Friday, February 27, 2009

Life is a whistle away in Kashmir

Pprrrrr, Pprrrrr...! You walk on the roadside and there is a man behind you with a whistle, you drive and the case is same, you breathe and the situation is unchanged, unmoved Naseer A Ganai portrays the grim surrounding which have become the order of the day in Kashmir

Life here depends upon a whistle. So much that people here always try to recognize whistles to differentiate whether it is direc¬tion to stop or move forward pprrrrrr.
Kashmiris whether they live in this part of valley or in hilly districts of Doda, Poonch and Rajouri and other areas of Jammu division are not unfamiliar with a whistle. They have two decade-long association with different kinds of whistles and God knows when this association will end.
Some say Srinagar is beautiful city and it has so many beautiful old buildings. Some constructed by British, some by Muslims Rul¬ers, some by Dogra Maharajas. They are worth seeing. One wants to gaze at them for hours together and praise their architectures and engineers. There are monstrous struc¬tures as well. A mere look at them repels one and reflects the mindset of those people who have con¬structed them.
The new secretariat and High Court building are examples of how ugly buildings could be con¬structed in the middle of the city. That too in this age of technology. Still I wanted to stop and gaze at these buildings. To see how En¬glish Architecture is different from an Islamic Architecture. I had a long cherished desire to touch bricks of these buildings. But I was al¬ways deprived of to have a long look at them. And I never got an opportunity to touch the bricks.
Whenever I tired to stop to have a look at them, and to touch bricks of these old buildings, some one whistled and I realized that I am being asked to move forward. I often tried to have a look at the person who whistled. I wanted to tell him why you whistled and what does it mean. But I never ever dared to. With heavy heart, I always followed the dictations of a whistle. It is not only me, who move for¬ward meekly on hearing a whistle. Everyone here follow the same path. Because, they understand that if they fail to comply with the direction the whistle wants to lead them, they will be in peril.
I don't have any vehicle and I don't want to have one. Not because I don't need, I require it desperately. But I just cannot handle the pressures of whistle while driving a car. Those who own cars know it better how dif¬ficult it is to drive in Kashmir. Because when they look around they find troops, paramilitary troops having gun in their hands and armed with armed forces spe¬cial powers act.
Moreover, they all carry whistles. What happens while driving when one hears many whistles at once from different sides. This creates confusion in person who drives the car. He fails to under¬stand whether he has to move or stop. This confusion could be fatal. And I being chicken-hearted per¬son am in no mood to purchase a ve¬hicle and suffer these dangerous di¬lemmas everyday. Consequently, I have long back stopped even thinking about pur¬chasing a vehicle.
Many a time one gets confused who is whistling and why. But no¬body ignores it. If a person hears a
whistle, he stops immediately. Then tries to figure it out, what it really means. If he' fails to find anyone, he still doesn’t move. But waits until he satisfies himself that no one has whistled or if someone has blown it, he seems to be far off and it might be for some body else. After completely satisfying himself, he decides to move. 
During night it is tough time for driver as well as passengers. Because, when troop¬er whistles from bunkers, one fails to understand whether it is gesture to stop or move forward. If at all in rarest of rare case a passen¬ger vehicle ply on the road during evening, then you will come across a different scene. It has been seen, drivers who are always in hurry, often argue with passengers that whistle at night is an indication to move forward but passengers implore the driver to stop and see what "they" really mean by whistling. The passengers will not elaborate "they" and driver will never ask what "they" mean. We even understand implicit meaning of words, which have different explicit meaning for others. The argument between driver and passenger creates confusion and fear among passengers. They fail to understand what is in store for them,   
This is one of the reasons that one sees neither vehicles nor passengers on roads when dusk approaches and every house closes its doors soon after sunset. After sunset there is no life in Kashmir. Everyone prefers to be inside his home to have 'peaceful' life. But this ostensible 'peaceful' nightlife in Kashmir homes turn into nightmare when some one whistles outside.
It is every student's curiosity to imagine how Gullivar was walking among Lilliputians. They will get feeling of the same if they happen to have a look at militarily con¬voys when they pass through roads in Kash¬mir. Pprrrrrr, Pprrrrrr, Pprrrrrr and this is sign for we Lilliputians to lay off or face con¬sequences.
I know a person who had minor hearing problem. He immedi¬ately rushed to ENT specialist. There he was told to come after three days. He refused to wait for his turn. His argument was that if he failed to hear a whistle, it could be fatal for him: Realizing strength of his argument in a given situation, the ENT spe¬cialist examined him then and there.
Heart problems and whistles have apparently no link. But in Kashmir it has. There is interesting story of a woman who one day went to Psychiatrist with complain that she hears whistles every time. "Doctor I hear whistles, when I wake up, when I move around, when I sleep. My heart beats fast on hearing these whistles. Please Doctor, help or I will die," she told the doctor.
The doctor presumed she is suf¬fering from hallucinations. But when he asked her where she is residing, her reply calmed the doctor. Her house was on the roadside. She was not hear¬ing imaginary whistles but she was hearing real ones. The doctor told her that it is whistles of paramilitary troops who maintain the road outside her house, which she hears. She is not alone who hears whistles here.
There might be hundreds of examples of drivers and bus con¬ductors who might have suffered on account of their failure to hear right whistle at right time. The drivers of the public transport vehicles and their conductors are worst suffer¬ers in this whistle business.
I have yet to come across a person who could tell me how much money government spent on purchase of whistles for different security agencies and what kind of color these whistles have. This, I think, deserves a research. But don't try to see the color of a whistle when you hear the whistle. This could prove costly.
I don't know whether whistles have some psychological impact or not on one's psyche. But some say it has tremendous impact on those who are complying with its' shrill sound for last two decades with¬out raising an eyelid. One day, says a friend that he was in Delhi and he heard a whistle. "Abruptly, I stopped and looked around. Then I realized it is not for me and I am in Delhi," he says. But in Kash¬mir no one takes any such chance.
Everybody hears it and obeys.
It is a perfect example of mili¬tarily life of common masses, who move, sit, sleep, wake up, and do¬ing all such things on a mere whistle. This could not be found anywhere in the world.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

TIME TO EMPATHISE

Time has come for one Kashmir to shun its indifference towards other Kashmir and ask for a reunion, comments Naseer A Ganai.

For the last 20 days, the twin districts of Doda and Kisthiwar districts are cut off from the rest of the world. Water from Chenab submerged half-a-kilometer stretch of the road between Batote-Kishtwar Highway-1B and collapsed at Assar.
The Government says everything is "normal" and claims it is working hard to construct the road link that was washed away. It says it has started work to construct alternate road links to connect Doda-Kisthiwar but not the road link which connects the with Kashmir. No one asks the Government why the construction work on the road links that connects these regions with Kashmir valley is going on at a snail’s pace. For 30 years, the construction is going on Desa-Kapran road. The Smithan - Kisthiwar road is a distinct dream. The only silver lining is the hope in Mughal Road this year.
Yes it is fact that there is a strong lobby within the state bureaucracy that is opposing opening of these road links. They fear any contact and interaction between people of Valley and the Muslim dominated districts of Jammu, and forward 'arguments' that these road links are not "viable" or "all-weather roads". The engineers of Kashmir have always contested these flawed claims. Unfortunately the political class has remained indifferent, and bought the theories of the bureaucrats.
Had Kashmir Valley or Jammu district or for that matter Kathua remained closed for 20 days, situation would have been far different, and newspapers would have been bombarding us about sufferings of the populace. But it is Doda and Kisthiwar. So there is not even a noise in Kashmir, and not a murmur in Jammu. For long the Muslim dominated districts of Jammu—Rajouri, Poonch, Doda, Kisthiwar, and other districts have always complained of neglect by Kashmiri leadership. It has happened during the last 20 years as well. All these years, if the blood has flown through every lane and river of Kashmir, the Muslim majority districts of Jammu division have not remained untouched. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act is in vogue in these districts and the Kashmir valley. If there have been custodial killings in Kashmir valley, such incidents were not alien to Doda or Rajouri. If fake encounters engulfed valley, it didn't leave Surankote untouched. If hundreds have been booked under the preventive detentions in Kashmir, scores have been detained under the same Act in Poonch.
Despite all this, Kashmiris in general and its leadership in particular have been callous and indifferent towards these districts. Perhaps they have "assumption that these districts have no other option but to be with us." This mindset has done no good to Kashmir in particular and Muslims of the State in general. This approach has generated a feeling that if Jammu has exploited them, Kashmir valley has not been good to them either. The valley, they rightly presume, has been indifferent towards them.
The indifference of the valley towards the Muslim majority districts has allowed the Government of India to confine the Kashmir dispute to Kashmir valley. The incapability of the capable Kashmiri leadership has also succeeded in providing room for the discourses like the politics of identities and languages in the State when there was none. This 'debate' to undermine the voices that call for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute would have never raised its head, had Kashmiri leadership, both in the mainstream and pro-freedom camp, been magnanimous enough to accommodate more people from the region in its ranks.
Of late, Peoples Democratic Party is the only political party that has realized the potential of the region. The party openly shouted slogan of Muslim Kashmir knowing well that 70 percent population in the State are Muslims. The PDP leader Tariq Hamid Karra as state's Finance Minister openly stated that the outside the State bureaucracy tried to sabotage the construction of the Mughal Road that links Shopian with the Poonch-Rajouri districts of Jammu. The PDP is reaping dividends for this open talk. It won two seats from Muslim belt and lost one with a narrow margin. And remember that this is only the beginning.
This is fact that the pro-freedom leadership is not being allowed to visit these areas but this doesn't mean that they should not voice concern on problems confronted by people of the region. The JKLF Chairman, Muhammad Yasin Malik, was not allowed to carry his signature campaign in Doda. Hurriyat Chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani too, after attacks, was forced to leave Jammu. It seems the Government of India fears that giving foothold to the pro-freedom leadership in the Muslim majority districts would bury their 'argument' that Kashmir dispute is confined to Kashmir valley only.
Besides, in these areas there is support for the pro-freedom leadership. In April 2007, when Hurriyat Chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, visited Poonch and Rajouri areas of Jammu division, he got warm response. In Surankote Poonch, Mirwaiz had addressed fairly huge gatherings. Mirwaiz shouted slogans of Azadi and the people responded the same with enthusiasm. Next day at Mendhar, some elderly people met Mirwaiz Umar and reminded him that "don't forget to return to see the fate of people who had raised their hands and shouted Azadi, Azadi in response to your slogans.”
Far great responsibility lies on the leaders to understand their duty towards the people who don't reside in Kashmir valley but identify themselves with Kashmir. But then it is not only the leadership that has the responsibility. The educated class, business community of Kashmir is equally responsible for whatever misunderstanding there’s between the people of the two regions. There has been no effort, whatsoever, from the educational institutions of Kashmir to visit the areas and understand their culture and language. They would be shocked to find out that region is no different from Kashmir. There has been no effort from business community of Kashmir to have ties with the business community of the region. Together they could have acted as potent force to stop the exploitation that has turned our economy into a consumer economy. And above all leading doctors of Kashmir valley, who take pride of being professional and capable, have never deemed it fit to practice at least once a week in a year in these areas. It would have been great service had the leading doctors of Kashmir been regular visitors to these areas. If half of students in Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah (RA) University can be Kashmiris to pursue their careers, what stops others to visit the region? There is pattern in Kashmir that whenever anything goes wrong, we blame leaders and forget our collective responsibilities.
60 years on, Mughal Road, linking Kashmir to Poonch and Rajouri, Desa-Kapran road, linking Kashmir to Doda, Simthan-Kishtwar road, linking Kashmir with Kisthiwar, has been closed and as a community we have not only been indifferent but insensitive, too. That too towards people whose destinies are linked with us. Following the uprising against the transfer of land to Amarnath Shrine Board in Kashmir, there was agitation in Jammu district. The Muslim majority districts sided with Kashmir during the uprising. So did the Kargil district of Ladakh. That was defining moment for State polity and it added all Jammu and Ladakh with Kashmir. The support which Kashmiris received at that juncture compelled Mirwaiz to borrow Sajjad Lone's concept of the Muslim Kashmir, when he said "two and half districts of Jammu can part away." And now six months down the line, there is not a word for them from anyone in Kashmir.
Today Doda and Kisthwar are cut off from the rest of the world. But the roads that link these areas with Kashmir are still under construction. Kashmiris must rise to the occasion and demand opening of the road links. The links would usher new era of development in the valley, and in these regions. The links would bring people, who share same religion and culture, together. Time has come when Kashmir must show empathy with other regions, and demand reunion.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A REPORTER AT LARGE

A REPORTER AT LARGE Steve Coll has written about back-channel negotiations between India and Pakistan over the disputed region of Kashmir in The New Yorker.

Two years ago Pervez Musharraf, who was then Pakistan’s President and Army chief, summoned his most senior generals and two Foreign Ministry officials to review the progress of a secret, sensitive negotiation with India, known to its participants as “the back channel.” For several years, special envoys from Pakistan and India had been holding talks in hotel rooms in Bangkok, Dubai, and London. Musharraf and Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, had encouraged the negotiators to seek what some involved called a “paradigm shift” in relations between the two nations. The agenda included a search for an end to the long fight over Kashmir. The two principal envoys, Tariq Aziz and Satinder Lambah were developing what diplomats refer to as a “non-paper” on Kashmir which could serve as a deniable but detailed basis for a deal. By early 2007, the back-channel talks on Kashmir had become “so advanced that we’d come to semicolons,” recalled Khurshid Kasuri, who was then Pakistan’s foreign minister. Details for a visit to Pakistan by Singh were being discussed. Neither government, however, had done much to prepare its public for a breakthrough. Tells how domestic unrest in Pakistan contributed to the postponement of the summit. Musharraf slipped into a political death spiral and resigned in August of 2008. Mentions the periodic funding by India and Pakistan of guerilla or terrorist violence on each other’s soil. Describes the Mumbai attacks of last November 26, which were apparently coordinated by the Islamist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba and the concession by Pakistani officials that the attackers appear to have come from their country. India reacted to the attack with relative restraint, though many Indian politicians continue to call for military action. Writer visits the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and interviews Atta Muhammad Khan, who tends to the graves of about two hundred unknown young men in a village there. Gives a brief history of the dispute over the region and the shifting approaches taken by India and Pakistan to the dispute through the years. Writer interviews N. N. Vohra, the governor of Jammu and Kashmir, and then travels across the border to meet with Nawaz Sharif, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan. Tells about the events preceding the back-channel talks and the potentially catastrophic results of an escalation in hostilities between the two nuclear powers. Discusses in more detail the process of the back-channel negotiations. Writer visits the regional headquarters of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the educational and charitable organization that, depending on how you see it, is either the parent of or a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba. He is given a tour of the grounds by Mohammad Abbas, also known as Abu Ehsaan. Considers America’s role in Indo-Pakistani relations and how relations between the two countries bear on the war in Afghanistan. Writer attends a reception in Washington, D.C., for Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf says that he always believed in peace between India and Pakistan and that an agreement “would have benefited both.”

Memories of an Election Past

Here is the piece written by Majid Maqbool, my sub-editor in Greater Kashmir, exclusively for my blog: 

Notes From The Ground 

Memories of an Election Past  
By Majid Maqbool 
It’s a cold, fogy November morning. The view from the windscreen of the Tata sumo vehicle we are traveling in is hazy, dreamlike. A thick, smoky fog surrounds the outside view, making the houses around – and the road ahead – disappear. Some kilometers into the drive, suddenly an approaching sound becomes more pronounced. There’s commotion in the air. A closer look reveals the first signs of a polling booth: excited people assembled on the roadside, security vehicles, a small middle school thronged by men and women, and tense, watchful CRPF personnel, standing guard. 

We are covering elections today, but all of us—a photographer, some journalists, and the driver—are talking about election boycott. As our vehicle stops, the fog clears out, and a polling booth comes in sight. Pheran clad people holding on to their Kangri, and CRPF men shivering in the cold emerge from a thick morning fog hanging heavy in the air. The sight of the crowd comprising of young men, women, girls, old men and women, assembled outside a two-room middle school turned into a polling booth in vadipora, Handwara, lends a festive look to this place. We see long voter queues outside the polling booth. Far from Srinagar, here, people are in no mood to boycott polls. People have willingly come out to vote, they tell us clearly. And everyone comes up with standard answers: the voting is for bijli, sadak, pani, naukri. Men and women jostle for space in their respective queues, waiting for their turn to cast their votes.

There is a lot of noise in and outside the polling booth. Inside, a group of polling agents, sitting like school children on the rugged mats of the small classroom of this government run middle school, are sifting through the pages of electoral lists. Like school children turn the pages of their textbooks in a classroom, the pheran clad and noisy polling agents sift through the pages of the white electoral lists in their hands. The polling booth officer, sitting comfortably on a chair, is like the headmaster here: he’s in command, the authority. Everyone listens to him, except the CRPF men, who keep coming in and out of the polling booth at will. They question everyone—including visiting journalists—but they can not be questioned. Much to the dislike of nervous CRPF men standing outside the booth, some people hang around the booth after casting their vote—smoking, talking in small groups, making noise. And those who are yet to vote try to remain in the queues, anxiously waiting for their turn. And whenever some people break out from the discipline of the long queues, angry arguments break out. The sight of the approaching trooper, with a long baton in one hand and a gun in other, however, ends all the arguments among the voters in the queues. Silence prevails. Voters come in the line, quietly.

Just outside this middle school, an old man – the white bearded tea-shop owner who shows no interest in voting today – is making tea in his shanty, wooden tea-stall. People, who are yet to vote, and those done with the voting, are having their cups of tea here. And in between sips, they talk. Vapors from their tea-cups mix with human breath visible on a cold morning, which then comes out like smoke from the old wooden door of this small tea-stall. Hugging onto their rifles, the tense looking CRPF personnel reluctantly stand guard outside the booth, as if under compulsion. They push around people, and ensure people maintain a disciplined line—though most of them still don’t.  

Just behind this busy pooling booth is a young man’s grave. He was killed years back (in 1996). And today, only one person is standing near his grave: his father. And he is not voting today, he says pensively standing near the solitary grave of his son. Resting on a raised slope and protected by iron bars, the grave is everything for this man standing near it. None from my family will vote today, he says after a brief pause, coming out of his thoughts. My son was 18, he adds, when he was martyred by the army. “He gave his life for independence, for azadi, and not for elections,” the man says with eyes transfixed on the grave.

Seeing us engaged in conversation with this man near the grave, the old man suddenly comes out of his tea stall. The two men know each other. There is one thing common to them: they both lost their sons. The old man comes up to us, greets the other man, and tells us why he too is not interested in voting today: his son’s grave lies few meters away from his tea-stall. Pointing at his son’s grave protected by wooden logs, the old man wants me to listen to the story of his son too. He looks expectedly at my notebook, wanting me to pen down his story. But we are getting late. We have to rush towards another polling booth. We will come again to listen to your story, I tell the white bearded old man as I run towards the vehicle blowing repeated horns for me across the street. And as the vehicle drove away from this polling booth, I could see the old man from the rear windowpane of the vehicle: he stood pensively outside the polling booth, near his tea stall, and kept watching people around him vote, and the rest, wait in queues for their turn. As the vehicle accelerated and fog took over the scene completely, the old man’s frail frame faded out of my sight. And I knew I won’t come again to listen to his story.

Weeks pass. 

Srinagar goes to polls today. We are making rounds on the empty streets of the Srinagar city littered with troopers and armored security vehicles. Around 3pm, we reach Tangpora area of Batamaloo. Here “poll boycott” is the writing on the walls, quiet literally. “No elections. Election boycott. Azadi”—is chalked on the walls of the alleys of this neighborhood in capital, bold, hand written letters. And small, fading paper posters of affected family members made out of old newspaper clipping adorn the outer walls of the households in the small alleys of this locality. Some distance from a desolate polling booth, around 3:30pm, the agitated people of the locality we stop by have come out of their homes. They have assembled outside the street near the local mosque. Suddenly, one bearded middle aged man emerges from crowd to stand on the stairs of the mosque. And from the stairs of the mosque entrance, he suddenly addresses the rest of the people in front of him. The address, without a mike and outside the mosque, is not a sermon. It’s political. It’s about elections. He reminds them – in loud, defiant voice – of why they boycotted elections today. He reminds them of the three families of the locality they paid homage today—by not voting. Three sons from the locality are still missing in custody, he says. Who is accountable for their disappearance, he asks the crowd. “How can we vote then?” he questions the people in front of him. Only 17 people have voted today, the man says out aloud. And we know who they are, he says, they came from outside. Some women in the crowd, holding each others hand, are listening attentively to his address. 

And then, all of a sudden, the man makes an announcement: 

“Let me tell you now that yesterday I was told by someone from the authority that our young men have been killed. There is no point in waiting for them now. And their families should perform their last rites….” 

A sudden hush descends on the crowd. There is a brief silence. No one speaks. Shocked and surprised faces look at each other, and then at the man who is addressing them. Hearing this news, some elderly women, who were listening to this man silently, start mourning now. And weep inconsolably. Their mourning becomes more pronounced now; their feeble cries lapse into loud shouts of grief. Rolling the edges of their white scarves, the old women around them wipe their tears, and each others. And the younger women, who are part of this small crowd outside the mosque, have tears in their eyes, too. But they try to console the elder women first, extending a comfortable shoulder for them to grieve on. 

Hesitantly, I negotiate my way through the crowd to approach one of the old women. She is particularly inconsolable, repeatedly calling out loud, one name in particular: Mushtaq Ahmad, her son. And when I ask her about her son, she weeps some more. She is not able to talk. Other women accompanying her, speak for her. They ask me to come to her home situated at some distance from the mosque. And I walk slowly to keep pace with this group of grieving, elderly women to one of the small one storey house nearby. And as soon as we step into a small room, the old women, Rahte, grabs a framed picture of her son kept on the upper windowsill of the room. And before I can clearly see her son’s picture, she hugs it tightly, holding it close to her chest, not letting it go, as if it was her son who had come back home today. Then she wept, all the while gently swinging her head back and forth, in mourning. And, in between, she would frequently shout her disappeared son’s name, addressing his photo as if he was in front of her. The constant surge of tears from her sad, sunken eyes seemed to acquire a material form palpable in the room: for a brief moment, I felt as if I could touch her grief.

By now many women from the neighborhood had assembled in this small room. And I was struggling to take notes. Amidst tears and mourning from each family member present in the room, many narrations of their disappeared family member competed on my notebook. Narrated by many grieving women surrounding me, I was finding it hard to listen to all the women speaking at the same time about one man’s disappearance years back. Unable to pen down much, I closed my notebook. And as I was preparing to leave, one of the grieving women said that many people like me have visited their house before, heard the story of disappearance of Mushtaq, and then left, never to return again. And our Mushtaq also never returned, said another woman with moist eyes sitting in one corner of the room. I had no answers for their questions. I just scribed them on my notebook, and left the house along with their story – like many journalists, human rights activists had left before me—leaving behind grieving family members, in tears.

Latter in the day, as the voting in the Srinagar city was coming to an end, and light was fading on the empty streets of Lalchowk, near Ghanta Ghar something unusual was happening. It grabbed my attention: A mock exercise in which a group of CRPF women around Ghanta Ghar, in turn surrounded by tangled meshes of concencreta wires and armoured vehicles, were getting filmed by their female colleague. She had a handy-cam in her hand, like you take out on a family holiday. She was trying to focus, trying to bring all her colleagues in frame. She was repeatedly asking her subjects to smile, raise their batons in the air, and pay attention. She wanted to capture a perfect shot. But her subjects looked tired, and unwilling for this exercise after a tough day on duty. Unsatisfied, she would line up her wary subjects again, and do a retake. And as our vehicle drove past them, the CRPF woman, undisturbed, kept filming her colleagues who were doing their moves once more for the camera. Finally they managed to put on fake smiles for the camera. And this time the CRPF women soldier seemed satisfied with the shot. Happy, she walked up to her subjects, and showed them how they looked like in the video. All of them surrounded her, and saw themselves in playback mode: captured, happy, smiling.

This final image from the last phase of elections in the last, fading hour of voting kept playing on my mind like an unforgettable movie scene. Each one of them, I thought, would take the videos home miles away in some state of India, and show it to their children, mother, father, husband, fiancĂ©e, lover. They would take our home to their homes. These videos would become part of their family videos perhaps, I thought as the scene faded out of my sight to play on my mind latter. And the videos would show a different Kashmir—different from those shots in that if-there- is-paradise-on-earth Kashmir paraded on those ‘Incredible India’ ads on TV. 

That Kashmir is of innumerable troopers, of desolate streets, of armoured military vehicles, and innumerable checkpoints; of sandbag bunkers with guns pointing out, and troopers, inside, outside. And one can imagine the sub-titles of those videos shot in Kashmir: We came to Kashmir, in armored vehicles. We came with guns. We made bunkers. We stopped them on the streets, searched their bodies, and asked for their identity cards. And we filmed it all, kept a record, for you. Of course we did all this for their security. You must be wondering: what else we did in—and to—Kashmir? Simple: We captured it for you. 
 
(Feedback at maqbool.majid@gmail.com)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


They kill and say sorry

My colleague in Greater Kashmir Arif Shafi Wani captures scene after murder and mayhem in Sopur area of Kashmir. Photos by Mubashir Khan 

Bomai (Sopur), Feb 22: Benumbed by shock, Zareefa Begum, continuously gazed at the splattered pieces of flesh, hair and bloodstained shoes of the victims, including her nephew, Muhammad Amin, and dozens of cartridges near a Chinar tree where Army had gunned down two youth on Saturday evening. 

 Throughout the day, the villagers guided the journalists to the site named ‘death spot’ after yesterday’s incident. As hundreds of people jostled to have a glimpse of the slain youth, Zareefa could not control her emotions. She broke down, wept copiously and then narrated the sequence of events.  
 She said that she was near the spot when the firing took place. “Eight troopers alighted from their vehicle and asked the three youth, including my nephew, Muhammad Amin Tantray, moving on the roadside to raise their hands. Without any provocation, the troopers suddenly fired indiscriminately on them and they fell down,” she said.  

With tears trickling from her eyes, she said, “While another youth died on the spot, Amin was hit by a volley of bullets on chest. He was writhing in pain and screaming for help. Without caring for my life, I ran towards him and hugged him. I pleaded before the troopers to let me rush him to the hospital but they didn’t leave the spot until he was dead,” she said with moist eyes. 

Another villager, Ghulam Rasool, said the troopers fired without ascertaining the identity of the youth. “Everything seemed pre-planned. They executed the killings in just 10 minutes. We were so horrified that we could not even offer water to dying youth,” he said. 
 The villagers said soon after the incident an army officer reached the spot. “He apologized for the killings and asked us to forget the incident as an accident. When we refused, he threatened us of dire consequences. “My troopers have committed sin and you should forgive them. Don’t protest against us otherwise one by one, we would teach you a lesson,” the locals quoted the officer as saying.
 Locals said that after close scrutiny of the cartridges scattered on the spot, it came to fore that the troopers had fired over 100 bullets on the trio.
 “They snatched my beloved,” said Muhammad Afzal, brother of the slain youth, Muhammad Amin. 
 Afzal said he had talked to his brother barely half-an-hour before his killing. “I told him I won’t be coming home and to take care of parents. Little did I know that it was my last meeting with him,” visibly shocked Ashraf said. 
 The locals accused the army of unleashing reign of terror in the village. They said Police Post Bomai is located barely 100 metres from the spot. “But the cops are so scared of the troops that they reached there after one hour,” they said.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Kashmir Bar says Omer is puppet, Bhim anti-Kashmir

‘Kashmiri Detainees Tortured By Dreaded Gangsters In Jails’

NASEER A GANAI
Srinagar, Feb 21: The High Court Bar Association Saturday said the chief minister Omar Abdullah was powerless as he had no authority to release the detainees booked under the Public Safety Act. 

“During election, Omar Abdullah and Farooq Abdullah repeatedly stated that when in power they would release all the political prisoners. But after Omar assumed power, over 42 persons have been booked under the PSA,” president High Court Bar Association Mian Abdul Qayoom said addressing media persons at Sadder Court here. He said 300 persons had been booked under the PSA during the election campaign. “They were not released, instead over 42 were booked by the present regime,” Qayoom said. “It seems both Omar Abdullah and Farooq Abdullah are powerless and real power lies with the government of India,” he said.
Qayoom ridiculed the government announcements on release of 21 detainees and said the High Court has already quashed their detention. He said the government was making announcement about the release of detainees when the Courts have already passed decisions about them. 

KASHMIRI PRISONERS 
Flanked by secretary Bar advocate G N Shaheen and other lawyers, the Bar president released the report about the condition of various jails and lashed out the jail authorities for subjecting Kashmiri detainees to inhumane condition. 
The Bar president said, “The treatment meted out to detainees in Tihar and Rohni jails is inhumane. The detainees are looked down upon by the jail authorities, police and everyone,” the Bar president said, adding that some of detainees had tried for transfer of their cases from Delhi to any other place but the Apex Court has rejected their application. 
He said the prisoners convicted and sentenced to life had applied for their transfer to Jammu and Kashmir jails in accordance with the Transfer of Prisoners Act but no action has been taken by the authorities.
Qayoom said 60 prisoners lodged in Tihar jail could have been easily kept in one barrack of any jail in Tihar but the jail authorities have put “them with dreaded criminals, gangsters who torture them every day and night.” 
He said they are being denied the medical aid and in case they complain they are being penalized days together. He said Kashmiri detainees were being subjected to harassment after Mumbai attack and they are being told to be ashamed of it. 
He said there were 70 Pakistani in the Tihar jail. “They have no contact with their families and no one is pursuing their cases,” the report said, adding that a lawyer from Delhi had gone to meet a Pakistani in Agra jail but he was denied the interview and asked to get the permission from CID Kashmir. 
The report said undertrials in Kathua jail are being “thrashed by the jail staff on the instructions of the jail superintendent.” “Whenever any detainee or under trial is brought from Kashmir for lodgment in the jail, he is given severe beating by the jail staff,” the report said. 
The report said jail staff has forcibly cut beard of the detainees Peer Aizan Ahmad, Imran of Jamia Masjid Varmul, Zia-ul-Islam and Javed Ahmad who were detained for launching election boycott campaign in valley in Kathua jail. The report said that in Kathua jail, Kashmiri detainees were forced to participate in January 26 celebrations inside the jail premises. 
The report had good words for the Kothbalwal jail. It says, “All those detainees interviewed by the Bar team were of opinion that there is lot of improvement in this jail as compared to past.” 
The report said the all the detainees, undertrials have been given better treatment by the jail authorities in the Kothbalwal as compared to other jails. 
However, the report was very critical of the state government and police authorities for not providing the police escort to detainee to bring them to Courts during hearings. The report said the detainees were not being presented to Courts. The report said that in case of illness, the jail detainees were not being allowed to visit any other doctor unless recommended by the jail doctor. The report said that two detainees have died in this manner. 500 detainees are booked under PSA are lodged in Srinagar centre jail. 

‘BHIM SINGH’S PETITION ANTI-KASHMIRI’ 
Qayoom accused Panthers Party president Bhim Singh of working against the interests of Kashmiris in general and detainees lodged in jails in the state and outside the state in particular. 
The Bar said Singh filed public interest litigation in the Apex Court saying that foreign detainees lodged outside the State should be tried in the areas of their lodgments. Scores of detainees are lodged in various jails outside the State for alleged offences committed in Jammu and Kashmir. Under the Public Safety Act foreigner could be lodged in any jail outside the State.   
Qayoom said the Apex Court acted on the PIL filed by Singh and decided that the cases foreigners should tried in the courts located in areas of their lodgments. He said the decision has affected thousands of detainees who are co-accused in such cases and they have all the way travel outside the State to appear in these cases. 
The Bar president said the advocate general of the state should have given the State’s view and should have informed the Court about the issue. He said the government’s silence over the issue speaks volumes about its non-seriousness of the State. He said Singh had no locus standi to file a petition in the Apex Court without consulting detainees or those who would be directly affected by it. Qayuum accused Singh of drawing political mileage out of it. 
The Bar president said the right course would have been to bring all foreign detainees lodged in outside the State jails to Jammu and Kashmir. “In the state trial could have been speedy. It is in the State there are co-accused and witnesses,” the Bar president said.

Army kills two devotees in Kashmir

Sopur, Feb 21: Two youth were killed and another was critically injured when Army opened indiscriminate fire at Bomai here in north Kashmir on Saturday evening. 
The incident triggered massive demonstrations in the apple town with protesters demanding action against the accused troopers. 
Witnesses said the incident occurred when an Army convoy of 22 Rashtriya Rifles was passing through the area near Bomai. “The convoy halted near a bund and without any provocation opened indiscriminate fire on a group of youth walking there. Two youth died on the spot,” eyewitnesses said.
The annual ‘Urs’ (festival) of noted Muslim saint, Hazrat Sheikh Hamza Makhdoomi, was being celebrated at the nearby Tujar village, the birthplace of the widely revered saint. Thousands of devotees visited the famous shrine on the occasion.
The slain youth were identified as Muhammad Amin Tantray son of Muhammad Shaban of Bomai and Javid Ahmad Dar son of Muhammad Ismail of Muslim Peer, Sopur. Another youth, Firdous Ahmad Khwaja son of Abdul Ghaffar was rushed to SKIMS Soura in a critical condition. 
As soon as the news about the killings spread, thousands of people assembled outside the sub-district hospital here. Shouting pro-freedom and anti-India slogans, the protesters carried bodies of the slain youth in a procession to the police station. 
A group of protesters pelted stones on the police station. Police swung into action and fired dozens of tear smoke shells to disperse the mob. The protests were going on outside the police station till late evening. However, according to later reports, police and CRPF resorted to indiscriminate firing on the protesters injuring another five of them. They were rushed to Srinagar hospitals in a critical condition.
“This is clearly a cold-blooded murder. We will continue the protests till the accused troopers are punished,” the agitated demonstrators said. Late in the evening, bodies of the deceased youth were taken by their families while the protesters dispersed.
Policemen laced with batons and tear smoke shells have been deployed all over the town. To prevent the situation from aggravating, authorities imposed restrictions in various areas.
The deputy commissioner, Varmul, Baseer Ahmad Khan, said a magisterial inquiry had been ordered into the incident. “SDM Sopur has been appointed as inquiry officer. Law will take its own course,” Khan said.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

2 and a half district call for delimitation in JK


Seeks Equal Number Of Seats For Jammu, Valley


Srinagar, Feb 18: The Panthers Party MLA and former minister Harsh Dev Singh has sen

t a Private Member’s bill to the Assembly for constitution of Delimitation Commission and for holding fresh delimitation of Assembly constituencies.  
 In the bill Singh has sought amendments in Sections 47 and 48 of the Constitution of J&K so as to undertake fresh delimitation on the basis of criteria laid down in the Representation of People’s Act (RPA). Singh claims that “present composition of Assembly comprising of 111 members with 24 seats reserved for POK (AJK), was highly biased against Jammu region, which was allocated only 37 seats as against 46 seats for Kashmir region.”
 He argues that the parameters laid down in the Section 4 of RPA for allocation of seats included population, geographical compactness, nature of terrain, facilities of communication and like considerations.  He said that prescribed parameters weighted heavily in favour of Jammu region except the population factor which too was debatable in view of 2001 census figures for Kashmir having been fudged and manipulated. Singh has however proposed in the Bill that even if concession for higher population is given to Kashmir region, the other factors weigh heavily for increase of seats for Jammu region.

LEGAL POSITION 
 Constitutionally, the delimitation can’t be taken up in the state without an amendment in the state constitution. In April 2002, the National Conference government had brought a bill to halt the delimitation process till 2026. The amendment says that the delimitation can be undertaken only after 2026.
 Interestingly, the bill was passed unanimously and the governor gave his assent on April 23, 2002. The BJP had five members in the assembly and Panthers Party one at that time. “They didn’t raise any voice against the bill and allowed it to pass unanimously. That means they were supporting the bill,” said a senior NC leader. The amendment was brought in section 47, sub-section 3 with its proviso saying explicitly it shall not be necessary to readjust the seats till 2026. The amendment has been brought into the RPA as well which governs the election process in the state.
 Constitutional experts say if any government wanted delimitation, it has to bring in a constitution amendment bill and in case it was not passed, the government has to resign.
 In 2007, the then chief minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, had convened a meeting of all parties to seek consensus for delimitation. He had reportedly said that his government could go for delimitation by an executive order. However, he was reminded that he had to bring in a constitution amendment bill for the purpose and if the bill fails to get through with 2/3 majority he has to resign.  
 Analysts argue that delimitation is not done on the basis of voter population but on various factors, including the overall population of the area. Section 47 (1) of the state constitution says, “The legislative assembly shall consist of one hundred and eleven members chosen by direct election from territorial constituencies in the state.” And its section (2) says, “For the purpose of sub-section (i) the state shall be divided into single member territorial constituencies by such authority and in such manner as the legislature may by law determine.”
 They argue that if the criterion of larger area were taken into consideration, then the erstwhile Doda district has larger area than that of rest of Jammu region. On that plea, the erstwhile Doda district should get more seats. Moreover, the delimitation has taken place in the state in accordance with the delimitation commission report constituted during president’s rule. It has not taken place in several other states of India since 1950, when the constitution of India came into force.

VOTER POPULATION
 In the proposed bill, Singh has not mentioned the voter population this time. Earlier both the BJP and Panthers Party would call for delimitation citing the voter population as reason. This time Kashmiris came forward to register themselves as voters, though not in large numbers. It brought substantial change and punctured the voter argument of Jammu.
 The recent revision of electoral rolls in Jammu and Kashmir revealed that Kashmir valley has more voter population than the other regions. As per the recent revision carried out by the Election Commission of India in January-February last year, voter population of the Valley is 32,60,663. The total electoral population of the Valley as per 2006 revision was 31,55,890. 
 Sources said if the Valley shows interest in completing the formalities its voter population would be far higher than what it is presently. In Leh and Kargil districts of Ladakh the number of electors as per 2008 revision is 1,52,513 with Leh having 74,396 electors and Kargil 78,117. 
 In Jammu division, electors as per 2008 revision are 30,84,417. According to 2006 revision the total electors in Jammu division were 29,88,876. 
 A senior leader said the day Kashmiris start participating in the Census and register themselves as voters, Jammu politicians would lose all arguments.

SINGH’ SOLUTION
 Harsh Dev Singh has proposed in the bill an increase in the Assembly seats from existing 111 to 140. The 140 seats are proposed to be equally allocated between Jammu and Kashmir regions, with 52 seats for Jammu region, 52 seats for Kashmir region, 6 seats for Ladakh region and 30 seats for AJK.  
 He says out of 30 seats for AJK 8 seats could be assigned to AJK migrants who are already domiciled in this part of state.

FLAWED SOLUTION 
 Politicians of Jammu and Kashmir argue these demands are coming from areas and districts already enjoying the “administrative empowerment” and giving them more seats in the assembly would “dis-empower Kashmiris in particular, and Muslims in general, from a little political empowerment they have in the Muslim majority state of Jammu and Kashmir.” 
 The veracity of the population figures reflected in the censuses in the past has also been questioned. “Even as the population of Kashmir valley is decidedly higher, the figures reflected in various censuses are far less than what these actually are,” said a PDP leader. First of all delimitation is not possible at all this time, a top government official said. Besides, he said, migration didn’t take place only in Jammu. “Enlisting migrants from across as voters is dangerous. It didn’t happen in Bengal, it didn’t happen in Assam and it did happen even in Punjab, the state that was directly hit by partition. And it shouldn’t happen in the state,” he said.

CHENAB VALLEY AND HILL DEVELOPMENT 
 The delimitation demand comes from politicians of Jammu, Kathua and Udhampur districts who already enjoy substantial clout in the State. The MLAs from other four districts of Jammu have different demands. 
 PDP leader Chowdhary Zulfikar Ali calls for creation of Hill Development Council for Rajouri-Poonch region. He said the region has a distinguished cultural, linguistic and socio-economic condition as compared to other regions of the state. The people of this region have the same problems which the people of Leh and Kargil are facing. About 70% of the area is still un-electrified, 50% is without proper drinking water facility, medicare is negligible, the educational system is worse and most of the area is without road connectivity. 
 MLA Doda Abdul Majid had brought private member’s bill in the Assembly for the Hill Development Council for Doda.  
 Senior politicians of both Peoples Democratic Party and National Conference said Kashmir had more population than Jammu and, in case of geographical areas, Pir Panchal region has three times more area than Jammu, Kathua and Samba districts put together. “If area and backwardness is the criterion for more seats, then why don’t politicians of these two and a half districts (erstwhile) support the Chenab Valley Hill Development Council for Pir Panchal region,” said a senior NC leader adding, “the communalists of Jammu have raised such unconstitutional demands in the past as a blackmailing tactics to suppress the genuine demands of the people of the state.”

PDP’S POSITION 
 The PDP president Mehbooba Mufti told Greater Kashmir that her party has firm stand on the issue and whenever the bill would be brought ‘we will stick to our stand.’ 
 Elaborating, she said first of all the delimitation of the constituencies wouldn’t take place till 2026. She however said that coalition government had decided that if ever the need arises the seats should be increased on the existing position by 20 percent. “Our stand is clear on it and everyone knows that,” she said.  
 The PDP general secretary Nizamudin Bhat said, “If the objective of bill is to maintain demographic, regional balance, we will debate it. In no way we will allow a debate if the design is to overawe the majority community or create impression that there is a regional imbalance.”

NC’S POSITION 
 The National Conference is keeping its cards closed. “Let us see when the bill would be tabled in the House,” said senior leader and minister Ali Muhammad Sagar. He however said it was NC that brought the bill to halt delimitation till 2026.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

How Sick Is My Valley?

In 3 years, valley hospitals sell 1.32 crore OPD ticket
Kashmiris spend Rs 1000 crore on drug purchase annually.
NASEER A GANAI
Srinagar, Feb 14: The figures are staggering: For last three years 16 lakh OPD tickets have been sold by the Sheri Kashmir Institute of the Medical Sciences (SKIMS.) The Associated Hospital of the Government Medical College Srinagar has sold nearly 36.81 lakh OPD tickets in last three years. The Health Department has sold over 80 lakh tickets in past three years.
ANNUAL FIGURES 
In 2008, the SKIMS sold 735359 OPD tickets, highest in four years. In the same year the Government Medical College has sold 129500 tickets improving one lakh on previous years figure. In 2007-2008, 64 lakh OPD tickets were sold by the Health Department.    
 The controversial census of 2001 describes the population of the valley 54 lakhs. “The figures indicate that people visit hospitals in large numbers,” says a consultant in GMC. He however said that the sale of OPD tickets doesn’t mean that equal number of people have visited the hospital. He said on one OPD ticket patient visits hospital at least three times.
DRUG SALE 
With large number of people visiting the hospitals, Kashmir has become heaven for drug companies as well. The deputy drug controller Nazir Ahmad Wani says there are 11000 chemist and wholesalers in Kashmir. He says annually they do the business of over Rs 300 crores in Kashmir valley. However, Fayaz Ahmad Azad the General Secretary of the Chemists and Distributors Association says drug companies do business upto Rs 600 crore annually in Kashmir Valley. 
 Last year a leading pharmaceutical company owner in Srinagar had stated that people in Kashmir annually consume drugs worth Rs 1000 crore. Last year the Health Department has purchased drugs worth Rs 8.9 crores.
IS SITUATION ALARMING?
 The Principal Government Medical College Dr Mushtaq Ahmad Shah doesn’t describe the situation as alarming. He says people are aware about their health problems and they visit the SKIMS and the GMC and its associated hospital knowing well that they would get better health care facility there. “At the district level people usually don’t get the better facilities and this prompts them to visit the SKIMS and the associated hospitals of GMC,” Dr Shah said. He however said the flow of patients was causing problem for the hospitals. “If we start taking patients on referrals from the districts hospital that would help to improve the health system and reduce the burden on the SKIMS and the associated hospitals of the GMC,” Shah said.  
 He said associated hospital of GMC being tertiary care hospitals cater 35 percent of Kashmir valley. Senior doctors of GMC said that the patients seen by the tertiary care GMC and associated hospital and the SKIMS are huge considering their manpower and infrastructure. “There is some thing seriously wrong with the system and it has to be set in order,” said a consultant.
 The senior doctors of SKIMS said the day the SKIMS and the GMC would refuse to see patients without referrals that day would expose the Health system in Kashmir. 
  “It is not well for the SKIMS. The SKIMS is the institute for the research purpose and it is meant to see only referral patients and emergency cases,” said a senior doctor of the SKIMS pleading anonymity. He said patients who visit without referrals to the SKIMS is “huge burden on the hospital.” 
 The Director Health Kashmir Dr Muzaffer agrees that the tertiary care hospitals are over-burdened. He says there is need to create 300 bed hospitals at the district level and recruit specialists. He said there was need to infuse more manpower and infrastructure in rural health sector.
HALF-BAKED RESEARCH 
 A senior doctor of SKIMS has other view on the issue. He said for past so many years doctors come up with researches that have no basis like stating 40 percent youth from 25-40 age group are suffering from diabetes. “I think such claims create panic and people rush to hospitals,” said a senior doctor of SKIMS pleading anonymity.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Kashmir is not leaderless

And there is no point in criticizing pro-freedom leaders, comments Naseer A Ganai.

The campaign has begun. And there seems to be no end to it. That there are no leaders in Kashmir, and they should be replaced by some unknown faces. The discourse is dominant about the separatist leaders, and it has gained momentum after the seven phase elections held in November-December 2008. People participated in the elections despite the poll boycott call from the separatist leaders. And now those who were then predicting that people would not participate in the elections, have started hounding the separatist leadership. The separatist leaders, like columnists, erred in gauging the mood of people. And now the process has begun to condemn them. But if people have voted and voted for the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party, does it mean it is the end of everything.
One should remember the NC stands for autonomy and the Peoples Democratic for the Self-rule. That means both consider Kashmir a disputed region.
Still some elements here have gone to the extent of asking senior pro-freedom leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani to act as spiritual leader. Their excuse is that Geelani is ailing and aged.  And for Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, they have a bizarre and dangerous comment: “That the Hurriyat led by him has always been indulging in anti-freedom movement activities.” There is no end to allegations. But the question is, if Mirwaiz Umar is not the leader, and if Geelani is not capable, then who are the leaders in Kashmir? Accepted Geelani has shortcomings, so has young Mirwaiz. Accepted their decision failed to yield desired results at times. But does that mean that they have no capability and they are deadwood, and they should be hounded out. During the uprising these leaders were sought by people. Geelani, Mirwaiz and Malik were literally dragged out of their houses, and were asked to lead. They were the rallying points, and now they are being targeted for being the rallying points. 

They talk sense whenever they speak, and know the realities on ground. The condemnation of Geelani over closure of schools by Taliban in Swat and North Western Frontier Province is the most important statement given by him. He conveyed to the world that Kashmiri leaders are different, and not averse to change.
The question is if someone believes that pro-freedom leadership that comprises of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Muhammad Yasin Malik, Shabir Shah, Sajjad Gani Lone and others have failed to deliver and they should be replaced, should they be replaced by those whom no one knows? The pro-freedom leaders from Mirwaiz to Shabir Ahmad Shah, Geelani to Malik, Sajjad to Shah cannot be sidelined because someone wishes so, or desires so. The wishes and whims of individuals don’t make the leaders. That whenever any individual presumes time has come to replace a leader, the leader should be replaced. 
No one says that there should not be retrospection. There is no harm in asking questions and seeking answers. In fact questions should be asked and answers sought. Over the
years the separatist leaders have failed to strengthen the democracy within their own parties. Had they strengthened the democracy within their parties, the scene would have been different today.
That would have strengthened the institutions. In democracy the stature of the leader never diminishes. In fact in true democracy status of leaders gets elevated. 
No doubt the leadership has failed to establish welfare institutions as well. And in recent times, instead of talking to each other, they were in habit of talking at each other. Had they established welfare institutions, had there been welfare institutions in place, the situation would have been far different. And there would have been far greater trust of people on the leadership. But then Kashmiris are not so lucky.  
Despite the failures, the separatist leadership couldn’t be described as bunch of nincompoops. When the separatist leaders claim that they represent sentiments of the people, are they conscious of their responsibilities. 
They should be repeatedly made conscious about their responsibilities instead of calling them ‘agents’.
Be it the mainstream pro-India parties or the pro-freedom separatist parties, Kashmir has been fortunate enough to produce leaders that could give run for money to any political leader in the South Asia.
In mainstream you have Omer Abdullah, Mufti Muhammad Syeed, Mehbooba Mufti, even for that matter Abdul Rahim Rather, Mehboob Beg, Muzaffer Hussain Baig and number of other persons, who could be equated with any leader in India or in Pakistan.
In separatist camp, there is Geelani, there is Mirwaiz Umar, Yasin, Shah, Sajjad, and all believe in non-violence and resolution of Kashmir dispute in accordance with the wishes of Kashmiri people. So there is no need to be despondent.

Children of stone:
On Sunday the noted columnist Ajaz-ul-Haq in his column “Stone Age” described throwing of stones by children and youth in Kashmir as “savagery.” He wrote: “The clutches of stone throwers comprise mostly children in their teens. Besides, it is being warmly participated by those bitten by the bug of joblessness. It is good day for someone in search of smoking off the frustration of domestic, emotional, economic or professional deprivation.” There is no harm in commenting on utility of routine stone pelting after every Friday. But describing it as savagery is going too far. If the word savagery is used for the stone throwing, then we have to invent words for the custodial killings, tortures, disappearances and other human rights abuses. 
In December 2008 whole Greece was up in arms. The rioting began shortly after a 15-year-old was fatally shot in what the police said was a confrontation with a mob. The government charged one police officer with premeditated manslaughter in the case and another as an accomplice. A writer termed the six-day uprising in Greece as “Greek intifada".  He wrote: “The "weapons" used by the teenagers in this "intifada" were their burning anger, their maturity, and predominately, Seville oranges, the traditional Greek student weapon against the police.” 70 people were killed in Kashmir uprising, and afterwards, scores booked under the PSA. Above all there is constant state of siege. So writers must understand the pain which people of Kashmir have gone through over the years. In 2000, writing its report on Israel's policing of the riots, "Israel and the Occupied Territories: Excessive Use of Lethal Force", Amnesty International asked a former senior police officer, Dr Stephen Males, who has made extensive studies in policing riots to participate in the first of three missions to Israel and the Occupied territories. Dr Stephen Males had said that for a force trained in policing riots and equipped and prepared for stone throwers, neither stones nor petrol bombs should be lethal. Therefore, there should be no need for the use of firearms, let alone lethal force against stone throwers.
In Palestine, the writers and poets have nothing but kind words for children who in desperation run after Israeli tanks with stones. Newspaper reports indicate that there are many poets in the Arab world. Throughout the Arab world poetry belongs to everyone—to the taxi driver and farmer, every bit as much as to the professor of literature. While even the school children study poetry, the Arabic-speaking world is still a place where oral tradition flourishes. To this day, there are elderly Palestinian poets in the refugee camps of Lebanon, who never learned to read or write, but are poets nonetheless, memorizing their own works, reciting them to friends and family, some of whom in turn memorize and recite them to new audiences. They understand pain and agony of children of Palestine. Syrian poet Nizar Qabani describes them as “Children of stone.” In his poem “I AM WITH TERRORISM”, he beautifully sums up agonies of writers in the countries without post offices as well:A homeland forbidding us from buying a newspaper
or listening to the news.
A dominion wherein birds are forbidden
from chirping.
A homeland where, out of terror,
Its writers became accustomed to writing about nothing.

Punjab, Haryana thrive on JK wool

Naseer A Ganai 

Srinagar, Feb 9: If you thought the whopping wool production in J&K helped its economy, you are wrong. The gargantuan wool production in J&K, if the experts are to be believed, actually helps the Punjab and Haryana economies to grow. 

Statistics:
 J&K annually produces 64 lakh kilograms of wool, but it is not processed in the state, the proper infrastructure in place notwithstanding. 
 On the contrary, the wool produced here is procured by outsiders for processing in Punjab and Haryana. Interestingly, after processing the finished products like blankets, crewel yarn, etc are supplied to Kashmir.
Consequences:
 Thousands of handlooms are idle in J&K. The Bemina Woolen Mills, UNDP, the Handloom Development Corporation have turned sick and their employees are without salaries for months together.
Past efforts :
 Sources said the former Ghulam Nabi Azad led government had made an effort to revive the woolen industry in Kashmir and on June 6, 2007 the then minister for the Animal and Sheep Husbandry, Taj Mohi-ud-Din had issued directions to the J&K Sheep and Sheep Products Development Board to procure all wool from farmers and breeders in J&K and process it in its units for the production of goods like blankets, crewel yarn, etc. Presently, it is procuring only 3 to 5 lakh kgs of the wool. 
 The former minister, sources said, had made it mandatory to all the government departments to procure woolen items from the JK Woolen Board and directed police, health and tourism departments to purchase blankets form the Board.
 Subsequently, the government decided to revive the closed handloom plants.  It started from the Solina Shoddy plant. Sources said during Mufti-led coalition government, the Jammu Kashmir Industries had mooted a proposal to auction the Shoddy plant for Rs 32 lakhs only. The JK Industries, sources said, had opposed the revival of the plant stating that it would cost Rs 2.70 crores. But Azad Government nixed the JKI proposal and asked textile expert Bilal Shah to revive the plant. 
 Shah revived the plant having machinery worth Rs 36 crores by investing only Rs one lakh. But for past three months, the plant is not functioning, sources said. 
 Sources said the plant was closed down as the government departments didn’t purchase the material from the plant instead they went ahead with tendering process and purchased the items from outside the state.
Orders go outside:
 On June 9, 2008 the police department invited tenders for the woolen items including shirting Angola woolen khaki, 50000 meters, serge woolen khaki 40,000 meters, terricot khaki 70,000 meters. The department didn’t approach the Wool Board to purchase the same. The other three plants Bemina Spinning Mill, Nowshehra and UNDP having the machinery over Rs 60 crores are still sick and closed down.   
 “There is no assured market for the products processed in the state,” said Dr Yousuf Hassan, chairman Wool Board. 
 He said the blankets processed in the Shoddy plant cost Rs 750 but no one purchased it. The departments purchased the blankets from outside the state at Rs 500. “Unless and until the plants are revived and assured market provided in the state nothing would happen,” he said. 
  “The Wool Board’s job is to provide market support to farmers and ensure that they should not be cheated by outsiders who purchase their raw wool,” the official said, adding that five years ago the wool was at Rs 20 per kg and today it is at Rs 40 per kg.


Will Omer complete grandpa's project


31 Years On Desa-Kaprin Road Still A Distant Dream
Naseer A Ganai 
Srinagar, Feb 9: For the past 31 years, successive regimes have failed to complete the construction of an alternate road to link Doda, Kisthwar districts, which are presently cut off from the rest of the world, with Kashmir.
 Last week, heavy landslide washed away 200 meters of Batote Kisthwar highway connecting the twin districts with rest of the world bringing back into focus the urgency to provide an alternate route to the hill region. “It was washed away due to construction of Baglihar dam. The government must seriously think about completing the work on alternate routes to the two districts,” said an official hailing from the area.   
 The Kaprin-Dessa road taken up in the 1978 is the alternate link to Doda district. Once completed, it will link the two Kashmiri speaking districts with Islamabad in Kashmir region. In the three decades past, out of its 110-km length, only 24 km from Doda side and 45 km from Kashmir side have been constructed.  
 From the valley side, officials said, earthwork had been completed on 7.5 km out of 45 km from Kaprin. On the Doda side, 24 km stretch upto to Manjami has been made motorable. The chief engineer, Roads and Buildings, Kashmir, Mir Muhammad Shafi, claimed that 30 km from Kashmir side was motorable. “But presently it is closed due to snow,” he said.   
 Syed Hanif Hashmi, president of the Chenab Valley Development Council, which is demanding  a Hill Development Council for the Chenab valley districts, said the construction of the road was a dream of late Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. 
 Initially, Hashmi said, the plan was to extend Doda –Desa road to Kaprin to link it up with eventually with Kashmir. “When Sheikh Abdullah issued single line administration order in 1976, Doda being backward area was given District Development Board. Sheikh Abdullah was its chairman and Mirza Afzal Beg, deputy chairman.” 
 In 1977, Hashmi said, he was the member of the Board when the proposal for the road was mooted. “The proposal was approved and the work was started in 1978.” 
 Among the politicians of Doda, late Attaullah Suharwardy was at the forefront. “He always wished that project should be completed but his wish was not fulfilled,” he said. 
 Hashmi said that this vital project remained incomplete due to political indifference. 
 A senior official of Roads and Building Department said that only Rs 46 crore were required to complete the project. “Lack of adequate funds is hampering the work,” he said.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Khalid Hassan is no more

Khalid Hassan is no more. He died of prostrate cancer in Washington DC on Friday. He was born in Srinagar, Kashmir.
He began his long career in journalism and writing with The Pakistan Times, Lahore as senior reporter and columnist in 1967. He was asked by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on taking office in December 1971 to join him as his first press secretary. He went on to spend five years in the country’s Foreign Service, with postings in Paris, Ottawa and London. He resigned in protest when the Bhutto government was overthrown by Gen Zia-ul-Haq and worked in London with the Third World Foundation and the Third World Media before leaving to join the newly-established OPEC News Agency (OPECNA) in Vienna, Austria, where he stayed for 10 years. He returned to Pakistan briefly in 1991 where he worked as a freelance journalist for the next two years. He moved to Washington DC in 1993 and worked out of there as US correspondent for The Nation, Lahore. From 1997 to 2000 he was in Pakistan as head of the Shalimar Television Network. He returned to Washington in 2000 as special correspondent of the Associated Press of Pakistan, which he left to join Daily Times and The Friday Times, Lahore in 2002. He continues to work as the correspondent and columnist of these two publications in Washington. Khalid Hasan is a prolific writer and translator. He has published over 40 books, in Pakistan and abroad.
I won’t claim I know him. But I used to read his articles about Kashmir polity in the daily Kashmir Monitor and the Kashmir Times. His pieces were always great read. In 2006, I think Khalid was in Kashmir and he wrote a poignant piece on Srinagar city. He wrote, “There isn’t a sadder city than Srinagar. I have a deep, almost mystical link with it, having been born there, and I have often dreamt about it in strange, disjointed ways.” His depiction of Srinagar city, its roads, omnipresent dogs, second hand clothes, troops and wretched condition of its people were really moving.   
His colleagues and friends say that Khalid sahib was many things to many people. Journalist, columnist, translator of Faiz and Manto, Kashmir chronicler, press secretary to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, international civil servant and poet. 

I reproduce his articles on Srinagar city and June uprising for all to read.   

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A Different View of Srinagar

By Khalid Hasan
SRINAGAR, May 24: There isn’t a sadder city than Srinagar. I have a deep, almost mystical link with it, having been born there, and I have often dreamt about it in strange, disjointed ways. 
The last time I was there was in 1983. Another 22 years were to pass before my stars would take me there again. It is less than three weeks as I write this since I was there and though I have spoken about what I saw of it and what I experienced, this is the first time I am trying to write about it. 
One of the most eerie experiences I have ever had was being driven in a car through the streets of the city at around 10.30 at night and finding them utterly deserted. 
Srinagar had turned into a ghost town. The city shuts its doors soon after nightfall. All one came upon in the streets were packs of howling dogs that chased the car for varying distances and then gave up. 
The inside lights of the car had been kept on, that being the regulation laid down by the Indian security forces that patrol the streets night and day. A darkened car runs the risk of being fired on. There was no sound at all except the noise the tyres made on the metalled road and the dogs which barked dementedly. And why were there so many stray dogs in the streets? Because the security forces let them prowl around as an early warning of intrusion. 
When I went to Srinagar in 1983, which was six years before the uprising, even then the city was practically crawling with Indian soldiers. There were bunker-like structures everywhere. You couldn’t walk a hundred yards without running into Indian military presence. 
This alone, it occurred to me then, was enough to debunk the myth that the Kashmiris had reconciled themselves to living under Indian rule or being an integral part of India. If you need armed troops to keep control over people you call your citizens, then you might as well let them go. All nation states in the end are the result of a social contract. 
There never was any social contract in Kashmir and there is not going to be one. It is not true, as India maintains, that but for Pakistani interference, the Kashmiris would be happily living as happy Indian citizens. 
Srinagar is a ravaged city. It is also one of the most dusty cities that I have been to, which makes no sense because it is a city that lies beside one of the world’s most beautiful lakes and on either side of the meandering Jhelum river. But the city has crumbled. Fifty-seven years of conflict have taken their toll. 
There is no road in the Srinagar that is whole. When I mentioned this to Mehbooba Mufti, the chief minister’s daughter and a member of the Indian lower house, she said that was because of the snows, but it is not true. People told me that even before the snows came, it wasn’t much different. 
The Dal Lake is overgrown with weeds and seriously polluted. It needs to be dredged and there have been efforts to do so but their impact remains minimal. Some people said a great deal of the money for this gigantic project had disappeared into the pockets of dishonest officials and politicians. Perhaps. 
What is sold on the streets of a city tells you a great deal about that city and its people. In Srinagar I found seller after seller of second-hand clothing, their none-too-attractive wares placed on the footpath. Most people you see on the street look harried, ill-at-ease and tense. 
There are few signs of prosperity. Unemployment, especially among the educated, is said to be high. The shops are poorly stocked and what they stock is of poor quality. The two main bookshops of the city have more old books than new. There are no more than a couple of proper restaurants that you can eat at, the best, I suppose being the old Ahdoo’s overlooking the once elegant Bund. 
The old houses, of which Srinagar is full, look as if they are about to fall. Anywhere else they would have been pronounced unfit for human habitation. The once picturesque bridges over Jhelum look ramshackle. Srinagar no longer is a city of gardens. The trees of Wazir Bagh and Gol Bagh have made way for urban ugliness. The Nagin Lake, one of the world’s most beautiful, is a cesspool. 
The grand maples of Nasim Bagh still stand but there used to be far more of them than there are today. Next to it stands the University of Kashmir and not far from there lies Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah in a marble grave. He is gone but the Kashmiris believe he it is who is responsible for their misfortunes. 
Kashmiris are deeply suspicious of the India-Pakistan peace process. They are not sure where it will leave them. They feel that some kind of an understanding or arrangement has been made between the two countries over their heads and, once again, as in their long and sad history, they are going to be bartered away without being asked. 
The Hurriyat is fragmented and people hold the ubiquitous ISI responsible for that. They say the ISI wants to control the movement as it controlled the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. Everyone believes that Abdul Ghani Lone was killed by the same outfit because he wanted the Kashmiris to be “left alone.” 
The alienation with India is total. No Kashmiri sees himself as an Indian. When I say Kashmiri, I mean the Muslims of the Valley. Nor do they want union with Pakistan as they once did. There is great disillusionment with the policies followed by Pakistan at their expense. Everyone you talk to wants “Azadi”. What that means is not quite spelled out. They are realistic enough to know that neither India nor Pakistan will even entertain such a possibility. 
I asked one Kashmiri if he would spell out what he wanted. He said what he and what the people of the Valley wanted was simple. They wanted to be demilitarized. All troops, all fighters no matter what side they belong to, should quit Kashmir. Normal life which the Kashmiris have not known for over half a century should be restored. Kashmir should be rebuilt and rehabilitated. 
As you stand on the streets of what was once a paradise on earth, you wonder if that would ever come to pass. No matter how it is to be brought about, it is time that the sufferings of the Kashmiris came to an end. The Kashmiris have been crucified over and over again. Whatever it takes, it is the first moral duty of the governments of India and Pakistan to bring this tragedy to an end and let the Kashmiris live without the barrel of a gun staring them in the face, every time they step out of their homes. 
The reality of Kashmir today is the graveyard of the martyrs where almost all graves are those of young men cut down in the first flower of their youth. It is a shattering experience. In one corner, there stands an empty grave but it has a headstone that says this is where “Shaheed-e-Azam Maqbool Butt” will one day find rest. 
Right now he lies in the compound of the Tihar Jail in Delhi where he was hanged. How many more graves do the Kashmiris have to dig before their persecution comes to an end, I keep asking myself. 

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Kashmir: azadi, azadi, azadi

The Vale of Kashmir has risen in revolt once again. Scenes being witnessed in Srinagar are reminiscent of 1953, when the moo-e-mubarik, believed to be the Holy Prophet's hair, mysteriously disappeared from Hazratbal, where it had been kept for hundreds of years. The second time the Kashmiris of the Valley rose as one was in 1989, when their peaceful march to the Srinagar office of the United Nations was fired upon by Indian security forces without provocation. This was the beginning of the uprising, which eventually assumed a militant character and which has remained alive from that day on, sometimes up, sometimes down, but always there.

And now the Kashmiris have risen again. In the words of the admirable Arundhati Roy, "For the past 60 days or so, since about the end of June, the people of Kashmir have been free. Free in the most profound sense. They have shrugged off the terror of living their lives in the gun-sights of half a million heavily armed soldiers, in the most densely militarised zone in the world." Pakistan's leaders, caught in their power squabbles, have done no more than issue the odd, cliché-ridden statement or two. The foreign minister of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, whom I had thought capable of better, and who should have seized this moment to press the issue at the United Nations, instead was seen moving a resolution in the National Assembly calling for the repatriation of Afia Siddiqui, who, as events unfold, will come to be seen as quite different from what she is being projected as.

Arundhati Roy, who really and truly is the conscience of India, nowhere in evidence otherwise, writes, "Day after day, hundreds of thousands of people swarm around places that hold terrible memories for them. They demolish bunkers, break through cordons of concertina wire and stare straight down the barrels of soldiers' machine guns, saying what very few in India want to hear. Hum Kya Chahtey? Azadi! And, it has to be said, in equal numbers and with equal intensity: Jeevey Jeevey Pakistan. That sound reverberates through the valley like the drumbeat of steady rain on a tin roof, like the roll of thunder during an electric storm." Who knows where it will end but one thing is certain: the fear of Indian military might no longer holds sway in the Valley.

It is not only the Kashmiris who have died by the thousand under Indian occupation; the fabled beauty of Kashmir has been under more relentless an assault by the occupiers. Kashmir's beauty was the first to be raped, its women, a close second. The world has cared for neither the former nor the latter. God made Kashmir more beautiful than any other place on earth, but, ironically, also the most tragic. Iqbal wanted to shake away the hand that oppressed the Kashmiris. He died with that hope unfulfilled; so did the Quaid, and Ghulam Abbas and KH Khurshid.

Twenty years of conflict and the hated presence of half a million Indian soldiers have played havoc with Kashmir's beauty. Some 10 years ago, a study by Christopher Duvall stated, "The civil war in Kashmir has had a devastating effect on the Dal Lake ecosystem – the Dal was like a pearl surrounded by mountains. Central to the Dal Lake problem is the semi-legal slashing of moutainside forests by the military factions and their opponents." He pointed out that the Dal was being overrun by weeds, choked with silt and saturated with pollution. When I was in Srinagar in 2005, it looked even worse. A rare species of red deer that used to flourish in the Dachigam national park outside Srinagar is also gone, as are many of the birds and fish. What value can poor animals and birds have for those who have no value for human life?

This is no longer the storied Kashmir of yesteryears. About the Dal Lake, Sir Walter Lawrence wrote, "The mountain ridges which are reflected in its waters as in a mirror, are grand and varied, green tints of the trees and the mountain sides are refreshing to the eye, but it is perhaps in October that the colours of the Lake are most charming. The willows change from green to silver gray and delicate russet, with the red tone on the stems and branches, casting colours on the clear water of the Lake, which contrast most beautifully with the rich olives and yellow greens of the floating masses of water weed. The chinars are warm with crimson, and the poplars stand up like golden poles to the sky. On the mountain sides, the trees are red and gold and the scene one of unequalled loveliness."

Lawrence's description of the colours of Kashmir and the quality of light, which is unique to the Valley, has become a classic. He writes, "It would be difficult to describe the colours that are seen on the Kashmir mountains. In early morning, they are often a delicate semi-transparent violet relieved against a saffron sky, and with light vapours clinging round their crests. The rising sun deepens the shadows and produces sharp outlines and strong passages of blue and lavender, with white snow peaks and ridges under a vertical sun; and as the afternoon wears on, these become richer violet and pale bronze, gradually changing to rose and pink with yellow and orange snow, till the last rays of the sun have gone, leaving the mountains dyed a ruddy crimson, with the snows showing a pale creamy green by contrast. Looking downward from the mountains, the Valley in the sunshine has the hues of an opal, the pale reds of the karewa, the vivid light greens of the young rice, and the darker shades of the groves of trees relieved by sunlight sheets, gleams of water and soft blue haze, give a combination of tints reminding one irresistibly of the changing hues of that gem. It is impossible to do justice to the beauty and grandeur of the mountains of Kashmir, or to enumerate the lovely glades and forests, visited by so few."

The Kashmir that cast such a spell on Lawrence now exists in his chronicle more than it exists on the ground. What remains of its beauty will become extinct unless, as Iqbal dreamt, the cruel hand that has done Kashmir violence is shaken away. If the world stands aside in unconcern, watching death and destruction consume the Valley and its people, all that would be left of this "white footprint set in a mass of black mountains" will be ravaged earth, haunted by the spirits of its martyrs. 
(Friday Times)

This entry was posted on Friday, September 5th, 2008 at 3:23 pm .