Kashmir: Unending Conflict, What Is The Way Out?

The conflict in Kashmir seems to be unending and the way it is being handled by our armed forces, especially the CRPF is further aggravating it. Unfortunately, it is still being addressed primarily as a law and order problem and the aspirations of people and their problems hardly matter. Our armed forces go on violating human rights and they know only to kill. This way instead of solving the problem, we will reduce Kashmir to a vast cemetery. More and more young protestors are dying and death hardly dissuades these young protestors from demonstrating.

It is not that people of Kashmir are really anti-India and want to opt for Pakistan. The recent U.K. think tank survey also established that not more than 4 per cent Kashmiri want to align with Pakistan. They have their own aspirations and problems which must be addressed which are not being addressed and, to the contrary, bullets are fired at them. Now at the all party meeting it was decided that lethal weapons will not be used and instead pepper gun will be used which does not kill but produces, psychological impact similar to real bullets.

Should it have taken so much time to take this decision after killing 15 young people and unleashing angry protests? Even CRPF has suffered great casualties, more than 273 Jawans have been injured in last one month and 1980 over one year. Could this decision not been taken earlier to save young lives and CRPF Jawans from injuries? Or was this technology of pepper gun was invented only before the all Party meeting. Do we have to kill so many innocent civilians before using appropriate technology? Had this decision taken in time it would have saved several lives and would not have pushed the valley on brink of such serious crisis.

I was in Kashmir in June for a workshop on peace and conflict resolution and talked to several people as to what they think could be the solution across cross section of people, including intelligentsia, activists and even common people in the bazaar. One thing which emerges is that Omar Abdullah has failed to deliver on every front and sentiments are overwhelmingly in favour of Mufti Saeed.

Mufti is considered as more mature and is thought to be talking frankly to the Centre and could handle Kashmir problem more satisfactorily. Omar Abdullah has lost grip over the situation and moreover lacks courage to talk frankly with the Centre. This comes out very strongly across the cross section of people I talked to. Also, the separatist sentiments are not as strong as it is thought to be from outside. They are more angry at the mess in which Kashmir finds itself today.

The youth is interested in employment and betterment of economic situation. Most of the young people I met bitterly complain about lack of economic opportunities in the valley. Even highly qualified persons do not find satisfactory jobs. They are either unemployed or underemployed. The separatists exploit this anger and frustration. However, neither the state government nor the central one is serious about it and keep on condemning separatists for the situation.

Also, in case of Kashmir there is serious political dimension that is of our Constitutional commitment to ensure autonomy and Nehru-Abdullah pact of 1953 further reinforced it but under political pressure from rightwing elements this promise of full autonomy to Kashmir was never fulfilled. Again after militancy movement in Kashmir during late eighties and nineties the then Prime Minister Mr. Narsimha Rao promised Faruq Abdullah whom I had met during my visit to valley in late nineties that he would grant autonomy to Kashmir and when Abdullah asked him how much, he told him ‘sky is the limit’. These words ring in my year even today.

However, nothing happened and then the BJP led Government came to power whose agenda was to remove article 370 from the Constitution itself instead of giving even a small element of autonomy to the people of Kashmir. Also, the way we held elections since independence never inspired confidence among the people of Kashmir. In fact the militancy in Kashmir began after 1988 elections were rigged and Salahuddein, a school teacher and now head of Hizbul Mujadidin based in POK was declared defeated though, most of the Kashmiris think, he had won.

It was only in 2004 that for the first time fair elections were held and when I visited the valley I found new confidence among a section of Kashmiri people and some of them told me that if fair elections are held in future also, things will qualitatively change in Kashmir and people of Kashmir will align with India. The elections in 2009 too were more or less fair but unfortunately Omar Abdullah does not seem to be in control.

After long years of militancy and violence people of Kashmir have realized one thing, and I am saying this after interacting with large number of people in the valley that violence does not pay and that peaceful solution is the only way out. But they want peaceful solution with honour and dignity and one which addresses host of their problems one of which is Kashmiriyat, their regional autonomy and pride in their culture and institutions.

We do have problem with Pakistan and we do not want to inter-nationalise the Kashmir problem and we do not want to go for plebiscite. All this is fine but what is coming in the way of our winning the hearts and soul of Kashmiri people. The way our forces indulge in fake encounters and seriously violate human rights is not the way to win their hearts and souls. With such actions we are greatly alienating them.

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had visited the valley in August 2006 for a round table conference with Kashmiri leaders he had given a statement that there will be zero tolerance for violations of human rights and there were again fake encounters in the valley. Immediately thereafter I conducted a peace workshop and some participants taunted is this the zero intolerance to violations of human rights?

Unfortunately if anything there is worsening rather than improvement in the situation. Day by day human rights violations are increasing. Few months ago two young women were raped and their bodies were fished out of water and till today no culprit has been arrested. Even CBI did not hold proper inquiry, it is alleged and it is suspected that military and police officials are involved.

Again my interaction with people in the valley show that except a small section of Kashmiris, as also brought out in the survey by the U.K. think tank, no one is for joining Pakistan. All they want is peace and honourable existence. The Government of India and the state government have to do everything possible to ensure this. People feel that Mufti had succeeded in wresting some concessions from the Centre which Omar Abdullah is unable to do either because of his inexperience or lack of courage. Whatever the reason, opinion is swinging in favour of Mufti.

Even Ghulam Nabi Azad is rated as better Chief Minister. The Government of India, in order to stop bloodshed will have to show political courage and determination to take bold steps and strictly discipline the army and not tolerate these violations for fear of ‘demoralizing it. Such an approach will play only in the hands of the terrorists and keep on aggravating the situation.

Fake encounters have absolutely no place in democracy and it is nothing but serious failure of governance if innocent citizens are killed by the police or army. Such unscrupulous officers must be rigorously punished. Such killings can lead to serious trouble even where there is no separatist or terrorist movements, much less in sensitive areas like Kashmir where issues of regional culture and identity are politically extra-sensitive.

Regional autonomy in many countries is a serious problem whether other countries are involved or not. For example, the question of Basque nationality in Spain is a serious question and only the other day the Basque nationalists organized a demonstration with 2.5 million people to press for their demand. Basque nationalists also resorted to violence for long and exploded bombs. However, they too realized that violence will not take them too far.

We have to sort out Kashmir problem on two fronts, our own internal front and Pakistan front. Here I do not want to comment as far as Pakistan front is concerned. Here my main concern is our own internal front and ensuring peace in the valley and people of Kashmir, in my opinion, are ready for non-violent and honourable peace. Firstly, development will play very important role. The youth must be won over through ensuring employment. Faisal Shah’s case is an important example. All Kashmiris felt proud that one of their own has been selected and stood first in IAS examination. Indian Muslims too felt very proud and organized series of receptions for him throughout India.

Thus to solve Kashmir problem internally what is needed is a measure of negotiated autonomy, economic development, greater recruitment of Kashmiri youth in and outside Kashmir including Central Government jobs which will give them greater sense of belonging to India, expeditious development of Railway network and ensuring non-violation of human rights and minimizing presence of armed forces except in border areas can lead to internal peace.

Kashmiriyat Revisited

This 18th June, Friday (2010), nearly thousands of Kashmiri pandits, including women and children, visited the temple of Mata Kheer Bhavani in Tullamula, 20 Kilometers from Shrinagar. It was the sacred day of Zyeshtha Ashthami. Most of the Pandits were visiting the valley after nearly 20 years, since the time they left Kashmir due to various reasons like the separatist militancy and the way whole thing was handled by authorities. The spiritual zest to worship the Goddess Ragnya Devi, to whom this temple is dedicated, was in the air. There was a big congregation of local Muslims who greeted the visiting pandits with cold drinks and Kheer (a dessert made of milk and rice). The Kashmir CM Farooq Abdullah and many other Kashmir Ministers also turned up for this emotional occasion marked by reunion with many a pandits.

The local Muslims and the ministers said that all concerned should work for return of Pandits to the valley, as Kashmiiryat is incomplete without the pandits, who are integral part of the Kashmir’s culture and life. Many a pandits also promised to work towards such a goal, to over come the divides created by the militant and political forces. The return of pandits to the valley has already begun, though it is a trickle at the moment.

Kashmir issue has been seen by the two neighbors, Pakistan and India, more as an issue of ‘real estate’ only. Kashmir has been treated as the territory which has to be won over by any means. The Government of Pakistan has regularly used ‘Kashmir’ issue to retain their hold on the political power in Kashmir, while in India, for far too long the central Government ignored the aspirations of the local population. In this whole scenario the real essence of Kashmir, Kashmiriyat got undermined and the issue started being presented as a communal one and as the site of dispute between two neighboring countries.

The soul of Kashmir’s culture has been a thick interaction between different religious traditions, teachings of Buddha, Vedanta, and Sufi tradition of Islam. Kashmir was the place where Buddhism spread far and wide and most of the population, except the upper caste embraced Buddhism. With attacks on Buddhism in 8th Century the tide turned. Later many Sufis came to Kashmir and preached their version of Islam. The most famous of them has been Nooruddin Noorani, popularly known as Nund Rishi. He was influenced by Lal Dedh, who herself was influenced by the earlier Sufis. Her mystical verses have a Shaivite form. Today both Hindus and Muslims regard her as their own. Like the great Bhakti saint, Kabir, there is a story that when she died her body turned into a heap of flowers, half of which were consigned to flames by Hindus, while the remaining half was buried by Muslims.

Nund Rishi wrote in appreciation of Lal Dedh, about her syncretic spiritual values which taught that one should not differentiate between a Hindu and a Muslim, one should realize one’s own self and that’s what God is. On Similar lines Nund Rishi focused on purification of soul. He bitterly criticized Mullahs and Brahmins whose focus is more on rituals than on spirituality and morality of the religions. Nund Rishi’s was a sort of mass movement in Kashmir, which affected many Kashmiris and they embraced Islam as taught by him.

Such a rich heritage has come under the threat from last three decades in particular. The vexed Kashmir issue got the communal slant due to the intrusion of Al Qaeda type elements, once their work of driving away Russian forces from Afghanistan was over. The Kashmiri militancy assumed different form during the decades of 1990s, it was communalized during this period. Amongst many factors contributing to worsening of Kashmir situation, one was the worsening communal scenario in India in the decade of 80’s which added fuel to the fire of terrorism in Kashmir. Meanwhile, a communal angle was being given to the harmony prevalent between Kashmiri pandits and the local Muslim population. Terrorists took advantage of that distortion.

Due to the local dissatisfaction of people, their feeling of alienation, the evil designs of the Pakistan Mullah-Military complex; totally backed by US imperialist goals, the militancy changed its tune and Kashmiri pandits started being targeted. The matters became worse off due to the policies of Jagmohan, who was Governor of the state. While the delegation of Kashmir people was preparing to call upon pandits to request them not to leave the valley, the state Governor provided them the transport to leave the valley. Most local leaders of Muslim community opposed the move of sending pandits away from Kashmir, but encouraged by Jagmohan, the Pandits left the valley. Essentially a problem between two neighboring countries assumed a communal color.

The condition of pandits, living in refugee camps has been quiet pitiable and barring few of them, most of them had to face immense suffering. Surely apart from pandits many a Kashmiri Muslims also had to leave the valley due to the twin attack from the terrorist groups and high handedness of the Indian military, which behaved more like and occupation army. Its heavy presence coupled with long years of stay in the valley totally distorted the civic life in Kashmir. The communal forces in India selectively harped on the plight of Kashmiri pandits while the other victims of Kashmir violence were totally left out of their scheme of propaganda. The tragedy is that while communal forces kept talking of the plight of pandits, during six years of BJP led NDA rule hardly anything different was done for the victims of militancy, and the lop sided policies of the leadership, dominated by the policies of central Government continued.

The present developments are very healthy one. While still some left over of militant’s actions and more of the imprint of army highhandedness are still visible, it seems with democratization process increasing, with local political leadership coming out to express the Kashmiri people’s aspirations, and partly also due to the change in the policies of US, peace seems to be slowly retuning to Kashmir. This Kheer Temple congregation is a signal of revival of the spirit of Kashmiriyat, the heart and souls of Kashmir. One hopes and wishes this spirit will strengthen in times to come, aspirations of people of Kashmir will be expressed and implemented through the democratically elected Governments of Kashmir and India-Pakistan are able to cultivate the friendly relations, which is the best guarantee for peace in the region.

[Photo by Jammu News Agency]

Basera-e-Tabassum (Kashmir)

The love affair started tenderly: a warm hug, a lightless night, a dim lantern, the resonating trickle of streams and whispers of footfalls. I had reached Peth-Bugh tired, after two long and extremely hot journeys. The cool still air was a respite. As I stepped out of the car, a strange good feeling set in. Someone hugged me. My bags were taken. Four or five hands gently caught my wrist- some strongly holding me, responsibly; others, shyly, just touching. Some more hands slowly joined in. Someone ahead held the lantern, so I could see my feet and some more feet. There wasn’t any electricity and so there weren’t any faces. Soon I started getting comfortable in this strange lightless, faceless walk of sounds and touches. I too caught their hands, letting down my guard – trusting them to guide me through the damp mud and unsteady planks that served as footbridges over the trickling water.

As we reached Basera-the home, gaslights were put on, some more candles and lanterns were lit and the world became a place of faces again. The magic did not dissipate. In fact, the enchantment only grew. Twenty brilliant curious faces and forty gleaming eyes slowly appeared and disappeared behind veils, curtains, doors, leaving behind them images of giggles and faint sounds of smiles.

The days that followed, went by wondering, working, observing, discussing and doing a whole lot of things in the midst of smiles and hugs and kisses. The last time when work was rewarded like this, I cannot remember. Everything seemed more integrated. It was as though the self was binding with and diluting within the larger, more comprehensive whole of the place. The sense of individuality seemed comfortably less significant. Even the heart and mind seemed to suddenly get along well. The concerns of the place seemed real and worry-deserving.

In Kashmir, there seemed to be a sense of solace and purpose in everything, even in worrying…

(The above are some impressions I put down on returning from Kashmir. I had been there in June to visit Basera-e-Tabassum. In conventional terms one would describe it as an orphanage, but I felt like a city girl visiting a long lost family in a native. It is a place for girl orphans, whose parents have been victims of the terrorism in Kashmir. Despite the seeming bitterness of their lives, these children are perhaps the most affectionate ones I have ever come across. I’m grateful I went there, perhaps some of my share of love was destined to come from a hundred children in Kashmir)

Dal Lake – Heaven’s End

Dal LakeIt was another day of my childhood. I ran out of the door of our compound into what was a never-ending grassland. I’d heard my cousin calling me out by ringing his cycle bell.

As I came out, he called me from the street a little far away. “Today, I’ll ride my cycle on the road,” he shouted, waving at me, “And not on the grass… Too many trees there for a good ride. And the grass drags your speed you know. You’ll know when you learn cycling.” Big brother would speak like an expert. “All you have to do right now is to watch me speed up. I’ll show you the dust I’m gonna raise. Like a car!” As he rode past me, I saw some dust trailing behind the wheels and I shouted, “Dust! That’s like a real car!”

During those times, when I used to come out of the compound of my house, I’d step into an endless grove. It was a vast orchard, the end of which was out of sight; perhaps even out of the imagination of a child that I was. With all densely grown up trees — apple, pear, almond, walnut, peach, what not — that covered everything that was visible, it seemed as if even the sunlight would fail to penetrate and touch the ground beneath.

At a distant spot, a brick-house could be seen through the gaps between the barks of the trees. And it’s tin roof was visible through the holes between the leaves. It was the only inhabitance to meet the eyes. But unfortunately it belonged to the guard. He was the one person who stood between us and the tempting fruits.

But the mother of all fears was the two-storey mud-house just inside the orchard. The children believed that it was haunted, haunted by a ghost, who lived there and came out only in the night. We called him Waaiwopph. God knows where the name came from! The mud-house was originally thought to belong to the previous guard, who was mercilessly thrown out by the Waaiwopph. Some kids had seen him one night, wearing a white robe and a skull cap. I’d seen him only once, in a nightmare. He didn’t have a cap!

There was one more view of this sight, a different scene altogether! And that was from our rooftop…

You could see all the tree tops close together, spread out like a green carpet on a vast area bound only on the far edge by tall, slender trees, and dotted in between by the graceful Chinars. These formed an endless line, which was actually the shore of the world famous signature of this city of Srinagar, the Dal. Through the line of those trees, at some spots, you could see the silver shine — the serene waters of the Dal, dazzling under the sun. At some spots, you could see the colour of the wood of the house-boats. At times you’d spot the shrine of Hazratbal. Then further still, beyond the Boulevard, the small mountain ranges backed by the mighty Himalayas would kiss the bright blue sky from the top, forming in a perfect compliment, a horizon straight from a classical painting.

But that was quite a long time back… in the middle of 1980s… I’m quite older now. But more than myself, my dwelling wears a worn out, heaving look…

The orchard is no longer there. Some years back, it was partitioned. Partitioned endlessly. Barbed wires in every direction came up to demarcate each individual property that was sold. The trees were chopped down one by one. Leaving the interiors lay naked. Now the sun would shine as if to poke fun at the bare ground below.

For nearly two decades, my neighbours were a million trees. Now buildings sprouted at every other step. Every wrong foot. Then there are these lanes and by lanes with walls high and ugly, a legacy of these violent years. And the grassy paths that once existed have turned into dusty tracks.

Talk about that other view, from the top… The green blanket has been replaced by a canopy of tinned roofs — coloured, patchy, rusty, hideous. The Dal might still be there somewhere. But tomorrow…? Seventy-five square kilometers some centuries back. Twenty-five a few decades back. And barely twelve today. This Dal!

Yes, I’m quite older now.

Today. It’s another day. I’m not a child anymore. As I step out of the door of my compound, I see a huge wall right in front, almost like a slap on my face. Behind me, the small garden seems like a piece of heaven. Still, I walk towards the street outside. I see a car at a distance speeding towards me. As it passes me by, I lose my sight in the thick cloud of dust trailing behind it, and I close my eyes. I hold my breath, cover my face with both my palms and turn around. I clear the lump in my throat and get back inside to heave a sigh.

In my little piece of heaven left over, I sit quietly.

Photo: Dal Lake

The Message Of Jammu & Kashmir Elections

Sushant K Singh and Rohit Pradhan

Kashmiri MenThe free, fair, and peaceful elections in Jammu & Kashmir are a significant achievement. Only a few a months ago the state was ravaged by protests over the Amarnath land issue; large demonstrations took place in valley matched by equally vociferous and passionate protests in some parts of Jammu. Articulate columnists had suggested what was hitherto unthinkable: India should give up Kashmir, as the issue at hand seemed intractable. Continue reading The Message Of Jammu & Kashmir Elections

Another Sonrise

Omar & Farooq AbdullahOmar Abdullah has risen from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix. For those who came in late, Omar is the scion of Kashmir’s first family of mainstream politics: the Abdullah’s. His party the national conference [NC] is currently in favour at New Delhi [Flavour of the month, as the corporate-ad media would have it. As if parties were ice-cream cones]. Continue reading Another Sonrise

J&K 2008 Polls: The Death of Kashmiri Nationalism?

Shahnaz Agha

As I write this piece, New Delhi is busy congratulating itself on the unexpected voter-turnout in Jammu and Kashmir, and the Indian media is filled with editorials gleefully proclaiming the “death” of the separatist movement. Indeed, the results have dealt a humiliating blow to the Hurriyat leadership. Despite their calls for a boycott, official ECI figures claim that over 51% of eligible voters across the 46 constituencies of the Kashmir Valley participated in the polls – technically the highest turnout that the Valley has seen over the past 20 years. Continue reading J&K 2008 Polls: The Death of Kashmiri Nationalism?

A Letter To The Last Standing Terrorist

Taj Hotel BurningLast Standing Terrorist,

I hope you get to read this letter at the gates of hell where your fellow murderers are awaiting you. I would love to see the look at your face when you will be told that you are not a martyr as your valiantly claimed on the phone call but just a cowardly murderer who killed innocent people. Talking of phone calls, whom were you trying to fool by speaking in a Punjabi/Kashmiri accent while claiming to be from Hyderabad? Continue reading A Letter To The Last Standing Terrorist

Kashmir Protests In Pictures

Kashmiri leaders Yasin Malik, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Shabir Shah addressing Kashmiri protestors in Srinagar on Aug 18, 2008.
Kashmiri leaders Yasin Malik, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Shabir Shah addressing Kashmiri protestors in Srinagar on Aug 18, 2008.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani addressing thousands of protestors in Srinagar on 18th August 2008.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani addressing thousands of protestors in Srinagar on 18th August 2008.
Kashmiris participating in a mass rally to protest recent events in the state.
Kashmiris participating in a mass rally to protest recent events in the state.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani, leader of APHC arrives in the mass rally in Srinagar.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani, leader of APHC arrives in the mass rally in Srinagar.
Kashmiri Muslims on bikes shout pro-freedom slogans during a march in Srinagar Aug 18, 2008.
Kashmiri Muslims on bikes shout pro-freedom slogans during a march in Srinagar.
Kashmiri youths shout pro-freedom slogans during a march in Srinagar Aug 18, 2008.
Kashmiri youths shout pro-freedom slogans during a march in Srinagar Aug 18, 2008.

All pictures by Abid Bhat. Check out his Flickr gallery for more Kashmir photos.

Jammu In Flames And Kashmir Blockaded: And All About A Block Of Ice

Sheshnag Lake - Amarnath YatraThe on-going agitation in Jammu over the rescinding of orders allocating of stretch of land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) in Kashmir now threatens to descend into full-scale communal violence. Several people have lost their lives in police firing on irate mobs. Government-owned property worth millions has been destroyed. Continue reading Jammu In Flames And Kashmir Blockaded: And All About A Block Of Ice