Anaahat Naad

The Unmade Sound

Posts Tagged ‘Conflict

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)

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Written by Varad Sharma

October 9, 2012 at 7:00 pm

An exercise in futility?

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The Jammu and Kashmir interlocutors’ report – “A New Compact with the People of Jammu and Kashmir”, was made public on May 24, 2012 by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). This was despite the report being submitted on October 12, 2011.

The interlocutors widely travelled the state of Jammu and Kashmir, interacted with more than 700 delegations and held three round table conferences while preparing the report. In three mass meetings, thousands of citizens turned up to express their views on wide range of issues.

The J&K state government and the Central government haven’t commented on the interlocutors’ report yet. The main opposition party of India, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has rejected the report altogether. So have the Kashmiri separatists even though they didn’t hold a dialogue with the interlocutors. Also, Kashmiri Pandit organisations have severely criticised the report, alleging that their demands hardly find a mention in it.

When the news of the participation of the two interlocutors in seminars organised by ISI-lobbyists Ghulam Nabi Fai and Abdul Majeed Tramboo emerged, I tried not to be cynical. But my cynicism was reinstated after going through the report.

The interlocutors’ report looks paradoxical many a time. The interlocutors haven’t directly confronted the right of the Indian state over Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK). At the same time, they have termed“Pakistan-occupied Kashmir” as “Pakistan administered Kashmir”. It is a deviation from the official Indian stance on Jammu and Kashmir. It amounts to derision of the Indian Parliament which passed a unanimous resolution on February 22, 1994 declaring that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir (including POK) is and shall be an integral part of India. Moreover, the interlocutors have recommended the harmonisation of relations across the Line of Control (LoC) by setting up joint institutions. This implies giving legitimacy to the illegal control of Pakistan over parts of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir which acceded to India in 1947.

While the interlocutors don’t directly recommend returning to the pre-1953 situation, they do suggest a review of all the Central acts and articles post in the 1952 Delhi Agreement by a constitutional committee. In other words, they are recommendinga return to the pre-1953 status of Jammu and Kashmir. Also, the group of interlocutors have stressed upon the resumption of dialogue between the Indian Government and Hurriyat Conference – as if the Hurriyat Conference is the legitimate representative of the people of the valley.

The report suggests that the diverse aspirations of the three regions – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh – must be addressed without giving concrete proposals. There are no proper measures suggested for redressal of grievances of the internally displaced Kashmiri Pandit refugees or West Pakistan/POK refugees. The interlocutors haven’t touched the controversial law passed by the J&K state legislature such as the ban on delimitation till 2026. Further, the suggestion of making Article 370 “special” from the present “temporary”, the gradual reduction of All India services officers in favour of State civil services and the review of Central laws post-1952 is a step towards distancing the state from the nation. The substantial point in the report is the setting up of three regional councils – one each for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh (with Ladakh no longer a division of Kashmir).

The interlocutors’ report is far from producing any kind of consensus within the state or at the Centre. There seems to be no takers for the report. Also, it hasn’t been discussed in Parliament. While New Delhi is busy in its “Raisina Hill exercise”, Jammu and Kashmir awaits the redressal of grievances and firm resolution of the problems concerning the state.

(Originally published in Newslaundry)

Children of Conflict

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Kashmir and conflict are synonymous for two decades now, since the arrival of insurgency and gun culture. Every Kashmiri family has suffered in one way or the other. Thousands of lives have been lost – many young children, hundreds disappeared and there are widows, orphans and ‘half-widows’ (the women whose husbands have gone missing). Children born and raised during the turmoil (post 1990) are the most affected in the valley.

Children there have grown in the environment of terror attacks, bomb blasts, shootouts, encounters, strikes etc. Almost every child’s childhood was spent in and around gun. What will be the memorabilia of children of valley? Guns, bombs, shootouts, encounters, and what not!

During past 21 years, according to J&K State Government, 43460 people were killed in Kashmir in which 21323 are militants, 13226 civilians killed by militants, 3642 civilians killed by security forces, 5369 policemen killed by militants. According to the figures available with the government, there are 27,000 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 32,400 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 25,000 children have been orphaned.

Apart from terror attacks, strike calls by separatist elements in the valley have an effect on the life in Kashmir and especially the education of children. The separatist elements instigated the protest during summer of 2010 which claimed the lives of over 110 people and many a time security forces negligence was also to be blamed. Stones became the instrument of protest. And worst was the death of children in the anti-state protests. What does a 10-12 year old child know about so called Azaadi? These days we have more of strike calls, shutdown and less of terror activities. Fake encounters have also happened in the valley, which add to the problem and breeds more hatred against the state and security forces in particular.

Meanwhile, whenever there is mention of children who are affected by turmoil, we tend to forget children of an ethnic community of Kashmiri Pandits who are living in exile for more than two decades. Many children left the valley as toddlers due to the conflict in the valley and many were born in an unknown land away from their home – Kashmir. There is a ‘disconnect’ between the child and his/her motherland.

Who is accountable for the affliction of the children of Kashmir? Who is responsible for the deaths, killings of young innocent children? Who is accountable for the children who were forced to live away from their homeland? I would hold everyone responsible – terrorists, politicians, separatists, civil society, and the state administration. Terrorists for killing young innocents and also for the exodus of KP children, politicians for caring about their own interests only, civil society for not being effective in preventing such incidents and the state administration for not taking necessary and preventive measures.

And the saga of ‘children of conflict’ always brings conflict in our mind!

Written by Varad Sharma

July 1, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Kashmir

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