Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Amarnath to Tosamaidan!

The Kashmiris’ anger in regard to the land transfer or lease in both the cases should be an eye opener to all claiming Kashmiris’ reconciliation to the status quo!

The two instances of popular outburst involving the transfer of land/ extension in the lease of the land already transferred amply demonstrate the peoples’ sentiments in regard to the future dispensation of Kashmir. In fact, in a recent article in the Citizen titled, “Tosamaidan is a Trigger in Election Year”, General Hasnain, the former Commander of the Indian Army’s Srinagar based 15th Corps has stated that the case of the extension of lease in case of the Tosamaidan firing range could result in another agitation on the pattern of the Amarnath land transfer upheaval of 2008. No doubt the possession of land in Kashmir is the most volatile issue especially because of the revolutionary legislation giving the land to the tiller enacted during the first tenure of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. The Kashmiri peasant had gained total control of the land he had been tilling for ages with this law, the only one of its kind in the entire sub-continent. Till that time the land had been snatched from the tillers by the landlords and the tillers could hardly get a small portion of the produce resulting from their blood and sweat to keep their body and soul together. Having regained the possession of the land and all rights over it, it is the most painful thing for a Kashmiri if someone even just talks of taking this land away from him. The possession of the land is deeply embedded in the sub-conscious of a Kashmiri. Anything in this regard is sure to trigger deep emotions as has already been seen during the Amarnath land agitation.
However, the land in question in both agitations, the Amarnath and Tosamaidan was/is not the land of a tiller. In case of Amarnath it was the land at the start of the pilgrimage and en route for creating permanent facilities. In case of Tosamaidan it is a high-altitude meadow surrounded by forests. In both cases, the main problem is the damage to bio-diversity and total environmental degradation. It has been the general sentiment and the feeling that the outsiders are planning to take possession of the land which belongs to a Kashmiri. Here, it may be pointed out that there are already thousands of acres of land with the Army and paramilitary forces all over the state. There are dozens of cantonments, ammunition dumps, and a number of various other facilities of the security forces in all parts of the state. There has never been a popular movement or an agitation to get all these lands vacated. The State Government itself has been trying to get some areas freed within the city like the Tattoo Ground. However, there has been a continuous demand in the recent past to get the security presence deep inside the civilian areas vacated along with the revocation of the notorious legislation AFSPA giving unbridled powers with total immunity to these forces.
There has been a marked change in perception about the Army and other security forces after the decade of nineties. The Army came to Kashmir in 1947 supposedly as saviours and in spite of some earlier instances like the 1965 infiltration of Azad Kashmir forces and the subsequent war, they continued to be very close to the civilian population with the least security hassles. However, the upheaval of nineties changed everything. The Army came to be looked upon as an occupation force after the brutalities of this decade. Kashmiris developed an inside hatred which all the Sadbhavana programmes have not been able to remove. It is an extreme alienation especially in the generation which came up through the turmoil and the brutalities of the nineties. The continued highest level of security and the refusal of the security forces to face the accountability have been deepening this alienation especially among the new generation.  
General Hasnain has correctly pointed out that the extension in the Tosamaidan lease would be providing a trigger in the election year. However, it needs to be stated in explicit terms as to what the trigger is going to unleash?  Another mass upheaval? If so, why? The plain and simple truth is that the Kashmiri refuses to accept the status quo. He uses every excuse to demonstrate his discontentment. Incidentally, the discontent with the oppressive security has been coupled with the worst kind of mis-governance by the most corrupt political and administrative set up the Kashmiris have seen since 1947. All these are the consequences of a situation of perennial uncertainty about the basic political problem. These are only the symptoms and not the real disease or malaise. The real problem is the unsettled future of Kashmir. At the present moment the Kashmiris do not see any light at the end of the tunnel. They have neither got good governance for a reasonably good day to day living nor is there any visible movement to the final solution of the basic political problem. Their boat appears to be adrift and is being tossed from side to side by winds coming from different directions. In fact it is a boat without any oarsman being tossed by the waves! Shifting of a firing range or any other similar action will not solve the basic problem. Both the Amarnath agitation and the Tosamaidan upheaval should open the eyes of the authorities who instead of taking the firefighting measures for temporary management should honestly and sincerely try to address the basic political problem to usher in real peace. Otherwise we will continue to see many more Amarnaths and Tosamaidans in a more virulent form!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Lotus Eaters

Kashmiris have an uncanny resemblance to the mythological “Lotus Eaters” of the famous Greek tragedy, “Ulysses”

It is a well-known fact that Kashmiris are very fond of eating the lotus roots (Nadroo) and lotus seeds (Pambach). It would be interesting to recapitulate the story of the lotus eaters as given in the Greek tragedy Ulysses.  Interestingly, the behaviour of Kashmiris very much resembles the people living in the land of lotus eaters as described in the Greek mythology. As per the account in Wikipedia, “In Greek mythology the lotus-eaters also referred to as the lotophagi or lotophaguses were a race of people living on an island near North Africa (possibly Djerba) dominated by lotus plants. The lotus fruits and flowers were the primary food of the island and were narcotic, causing the people to sleep in peaceful apathy.”
According to the account in the Greek tragedy, the hero Odysseus on his return journey from the Trojan War encounters many strange creatures like Cyclops and Sirens. He also comes to an Island called the land of the “Lotus Eaters”. He sends some of his sailors to explore the land. They discover there people very fond of eating lotus plants. They too eat these and fall into a stupor and are unable to move till Odysseus rescues them. These sailors are crying but they do not want to leave the island. Odysseus has to tie these sailors with chains to the benches to prevent them from running back to the island.
In ancient Egypt, there are legends about the Blue Lotus. The Egyptian high priests used these in their ceremonies. The petals of the Blue Lotus were scattered on the tomb of Tutankhamen and the flower has been featured in the ancient Egyptian art.                                         
 It is reported that the preparations from the root of the Blue Lotus which very much resembles the Nadroo of Kashmir possess certain psychedelic properties. It is a fact that Kashmiris too are supposed to be somewhat lethargic and full of apathy. However, there are also bouts of awakening which surprise many. Generally people remain in a very stoic state unmoved by events around them. During last decade or so there have been a couple of mass upheavals. One was about the Amarnath land transfer and the other about the killing of innocent boys. Entire Kashmir was under siege. Millions had taken to roads. It appeared the anger of the people would be impossible to suppress. However, with a large number of killings of youth, continuous declared and undeclared curfew, the upheaval was contained. Anyone who had visited Kashmir during the upheaval and after would not believe these were the same people!
During the entire history of Kashmir’s movement for “Azadi” which generally means total emancipation, there have been many ups and downs. Many times between the upheavals the people appear to resemble the “Lotus Eaters” of the Ulysses. However, at some other times they behave like true revolutionaries who would be impossible to suppress. That may be the major difference in the two categories of “Lotus Eaters”, the ones depicted in Ulysses and the other living in this serene and calm mystic valley of saints. May be the reason for this strange swinging behaviour is the fact that we do not eat Nadroos and Pambach all the time? We only occasionally eat the lotus roots and the seeds while as the in the Island of lotus eaters in Ulysses they only ate the lotus and its other off shoots and it was their main and probably the only diet. It would be worthwhile for our scientists to conduct some research in regard to the eating of lotus roots and the behaviour of Kashmiris!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Hypocrisy of the Freedom of expression

The principle has been battered in Kashmir during the recent times

The recent incident involving threats to Kashmir based columnists has raised many questions about the most cherished human right of the freedom of expression. In fact any talk about this right is becoming hypocritical. One of the most fundamental pillars in a democratic set up is the right of a person to express freely without any fear his views on any subject including the functioning of the state itself through any medium he desires to use. Constitutions of all free and democratic countries guarantee this right to their citizens. Wikipedia gives an interesting detail including the history of the right of freedom of speech and expression. It would be useful to quote some of the passages in original:
“Concepts of freedom of speech can be found in early human rights documents. England’s Bill of Rights 1689 granted 'freedom of speech in Parliament' and is still in effect. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, adopted during the French Revolution in 1789, specifically affirmed freedom of speech as an inalienable right. The Declaration provides for freedom of expression in Article 11, which states that: “The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law." Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, states that: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."
Today freedom of speech, or the freedom of expression, is recognized in international and regional human rights law. The right is enshrined in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.”
The height of hypocrisy is the way India treats this right in Kashmir. Article 19. 1 (a) and (b) of the Constitution of India states that “All citizens shall have a right to freedom of speech and expression and to assemble peacefully without arms.” These expressions seem to have disappeared from the copies of the Constitution of India which cross into Jammu & Kashmir from the Indian mainland. For last couple of decades every attempt at free assembly and expression has been curtailed by the authorities by employing various overt and covert means. This fact has been repeatedly commented upon and vehemently opposed by the International Watch Dog Organisations of the fundamental human rights. However, in view of the violence from all sides, the major concern in this part of the world has been regarding the right to life which too remains suspended due to certain draconian legislations giving total and absolute immunity to the security forces for all their alleged acts of killings. The major concern of one and all at the moment is to make the security forces accountable for all their actions. Incidentally, the exercise of the right to write does not seem to bother the authorities so much. One can see many writings criticising the authorities in all spheres incisively in most of the print media.
On the contrary, it has been observed that the people who claim to struggle for these very fundamental rights sometimes go to the height of hypocrisy by showing intolerance even for objective and unbiased reporting of facts. Of course, they have every right to question any writing belittling or denigrating a person. Nor does the freedom of expression itself allow abuse or denigration. There are legal as well as moral safeguards for that in every society. In any case, neither the state nor any individual citizen or his supporters have any right whatsoever to threaten a writer for his writings especially if these do not have any denigrating or abusive content and are just objectively reported facts. Normally one would expect people aspiring for ultimate freedom to be more open to even constructive criticism to enlighten them about various possible pitfalls and risks involved in such movements. It sometimes happens that there is an abundance of certain followers who try to be more loyal than the king and by their actions cause more harm than good! However, it is incumbent upon a king to rope in and keep in check such overenthusiastic followers in the interests of the overall movement for its ultimate success. That is the only way to escape the label of hypocrisy. It is a universal truth that often wrong means result in a wrong end and people professing high ideals end up as hypocrites!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The downside of Kashmir Tourism

Because of various adverse effects on environment, commerce and prices of travel as well as commodities, Tourism is proving to be bane rather than boon for common Kashmiris

As usual there is an outcry among tourism players because of sky high airfares raised by various airlines for travel to Srinagar from various destinations both within the state and outside. The travel trade has been accusing some quarters for sabotaging travel to Kashmir by raising these airfares. However, the raised airfares do not affect the tourists as much as the local Kashmiris traveling to and fro for various reasons including medical treatment, studies, and trade etc. The most affected is the short notice travel. The tourists decide their programmes well in advance and most of the travel houses make block bookings well in advance for the group travel. Because of so called free market economy the airlines allow the market forces to determine the price without any reasonable upper limit. Normally, the airfare regulatory authority of the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) is supposed to cap the fares. Every airline is supposed to file the upper and lower limit of fares to various destinations with the authority in the start of the season and the authority is expected to keep a continuous check on these fares by regular monitoring. International Airlines have to follow the rules and regulations fixed by the IATA (International Air Transport Association). Last September DGCA fixed the upper and lower limits of fares between Delhi and Mumbai to prevent various airlines going berserk in regard to the upper limit of the fares. In regard to Kashmir, there does not seem to be any upper limit fixed by the DGCA for various airlines and there is a free fall all in this regard especially during summer season.
Almost every politician including the rulers mounts every pulpit to proclaim that the tourism is a big boon for Kashmir although the trade does not constitute even 7% of the State’s GDP. The most adverse effect felt by the common people is on prices including the airfare. All other things do also get adversely affected. The first to be struck is the fragile environment. Be it the water bodies like Dal Lake or the lush green meadows and forests which have been virtually turned into concrete jungles. Every activity is most unfortunately weighed by one and all in terms of its impact on tourism. One of the major factors in the pollution of Dal Lake has been the mushroom growth of hotels on the banks of the Lake and the house boats inside it. The three most scenic and natural meadows of Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg have been virtually turned into concrete urban centres by uncontrolled growth of hotels and other facilities. In fact, some of the newer spots are being destroyed by the Tourism Department itself by constructing unnecessary infrastructure by spending hundreds of crores which according to latest CAG report has remained completely unutilised thereby turning the expenditure infructuous. One would not mind the loss of crores pocketed by the constructing agencies in league with local politicians and concerned engineers but the destruction of environment is totally irreversible. The so called Tourism Development Authorities are proving to be money minting rackets at the cost of local environment. In real terms the State has no business to set up the infrastructure. It should have been left to the private sector with government only being a watch dog authority for regulation to ensure sustainable tourism as per carrying capacity of each area.
It is a tragedy that while as the so called tourism promoters are spending hundreds of crores for the illusive tourists, the basic civic facilities have remained unattended due to lack of funds. The recent snow fall resulting in inundating of the most parts of the city is a typical example of the lack of interest and drive in improving civic facilities for the local population. We can find hundreds of crores for Golf Courses and Cable Cars but not for basic civic amenities because of a “Tourism Mania”! Incidentally, even till date the State has to formulate a “Tourism Policy” and a “Perspective Plan” for Tourism Development. The worldwide emphasis on “Sustainable Tourism” does not form part of the lexicon of our local Tourism developers. Money regardless of its colour is the only consideration. Tourism Department instead of going in for “Sustainable Tourism” and preservation of environment is allegedly making plans for an event like the notorious Zubin Mehta concert. Few crores are alleged to be earmarked for participation in a “Film Awards” show in Florida to sell Kashmir to the people whose countries have prohibited them from coming here.
The worst part of the “Tourism Mania” is the tendency among all the mainstream politicians in Delhi and Srinagar to consider tourism as a barometer of political normalcy. Tourists visiting Kashmir are used as propaganda tool worldwide to project peace in Kashmir. No doubt tourism being a service oriented industry provides a large number of seasonal jobs to the local people but the basic requirement for tourism is real and genuine peace. No one wants to go for a holiday to a place of uncertainty. One never knows when the deceptive peace in Kashmir will blow up. At the moment the bulk of traffic is budgeted tourism. The high end travellers are still avoiding Kashmir. With the increased airfares, they would be better off to travel to Europe or South East Asia in the same price. In the ultimate analysis, Tourism has been creating more problems than benefits for the common Kashmiris. The Cambridge dictionary defines boon as “something that is very helpful and improves the quality of life”. In contrast, bane is defined as, “a cause of continuous trouble or unhappiness”. It is for the people to judge whether Tourism is a boon or bane for Kashmir!