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.
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