Anaahat Naad

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Posts Tagged ‘New Delhi

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)

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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

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

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

A conversation with an unknown Kashmiri

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On 17th of November 2011, I had an appointment at 1330 hours at a ‘special’ venue in New Delhi. I set out from my place at 0900 hours as the ‘special’ venue was far from my place.

 I reached the venue almost one hour early. I went to the waiting hall and took a seat. After 15-20 minutes, one of the organizing members announced in the hall that the meet was postponed by 90 minutes. Many seemed annoyed by this announcement. I was also. After all, who loves to wait? I was observing things in the waiting hall. A guy sitting adjacent to me enquired about the meet. And soon our conversation started.
Mr. S: So where is your home?
This question has always been a difficult one to answer for an exile no longer has a ‘home’.
I: At present, my place is New Delhi.
Mr. S: Do you belong to Delhi?
I: No. I am from Anantnag, Kashmir.
Mr. S: Oh Great! I am from Srinagar.
And the conversation about ‘home’ has begun…
Mr. S: Kar ousukh tormut Kasheer paetimi lyeat? (When did you go to Kashmir last time?). I haven’t been to ‘home’ for last one year due to very busy schedules.
I: We were forced to leave Kashmir 22 years ago. Bu’ha tchus bhatt’e. (I am Kashmiri Pandit.)
Then we both were silent for 10-15 minutes. May be he was thinking about gloomy 1990s and the tragic story behind it.
Mr. S: Tarun’uk tcha iraad’e? (Do you have any intention of ‘return’?)
I: Aa tarun tchu wapis. Aj, pagah, suli tcheer. Kasheer tchu panun ghar. (Yes, we will ‘return’..Today, tomorrow, sooner or later..Kashmir is our home.)
We talked about almost every ‘Kashmiri’ thing — Pheran, Tcheer Chai, Haakh, Chakker, Telwour, Sheen, Wazwan etc.
The fellow Kashmiri was a bit surprised to see me talking in Kashmiri. May be it was unusual for him to see a person brought up outside the vale speaking in mother tongue.
And how can there be no discussion about politics. Every Kashmiri is a ‘political analyst’.
I: Why majority of the majority community of the valley chant ‘Azaadi’ (secession from India)? It amazes as well as amuses me. More than two decades ago, the same wanted merger with Pakistan.
Mr. S: Yes, many say so. Neither ‘Azaadi’ nor merger with Pakistan is the way forward for Kashmir and Kashmiris. At the same time, many things need to be set right. Justice has been delayed.
I was little surprised to hear that. The fellow has studied in south India and has been to many cities of India.
We agreed on the fact that sooner the justice delivered to the people (living on both sides of the tunnel), better it is for Kashmir. Though on a community level, the majority and the minority differ on several issues. We had lunch in between. He narrated a few distressing stories and how Kashmir has become a lucrative industry.
I: Every Kashmiri has a peculiar story and a poignant one.
Mr. S: I feel sad about the exodus of Pandits. It was dark period in the history of Kashmir. Inshallah, you will return soon.
I: Amen! Return we will on our terms.
We wished each other before we departed.
The meeting was fine. The postponement was blessing in disguise because it resulted in a ‘special’ meeting with an unknown Kashmiri. Was it a mere coincidence or more than a coincidence? I came back to my place and thought of ‘home’.
(Originally published in Hindustan Times)

Written by Varad Sharma

November 20, 2011 at 8:00 am

The Clemency Politics

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The passing of resolution by Tamil Nadu Assembly seeking clemency for killers of Rajiv Gandhi has set a wrong precedent in our country. The resolution was moved by none other than state Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and was passed unanimously on August 30, 2011. While on the same day the Madras High Court deferred by eight weeks the execution of Rajiv Gandhi’s killers – Murugan alias Sriharan, T. Suthendraraja alias Santhan and A.G. Perarivalan alias Arivu. The three convicts were to be put to death on September 9, 2011. The Bench admitted the petition observing that since 11 years delay had been caused in the disposal of mercy petition, it is now a question of law. Rajiv Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India, was assassinated on May 21, 1991 at Sriperumbudur near Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The assassination was carried out by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Pro-Tamil organisations like MDMK, DMK, and PMK have been demanding the commutation of their death sentence to life imprisonment. MDMK leader Vaiko has been in the forefront on this issue. But families of victims who were killed along with Rajiv Gandhi want killers to be hanged. It seems so as to appease some sections; Tamil Nadu Assembly has passed a resolution which in a way expresses solidarity with the three killers who assassinated our former Prime Minister.

Taking a cue from Tamil Nadu Assembly resolution, Sheikh Abdul Rashid, who is MLA from Langate constituency of Kupwara district, has submitted a resolution to the J&K Assembly Speaker seeking mercy for Afzal Guru, Indian Parliament attack convict. The resolution will be tabled before State Assembly in the last week of the month. In his resolution, MLA Rashid said, “Let the house resolve that Afzal Guru be granted amnesty, on humanitarian grounds, against the death sentence granted to him by the Honb’le Supreme court of India, for his alleged involvement in the 13th December 2001 attack on Indian parliament.”

Isn’t it astounding that some of our politicians want clemency for the terrorists/killers? Think of those people who get killed in attacks. In Parliament attack, seven people were killed including five policemen and more than 20 got injured. Weren’t their lives important? The attack on Parliament of India was an attack on our democracy. Also, some sections in J&K State are apprehensive that if Afzal Guru is hanged, it will create law and order problem. Well, many people in Kashmir valley are not in favour of execution of Afzal Guru due to ‘obvious’ reasons.

Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Badal has written to the Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh seeking pardon for Devinder Singh Bhullar, a Khalistan Liberation Force leader, who is sentenced to death. Bhullar was sentenced to death for masterminding a 1993 car bomb attack in New Delhi that killed 12 people. Former Indian Youth Congress President M.S. Bitta was seriously injured. Various Sikh organizations − Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) and even former Punjab Chief Minister and Congress leader Amarinder Singh have supported the demand. It should be noted that Punjab Assembly elections are due in February 2012. In order to keep their vote bank intact, several parties/groups in Punjab want mercy for Bhullar.

Our judiciary provides enough scope for the convict to challenge the verdict of the trial court to the High Court and that of High Court to the Supreme Court. Even if Supreme Court holds the decision of death sentence, one can appeal to the President of India for mercy. After all this, there should be no two views on final verdict. Although the state assembly resolution is not binding on any institution as stated by Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid, yet a wrong example has been set. Seeking review of judicial verdict impelled by vote bank politics is deplorable.

Whether it is clemency for Rajiv Gandhi killer’s or Afzal guru or Bhullar; the motive behind this ‘clemency’ is same – the vote bank. The punishment whether life term, death sentence etc. need to be carried out. Let the sentiments remain as sentiments and not be set up as precedents.

(Originally published in Rediff & The Broad Mind)

Written by Varad Sharma

September 13, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Kashmir – A Train Conversation

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It was 2025 hrs and the “special” train was about to leave the station.  And the conversation picked up as soon as the train left the station.  Mr. A had been stalking Mr. B for long.  I guess he felt some connect.  Or maybe the fairer complexion of Mr. B just made him curious.

Mr. A:  Are you from Kashmir?

Mr. B: Yes. I am a Kashmiri Pandit. (He could feel the pride of being one)

Mr. A:  Where are you from Kashmir?

Mr. B:  Anantnag

This definitely irritated Mr. A.  No-one says Anantnag now.  He was bound to react.

Mr. A:  Okay Islamabad

Anantnag is town in South Kashmir.  The area was land of springs, hence “Anant”- “Infinite” and “Nag” – “Springs”.  The name was changed to Islamabad by Moghuls after the name of a Moghul General Islam Khan.  But most Kashmiris preferred Anantnag, after it was changed back to its original name by the Dogra rulers. 

Mr. B (very firmly): No, Anantnag

Mr. A maybe got irritated but he didn’t press the topic any further. But, he wanted to probe more.

Mr. B:  Where are you from?

Mr. A:  I am from Lal Chowk, Srinagar and do business at Connaught Place, New Delhi.

Mr A:  How old are you?

Mr B:  I am 23 years old. 

He had lied. He was born post the exodus of the Pandits from the valley.

Mr. A:  So you were a toddler in 1990?

Mr. B: Yes

Mr. A:  Are you willing to return to the valley?

Mr. B: Yes, but present conditions aren’t suitable.

Mr. A:  But, you are settled in Jammu (It meant, YOU HAVE MOVED ON!)

Mr. B (very firmly):  Kashmir is in our heart. In every heart-beat, there is Kashmir. We can never ever forget Kashmir.

Mr B ignored him after this question. Maybe he didn’t want to converse with some-one who was living in self denial.  But he kept on thinking did Mr. A forget that Mr B. and his kind had left Kashmir even though they were settled.  And they had left is for the seventh time and have come back each time in the past.  Was Mr. A ignorant of the fact that many KMs are moving out for better future, and many are buying properties in Jammu and “settling” there.

Every time I have a conversation on Kashmir, I get extremely emotional. My mind is full of questions.

When will I return to my home? But bigger question is, will my return be without any fear of attack on my existence. At the same time felt for him – my fellow Kashmiri. I felt for his self denial of many issues. Will he ever accept the truth?

For these questions, I don’t have answers.

But one thing I know for sure, I will RETURN!

Written by Varad Sharma

October 31, 2010 at 11:00 am