Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A beginning, not the end!

Sometimes accidents in life do not end it but rather give a new beginning for a more active and purposeful life

A beginning, not the end!

I am dedicating today’s column to my friends who have practically demonstrated the saying, “Difficult can be done now, and impossible may take some time!” If a man has a will, he can overcome any difficulty.
The first friend is Major HPS Ahluwalia, popularly known among his friends as Harry, of the Everest fame. He was a summiteer in first successful Indian expedition to Mount Everest. However, after his climb he suffered a spine injury and was paralyzed below waist. This type of accident would have crippled any normal person for life. Not Harry! He rehabilitated himself and continued his adventures. He would travel on his wheel chair not only throughout the world but took part in a number of adventure activities including a Central Asian Car Safari. He was elected the President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure in India a number of times. However, above everything else, he established the Indian Spine Injuries Centre in Delhi which is supposed to be the best in Asia. Thousands of people have benefited from the facilities available in the Centre and have been fully rehabilitated. The greatest support and inspiration to Harry came from his wife, Boli. Then Harry got connected to Kashmir through my other friend.
My other friend is Khurshid Malik, a retired senior IAS officer. He retired few years back as the Secretary to Government. I know Khurshid from early seventies. We were both members of the Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering and Hiking Club and trekked and climbed together. He used to be a great lover of outdoors and would often go trekking and trout fishing. Earlier he used to be lecturer but later on joined Kashmir Administrative Service. Unfortunately, while travelling from Jammu to Srinagar in car, he met an accident and suffered a serious spine injury. He was totally paralysed and that would have been his tragic end. However, his brother who is a doctor took him to UK and USA where he spent about two years and was fully rehabilitated. On his return to Kashmir, Khurshid was somewhat depressed about his acceptability in his changed life style. He had not joined his duties back in the secretariat being always on a wheel chair. Luckily a few days after his arrival, Harry came for a Mountaineering Meet in Srinagar. I told him about Khurshid and he immediately asked me to take him to his home. We went there together. Khurshid was lying in the bed. Harry told him why was he lying in the bed during day time? He asked him to get out of the bed and start moving round. He told him that he had just flown in from Delhi and was flying to London after few days for a conference. Harry gave him a pep talk for an hour. This inspired Khurshid and he joined his duties in the secretariat after few days. After that it was a missionary zeal and Khurshid had his own specially designed car for specially challenged persons which he continues drive himself even now. 
Taking inspiration from Harry, Khurshid set up the Shafaqat Rehabilitation Centre in Srinagar in 2006 through the Voluntary Medicare Society of which he is the Vice-President. This is the only Centre of its kind in the state of J & K. It is fully equipped for rehabilitating spine injuries patients and is a sister concern of the Shafaqat School for the children with special needs which has been working since 2000. A large number of people have benefited from the facilities available in the Centre. Earlier people had to go outside for rehabilitation but now they are taken care here. The International Red Cross has also set up a unit there for providing artificial limbs to the people. Recently the Centre has added a facility for mental rehabilitation of traumatized people supervised by Kashmir’s famous psychiatrist, Dr. Mushtaq Margoob. There is a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Shafaqat Rehabilitation Centre and the Indian Spine Injuries Centre for training of staff and provision of other facilities. The entire effort is voluntary without any assistance from the Government. The Centre has some beds for patients who need to be admitted for continuous rehabilitation and it also operates an outpatient department where people come for daily treatment. There is very well equipped Gym and many other facilities. However, not many people know about the availability of these facilities. In different parts of India moneyed people always come forward to take care of such causes but not in Kashmir which has not only millionaires but billionaires. We like to spend on huge festivities, expensive automobiles and all sorts of luxuries but not on humanitarian causes! A real pity! However, this activity of setting up these centres in Delhi and Srinagar has one lesson that for people with a will, the life does not end with an accident but it has a new and more purposeful beginning. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

BJP fuelling Kashmir militancy

The recent actions of BJP Government have driven Kashmiri youth to a corner which is fuelling the new wave of militancy.

In these columns it had been pointed out that a new wave of militancy has been rising in Kashmir for past some time. This wave was of young committed and highly educated youth without any external support or motivation. The main reason has been total clamp down on free expression and extreme alienation due to excessive suppression by the security agencies. The spur in this wave was caused by the joining of a Kashmir centric mainstream party having the motto of the “healing touch”, with the extremist Hindutva groups to form a government in the state. This was in spite of the fact that the said party explicitly opposed the entry of Hindutva elements into Kashmir during their election campaign. The youth that had supported and helped the party during election campaign felt betrayed and stabbed in the back. Even the leader of the party Mufti Sahib was reluctant to join and dithered for a month or so. In fact, apparently, he was persuaded by some other members on the plea that it was essential to align with the Government in Delhi to get the massive funds needed for rehabilitation and development. Unfortunately, in spite of a total surrender to the Hindutva party, the promised funds never came and Mufti Sahib virtually died of that shock!
RSS and BJP have always been anti-Muslim. In fact, before the independence of the country, they even opposed the freedom movement and sided with the British. According to Rajeshwar Dayal, the Chief Secretary of the United Provinces in 1947-48, Golwalkar had planned to carry out a Pogrom of Muslims. In his book, “Bunch of Thoughts”,he writes about non-Hindus: “The non-Hindu people of Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must learn and respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but of those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture ... In a word they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizens' rights.” RSS is now giving practical shape to these ideas of Golwalkar through their nominee, Narendra Modi. In this game plan Kashmir and especially, the Kashmiri Muslims have been their favourite targets.
Their first onslaught was in fifties through the Parija Parishad agitation in Jammu for complete merger of J & K state into the Indian Union. This resulted in the dethroning and arrest of the then tallest leader of Kashmir, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah who had been duped into accepting India as a progressive and a secular country by Nehru and others. However, these so called progressive leaders of the freedom movement led by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru were able to contain these extremist Hindus only partially. They did not fully succeed in eliminating these extremist Hindutva elements as they had themselves accepted the partition of the country on the basis of religion. These elements continued their movement covertly and came into the open off and on. Now, they are in the open with full onslaught on Muslims especially those from Kashmir who have always been portrayed as “Pakistani Agents”. These days it is a fashion to be anti-Muslim and specifically anti-Kashmiri Muslim as that behaviour is construed to be true “nationalism”! The onslaught is so strong that even the most progressive and secular elements of the recent JNU agitation had to back out from their pro-Kashmiri stand! From “Azadi” for Kashmir they came to the oft repeated slogan of the “Integral Part”!The Hindutva wave has covertly seeped into every institution including Army, Administration and even the Judiciary.
Within Kashmir, the witch hunt and suppression of youth had reached a peak which has now resulted in more and more youth joining militancy. In fact, the DG, CRPF has also said that the youth joining militancy is a cause for concern. Now, the whole thing has been topped up by missive from the Ministry of Home Affairs to various agencies and states to check all Kashmiris in every part of India. Already in Goa, Kolkata, Delhi, and some other places checking of all Kashmiri students, employees or businessmen has started. Because of disturbed conditions in Kashmir, many parents had sent their children to various peaceful institutions in India for studies. Similarly, many Kashmiris right from nineties had set up businesses in different parts of India. However, it seems now, thanks to BJP, no place in India is safe for Kashmiris. Probably, they are being given the final “healing touch”!
The most surprising are the contradictions at the highest political level. The top political leadership in the two neighbouring countries is exhibiting bonhomie by embracing and hugging each other while as at the ground level the Kashmiris supposed to represent the “core” problem are being witch hunted and driven to a wall. The “new nationalists” in India have made it abundantly clear that they want the land of Kashmir and are not interested in the fate of Kashmiris. A columnist friend has called for a debate on the issue. Well, debates do not solve problems. It needs an unconditional stand by all concerned within Kashmir regardless of their ideology or their political streams. In fact, all progressive, secular and truly nationalist persons in India should come out openly to defend Kashmiris all over India. Now that Mehbooba Ji is satisfied with her meeting with the Prime Minister regarding implementation of the Confidence Building Measures, the first CBM to be implemented on the ground should be to ensure safety of Kashmiris within Kashmir and in every part of India. Rehabilitation and development can wait but not the right to life! The alternative, as already pointed out, would be a spur in the new wave of militancy which would be a colossal disaster for the entire sub-continent and ultimately for the entire South Asia if the two sides lose their cool!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Bonhomie through the Laser Walls!

The leaders’ hugs in Lahore and the smugglers’ handshakes across the laser walls on the border represent the stark contradictions in the Indo-Pak Sub-continent!

Bonhomie through the Laser Walls!
Some time back there have been some interesting happenings on the Indo-Pak border and almost simultaneously between the leaders of the two countries which have starkly demonstrated the contradictions galore in the sub-continent. For a pretty long time one has been hearing about the growing bonhomie between the leaders of the two countries which have otherwise been perennially at war with each other. The bonhomie between the top leaders has always been followed by some unfortunate incidents involving innocent people. It is every time alleged that these incidents are meant to derail the talks intended for a rapprochement between the two countries. Here, an important question crops up. Who are these people who want to derail the talks? Why are they always successful in striking at the heart of imminent peace in one country or the other? However, the moot point is do these leaders really want to develop the bonhomie and also do they really have the power and capacity to do so?
The answers to these questions are simple. There are very strong vested interests on both sides of the divide who are beneficiaries of conflict. These vested interests are not only on the local level but are spread globally. First are the global armament dealers from the west. India is the largest importer of arms in the world. Pakistan spends more than 20% of its budget on defence. Among the arms manufacturers and exporters, the number one is USA whose share exceeds $ 500 billion! American economy to an extent is also dependent on conflict. The more the conflict areas in the world, the more is the sale of armaments whose production provides jobs to Americans. Once the famous Lockheed Company had issued a poster that “Peace in the world means lesser jobs for Americans”! They claim to be the leaders of the “Free Democratic World” but are in fact aggressive super cops going to extremes for their own selfish ends. Most of the violence in the last century and the beginning of the present one can be attributed to them. In addition to this, Europeans too benefit from armament sales. There is always a competition between European and American manufacturers to sell combat aircraft to India! 
After the global vested interests, come the native players who benefit from the conflict. Both the countries have massive security organisations including scores of intelligence agencies which are relevant only as long as there are chances of a conflict between the two countries. Members of all these organisations are brainwashed to consider the other side as the enemy side. Both sides help and keep in circulation civilian outfits to target each other and create grounds for a perennial conflict. Sanghis and Jihadis are nursed on two sides by the governments to keep their powder dry in case of an urgent need. In fact, on this side now the government itself is being run by Sanghis. Across the border, the extremists had been nurtured by politicians for their survival but ultimately they started consuming them! Because of this head-on collisions took place between the two sides. On both the sides the extremist elements have infiltrated most of the organisations and institutions. Sometimes the aims of these extremist organisations in the two countries coincide with each other. 
An interesting bonhomie is between the smugglers on two sides. They work across the laser walls and are quite friendly with the border guards. Interestingly, during the Pathankot incident, some personnel of the Border Security Force were arrested for having leaked the laser wall maps to smugglers who had helped the terrorists to cross the border unnoticed. India has been building electrified fences, concrete walls and now laser walls to keep people out. However, these walls in fact keep the common people out while the extremists and smugglers find ways to cross these. The walls being built to keep people out make the infamous Berlin Wall look like a child’s play! In view of all these vested interests and the measures being taken to keep the common people from meeting each other, the real bonhomie between the two countries seems a distant dream. The only way towards real peace is to have absolutely free movement across the divide on the pattern of the European Union which will allow the people living in two countries to freely mix and share each other’s’ experiences. One had thought that the SAARC would one day become like the EU but unfortunately, in the present circumstances it appears a utopian dream. To realise that dream we would need to produce leaders way beyond present Modis and Shariefs! The only silver lining is the younger generation on two sides which may go forward with a clean slate to usher in the real bonhomie! 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Rains become a nightmare!

Once welcome as a blessing, the rains these days give nightmares to the people!

Rains become a nightmare!

Recently Yasir Ashraf did a front page story in the paper titled, “Rains no more welcome in Kashmir”! According to him, people living in the areas where the Jhelum had breached its embankments were living in fear. The breaches had been plugged only with sand bags and no action had been taken for strengthening these with concrete embankments. In fact some people were frantically trying to get inflatable boats as a safety measure. The Government had wasted 18 months and still there was no sight of permanent measures being taken. The dredging of the Jhelum and the flood spill over channel had been recently taken up under the orders of the Governor. However, the pace is abnormally slow and it will take years. What is needed is an accelerated job on a fully mechanised basis round the clock. Reportedly a Kolkata based firm has been engaged for mechanised dredging and they are supposedly employing three machines. The extent of the River would require more than a dozen machines, with an equal number of JCBs and fleets of trucks (dumpers) to remove the mud and silt and deposit it away from the River at safe places. 
Equally important are the embankments especially along the banks of the River all along the city of Srinagar. These need to be strengthened with embedded concrete piles or with concrete walls. Apart from dredging the stretches near the source and near the other end in Baramulla, the River embankments have to be made impregnable and its depth increased by at least ten feet or so along its course through the City of Srinagar to contain and channel flood waters safely. The same treatment has to be given to the flood spill over channel. Except for big projects such as the flyover construction, most of these works are allegedly assigned by the concerned engineers to small contractors on political considerations. A road stretch of few kilometres gets divided among four to five contractors. This results in delay as one contractor completes the job earlier while as the other one dithers. Then there is the problem of quality control.
The entire project of flood prevention which includes dredging, strengthening of embankments needs to be allotted to a major resourceful organisation on a turnkey basis with a stipulation of a time frame with huge penalties for default. In fact, the organisation constructing the fly over could be asked to take up the work of concrete embankments as they already have enough equipment and manpower. The flyover completion may get slightly delayed but that is a better choice than getting it totally washed away! This could be done by the Governor directly by exercising the residuary powers vested in him under the constitution. An instant of this nature occurred during late seventies in Gulmarg. The skiing was dependant on a ramshackle rope tow. A French Ski lift company owner Mr. Montaz visited Gulmarg and met Sheikh Sahab. He asked him if he could put some ski lifts on priority in Gulmarg. Mr. Montaz said he could do it within a month. Sheikh Sahab directly assigned him the work and three ski lifts were imported and installed in Gulmarg. Had this not been done, Skiing in Gulmarg would have never attained national and international status which it has at present! 
Regarding the flood panic, it is mistimed. Severe floods do not occur in winter as it usually snows in higher reaches. The worst period of floods is late summer and early autumn. At that time it rains all over and the water has only one channel to go and that is the River. All other outlets are closed due to the ripening of the rice crop. Also last time there were other factors such as the combination of the western disturbances with the monsoon spill over from the South. The recent climate change has made the occurrence of such freak events a strong possibility. So there is still time to complete the job of protecting the habitations from the flood fury. In fact, to guarantee right to life is the first constitutional duty of a government. Other niceties come later.  
This job should have been the priority number one in the so called developmental agenda of the last Government which is now in limbo! They did absolutely nothing and dithered for months on end. They are still bargaining for their existence without bothering about the fate of the people. If the Governor accelerates the pace of development and takes up the flood prevention measures on a war footing within a stipulated time frame people may prefer the Governor’s or even President’s Rule to an elected government of self-serving greedy politicians! 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Kashmir’s missing kings

Kashmir in ancient times was ruled by kings and queens who were born to be so and in the recent times we have had democratically elected kings but right now we have none!

Kashmir’s missing kings

Traditionally, Kashmir from the earliest times has been ruled by Kings and Queens. The most authentic and interesting historical account of the Kings and Queens of Kashmir from the ancient times till twelfth century is the Rajatarangani written by Pandit Kalhan. It means in English the River of Kings. It truly is a descriptive River of the Kings and Queens who have ruled Kashmir in the earliest of times. There have been all types of Kings. Some were great builders while some were great conquerors. Avantivarman was a builder while as Laltaditya Muktapid was a great conqueror. Avantivarman’s period is remembered because of his illustrious minister Hakeem Suya who saved Kashmir of those times from devastating floods. After the devastation of the last flood one intensely wishes we had someone like Hakeem Suya in the present times! Laltaditya can be truly called the Alexander of Kashmir because of his conquests and forays into lands all around Kashmir. He even tried to conquer Tibet but his entire army perished in the freezing snows of Ladakh on their way to Tibet. Then we had Kanishka during whose reign the Fourth Buddhist Council which changed Buddhism from the strict Hinayana School to more moderate Mahayana School was held in Kashmir. The famous Chinese Traveller Huien Sang visited Kashmir during his time. 
Among the Queens, there are two famous ones, Queen Didda and Kota Rani. Queen Didda is supposed to have been very ruthless and vicious. She ruled with a strong hand. According to a historian friend, Indira Gandhi was supposed to have been her re-incarnation! Kota Rani was the last Hindu ruler and she committed suicide after a forced marriage to Rin Cin Shah, a Ladakhi prince who had usurped the thrown of Kashmir. In fact, after being refused entry into Hinduism by the local Brahmins, he converted to Islam and became the first Muslim ruler of Kashmir as Sultan Sadr-ud-Din. 
In the recent past, Kashmir has had two very illustrious and intelligent rulers. Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin popularly known as Budshah and Queen Habba Khatoon. In fact, the latter was a de-facto ruler. She was the wife of the last ruler of the sovereign and independent Kashmir, Yusuf Shah Chak. One need not recount the story of Budshah. Even a child is familiar with the name. As regards Habba Khatoon apart from being an intelligent companion and advisor to her husband, she was a famous poetess. She in fact started the romantic school of poetry in Kashmir which till her time had mostly the Sufi or the spiritual poetry. Her songs still reverberate in the valleys of Kashmir. Apart from being a de-facto ruler, she had rendered timely advice to her husband   asking him not to trust Akbar but he disregarded it and ended up in exile and loss of Kashmir’s sovereignty! 
The departure of the British in 1947 from the sub-continent brought freedom to many oppressed people. However, Kashmiris due to their ill luck failed to get back their sovereign status even after four centuries of external rule. When the whole sub-continent was witnessing the rise of the new Sun of freedom and emancipation, Kashmiris were getting entangled in the worst possible political mess in the history. A special King arose who got them entangled in such a knot which appears to be impossible to disentangle! These were now new type of Kings who were installed by outside powers to keep the people under a new kind of imperialism. One could call these so called democratically “selected” Kings. Even though they fought so called elections yet their installation was by the will of the outside powers. In spite of the end of the monarchical system of heredity Kings and Queens, the new line also tried to follow the hereditary process in a so called democratic way.
The present situation when Kashmir is without a King or a Queen reminds one of a similar episode described by Kalhana. It is said that at one time due to continuous internecine warfare, the people could not get a King to rule over them. The courtiers ultimately decided that any person who is first to enter the Kingdom from outside on a particular day would be crowned as a King. So on the chosen day the courtiers waited at the entry gate of the valley and as soon as a person came in, they pounced upon him and told him that he was the King of Kashmir! Well, seeing the present state of affairs we may have to resort to a similar practice and get a King or a Queen to rule over us! Anyhow, sometimes it is better to be without a King or a Queen. The state runs on its own in a much better way!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

God’s Own Children

The specially challenged children should not be neglected but taken care of in a special way

God’s Own Children

Today’s column is dedicated to special children of Kashmir. There was a time when children with birth defects like mental retardation, vision and hearing defects, deformed limbs and so on were considered a liability and were mostly neglected and left to die. The first change was change in the nomenclature while referring to them. They are now called the `specially challenged' or `differently abled' children or children with special needs. Some people even now feel reluctant or even ashamed to disclose that some of their children are specially challenged. However, with the initiative taken by some enterprising people led by Dr. Mohammad Maqbool Mir some years back, there is an appreciable change not only in the attitude of the people but also eagerness to seek the treatment as also to promote this activity in a big way. 
The Voluntary Medicare Society also known as VMS headed by Dr. Maqbool set up a school for these specially challenged children under the name of Shafaqat in the year 2000. The word Shafaqat means love and that is what the school has been giving these children for years. The School has all facilities to attend to the needs of these special children. It is a day school where the school buses bring children in the morning and drop them back in the evening to their homes. A team of dedicated persons under the supervision of Dr. Bashir Ahmad takes care of the children’s needs in all respects. The activities of the school can be seen on YouTube at the link: The children are also given home follow up programmes after their rehabilitation. Recently, an inclusive school has been started where the specially challenged children with milder problems can receive formal education up to primary level. With great efforts and persuasion of the Society, the inclusive school has received government recognition. The School charges nominal fees from the persons who can afford to pay. Others are sponsored by some philanthropists and some organisations like the Jammu & Kashmir Bank. The State Bank of India has recently given a special grant to the School for setting up hearing aid facility for the children.
Apart from the children attending the School on daily basis, the faculty of the School visits different localities and runs community programmes within the homes of the children. They also keep track of the rehabilitated children at their homes as a follow up. There are many pathetic stories about some of the children. A young girl with multiple disabilities was brought to the school by her uncle who had been asked by the mother of the girl to throw her into the River Jhelum as she was totally frustrated and could not look after her. The girl was fully rehabilitated and sent back to her home after some years. There are now some more schools in the valley but the number of such children in need of care and rehabilitation is in thousands. Both the society in general and the government in particular are criminally negligent of this important aspect of our life. The school does not get any assistance or grant from the government. It is totally a voluntary contributory effort.
We, Kashmiris, are historically supposed to have been very kind hearted. However, the mayhem of last few decades has made us totally callous. People have become very materialistic, greedy and heartless. One witnesses extremes of everything. On one hand people are struggling to have a good meal a day while as on the other hand we waste huge quantities of food during marriages and other functions and ceremonies. Some people live in what can be termed “dirty” luxury! Rupees 500 crore worth cars are imported into Kashmir every year. Some of the cars are worth more than a crore of rupees! We spend lavishly on Golf Courses, Cable Cars and other recreational facilities but seem to be oblivious of these urgent rehabilitative needs! The last flood played havoc with the School but the efforts of the staff and assistance from philanthropists has fully reactivated the school. However, to fully rehabilitate and increase the activities they need substantial assistance. Will, the rich of Kashmir come to their help? Let us pray to God Almighty that they are motivated to do it!