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A week in Kashmir

Published Jul 14, 2012 03:04am


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A WEEK’S visit to Kashmir revealed the same deep sense of alienation among the people, the same system of repression, a continuing political vacuum, and a culture of impunity and denial of accountability, all capped by a feckless Chief Minister Omar Abdullah who never ceases to demonstrate his utter unfitness for the office.

Maturity was demonstrated after a fire razed to the ground on June 25 a 250-year-old shrine in Srinagar’s Khanyar locality built in memory of the revered saint Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani who is buried in Baghdad. The shrine in Srinagar housed some of his relics which are fortunately safe.

The Kashmir government ordered its reconstruction. In this task it will receive sound professional advice from “the heritage man of Kashmir”, Mohammed Saleem Beg, former DG of tourism and now convener of the Jammu & Kashmir chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage. He had extensively documented the details of the shrine with precise drawings and digital photos. With a digital map of the shrine, he hopes substantially to restore it to its original grandeur.

As happens in such cases, fire tenders arrived late, were handicapped for reasons more than one and incurred public wrath. It was all contained the same day. The Hurriyat’s leaders of old called for a shutdown the next day on Tuesday. It passed off peacefully.

But the Omar Abdullah government sensed an opportunity and took recourse to a device which is used only in Kashmir: an ‘undeclared curfew’ imposed without the authority of the law. The police arbitrarily seal places for unspecified terms. That Omar Abdullah justified this drastic remedy was bad enough. Far more revealing was the language he used on June 28 on Twitter: “Why don’t you blame the stone-pelters? If I was so keen to ‘curfew you’, I’d have done it without the stone-throwing”. To the taunt that CM stood for curfew minister he responded “Enjoy yourselves. You have to find something to amuse yourselves, so have fun.” Teenagers use more sophisticated language.

The situation calls for united resistance to repression. Umer Maqbool of Greater Kashmir reported on June 22, that 3,400 persons were detained in the last two decades under the draconian Public Safety Act, 1978. The police have registered as many as six cases of stone-pelting against the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel since 2009. Besides, in 2010 as many as seven cases were registered against the paramilitary force in Sopore alone for unprovoked firing. Yet between 1990 and 2011, not a single case against a police official or army officer received the requisite sanction for prosecution from the local or central government.

These figures of arrests emerged thanks to the labours of human rights activists who invoked the Right to Information Act, 2009. This writer participated in a conference on good governance and panchayati raj at a rural resort Yusmarg, organised by the Centre for Rural Development, the J&K RTI Movement and Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti. Its moving spirit was Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat aided by a band of young RTI activists.As well as the Right to Information, participants discussed the shortcomings in the Jammu & Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989 and in its implementation. Sarpanchas and panchas elected last year participated and voiced their grievances. Chief Information Commissioner G.K. Sufi disclosed that the Right to Information Act, 2009 was being invoked by “people from rural areas ... more than the urban population”. That they seek information about arrests and cases of misfeasance proves that they are as committed to azadi as the politicians.

This has been the fundamental mistake of Hurriyat leaders of all shades in the whole of the last two decades. They saw a conflict between the cry for azadi and the demand for good governance and reduced themselves to men who merely called for strikes, crippling life and inflicting hardship on the people. Even on the Kashmir question not one has a creative idea; all voice old slogans. The Muslim League and the Congress had their respective committees on economic planning even before independence. Truth to tell, the separatist leaders were at sea, afraid of creativity oblivious to the gains that would accrue if the cry for azadi was coupled with a demand for good governance and if a united movement was launched for the right to protest.

On June 18, Geelani Sahib warned that the youth were “considering other options” in the face of denial of this right. He has moderated his stand significantly; witness his five-points, his condemnation of stone-pelting and his call to treat tourists fairly. He has been very largely under house arrest since 2008. The main door of his house is barricaded; a narrow lane enables visitors to meet him. He is not permitted to say Friday prayers in a mosque.

A precarious peace prevails, as Shujaat Bukhari, editor of Rising Kashmir pointed out after the fire at the shrine “The potential of even a smaller incident to turn into a full-fledged ‘war for azadi’ has always been there. That is why to see the peace through bubbling tourism is always a wrong assessment to make. Political alienation in Kashmir is a permanent lesson, which New Delhi refuses to learn. That is why even an ‘accidental fire’ is the spark to kick-start an unending unrest. This time, however, both people and the separatists’ leadership has shown maturity in dealing with the situation. But how long?” How long, indeed.

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (18) Closed

JAY KOMERATH Jul 14, 2012 03:14pm
Kashmir used to have many hundreds of thousands of Pundits.Where are they now.?
ashok k. bhatia Jul 15, 2012 07:45pm
I am just returning from a visit to india and while there,i spent 2 weeks in Srinagar.When I was there,many questions were flooding my mind about the threats to foreigners on the streets of Srinagar,but I was surprised to see a common Kashmiri person wairy of violence which has affected their every day routines and the small buisiness and poor people were hurting the most.Students who lost years of their lives becouse calls of Kashmir closed by sepratists and the schools and colleges were closed which resulted in time wasted in youngestes studies.Every body had one thing to say to Gillani, and other Hurriyat leaders to Go to Pakistan and leave poor Kashmiries to solve their own problems.
Sohail Jul 16, 2012 04:36am
Brother: Seriosly, What are you doing in Mumbai writing articles? come, move to Kashmir or move to Pakistan? And out of curiosity...which law do you practice?
Mark Thompson Jul 16, 2012 07:31am
Hi Noorani I dont understand what you were trying to prove. Kashmir better be with India, world cannot tolerate one more muslim nation. you should read another article today in the same paper Dawn "The Lost City" .. Good to know that Kashmir is not as bad as pakistani Quetta, where every one "awaits destruction" as per the article. in one line - lets mend our our businesses, and stop poking into neighbours houses ...
monty.. Jul 14, 2012 04:11am
situation in kashmir has changed a lot..People are making nice money from tourism..At the same time they were reasonable and polite too..
SKChadha Jul 14, 2012 07:19am
How long ..... permanently :-)
Pradeep Jul 14, 2012 07:41am
Kashmir is burning and accusing foot soldiers (either side) for that isn’t the correct way of handling things, I open heartedly welcome your criticism on elders who instigate violence and put ordinary Kashmiris in hardships. And I believe a rational and innovative approach from both sides could provide a permanent solution to this unending cycle of violence.
Arun Jul 14, 2012 07:57am
Mr. Noorani considers Omar Abdullah unfit for office, but offers no alternative. The separatist leaders do not have a vision beyond protesting. They have changed Kashmir's character from one of a peaceful and tolerant people to violent and intolerant. The separatist's skills at governing show even less promise than Abdullah's.
Essjay Jul 14, 2012 03:54pm
Did Mr. Noorani interact with shopkeepers, houseboat owners and other business owners who generate employment and prosperity? Did Mr. Noorani ask the "separatists" why they don't participate in the elections??
jay Jul 14, 2012 03:59pm
No body is keeping Kashmiris isolated except they them selves. To mingle with every body is a personal choice and same thing applys at team level, community level, state level and at country level too. Question of how long needs to be answered by them.
Md Adil Rais Jul 14, 2012 04:07pm
What actually u wanna say?
jps Jul 14, 2012 05:25pm
This article by Noorani is well written although at some places a few aspects have been unduly negatively painted. Many young people from this state are well spread out across the country and doing pretty well. If you ask them, they don't hesitate to blame the separatists in the Valley for the present state of backwardness still sustaining there.......
Peace Jul 14, 2012 05:26pm
Author seems to explore only negative side ... hope s/he would have written something positive.
ahmed41 Jul 15, 2012 07:07am
How long ----indeed ? a good question !!! Way back during school days, in the early 1950s , i was drawing a school-boy style map assignment. It had to show political and provincial divisions in South Asia. My immature map showed Kashmir divided 50-50 between * theirs* and ours ! When my dad saw it he burst out laughing : " Has not your school teacher taught you that the matter has been referred to the UN ? " Me : " So, dad , when will this tangle be solved. " Dad : " Not in my life time , and possibly nor in *your* lifetime,either "
Sameer Jul 15, 2012 08:26am
Dear Sir, We would like to read similar article from you on situation in Baluchistan and rights of Baloch people. Hope you will dare to write.
Indian Jul 16, 2012 05:16am
Soon(2048) it will be a hundred years and the Kashmir issue will die a natural death. The Kashmiri children will not what they are fighting for. Ground realities will not change. It is best for the Pakistani leadership to show pragmatism and accept status-quo. All through the past 48 years, India has kept intact the cultural identity of the Kashmiri people. India deserves respect and appreciation for this. This acn be guaranteed in future in case of a peaceful settlement.
PKKaul Jul 16, 2012 06:43am
There is nothing like alienation,represson or political vocuum in our Kashmir, culture of impunity ans denial of accountability yes. My surprise is that Mr Noorani a matured intectual of our times has yet to understand we the kashmiree:s
pankaj Jul 29, 2012 12:04pm
Sir How about your comments on forcibly conversion of Hindus & Christians in Pakistan . How about rights of non- Muslims in Pakistan , We look forward to your Opinion on these topics too. World would like to to be informed about the treatment given to non-Muslims in Pakistan . Also could you through some light on , who are Mohazirs in Pakistan ,what type of treatment is being melted to them .