Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Largest Democracy’s “Integral” Part!

Kashmir is supposed to be an “integral” part of the world’s largest democracy but in reality, there is hardly anything democratic here

Image result for bsf in kashmir under siege 
India prides itself to be the largest democracy in the world. Even though many people have reservations about it being a real democracy in practice, yet in the overall context, it does function as a democracy. There are general elections both in the centre and the states to elect peoples’ representatives. There are many upright institutions such as the Election Commission, the Supreme Court and so on which oversee the functioning of the democracy at all levels. The most conspicuous weak points are the treatment meted out to Dalits and minorities especially Muslims. Moreover, the democratic set up is overshadowed by upper castes and the corporates. In fact, Arundhati Roy calls it an “Upper caste Hindu corporate Republic”! The Upper caste Hindus of a specific geographic area known as the “Cow Belt” have been mostly ruling the Republic since its creation. In order to keep their hegemony, they have created a fear about the threat to the integrity of the country. To safeguard this so called integrity of the country, after having first agreed to its dismemberment on religious lines in 1947, they have created the phobias called the “National Interest” and the “National Security”! Any wrongs done by the State are covered under these fig leaves! Having said that, India is still functioning as a vibrant democracy compared to many so called Banana Republics and a number of countries in South Asia. There is definitely some accountability when it comes to the violation of basic human rights in different parts of India. However, there is a stark exception!
Kashmir, also called the crown of India and claimed to be an “Integral Part” of the Union, is that unfortunate exception. All democratic norms, laws and rights cease at Lakhanpur, the entry point to Kashmir from the mainland India. Right from 1947 when the State is supposed to have acceded to the Union of India through a most controversial Instrument of Accession, the democracy was given a go by. Sheikh Abdullah was installed as the Prime Minister after supporting the accession and he got an assembly “elected” with all 75 members unopposed! After using him to strengthen the hold, he was deposed and imprisoned. Then followed a line of pliable rulers who helped in the integration. Incidentally, Sheikh Abdullah was again installed as a Chief Minister in 1975 after he jettisoned his struggle for Plebiscite even without being a member of the assembly which had a Congress majority!  
After the armed uprising of 1990, every pretension of democracy vanished. The AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) even took away the right to life of a Kashmiri. Any soldier can kill him on the mere suspicion of being an ANE (Anti-National Element) and can destroy any dwelling on mere suspicion of being a hide-out. There are other draconian legislations like the Public Safety Act, Disturbed Areas Act and so on. The right to free expression has been permanently shelved in Kashmir. Section 144 prohibiting assembly of four or more persons remains permanently in force under the label of “Restrictions”. 
Now, let us come to the present uprising which resulted after the killing of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, called by media, the poster boy of the new wave of militancy. Being tech-savvy and on Facebook he had built a romantic image of a young guerilla who could stand against the might of India. His killing acted as a trigger for the pent up anger built up due to the oppression of his generation which had grown up in the turmoil of the nineties. The outburst was not a militant uprising but a mass movement in which everyone took part. His funeral itself was attended by hundreds of thousands of people and funeral prayers were offered at 40 different places. The authorities instead of allowing the pent up feelings to pour out as demonstrations, brutally suppressed these. The result was clashes everywhere. Bullets and pellets were used against stones! 70 people are dead. More than 8000 are injured. 500 are having pellet injuries in their eyes and more than 200 may lose eyesight. In fact, Bhim Singh was compelled to say that Kashmiris are being killed like pigeons. In spite of the curfew being lifted after 51 days, the clashes continue.
A question arises? In which part of India unarmed demonstrators are showered with pellets and bullets? In which part of India 51 days continuous curfew without any relaxation is imposed? In which part of India mobile services and internet are suspended for months on end? In which part of India security forces enter homes of the citizens, beat up inmates, and destroy household items? In which part of India over 2,000 young people are picked up without any warrants or obligatory legal procedures? In which part of India for any upheaval allegedly created by 5% people, the other 95% are very harshly punished? The Human Rights Watch Director has been compelled to declare that the Human Rights record in Kashmir is abominable! In view of all these facts, can one still say that Kashmir is an integral part of Democratic India or the crown of India? One would say that it is rather becoming a crown of thorns! It would be more appropriate to call it a colony held by brute force. Even the British were not so harsh on India!
After 51 days, there is talk of delegations upon delegations coming here to start a dialogue with all the stakeholders to solve the basic political problem. It is a positive point that the Government and the people have come out of the denial mode. It is also a positive development that people and media in many parts of India have seen the reality of Kashmir Problem. But with whom are these delegations going to meet? The present uprising is leaderless. It is a peoples’ revolt. It would be no use talking to the “Political Vultures” who have been living on the dead bodies of Kashmiris for a long time now! It would be more sensible first to bring this place to the level of any other part of India as regards basic human rights by the most urgent confidence building measures. Peace cannot be restored by bringing in more soldiers with more deadly weapons like chemical chili grenades. Let for a change, Kashmir be brought on par with other parts of democratic India in regard to basic human rights. Full and complete freedom of expression needs to be restored so that everyone is free to come forward to put forth his view point. Let a conducive atmosphere be created first, then alone one can look for final solution to the basic political problem, once and for all.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

“Chewable” Nationhood!

The author of the ‘vision document’, “Achievable Nationhood” has modified it to become the “Chewable Nationhood”!

 “Chewable” Nationhood!

Sajjad Lone, a minister in the ruling coalition, in an interview to NDTV’s Burkha Dutt said that only 5 percent people are involved in the present uprising in Kashmir. According to him 95 percent people are sitting inside their homes. He also added that all the people involved in the uprising fall in BPL (below poverty line) category. Before one goes into the details of the ground situation, it would be worthwhile to peruse his own political career. He fits the definition of the noun, ‘Turncoat’ given in the dictionary, which is, “A disloyal person who betrays or deserts his cause or religion or political party or friend etc.” Well, he is not the only ‘Turncoat’. Kashmir has a long history of ‘Turncoats’ starting from the very first person to lead the movement for emancipation after centuries of slavery.
Sheikh Abdullah has been the tallest leader in the recent times. People virtually worshipped him as they took him to be the Messiah who had been born in Kashmir after centuries of slavery. However, he did not turn out to be the one for whom Kashmiris had been waiting for ages. He virtually led them from pillar to the post and made many somersaults. Finally he passed away leaving his people in the lurch ruled by his dynastic successors. Sheikh Abdullah’s behavior ultimately gave birth to a generation of collaborators who in the real sense proved to be political vultures living on the dead bodies of Kashmiris. Bakshis, Sadiqs, Qasims and Muftis were the names of these virtual political vultures that were waiting in a queue to pounce on the dead bodies of Kashmiris. Because of them the ultimate emancipation which the people had been longing for centuries, has so far eluded them!
Sajjad Lone’s collaboration and somersault are more pathetic because of his background. One really feels sad for him! His father Abdul Ghani Lone gave his life for propagating an independent view point. Allegedly, he was got assassinated by people from across the border for propagating an independent outlook for Kashmiris. In fact, at one time, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had declared him in a public meeting in Handwara to be his successor but then the dynasty overruled him. Moreover, Sajjad Lone happens to be the son-in-law of one of the founders of Kashmir’s movement for total independence, Amanullah Khan of Astore. He founded the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) which stood for complete and total independence for Kashmir. All his life, he never compromised his stand and was in fact harassed by the Pakistani authorities for this boldness. He lived a very simple and frugal life. He was really a true and a dedicated freedom fighter. The attitude of his son-in-law is the greatest dis-service to his memory.
Sajjad Lone was also part of the Hurriyat Conference in early nineties of the last century as member of the Peoples’ Conference, a constituent of the conglomerate. It is alleged that he was responsible for the split in the conglomerate which had been formed to jointly pursue the agenda for Kashmir’s freedom. He had sponsored proxy candidates in the 2002 elections which had been boycotted by the Hurriyat Conference. This resulted in a split in the conglomerate.
Now, coming to his NDTV statement about only 5 percent people, that too below poverty line being involved in the present uprising, the best rebuttal is from the Army Commander Lt. Gen, DS Hooda. A quote from Greater Kashmir about his press conference says it all. “Admitting that situation in Kashmir is far from normal, the Army Commander on Friday said it’s high time “for separatists and everybody” to join hands for restoring normalcy “because one organization can’t alone do it.”  “I know the situation is difficult, but we need to put our heads together and find a way out,” he said. Army has taken over most of the highways and has conducted motorised flag marches. BSF has again been deployed in Srinagar after 12 years! Nothing more is needed to impress about the extent and the gravity of the situation. Even the Union Home Minister has admitted that the situation is serious. The 5% claim would still make it 3, 50,000 which is not a “handful” of people! Regarding people being below poverty line (BPL), well no revolution in the world has been started by upper classes. It is always, the proletariat, the poor, who have nothing to lose but their chains! Omar Abdullah has challenged Sajjad Lone to hold a public rally in Handwara or Kupwara and just spend a day there! It is a pity that a promising young man who spent days in the serene environs of Gulmarg to write his treatise for an “Achievable Nationhood” for Kashmir is now chewing the same nationhood purely to satiate his lust for power! The least he can do to redeem himself is to resign and apologise to his constituents for his political somersaults and join once again the popular movement which he had left halfway!


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Negotiators, not Soldiers!

Kashmir can be pacified by sincere and honest efforts for sorting out the basic political problem through dialogue and not by sending more and more soldiers to brutalise the people!

Image result for army flag march in kashmir

According to a report in the Citizen, New Delhi had been planning to unleash a special program in Kashmir. It has been reported that the intention was to handover the Valley to the Army after the conclusion of the Amarnath Yatra. They are still thinking of suppressing the total revolt with the help of the soldiers! The new dispensation in New Delhi has been trying its best to resurrect the Hindu past of Kashmir. However, they seem to have forgotten what Kashmir’s illustrious son, the historian Kalhana has said, “The country of Kashmir may be conquered by the force of spiritual merit, but not by the force of soldiers!” However, in spite of so many upheavals put down with brute force, New Delhi has refused to learn the historical lesson. Every time Kashmiris rise to claim their rights, the Government increases the number of soldiers and the brutality of suppression intensifies.
For more than a month now, the entire Valley has been converted into a huge prison. People have been confined to their homes by a continuous curfew probably longest in the recent history of Kashmir. More than 60 persons have been killed. Thousands have been injured. Hundreds, including young children, have been blinded by pellets. People are caught between the shutdown calls and the continuous official curfews. It is a total siege. Everything is shut. Even the Central Government offices, banks, post offices, schools and Colleges are all shut. There appears to be total absence of any administrative machinery. The situation has been compounded by total communications breakdown. The Internet has been shut, so are the mobile phones and, for some days, even the local newspapers failed to appear due to undeclared and unacknowledged official media gag. One can only imagine the inconvenience caused to patients especially those requiring continuous chemotherapy and other life-saving treatments. Hospitals are overwhelmed and the staff highly over worked while treating the casualties of extreme brutality. As the Panthers Party Chief, Bhim Singh, observed in the Supreme Court of India, ‘Kashmiris are being shot like pigeons’. To sprinkle salt on the wounds of Kashmiris, the Solicitor General of India informed the Apex Court that the situation is fast returning to normal. There cannot be anything more misleading or hypocritical than this.
Incidentally, the killing of the militant leader, Burhan Wani, did not immediately give rise to a militant wave but generated a mass upheaval which was peaceful.  People were mourning the loss and venting the pent up anger which had accumulated by the most brutal oppression of decades. It turned violent only when the forces disallowed peaceful protests. It is reported that at many places violent crowds attacked police camps and burnt down government properties. However, the most of the violence was pelting of stones on the paramilitaries preventing peaceful marches which were answered with bullets, pellet guns and sometimes with pepper as well as tear gas and chilly grenades. If the peaceful protests had been allowed it may have grown into a mass movement and thrown up a new leadership for negotiations. The existing leadership had become irrelevant for the new generation. In fact, this leadership instead of leading is being led! Moreover, the Government instead of giving this leadership a free hand to be with the masses, totally confined them, thereby unleashing leaderless mobs everywhere. Another important factor in the vehemence of the protests has been the somersault of the PDP. In contrast to their pre-election commitment of keeping the Hindutva parties out of Kashmir, they embraced these simply to get the Chief Minister’s chair! This was taken by most people in the Valley as a stab in the back! In fact, PDP has journeyed from self-rule to self-destruction!
Here, it would be interesting to take a parallel of a similar revolt of the sixties of previous century. In 1963, the theft of the holy relic from the Hazratbal shrine gave rise to a mass uprising. In the initial stages, due to intervention of a politician namely Bakshi Rashid, it turned violent. The Radio Station was burnt down; a large number of properties belonging to Bakshi family including the Regal Cinema were destroyed. However, the then Prime Minister Pandit Nehru immediately ordered withdrawal of Army and directed grant of total freedom to the peaceful mass movement. The uprising which was initially for recovering the relic and punishing the culprits, turned political and demanded release of Sheikh Abdullah and holding of Plebiscite. Lal Bahadur Shastri was sent here by Pandit Nehru to negotiate with the leaders of the movement. Sheikh Abdullah was released after 11 years and negotiations were started for the settlement of the basic political problem. The negotiations remained inconclusive because of the untimely death of Pandit Nehru!
In the present case also, the Government could have allowed the peaceful demonstrations even though for “Azadi”. Even if the entire Kashmir comes on the road demanding “Azadi”, that is not going to take away Kashmir physically out of India with every inch being guarded by more than 7, 00,000 soldiers! However, it seems the present set up in New Delhi only believes in holding Kashmiris against their will with the might of soldiers. With the recent brutality exhibited by the security personnel, it is evident that India wants to retain Kashmir and not Kashmiris. As usual, the entire blame for the upheaval is being put on Pakistan which has become the traditional whipping boy! The excuse for that are some Pakistani flags being raised and slogans chanted at protests. It has been reported by many international surveys that hardly 10 percent people would really opt for Pakistan. The majority of Kashmiris want now total freedom, “Azadi”! Pakistan is being used as something to irritate the Indian government, as a symbol of protest because of the general hatred of the present Delhi government for Pakistan. There are also allegations that Pakistan and India are presently colluding to kill Kashmiri! The top leadership in the two countries has common business interests. If tomorrow, China and Russia sympathise with the cause of Kashmiris, they would be raising slogans favouring them!
The recent all parties meet where most of the blame was put on Pakistan is a laughing matter in the Valley. Everyone knows that the present upheaval is totally indigenous. It is the Burhan Generation grown in the conflict of last two decades which is leading it. They do not want laptops but guns, AK 47s to carry on the fight started by Burhan Wani who is being spoken as the Umar Mukhtar of Kashmir! The present situation appears irreversible. However, if New Delhi sincerely and honestly wants to retrieve it, they will have to walk an extra mile instead of sending more and more troops and unleashing more and more brutalities. The first step would be to initiate sincere and honest confidence- building- measures. Curfews would have to be lifted from all over the Valley; all communications including the Internet will have to be restored; all troops would have to be sent back to barracks; all arrested boys would have to be released unconditionally; all bunkers and camps within the civilian areas would have to be removed; the notorious Task Force would have to be disbanded; AFSPA and Disturbed Areas Act would have to be withdrawn and total freedom of expression fully restored. These CBMs would need to be initiated under the direct Central Rule as the present set up in the State has totally lost the confidence of the people. These CBMs would have to be followed by negotiations with the genuine and honest representatives of the people from all sections of the society. It may seem a tall order in view of the unrealistic Indian stance but the alternative is total destruction not only in the state but in the whole sub-continent as Kashmir has already been the basic cause of the three earlier wars. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Siege without end!

The Paradise on Earth, Kashmir, has been under total siege for more than a month and there appears no end because of the stubbornness of Delhi!

Siege without end!
Last Sunday when I logged into the Facebook, it came up with my memory of the year 2010. It was an article titled “The Stubborn Delhi” which I had written for my column, Kashmir First, in Greater Kashmir. Somehow the software in the Facebook seemed to have very good intelligence as the article was very much relevant to the present conditions! I quote some passages which seem to apply even to the present, “There is absolutely no doubt that Delhi had blindfolded itself and was groping in the dark for quite some time. However, the recent happenings in Kashmir were projected extensively in the media which pointed out that the problem was beyond the reach of the politicians both in Srinagar and Delhi……The life has been held hostage both by the security forces trying to impose curfew and by angry youth who refuse to take diktats from any one. Over 50 young persons have been killed. Hundreds have been injured. Government properties are being torched in all parts as a matter of revenge. Leadership of all hues and shades within Kashmir and from outside has become totally irrelevant. People all over the valley are highly charged and emotional. They seem to have become totally immune to reason and logic. Such a situation occurs only when things have gone beyond the point of tolerance. It is virtually impossible to stem such a tide. When people lose total fear of death and defy the strictest ever curfews, things are beyond management and need bold political decisions to cool the tempers”. “Almost all the right thinking persons from the civil society have been pleading for immediate steps to defuse the dangerous situation. However, very strangely Delhi is showing absolute stubbornness in handling the present crisis in Kashmir. Instead they are only increasing the amount of brutal suppression with every passing day”.
It seems as if the passage had been written for the present situation even though it is much worse. Delhi continues to be as stubborn as ever and has now become blood thirsty! It is more than a month that the entire valley has been under curfew. More than 60 persons have been killed. Thousands have been injured. Hundreds, including young children, have been blinded by pellets. People are caught between the shutdown calls and the continuous curfew. It is a total siege. Everything is shut. Even the Central Government offices, Banks, Post Offices, Schools, and Colleges are all shut. There appears to be total absence of any administrative machinery. The situation has been compounded by total break in communications. Internet has been shut, so have been the mobile phones and for some days even the local newspapers. One can only imagine the inconvenience caused to patients especially those requiring continuous chemotherapy and other life-saving treatments. Most pathetic is the suffering of the specially challenged children who used to be daily looked after in various facilities. Hospitals are overloaded and the staff highly over worked while treating the casualties of extreme brutality. As the Panthers Party Chief Bhim Singh observed in the Supreme Court of India, Kashmiris are being shot like pigeons. To sprinkle salt on the wounds of Kashmiris, the Solicitor General of India informed the court that the situation is fast returning to normal. There cannot be anything more misleading or hypocritical than this. There have been reports that Sopore has been handed over to Army and the Chief Minster has been meeting Army Commanders for assistance. Reportedly, Army is being given a bigger role in administering the State! However, in the Commanders’ meeting with the Chief Minister, they had said they cannot come on their own and the State Government will have to ask for their assistance. The State Government headed by Mehbooba Mufti reportedly has already done it! 
A bigger role for the Army in the administration? There cannot be a bigger joke than that in the context of the earlier role of the Army since the inception of militancy in nineties! The extensive counter insurgency operations conducted in the civilian areas since the onset of the armed uprising had given many blots on the role of the Army. The Kunnan Poshpora, the Pathribal, the Chitisinghpora, the Machel encounter, the disappearances, the mass graves and a host of other actions had projected the Army as a colonial force keeping Kashmiris within India by brute force. In fact, the international media including BBC have projected Kashmir as the most militarized area in the world with over seven hundred thousand troops deployed all over including the borders. The dark side of the Army role has been vividly described in the book, “The Blood on My Hands”, outlining confessions of some army officers, written by Kishalay Bhattacharjee. Army has been trying its best to improve the relationship with civilians through “Sadbhavana” programs. Bringing them back to face people would totally nullify that!
Incidentally, the present ruler started her political career by demanding the lessening of the role of the Army! She began with the slogan of the “Healing Touch”, which was meant to lessen the role of the Army. She had demanded sending back of the troops to the barracks, removal of bunkers in civilian areas, disbanding of the J&K Police Task Force and the withdrawal of AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) which gave total immunity to the security forces. There were many allegations regarding the misuse of this immunity. Nothing can be more ironic than this reversal of the earlier widely touted popular demand of lessening the role of the Army and that too simply to save one’s chair! One can only hope and pray that the siege ends on a positive note provided Delhi gives up its stubbornness!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Kashmir’s women rulers

Right from the earliest times Kashmir has had some women rulers. There are three women who have made an imprint on Kashmir’s history

Pandit Kalhana in Rajatarangini, his treatise on the Kashmiri Kings from the ancient times, which was written in twelfth century AD mentions about some of the women rulers of Kashmir. The most famous ruler has been Rani Didda who ruled for 40 years from 958 to 1003 AD. She is supposed to have been physically disabled, clever, manipulative, and ruthless. Her rule represents the peak of women power in Kashmir. She has been called the Catherine of Kashmir like the Catherine of Russia who was ruthless and ruled for a long time with her favourites whom she purged from time to time. Sir Aurel Stein says about her, “The statesmanlike instinct and political ability which we must ascribe to Didda in spite of all the defects of her character are attested by the fact that she remained to the last in peaceful possession of the Kashmir throne, and was able to bequeath it to her family in undisputed possession.” Didda is referred to as footless as she was lame but could still walk. She is supposed to have been taken round by woman Vagla who accompanied her everywhere. About her capability, Kalhana says, “the Lame Queen whom no one had thought capable of stepping over a cow’s footprint got over the host of her enemies just as Hanuman got over the ocean.”
Women rulers were not very much encouraged during the Hindu period because of a negative observation in Mahabharata about women rulers, “The country where a woman, a child or a gambler rules, sinks helplessly as a stone raft in the river.” According to Kalhana, there were two other women rulers before Rani Didda. One was the Mythical Yashomati who is supposed to have been crowned by Krishna himself. Kalhana comments about her rule as, “The eyes of men which viewed womankind with scanty courtesy, considering it as one of the objects of pleasure, looked upon this mother of her subjects as if she were her goddess.” The other was the Sughandadevi who ruled in the beginning of the tenth century, first as a regent and then directly. However, she had a very short stint of two years only and was killed by her courtiers.
Kota Rani was the last Hindu ruler of Kashmir in Medieval Kashmir, ruling until 1339. Wikipedia gives a very concise description of her as, “She was the daughter of Ramachandra. Ramachandra had appointed an administrator to Rinchan, a Ladakhi. Rinchan became ambitious. He sent a force in the fort in the guise of merchants, who took Ramachandra’s men by surprise. Ramachandra was killed and his family was taken prisoners. To earn local support, Rinchan appointed Rawanchandra, the son of Ramachandra, as administrator of Lar and Ladakh, and married his sister Kota Rani. He employed Shah Mir as a trusted courtier, who had entered Kashmir earlier and had been given an appointment in the government. Rinchan converted to Islam and adopted the name of Sultan Sadruddin. He died as a result of an assassination after ruling for three years”.
“Kota Rani was first appointed as a regent for Rinchan’s young son. Later she was persuaded to marry Udayanadeva by the elders. Udayanadeva died in 1338. Kota Rani had two sons. Rinchana’s son was under the charge of Shah Mir and Udayanadeva’s son was taught by Bhatta Bhikshana. Kota Rani became the ruler in her own right and appointed Bhatta Bhikshana as her prime minister”.
“Shah Mir pretended to be sick, and when Bhatta Bhikshana visited him, Shah Mir jumped out of his bed and killed him. Shah Mir forced her into marriage. According to the historian Jonaraja, she committed suicide and offered her intestines to him as a wedding gift. It is not known what happened to her sons”.
After the advent of Islam, Kashmir did not have a woman ruler. However, the last Queen of the independent sovereign Kashmir, Habba Khatoon was a virtual ruler as her husband Yusuf Shah Chak was mostly busy with his poetic parties and celebrations. She was a very famous poetess. In fact, she transformed the famous Spiritual Sufi School of poetry into the Romantic Lol School. Her poems are still very popular in Kashmir especially among the village folk. It is history that she had advised Yusuf Shah Check not to fall in the trap of the Mughal King Akbar who had called him to Lahore for discussions. Immediately on arrival there, he was arrested and Kashmir was annexed to the Mughal Empire. The best poetry written by Habba Khatoon was during separation from Yusuf Shah Check. 
Thus, Rani Didda, Kota Rani and Habba Khatoon have left their distinct imprint on the history of Kashmir. Right now, we again have a women ruler. Even though we are supposed to have a democratic set up yet the succession of rulers here has remained dynastic like the old times. At the present moment, we have history in the making and time only will show how she compares with the earlier women rulers of Kashmir!