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Hum Kya Chahte ─ Azadi

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Hum Kya Chahte, Azadi. You must have heard this slogan if you’ve been tracking the ‘happenings’ in Kashmir. This slogan is often chanted during the so-called protests against the Indian state. Even after two decades of insurgency and conflict, the Azadi slogan not only dominates the sloganeering during the protests, but seems to be the favourite of those involved in the separatist movement. Chanted as if it is a holy verse.

Azadi is an Urdu word for ‘freedom’. In the context of the Kashmir conflict, the general understanding of the term Azadi is that of ‘independence’. In other words, it underlines the demand for the secession of Jammu & Kashmir State from India.

But a closer look at Azadi would furnish different details altogether. Recently, a survey was conducted by The Institute for Research on India and International Studies (IRIIS) which revealed diverse definitions of Azadi. The Jammu and Kashmir division of the Ministry of Home Affairs had commissioned The IRIIS to carry out ‘A Perception Survey of Media Impact on the Kashmiri Youth’ in June 2010. The survey was finally administered in January 2011 in six districts of the Kashmir Valley ─ Srinagar and Budgam in Central Kashmir; Anantnag and Kulgam in South Kashmir; Baramulla and Bandipora in North Kashmir.

As per the IRIIS findings, 54% of youth identified Azadi as the preferred final status of Jammu and Kashmir. That implies 46% don’t believe in Azadi. It is worthy to note that the definition of Azadi varies among even these 54%. For 56% of these 54% youth, Azadi signified the rights of Kashmiris’ ─ political rights, civil rights and economic rights. Those whose idea of Azadi is based on a ‘territorially separate Kashmir’ include 8% who see a sovereign and independent state of Jammu & Kashmir, 11% who want ‘freedom from India’ and 10% who said Azadi means a separate Kashmir without giving any further details.

Also, 67% of Kashmiri youth under the age group of 15-35 years, rank ‘corruption’ among the three top most problems, 48% put ‘human rights violation’ (by security forces) at the top, and 34% gave top priority to ‘employment’ and 28% to ‘education’.

A few surveys conducted in the past have also presented diverse results. In 2009, Chatham House, a London-based international affairs think-tank, conducted an opinion poll on both sides of the Line of Control which separates the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In its findings, only 2% of people in J&K favoured the integration of Kashmir in its entirety with Pakistan. Also, 43% in J&K voted for the ‘independence’ of the Kashmir in its entirety, implying 57% were not in favour of ‘independence’. It is important to note that 87% of people in J&K considered unemployment as the most significant problem followed by 68% for corruption, 45% for poor economic development, and 43% for human rights abuses. By the way, this is in spite of the Chatham House opinion poll being commissioned by Dr Saif al Islam al Qadhafi, son of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi who advocated ‘independence’ for Kashmir.

In 2002, another survey by MORI, an independent market research company based in UK, revealed in its findings that on the issue of citizenship, overall, 61% said they felt they would be better off politically and economically as an Indian citizen and only 6% as a Pakistani citizen, but 33% said they did not know. Again, economic development of the region (job opportunities and reduction of poverty) was proposed by 93% of respondents.

Azadi in the Jammu and Kashmir context has been reduced to just a rhetoric. Those who beat the drum of Azadi do so because of their own interests. The Hurriyat Conference, which is an amalgam of several secessionist organizations, is on the forefront of championing the so-called Kashmir cause of Azadi. It is also commonly felt that the separatists get political and economic support for this ‘cause’ from their sympathisers across border and in other foreign countries.

Time and again, there have been reports about the funding of militancy and Azadi protests through the Hawala network in J&K state. So it becomes quite natural for these separatists to beat the Azadi drum. Recently, Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chief Yasin Malik was charged by a local Jammu court under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) for allegedly raising funds to strengthen militancy in the state. Yasin Malik was charged with allegedly deputing two people to collect $100,000 from Kathmandu in 2002. The money was recovered from them after they were arrested later that year.

The reason for quoting these surveys is that they each contradict the claims of the champions of separatism who portray that Azadi is the demand of every Kashmiri. It is certainly not the case. These separatist elements want to impose the Azadi narrative owing to obvious reasons. One can infer from the surveys that economic development including unemployment and reduction in poverty tops the issues faced by the people of state. The Economic Survey of 2011-2012 has revealed that 21.63% population of J&K is falling under the BPL category which includes 26.14% rural population and 7.96% urban. A total of 24.21 lakh people are living under the BPL category which includes 22 lakh people in rural areas. Besides, around 6 lakh unemployed youth are registered with J&K state’s employment department. It is necessary to pay attention to the problems which have been time and again cited by the people such as corruption and unemployment. Delivering justice to the people affected by the conflict is equally important.

Moreover, few realise that Kashmir comprises only 15% of the area of Jammu and Kashmir State (Indian control) and a mere 7% of undivided Jammu and Kashmir. It is amusing and irrational to witness people talking about the secession of Kashmir despite not an iota of feasibility. J&K state needs political, social & economic empowerment. Kashmir needs freedom from separatist and fanatic elements. It is high time we bury the myth of Azadi.

(Originally published in Newslaundry)

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Written by Varad Sharma

March 24, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Memories of a home beyond that tunnel

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Last month, I visited my home-state Jammu and Kashmir to see my folks. Accompanied by my father, I was meeting an uncle of mine after some two years. In the plethora of things we talked about we also spoke about ‘home’. It is quite natural for the exiles to talk, discuss and share views about the ‘home’. Not a long time back we lived together in one big house in Kashmir. When the family grew larger, my uncle and his family moved out and built another house behind ours. It was in a village in Anantnag district in the Valley.

Meanwhile, my aunt served us pinkish salty tea — Scheer Chai. My uncle and my father were conversing about the good old times — the life, the neighbours, the alleys, the school, the college, the fields and the fishing in Lidder. Listening to them I realised that I have missed the life in Kashmir.

My uncle had been to Kashmir some months ago and had taken a few photographs of our houses — the ones we used to live in. We observed it very keenly for some minutes. Silence followed. Thanks to my uncle we saw our ‘home’ after 22 long years.

The silence was broken by a flurry of questions — What about the land we owned, the alleys, the fields, the stream from Lidder. We were told that some land seems to be encroached upon.

Even after leaving my uncle’s place my mind was buzzing with thoughts and questions about the life in Kashmir, the militancy, the exodus of Pandits, etc. It was the home where I celebrated my first Diwali with young Muslim brethren. That was the home where my forefathers lived.

A little over two decades have taken a toll on our house. All the wood that was part of the house has disappeared and today it looks like a dilapidated three-storey structure. After pondering over the picture, I thought — had our neighbours been so caring and loving, they would have maintained the sanctity of my home.

From my father’s expressions I could gather that the photograph brought back memories. After all, an exile possesses only memories; memories of home, homeland, and the life in homeland. We are left with memories of a home that lies beyond that tunnel. As much as we yearn for our home, the home would also be longing for its people. It was the same home where elders of my family once lived. That home stood witness to the good and not so good events in our family. That photograph was more than a photograph — a story is implicit in it.

Likewise, there are thousands of such houses — abandoned, looted, encroached, ruined — in the Valley and its people living in exile.

We were saddened to see that picture but there will be time when the house will again be full of its people to whom it belongs; there will be time when the place will again be bustling. It was once home and it will be home one day.

There is hardly a day without conversation about the ‘home’. Kashmiri poet Dina Nath ‘Nadim’ fills one with hope of return — Mei Chham Aash Pagahuch, Pagaah Sholi Duniyah (I have hope for tomorrow, tomorrow the world will glisten).

(Originally published in The New Indian Express)

Written by Varad Sharma

March 15, 2012 at 9:30 pm