Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lachi ross Seuh!

Kashmir wild life does not include lions. We only have leopards, panthers, snow leopards and so on. However, we did have a lion in a literal sense called popularly, the “Lion of Kashmir”! He used to roar and not only shake the set ups in the neighbourhood countries but also made people cry by his roaring. Even though in the end he turned from a lion to a virtually meek mouse by accepting the chair from the very people who had betrayed and incarcerated him for a sizeable portion of his life, yet he still did roar and also tried to bite in spite of his age whenever he had a chance to do so. His last bite was the framing of the Resettlement Bill which could have put the Indian Government in an embarrassing situation. Even though the bill was passed by the State Legislature during the tenure of Dr. Farooq Abdullah, it became virtually infructuous as it was not followed vigorously by the lion cubs for their own vested interests or rather they bargained it again for power. For past sometime we have been watching one of the cubs trying to roar like a lion. There were many occasions when one witnessed a streak of that lion of the yester years but then one did not see the bites which are expected after such roars! The roars started from the alleged land transfer to Amarnath Board. His emotional speech in the parliament not only impressed people but stunned some from the mainstream parties. In the recent times, he went a little further and even challenged the Indian contention of Kashmir being an integral part of the union. The very basis of the accession has been disputed by him in so far as it concerns total merger of the state into the Indian Union. No doubt he is pulled down by his being stuck in a coalition with the party ruling at centre yet he carries on in spite of repeated rejections of his people friendly proposals. Be it power house transfer, hanging of Afzal Guru, revocation of AFSPA, and the latest brazen rejection of his rehabilitation policy for former militants. One would not suggest the escape route of resignation as lions do not give up or resign themselves to fate. They fight and fight hard to achieve their goals. There are only two possibilities as debated by many in the media. He is preparing for the forthcoming elections and using the traditional family histrionics to fool people once again knowing the truth that Kashmiris are themselves ready to be fooled again and again. The other possibility is that Delhi is cooking something with other willing candidates from different groupings on either side of the fence. This could be either for local reasons of total misgovernance and disenchantment of the people with the present ruling set up or for some more sinister plans concerning the sub-continent and beyond. In all cases, the only thing which emerges starkly is total helplessness. In such a state of affairs the best course for a person is to take some momentous decisions in the overall interests of the people whose representative one claims to be. As the Chief Executive of the State Government all residuary constitutional powers vest in him. If he really feels the pain of the people and is a lion cub, he will go ahead with the decisions which have been hanging fire for last so many years. The most that can happen is his dismissal but it would be for truly taking the side of the people and for relieving their sufferings. Both his father and his grandfather have faced similar moments in history. Even though they took some drastic decisions yet they did not follow through and see these implemented but ate a humble pie to regain the chair. There is a Kashmiri phrase for such lions. Lachi ross Seuh! (A lion without a tail). This applies to a person who is not really what he claims to be, a “Lion”. Well time only will show whether he is a real lion cub or the one of the Kashmiri saying!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Protecting the “Abode of the Gods”!

From the ancient times the spiritual people have been meditating in the heights of the mighty Himalaya popularly called the “Abode of the Gods”. High places in the remotest parts of the mighty Himalaya with the serenity, calmness and the clean air have not only been a spiritual experience to the saints but exhilarating to the adventure lovers trekking and climbing there. Nathaniel Hawthorne has said, “Mountains are the Earth’s undecaying monuments”. People have not only been climbing up mountains to renew their faith but even prophets have received divination on mountain tops. Every religion in the world points to the existence of the ultimate reality. Only the names, forms and ways to experience and reach that reality differ. Kashmir is locally known as the Resh-e-Weur or the bowl of saints. Most of the shrines of saints in Kashmir are situated on hill tops where they had spent their lifetime in prayer and meditation. We respect every faith and have been helping people of other faiths on their pilgrimages to holy places. In fact, Kashmir has been home to many faiths from the earliest times. The most important fourth Buddhist Council was held in Kashmir. This gathering of the Buddhist scholars was responsible for affecting a revolutionary change in the religion from the Hinayana School to Mahayana School which was then spread by the participants in many parts of the world. A host of other religious scholars have been visiting Kashmir for learning as well as meditation from ancient times. Earlier people would travel to the high and remote places in the Himalaya on foot through difficult terrain and in extreme conditions. The arduous journey would not only strengthen their faith but bring them closer to the divinity. The same holds good for the Muslims visiting their holy places like the centre of Islam in Makkah. A Haj pilgrimage on horses, camels or even on foot would take months. The person returning from the pilgrimage after a tough journey would be a completely changed person. Not now! These days the entire pilgrimage can be performed in just a week’s time by flying in most modern and supersonic jets and staying in air-conditioned five star comforts. This change from a hard and trying travel to quick and comfortable journey to strengthen one’s belief in the Almighty and to be near the God has happened in all faiths. The 150 year old Amarnath Pilgrimage in earlier times was truly a journey of faith. It would take almost a week to climb through very difficult mountainous trail to reach the cave. The people performing the hard journey would reflect aura of holiness on their return. However, now not only has the traditional route been given an alternate short cut through Sonamarg and Baltal but one can fly by choppers to visit the holy cave in minutes. In addition, the routes have been widened and the journey made more easy and smooth to complete the pilgrimage in few days. This has been done to allow more people to visit the holy cave and also to make the journey of older people easier and comfortable. These are really commendable steps taken by the all concerned. However, the main attraction of this remote journey into the Himalaya like other such pilgrimages is the travel of the pilgrims along the beautiful and divinely environment. It is the duty of every pilgrim to protect this God gifted environment. It can only be done if the number of faith loving pilgrims is controlled and regulated and the duration of the pilgrimage is curtailed to the manageable limits. Most unfortunately, the reverse is happening. The duration of the pilgrimage is being extended every year and the daily number of pilgrims for a period of one month has gone up from 5,000 (recommended by Dr. Nitish Sengupta after the inquiry into the 1996 disaster which claimed the lives of hundreds of pilgrims due to a snow blizzard), to 16,500. The duration of the pilgrimage has also been extended to 55 days. One can imagine the fate of the delicate environment after such a large number of human beings visit the area and litter every place with plastics, tins, bottles and other rubbish. Over and above there are legal directions to widen and pave the road for larger number of pilgrims. It is imperative that all concerned think coolly and take positive steps not only to control and regulate the pilgrimage but to clean up the environment after each pilgrimage. The cleaning process itself can generate sufficient employment for the local people. The porters and ponies used during the pilgrimage can be re-employed to go up and bring all the non-biodegradable rubbish down for final disposal. Perishable garbage can be destroyed on spot as is usually done by conscientious mountaineers visiting the Himalaya.Both the Shrine Board and the Environment and Ecology Departments of the government can take upon themselves the entire job. The security personnel who are usually the last persons to come down can also lend a helping hand. One hopes that everyone connected with the pilgrimage as well as the members of the civil society will pursue the project to keep the “Abode of the Gods” as clean and serene as God created it!

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Unethical Service Providers

Dr. Abdul Ahad in his latest book, “Kashmir: Triumphs and Tragedies”, in chapter seven titled, “Intellectuals and Intelligentsia” talks of some people who brazenly disgrace themselves by stooping so low as to become unnatural and unethical service providers to their bosses. These “Unethical Service Providers” have existed in all periods of Kashmir history. These people in the earliest times were known as notorious “Damarasa” as mentioned by Kalhana in Rajatarangni. Damaras were the landlords who were the real king makers. However, some of these were very unethical and roguish. They virtually corrupted the Kings and Queens of ancient Kashmir. Kalhana mentions Damaras as the powerful semi-independent feudal lords who controlled the Royalty of ancient Kashmir. Damaras were feudal land-owners or barons. They mostly lived in the fertile cultivated portions of the valley and their seats formed strong-holds capable of defence. These territorial lords were the true king makers. These earliest aristocrats or nobles continued to be an influential element even under the Sultans of Kashmir. The advent of Islam in the valley introduced a new element. These were the Sayyids who had accompanied Shah-i-Hamadan from Iran. They considered themselves to be superior to the local converts to Islam. Their progeny started a new class of aristocracy. Mughals patronised some of these aristocrats who had sided with them during the capture of Kashmir. However, the rule of Afghans and Sikhs was so harsh that nothing of aristocracy or sophistication survived. They were uncouth and ruthless rulers. Dogras created new land barons by importing Rajputs from Jammu as also patronised the erstwhile Damaras especially those who could act as their “Unethical Service Providers”. After the end of the Dogra rule and advent of so called democratic set up created in the uncertain and confusing conditions of 1947, new breeds of “Unethical Service Providers” came into being. The emergency administration of Sheikh Abdullah encouraged and patronised some strongmen both in the party as well as in administrationwho would carry out the dictatorial orders unethically to keep the people in submission. After dethroning of Sheikh Abdullah, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad selected some of these strongmen who had been loyal to him during Sheikh Abdullah’s administration to cleanse the unwanted elements and brow beat the people into submission. These were known as the “Goggas” who served the same purpose but in a harsher and brazen way. They would herd the people like a dumb flock of sheep and would reward the willing ones among them handsomely. This happened while all the rebels were put behind bars or pushed across the ceasefire line. During the time of G. M. Sadiq, there did not appear any need for “Unethical Service Providers” as he would use the strong legal police force to suppress any opposition. Dissenters were put in jail for years together and not asked to compromise through corruption and unethical means. His seven years were probably the only clean administrative rule even though he was not able to change the basic mind-set of the people towards India. Being a communist himself, he believed in people who had strong convictions and sound ideology. According to him, those who had real convictions not favouring India should stay in Jail! Thus during his tenure, the “Unethical Service Providers” virtually disappeared. The return of Sheikh Abdullah as the Chief Minister in 1975was after the abandonment of the basic convictions he held right from 1931 regarding total emancipation of the people and providing them a place of honour and dignity. The people who had been led by him round and round in circles still followed him in spite of the somersaults! However, to keep the simmering discontent in check and exhibit the popularity of his new compromised stance, there again rose the need of the “Unethical Service Providers”. Corruption and dishonesty grew in leaps and bounds. The material possessions regardless of the means of obtaining the same became the way of life. Since that time, the “Unethical Service Providers” not only received patronage from the rulers in Srinagar and Delhi but became an important part of the ruling as well as the administrative set up. Some of them had very violent ends both at the hands of their beneficiaries as well as their opponents. Mostly, the problems rose over sharing of the booty or failure to provide the “Unethical” services. The filthy atmosphere created by these “Unethical Service Providers” has hardly left any space for honest people. In fact, truth, honesty, and integrity are the scarcest items in Kashmir at the present moment. These people who are also known as the “Middlemen” have mushroomed in every sphere of life and in every section of the society. The worst tragedy is that instead of being hauled up for their corrupt and dishonest workings, they get awarded and rewarded. One wonders whether the Kashmir Society will ever be rid of these “Unethical Service Providers”. The main problem is that over last 65 years or so a colossal administrative and security set up has been created in Kashmir with patronage from Delhi. This set up has a sizeable number of “Unethical Service Providers”. As mentioned in these columns, the only hope is the new generation. However, the basic condition is to create in them an urge to be honest, speak the truth and have the courage to stand by it regardless of the consequences. That seems the only road to salvation from the present ills of our society created by the “Unethical Service Providers” over a long period of our recent history. In the alternative we may be doomed till the end of time!

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Religious Terrorism

The registration for pilgrims to the holy cave of Baba Amarnath has started. It is reported that about 16,500 pilgrims would be allowed every day for 55 days. That may amount to a million pilgrims or so. Such a large number of people going into ecologically fragile mountain areas will have serious adverse impact on the environment. The only voice raised against this impending disaster is that of Swami Agnivesh. Following the Home Minister’s remark that there is also “Saffron Terror” in India, it had been mentioned in these columns that terrorism has no colour, caste, creed or religion. It was also pointed out that instead of straightaway declaring the existence of “Hindu Terrorism”, the Home Minister has pointed fingers only on the extremist Hindutva elements. However, following very strong reaction from BJP and others, the Home Minister had to eat a humble pie and tendered an apology for his “Saffron” remarks. This shows the scare the rightist Hindu elements can create even among the ruling party members and that too in a person responsible for the internal security and law and order for the whole country. But someone else has displayed more courage and come forward to state in unequivocal terms the existence of the Hindu brand of terrorism. The well-known activist and civil society member, Swami Agnivesh has called the Amarnath Yatra as a manifestation of Hindu terrorism in Kashmir. One must appreciate the boldness and the matter of fact declaration of truth as perceived by the famous person regardless of the consequences. This is not the first time that he has drawn attention towards the destructive effects of an uncontrolled and unregulated pilgrimage on the local ecology. Earlier he was in 2011 scolded by the Supreme Court of India for calling the Yatra a “Pakhand” (Hypocrisy). In fact, Haryana and Punjab High Courts had issued arrest warrants against him for his remarks about the Yatra! The 150 year old Amarnath Yatra has been getting controversial by the day after the extension in its duration and the failure of the Shrine Board as well as the government in limiting the increasing number of Yatris year after year. Many articles have been written by various experts about the adverse environmental impact of the uncontrolled and unregulated Yatra on the local ecology. The Yatra which used to be a journey of faith for thousands of devotees has turned into a battle to establish Hindu supremacy over the Muslim majority Kashmir. Swami Agnivesh in spite of the wrath of the rightist Hindu parties which he had to face earlier has now once again come out strongly against the extension in the period of the Yatra to 55 days. According to him, “Hindu zealots push hundreds of thousands of pilgrims into Kashmir to give an impression that Jammu and Kashmir is its integral part.“Amarnath Yatra” has given flip to religious hysteria and we call it religious terrorism.” He further says that, “the Yatra is a handy tool for SASB and Hindu extremists to exploit the sentiments of millions of Hindus across the country.” He has appealed Hindu pilgrims “to understand the designs of Hindu zealots who propagate this Yatra in such a big way that every Indian gets attracted towards it.” Swami Agnivesh says, “How come it is possible that by visiting the Amarnath Cave, one could become pure? Pilgrims are being flocked to Cave to die and we all know last year, so many people lost their lives there, Agnivesh said and added that it is better for Hindus to die in their homes instead of in the mountains of Amarnath”. He has severely criticized the state government for not doing anything in this regard. He alleges that the Government of the State of Jammu and Kashmir is not concerned about the environmental hazards and is giving free hand to SASB for unknown reasons. The Swami further says that, “When the Uthrakhand Government can limit the duration and number of pilgrims then what is the problem in Jammu and Kashmir”.Severely Criticizing Hindu extremists for sowing the seeds of hatred and animosity between Hindus and Kashmiri Muslims, he feels that the time has come to limit the duration of Yatra so that religious terrorism could be curbed. In comparison, the State Government headed by the young and smart Chief Minister has been behaving very meekly in regard to the destruction of our environment and ecology. There is absolutely no doubt that the Kashmiris are faith loving people and respect all religions. In fact, in earlier times the entire Yatra was handled by the Muslims from the surrounding areas who took care of ponies, porters, tented colonies, eating places, security and so on. The Dharmarth Trust was responsible only for organising the darshan at the cave. Now, entire area has been taken over by the Shrine Board which was constituted in the time of Dr. Farooq Abdullah displacing the traditional caretakers of Dharmarth Trust headed by Dr. Karan Singh. Since that time and especially during the Governorship of General Sinha, the Yatra has gone out of control. The only Chief Minister who could face the communal General and get the Yatra period reduced was Mufti Mohammad Sayed but he had to pay a price for it! He had to make way for Ghulam Nabi Azad even though he was working well for the interests of both the state and the country! Apart from the meek Chief Minister and other leaders, even the Civil Society in general is not able to take a firm stand on the subject fearing that they may be labelled communal or anti-religious. However, it is a pity that the present Chairman of the Shrine Board who has been associated with mountains for a long time and is aware about the fragility of mountain environment of which Nanda Devi Sanctuary and Gangotri are living examples has not been able to convince the board members to limit the duration and number of pilgrims! As Swami has said when the Uttrakhand Government can control and regulate Gangotri Yatra why cannot the local Government do the same thing? If the “secular” Government of India can impose total regulation and control on the Hajis visiting Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage why can’t they put a similar control on this pilgrimage? The most ironic thing is that the highest court in the country instead of issuing directions to the Shrine Board to control and regulate the Yatra to take care of the delicate and fragile mountain environment, is instead directing the State Government to improve and expand the track by paving it and also provide permanent facilities to the pilgrims. It is a pity that such a bold and outspoken stand by a Hindu leader showing concern for our state has not received due appreciation and support from the local civil society or the leaders of all hues and shades which are available by the dozen here!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Kashmir’s Political “Actors”!

The speech of Omar Abdullah in the ongoing assembly session on the killing of an innocent man in Baramulla by the trigger happy army troops was very emotional and sentimental. The Chief Minister while mentioning this incident and many others referred to misuse of AFSPA. He also emphasized that his continued repetition about repealing of AFSPA was sincere. He appeared quite impressive and the speech was quite moving. However, the moot point is what is the depth of sincerity in the words uttered? He mentioned the walk out of PDP as they could do so and give vent to their strong emotions about this incident. But excused himself from doing so because he was sitting on the chair of the Chief Minister. However, if he really feels that there has been wrong use of AFSPA at many places and the instant incident is a living example of the same, then why does he not resign instead of sticking to the chair and earn the good will of the people who have been suffering from this draconian legislation? Is he really courageous enough to take such a step? The Cambridge Dictionary defines histrionics as, “very emotional and energetic behaviour that has no sincerity and real meaning.” This is a special trait of some of our politicians both the ones who swayed us in the past as well as of a number of present ones. This is not the first emotional outburst from him. He had made a stronger impact with his speech in the Parliament on the question of transfer of land to Amarnath Shrine Board. That was the speech which propelled him into limelight as a young and budding Kashmiri leader. Then his emotional speech and threatened resignation in the state legislature on being accused of sexual offences was probably the best performance so far. It was much more real and convincing then the recent speech. Incidentally, both these out bursts were triggered by Muzaffar Baig, himself a master of histrionics! He too made an emotional speech and implored the Chief Minister to resign on the subject. To convince the public he offered his “conditional” resignation. One fails to understand that when a person really feels feel hurt and wants to dissociate himself from such happenings why he should offer “conditional” resignation. He should have straight away quit declaring that he would not like to be the part of a house which is impotent and unable to redress the sufferings of the people! Again this is not his first emotional outburst. The past master in histrionics in the recent times has been Dr. Farooq Abdullah. The classic example was his shedding tears in 1996 during the oath taking ceremony as the Chief Minister. The scene was televised live throughout the world. However, he has the quality of appearing serious and truthful. He also knows the pulse of the people. During his earlier tenure there were many jokes attributed to him when he would ride a motor-bike and roam all over the city and sometimes drive to Gulmarg carrying some famous beauties on his pillion. Even Indian Government did not trust him fully as they could never know what was deep in his heart. He perfectly understood the saying of a British travel writer who had visited Kashmir long time back that a kind word and a joke would get the best out of a Kashmiri. However, with the passage of time and many somersaults he lost the magic which he could play with his histrionic behaviour. May be the age has been catching with him? There was only one leader in Kashmir whose main charisma was his capacity for histrionics. That was the tallest of them all, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. He moved people emotionally so much that they would cry. His recitation of the verses of the holy Quran and the couplets of the poet Dr.Iqbal would move the listening crowds to tears. He was capable of raising the sentiments and the emotions of the audience of hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris to such a pitch that they posed blind trust in his leadership. Unfortunately, he did not honour the blind trust the people had posed in him. In spite of leading them from the pillar to the post, they still followed him blindly because of his capability and capacity to move people emotionally. His final somersault in 1975 completely wiped out the magic. Tragically, the great weakness of Kashmiris is that instead of following logic and reason, they get swayed by emotions and sentiments which always land them in a mess. May be because they have suffered so much for so long that they catch at any straw! There is a saying that one can fool all the people some of the time; some of the people all the time but one cannot fool all the people all the time. The only exception may be Kashmiris who have been fooled all the time and that too with their own consent. May be the new generation changes this age old weakness and the people claiming to be popular leaders won’t be able to fool them all the time!