusion-much less a consensus- because members of a particular religious community or region may dominate the outcome of the negotiations.” 
On trifurcation 
The PDP opposes trifurcation saying “the unity of the state reflects the essence of our secular culture, and its preservation is of the utmost critical importance, both on principle and for legitimate strategic reasons. Its unity is also in the enlightened self-interest of the people of all the regions and also accords with their wholesome historical character and experience.” However, it suggests genuine sub-regional political and economic empowerment describing it as crucial component of self-rule. It says under the self-rule, institutional mechanisms are provided for which would convert unhealthy latent as well patent regionalism into effective region building. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Omar De-Links Polls From Kashmir Dispute

In central Kashmir district Budgam Omer Abdullah, the pro-India National Conference president kicked off his election compaign for the State Assembly by delinking  Kashmir dispute with the poll process and described polls for the State assembly as voting for construction of bridges, roads, schools and hospitals. In North Kashmir the pro-freedom leadership asked people not to trust pro-India poarties which  try to speak in Azadi (freedom) language.

Here are the reports 

Naseer A Ganai 

Budgam, Nov 22: In its first election gathering after the massive pro-freedom rallies of July and August and subsequent clampdown of the state Government, the National Conference today kicked off its election campaign by trying to de-link the election process from the resolution of Kashmir dispute.
“The elections will not have any effect on Kashmir issue. And whether people participate in elections or not, it will not affect resolution of Kashmir issue,” the National Conference president Omar Abdullah said at DIC Budgam ground.
Not once, but thrice Omar repeated the statement that elections were not for resolution of Kashmir dispute and insisted that these two things should not be linked.
Former National Conference MLA from Budgam, Aga Ruhullah Budgami, had distributed special passes among the workers at the rally and strict instructions were given to the security personnel not to allow anyone without the pass.
The participants were conscious about the changing political situation and were reluctant to talk freely. “I am with National Conference since 1977,” said a worker from Handjan village of Budgam, not willing to disclose his name to this reporter. He said he had participated in the pro-freedom protests as well, during which Hilal Ahmad Baig of his village was killed in police firing. “But those protests were different and this convention is different,” he said.   
It seems Omar too had his ears to the ground. He didn’t touch Kashmir dispute in his address, instead launched scathing attack on the Peoples Democratic Party and the Congress for ‘failing’ to provide basic amenities to the people. The PDP, however, was the foremost target of his tirade.
The PDP, he said, came up with the slogan of healing touch and two government jobs to each family but gave nothing to people. “They take credit of not implementing the POTA but they booked people under the PSA,” he said. He said Farooq Abdullah Government initiated talks at the Nehru Guest House but the PDP unnecessarily takes credit of everything. He said electricity was not being provided to people but they were being charged heavily. “This government has done nothing for people and everyone wants to get rid of it,” he said. This, he said, could be achieved when the NC flag will unfurl at the secretariat.
He said state of Jammu and Kashmir has problems of dilapidated roads, unemployment, water scarcity, power curtailment, over-crowded hospitals and under-staffed schools. “If someone will tell us don’t participate in elections and assure us that he will solve problems of roads, hospitals, schools, unemployment, atrocities of army and other related issues, then we won’t participate in elections,” Omar said. He insisted that the Kashmir dispute and the daily problems of Kashmiris were two different issues and they should not be clubbed together.
However he acknowledged that forthcoming elections wouldn’t be easy and asked workers to be ready for the challenge. “First, you have to face those who don’t want the elections. Second challenge is from those parties which would participate and confront you. You have to defeat them,” he said.
He said those who will boycott the elections and continue to argue their case with speeches, campaigns and arguments then the NC has no problem. But, Omar said, guns, land mines, grenades should not be used and if this happens then it would be really wrong. 
The NC president however had assurance for unemployed youth. He announced unemployment allowance and said if elected his government would provide an allowance to the unemployed.  
But unlike Omar, earlier speakers including Aga Ruhullah and the NC provincial president, Mehboob Beg, talked at length about the land transfer issue and described all those killed during land agitation as martyrs. “Kashmiris were on roads, they were angry because they were Kashmiris and it was their land which was transferred,” Aga Ruhullah said. “We can’t bring them back but I assure you if elected land will not be given to anyone,” he said. 
Mehboob Beg said after six months the PDP has now realized that their ministers were responsible for the land transfer. He saluted the people who “sabotaged PDP-Congress” scheme. He said the PDP was creator of the land transfer issue but it was trying hard to portray herself as victim. “They even accuse us of Indus Water Treaty agreement and forget Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and other senior NC leaders were in jail when the agreement was signed,” he said, adding the National Conference would demand compensation from India and Pakistan for the treaty. Senior NC leader Abdul Rahim Rather accused the previous coalition government of financial mismanagement. He said the financial mismanagement during past six years has new heights despite financial assistance from the central government.

Pro-Indians Will Speak Azadi For Votes: Malik

But the pro-freedom leadership was not silent. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Muhammad Yasin Malik on Wednesday started the poll boycott campaign from North Kashmir township of Hajin.

He called  for complete boycott of the Assembly polls and asked people to remain vigilant against the pro-India parties saying ‘they would be speaking the language of pro-freedom groups while seeking votes.’
  He was addressing a gathering at Hajin Chowk in Bandipore district where polls are scheduled in first phase on November 17.
“Pro-India groups will be making frequent rounds of your localities while seeking votes from you. They too will be speaking the language of Azadi but you ought to be vigilant,” Malik, atop a vehicle, told the gathering.
He urged people to start valley-wide non-violent campaign against elections and carry forward the recent pro-freedom uprising. “We don’t need to protest, hold processions or pelt-stones on any one. We just have to sit at home and avoid going to election rallies or polling booths,” he said.
He said the recent mass uprising for freedom has weakened India’s cause in Kashmir and there was pressure on New Delhi from various international quarters for its denial of right to self-determination to Kashmiris. “By holding elections, India wants to show the world community that people here have chosen a democratic government. But I urge you not to take part in the so-called elections,” he said.
Reminding people that 51 persons were killed in the Valley ‘by police and Indian troopers’ during the recent agitation, he said, casting a vote was tantamount to betrayal with the blood of martyrs.
Malik was flanked by president of Jamiat-e-Ahli Hadith, Moulana Showkat Ahmad Shah.
“Kashmirs have been suffering for the past 60 years because of the mistakes committed by them from time to time. But don’t repeat any mistake by casting votes,” Shah urged the people.
He said India would make use of the polls and project it as democracy. “But we urge you to be cautious and shun taking part in the election process.”
Earlier Malik and Shah marched though various areas of Hajin amid pro-freedom, anti-India and poll-boycott slogans. Men, women and children followed their vehicle as they made repeated calls for election boycott

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Doctor leaves Kashmir, repeats prescription

Srinagar, October 11: The Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh today concluded his two day visit to Jammu and Kashmir stopping short of  annoucing a major political package but repeated that the Government was ready to have dialogue with all sections of people including Hurriyat. 
The Prime Minister reiterated that borders cannot be changed but made irrelevant and said the government of India was ready to have dialogue with all sections of people in the state including Hurriyat and those ‘who have so far opted out of the political process.’
“Invitation is open to all. I urge that whoever has complaints and grievances should come forward for a dialogue. At an appropriate stage, I would also be happy to meet such people,” the Prime Minister said while talking to reporters on Saturday evening at SKICC. 
The Prime Minister also refused to give any assurance regarding revocation of the controversial armed forces special powers act (AFSPA) and demilitarization, saying if the situation becomes normal, these things could be done. “The situation today is not that sort. And I can’t make any promise,” he said. The pro-India political parties have been demanding the revocation of the act for past several years.  
The Prime Minister in response to a question about discontinuation of dialogue with Hurriyat said he had two meetings with the representatives of Hurriyat Conference. “I also met some other leaders individually,” he said. The Hurriyat, Prime Minister said, raised certain issues and then they stated they would come back with specific demands. However, he said, they didn’t return with specific demands. The PM said the government was ready to discuss all issues with any section of people in India and “Kashmir is part of our country.” “I welcome everyone for talks and I am not closing doors,” Singh said.
The Prime Minister Singh laid emphasis in normalizing relations with Pakistan. He said good relations with Pakistan, which he described as “our very important neighbor” was essential part of government policy and said the government of India seeks the normalization of relations with Pakistan and a solution of all issues including Jammu and Kashmir “through dialogue and peaceful negotiation in violence-free atmosphere.”
He said it was undeniable that much has changed between India and Pakistan in the past some years. “Trade, people to people contact, cultural exchanges are altering the landscape of our relations,” he said adding that he would like entire Jammu and Kashmir to be part of this wider process.[Photo]The Prime Minister said if both India and Pakistan approach issues with an open and friendly mind, “We will be able to put the past behind us.” “Within this framework, borders become doors to cooperation as we shun violence, condemn terrorism and embrace the spirit of a new approach to bilateral relations,” he said. 
Asked whether the Government of India would go for tripartite dialogue on Kashmir, he said India and Pakistan were committed to the dialogue process and the Government was not opposed to having dialogue with any section of Kashmiri people. “Let these options be explored first,” he said.
The PM evaded a question about early elections and said in democracy elections were part of the public opinion. The Government of India, the PM said, was committed to ensure free and fair elections in the state. He said election, not gun, was arbitrator of people’s destiny. 

In response to a question about disproportionate use of force by the state government in Kashmir and Jammu causing fatalities of Muslims in Kashmir and burning of Kashmiri drivers in Jammu, Dr Singh said loss of human life was a matter of concern and deep regret and New Delhi was aware about these sad developments. He said, “We have to create an atmosphere so that these incidents would not take place.”

The PM however admitted that polarization has taken place in the state and said it should not have happened. He said the communal divide should end.

The recent incidents in Jammu and Kashmir, he said, indicate that there was some resentment towards the Government among a section of youth here on certain issues.

“It has always been our belief that even the most difficult issues can be resolved through dialogue,” he said, reiterating that the government will welcome dialogue with all sections of people.

When asked why talks were held with Amarnath Sangarsh Samithi in Jammu and not with the Coordination Committee in Kashmir, he said the Governor, who was sitting adjacent to him, has informed him that they were given offer of dialogue but they didn’t respond. He asked the Governor to initiate the process and redress the grievance of every section.
The PM described Amarnath pilgrimage as shining example of religious harmony and said it represents one of the finest examples of “our composite culture where Hindu pilgrims have been looked after by their Muslim brothers for hundreds of years.” He said it was regrettable that there was violence because of “differences on a piece of land transferred to the Board.” “I express my sympathy with friends and relatives of those who lost their lives in the violence,” he said.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Uncertainty over polls, Indian PM calls all-party meet in Kashmir

Srinagar, Oct 9: While the uncertainty over the timing of assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir continues, the prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, would preside over an all-party meeting Friday evening in Srinagar.
Invitation has been extended to all mainstream parties and the meeting is expected to start at 5 p.m at SKICC here. The meeting is expected to discuss the present situation and would discuss the steps to be taken for the return of normalcy in the state. 
From the PDP, a five-member delegation led by Mufti Muhammad Sayeed would participate in the meeting. The other members would be Mehbooba Mufti, Muzaffer Hussain Baig, Iftikhar Hussain Ansari and Rangel Singh. 
National Conference president Omer Abdullah said that he has received the invitation and his party would decide in morning about the delegation participating in the meeting.
The prime minister, who is scheduled to commission the Baglihar Power Project and a railway line on Friday and Saturday respectively, has advanced his arrival in Srinagar in view of the crucial meeting with political parties.
According to highly placed sources, after commissioning the Baglihar Power Project on Friday, Dr Singh would arrive in Srinagar for overnight stay, and would flag off the maiden train from Nowgam railway station on Saturday.
“Consultations at the prime minister’s level with the major political parties in Jammu and Kashmir were necessitated following lack of consensus in the government and the Election Commission over the timing of polls in the state,” sources told Greater Kashmir.
Even after two rounds of consultations with various political parties, the sources said, the Election Commission couldn’t take any decision regarding the timing of J&K polls as the two major regional political players - the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party - had expressed strong reservations over the suitability of holding elections amidst the dicey situation prevailing at present.
The leaders of NC and PDP believe that rushing through elections in the polarized and drifting situation arising out of the post-Amarnath land row and mass upsurge could prove counter-productive and the government of India must take some concrete people-oriented corrective, confidence building and reconciliatory measures before embarking on any electoral adventure in the state. “We are not sure about the public mood and it could impact the possible turn-out,” said a political analyst.
Curiously, according to reliable sources, even certain sections in the state administration are, for their own reasons, now averse to the idea of holding assembly polls in the immediate future and have even conveyed their reservations to the Election Commission. 
However, according to sources, the prime minister is very keen on reviving the democratic process in the state at the earliest to bridge the widening gap between the government and the masses. There is a strong thinking in the central government that an extended governor’s rule would not only have a negative impact on the ground situation, but would also send a wrong signal outside the state. 
To set the stage for elections, Dr Singh, who is scheduled to address a public meeting in Budgam on Saturday, is likely to make some announcements related to the revival of the confidence building process in the state.
The mainstream political parties today said the prime minister should announce “concrete steps for the political solution of the Kashmir dispute.” 
Singh is likely to make some announcements regarding the Indo-Pak ties, reports said.
National Conference president Omar Abdullah told Greater Kashmir that the party would expect the prime minister to announce concrete steps to address the “political issue of Kashmir.” He urged Dr Singh to address the alienation which was not possible merely through financial packages. 
Emphasizing what he termed as “specific political packages,” Omar said the government of India should start the process to heal the wounds of people of Jammu and Kashmir. “We can’t buy the solution but we can talk the solution,” Omar said.
Omar said the recommendations of the working groups set up by the prime minister had to be implemented. “That is the commitment of the government of India and it can’t announce them as political packages,” he said, adding that though there had been talks between Islamabad and New Delhi in the past but no initiative had been taken to have similar dialogue between New Delhi and Srinagar.
Omar said he would meet the prime minister and talk to him on these issues. “Jammu and Kashmir should be allowed to exploit its hydel potential and the government of India should handover Salal and Dul Hasti to the state as compensation for the losses it has suffered because of the Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan.”
Talking to Greater Kashmir, the Peoples Democratic Party president, Mehbooba Mufti, said the prime minister should offer dialogue to “separatists or pro-freedom groups” for the settlement of Kashmir issue. The dialogue, she said, should not be for the sake of it but for the resolution of the dispute.
However, Mehbooba said, Kashmir dispute had internal and external dimensions and the government of India had to address both. She said New Delhi should accept the working groups’ recommendations and take steps like revoking of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, more so because there was no violence in the state now and it was appropriate to hold talks for resolution of the dispute.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Border within the border in Gurez

Economically hard pressed people say fencing is devouring their cattle, mainstay of their livelihood


Purna Tulail (near LoC), Oct 4: Ghulam Rasool Wani, 70, curses and abuses his dead father Juma Wani who had migrated to this village, fenced on all sides by army, from Gilgit. Rasool has not forgiven his father’s decision to migrate to this place. The bitterness is unbecoming of a son for his dead father. “He has put me and my children into this hell. May God avenge him there,” Rasool says in chaste Kashmiri pointing towards the sky. The Dards apart from their mother tongue Shena also speak Kashmiri fluently.  
 The villagers call him Rasool Chacha (uncle). They feel the death of one of his goats was the cause of his anger. Rasool’s goat died when, while grazing, she got stumbled into multilayered fencing erected by army around the village. Rasool wonders how his father settled in the area where there are no basic facilities and if someone falls ill, the only thing his family could do about him was to pray for his peaceful death. 
 Army fencing has annoyed everyone. Rasool is labourer and has four children. But unlike in other parts of Kashmir, labourers here are not well paid. They are being given Rs 65 a day. Domestication of animals is the mainstay of livelihood. And the fencing is posing a threat to cattle.
 Everyone here insist that they are not against the border fencing but they argue fencing should have been erected “on borders not on our lands.” 
 “There are nearly five villages that belong to Kashmir which fall outside the fenced area; beyond those five villages is the LoC. But they have erected the fencing here, in our village,” said a government employee who didn’t want to disclose his name. 
 The Purna Tulail people are not the only suffers. The situation is same for everyone in Gurez valley where people feel fencing in villages has created more problem than solving any.  
 From Kazlwan, which is some 15 kms from Tehsil headquarter Dawar, fencing has been erected along the river Neelam (Kishan Ganga). And in Dawar situation is not different. The fencing has been erected across the river, and with it a vast area where the people gathered Cumin, has been made literally inaccessible. 
 “We objected to fencing when it was erected it in our lands. We even protested but then who cares. They went ahead and we are really suffering,” said a revenue department employee. He said thousands of cattle’s have died due to fencing. “The cattle die terrible death once they trip up the fencing. They are badly wounded by the razor and then there is no cure for them,” he said. 
  “I wonder what the status of these villages is. These are our villages and we have put a fence in between. And if call this border fencing then Pakistan can claim these areas,” says a teacher. 
 However a senior official of the Tourism Department instead had other views on the issue. Pointing towards sandalwood trees across the fencing he said the fencing has saved the trees from the axe of smugglers. He thanked army.
 Fencing is omnipresent in villages and on the road from Dawar to Purna Tulail commonly called PTL. From Dawar to PTL it is a one hour car journey. The village Kashpat is on the roadside but it is fenced and to enter villages named SK, Refugee 1, Refguee 2, Bozgai, close to the LoC, the villagers have to enter from the fencing gate at Kaspat. Both sides of the road from Kaspat to Burnai are fenced. And to enter Burani, one has to cross fencing gate. 
 The residents say that the fencing has been erected on their property land and it has partitioned their land and villages. “This is border within the border,” says Abdul Aziz a political leader of Samajwadi party in Dawar. 
 “This fencing is nothing but a farce. It has brought untold miseries on us,” he said. Aziz says it has become difficult for them to go for fishing in the Neelam, famous for its trout. During heavy rains the slides push the fencing into the river making angling difficult. The remnants of the uprooted fencing could be seen in the river at many spots.
 However at PTL Chacha Rasool is not worried about angling. He is still lamenting death of his goat. “Can government give us some compensation for it,” asks Rasool. The compensation is what everyone here demands and wants. But it seems government has no plans. “The government had earlier promised but so far nothing has materialized,” said an official of the Revenue Department in Dawar.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Harinawas: From torture chamber to luxury state guest house

Presidential suites, seven star facilities, CM residence, and much more   

Naseer A Ganai 

Srinagar, October 3: In the mid 90s the name Hariniwas meant death and torture. People had given up associating this palace of Dogra Maharajas with royalty. Kashmiri youth who took up arms against Indian state and were interrogated in Hariniwas narrated harrowing tales of torture--electric shocks to genitals, big logs rolled over legs, sticks smeared with chilies thrust into anus, thrashing buttocks with bamboo sticks till they turned purple, and other third degree methods. For a militant, or a civilian arrested on suspicion, coming out alive of that palace was a rebirth. While its bloody recent past would leave its imprints for a long time to come, it is now the State’s guesthouse for important personalities, and also as the official residence of the Chief Minister.
In its reincarnation it has three presidential suites, VVIP guesthouse and scores of bedrooms. The palace was built by Maharaja Hari Singh for his wife Tara Devi. He constructed the palace at the place despite being told by priests that the area has been the abode of Hindu goddess Shiksha Devi. He was told that the construction of palace at this place would not be auspicious. “But he didn’t pay heed to these warnings,” says historian Fida Hasnian. 
Hari Singh constructed the palace for Maharani Tara Devi after purchasing land and trees from the residents of the area. The construction was completed and with it Tara Devi started residing in it. But the tumultuous events of 1947 ensued and Maharaja had to flee Kashmir. And he never returned. After 1947 the building was never put to any “good use”, says an official.
The officials of Department of Archives and Archeology say that the building was purchased by Kashmir Hotel Limited for Rs 43 lakhs in 1980s. They had a plan to convert the building into a hotel but the plan didn’t mature, the officials said. The Government later purchased the building again and it was used by the CID department after 1985. Since 1990 when armed insurgency backed by mass uprising started in Kashmir, it was used as torture chamber. 
The National Conference came to power in 1996. It mooted a proposal that the building be used for a Museum. The proposal however was shelved when Peoples Democratic Party led government took over in 2002. And when the Ghulam Nabi Azad took over as chief minister in 2005 he renovated the building. Sources said Rs 10 crores were used for the renovation of the building but the officials insist that only Rs 4 to 5 crore were utilized.
It is a sprawling building built over 70 kanals of land. It has a guesthouse and seven star facilities. The building has three Presidential suites.  
As the building serve as the residential office of the Chief Minister it has waiting hall for those who want to meet the Chief Minister and office for the Chief Minister’s secretariat. The official residence of the Chief Minister also include a cabinet room to hold meetings and deliberations. The Chief Minister’s official residence has four master bedrooms besides couple of other bedrooms as well. It has also formal and informal drawing rooms, a dining hall and a lobby.
Sources said that the no hotel in the State is fit enough for hosting the president of India or any other place. “But the building has been renovated in a manner that any State guest can stay here and he would not find it lacking in facilities or prestige,” he added. However, the old style has been maintained. Even antique taps have been brought to maintain the royal aura.  
The former Chief Minister himself used look after the landscaping. The Floriculture Department has introduced some rare species of the plants and flowers. The officials insist that the renovation of the building has been done in accordance with the High Court directions. “It is fact the area falls under the green belt and the building too comes under restricted area. So the High Court orders have been followed in letter and spirit,” said the official. However the former chief minister who renovated the building could not stay here for long. After staying in the building for nearly three months, his government fell and he had to leave the building. 

Renovated and abandoned 

When Dr Farooq took over as Chief Minister in 2002, he constructed in green belt area a building that would be chief minister’s residence. It was adjacent to Harinawas. Fifty percent of the construction work was completed when a writ petition was filed in the High Court against the constructions in the greenbelt. The High Court found that the construction of the building was against the norms. The High Court stayed the construction. Then came the Mufti Muhammad Sayeed in 2002 as chief minister. He renovated a building, which was once residence of Prime Minister Ghulam Muhammad Bakshi, at Poloview. Some Rs 5 crores were used for its renovation. And a bulletproof glass room was also constructed. And when Mufti handed over power to Ghulam Nabi Azad, the latter preferred to renovate another building for chief minister’s residence at Harinawas. 

18 kids die in 45 days in Kashmir hospital

Investigation reveals they were avoidable deaths 
Director says it's a minor issue

Srinagar, October 3: In a shocking revelation, it has been found that 18 children have died in the Pediatric Surgery department of the prestigious SK Institute of Medical Sciences in just 45 days. The documents available with Greater Kashmir describe them as ‘avoidable deaths’ asserting that they could have been avoided had proper infrastructure been in place and the Consultants conducted the surgeries themselves.

The issue came to the notice of the director of the institute, Dr Abdul Hamid Zargar, and several heads of departments when the assistant professor in the Pediatric Surgery department, Dr Nisar Ahmad Bhat, wrote to the director vide his letter SIMS/138/HA/F-08-131 on May 3, 2008, about the deaths.
“In last one and half month, department of Pediatric Surgery has seen 13 deaths. Mortality at this pace is a matter of concern for all of us. Most of these deaths could have been avoided with the availability of basic infrastructure and a better support from the concerned specialists,” Dr Nisar wrote, demanding that the deaths should be analyzed one by one to find out causes and subsequently efforts have to be made to avoid such eventualities.
An investigation into the ‘alarming mortality’ conducted by the department of Hospital Administration revealed that 18 children had died in just 45 days and that the patients had not been evaluated properly. It was found that re-exploration was being done in emergencies by senior residents and not by consultants; that calls were being sent to senior residents of the Neonatology for cross consultation and not to consultants; that Pediatric Surgery consultants did not make rounds of accident and emergency and patients got stuck up; that the Pediatric Surgery and Neonatology departments did not regularly discuss progress of patients and that the incidence of mortality was definitely higher in Pediatric Surgery Department. 
Following these revelations, the Hospital Administration has recommended a slew of measures to minimize the mortality. It suggested proper evaluation of patients by senior residents and consultants; regular rounds by consultants both in their ward and also of accident and emergency; and the conduct of surgeries by consultants. Absence of ventilators in the Pediatric Surgery department has also been a cause of concern. Even in the emergency ward, patients often suffer for want of ventilators. 
The director SKIMS said the administration swiftly dealt with the issue when it was reported to it. He said though the issue was ‘minor one and there was no extraordinary death,’ the administration took the issue seriously and since then there has been lot of improvement in the concerned department. “The deaths in the period were compared with the deaths in previous years and other departments and it was found that it was not alarming,” he said.