Anaahat Naad

The Unmade Sound

Posts Tagged ‘Terrorism

Book Review: Roll of Honour

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Amandeep Sandhu’s novel “Roll of Honour” gives an account of the state of Punjab during the turbulent period of early 1980s. It narrates the life and times in Punjab when the state was gripped with the Khalistan movement (i.e. the secessionist movement for creation of separate Sikh country). The novel addresses a tumultuous chapter in the history of Punjab. The author blends his personal experiences with the political situation in Punjab during 1980s and rolls out “Roll of Honour”.

Roll Of Honour

The novel, a semi-autobiographical one, is set against the backdrop of militancy in Punjab. The protagonist of the novel is a Sikh boy, Appu who is studying in 12th standard in a military school in fictional town of Jassabad, Punjab. He wants to get his name listed in the school’s hall of fame, the ‘Roll of Honour’. Appu aspires of getting into National Defence Academy so that he can serve the nation by joining Indian Army.

In the meantime, the situation in the state of Punjab turns vicious. Indian Army at the behest of the Indian Government carries out ‘Operation Blue Star’ for eliminating the Khalistani militants who are holed up in Golden Temple. In the operation, Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale, the chief advocate of Khalistan, is killed along with his associates. These happenings affect the environment in the military school as well. The Khalistan movement splits the students of the military school along the sectarian lines i.e. Hindus and Sikhs. The supporters of Khalistan movement in the school deify Bhindrawale and want to tread the same path while the others want to be part of nation India. Appu, who wanted to join the Indian Army, doesn’t seem to be interested anymore after seeing the wrong doings by the forces in Punjab.

The people especially the Sikhs viewed Indian Army with distrust after having entered the sanctum-sanctorum of the Golden Temple. The innocent Sikhs who didn’t favour the idea of Khalistan were also seen as militants by the security personnel. The turban defined who was militant and who was not.

Appu is confronted with the questions of authority, identity, dignity, sexuality, and friendship. In the military hostel, the seniors indulge in sodomy and bullying so as to dominate the juniors. In between, Appu tells about his current life. The past-present transition in the novel is smooth.

The observations made by the author are striking. “Of all that transpires in the heart, hope is the meanest because it tints one’s understanding of reality.” Another one, “I realized with time that we are all potential chameleons changing our colours according to where we belong, who pays us, what keeps us safe.” This observation is superb, “Words are not only combinations of letters of the alphabet and symbols; they are vehicles of intent that come from deep convictions, from intuition. Sense does not come from reading letters but by listening to one’s intuition.”

Amandeep Sandhu’s novel “Roll of Honour” questions the authoritative power. It is about different identities an individual takes in different phases of life on the basis of colour, religion, community, language, and nation. The author is blunt in describing the events and the experiences (and even the abuses). The characters of the novel are bit confusing some times. The cover page is fine, so is the paper quality and font size. One should read this novel to get an insight about what the youth went through during troubled times in Punjab. I hope the author has found peace with himself and his past after writing the novel.

(Originally published in Niti Central)

Written by Varad Sharma

April 27, 2013 at 8:00 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

A national memorial for martyrs

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“Shaheedon Ki Chitaaon Par Lagenge Har Baras Mele, Watan Par Mitnewale Ka Yahi Baaki Nishan Hoga” wrote Pandit Ram Prasad Bismil, revolutionary Indian freedom fighter and poet, long ago before India’s independence. It means that the annual fairs at the tombs of the martyrs who die for the nation will be the only testimony of their existence. Does India have a national monument in the memory of the martyrs who fought for the country?

Many lives have been sacrificed for protecting the integrity and sovereignty of the Indian nation. Much blood has flown to defend the idea of India i.e. Bharat. The country has paid a very heavy price for achieving the independence in 1947 from the colonial British empire marked with partition into two nation states ─ India and Pakistan. Since independence, India has fought five major wars with its neighbours, Pakistan and China, in 1947-48, 1962, 1965, 1971 and 1999. Further, India is fighting war against insurgency and terrorism almost every day.

Thousands of soldiers have achieved martyrdom for the sake of our nation. The fathers and the mothers of our country have sacrificed their heart-throbs for the country. Be it Kashmir, north-east or any other part of India, the soldiers have fought with valour for the republic of India. In the memory of the martyred soldiers, one can find memorials at several places in the country. But India doesn’t have a national memorial for the dead soldiers; an integrated memorial for all the martyrs till date.

We don’t have a place to pay obeisance to the martyred soldier. Where should one go for laying wreath to the fallen soldier? A martyr’s memorial characterizes remembrance for the dead soldier. It is a salutation to the martyrdom of soldiers who have died in the conflict; be it war or counter-insurgency operations. We are sitting in comfort zones only because the men in uniform are wide awake and ensuring our security.

At present, the martyr’s memorial of the national status is India Gate. The monument, originally known as All India War Memorial, was built in 1931 to commemorate the martyrdom of more than 70,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives while fighting for the British Empire in World War I. Under the arch of India Gate, there is ‘Amar Jawan Jyoti’ (the flame of immortal soldier) which was unveiled in 1971. After India-Pakistan war of 1971, the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, paid homage to the dead soldiers on the eve of 23rd Republic Day and the custom continues till date.

If the British can make a memorial for Indian soldiers, why don’t we have one even after 65 years of India’s independence? When we can have statues and parks dedicated to politicians, why not one for our defence personnel? It is astounding.

A national memorial should be a place where one can go and relate with the martyrdom of soldiers. A national memorial will be an honour not only to the soldier but to the families of the martyrs. It connotes the honour and dignity of the nation and its people. The national martyr’s memorial will serve as inspiration for the citizens of our country especially for the youth who want to join defence forces. It will showcase the essence of the soldier. The nation should know who the martyred soldiers are. It should be part of our culture.

The least one can do for martyrs is to remember them. And for remembrance, we should have a symbol; a memorial. The country must have a national memorial for the unsung heroes. A national martyr’s memorial will be link between civilians and soldiers. The existence of the martyrs is symbolized through memorials.

The martyrs remind me of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s lines ─ “They are dead but they live in each Patriot’s breast. And their names are engraven on honour’s bright crest.” 

(Originally published in Rediff)

Written by Varad Sharma

August 24, 2012 at 8:30 pm

13 July 2011: Terror revisits Mumbai

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13th July 2011, a new date adds to the list of ‘terror’ dates. Mumbai rocked once again with bomb blasts. Three blasts between 6.54 p.m. and 7.05 p.m. occurred at Zaveri Bazaar in south Mumbai, the second at Kabutarkhana near the Dadar suburban railway station in central Mumbai and the third at Opera House, also in south Mumbai. 21 persons got killed and over 140 are injured. Many attacks have occurred on the 13th or 26th of a month and terror revisited India on July 13th after less than three years of 26/11 Mumbai attack. Blasts in Jaipur (2008), Delhi (2008), and Pune (2010) happened on 13th while as Mumbai terror attack (2008) and Ahmedabad blasts (2008) took place on 26th.

Mumbai, the financial capital of India, seems to be a favourite of terrorists. The past terror attacks in Mumbai since 1993–

  • 12th March 1993: Serial blasts at 13 places; 257 killed and 713 injured
  • 29th October 1993: Blast in Matunga station; 2 killed and 40 injured
  • 2nd December 2002: Blast in bus in Ghatkopar; 2 killed and 49 injured
  • 6th December 2002: Blast in Mumbai Central station; 25 injured
  • 27th January 2003: Blast near Vile Parle station; 30 injured
  • 13th March 2003: Blast in train in Mulund; 13 killed and over 80 injured
  • 25th August 2003: Twin blasts at Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazar; 55 killed and over 150 injured
  • 3rd July 2006: Blast in Ghatkopar, 1 killed
  • 11th July 2006: Blasts in 7 suburban trains; 189 killed and over 1000 injured
  • 26th – 29th November 2008: Serial explosions and indiscriminate firing across Mumbai; 166 killed and over 300 injured

No terrorist organization has claimed responsibility for the 13th July bomb blasts (at the time of writing this piece). Defence and security experts while taking modus operandi of the barbaric attack into consideration suspect that Indian Mujahideen, a local but Pakistan affiliated group, may have carried out the bomb blasts. However, there is no official confirmation yet as who is behind this terror act. It is known to everyone that Pakistan overtly or covertly funds terror activities in India. Recently, we had foreign-secretary level talks in Islamabad with our neighbouring country Pakistan and we are going to have next level of talks in Delhi in the forthcoming week. Peace process should continue. But are we expecting peace on the expense of lives of our country men? Peace and bombings can’t go together. How can there be peace when our cities are bombed? How can there be peace when our people die day after day due to terrorism? These questions need to be answered.

Our President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Home Minister and other political leaders condemned the bomb blasts. World leaders also strongly condemned the attack and expressed solidarity with the Government of India and the people. Condemnation has become a usual affair. Isn’t it? Every time there is a terror attack, bomb blast etc. our government condemns it and the opposition flays the government for not protecting the nation against such terror attacks. And the petty politics starts and goes on and on. Press conferences by our leaders, visits to the sites etc. follow after the attack. There is exchange of statements and then unfortunately after a month or a two we tend to forget about such attacks and only remember it on their respective anniversaries by paying tributes to the victims.

July 13 is a chilling reminder that people in our country are not safe, despite claims of our huge security establishment. A failure on part of our well established intelligence agencies, security systems etc. In our country, terror strikes happen one after the other. It is evident that there is wrong somewhere in our system. Our internal security system needs to be overhauled. It should be noted that after 9/11 attack there hasn’t been any terror attack in United States of America and that is commendable.

The terror attacks need to be foiled. How many more terror attacks we have to tolerate? Haven’t these attacks, blasts etc. become a part of our life unwillingly? Heart goes out for the victims and their families who were killed in bomb blasts. The loss is irreversible. At the end of the day, human suffers!

Written by Varad Sharma

July 15, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Silence over Sopore

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The killing of two sisters by terrorists in Sopore is yet another barbaric act by terrorists in Kashmir valley. The two sisters – Akhtara (19) and Arifa (17) − were from Muslim Peer Mohalla of Sopore. They were dragged out of sight of their parents and a brother by the terrorists at gunpoint while the girls’ aunts followed them, pleading for their lives. The brutal act happened at five hundred metres away from their home.

The Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah strongly condemned the killing of the two sisters. He wrote on his twitter page, “If you can’t condemn the killing of these two girls, irrespective of your political beliefs & do so without qualifying it then shame on you.” Except Omar, others have maintained silence over the killing. The main opposition party of Jammu & Kashmir, People’s Democratic Party also chose to remain silent.

Separatists of the valley are known for making hue and cry over so called killings and atrocities by security forces in the valley. But over this heinous act, they are almost silent. The separatists of the valley first didn’t utter any word over the killing but after media cry, they were forced to condemn the killings. Azaadiwallah brigade seems to have justified the killings for their major cause of Azaadi. In other words, Azaadi is above all for them. It should be kept in mind that Separatists, including both factions of the Hurriyat and the JKLF last year led the four-month-long street protests characterized by stone pelting.

What if any such killing had a minute connection with security forces who are being viewed as occupation forces? Azaadiwallahs would have come on streets and created ruckus. Separatists would have started beatings the drums of Azaadi and so on. But security forces were not involved. How could they be so vocal about it? It seems separatists are being rewarded by their masters only for speaking against Indian State, in particular security forces. It is of grave concern that human right activists are not coming out of their caves to condemn brutal incident.

The two young sisters were termed Mukhbirs (informers) of police and hence killed. Well, killing of informers/agents of police or indirectly Indian State is not new. It has happened in the past when Kashmiri Pandits were brutally killed because they were termed Mukhbirs. And at that time also there were no strikes, no shutdowns to condemn the killings. That time also killings were justified.

It can be inferred from the silence that how communalised the society of Kashmir has become (though exceptions are there). Will the killing of Sopore sisters be wake up call for Sopore (if not for whole valley) or this barbaric act will be forgotten with passage of time?  It may also be noted that Sopore is still considered Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s stronghold.

I mourn the killing of two young girls. May God grant peace to their souls and strength to their family to deal with this tragedy!

Written by Varad Sharma

February 5, 2011 at 7:00 am