Kashmir Politics

Drama Over Portfolios

It is time to deliver duties rather than clamor over assignments

After the months’ long haggling between the members of the newly formed alliance partnership of the Jammu & Kashmir state government and the sensation around the oath-taking ceremony, the news in the last couple days has focused on to the drama over the portfolio assignment. Apparently some of the various nascent cabinet ministers are not happy about their assignments. Obviously those making a noise perhaps have no idea of the potential of the portfolios they are assigned with. What is more surprising is that the drama is being created by people who do not qualify for an assessment of the importance of the areas in question.

It is extremely deplorable that such important areas as science and technology, animal husbandry, horticulture, youth services and information technology — areas with a great potential to open up enormous opportunities for the growth and development of the state — should be relegated to the status of “low-key” or “bottom-of-the-list” ministries. Clearly the significance of the various portfolios is being measured not by the limitless possibilities that they offer, nor by the amount of attention they deserve given their current status, but by factors such as the amount of funds allocated in the past and the size of the workforce. This, in turn, points to the nature of work ethics prevalent in the state and the tradition of stagnation in our administrative system where people would rather run away from challenges and problem areas as opposed to meeting them head-on.

It is high time that the ministers-to-be, if they are efficient and capable enough, rather than making a fuss about their “insignificant” portfolios, must accept their responsibilities gracefully and begin to offer their services with no further delay. It is time to perform and prove their mettle by making sure that they manage to succeed in delivering services rather than clamoring over the current status of the ministries in the “list” – an attitude that puts a question mark against their sincerity and credibility. That the previous ministers or governments have failed to cater to the demands in these areas is no justification to shy away from these important responsibilities. It is the job of the ministers in charge to succeed in getting the funds and the workforce needed to run these portfolios effectively as well as work towards opening up various new venues and possibilities.

Let’s see some of those big vows of “public service” now!

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(This article was originally published in the March 4, 2015 issue of the daily Rising Kashmir, available at URL  http://www.risingkashmir.com/drama-over-portfolios/)

 

Murder of Kashmir’s Healthcare System – II

Dr. Sadaf Munshi

About a year and a half ago, in August 2013, I was in Srinagar for another yearly visit to Kashmir. During one of those days, an unidentifiable insect bit my mother-in-law in her eye-lid. We thought it was a spider or something but could not say for sure. At night, she had an allergic reaction and was taken to SHMS hospital. Situated in the heart of the city and built in 1948, the Sri Maharaj Hari Singh hospital is perhaps the oldest hospital in the city. With such a long history, one would expect it to have evolved into one of the finest healthcare facilities of the state. Unfortunately, that is far from reality. It turned out that my mother-in-law was grounded in the hospital for about ten days without respite; this besides the number of months it took her to fully recover from the incident and after effects which almost took her eyesight.

I visited the hospital several times before my mother-in-law was checked out, still in pretty bad condition. What I saw in the hospital was not unusual but nothing one would call “normal”. You will find patient wards flooded with visitors round the clock, as if it were a festival of sorts. Except for a few threatening gestures to newcomers, there is hardly anyone checking at the entrance gate. It wasn’t clear if there were any rules or regulations regarding visitor presence, and if there were, they were ruthlessly violated. Like a busy railway station, people were brushing each other’s shoulders in corridors and walkways all the time.

At several occasions, my mother-in-law had to be shifted from Dermatology to a different ward for oxygen. The concerned ward did not have any, and the area meant for the purpose was persistently locked. Because there was no BP machine either, the medical staff on duty relied on the neighboring ward to borrow theirs while patients waited for hours. It was quite an ordeal. “Why don’t you have your own machine in the ward?”, I asked. A staff member responded: “It was stolen a few months ago; so we have had to borrow from the other ward”. “But how much does the machine cost? Why can’t you get your own?” I asked. “It doesn’t cost much, but we need to have the orders and the paperwork approved. It takes time for that. It is a lengthy process”.

Since my mother-in-law’s face and neck had been badly swollen, she needed regular ice packs. But the hospital did not have a functioning refrigerator. We were asked to bring our own, just like the medications. “But this is not something that can be brought from home”, I protested. “You need to have a refrigerator right here”. Our pleas fell to deaf ears. Somehow, we managed a couple packs but these would melt soon. So, every few minutes we had to run to the canteen wallah in the next building, “Could you please keep this in your fridge for some time? They don’t have a fridge in the hospital”. The man obliged. But because of prolonged stay, it was overly embarrassing to continue to ask the guy for the favor. Therefore, we asked visitors to bring ice from home. A lot of ice came in thermos flasks, lunch boxes, and so forth, sometimes all at once, but sometimes none. But when we got it, the damn thing would melt within minutes. Considering the amount of effort it took in arranging such a basic thing like ice, frustration levels were very high.

After a few days, my mother-in-law was still unable to open her eye. So we had to take her to Ophthalmology for a checkup. With droves of people waiting, there was little hope that a doctor would see us anytime soon. People kept cutting into the line, and we had no sufarish. Exhausted, she turned to me sheepishly: karsi English paeth kath, balaay hay lagay. Sakh dag hay chhem (‘Talk to him in English, I beg you. I am in immense pain’). After a little hesitation, I opened the door, “May I come in?” Voila! A few words in good English can work wonders in such a situation. To hell with ethics!

With little improvement in her condition, it seemed the medicines were not working. The hygienic conditions of the hospital were so repulsive we wanted to leave as quickly as possible. Cats and dogs were roaming in the premises and rodents running underneath patient beds. With the sweepers’ half-hearted strokes besides tarnished ground and bloodied toilets, the floor was stinking. Heaps of construction materials and loose cement in the corridors led to dusty stairways. Garbage bins had turned filthy dark with liquids spilt on their surface over time. The sight and the smell were so repugnant that even a healthy person would nauseate. The heavy traffic of visitors was only adding to all this. I wanted to see the superintendent but she was nowhere to be seen. “She will come at 2:00pm”, said someone. “After she is done her private clinic”, a patient added mischievously.

During one of these visits I found a lady on the next bed missing. “They took her to emergency. I wonder if the medications are working….”, somebody said regretfully. I had seen her doing well only a day before. Suddenly we heard a group of women screaming, thumping their chests and wailing at the death of a loved one; this was probably the third one in a row past three days in the hallway. A severely injured young man barged into our ward asking for help. A man – a doctor or an assistant or a patient, no one could tell – pulled the bandage from his wound on the spot, mercilessly, while standing in the middle of the ward, exposing an open gash. It was a horrendous scene. Patients and attendants gasped. I covered my eyes in disgust: “Why here?” It felt like a slaughterhouse.

Every now and then mother-in-law needed oxygen, which meant having to take her over to the other ward. But often no staff or nurse was seen around. And even if there were, it was challenging to identify and find them. Few wore a uniform and no one had a badge on them. Offices were mostly deserted, except for few brief occasional appearances. We were clueless as to what to do in need. At one of these occasions, I wanted to speak to a doctor or a nurse, but it was not clear who was in charge or where to find them. The notice board on the wall was clean, with no updates at all. Eventually a young lady in a bright colored shalwar-qameez came in with a file in her hand accompanied by a couple more people, apparently to examine her. Perhaps she was a nurse or a doctor, or whatever. I asked her name and designation. She got offended and asked why I wanted to know that. I said, “Just for records”. Angered, she turned to me: “Why do you need that?” I said we needed to know so that we could check her status or inform the doctor of any complications if need be. Besides, we had a right to know who was treating (or not treating) her.

The young lady, perhaps a resident trainee, now very upset, scoffed at me. The matter ended up in a bitter confrontation with her refusing to disclose who she was. Frustrated, I took a picture of her. In response, she grabbed my phone and ran away. I tried to follow her but she was able to beat me and vanished into the ocean of people. Consequently, I went looking for the Superintendent. After a bit of running around, I found her in her office. When I explained the situation, the officer turned to me, “She is a young unmarried girl. You took her picture. That was not right”. “Oh? And what you and your staff are doing here all the time is very nice?” After a bit of argumentation, the officer toned down and brought the young lady in. I got my phone back after deleting her picture. But I never got to know her name nor her designation. I hated that.

As I saw my mother-in-law in the ward afterwards, finding me still fuming at the entire ordeal, she pleaded: balaay hay lagay, tsa gatshtay garay; yim hay tshinanam maerith (‘I beg you, please be go home; they will kill me’). With no other venue to go to, she was afraid she might have to pay for the consequences of my behavior. Like anyone else would do in such a situation, I did the same. I left.

 

*****

First published in Rising Kashmir, Feb. 2015: http://www.risingkashmir.com/murderer-of-kashmirs-healthcare-system-ii/

 

Murder of Kashmir’s Healthcare System – I

It was summer 2007. I was in Kashmir with my two-year old son. I had decided to get his khatanhaal (‘circumcision’) done in Srinagar (and not in the United States) due to some scheduling issues and the nervousness of dealing with any aftercare on my own, this being my first child. As I had little time for or faith in the government hospitals of Kashmir, I thought I will get the procedure done in a private facility. Somebody recommended a doctor who ran a private clinic at Buchpora. I visited the doctor. The clinic was situated in a corner of a beautiful garden next to a majestic house. It was a dusty, dingy clinic, with marks of blood on the bed sheet spread over the bed on which my son was asked to lie down. I asked the doctor to change the bedding. A hoard of patients was waiting outside, some of them for his gynecologist wife in the room next-door, while a couple pharmacists kept pouring in now and then. The doctor suggested I should bring the child to Shaikh-ul-Alam Hospital, a private medical facility at Karan Nagar.

We went to the hospital on the scheduled date. When the procedure was done, we were shifted to a patient care room on the first floor. Soon afterwards, a sweeper lady came, waiting on us to leave. “But he just had the procedure. We have paid for one night. Why are you in such a hurry?” I protested. “We have to bring another patient”, she said. “How can you bring another patient when the room is reserved for us until tomorrow? We are not moving until I feel we are ready to go”, I added angrily. With utter disregard, the lady left and came back barging into the bathroom with a huge load of laundry. “You cannot do that until we are here”, I said. She ignored me and continued to do her laundry. After she was done, I needed to use the bathroom. As soon as I stepped in, I slipped and tripped over the soapy water that the woman had spilt all over the bathroom floor, hurting myself. Annoyed at this, after a bit of grudging and grumping, we decided to leave the hospital.

I went downstairs to the reception to get the release, requesting documentation for the procedure and for my payment. We got a receipt for Rs. 500 but no other documentation. I looked at it and turned to the guy at the window: “We paid three thousand rupees for the procedure. What is this? And I need documentation with the name of the doctor who conducted my son’s surgery.” The man seemed to be in a dilemma. After a bit of back-n-forth argumentation and messages being sent across to the hospital Director, I was given some documentation but with the name of a different doctor. “I need the name of the right doctor, and I need a receipt for the complete amount ”, I protested. The young man, apparently under obligation to follow a certain protocol, pronounced: “Madam, go and talk to the Director. Why are you yelling at me?”

I asked for the Director’s room and was shown upstairs. My father and uncle were waiting outside impatiently, as my mother held the poor boy in her lap, with all the bandages on his little thing. As I went in the Director’s room, I found the man sitting amidst a bunch of people, perhaps his employees. Quickly, he exploded from his high chair in his sleek western outfit donning an impressive necktie: Tse kath peth chuth shoar lougmut? (‘Why are you making such noise?’). I tried to explain, but who would care to listen to a lowly creature of a young woman dressed in a cheap shalwar-kameez with no signs to signal the standards of my socioeconomic status. In another spurt of disgust, the man threatened me with: tse chey na patah ba kus chus, mye kyah qualification che. (‘Do you not know who I am, and what my qualifications are?’). This arrogance of his, despite being at fault, further infuriated me and I retorted in an equally belligerent tone: Mye che na patah tse kyah qualification chey, magar mye chukh baasaan anpadh sindi khota badtar (‘I don’t know what your qualifications are but to me you are worse than an illiterate’).

It turned out that the concerned doctor who had done the procedure on my son was the head of the Department of Pediatrics at Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS). ‘Didn’t you know that they are not allowed to indulge in private practice? Why didn’t you figure out before coming here? Why didn’t you go elsewhere?’ he tried to reason with me. “So, it is my fault and my responsibility to do the investigation, and not yours who is allowing illegal practice in your facility? I will make sure you pay the price for this malpractice”, I blurted out, now in English, warning that I would take him to court.

Uhuh! Figuring that his rants were rendered ineffective, the man was considerably deflated, intimidated by a mere foreign language. Nervous, he picked up his phone and called the concerned doctor. In the next half-an-hour or so, both men tried to pacify me, pleading that I “keep quiet”. Keep quiet in more than one way, that is. The Director even tried to bribe me, offering to return my money “in full”. I threw the Rs. 1000 notes as well as the fake documentation they had just prepared for me at the table and banged the door behind me to leave. By this time my father and uncle had come in to put the situation in control while the Director was trying to negotiate with them. On the way home, the duo tried to explain to me how it was a “common practice in Kashmir. The whole system is like that. You are here for only a few days. Just leave the poor guy alone; he will lose his job”.

Leave the poor guy! And so I did. For the next few days, the doctor kept calling me on my phone, trying to make sure that I did not expose him. “I will get you all the documentation you may need, but please do not make a hue-and-cry about this. I beg you. I will loose my job and my reputation”. Under severe pressure from various people I gave in and let go.

A few days later, I was at a wedding; my brother’s friend was getting married. As I was waiting in the living room of the brother’s friend’s house, I caught sight of the doctor. His wife, in a light pink satin “suit” and a beautiful pearl necklace adorning her neck, accompanied him. As soon as he saw me, the doctor smiled hesitantly, passed a greeting, and introduced his wife; perhaps embarrassed, or worried, or grateful, I don’t know. I responded with half a smile. Later, in the “tent” for the womenfolk, when we were about to have our dinner, I found myself sitting next to the wife. As we were still waiting to be served, her cellphone rang. She picked up the phone to answer the call. I overheard her talking to someone about what appeared to be a medical emergency. From the nervousness reflected on her reddened face and her broken vocabulary it seemed that a gynecological procedure that she had carried out that day had most likely failed. The problem wasn’t the failure of the procedure itself, but the fact that it was apparently an unauthorized procedure. The lady doctor, all sweat and perspiration, left the bata-traem (‘platter of food’) without eating a morsel.

As she left, I was reminded of another lady doctor at the private hospital the other day talking to me while my son was being operated upon by her colleague: “You know, our life style has changed. We have to make more money. We want to provide the best for our kids, their education. So, we must do this”.

Yes, indeed! We must do this! 

(Part 1 of 2 concluded)
—–
(This article was published in the daily Rising Kashmir in Feb., 2015: http://www.risingkashmir.com/murderers-of-kashmirs-healthcare-system-i/ )

Male hypocrisy and the lies about Islam

Given the touch-me-not attitude one experiences in Kashmir, I have observed that many rational voices steer clear of indulging in talking about controversial topics, especially those related to religion and politics. Several months ago during my annual visit to Kashmir, I had expressed an objection to the extensive use of loud speakers for broadcasting religious sermons or Qur’anic recitations at night, at which occasion I was dubbed as an “anti-Islamic” and “westernized” non-resident Kashmiri by a friend without giving an explanation of as to why it was necessary to do so. The primary reason for my objection being my two-year old daughter who was unable to sleep, not to mention the inconvenience this might have caused to many other people wanting to sleep for various reasons. Since religion and politics have become so intertwined, if not synonymous, over the many years of political turmoil in Kashmir, it is extremely challenging to talk about these topics in the public domain without apprehensions. One is bound to face extreme amounts of criticism even when there is a compelling need to question and respond to matters of social injustice and oppression. I am writing this article keeping in view the risks of disappointing certain conservative schools of thought.

An article recently published in a Srinagar-based daily (November 20, 2013, Rising Kashmir) cited a mufti objecting to the visit of a noted Muslim women’s rights activist Amina Wadud to the Kashmir valley. Wadud, an accomplished scholar and social activist of international repute, was condemned for her advocacy for the Muslim women’s right to lead prayers in mixed gatherings in mosques. Indeed, what a blasphemy! The mufti had further stated that, “such people should not be allowed to visit the masjids, khankahs and shrines in Kashmir”. As a woman of Kashmiri origin, who was brought up in a fairly conservative Muslim family, and who has repeatedly suffered the male-dominated oppression of many kinds back home, I took the opportunity to respond and register my protest in the form of this article.

As I write this piece I am reminded of many incidents of Kashmiri male hypocrisy and misogyny but I will cite only one here: an incident that happened around February 2013 when three young Kashmiri Muslim girls had decided to pursue music as their career and a fatwa (‘a religious decree’) was extended by the afore-mentioned mufti about music being “un-Islamic”. Hordes of young Kashmiri netizens, mostly males, had come out in severe criticism and condemnation of the young girls in the name of Islam. Amidst all the controversy, the girls eventually decided to quit for “the happiness of all”. What their critics failed to recognize was that if music were actually harām (‘prohibited’) in Islam, it should be equally so for both men and women. It is no news that there are scores of men’s musical groups and bands in Kashmir thriving and performing for millions of Kashmiris who regularly listen to and enjoy different kinds of music. No such religious decrees were extended to these men. Incidentally the same mufti had, at a later point, been spotted on camera at a musical performance.

As far as the question of whether music is harām in Islam is concerned, there has been a long debate over this subject over centuries. In fact, many extremist Muslims may say that the increasing popularity of music “poses a tremendous danger to Islam”. Interestingly, there are a number of references in historical texts, which claim that Prophet Muhammed and his wife (Ayisha) had, in fact, at various occasions, enjoyed, encouraged or expected musical performances. Different kinds of music were part of the festivities of various kinds even during those medieval times. The best ever music that we enjoy and appreciate today originates from some of the important Islamic countries and Muslim cultures of the world. From the best recitations of the religious scriptures to the qawwāli and na’at (songs of devotion), poetry and music have been an important and intrinsic part of the Islamic cultures of the world. Yet Muslim women of Kashmir are largely deprived of this blessing on the basis of unsubstantiated claims in the name of religion and Islam.

Now, going back to the earlier question of whether women can in fact “lead” prayers in mosques. For those who subscribe to such patriarchal and outdated views, it needs to be clarified that there is neither such a theological restriction in the Qur’an nor any attested statement made by the Prophet where women have been particularly prohibited from leading prayers, or where men have been specifically prescribed to do so. Such restrictions were placed about 300 years after the death of the Prophet when Islamic law was encoded, depriving Muslim women from this position by a majority rule that was put to practice for centuries up until this date. As also maintained in many important Islamic texts, praying is perceived to be a very direct and personal relationship between an individual and (his/her) God; there is no requirement for any third person to intercede between the two. Thus, a Muslim woman is entitled to a direct relationship with God as much as a Muslim man is. In other words, the question of “leading” does not even arise. However, the act of “leading” is a mere functionary practice of organizing the prayers and not a leadership role per se. The latter of course is another controversial issue in the context of the women’s role in social and religious practices in the public domain, as well as the their role in the fiq’h, the Islamic jurisprudence, which again, is based on consensus, and which in turn is male-dominated, not surprisingly.

To conclude this article, I would like to barely touch upon the notion of taqlid (lit. ‘unthinking imitation’) as being propagated by the Muslim Ulema all across the world (including Kashmir) and blindly followed and adopted by the general masses as opposed to any emphasis whatsoever on the concept of Ijtehad which should rather be highlighted as the need of the time. Ijtehad, which literally means ‘to strive to make efforts to solve a problem’, or more broadly, the concept of change and reform in organized religion, has unfortunately taken a backseat in the development and evolution of Islamic thought and thus led to various decadent and deteriorated practices which are not only old-fashioned but oppressive in character. There is an imminent and increasing need for a feminist re-interpretive schema that revisits the scriptural sources in an effect to address the gender-based discrimination in social and political rights vis-à-vis Islamic law, or Shari’a.

About the author: Dr. Sadaf Munshi is an associate professor in Linguistics and an affiliated faculty in the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Institute at the University of North Texas. For feedback email the author at smunshi2002@yahoo.com.

(This article appeared in the daily Kashmir Observer, Dec. 20, 2013. URL: http://kashmirobserver.net/news/opinion/male-hypocrisy-and-lies-about-islam )

 

Revisiting the question of the Kashmiri Pandits: The battle of the narratives

Every year the people of the Kashmiri Pandit (KP) and Kashmiri Muslim (KM) communities commemorate the month of January 1990 for the beginning of an era of two structurally different but extremely bitter and painful experiences: the “exodus” of the former facilitated by an atmosphere of immense fear and terror and the beginning of the brutal atrocities of the latter at the hands of the Indian state. It was a time period that marked the beginning of an era of dissatisfaction on both sides, a sense of deceit, distrust and disbelief.

There has been an abysmal silence on part of each of the two communities failing to acknowledge the painful experiences of the other and a continued resentment; this often leads to poisonous confrontations and virulent debates on public forums as well as in private gatherings. Two parallel narratives developed independently over the course of time on each side leaving a dismal gap between the two communities, which has yet to be filled over twenty-three years later. What is truly unfortunate and utterly disappointing about all this enterprise is the unfathomable urge among the members of the two communities, time and time again, to indulge in comparing and weighing their own pain and sufferings against the other and thus, directly or indirectly denying, falsifying and even ridiculing the other’s pain against their own.

 

The Problem

Numerous conflicts motivated, influenced, promoted or characterized by communal or ethnic tension are a testimony to the fact that during such politically charged times when governing bodies have literally collapsed, the last thing the common people tend to do is to think and act rationally. A majority of the leading voices on the Kashmir conflict and KP/KM debate fail to recognize the importance of the degree of influence that various key events and situations had on the emotional psychology of the people from each of these communities. This eventually reflected itself as a contention based on competing narratives, which seem to omit, under-emphasize, deny, or cherry-pick incidents that are potentially sensitive for one or the other side without assessing the repercussions of such behavior. In any tragic account like this, the account of the victims should be given the greatest sanctity.

The members of the KP and the KM community or their supporters advocating their respective causes or aspirations have consistently maintained two extreme positions on the question of the Pandit “exodus”. One voice consistently maintains that the KP’s left as part of the governor Jagmohan’s “conspiracy to clear ground” for a large-scale operation in an attempt to eradicate “militancy” (and, involving “massacring” of the Muslims) and the other suggests that the KPs were “driven” or “hounded” out by the majority community as part of a well-organized, systematic, sort of scripted agenda “to get rid of them”, with an aim of “ethnic cleansing”. Similar to these are the following arguments: one is the constant blaming by the majority of the minority that they were complicit with the state’s “nefarious designs” against the Muslims and, therefore, deserved to be ousted, and two, is the claim by some people that the Kashmiri Muslims were responsible for the atrocities incurred on them at the hands of the Indian security forces, making statements such as: they invited it, and, therefore, they deserved it (Some extremist Pandit groups even use the term “holocaust” to refer to the mass migration). While the minority community largely holds the majority responsible for their plight, the majority community kept accusing them for leaving their homeland “for greener pastures”. Both of the two positions are dangerously biased and inaccurate and contribute to strengthen and intensify the bitterness, animosity and mistrust between the two communities.

There is no doubt that the migration of the Kashmiri Pandits was the strongest blow to the Kashmiri ethos of Hindu-Muslim communal harmony and the much-harped notion of Kashmiriyat (or ‘Kashmiriness’). A stringent bitterness and suspicion developed between the two communities, which continued and crystallized over the last two decades or so post 1990. However, a fair degree of mistrust and disbelief had already been existing, and simmering underneath an apparently harmonious society before 1990.

Recall that at the outset of the armed struggle for “freedom” in Kashmir, a significant number of Kashmiri Pandits were targeted — killed, abducted or simply threatened by armed militants or mobs based on suspicion, communal animosity, sometimes for purely personal reasons, or merely to “set an example” for those who might have connived with the Indian state against the militants or the “movement”. It is also important to note that a certain degree of tension, which often reflected political or ideological differences, also existed within the Kashmiri Muslim community itself, viz., on the sectarian lines. Thus, attacks and threats, though on a fairly smaller scale, were also made against people belonging to other minorities, such as the Shi’a Muslim community, with the warning of “joining the movement or facing the consequences”; it is such threats that motivated many of the members of the Shi’a Muslim minority to join hands with the “movement”. Note that attacks were made on everybody who was seen as a “threat” to the “freedom” struggle. These included politicians, government officials as well as people representing or supporting mainstream political parties, especially National Conference. Given these facts, it is naïve to suggest that majority of the Kashmiri Muslims were responsible for or involved in efforts to enforce religious homogeneity, or that ethnic cleansing was the primary goal in this connection.

While the majority of the KP community was living in extreme circumstances as refugees in their own country, back home in Kashmir the majority community was busy wailing over their losses over the many years to come — the atrocities by the security forces, rapes and assault of many of their women, enforced disappearances, scores of fake encounters, deaths/killings of civilians during protests and demonstrations, and numerous other human rights violations. A strong void developed between the two separated communities, which seemed to be widening over the course of time. There was an increasing need of a sense of acknowledgement of the pain and suffering from each side but neither seemed to take that first step — a furiousness and frustration set forth at the silence of the other at their pain.

 

Major Challenge in the Process of Reconciliation

In the process of truth telling, peace making and reconciliation, there is no room for “but what about…” or the pehle aap (‘first you’) attitude. It is high time that, without any prejudice or hesitations and without getting entangled in the pointless debates on theories and conspiracies on who or what was responsible for the KP exodus, we admit that both the government and the majority community failed to prevent them from leaving Kashmir or facilitate their return. While the state government consistently failed to fulfill its promises to “rehabilitate Pandits in their homes”, most attempts of return were foiled by unidentified elements, often involving violence. The least the state or the central government could have done in this regard was to save or secure their houses, their places of worship, and their other immovable property, which lay abandoned, dilapidated, unprotected, abused, and in several cases, burnt down or gobbled up by vested interests.

It seems to me that there perhaps will be no formal or large-scale acknowledgement of the shameful truth regarding the exodus of the Pandit minority by the majority Muslim community without a simultaneous acknowledgement on part of the government of India and the security forces of the atrocities incurred on them over all these years. The reason for that being that although the Pandits are not responsible for the atrocities on Kashmiri Muslims, they are, albeit only symbolically, perceived as associated with the national machinery that caused these atrocities. They did not really contest the “movement for freedom”, but they also did not participate in it.

There is a need for the process of reconciliation to begin at two levels and this must happen simultaneously — one is the KP-KM reconciliation and the other is the Kashmir-India reconciliation. The major challenge in this process, however, is that until there is a formal political settlement to the Kashmir issue –whatever that is, there will be no Kashmir-India reconciliation. Although it is possible that the KP-KM reconciliation could proceed on its own, it may not be effective enough to ensure the return of the Pandits to Kashmir unless some kind of a formal political solution or settlement is sought and achieved. It is a double-edged sword and a bitter reality for all of us to understand without losing our tempers.

© Sadaf Munshi. August 31, 2013.

___________

Originally published in Economic and Political Weekly (Aug 31, 2013).
URL: http://www.epw.in/discussion/revisiting-question-kashmiri-pandits.html

 

Revisiting the Question of the Kashmiri Pandits: The Battle of the Narratives

By: Dr. Sadaf Munshi

Every year the people of the Kashmiri Pandit (KP) and Kashmiri Muslim (KM) communities commemorate the month of January 1990 for the beginning of an era of two structurally different but extremely bitter and painful experiences: the “exodus” of the former facilitated by an atmosphere of immense fear and terror and the beginning of the brutal atrocities of the latter at the hands of the Indian state. It was a time period that marked the beginning of an era of dissatisfaction on both sides, a sense of deceit, distrust and disbelief.

There has been an abysmal silence on part of each of the two communities failing to acknowledge the painful experiences of the other and a continued resentment; this often leads to poisonous confrontations and virulent debates on public forums as well as in private gatherings. Two parallel narratives developed independently over the course of time on each side leaving a dismal gap between the two communities, which has yet to be filled over twenty-three years later. What is truly unfortunate and utterly disappointing about all this enterprise is the unfathomable urge among the members of the two communities, time and time again, to indulge in comparing and weighing their own pain and sufferings against the other and thus, directly or indirectly denying, falsifying and even ridiculing the other’s pain against their own.

The Problem

Numerous conflicts motivated, influenced, promoted or characterized by communal or ethnic tension are a testimony to the fact that during such politically charged times when governing bodies have literally collapsed, the last thing the common people tend to do is to think and act rationally. A majority of the leading voices on the Kashmir conflict and KP/KM debate fail to recognize the importance of the degree of influence that various key events and situations had on the emotional psychology of the people from each of these communities. This eventually reflected itself as a contention based on competing narratives, which seem to omit, under-emphasize, deny, or cherry-pick incidents that are potentially sensitive for one or the other side without assessing the repercussions of such behavior. In any tragic account like this, the account of the victims should be given the greatest sanctity.

The members of the KP and the KM community or their supporters advocating their respective causes or aspirations have consistently maintained two extreme positions on the question of the Pandit “exodus”. One voice consistently maintains that the KP’s left as part of the governor Jagmohan’s “conspiracy to clear ground” for a large-scale operation in an attempt to eradicate “militancy” (and, involving “massacring” of the Muslims) and the other suggests that the KPs were “driven” or “hounded” out by the majority community as part of a well-organized, systematic, sort of scripted agenda “to get rid of them”, with an aim of “ethnic cleansing”. Similar to these are the following arguments: one is the constant blaming by the majority of the minority that they were complicit with the state’s “nefarious designs” against the Muslims and, therefore, deserved to be ousted, and two, is the claim by some people that the Kashmiri Muslims were responsible for the atrocities incurred on them at the hands of the Indian security forces, making statements such as: they invited it, and, therefore, they deserved it (Some extremist Pandit groups even use the term “holocaust” to refer to the mass migration). While the minority community largely holds the majority responsible for their plight, the majority community kept accusing them for leaving their homeland “for greener pastures”. Both of the two positions are dangerously biased and inaccurate and contribute to strengthen and intensify the bitterness, animosity and mistrust between the two communities.

There is no doubt that the migration of the Kashmiri Pandits was the strongest blow to the Kashmiri ethos of Hindu-Muslim communal harmony and the much-harped notion of Kashmiriyat (or ‘Kashmiriness’). A stringent bitterness and suspicion developed between the two communities, which continued and crystallized over the last two decades or so post 1990. However, a fair degree of mistrust and disbelief had already been existing, and simmering underneath an apparently harmonious society before 1990.

Recall that at the outset of the armed struggle for “freedom” in Kashmir, a significant number of Kashmiri Pandits were targeted — killed, abducted or simply threatened by armed militants or mobs based on suspicion, communal animosity, sometimes for purely personal reasons, or merely to “set an example” for those who might have connived with the Indian state against the militants or the “movement”. It is also important to note that a certain degree of tension, which often reflected political or ideological differences, also existed within the Kashmiri Muslim community itself, viz., on the sectarian lines. Thus, attacks and threats, though on a fairly smaller scale, were also made against people belonging to other minorities, such as the Shi’a Muslim community, with the warning of “joining the movement or facing the consequences”; it is such threats that motivated many of the members of the Shi’a Muslim minority to join hands with the “movement”. Note that attacks were made on everybody who was seen as a “threat” to the “freedom” struggle. These included politicians, government officials as well as people representing or supporting mainstream political parties, especially National Conference. Given these facts, it is naïve to suggest that majority of the Kashmiri Muslims were responsible for or involved in efforts to enforce religious homogeneity, or that ethnic cleansing was the primary goal in this connection.

While the majority of the KP community was living in extreme circumstances as refugees in their own country, back home in Kashmir the majority community was busy wailing over their losses over the many years to come — the atrocities by the security forces, rapes and assault of many of their women, enforced disappearances, scores of fake encounters, deaths/killings of civilians during protests and demonstrations, and numerous other human rights violations. A strong void developed between the two separated communities, which seemed to be widening over the course of time. There was an increasing need of a sense of acknowledgement of the pain and suffering from each side but neither seemed to take that first step — a furiousness and frustration set forth at the silence of the other at their pain. 

Major Challenge in the Process of Reconciliation

In the process of truth telling, peace making and reconciliation, there is no room for “but what about…” or the pehle aap (‘first you’) attitude. It is high time that, without any prejudice or hesitations and without getting entangled in the pointless debates on theories and conspiracies on who or what was responsible for the KP exodus, we admit that both the government and the majority community failed to prevent them from leaving Kashmir or facilitate their return. While the state government consistently failed to fulfill its promises to “rehabilitate Pandits in their homes”, most attempts of return were foiled by unidentified elements, often involving violence. The least the state or the central government could have done in this regard was to save or secure their houses, their places of worship, and their other immovable property, which lay abandoned, dilapidated, unprotected, abused, and in several cases, burnt down or gobbled up by vested interests.

It seems to me that there perhaps will be no formal or large-scale acknowledgement of the shameful truth regarding the exodus of the Pandit minority by the majority Muslim community without a simultaneous acknowledgement on part of the government of India and the security forces of the atrocities incurred on them over all these years. The reason for that being that although the Pandits are not responsible for the atrocities on Kashmiri Muslims, they are, albeit only symbolically, perceived as associated with the national machinery that caused these atrocities. They did not really contest the “movement for freedom”, but they also did not participate in it.

There is a need for the process of reconciliation to begin at two levels and this must happen simultaneously — one is the KP-KM reconciliation and the other is the Kashmir-India reconciliation. The major challenge in this process, however, is that until there is a formal political settlement to the Kashmir issue –whatever that is, there will be no Kashmir-India reconciliation. Although it is possible that the KP-KM reconciliation could proceed on its own, it may not be effective enough to ensure the return of the Pandits to Kashmir unless some kind of a formal political solution or settlement is sought and achieved. It is a double-edged sword and a bitter reality for all of us to understand without losing our tempers.

About the author: Dr. Sadaf Munshi is an Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Technical Communication at the University of North Texas. She can be reached at smunshi2002@yahoo.com
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Originally published in Economic and Political Weekly (Aug 31, 2013): http://www.epw.in/discussion/revisiting-question-kashmiri-pandits.html

The Burnt Shrine: A Personal Journey in Kashmir

Burnt Shrine_Munshi_2012

     Valley of Saints (by Sadaf Munshi)

As a child I grew up in a fairly peaceful period of Kashmir, listening to the stories of Heemaal-Nagray, Zehra Let, Lal Ded and Haba Khatoon. Weekends were spent waiting for Doordarshan to broadcast the one and only Hindi movie a week on a well-to-do neighbor’s black-n-white television set. Life was quite laid back and everything was seemingly normal. My ancestral home was situated in one of the narrow lanes of a small neighborhood by the banks of river Jehlum. The locality is named Khankahi Sokhta, or in Kashmiri Dodmut Khankah, which literally means ‘the burnt shrine’. The name always intrigued me though I still do not know about the shrine after which the area was named. There were mosques – both Shi’a and Sunni mosques, and there was a Hindu temple in the area. It was a fairly cosmopolitan neighborhood.

After school, we would play saza-long (hop-scotch) and tule-langun (another game popular among Kashmiri girls in those days). In the evenings I would take private tuition lessons from my Hindu (Pandit) teacher who lived a few blocks away. After the tuition lessons, I would often stand by the kitchen door observing the lady of the house as she cooked for dinner — dam-olav ‘steamed potatoes made with seasoned curry’, neni-haakh ‘mutton and collard greens’, and so forth. However, that was the boundary-line. Being a Muslim, I was not allowed in the inner parts of the kitchen by the Pandit household. Further, my mother – a conservative and devout Muslim – had strictly advised me not to eat their food lest I should be committing a gonah (‘sin’) for which I “will receive a punishment in the hereafter”. It would be okay, however, to eat dry snacks or cookies as these were bought from the market in sealed packages. It did not matter who made those cookies; as long as you didn’t know, it was Halāl.

Sometimes I would break the rules of communal discipline and disturb the purification rituals of my mother by deliberately mixing the cups and saucers she had kept aside for use by the non-Muslim guests with the rest that were for use by the family and other guests. My father, who was more secular and open-minded than my mother, would often make fun of her by reminding her of an incident many years ago when Toth, my grandfather, had singled out my father’s only Pandit friend at their wedding reception. Grandfather had made a fuss about the fact that he had had to arrange a separate meal for the groom’s Pandit friend who would not have shared nor been able to share a plate with a Muslim (In a traditional Kashmiri Muslim wedding, four people eat together from the same plate called Traem; for a Hindu and a Muslim to eat from the same plate would be no less than a blasphemy). On Heirat, or Shivaratri, however, everybody at home would impatiently wait for and merrily relish the water-soaked walnuts (heirat-dooyn) offered by the Pandits. I also had the fortune to enjoy some Pandit weddings in the neighborhood – listening to Henzee, the Hindu version of the traditional Kashmiri folk song Vanvun, admiring the rangoli, dancing and singing along with other girls.

Coming from a fairly conservative family, I had learned to follow a strict Islamic dress code from when I was 9 years old. This, however, was not a common trend in the Kashmir of the eighties. In fact, I was the only girl in my classroom to observe hijaab. Women were quite up-to-date when it came to fashion. Figure-hugging Kameez and skin-tight Shalwaars were in vogue; purdah was only popular in certain families. Burqa was already viewed as old-fashioned. Nevertheless, traditional Kameez-Shalwar was the most acceptable dress code for women. Many women would put the thin georgette or chiffon dupatta over their head as a mark of respect in front of elders and remove it elsewhere. Occasionally I would see a young woman or two in western clothing walking in a neighborhood street and, like many other girls, secretly admire them. Cinema halls were a common recreation for the young and the old. A number of movie theaters were running in the city – Palladium, Shiraz, Khayyam, Neelam, Firdaus and Regal; many parts of the city are still named after these cinema halls though none of them exists today. As a child I participated in sports and other activities at school– race competitions, singing, dancing performances, and so on. And on Independence Day we sang Allamah Iqbal’s composition sare jahan se accha Hindostan hamara.

During those days of my childhood, the majority of the Kashmiri people were divided along the Sher-Bakra political lines (and in a way still are, though the terms are outdated nowadays). Sher (‘lion’) and Bakra (‘goat’) were the terms originally used for the two political rivals and later their followers – Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and Mirwaiz Yousuf Shah (the latter for sporting a beard; Shah was the uncle of Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq, the father of the current Mirwaiz, Maulana Umar Farooq). Sheikh Abdullah had, in 1938, parted ways from the Muslim Conference to form National Conference, which became the largest political party in Jammu & Kashmir claiming a secular ideology. Pertinently, it was Mirwaiz Yousuf Shah, later his political opponent, who had initially introduced Sheikh as the president of the Muslim Conference at its inception in 1930. Sher-Bakra became a very strict political dichotomy in Kashmir after 1938 and continued over generations. Ironically it was Sheikh Abdullah who launched the Quit Kashmir movement in 1946 when Yusuf Shah had supported the government led by the Maharaja. Two groups that were more or less outside the purview of this blanket distinction of Sher-Bakra were the minority Shi’a and the Pundit community, whose loyalties to the either side were generally suspect. Often one would have to face questions like: “Are you Sher or Bakra?” Imagine the disappointment and surprise if you were to say, “Neither” and/or the sense of fear at being encountered with a supporter of the opposite side. This was besides: “Are you Shi’a or Sunni?” — a question I often had to face at school. It was very common in the Kashmiri society to identify people through these denominations. My father used to tell us stories about how my aunt would sit by the windowsill, watching people come and go on the street, and wondering, “Is he Shi’a or Sunni?”

There was one more subtle division — amongst the Kashmiri Muslim sections – that of supporting either India or Pakistan during a cricket match. This, however, was not a very clear-cut division. Within my own family we had supporters of both the countries. So, there always used to be a possibility of “conflict” during a cricket match. Pictures and paintings of Quaid-e-Azam (Muhammad Ali Jinnah) and Allamah Iqbal decorated the walls of almost every Muslim household. These figures were highly revered and even deified by many elders, so much so that any “disrespectful” comment was highly admonished and disapproved of. I often used to wonder why somebody in my family would support Pakistan and not “Hindustan”, their own country, during a cricket match, or why a fellow Muslim girl in my school would sometimes put butter on the bald head of Mahatma Gandhi on a picture hanging in our classroom. But then I realized later that for many of these people “Pakistan” was simply an ideology, an emotional matter, something they had been associating themselves with since its very inception. Many friends and close family members, which included my father’s and my mother’s immediate cousins, aunts and uncles, lived across the border; brothers and sisters, even husbands and wives were separated. It had been a very cruel partition back then in 1947.

I remember it was September 1982 when the “Lion” of Kashmir — Sher-e-Kashmir, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah passed away. We were told that his body was kept in a refrigerator for a few days before it was put to rest in a grave next to the famous Dargah (Hazratbal) on the banks of the Nageen Lake in Srinagar. Hordes and hordes of people had gathered in the Polo Ground to pay homage to the deceased Lion. My grandfather carried me on his shoulders so I did not get trampled upon or lost in the maddening crowd. It was a great frenzy. There were people everywhere — on the ground, on treetops, on every thing they could possibly hold on to — to get the last glimpse of Sheikh Sahab. Some said that his giant body could not fit in the coffin. Such was the strength he had exhibited and the charisma associated with him during his lifetime that people did not believe that Sher-e-Kashmir could actually die. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, had arrived to pay her tributes as well. Many days followed in quiet mourning and disbelief. Sheikh’s son Dr. Farooq Abdullah became the next chief minister.

Over the course of its electoral history, the central government, for a record, never allowed a single dominant political party to successfully emerge or flourish in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Dr. Farooq’s nascent government collapsed in 1984 when the Governor Jagmohan dismissed him; apparently the Congress-led government at the Center was not happy with the rise of the National Conference. A Congress-led government was put in place with Abdullah’s brother-in-law, Ghulam Muhammad Shah, as the new chief minister. Shah too was replaced after a short span of time in 1986 by a new Congress-National Conference government, again led by Abdullah. Shah’s reign was a particularly unstable period in Kashmir. A new party, Muslim Mutahida Mahaaz, or Muslim United Front, came into existence in 1987 and apparently managed to garner a strong support base. The party, however, could not win the (notoriously “rigged”) 1987 elections (which gave rise to armed insurgency in Kashmir) against the Congress-National Conference alliance, and Abdullah became the CM once again.

While all these political changes were taking place, Kashmir politics entered an era of increasing communal influence. A lot of madrasas (Islamic schools) had mushroomed in many parts of the Valley. For us, girls, a women’s organization to impose a strict Islamic dress code had been established in 1987. The ‘daughters of the nation’ Dukhtarān-e-Millat (led by Asiya Andrabi) became the women’s aide to the freedom fighting organizations in the years to come. Post-1989, the ‘daughters’ would pay regular visits to schools and colleges providing lectures on azādi and shariyah. A strict dress code was imposed, which included, for a short period, wearing burqa – the complete veil covering your body and face. A number of hand grenades were hurled at women crowds near educational institutions on the pretext of not observing purdah. There were incidents of smearing girls with color if they did not follow the rules. This was one of the worst forms of public humiliation for women of “respected families”, and hence, the immense pressure of following the norm. Non-Muslim women were instructed to disclose their identity by wearing a bindi on their foreheads lest they were not made a target in mistake.

1989-90 was the landmark year when life came to a standstill in Kashmir; all fun activities came to an end for us. I was taking my tenth class examinations when I found myself amidst the first crossfire. During that period I lived at my maternal grandparents’ house in Kamangar Pora, a small neighborhood very close to Jamia Masjid — the grand mosque in Srinagar; Jamia Masjid and its surrounding areas became the epicenter of political activity in the coming years. For the first time we heard about mujahids (Islamic militants pursuing a holy war, Jehad, in Kashmir) having arrived from across the border in order to “liberate Kashmir from the Indian occupation”. We also heard about the “UN Resolutions”, “the promise of Plebiscite by Jawaharlal Nehru”, and the “(forced) cultural domination of Hindustan”. What followed was an atmosphere of extreme tension on the one hand and an immense enthusiasm amongst the (Muslim) youth to “fight for freedom” on the other. Songs of azaadi were broadcast on Radio Azad Kashmir and aired from the loudspeakers of the local mosques: watan hamara azad Kashmir ‘our homeland is Azaad Kashmir’, jāgo jāgo subah hui ‘Wake up, wake up the morning is here’. Slogans of azādi resounded on the streets, from the rooftops of the houses, at night and in the broad daylight. More and more young people – teenagers, little boys aged 12, 13 and onwards — were recruited for the “freedom struggle”.

Anybody who was seen as a threat to the “movement” or as being a mukhbir ‘(government) informant’ became a target. The minority communities — the Shi’a Muslims and the Pandits — were warned to either “join the movement or face the consequences”. I still remember when the head of Tehseen Billa, an alleged mukhbir belonging to the minority Shi’a community, was seen flying in our neighborhood near Kamangar Pora reportedly in a grenade attack; the entire locality was dumbfounded. In a similar incident, a retired sessions judge from the Pandit community, Neel Kanth Ganjoo was killed at Hari Singh High Street; Ganjoo had held Maqbool Bhatt, the co-founder of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, guilty of a said crime back in 1984 after which Bhat had been hanged to death (Note that the death sentence was in fact upheld by Justice Murtaza Fazal Ali; supporters of Bhatt alleged that the verdict was given in a hasty manner. Further the court had denied handing over the remains and the belongings of Maqbool Bhat to his family). Having foreseen the consequences of not joining the “freedom struggle”, which was initially largely a Sunni-dominated movement, the Shi’a community finally succumbed to the pressure; the Pandits, however, did not see a future within what was very likely projected to become an Islamic state, and, therefore, opted to stay aloof. Many killings, kidnappings and death threats took place in the times to come.

By the winter of 1990, the situation had so drastically changed that it seemed as if azādi were round the corner. People started talking about Pakistan as if it were our imminent destination. Many even changed their clocks half-an-hour behind. Slogans of Pakistan se rishta kya: laa-ilaha-illallah (‘what is our relationship with Pakistan? La-ilaha-illallah (Arabic. There is one and only one God)’), azādi ka matlab kya: laa-ilaha-illallah (‘what is the meaning of azādi (freedom)? La-ilaha-illallah’), became more and more vocal on the streets and on the loudspeakers of the local mosques. It became more and more evident that it was a “movement” towards the formation of a conservative Islamic state where mullahs and maulanas stood at the forefront of giving directions for what was claimed to be a “political struggle for independence”. Most of the political speeches were offered from the pulpit of the Jamia Masjid. Often the armed militants sought refuge in mosques or shrines; what followed would be the “desecration” of the shrine/mosque by the security forces and bloodbath.

In January 1990, Jagmohan was reappointed as governor to control the situation and crush the rebellion. Within a day or so, people gathered in overwhelming numbers protesting at Gowkadal (Maisuma, Srinagar) and chanting slogans of hum kya chahate: azaadi (‘what do we want: freedom’), yahan kya chalega: nizame-mustafa (‘what will prevail here: the order/government of (the Prophet) Muhammad’). About fifty people were killed on the spot when the Central Reserve Police Force opened fire on the protesters. One of my neighbors had been caught under a pile of dead and injured; for a minute he thought he “was dead”. Blood-smeared bodies of people were horrific to look at. We closed our eyes and howled: it was a gory episode. Amidst this entire frenzy, the small population of the Kashmiri Pandits was petrified by an all-abiding fear, terrified and cringed. Truckloads of Pandits left the valley in the dark of the night on January 21, 1990 and many more followed suit in the next three months or so. An extraordinary silence followed. Many people from the majority community saw the exodus as a “conspiracy by the governor” who was planning “a large-scale operation to kill Muslims indiscriminately” in order to clean the valley of the mujahids and “crush the movement”. Nevertheless, the migration of Pandits was largely seen as temporary, and it was believed that “within a few months the situation will be stable and the Pandits will return”. That, unfortunately, was never meant to happen.

For us, the leaving of the Pandits meant no more Hindi teachers in schools. Some of the very dear friends were never to be seen again. No heirat walnuts, no more bhajans to be heard from the nearby temples, no more visiting Pandit neighbors and friends. The deserted homes of the Pandits slowly turned into ghost houses. The militants occupied some while others became the abode for the security forces; some lucky ones, however, were able to sell theirs off (Note that some of these sales were “distress sales” and properties were sold for peanuts). My first encounter with a Kashmiri Pandit as an adult was after a period of about eight years in the winter of 1996-97. I had left Kashmir to pursue a Masters program in the University of Delhi. On my first day in the women’s hostel, while tightening the laces on my sports shoes in front of the hostel canteen, I was greeted by who turned out to be a Kashmiri Pandit girl, “Hi! Are you Kashmiri?” I could not hide my Kashmiri look; my nose was a testimony to my identity. I said, “Yes!” Soon after we exchanged a brief greeting and our names, the question that followed put me in a state of great unease: The entire Kashmiri Pandit community was uprooted from their homeland. Who do you think was responsible for it? I felt like the whole world had come to an end, the earth had shattered and the ground was slipping from beneath my feet. I did not have an answer. I do not have an answer.

The migration of the Kashmiri Pandits was the strongest blow to the Kashmiri ethos of Hindu-Muslim communal harmony and the much-harped notion of Kashmiriyat (‘Kashmiriness’). A stringent bitterness and suspicion had developed between the two communities, which continued and crystallized over the two decades or so post 1990. After leaving the Valley, many Pandits had lived in extreme circumstances, in makeshift tents in refugee camps in Jammu and Delhi for years to come. Only the affluent ones had been able to find better opportunities and better places. The hot weather of the plains did not suit the people used to the lush green valleys and the snow-covered mountains. The pain of separation from the beautiful homeland, reshwair (‘valley of saints’) and the anger and dissatisfaction at the silence of the majority community as well as the government’s incapability in rehabilitating them was immeasurable. Back home in Kashmir, the majority community was busy wailing over the loss over the years and the atrocities and human rights violations by the security forces. Tens of thousands of people had lost their lives – some fighting for freedom, some innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire and some soldiers on the roadside. A strong void had developed between the two separated communities, which seemed to be widening over the course of time. There was an increasing need of a sense of acknowledgement of the pain and suffering from each side.

Today, when I look back at these many years of great yearning and loss, I inspire myself by these powerful lines attributed to Lal Ded, the mystic poet of the 14th century Kashmir:

Shiv chuy thali thali rav zān
Mau zān Hyund ta Musalmān
‘Lord Shiva abides in everything that is,
Do not differentiate between a Hindu and a Muslim’

Perhaps that day is bound to come when the expectations are met, the acknowledgements are exchanged.
© Sadaf Munshi. July 1, 2012

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(Originally published at: http://www.cerebration.org/sadafmunshi.html )

Kashmir Imbroglio: What Next?

A government that defies public opinion and distances away from the masses is no less than an alien, an oppressor.

The government of Jammu & Kashmir, with the backing from the Center, has sown fresh seeds of hatred in the Kashmir valley; it does not take more than a little bit of common sense to realize that these will only grow and work contrary to the political aspirations of the country in this trouble-torn region. For the last three and a half weeks, the entire Kashmir valley has been literally throttled, initially by the non-stop shutdown calls of the separatists, which are seemingly running a parallel government in the valley, and lately by the stringent curbs and curfews imposed by the state administration. Despite the role of more than one party, a major responsibility for the present mayhem lies with the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah who has proven absolutely incapable and utterly irresponsible and even apathetic in dealing with the situation from the very outset. There is no doubt that Abdullah’s ill-handling of the situation is solely responsible for creating a whirlpool of violence which contributed towards the further deterioration of an already volatile situation.

The prevailing situation in Kashmir is no less than a battle between the state and its subjects where public opinion is offered no place altogether. Instead of trying to reach out to the people and console the victims and their families, the state government has employed all possible means to further alienate the public. Voices of dissent are being suppressed by use of disproportionate force and imposition of curfews and curbs. During the past several weeks, ordinary people have been unnecessarily harassed on the roads, insulted and inhumanely bashed and beaten, windows of houses randomly broken, television and telephone cables disconnected at places, even the journalists and other media personnel were not spared. All this done by none other than the men in uniform – the J & K Police and the CRPF, and this to vent out their own anger and frustrations at being unable to control an angry public. After the killing of sixteen youth in a series of various incidents, most of them innocent passers-by – one after another, by the ill-behaved and perhaps non-compliant Police Forces during public protests over previous killings or violations of human rights, albeit accompanied by use of stones (indeed an act of “violence” though not as “lethal” as bullets), the J & K State Government, instead of removing the irritants and trying to address the problem with caution, opted for another ill-conceived act of bringing in the Army, interestingly to act as “deterrents” as the Home Minister and others put it. It is totally beyond one’s comprehension to understand Army’s role at the moment other than in imposing curfew in the valley.

As the Army is performing “flag marches” on the deserted streets of the Kashmir valley, an entire population has been held hostage, imprisoned and suffocated in their own houses for days on without access to the basic amenities of life; ailing people are unable to seek medical help, children cannot go to schools, daily-wagers and small businessmen cannot work to make a living, and tourists have obviously fled away, thus, giving a big jolt to the state’s tourism industry (One wonders why the situation in Kashmir has been absolutely turbulent only during the tourist season over the past few years). It is important to note that stringent curbs have been implemented even on the media including local TV channels and newspapers. The kind of government response in trying to “control the situation” and “bringing back normalcy”, as we have seen, amounts to an act of state oppression, which is absolutely reprehensible and totally unacceptable. It is also counterproductive to the so-called “Kashmir peace process” as it has merely contributed to aggravating the public wrath and emboldening the separatist sentiment, besides the government losing face in front of the people.

It does not take a genius to understand that the current situation is the result of a complete breakdown of communication between the administration and the people of Kashmir. The state administration’s reluctance and/or its incapability to address certain genuine demands on part of the people, such as those related to continued and countless human rights violations, misuse of power, lack of accountability in many a pending cases, so on and so forth, have provided a justification for use of such means as stone-pelting as a way of expressing their anger and frustration against the government. Before things went out of control, the administration ought to have given it a thought as to if the youth of Kashmir had chosen to take to the streets risking their own lives, they must have a reason which must be analyzed and understood by social and political experts; use of force, killing and pushing them against the wall was in no way going to help. If it is true that there is a hand behind instigating these (or some of these) youth to stone-pelting or that some miscreants are working to foment trouble, it is the state government’s responsibility to identify the culprits and bring them to justice. Instead of doing that, the state chose to declare a war against the citizen and brought the entire Kashmir valley under siege resulting in a complete deadlock where even the administration itself has no clue whatsoever as to what will happen when the curfew is lifted; other than a few token statements now and then and holding of meetings and addresses, it does not seem to have a well-thought of plan to tackle the situation at hand.

It has been 21 odd years that Kashmir has been burning; we have seen different phases of instability in Kashmir and different means of expression of public opinion, dissent, dissatisfaction. Tens of thousands of lives have been lost in this exercise and half a million people displaced or emigrated; no need to comment on the psychological loss that has been incurred on the people of Kashmir. It is high time we understand the seriousness of the matter and work for a long-lasting solution rather than avoiding it for eternity and passing the problem on to generations. Of course, this needs to be an all-inclusive approach working at various levels including political parties as well as separatist leadership, where the civil society must play the lead role and act as a liaison in bringing together the various concerned. The attempt has to be strong, unconditional and sincere on part of all concerned leaving aside personal ideological conflicts and abstaining from blame games. In order to initiate the process and regain a little bit of credibility, the state government needs to take the first step in the form of some bold confidence-building measures, which, obviously, include: speeding up and performing unbiased and fair investigations of various pending cases, sending the Army and CRPF back to where they belong, removing or amending the draconian laws which have resulted in gross human rights violations, and refraining from the use of mean political tactics aimed to evade responsibility. And all this cannot be done without assistance from the Center. Can this be promised at such a critical moment? If not, the current J & K administration has no moral right to continue in office nor must the Government of India expect any change of stand or sentiment on part of the people of Kashmir.

© Sadaf Munshi. July 8, 2010.
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(Note: this article was published in the July 20, 2010 issue of the daily Kashmir Times.)

Revisiting the PR Bill: Why only Women?

We will not settle for anything less than EQUAL status at par with men.

Yes, it is the 21st century world where women are being considered, not as goods and commodities which could be bought and sold, but as real human-beings entitled to what we call “fundamental rights”, just like those of men. It is a time when globalization is leading the women of today into new roles around the world establishing greater equality to men, where the social role for women is changing from that of the traditional “mother” to that of the “provider” (in addition to being a mother). Unfortunately, we are still living in a society which is yet to comprehend, let alone acknowledge this changing reality. It is still a society where men tend to make decisions for women, despite the fact that social roles have considerably changed. It is a society where it is taken for granted that a woman, after marriage, will and must leave her home and hearth to settle in with her husband, and that she will belong to his family. An opposite scene where a man would join his wife is no less than a blasphemy and a matter of great humiliation; and the possibility for a woman to choose to live on her own is even out of question. In such a scenario, it is unthinkable and even unimaginable for us to admit that our woman is not only quite capable of, but, in fact, is entitled to the right to make decisions on her behalf.

In the year 2004, during the first week of March, a stream of extreme rage and dissatisfaction had passed all up my nerves so that I had to suspend all my day’s work after I read through the headlines of the various local dailies of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. This was about the passage of the J&K Permanent Resident (Disqualification) Bill 2004 (“PR Bill”) which deprives the women of the state from maintaining Resident status and from the right to own property should they marry a “non-state subject”. Same law, however, would not apply to men in a similar situation. Irrespective of the fact that the Bill was fundamentally flawed and absolutely unjust and discriminating towards one-half of the population of the state, it was unanimously passed. The then National Conference President, Omar Abdullah, himself born of and married to a non-native, had even taken a very strong stance by issuing a whip for ensuring a “smooth passage of the PR Bill 2004” warning that any violation would entail action in terms of Anti Defection Law against its Legislative Council members should they oppose the Bill. Shortly afterwards, however, the passage of the Bill had caused a great upheaval in and outside the state in various circles, and it had, at least temporarily, been shelved aside.

After six years, the Bill has resurfaced from the debris to haunt us a second time — this time ironically on the International Women’s day, around exactly the same time of the year (moved by the PDP legistator Murtaza Ahmad Khan on March 8, 2010). Interestingly this time too, the Bill was allowed “unopposed”. What is even more interesting to note is that during the same session, the Minister for Social Welfare, Ms. Sakina Itto has proposed a Bill on Domestic Violence for “empowering women”. Was that a bad joke?

The PDP’s stance may be a bait for the separatist mindset aimed to “safeguard Article 370” (or “special status” of the J & K), or a part of some new political gimmick to regain its lost face, but one must concede that such politicians can no longer make a fool of the womenfolk who are more informed, more confident, and more determined to fight for their rights. There is no rationale whatsoever behind the argument that women’s marrying non-state subjects causes an “imbalance in the state demographics” while the same action by men, committed on a much larger scale than women, does not. It does not take a genius to realize that the Bill is absolutely blind to our women’s basic and fundamental rights.

While many political parties supporting the Bill certainly have their motives, the important question that must be addressed by everyone today, irrespective of our political orientations or ideologies, is: Do the women of the state of Jammu & Kashmir deserve equal treatment as that of men? On the one hand is the question of their basic human and fundamental rights, their right to live with dignity and equal status as that of men in a country which boasts of being the largest democracy in the world, and on the other, is the issue of safeguarding article 370 of the “privileged” state. The answer is more than clear: If such a Bill must pass at any point, it must apply to everyone irrespective of their gender; under these circumstances, the first person to be disqualified from the Resident status must be our honorable Chief Minister, Mr. Omar Abdullah, followed by everybody with similar qualifications. If that is not likely to happen any time, the Bill must be buried for good.

© Sadaf Munshi, March 11, 2010.
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(This article was published in the March 17, 2010 issue of the daily Rising Kashmir available at URL: http://www.risingkashmir.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=21676&Itemid=53)

 

A House in Utter Chaos

 

Whenever we see incidents of irrational behavior, there is an urge to find out the incentive or motivation behind it.

One wonders whether it is the sheer irony of fate or the deliberate efforts of mischief-makers – in Kashmir or in New Delhi – that whenever there is a slight indication of any positive developments vis-à-vis the resolution of the Kashmir issue, something goes terribly wrong shattering the bubble of hopes and expectations. Like most other occasions in the history of the “talks” efforts, this time too the process has been apparently nipped right in the bud even before taking off, let alone being taken to a “logical conclusion”.

The first setback to the “dialogue” process – whether quiet or obvious, bilateral or multilateral, conditional or unconditional – came from within the household of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference in the form of objection by its own members –“moderates” as well as the “hardliners”. Whether the opposition was justified or not is a moot question given the fact that the factions of the APHC have so far failed in presenting with a unified agenda or in enticing/convincing circles outside of their respective ambits. On the contrary, the conglomerate has engaged itself in playing an endless series of blame-games. Here, a special role is being played by Mr Syed Ali Shah Geelani whose belligerent attitude has encouraged a continuing spree of anti-social acts. A poorly-conceived rhetoric on his part (which one can only think of as a “broken record” for it simply repeats itself over and over again) is that “India should first accept Kashmir as a dispute and then offer any talks”. After all why would India offer “talks” if it did not, overtly or covertly, accept Kashmir as a dispute? This is a simple analogy which should be comprehensible even to a nincompoop. By delivering highly vocalized and controversial statements on issues that are not necessarily related to the core problem, such as the religion and “morality” based overtures, Mr Geelani has been playing a tricky game which has proven nothing but detrimental towards the achievement of a (any) solution.

The second setback in the light of the dialogue-to-be process was the murderous assault on Mr. Fazl Haque Qureshi (belonging to the “moderates” faction of the APHC). Just like many similar incidents in the past (such as, the attack on late Mr. Abdul Ghani Lone some years ago or Mr. Shaikh Abdul Aziz more recently), the identity of the culprit who carried out this attack will perhaps never be revealed. There is no doubt that the horrific act enormously added to the friction between the members of an already divided house to the extent of turning into a breach that may perhaps never be healed. Although the particular attack was in deed very shocking to many of us, a mischief such as this was perhaps on the cards given the heated atmosphere of the “talks”-talk and the opposition from various sections. The “quiet” talks did not turn out to be so quiet after all.

The third setback, and perhaps the most damaging of all, came in the form of the CBI report presenting an outrageously simplistic and utterly irrational analysis with regard to the alleged double rape and murder case of Shopian which has been haunting the valley for the past several months. Adding fuel to the fire were the remarks made by the Union Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. P Chidambaram, criticizing anyone debating the authenticity of the report or the analysis thereof, thus, leading to a great mistrust and anger among an already frustrated people. Such irresponsible behavior on part of the Minister was not only absolutely uncalled for, given the sensitivity of the occasion, it also made a complete mockery of the institution of “dialogue” advocated by him in the recent past. In the least, it has strengthened the position of the hardliners who are always on the look for exploiting such opportunities. Interestingly, one more horrific act has been committed in Shopian amidst this hullabaloo – the killing of a young girl by some “unidentified gunman” in front of her family members; the act is likely being attributed to “militants” by the government but could equally well be conceived of by the pro-freedom camp as an act of the government agencies.

Together, all these factors, plus a criminal silence on behalf of the state government, have resulted in a great degree of confusion and chaos leaving the Kashmiri people to lurch in a dark tunnel of hopelessness and despair. The question is whether it is New Dehli’s stand on talks for the sake of talks or the hardliners’ stand on opposition for the sake of opposition which is acting as a hurdle in the resolution process. Perhaps both and perhaps more! While we find an answer to this question, in a situation such as we are currently in, things may get worse before they get better provided the stake-holders — the separatist leadership, the pro-government parties and the government of India – come clean on what they stand for and commit to delivering what they promise. Let us hope that they do!

The author can be reached at smunshi2002@yahoo.com.
(This article originally appeared in the daily Rising Kashmir, Dec. 23, 2009)