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Yet another 19th January

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“Bol Ki Lab Azad Hain Tere, Bol Zubaan Ab Tak Teri Hai” ─ Faiz Ahmed Faiz

The Government of India has failed Kashmiri Pandits (who are the aborigines of Kashmir valley) as they are still living as refugees in their own country. On January 19, Kashmiri Pandits entered their 24th year in exile. Kashmiri Pandit refugees commemorate January 19 as holocaust/exodus day every year.

Twenty-three years ago, Kashmiri Pandits fled the valley leaving behind their homes and homeland so as to save themselves from persecution at the behest of Islamic extremists/terrorists. Around four to five lakh Kashmiri Pandits were displaced due to militancy in Kashmir valley. After the partition of India, it was the biggest ever displacement of people.

Terrorism in Kashmir valley started with the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Kashmiri Pandits in 1989-1990. Ethnic cleansing refers to an attempt to create ethnically homogeneous geographic areas through the expulsion or forcible displacement of persons belonging to particular ethnic groups. United Nations defines ethnic cleansing as rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove from a given area, persons of another ethnic or religious group.

The so-called freedom movement (Azaadi) in Kashmir was joined by many Kashmiri Muslims (and not all). They opted for guns for the so-called Azaadi which never was attained. The main purpose of terrorism in Kashmir was to create a valley homogenous in its religious (read Islamic) character. The minority Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave the valley to create such homogeneity. If the majority community of the valley had not supported the insurgency, there probably wouldn’t have been any exodus of the minority community.

Ethnic cleansing sometimes involves the elimination of all physical vestiges of the targeted group through the obliteration of monuments, cemeteries, and houses of worship. Death or displacement may also be involved in ethnic cleansing where a population is identified for removal from an area or a region. With the rise of insurgency and Islamic extremism in Kashmir, houses of minority Hindus were burned and temples were destroyed. Also, notices were pasted on the walls of Kashmiri Pandit houses telling them to leave the Kashmir valley or to die.

Genocide may possibly be used as means to carry out ethnic cleansing. Genocide is defined as the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.

Article 2 of the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) defines genocide as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

On June 11, 1999, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), in a ruling stated that “Against the stern definition of the Genocide Convention, the Commission is constrained to observe that while acts akin to genocide have occurred with respect to Kashmiri Pandits and that, indeed, in the minds and utterances of some of the militants a genocide-type design may exist, the crimes against the Kashmiri Pandits are near-Genocide and not Genocide.”

The United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan at the 60th Session of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva on April 7, 2004 said, “Wherever civilians are deliberately targeted because they belong to a particular community, we are in the presence of potential, if not actual, genocide.”

What happened in 1990s in Kashmir was ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits marked with genocide. Kashmiri Hindus were killed by terrorists in 1989 and afterwards until they left the valley. Prominent Kashmiri Pandits who were killed are Pandit Tika Lal Taploo, Justice Neel Kanth Ganjoo, poet Sarwanand Koul ‘Premi’ and his son, advocate Prem Nath Bhat, Lassa Koul (Director, Doordarshan Kendra – Srinagar).

Though the official figure of Kashmiri Pandit killings is 219, Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), a valley-based organisation, suggests that 399 Pandits were killed and the list of Pandit killings is still incomplete. A survey was done in 2008 and 2009 to find the precise number of Pandits killed. The survey revealed that 302 members of the community were killed in 1990 alone. Such selective killing of minority Hindus of Kashmir amounts to genocide.

Kashmiri Pandits were seen as obstacle in the path of the so-called Azaadi from India. The valley was cleansed of Pandits because they had a tilak on their forehead. It is ironic that there has not been a single judicial enquiry about the exodus and killings of Kashmiri Pandits. The killers aren’t prosecuted, rather they roam freely in Kashmir and have many supporters in the valley.

The State/Central Government has not taken substantial measures till date for the return of Kashmiri Pandits back to the valley. If they had taken any, the return would have happened. How long will the Government of India take to wake from its deep slumber to address the issues concerning Kashmiri Pandit refugees? It has been 23 years and there are still no answers — answers about the exodus, the killings, the human rights violations, the justice and the return (back to Kashmir valley on their own terms). The exile continues. The scars remain.

(Originally published in Niti Central)

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Looking down the barrel

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The recent killings of the Panchayat members in the Kashmir valley are a matter of serious concern. The killings have struck fear among the grassroot level representatives of Jammu and Kashmir. On September 23, 2012, a deputy Sarpanch named Mohammad Shafi Teli of Nowpora village in Kreeri area of Baramulla district was killed by terrorists. In the same district, militants had gunned down Ghulam Mohammad Yatoo, Sarpanch of Palhalan village, on September 10, 2012. The terror outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Hizbul Mujaheedin (HM), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) have been issuing threats to the Panches for the past several months asking them to resign. [Source: http://bit.ly/RGNzW5 ]

J&K state has 4,128 Panchayats, with 29,719 Panches and 4,130 Sarpanches. [Source: http://bit.ly/QPZQ7F ]. And after 33 years, the Panchayat elections were held in all the constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir from April 13 to June 27, 2011. Around 80% of people turned out to vote. Due to terrorist threats, the Panchayat elections held in 2001 were not conducted in Baramulla, Bandipora and Kupwara districts of Jammu & Kashmir.

The 2011 elections were held at a time when the state was recovering from the summer unrest of 2010 in which more than 100 Kashmiris died. [Source: http://bit.ly/gNu4Kc | http://bit.ly/jFp3bz ] Despite the threats by terrorists and boycott call by separatists, people participated in large numbers in the democratic process. In fact, the voter turnout of the Panchayat elections exceeded that of the 2008 state assembly polls which was around 60%. The high voter turnout implies that the people believe in democratic and Constitutional process and are willing to participate in the process. The people’s participation in the Constitutional process needs to be appreciated.

The government projected the massive participation in the Panchayat elections as a triumph of democracy over the gun, but delayed the empowerment of the Panchayats. The J&K state government has not implemented the 73rd amendment of the Indian Constitution which grants power to the Panchayats. For the last year and a half, the Panchayats have been demanding more power for local governance. The implementation of the governance at grassroot level will undermine the support for the separatist forces.

“Panches have resigned not only because of the threats but also due to lag in the empowerment of Panchayati Raj institutions politically as well as economically. About 700 Panches have resigned through advertisements in local newspapers but the government claims around 50 resignations only. We voluntarily chose to become part of democracy but the government never honoured our commitment. Why should we play with our lives?” says Shafiq Mir – convenor of Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference. “The 73rd amendment of the Indian Constitution should be implemented which legally empowers the Panchayats. Rahul Gandhi has supported our demand and ensured that appropriate measures concerning the security will be taken”. Mir headed the delegation of 10 Sarpanches who recently met Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi and informed him about the threat to their lives.

J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has assured that the Panches will be provided security. But despite the assurances by Chief Minister, the Panchayat members continue to resign through advertisements in local newspapers. It shows how deep the threat perception runs among the people. Omar Abdullah and his government intend to reduce the footprints of security forces in the Kashmir valley. Omar Abdullah is also insisting on revoking the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from some districts of the J&K State. At the same time, the state government has failed to protect the lives of these innocent Panches. The killings are a failure on the part of the state government which harps on “normalcy” in Jammu & Kashmir.

Panches represent democracy at the grassroot level. They have been elected by the people to solve local issues and grievances. Their killings are an attempt to thwart Indian democracy at the grassroots. Those who are trying to destabilise the grassroot level democracy in the valley must be given a strong befitting reply. These terror forces are trying to instil fear in the minds of the people who want to be part of the democratic process and have faith in the institutions of the state. A clear-cut message of zero-tolerance towards terrorism should go both from the state as well as the Central government.

At the village level, defence committees should be formed to keep an eye on unusual activities. At least the government should provide security to the Panchayat members in sensitive areas, if not to all. The government should also consider giving arms to the Panches for self-defence.

Panchayati Raj institutions symbolise the Indian democracy in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The state needs to take all possible measures to protect the symbols of democracy. We cannot afford to provide terrorists with another opportunity to debilitate the democracy at the ground level anymore.

(Originally published in Newslaundry)

Written by Varad Sharma

October 9, 2012 at 7:00 pm

Long walk home

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The state as well as Central government is focussing on ‘normalising’ the Kashmir valley, and rightly so. In this connection, three interlocutors appointed by the Central government – Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari – toured the entire Jammu & Kashmir state extensively. Following their meetings with people in the state, the interlocutor panel’s report was finally released in the public domain a few days back.

Today, tourists throng the valley. During summer, there is a huge inflow and outflow of people who come to see the beautiful vale as Kashmir is magnificent in summer. In fact, the valley glows in every season – summer, autumn, winter, or spring. Last year, more than 1.3 million tourists visited Kashmir (excluding 6.33 lakh pilgrims who visited the holy Amarnath cave shrine). Kashmir is expecting a very good tourist season this year as well. And the projected number of tourists who will be visiting this year is around 2 million. (Sources: DNA report – April 25, 2012 and Hindustan Times – May 22, 2012)

The state has been relatively peaceful in 2011 compared to the violent summer of 2010. There has been a substantial decline in terrorist violence. In 2011, 189 terrorist incidents were reported, compared to 368 cases in 2010. Jammu witnessed 37 militancy-related incidents while 152 cases were reported in Kashmir. This is the lowest number of incidents in the last 22 years of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. Meanwhile, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is pressing hard for revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from some districts of the state. The tussle over AFPSA revocation continues till date. There is indeed a significant change in the situation in Kashmir valley as compared to when insurgency was at its peak. (Source: Outlook Dec 31, 2011)

For a section of Kashmiri people though, the minority Hindus – who became homeless due to the insurgency – nothing seems to have changed in last more than two decades. It is a paradox that Kashmir is relatively peaceful, but the exiled Kashmiris are not at peace.

What has changed for the exiled Kashmiris? Have those responsible for making Kashmiri Pandits homeless been arraigned in these years? Are the killers of minority Hindus punished for their barbaric acts? Not only are they roaming around freely, they are welcomed and garlanded by many people in Kashmir as ‘heroes’. A terrorist who has confessed in a television interview that he murdered more than 20 Kashmiri Hindus is a free man. Another terrorist, against whom more than 20 cases are booked including under TADA and POTA, is freely championing the so-called Kashmir cause. At present, both of them lead separatist organisations along with their ilk and are preaching ‘peace’. What can be more agonising?

Be it any political party (National Conference, People’s Democratic Party, or Congress) who came to power in the state, nobody cared about bringing culprits of the largest ethnic cleansing (since Partition) to book. How long will it take the political class to wake from its deep slumber?

There is mere lip service from our political class which won’t resolve the issues. The only pertinent distinction is that those Kashmiri refugees who were living in inhumane camps in Jammu are provided tenements this year.

The issue of homelessness and the return of minority Hindus linger. There are no easy answers on the question of permanent return of Kashmiri Pandits. “Where will the Pandits go? What will the Pandits return to? Where are the houses and the homes? The only forms of return in the current scenario are pilgrimages to temples and tourism and holidaying. The exiles go to Kashmir for a few days and return to their homes outside Kashmir. Permanent return is not possible till the time rebuilding of the lost ethos happens in every sense – trust, security, homeland, livelihood, culture…”, says Siddhartha Gigoo whose novel, The Garden of Solitude narrates the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits and their life in exile.

On May 15, 2012 Mullappally Ramchandran, the Minister of State for Home, in a written reply to a question told the Lok Sabha that there are 58,697 Kashmiri migrant families registered with respective relief authorities which includes 38,119 families in Jammu, 19,338 families in Delhi and 1,240 families in other places in India. It is a pity that the Indian state could not prevent the homelessness of its people. (Source: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=83913)

Under the Prime Minister’s Return and Rehabilitation package for Kashmiri migrants a few thousand Pandits joined government services in the valley, but only on condition that they have to serve within the valley. Whatsoever be the circumstances in Kashmir, they cannot leave the valley. That cannot be termed as a ‘return’. It is like caging them. The government has erred in linking ‘economics’ with ‘return’. Or maybe it is a deliberate miscalculation.

How correct is journalist Vir Sanghvi when he wrote in his article on the 22nd anniversary of the exile of Kashmiri Pandits, “…when this anniversary passes, when bloggers have moved on to other subjects and something else is trending on twitter, that the Kashmiri Pandits will be exactly where they have been for the last two decades: nowhere people with no homeland to call their own.”

What has changed in these 22 years for the exiled Kashmiri Pandits? The homelessness of homeless Kashmiris persists.

(Originally published in Newslaundry)

Written by Varad Sharma

May 28, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Where is the prime minister?

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Does India really have a Prime Minister? Ask this question to yourself. I am sure that your answer will be ambiguous. Of course, India does have one officially. Dr. Manmohan Singh is the prime minister of India since 22nd May 2004. Who would have expected that an economist will head the nation? May be the destiny and loyalty to the dynasty made Dr. Manmohan Singh the prime minister of India. However, despite being the prime minster, his presence in political arena is hardly felt.

When a number of scams were exposed (and some may still be in the process of being unearthed), I fail to remember any timely strong move from our prime minister and his government. On the contrary, zero-loss theory was propounded by his cabinet colleague. Moreover, Prime Minster Dr. Manmohan Singh invoked ‘coalition-dharma’ to avert action against the tainted minster A Raja who was involved in the Rs. 1.76 lakh crore telecom scam. Thanks to our judiciary, appropriate actions are being taken against the individuals involved in the scams.

The consecutive disclosures of scams have put a big question mark on the ability of Dr. Manmohan Singh; leave aside the credibility of UPA government. Dr. Singh has been termed as an honest prime minister of India but when the tax-payers money was being skimmed off under his nose, the ‘honest quality’ got disqualified.

It is said that an individual learns through experience. But this principle doesn’t seem true of the prime minister. Though Dr. Singh has served the country as the prime minister for eight years, is he competent enough to lead? Dr. Manmohan Singh, whether in UPA-I or UPA-II, looks the same when seen through the lens of politics and leadership. I wonder what would have been the condition of the UPA without Pranab Mukherjee, especially during its difficult times. Senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee is more than just a cabinet minister. It will not be inappropriate to say that Pranab Mukherjee is the unofficial executive head of India (of course, with the blessings of Sonia Gandhi and her advisory council).

Take the recent issues like Army chief’s age row, irregularities in defence forces or Koondankulam nuclear plant; the ineptitude is all pervasive. In addition to this, the delinking of talks (with neighbouring country Pakistan) from terror reflected the tactlessness of the UPA Government and its head in particular.

The prime minister is the head of the government of a country. He is supposed to lead the nation and address the issues faced by the people. India is governed by a prime minister who has barely put forth his views on important problems in the public domain. He is termed as the ‘silent PM’ of India because of his silence on the problems, whether complex or not so complex, faced by our country.

This famous Kashmiri adage seems apt for Dr. Manmohan Singh who finds silence a key to evade any sort of uncomfortable questions ─ Tshop Chaiy Rop Sinz, Karkhai Te Son Sinz (The silence is as good as silver, if practised it is golden).

(Originally published in Rediff)

Written by Varad Sharma

April 17, 2012 at 9:30 pm

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)

Written by Varad Sharma

March 24, 2012 at 9:00 pm

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