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Book Review: Our Moon Has Blood Clots

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Rahul Pandita’s book Our Moon Has Blood Clots: The Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits narrates the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir valley. It is the account of an ethnic community that was forced to leave home and hearth behind and take refuge in an unknown land. The book describes the ethnic cleansing of Pandits from Kashmir at the behest of Islamic extremists/terrorists.

Our Moon Has Blood Clots

Our Moon Has Blood Clots is a memoir of Rahul Pandita who was fourteen years old when he had to leave his home in Srinagar along with his family. The book brings forth the untold story of Kashmiri Pandits who became refugees in their own country. The book begins with author’s initial days in Srinagar and life in Kashmir. Then it describes the changes in aura of the valley ─ India-West Indies international cricket match in 1983 where the crowd cheered for Pakistan and Indian players faced severe harassment; the chants of ‘Allah Hu Akbar’ on streets when Pakistan defeated India at Sharjah in the final of Austral-Asia Cup in 1986; the threats to Kashmiri Pandits via notices, pamphlets, mosque loudspeakers, street processions.
The changed scenario subsequently led to selective killing of Kashmiri Pandits, rapes of innocent Pandit women and resulted in the displacement of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley. Rahul Pandita’s book also touches upon the 1947 tribal raid in Kashmir in the voice of his maternal uncle. The author’s maternal grandfather along with his family had to leave Baramulla due to the tribal raid.

The book debunks the lies regarding the exodus of Pandits. The most widespread untruth is that the exodus of Pandits was a ploy by Government of India through Jagmohan, then the Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, to defame the so-called freedom struggle (which is nothing but a struggle for an Islamic state). The author gives the horrendous account of murders of some Kashmiri Pandits by the militants in 1990s. The book also nails the lie that those Kashmiri Pandits who stayed back in the valley (and didn’t leave) were not harmed. In this regard, he met Vinod Dhar who is the lone survivor of 1998 Wandhama massacre in which 23 Kashmiri Pandits were brutally killed.

Rahul Pandita’s memoir makes the reader feel the pain and suffering which Kashmiri Pandits have been through. It evokes anger at the failure of the Indian state in protecting its own people. Pandita’s book tells of the betrayal by the majority community of Kashmir (i.e. Kashmiri Muslims) who were so enamoured with ‘azadi’ that they chose to support gun culture over the people (i.e. Kashmiri Pandits).

Though Rahul Pandita visited Kashmir regularly as a journalist, it was only in September 2007 that he managed a visit to his ‘home’ along with his two journalist friends and found that it was not the same anymore. It was a house built with the provident fund savings of his father and the bridal jewellery of his mother. The author feels helpless when he finds someone else living in his house and he has to seek permission to enter it.

The book tries to break the silence in the socio-political discourse over the ethnic cleansing and exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. In the discourse regarding Kashmir conflict, the high-handedness of Indian state and the alleged human rights abuses by Indian security forces are debated but not what happened to Kashmiri Pandits. As the author rightly says, it has become unfashionable to speak about the issue of Kashmiri Pandit refugees. Rahul Pandita’s book sets right the narrative in this context.

I had a lump in my throat while reading the book. There are heartbreaking passages in the book where I could not control my tears. Our Moon Has Blood Clots is not the story of Rahul Pandita alone but the story of every single Kashmiri Pandit who encountered terror in Kashmir. It is the story of the innocent people who were raped, killed and assaulted by terrorists leading to their tragic exodus. It is noteworthy that despite all odds, the Kashmiri Pandit community never espoused violent methods for their struggle for reclamation of their ancestral homeland.

Rahul Pandita describes the pain and agony of Kashmiri Pandits in a very lucid manner without mincing words. Pandita’s book is an extremely poignant account of Hindus of Kashmir who are still living in exile in their own country. The book is a must read for those who don’t know what happened to minority community of Kashmir valley and also for those who continue to be in denial about the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits.

(Originally published in Niti Central and The Pioneer)

Written by Varad Sharma

February 24, 2013 at 10:00 pm

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)

Kashmir’s Exiled Bhattyein

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Kashmiri Pandit women are commonly known as ‘Bhattyein’. The word is a distortion of Sanskrit word “Bhattini” which means lady belonging to a noble family.

The over two-decade old Kashmir conflict has adversely affected the people of valley; be it men, women or children. Kashmiri women have faced the brunt of conflict since the beginning.

Bhattyein (Photo Courtesy - Vijay Koul)Photo Courtesy: Vijay Koul

While the Kashmiri women living in the valley are considered a part of debate/discussions regarding the impact of Kashmir conflict, there are women living on the other side of the tunnel who are ignored. Having witnessed the killing of their community members and then subjected to forced displacement from the Kashmir valley, the psyche of exiled ‘Bhattyein’ have got affected. Such a generation of women have seen the turmoil/insurgency in the valley and have been at the receiving end of terrorism.

During the rise of insurgency in Kashmir valley, the Pandit women were raped, brutalized and killed. In 1990, a nurse named Sarla Bhat, resident of Anantnag, working in Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (Soura) was gang-raped and then murdered by Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) militants. In the same year, a woman named Girja Tickoo, resident of Bandipora, was gang-raped and then chopped into pieces on mechanical saw by the terrorists. Many such acts of savagery were committed by the terrorists in 1990s against Kashmiri Pandits including ‘Bhattyein’. Moreover, there was an infamous slogan in Kashmir chanted by many during the peak of insurgency which revealed their intention – “Asi Gachchi Pakistan, Bhattav Roas Te Bhattyenav Saan” (We want Pakistan along with Hindu women but without their men).

After the displacement of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir, the Pandit women have suffered from several health diseases like diabetes, thyroid gland malfunctioning etc. which were unheard of when they used to live in the valley. There is rise in stress-related disorders like depression, hypertension etc. among the Pandit women. Dr. KL Chowdhury, renowned Kashmiri physician, did a survey on the exiled Pandit women in the past and found that there was drop in population of Kashmiri Pandits. “Many Pandit women developed premature menopause even at the age of 35 years which reduced the ability to conceive at an early stage of life. Living in inhumane refugee camps after the displacement, the sexual desire itself diminished as three generations of a family lived in a single make-shift tent. This caused a decline in birth rate which resulted in fall in population of the Pandits.”

The “Bhattyein” have encountered hardships on a day-to-day basis. They lost their lifestyle and environment while living in exile. The very idea of a woman’s dignity was hurt. Rahul Bagati was a young boy when he had to leave his native place Kupwara due to turmoil. He remembers the difficult days in exile. “When our family was forced to migrate to Jammu, we started staying at a rented place. During this time, my younger sister was born. However, we developed some serious differences with the landlord due to his conduct and decided to move to our under-construction house which did not have any flooring. As funds were scarce, a make-shift bed made of bricks meant for construction and wood for doors was created for my mother. For rest of us, one of the two sarees my grandmother had brought with her was used as flooring to sleep.”

In exile, Kashmiri Pandit refugees have died due to change in environmental conditions. They were forced to live in hostile conditions in make-shift camps. Think of the “Bhattyein”, especially the older ones who had to live in 45°C in Jammu, who don’t know what a scorching summer is like (as average temperature of Kashmir in summer is around 30°C). The habitat change resulted in heat-strokes, anaemia, malaria etc. which caused many deaths.

Pandit women (Photo Courtesy - Aditya Raj Kaul)Photo Courtesy: Aditya Raj Kaul

“My maternal grandmother was like a mother to all in the village Irkumoo (which is in Kokernag area of Anantnag district) irrespective of them being Hindus or Muslims. However, as soon as Islamic fanaticism rose in valley in 1990, the Muslim neighbours who were like her children drove her out of Kashmir. The mother in her could not bear the pain of her children and grand-children living in refugee camps in Jammu. She could not bear the heat of the summer in Jammu and passed away. We called it heat-stroke. But it wasn’t only heat that killed her; it was the death of a mother who was driven away from her own home by people (Muslim neighbours) whom she treated and nurtured like her own children all her life,” says Deepak Kaul who lost his maternal grandmother in exile.

The media as well as human rights organizations have time and again highlighted the plight of Kashmiri women living in the valley, in particular half-widows (women who don’t know whether they are married or widows). But they have forgotten those exiled “Bhattyein” who have also suffered the loss of home and homeland due to the conflict. One can hardly find a report, editorial, story etc. dedicated to them. No women’s organizations have given a thought to such women.

On 19th January, 2013, these “Bhattyein” will enter their 24th year of exile.

(Originally published in Newslaundry and The Jammu Height ― April Issue, Page 30)

Written by Varad Sharma

January 12, 2013 at 11:30 pm

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

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)

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

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