Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009: The Year That Drowned In Shopian

By Naseer A Ganai

Srinagar, Dec 29: To understand  2009, one must revisit 2008.

After massive uprising of 2008 the mainstream political parties preferred to remain quiet about State assembly elections. The Peoples Democratic Party was unsure about the participation of people in elections and wanted to defer it. The National Conference however was keen to take the plunge. But it was cautious. In its first public rally the NC president Omer Abdullah addressing people at Budgam said, “These elections are for water, electricity

 and roads. If Hurriyat promises me that they would bring all these things to people, I won’t participate in elections,” Omer said and thus confined the role of State Assembly to the development activities. PDP chided Omer for this. “The Assembly is not Municipality,” it said. Come December 2008 people surprised everyone.

There were huge queues outside the polling booths. Peoples Conference Chairman Sajjad Gani Lone described polling as “setback to pro-freedom leaders” but warned that it should not be construed as defeat of freedom struggle and people of Kashmir shouldn’t be targeted for participating in the poll process.

 “We are not preaching defeatism here; we are speaking from a place of confidence. We are a capable nation and we certainly rise above our present shortfalls. If there is a setback we will have to reverse the setback and do what it takes to reverse the setback,” Sajjad said. Geelani lamented over the polling and accused Peoples Conference of supporting three contesting candidates from Kupwara. Sajjad hit back at Geelani describing him “a liar, a curse on nation” and challenged him to prove the allegations. Geelani choose not respond to the diatribe.

The separatist camp was shaken by huge participation of people in elections. Indian media was upbeat. Pranoy Roy of NDTV told Mushahid Hussain after the polls that Pakistan should accept the reality now. Mushahid, a seasoned politician had hearty laugh. “If you are confident about Kashmir then let us have plebiscite,” he responded. The answer left Roy speechless and he started muttering something angrily.

But in Kashmir mainstream played safe with NC leading from front. New Delhi shouldn’t read too much in the huge participation said Omer. PDP too had word of caution. It said, the government OF India shouldn’t disappoint people of Jammu and Kashmir now.

In elections NC didn’t improve upon its previous tally but it managed to enter into alliance with the Congress. The PDP improved its tally from 16 to 21 but failed to form the government.

Dr Farooq Abdullah was more than happy. “Yes, you are talking to future Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir,” he told NDTV in an interview. Two days later he had to vacate the seat for his son Omer. Sonia Gandhi, it is said, put her foot down for nomination Farooq. He finally happily settled for unknown Ministry of energy emanating from solar light.  Finally the National Conference and the Congress formed a coalition after the assembly elections in December and Omar Abdullah, 39, was sworn in as the Chief Minister on January 8.   

Omer saw his first challenge in February. Two persons were killed in an army firing at Bomai Sopur in north Kashmir, triggering massive protests. Omer ordered an inquiry and it held a major and two soldiers were found responsible for the killing. Omer went against Army. In an interview to TV Channel he said the goons in uniform would not be tolerated. He went to meet Defence Minister seeking shifting of the camp. Finally the camp was shifted. Omer didn’t play it up and PDP praised him for the stand.

Soon Parliament elections were held. It saw less turn out than the Assembly polls. But it also saw Sajjad Gani Lone, the spokesman of the movement in 2008, switching towards the pro-India politics. He decided to take plunge in the elections. He described it as the change of strategy. But the change of strategy didn’t save from the waterloo. He lost and went into long hibernation. He has not been seen since his lost ‘battle.’ 

Meanwhile, Omer went on to celebrate his 100th day in office promising prosperity and development. He gave interviews to the all most all papers of Jammu and Kashmir, and national dailies. Everything, it seemed, was going well. But then it is Kashmir. Every good thing here is followed by a bad thing. And every bad thing is followed by worst. The worst came on May 30, 2009. On this day two bodies were found on the banks of stream Rambiara in Shopian district.  They were of Aasiya Jan, 17, and her sister-in-law, Neelofar. The bodies of Neelofar Jan wife of Shakeel Ahmad Ahangar and Aasiya Jan daughter of Abdul Gani Ajangar, both residents of Bungam, were found near Rambiara nullah around 6 am at some distance from a CRPF camp on May 30. According to locals, Aasiya, 17, and her 3-month pregnant sister-in-law, Neelofar, 24, were missing since May 29 evening after they had gone into their orchard at Degam, Batpora across the nullah.

Locals and the family accused men in uniform of raping and then murdering the women. Kashmir believed and trusted them. It rose in unison to protest. The authorities clamped undeclared curfew across valley. Kashmiris defied it. For seven days whole valley observed strike. Shopian continued the strike upto 47 days. The hangover of 2008 elections over the separatists was over. The separatists returned on front seat again. Kashmir again proved Pranoy Roy and his national media wrong.

Geelani set the tone this way: “Hurriyat rejects the government inquiry. Apparently it seems that troopers are involved in this heinous act. Asking a police officer to head the Special Investigation Team doesn’t make any sense. Doctors who conducted the post mortem had categorically said that Neelofar and her sister-in-law, Asiya, were gang raped before being murdered brutally.”

Chief Minister on June 1, 2009 tried to cool down the tempers. But ended up committing biggest ever blunder. He said that initial findings had ruled out rape and murder of two women in Shopian.  But he announced a judicial probe into the incident by a retired judge of the High Court.  “People have deep mistrust over the institutions and even if the government comes out with facts about the incident, they would not trust the findings,” he said and justifies the probe by retired judge.

He didn’t stop there. The chief minister asked the media not to blow “trivial issues out of proportion” and use the word alleged when the allegation has not been proved. Kashmir Bar rejected the probe. “The judicial commission is being set to know the facts. The government has already ruled out rape and murder. So what for they have established the judicial commission when it says it already knows the fact,” said the Bar.

The Kashmir Bar went to the Court. The Court passed orders, sought information, prodded special Investigation to speed up investigation. Jan Commission came up with the report, acknowledged the rape and murder but failed to identify the criminals. Protests continued in Kashmir. At least 12 persons were killed and over 1,000 injured during the protests so far. All separatists were kept in custody.

Sex in House 

On July 27, 2009 the Assembly was convened in Kashmir. The Shopian spark set the House on fire. The 30-day long budget session of the JK Legislative Assembly bagan with forced exit of Mehbooba Mufti, of the House by Assembly. Mehbooba snatched the microphone of the Speaker and threw it on the floor.

The speaker Akbar Lone set low standards by referring Mehbooba “that woman.” PDP president didn’t forgive Lone for his conduct. Next day on July 28, 2009, Lone allowed discussion on human rights. The Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was calmly listening to the Peoples Democratic Party member, Muzaffar Hussain Baig’s speech. Baig in beautifully crafted speech spoke about the Shopian incident and the government’s failure to respond to the situation arising out of the rape and murder of two young women.

However, before concluding, Baig referred to the sexual exploitation case that had hit the state in 2006. In the sexual exploitation case senior pro-India politicians, police officer, security officers were involved in exploiting girls. The High Court Bar Association had termed it as war crime against people ofKashmir struggling for right to self-determination. There was pin drop silence in the House. The chief minister was taking down notes for his reply. But soon everything changed. Baig said the CBI had produced a list of over 100 people involved in the sexploitation case. He passed on the list to the speaker Lone. And, before Lone could go through it, Baig threw a bombshell. “I have to say with regret, there is the name of Omar Abdullah son of Farooq Abdullah in the list. He figures at serial number 102. He has lost the moral authority to rule the state. He must resign,” he said and sat down. The allegation stunned the House. It took some time to the treasury benches to regain composure. Till then the PDP legislators led by the party president, Mehbooba Mufti, were on their toes chanting: “Ek Sau Do, Ek Sau Do (102, 102).”

Stunned CM wanted to speak up. He was not allowed. “I never knew they (PDP) will stoop so low,” Omar said. “Finally, they have blurted out the thing towards which they were pointing for years on. I know what has been said is mere allegation, and it is false. And the law is that man is not guilty until proven so. This maxim might be true about murders and robbery. But in case of this allegation leveled against me it has reverse meaning. Here I am guilty until proven innocent.  The allegation is a blot on my character. I want to resign till I am cleared of this false allegation. I cannot work till I am proved innocent. Whether any remarks are expunged or enquiries made by the Home Department is immaterial. Till I am able to prove my innocence, I am going to tender my resignation to the governor,” an emotional Omar said and submitted conditional resignation before the Governor. Home Ministry stepped in and said his name is not in the list. After it Omer was not seen in the House for almost two weeks and the PDP allowed the House to function.

Back to Shopian 

Shopian continued to dominate Kashmir politics. The High Court Bar Association withdrew from the case when the State government handed it over to the CBI. The Majlis Mushawarat, the group formed by Shopian people, after the rape and murder to fight for justice called off strike on assurance of the Chief Justice and decided to help the CBI. The government chose to be tight lipped. 

In August Jammu tried to raise the pitch over the Central University. Kashmir didn’t respond to provocation. Instead Jammu politicians had to taste own medicine of communal politics. MLAs from Pir Panchal, Chenab Valley rejected Jammu district demand and asked for establishing the University either in Doda or Rajouri. Ashok Khajuria was aghast over this defiance. But kept mum in the House knowing valley that Jammu is not Jammu and Kathua district. Omer managed to get two Universities. One for Kashmir one for Jammu.

There was more in the House. Ali Muhammad Sagar defended the draconian Public Safety Act and said the State was run because of it forgetting his long sermons on human rights when he was in the opposition. This year Najeeb Suharwardy came up with resolution on Chenab Valley Hill Development Council for Chenab Valley. It was passed.

Come September Kashmir reverberated in UN General Assembly. But this time it was Pakistan which raised the issue.

"Kashmir should be an independent state, not Indian, not Pakistani. We should end this conflict. It should be a Ba'athist state between India and Pakistan," the Libyan leader Muammer Gaddafi   said in his address to the UN General Assembly. India rejected his statement and India media dismissed it.

Gaddafi was followed by China. China asked India and Pakistan to seek a solution to the Kashmir issue through peaceful and friendly consultations and offered to play a constructive role in resolving the Kashmir issue. Hu Zhengyue, Chinese Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs, in charge of the Asian region said: “As a friendly country, China would also be happy to see progress in the peace process between India and Pakistan.” Kashmir, he said, is an issue that has been longstanding left from history. “This issue touches the bilateral relations between the relevant countries," he said. India didn’t respond. Strangely! Might is always right. Isn’t?There was more to come.

The Organization of Islamic Conference, an international organisation with a permanent delegation to the United Nations, appointed a special envoy on Jammu and Kashmir. It appointed Abdullah Bin Adbul Rahman Al Bakr as the special envoy on Kashmir. The OIC would be first such organisation to appoint the envoy. India was shocked and its foreign office rejected the move. 

In October China started giving loose visas to Jammu and Kashmir subjects. Indian media raised the war cry forcing the Government to respond. It said nothing to China but rejected the lose visas. Pakistan too hardened its stand. At a special committee of the General Assembly it said decolonization agenda of the United Nations would remain incomplete without resolving Kashmir dispute. 

In October the Home Minister talked about the quiet dialogue and said the government of India was willing to talk to anyone for resolution of Kashmir issue through quiet diplomacy and quiet dialogue, away from media glare. Soon the Hurriyat moderate faction led by Mirwaiz Umar started dominating newspapers. Govt of India however started the quiet dialogue with bang. It banned the prepaid mobile phones in November in the state. Geelani released after long incarnation rejected the quiet dialogue and quiet diplomacy. Soon the civil society joined the fray.It ended in murderous assault on Fazal Haq Qurashi. Qurashi survived the attack but it killed the quietness of the dialogue forever. Mirwaiz said there was no quiet dialogue and set conditions for talks.

In October International Peoples Commission on Human Rights come out with a report about presence of unmarked graves in Kashmir. Only in three districts 2700 unarmed graves were found. The state government didn’t respond to it. It New Delhi too kept quiet.

In December CBI came out with the Shopian report. It absolved everyone except the witnesses, the lawyers and doctors. Shocked Majlis set ablaze the CBI report outside the High Court before the media. Bar termed it as report shield the men in uniform. Majlis gave strike call, Geelani, Yasin, Mirwaiz supported the same. Omer who had termed the Shopian as case of drowning on the day second on June 1, 2009 decided to keep quiet on the issue now. The silence of the Chief Minister was not endorsement to the CBI report but its indictment. The CBI report will continue haunt Kashmiris. The tragedy has enough tragedy in it to keep Kashmir burning.

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