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Archive for December 2011

J&K Interlocutors: They came, they saw, they went

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Last summer, Kashmir was fuming with protests, arson, shutdown and killings. Many people came on streets protesting against the government/state and demanding ‘Azaadi’ (secession from India). The protest was supposed to be for alleged human rights violation but it turned out to be protest for complete demilitarization and independence of Jammu and Kashmir State. Stone-pelting was on peak, curfews were defied and violence ruled the streets. It was Kashmir’s Intifada. Instead of following state government’s rules and orders, protest calendars were followed. Protest calendars were prepared by instigators of violence, the separatists. People were venting the so called ‘anger and dissent’ on streets. Summer Unrest of 2010, as it is called, resulted in loss of more than 100 civilian lives and hundreds of security forces were critically injured. As per Indian intelligence agencies, protests and demonstrations were sponsored by Pakistani agencies. Moreover, there were attempts to ‘redefine’ relation of India with Jammu and Kashmir. The attempts continue even today.

In order to defuse the tension, all-party parliamentary delegation of 39 members visited Jammu and Kashmir on September 20-21, 2010. The delegation included P Chidambaram, Pawan Kumar Bansal, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Sitaram Yechury, Gurudas Gupta and Ram Vilas Paswan. All-party delegation met people of different shades of opinion. Even some members of the delegation met separatists. On October 13, 2010, Government of India in consultation with J&K State Government appointed three interlocutors – Dileep Padgaonkar (veteran journalist), MM Ansari (former Information Commissioner) and Prof. Radha Kumar (noted academician) – to hold talks with all shades of opinions as part of effort to bring peace in turmoil-hit state.

The interlocutors travelled to all 22 districts of J&K State, interacted with nearly 700 delegations to hear different views and solutions to J&K imbroglio. Also, there were three roundtable conferences of activists and scholars with interlocutors. Interlocutors held several meets with almost all the stake-holders of state to listen to their problems. People apprised them of their social and political issues.

In between the exercise by interlocutors, nailing of ISI agent Ghulam Nabi Fai in United States by FBI in July this year made an imprint on integrity and credibility of the two interlocutors – Dileep Padgaonkar and Radha Kumar. Dileep Padgaonkar had attended one of the “international conferences” on Kashmir organized by Kashmir American Council (KAC) headed by Fai. On the other hand, Radha Kumar had attended one such type of seminar organized by ‘Kashmir Centre’ in Brussels headed by Abdul Majeed Tramboo. Both the conferences were allegedly funded by ISI. The two interlocutors received flak from several sections for attending these anti-India seminars. Even their colleague MM Ansari criticized both for attending such seminar and went on to say that if he had been in the same position, he would have “quit immediately”.

Dileep Padgaonkar in his clarification said that he didn’t remember the year of the seminar but he “quite liked the idea of meeting and didn’t suspect any hanky-panky.” Padgaonkar also said that he was unaware of Fai’s connections. Prof. Radha Kumar clarified that government was in loop during her seminar trip. Even the J&K interlocutors’ panel was on brink of breakage when Radha Kumar offered to resign though the resignation was not accepted by the government.

Anyhow the working relationship seemed to remain unaffected. On October 12, 2011, the three interlocutors on Jammu and Kashmir submitted their report to Home Minister P Chidambaram, a year after appointment for drawing roadmap to peace in the state. In response to a RTI query, it was disclosed that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) spent nearly Rs. 70 lakh as remuneration and other expenses on the three interlocutors.

The atmosphere for resolving socio-political issues pertaining to the state of Jammu and Kashmir was created with interlocutors exercise and that mood continues. People expect the exercise by interlocutors will yield some results. It’s been more than two months since the submission of report but there hasn’t been a word on it. After the submission of report, there is kind of lull on part of government regarding the issues of Jammu and Kashmir. The valley is relatively peaceful this year. It is imperative that government should grab the opportunity of ‘relative peace’ and start the process of addressing the issues of the entire state keeping in view the opinions/aspirations of all the stake holders. The report hasn’t been made public yet. The interlocutors’ report should be brought into public domain so that the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh know what the interlocutors are recommending (and/or imposing) on them.

Now that the Jammu and Kashmir Interlocutors came to the state, saw the problems of people and went by submitting their report on a year-long exercise, it is time for Government of India to be serious over the intricate matters concerning Jammu and Kashmir.

(Originally published in Rediff)

Written by Varad Sharma

December 29, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Don’t delay justice anymore

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The people of Kashmir valley are wounded physically, socially, culturally and psychologically due to the long turmoil. The afflictions are deeply engraved in the hearts and minds of the people. Kashmiris (living on both the sides of tunnel) are left with only questions. The questions which haven’t been answered till date; the questions which are directly related to the lives of people; the questions about human rights, justice and truth! Already many years have passed; it is high time we should seek answers. The answers need to be sought.

So many lives lost; so many disappeared; so many hounded out of their homes and what not!  As per Jammu & Kashmir government, 43460 people are killed in Kashmir insurgency in last 21 years (January 1990 — April 2011). Of these 21323 are militants, 13226 are civilians killed by militants, 3642 civilians are killed by security forces and 5369 policemen are killed by militants. According to the figures available with the government, there are 27000 widows and 22000 children orphaned during militancy. But figures of independent sources are higher than those government figures. According to Prof Bashir Ahmad Dabla, head of the department of sociology, University of Kashmir, there are 32400 widows and 97000 to 100000 orphans in the valley. As per Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, more than 70000 people have been killed in Kashmir since 1989; around 8000 people have disappeared; at least 25000 children have been orphaned.

The Jammu & Kashmir State Human Rights Commission’s recent report on unmarked graves in Kashmir have invited more questions. More than 2000 unmarked graves are found in Baramulla, Kupwara, and Bandipore districts of north Kashmir. Around 3800 unmarked graves have been reported in Poonch and Rajouri districts of the state. Many people in valley believe that there is possibility of disappeared people buried in the graves. It should be noted that the unidentified foreign militants who were killed in the valley by security forces are also buried in unmarked graves. Another possibility is that some disappeared ones may be living across the border. At the same time, the recent report cannot be negated. Whether the buried ones are terrorists or civilians, the truth should come out. J&K State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has directed the Jammu and Kashmir government to constitute an “independent, duly representative, credible, structured and fully empowered” body to “investigate and identify the people buried in unmarked graves and to prosecute the perpetrators”.

The long-standing issue of the return and rehabilitation of the exiled Kashmiri Pandits (without any compromises on their religious identity, safety and their political interests) ought to be addressed.  Around 4 lakh Kashmiri Pandits were hounded out of their homes due to this turmoil and thousands were killed. Some put the present figure of the exiles at 7.5 lakhs. There hasn’t been any commission/enquiry on the ethnic cleansing and genocide of minority Pandits which led to their exodus from the valley. Moreover, the persecutors are roaming free in Kashmir.

The veil over bitter truth needs to be unveiled. The facts need to be produced and presented to the people. And on the basis of facts, justice must be delivered.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission can be a step towards finding the facts and in building confidence of people in democratic institutions of the state. It’s been almost eight months since Chief Minister Omar Abdullah favoured the idea of constitution of Truth and Reconciliation Commission to look into the killings, disappearances, and internal displacement etc. of people. Nothing has been done on ground in the setting up of the commission. Onus lies on state government to start such a commission and the Centre should provide all necessary help in setting up of the same. The approach should be in the direction of the justice. The step towards truth and reconciliation will be a step towards justice, ultimately, towards peace.

Kashmir needs justice irrespective of religion, caste or creed. The wounds need to be healed. The wounded lives need a closure. More than two decades have passed. As justice delayed is justice denied, don’t delay the justice anymore.

(Originally published in MiD Day & Rediff)

Written by Varad Sharma

December 10, 2011 at 8:00 pm