Kashmir Politics

Casualties of the “Freedom” Struggle

It was April 1990. Everyday life in Kashmir was under siege. Schools and colleges were closed most of the time. I spent my days tending to the household work in the kitchen with my mother and my sister or reading in my room. We hardly went outdoors during those days, and when we did, we were apprehensive. There were militants and armed forces everywhere. Even sitting in the garden or basking under the sun was not acceptable anymore, especially for girls. People killed time chatting with neighbors, reading newspapers, or making plans for the grocery. In the evenings, we sat diligently in front of the television to listen to the news — everyone’s daily obsession and one of the primary sources of information about the incidents happening in town besides listening to BBC radio and the hushed gossip of friends and neighbors. It was one of these days when everyone in the family was alerted as my father came in after a neighborhood chat. A neighbor’s car had been stolen.

That evening, like every other day, we switched on the television for the news. “Professor Mushir-ul-Haq, the Vice Chancellor of the Kashmir University has been kidnapped by unknown gunmen.” Everyone was shocked to hear the news. “His personal secretary, Abdul Ghani, and an orderly were accompanying.” The incident happened on a Friday, when the VC was leaving for his prayers in a white ambassador car. A group of four armed men had stopped the trio at gunpoint as the white ambassador was turning towards (now) Sir Syed Gate of the University. The men forced their way into the car and ordered the driver to move as directed. When they reached a certain place in the old city, the gunmen shuffled the kidnapped into a standing red Maruti.

Four days later, on April 10, the bullet-ridden bodies of Professor Haq and his secretary were found near a canal on the roadside at a place near the Airport Road. The entire academic community was shocked. My uncle was the Public Relations Officer of the university then. We had heard a lot of things about Professor Haq which he would share with us. The student wing of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the gruesome murder. Haq’s body was quickly flown to his hometown in New Delhi where he was buried.

Later that year, our neighbor Waheed, the owner of the red Maruti van, was arrested from his house during a nocturnal crackdown. While the neighborhood was asleep, the security men “barged into their bedroom from the window. The couple was in bed at the moment.” Everyone was in total awe for many days. There was no news of Waheed for months. About six months later, suddenly Waheed came home, a completely different person. He looked withered and old, and his hair had turned gray. “They had to pay money to rescue him. You think they would free him otherwise?” somebody said. Waheed had been tortured in custody. “His kidneys were damaged due to the physical torture during the interrogations,” said a family member.

In 1991, when militancy and the sentiment for azādi (“freedom”) were at their highest peak in Kashmir, I took my Higher Secondary Part I (i.e., Class 11th) exams amidst extreme tension and turbulence, like many others of my generation. My school, the Government Girls Higher Secondary School at Soura, had been burnt down and many of our classes were held out in the open or in makeshift rooms. I still remember the charred logs and wretched beams and the deadly cold winters. Our hands would freeze while writing in absence of any heating arrangement. Right before the exams we were warned by somebody that there was “no need to study this time”.

On the first day of the exams, when the question papers and answer sheets were distributed, one of the examiners came forward and said: taamath bihivu ithay paeth, pata bihiv raundas manz ikwatta ‘Sit properly like this for now, in a little while you can make a circle together’ – words that resound in my memory in the same order even after literally two decades. My eyes almost popped out of my sockets when she instructed the girls to bring their notes and materials from their bags so that they could copy their answers in the answer sheets. A handsome young man was standing guard at the entrance to the examination hall holding a pistol. Tears fell from my eyes, perhaps not at the state of affairs that had unfolded but because I could not bear the fact that the girls who barely managed to pass in the previous examinations might receive a higher score than I could possibly make despite having worked very hard. My friend turned to me, “You are insane! Why don’t you do what others are doing?” I kept quiet and wrote my answers half-heartedly.

The next few years of school and college were no better. With a large number of teachers from the Kashmiri Pandit community having fled the valley, we had to make-do with the leftover teaching staff complemented by ad-hoc staff. A number of quick hirings were made at gunpoint or at sifaarish. Besides the hundreds of lost school days, the quality of education offered deteriorated drastically. Consequently, a monstrous private-tuition industry propped up and flourished, while the burning of educational establishments continued over the years.

I still remember the day when my college was partially burned. It was a cold winter night of February 6, 1996. We were watching a local television channel when I suddenly stopped at the horrific news about a “mysterious” fire that had broken at the Government Women’s College, M.A. Road. As I saw the footage of the flames on the television screen, tears began to roll down my cheeks. “Two cylinder blasts,” someone said. The Old Science Block and the Auditorium were gutted down after the blasts were heard. I wasn’t able to visit my college until after the winter vacations in spring. “Why educational institutions?” was a question that bothered me just like many other people, but there was no answer.

A huge number of educational institutions were sacrificed for the “freedom” struggle in the coming years. Although many non-government establishments were also attacked, the main targets were the government-run colleges and schools. In fact, not only were a large number of schools and colleges burnt down, many government buildings, bridges, museums and libraries were also targeted as part of the “freedom” struggle. When the Islamia College of Arts and Sciences was put to flames in the October of the fateful year of 1990, I saw tears in the eyes of some of my neighbors, my uncles, and my older cousins who had received their education in the college. It was a catastrophic fire that engulfed the entire college complex. A monumental structure in the heart of Srinagar by the foothills of Hariparbat, the Islamia College had housed some of the rare books and manuscripts. “Everything was burnt to ashes; nothing was left,” said people who were able to visit the college campus later.

Incidents were also reported about explosive devices planted or set-off in Tyndale Biscoe and Mallinson schools. Attempt to set ablaze the Burn Hall School was reported earlier on March 17 of 1990. In the same year, Srinagar’s famous D.A.V. (Dayanand Anglo Vedic) School at Rainawari was burnt down. “My high school was burnt with petrol stolen from the cars of our village. We never attended school during rainy days; there was no room with a roof,” a friend from Anantnag narrated to me many years later in December 2012.

I also witnessed multiple attempts to burn a local boys’ government high school situated just a block away from my home at Shri Bhat. During the first few attempts the locals succeeded in dousing the flames as soon as the fire had started, but in the final attempt a heavy amount of petrol and probably also kerosene in big cans was used before the school finally burned down to ashes. We saw the flames from a second storey window facing the school. It took many years for the government to build a replacement.

On July 5 2004, the historic Islamia School situated near Rajouri Kadal (the area and its surroundings were renamed Shahr-e-Khaas in the later years) was also set on fire by “unidentified gunmen”, possibly by the use of petrol. I was doing fieldwork in Srinagar and also working as a columnist and sub-editor for the daily Kashmir Observer.

The loss in education was an irreparable damage; it took a heavy toll on our society. While a number of voices of dissent were either warned from time to time or even silenced, a lot many people chose to leave the valley in pursuit of education and for jobs and never returned. Hartals and shutdowns became a norm crippling all of our civil institutions – education, economy, and healthcare. Often we were forced to stay indoors for months at a stretch as schools and colleges were closed. My peers and I lost two precious years of school during a five-year period in the 90’s. Consequently, many of us started looking for opportunities outside the trouble-torn valley. Few of those who left found a path to return.

Looking back today, it seems our next generation is going through exactly what my generation did. The cycle of loss is simply getting repeated over and over again with very few dividends. A blind leadership of a limping struggle isn’t really leading us anywhere; it’s only making circles amidst a façade of a “movement” which is making rounds without making any advances. The cycle must break so we can determine a path of progress and prosperity for our children, our future generations. This is what wisdom asks of us, and this is something we really owe to our future generations.

Published in the daily Rising Kashmir on November 18, 2016: http://www.risingkashmir.com/article/casualties-of-the-freedom-struggle
Reproduced in the Pakistan Observer on November 20, 2016:

India using an iron fist in Kashmir

Why are Kashmiris doing this? Let us all walk the path of wellbeing! This was the statement of an old friend of mine from the Indian mainland in response to the prevailing political crisis in Kashmir. I looked at her in silence and hopelessness. It was August 15th and I was in New Delhi, on my way back to my adopted home, the United States of America, after a month-long harrowing experience in Kashmir. I had left during the wee hours of the 14th morning in an attempt to avoid any “untoward incident” on my way to the airport in Srinagar.

Today is August 22nd. After over 44 days of senseless killings, there seems to be no let up in the political crisis. While the two South Asian nuclear powers India and Pakistan mince no words in flexing their muscles and bellowing at each other claiming their rights on the fated land, over 66 civilians are killed and thousands injured in different parts of the Kashmir valley since July 8, 2016. Scores of youth and many minors have received dangerous injuries from pellets impairing their vision. While any violent protests by public cannot be condoned, no words of criticism suffice to condemn the excesses by the police and armed forces. Amidst the authoritarian and vindictive measures of the government and the police forces, common people have literally been subject to the worst kind of psychological torture one can imagine in the modern world. Kashmir feels like a prison where the entire population is at the mercy of different agencies attempting to outdo each other at their incompetence in dealing with the situation. Calling the administration’s response to the non-stop shutdown calendars of the separatists “counter-productive” and “insensitive” is an understatement.

In total frustration at its failure to address public anger against the many killings the government’s response to the situation has been reduced to countering the senseless hartals by stringent curfews and restrictions. By disabling private mobile/Internet services, and more recently extending the curfews to nighttime, the government has demonstrated an utter disregard for people’s fundamental right to access information and to their freedom of movement and communication. Such desperate actions only reflect the government’s failure in safeguarding the basic human rights of people and ought to be condemned in the strongest terms.

But this isn’t the first time that this happened. A continuing cycle of killings amidst enormous protests against human rights violations, unending shutdowns, and unjustifiably severe restrictions – words fell short of describing summer 2010. It was the third consecutive year that Kashmir had erupted – each time in response to a unique incident, and I was to witness each of these uprisings firsthand. The situation deteriorated every passing day turning the valley into a virtual prison for three months. The use of brutal force by the police and the security men to control angry protestors and stone-pelting youth resulted in many deaths, with ordinary citizens being unnecessarily harassed and beaten, and public properties destroyed. At least 117 people were killed and several hundred injured in police firing. A majority of those killed were students, including two minors.

Given the immense psychological stress resulting from stringent clampdowns, the situation is again on the brink of turning into a humanitarian crisis the political consequences of which could be far more devastating than the previous years. Rise of homegrown militancy and increasing public sympathy for slain militants is only one such consequence. Continued and unchecked abuse of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is one of the primary factors contributing to the further alienation and radicalization of youth. Any attempt to justifying its use at the pretext of the “worsening situation” is naïve, if not dishonest, and utterly disturbing. And far more disturbing is the criminal silence of the country’s Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi who has offered few words of sympathy for the families of the victims in the current spate of violence and unrest. Under such circumstances it is hard to imagine if things will move in the right direction any time soon in Kashmir.

August 22, 2016.

(Published in Rising Kashmir, August 25, 2016. http://epaper.risingkashmir.com/EPaper.aspx?0vzqKVqakSdx1ArOcaTYaA_ep_ep )

Perils of Destructive Politics

By: Dr. Sadaf Munshi 

“Kashmiri people follow Geelani, believe in JKLF ideology and pin hopes on Mirwaiz”

The statement quoted above was an observation made by a scholar from the United Kingdom during a Kashmir visit in 2010 when over 116 young lives were lost for nothing. In the past few days, the situation in Kashmir is taking a similar turn but lets hope nothing close to 2010 is on cards. I have learned that Kashmir politics is a kedgeree too many players, too many cooks. At the latest developments, I was reminded of a phone call I made to my father about two years ago asking about the “situation” in the aftermath of the sectarian tension in 2012. Father had turned to me like this: “kehin nay, yim karaan shuyr kharyil” (‘Nothing, it’s just these kids playing mischief’). It was a relief to see that he hadn’t lost his sense of humor even in that tense environment. My father further added: “ath habyin wanaan Kaakun haaput; ba hay traavahan magar yi traavyam na kehn” (Lit. ‘This is called “Kaka’s bear”, my dear; I would let go of it but it won’t let go of me’).

We have seen time and again that a common Kashmiri’s right to live, move and breathe is at the mercy of the moods of politicians, administrators, separatists and some invisible “agents”. Only a few months ago, Kashmir went through one of the most devastating floods in its history. Schools and educational institutions were closed down for a prolonged period of time. The entire infrastructure was badly damaged. There is a lot to catch up, a lot of reconstruction work to be done. Despite an interval of seven long months, majority of the flood-affected people are yet to receive relief. Many people spent a long harsh winter in makeshift shelters and were only looking forward to a ray of hope with the arrival of spring. The intervening elections and the unprecedented delay in the government formation had only added to their woes. As if all this were not enough, there comes politics on the scene and the common man continues to suffer.

Over a week ago, a huge controversy was started over the government’s announcement of a “plan of rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits”; this came even before any actual action plan or conversation on this topic was made with the concerned people. Within a matter of hours, separatist leaders came forward with severe criticism and their supporters went berserk agitating on the streets of Srinagar on the following day. The leader of the JKLF even announced a 30-hour long symbolic “hunger strike” against the proposal of “separate townships for KPs”, which the government did not even endorse. “We will not tolerate any division of Kashmir based on communal lines”, the leader had belched. As if it wasn’t clear enough that the division of the state on communal lines already existed. Perhaps it would have been more judicious and ethical to explain what stopped the separatist leadership from reaching out to the Pandit community during more than two decades. As far as the state administration is concerned, it could not take any brownie points on their announcement of the “plan” either. We have just seen how the only KP member of the PDP was shown the door when his campaigning role was over; the resignation of Dr. Sameer Kaul right after the government formation is an indication of how seriously the government is taking the issue of the “reintegration” of Kashmiri Pandits. The untimely announcement of the “luxurious bus services for tourists” before any developmental plans for the people of Kashmir or relief for the flood victims was yet another foot-in-mouth blurb that the new government could have avoided.

Now, here is the icing on the cake. After spending his annual winter vacation in the cozy warm plains of the capital of the “enemy” India while the flood-affected people of Kashmir were reeling in cold weather, Mr. Seyyid Ali Shah Geelani makes a salubrious comeback on the Kashmir’s political scene. Alongside a recently released hardliner separatist on his side (who by the way would have been a non-entity but thanks to the Indian media for lionizing him), a couple thousand people gave the octogenarian a warm welcome. Flags of the neighboring country, whose role in the Kashmir conflict is well known, were hoisted in the demonstrations and “jeeve jeeve Pakistan” slogans were reverberating in the air, while the “moderate” faction was dumbfounded and sidelined by the media glamour the hardliners attracted. At this scene, I was reminded of the tens of thousands of aspiring youth waiting with their job applications for a mere fifty positions in the police/armed services.

Calling for regular shutdowns and “idhar chalo”, “udhar chalo” is an approach, which has taken a high toll on Kashmir’s economy, development and intellectual growth. It has yielded nothing but destruction and loss of precious human lives. Inciting anger, throwing rocks at people on the other side and raising mash’als in the air in nocturnal demonstrations is only an easy recipe for more violence, deaths and destruction. Those people who indulge in instigating youth to violence are equally responsible for the loss of precious lives that take place in violent demonstrations, as are those who fire bullets at them. Both the public and the police need to observe restraint and behave themselves.

Kashmir’s civil society has a moral obligation to come out of their closets and speak vehemently against any overt or covert abuse of teenage schoolboys for the purpose of political gains; they also have an obligation to reject all extremist forces that are hell-bent in taking this society back to stone age. Finally the callousness of the Police in dealing with volatile situations needs a very serious attention by the government. The police forces need to be trained in how to communicate with public in a humane and respectful way; use of disproportionate force on unarmed people is totally unacceptable and unjustified.

About the author: Dr. Sadaf Munshi is an Associate Professor of Linguistics in the College of Information at the University of North Texas. For feedback, she can be reached at smunshi2002@yahoo.com.
Originally published in the daily Rising Kashmir (April 23, 2015):http://www.risingkashmir.com/perils-of-destructive-politics/

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)