Thursday, December 29, 2016

Triggering a “Twister”!

(Americans call tornado a twister. Kashmir has just seen a political storm which seems abating now but the Central Government by its actions may unleash a twister now!)

Since 2008, Kashmir has seen at least three mass uprisings. Even though the issues which triggered these upheavals were different yet the outburst had similar theme, demanding “Azadi” or freedom. The question is why have people been driven to this extreme?  There are no two opinions that the major cause of alienation is the excessive use of force and an overwhelming security grid all over the valley. Kashmir has been converted into a security camp. The civilian side is conspicuous by its absence. The most visible presence everywhere in the urban as well as rural areas of the valley is of security forces of all hues and shades with no accountability. The authorities are still debating and discussing whether there should be some accountability. The main trigger for the current uprising was the killing of the militant leader Burhan Wani. The story about his taking up a gun has been told and retold many times. He was virtually driven to it by excessive use of force by the security forces. Apart from this, the other causes for the present upheaval were the continuous BJP campaign to end the special status of the State. In fact, the betrayal of PDP in regard to keeping BJP out of Kashmir acted like an accelerator to the uprising which was more pronounced in the South, supposed to be the stronghold of PDP.

Kashmiri has most of the time been an unpredictable character. In the middle of an uprising which breaks out like a storm one gets the feeling that the game is over and soon Kashmir would be “free” but then comes a time when one wonders whether the storm was real or just an illusion? A person who visits Kashmir during a political storm and the days of calm would be totally confused. The reason often given especially by historians is the centuries of oppression which have sharpened the survival instincts of a Kashmiri. He knows when to rise and when to stop but never gives up! As a British author in his book about Kashmir has remarked. “An outsider can never know what is really in the heart of a Kashmiri”! He never genuinely and truly opens up before an outsider. According to the author, a kind word and a joke get the best out of a Kashmiri!

The last three turmoils in the valley (2008, 2010 and 2016) have brought a change in the thinking of a section of the Indian Civil Society and there is appreciable sympathy for the sufferings of the Kashmiris. This has been more so during the current year because of the excessive use of force especially the use of pellet guns on basically non-violent and peaceful spontaneous outpourings of the people all over the valley which erupted after the killing of Burhan Wani. The violence started only after these marches and protests were disallowed by the authorities through harshest possible violent means. The authorities in New Delhi and Srinagar put all the blame on Pakistan notwithstanding the fact that neutral observers from all over the world emphatically stated that the uprising was indigenous. Well, Pakistanis will always try to use any opportunity to make India uncomfortable. It is the same story on both sides! Indians have always tried to overlook the fact that the stone pelting or other violence is a reaction to the suppression of peaceful protests.

People are confused regarding the outcome of the recent 5 month long agitation. Did it achieve anything? There are several views on the subject. Some feel that the greatest achievement has been the revival of the dormant Kashmir dispute. The issue had been put on the back-burner by both the Indian authorities and the world at large. Even though the problem of Kashmir continues somewhat still to be on the back burner for the west and the world at large in view of numerous other hot spots, yet the certain Indian intellectuals seem to be more concerned now about its final resolution. They have been freely airing their views and some have even visited Kashmir in the recent times.

In the past, the tactics being used by New Delhi were ones for conflict management and not for final resolution of the problem. They were able to buy time. One would have thought that they would consider the fact that the traditional leadership itself is confused and are in the dark about the future plans of the new generation. The new generation should have been spoken to. They could use the small window made available by the onset of winter which is usually a time for hibernation in Kashmir. Everything freezes under a blanket of snow but the spring is not far behind!

The so called mainstream politicians presently ruling the state who were slightly singed by the scorching heat of the turmoil have been busy in a disinformation campaign. They are repeatedly taking the line that the 5 month agitation was externally sponsored and has only got misery and disruption for the common people. Probably, they have a feeling that they may lose the power if New Delhi decides to act earnestly in resolving the problem. However, as an anti-climax, the New Delhi has gone a step beyond them and has, in fact, initiated  measures for not only creating a new storm but virtually a tornado which may suck and sweep everything in its path!

Normally, after the abating of the storm one would have expected the Central Government to extend fullest support to the State Government to ameliorate the storm damages by way of full assistance in day to day problems including the worst power scenario, dilapidated roads, and general economic losses and so on. They should have been in addition, trying their best to open an unconditional dialogue with all the sections of the society including the new “Burhan Generation”. However, on the contrary for their short term gains in the forthcoming elections, they are creating conditions for a real twister to hit the state soon which may sweep and suck everything in its path! SARFAESI and WPRs may be the first triggers for that!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Flood protection measures

(In spite of a lapse of more than two years, one is still waiting for the execution of the urgent and credible flood protection measures leaving an option open for the next disaster!)

Flood protection measures
The most destructive flood in a century occurred in Kashmir in September, 2014. It was an unprecedented disaster in our living memory. Even though the loss of human lives was very low, not more than 50 or so but the destruction of property was immense. There used to be floods earlier but not such a massive one in recent times. No doubt, the valley is prone to floods which have been occurring from time to time but the scale of this flood got heightened by our own material greed. It was Nature’s backlash which we had been vandalizing mercilessly for a long time. The River Jhelum has been meandering through the valley from the earliest times. Also known as the Vitasta or Yveth, it has been the lifeline of Kashmir Valley from the earliest times. The entire Kashmir civilisation has been growing along the banks of the River and its tributaries. After the mythological Kashyapa drained the Sati Sar by killing the demon Jalodhbhava at Baramulla, the River has been written in the very first line of the thousands of years old history of Kashmir. Like the Sholokhov’s “Quiet Flows the Don”. Jhelum too has been quietly flowing and observing the happenings on its banks. However, it often turns furious when too many sins get washed into it!
The River which gave life to Kashmir has been vandalised and desecrated by us. The muck and filth of almost entire Kashmir is made to flow into the River. Its banks have been encroached in most places especially in the city of Srinagar. For last half a century or so no one has bothered to dredge it and take away the silt. Over and above everything else its flood basin has been snatched and converted into colonies. Where else will it go except overflow its banks and sometimes may even change course. Most of the wetlands and water bodies have either been filled up or encroached upon. The historical channel Nala-i-Mar has been filled up and converted into a road. We have hardly left any space for the extra water to flow in anywhere.  In the catchment areas, most of the rain water would get absorbed but now it runs down straight as we have totally denuded the catchment area of the River. One cannot rule out sudden disastrous floods in future especially because of the universal climate change. Reclaiming all the earlier back-ups to prevent floods may take time. We need to go for immediate protective measures.
The government has been brooding over many schemes for prevention of floods and protection for the city areas. However, the progress on ground is abnormally slow. The most important aspect is the dredging of the River and its flood spill over channel and strengthening of its embankments especially in the city of Srinagar a major portion of which was submerged in the last flood. During the short spell of Governor’s rule, the dredging operation had been started through some Kolkata based firm. However, there were some mechanical problems and the fate of the project is not known. If one travels along the Bund in the city or along the embankments of the flood spill-over channel, nothing substantial seems to have been done. Instead, the dug up soil is in huge mounds all along the channel. Just 10 feet of water will spill over the embankments.
Instead of waiting for mechanised dredging, in the lean water season of winter one could go ahead with even manual dredging giving some employment to the idle youth. During the recent uprising, most of the outside labour had run away and it was heartening to see Kashmiri youth fully engaged in most of the manual tasks. Our greatest misfortune has been the loss of the dignity of manual labour. The youth seem to have been brainwashed to get government jobs at the lowest level in spite of very high educational qualifications. The new generation in Kashmir has lot of entrepreneurship and is fully involved in varied number of projects. They could be involved in taking up the assignment of dredging the River and the flood spill-over channel and strengthening the embankments in a semi-mechanised way. Same holds good for all water bodies and wetlands.
However, to undertake such an enterprise one needs someone like Hakeem Suyya of the historical times! Kashmir is now really searching for someone like Hakeem Suyya. There is no guarantee that the tragedy may not recur! One can only implore the concerned not to wait for Hakeem Suyya to be reborn but take immediate steps to initiate and complete the flood prevention measures on an accelerated pace. The Chief Minister has shown that she can exercise her prerogative if she wants to. This is the most important sector in which exercise of such a prerogative is needed. Let us hope she does it? Waiting for the next flood would be the ultimate disaster!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Is anything straight in Kashmir?

(If one examines various aspects of life in Kashmir, a question comes up whether anything works in a straight way here?)

Is anything straight in Kashmir?
There is an Arab saying about the Camel. It goes like this, “O, Camel which of your parts is straight?” The saying fits perfectly the life in Kashmir during the present times. Nothing seems to work here in a normal straight way. In the shivering winter let us begin with the Electric Power which has been playing hide and seek. It is a tragedy of our times that in spite of having the highest potential for generation of hydro-electric power we are totally deficient in it. Not only could we be running everything on power but would have been exporting it to neighbouring countries and earning huge revenue. On the contrary we have to buy back the power generated from our own rivers! Can there be anything more pathetic and cruel than this? Who is responsible for this? Our own so called leaders who for their own self-interests mortgaged everything including their souls! Nobody even raised a voice when the waters belonging primarily to us were divided between our two neighbouring countries by the World Bank! If one considers the revenue being generated by these power projects, we should be getting free power for at least 100 years as compensation!

After generation let us come to transmission and distribution. We are supposed to have the highest transmission losses anywhere in the world! Regarding distribution, the less said, the better. It is a perfect lesson for how things should not be done. In downtown area of Srinagar the domestic connections from a pole are a puzzle. Only the lineman can say which wires go to which house? It is so dangerous and hazardous that one wonders why we do not have continuous fires and electrocutions! In fact, after seeing these jumbled up connections and being told that there are no electrocutions, a power engineer from a Communist country remarked that he had started believing in God! Will we be ever able to straighten and streamline our transmission and distribution system? At least not in our lifetime!

Now let us take the consumer side. People want to consume the energy for all their needs but do not want to pay for the actual energy consumed. This is known as the “Power Theft” which must be unique to Kashmir. It is alleged that some people have dual connections. One is normal through the meter and the other is a couple of connecting wires which they hook on during the night! In addition, a large number of people just hook on and do not pay at all. A number of well to do people including some officials of the Power Department have allegedly been caught for the “Power Theft”! Would it not be better to levy a reasonable power tax on every citizen whether he uses it or not? This may generate more revenue than already earned by the Power Development Department!

Traffic is another big mess! Firstly, the drivers get their licences without having any knowledge about the basic traffic rules. The licensing is another lucrative business. Then there is no control on the number of vehicles which can go on the roads. Kashmir valley is supposed to have more than a million and Srinagar alone almost a quarter million! It is reported that in forties we had not more than 45 vehicles and now more than a million. There has not been equal expansion and growth of the roads. Interestingly, the existing roads have heaved a sigh of relief during the continuous shut downs. To manage the movement of these vehicles we have very few traffic policemen. On the contrary, we have battalions upon battalions of Armed Police to keep people in check if they start moving on foot on the roads asking for their rights!

If one goes on, there is no part of the society whether a government department, civic facility, or even private organisations and concerns which run straight. One cannot put the entire blame on the government and other organisations only. After all who is running all these organisations? We, the people from this very land! The reason for deviation is the absence of truth and honesty. These seem to have been banished from Kashmir! Many foreign explorers, authors and others who have visited Kashmir in the past have remarked about these two missing qualities. However, many have put the blame on the foreign rulers who have been ruling over us for last four centuries or so in the most ruthless manner. Every drop of honesty had been drained out from our blood!

However, there was a beginning in changing the centuries old slave mentality. That happened when a movement for emancipation started in Kashmir in recent times. Normally, once extremely suppressed people get some sort of a break and start getting material things which they could never imagine, they are bound to lose their balance and fail to perceive the difference between the right and the wrong. However, once a person realizes that only the material well-being is not the end of life that signals the beginning of a revolution. This has happened during the present uprising. People have realized that all the material goodies do not necessarily guarantee a life of dignity and honour which we have been longing for centuries. A voluntary shutdown by all sections of the society for more than five months is not a small achievement. This step has served its purpose very well. It has amply demonstrated the will and the resolve of the people. The message has gone all over and now there is need to straighten all the deviant parts to bring in real honesty and truth! This may be the only thing straight in Kashmir at the present moment and all concerned need to take note of the same!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Subjugation, not “Normalcy”!

(Peace is slowly returning to Kashmir but it is debatable whether it is in reality a return to “Normalcy” or the people have been subjugated into apparent submission, temporarily?)

Image result for kashmir uprising 2016

According to government spokespersons in J & K and New Delhi, Kashmir is returning to normalcy and peace. It is true that the intensity of the uprising which had shut down everything for more than four months is coming down and the normal day to day activities are starting slowly. These are fully resumed on every Saturday and Sunday designated as full relaxation days by the leaders of the movement leading the uprising. Normalcy means return to the normal conditions. However, in case of Kashmir what is considered “Normal” may not be the same as understood in other places. Kashmir’s normalcy itself is abnormal in many ways. For instance in regard to basic human rights such as the freedom of expression, it is in perpetual abnormality! We have a permanent section 144 imposed all over which bans assembly of four or more persons. In addition, there are many draconian legislations including AFSPA in force which grant total immunity from any prosecution to forces while dealing with the unrest in the state. They can kill and destroy at will and are answerable to none!

The so called “peace” has been restored to some extent by very harsh and brutal use of force. According to research conducted by Kashmir Media Service it is alleged that 115 people have been killed so far; 15,000 have been injured; out of which 7330 have been injured by pellets; 22 youth have lost total eyesight; 307 youth are on the verge of losing eyesight; 1255 have partial damage in the eyes; 37 schools have been burnt; 9700 persons have been arrested and 608 have been detained under Public Safety Act. It is further alleged that a large number of houses have been damaged along with the household goods throughout the valley. These five months have seen alternate shutdowns and curfews. The youth seem to be in no mood to compromise and the traditional leadership has had no alternative but to issue shutdown calendars on a regular basis just to keep their own relevance. Otherwise, the leadership is now totally in the hands of the new generation of the youth. They are are so far following the calendars and the originators of the calendars are at a loss to know when and how to end these!

If one refers the Webster dictionary, then the return to so called peace in Kashmir can in fact be termed as subjugation rather than normalcy. To subjugate is defined as, “to defeat and gain control of (someone or something) by the use of force; to conquer and gain the obedience of a group of people, a country, etc.” Interestingly, the dictionary traces the history of the word subjugation. According to the definition, “the word “Jugus” means yoke in Latin, thus subjugate means literally, “bring under the yoke”. Farmers control oxen by means of a heavy wooden yoke over their shoulders. In ancient Rome, conquered soldiers, stripped of their uniforms, were actually forced to pass under an ox yoke as a sign of submission to Roman victors. Even without an actual yoke, what happens to a population that has come under control of another can be every bit as humiliating. In dozens of countries throughout the world where people who are denied their basic rights, view themselves subjugated by the government, army and police”.

To achieve this “normalcy”, the government had to request Army for conducting a “Calm Down Operation” which was nothing but a crude way of cowing down people at large by the show and use of naked force. Unfortunately, the authorities in New Delhi always try to manage rather than solve the problems. The story has been same throughout the recent history of uprisings in Kashmir. Temporary firefighting rather than tackling the basic cause of the fire which keeps on blazing out from time to time. The story was same in 2008 and 2010 and is now worse in 2016.
One can judge the severity of the situation from the declaration of Dr. Farooq Abdullah asking the Hurriyat to unite and offering to join them. In fact, he has asked his followers to support the movement fully and be a part of it. Of course, it is not a change of heart after many somersaults of the Abdullah dynasty but is purely a survival maneuver!

Jean Dreze in his article “Kashmir’s Hidden Uprising” in the Indian Express writes, “The government of India’s sledgehammer response, aside from being inhuman, does nothing to solve the problem. If the root of the problem is the alienation of the Kashmiri people from India, then state repression can only make things worse. It also undermines Kashmir’s peaceful traditions and pushes Kashmiri youngsters towards armed resistance and radical Islamist groups. The possible consequences, not only for Kashmir but also for India, are too horrible to contemplate”.
That could be construed as the most civilized way of telling the authorities that the situation in Kashmir is not normal and more subjugation is going to make it worse!