Saturday 8 August 2009

A country called Kashmir



A country called Kashmir
Jagmohan Singh

This is an image-essay. Experience Kashmir in the words of the editor of World Sikh News, who recently visited Kashmir. He is convinced that the rights of Kashmiris have been trampled brutally and there is a need for urgent positive international intervention.

Welcome to Kashmir. Welcome to the heaven on earth, as those living there and those who visit call it so.
As soon as we alighted from the Srinagar airport, I felt and realized that I was in a different land. I could see gun-toting security men in different colours and with a variety of guns all around.
The day I landed there, I saw a senior TV anchorperson of a well-known TV channel being whisked by a senior army person. I am not sure who was helping whom.
As soon as we left the airport, some hundreds of black-cat commandos in full fighting gear were present. All roads to the airport were dotted with policemen, para-military forces and Indian armed forces personnel. Kashmir was under siege.
Kashmir is a country where a huge number of Indian armed forces occupy every conceivable place –sometimes becoming sitting ducks for armed Kashmiri insurgents but more often splashing their Kalashnikovs and other modern weapons in fighting mode. They are visibly at war with the people of Kashmir.
The people of Kashmir live in a climate of fear compounded by global warming conditions resulting in a sweltering summer with scores of new shops in Srinagar selling fans and air-coolers.
A visit to the Sher-e-Kashmir Hospital in the heart of Srinagar tells me that it is a government hospital where patients fend for themselves. A good chunk of the hospital premises is under the control of the security forces. Entering the hospital is scary.
Before reaching the hospital, we were able to see two flags aflutter the Kashmir secretariat –one of India and one of Jammu and Kashmir, a clear indicator that this part of the world has had special status and deserves more attention than a mere law-and order approach.
It is only when you spend some time in what is wrongly called as “the valley” that you understand the full import of how Jammu and Ladakh are administered differently.
Politics in this part of the world is discussed either in hushed tones or in a fully agitated manner. Each Kashmiri –men, women and children are politically aware, conscious of their rights and above all –willing to die to have their homeland.

Politics in this part of the world is discussed either in hushed tones or in a fully agitated manner. Each Kashmiri is politically aware, conscious of his rights and above all, willing to die for his homeland.
Meet Saif (name changed for you never know). He is all but 9 years old. He was part of the sit-in protest demonstration at Shopian where two young ladies were sexually assaulted and then brutally murdered by so-far unidentified security forces. I asked him, “Why are you here?” He replied, “Kya?” I asked again, “Why have you come here? “Hamari Behn ko kyon mara –Why did they kill our sisters?” he retorted promptly. I probed further, “Who killed them?” Again, barely allowing me to complete my query, he said, “India ne –India killed my sisters.” I asked him, “What will you do when you grow up? That was the only question over which he thought for a while and said, “Teacher.” What he will teach is anybody’s guess. I will not be surprised if joins the ranks of stone-pelters, who have their own significant history in Kashmir. If any one has any doubts about how clear the Kashmir-India divide is, read this dialogue again.
The new government of the new youngest chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir is a “classic government.” The “charming good-faced chief minister” does all things in Bollywood style -whether it is of the hero variety or otherwise you have to judge. Prior to his melodramatic resignation, the faux-pas he committed in the Shopian case and then the acts of his administration are nothing short of a tin-pot little dictatorship –at the outset, the rape and murder case was dismissed as a drowning case. The most disgusting and sad part is that the government gynaecologist -Dr. Nighat who confirmed gangrape has been suspended! The CM allowed SP Javed Matto to say, “Aise Wakye to hothe hi rahten hain.” Not just that, in the name of investigation, the two sons of the lone witness in the case are in unlawful detention! Anyone in India who wants to defend rape by security forces to perpetuate Indian rule in Kashmir should do a rethink. If the hold of “nationalism” is still strong, then only God can help, just as it did to Ugandans under Idi Amin.
Participating in the pain of widows and orphans of the border village Dardpora was an experience which shook me to the heels. This village had witnessed 172 deaths, there were 125 widows and nearly 450 orphans and a non-existent state administration. The Pahari-speaking widows almost wanted us to stay there and look after them. I wish I could.
Somebody in Kashmir should soon write a treatise on how elections are obfuscated, how census figures are manipulated or even not done, how all work in Jammu and Kashmir is being done with 1981 as the census figures.
An activist at Dolipora, where another young student was brutally assaulted and killed in her own house, said, “The beauty of our womenfolk has become a curse.” Though I am a feminist at heart, I strongly advocate the use of pardah in Kashmir, till the army is pulled out from this internationally recognized disputed territory. I must however admit that I was deeply impressed by the bravery of Kashmiri women.
We also met the sister of Maqbool Butt in the remains of a hundred year old mud hut house, in which this father of the Kashmiri nationhood movement lived. She had been badly beaten up during the boycott of the recently held elections in Kashmir for propagating boycott. To every question about when the Kashmiri people would be free, she would look up to the sky and say, “Insha Allah”. There was a living hope in her eyes.
Kashmir is in a state of “bandh.” Perpetually. There is hardly any day when some part of this beautiful region is not closed in protest against some killing and harassment. Significantly, as a Sikh restaurant owner told us, “Kashmiris do not shy away from closure of work. They have no other means of protest and they cannot give this away.”
In present-day Kashmir, in many districts, the Deputy Commissioner and Senior Superintendent of Police live outside the main cities. The chief minister and ministers and members of the opposition live in garrisons. Passing by the roads where they lives virtually scares one to death.
As the Indian army is above law, due to many laws in existence like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Enemy Agent Ordinance (have you heard about this, I did not till I reached there) and many others about which the common man is unaware -natural resources –water, lands, apple orchards, forests –have been taken over. Even if you are not politically inclined, which is rare, you are at the mercy and ‘benevolence’ of the forces.
A visit to the Bar Association of Srinagar was enough to convince us more that the administration, police, politicians, security forces are all above the law in this country called Kashmir. A habeas corpus petition which should take hours to decide, takes a year. Contempt proceedings are unheard of. Judges don’t seem to judge at all. Suo-moto proceedings should be the norm, but there is no mention of this. Police chiefs shred orders of the courts in the face of the victims or their lawyers. Around a score of lawyers have been killed under mysterious circumstances. Lawyers are denied passports.
This country has Muslims, Kashmiri Pandits (who I am told consider them to be super-Brhamans), Sikhs and Christians. The government of India has been engaged in a relentless campaign to subvert the social balance, apparently to give the Kashmiri struggle a bad name. Kashmiri Pandits did not flee Kashmir on their own; they were made to flee in a state-sponsored programme. Pilgrimage to shrines and the numbers of pilgrims are bolstered to enhance the theory of peace in the region. Each shrine has units of security forces guarding them –some visible and some not. The minority Sikh community has no special status in this region despite losing thousands in the partition riots of 1947.
Kashmir is also a country where the leadership of the independence movement is divided in its approach as regards the road map towards their final destiny. Perhaps, they were being strategic, if so, good luck to them. Their clarity and determination was inspiring. Octogenarian Syed Geelani and young Yaseen Malik may have different approaches, but each one was clear of the goal and unwavering in their fortitude. Yaseen Malik was at his diplomatic best when he said these words at his non-descript house in Srinagar, where he was under a long house-arrest, “India and Pakistan must accommodate the aspirations of the people of Kashmir and the people and leadership of Kashmir will certainly take into account the concerns of India and Pakistan.”
Expressing gratitude to everyone who stands by Kashmiris in their present hours of crisis, Syed Ali Shah Geelani said, “We are grateful to all who support us, governments will continue to be tyrannical and we will continue our fight to the finish.”
In this land, the nomenclature of occupation has been widely used. Over the years, cease-fire line has become the line of control, plebiscite has been replaced with a weird definition of self-rule, UN resolutions have lost meaning altogether, the writ of the Supreme Court of India vis-à-vis detention, arrests, rights of prisoners, etc, does not apply here and any talk of it attracts rebuke and the present international intervention is changing according to the geo-political alignments in South Asia.
Strategically located Kashmir is now an occupied territory. Barbed wires aplenty separate Kashmir from India. It is time to recognize and implement the right to self determination of the people of Kashmir so that this heaven on earth which has been made hell by the occupying forces of India regains its lost glory.
Jagmohan Singh is editor of World Sikh News. He may be contacted at jsbigideas@gmail.com

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