Advantage Zero In Kashmir

In northern Afghanistan, as an unrepentant Taliban captures territory, even while so-called peace talks are underway, reporters are entering the tattered make-shift tents of the refugee camps without water, electricity and food, scattered across the hinterland, in about 50 degree Centigrade, with a scorching Afghan sun shining on the stoic masses. Desperate people are once again running to save their body and soul, and women are telling terrible stories which they have not yet forgotten. The terrible stories narrate emotional degradation and sexual slavery under the Taliban before 9/11, like a thousand terrible suns.

The untold stories of women, mothers, daughters, girls and boys, and homes destroyed – they are often the time-tested testimonies of a society under siege. Surely, Kashmir is not Afghanistan, and the Taliban is still far away. But, somehow, its shadow seems to be looming large in the Valley too, as the Americans leave, and the uncertain landscape changes colour into a murky grey, across the line of control.

Experts are therefore reading between the lines as the muscular Modi-Shah regime made its first strategic U-turn recently on Kashmir by inviting its top leaders for talks in Delhi. So, what is brewing?

It’s been two years since the massive military clampdown was imposed on Kashmir on August 4, 2019, with the arbitrary abrogation of Article 370, the dismantling of the state assembly, the arrest of all top political leaders, including three former chief ministers, and hundreds of innocent citizens accompanied by an atmosphere of total terror. The entire Valley was under siege. There were armed barricades across the nooks and corners of a desolate Srinagar, its sublime Dal Lake bereft of a single tourist boat.

Apart from the crippling economic losses which ran into billions, and some businessmen behind bars, what was striking on the empty streets and markets of Srinagar was the absence of women and children. A silent stasis of suppressed mass trauma and alienation had penetrated the deepest layers of Kashmiri society.

At the famous Hazratbal and Jama Masjid, there was nobody to feed the pigeons. The legendary Lal Chowk was steeped in solitude except for the armed barricades. University campuses had their huge gates shut. An uncanny unhappiness stalked this scenic land.

Mothers and children had withdrawn into their homes. There were no kids out there flying kites or playing cricket on the streets; no one was going to school with their back-packs. It was like the Joan Baez song: Where have all the children gone?

ALSO READ: Has The Nation Forgotten Kashmir?

Mothers were not walking out with their children asking them to buy ice-cream or popcorn. Sisters were not playing pranks with their little brothers in open spaces. Children were not playing in the courtyards just across the tense army barricades every few minutes; they were not exchanging notes across the rows of terraces touching each other in old Srinagar with its myriad mappings of inner lanes crisscrossing the inner city.

Windows and doors were tightly shut, internet was shut, the media was shut, lips were shut, hearts were shut, eyes were shut wide-open; this was a ‘shutdown’ much before the sudden ‘lockdown’ in the rest of India in March 2020. This was armed occupation, under army jackboots. This was forced social quarantine. This was a total denial of democracy and fundamental rights as enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

So what do we say of a beautiful city where there are no sounds of children anymore? Where children do not play anymore?

What do you say of a State which shuts its own children into silence, condemnation and exile? For a reporter in Srinagar two years ago, the wounded memories are etched.

Two years later, there seems to be a tangible and tangential linkage between what is happening in Afghanistan, and the sudden and unexpected ‘big move’ being played out recently by the super-duo in the capital.  They, surprisingly and ironically, invited the mainstream political leadership of Kashmir for ‘talks’ in Delhi. Many of these leaders were put in detention by them for prolonged periods after the clampdown; they were called the ‘Gupkar Gang’ by Amit Shah after their release.

This refers to the formation of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) by political parties in Jammu and Kashmir, after the release of their top leaders. Mr. Shah had tweeted, “The Gupkar Gang is going global! They want foreign forces to intervene in Jammu and Kashmir. The Gupkar Gang also insults India’s Tricolour. Do Sonia Ji and Rahul Ji support such moves of the Gupkar Gang? They should make their stand crystal clear to the people of India.”

In response, former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who had earlier made a government in alliance with the BJP in Srinagar, said, “Love jihad, tukde tukde and now Gupkar Gang, dominates the political discourse instead of rising unemployment and inflation.”

 “I can understand the frustration behind this attack by the Home Minister. He had been briefed that the People’s Alliance was preparing to boycott elections. This would have allowed the BJP and newly formed king’s party a free run in J&K. We didn’t oblige them,” said another former chief minister, Omar Abdullah.  “The truth is all those who oppose the ideology of the BJP are labelled ‘corrupt and anti-national,” he said. “We are not a ‘gang’ Amit Shahji, we are a legitimate political alliance having fought and continuing to fight elections, much to your disappointment.”

According to the ‘Ninth Report of the Concerned Citizens’ Group on Jammu & Kashmir’ (July 5 -7, 2021), brought out by Air Vice Marshal (Retired) Kapil Kak, former Union minister Yashwant Sinha, senior journalist Bharat Bhushan, among others, there is abject alienation across Kashmir. The report says: “What upset the businessmen most was that some of them were arrested and jailed after the Centre’s policy change in J&K in 2019. ‘Political leaders were arrested but why us? Why were businessmen taken into custody? I am very angry with India. You say there are only about 200 militants in Kashmir and yet you punish all of us for that,’ a business leader complained. He felt that instead of calling political parties from J&K to Delhi, ‘the government ought to invite businessmen, traders and horticulturists to discuss our issues directly with us.’”

According to the report: “A social worker from Pulwama claimed that youth was being pushed towards militancy because of the harassment faced by people at the hands of the army personnel. There are no jobs for the young. ‘They have only two options before them – militancy or committing suicide,’ he said, pointing to a spate of suicides by youngsters in the Valley.”

Surely, in this zero sum game scenario, it is advantage zero on all sides. After two years of a crackdown, all that remains is a cracked mirror. Clearly, the Modi-Shah double whammy is starker in Kashmir, than a thousand terrible suns!

‘PM Interested Only In Optics; Kashmiris Want Statehood Back’

Joy Abhishek Nowab, 18, a polytechnic student, fears that any untoward incident in J&K may cause their Internet services to be suspended and affect his online education

With the never-ending lockdowns, finally the rest of the country has begun to perhaps understand the incessant curfews, the shadow of fear and uncertainty that residents of Jammu & Kashmir have lived under for years. However, while the rest of the country’s students can attend online classes, we the students of Kashmir don’t know when the internet might be snapped off.

I am currently pursuing my Diploma at Polytechnic and post 2019 (after abrogation of Article 370) nearly one and half years have been wasted. Then came the pandemic. I feel the current government at the Centre is more interested in maintaining an image than doing actual ground work. The recent all-party meet also was an image-building exercise according to me.

The all party meet was held at the PM’s residence in New Delhi. Why wasn’t such an important meeting held in Kashmir? The PM could have flown to the state and that would have given confidence to the people that local leaders/representatives are respected. Narazgi to hai hi Kashmir ke leaders me ke kaise unhe jail me dala gaya ya nazarband kiya gaya. (There is resentment among Kashmiri leaders for being put under house arrest or jail). But perhaps the PM wanted to show that the power on Kashmir is in his hands.

Nowab says there is resentment among local leaders against BJP policy on Kashmir

They have talked about turning Jammu and Srinagar into smart cities, but the ground reality is that very little work is being done. We Kashmiris want development but we also want to be included in the decision-making processes. I hope the government gives us back our statehood soon and holds free and fair elections only after that.

My father’s side belongs to Kashmir but my mother’s side belongs to Punjab, both states that have been riddled with militancy at one point or another. Sometimes I wonder if we could drive militancy out of Punjab and restore it to normalcy, why can we not do the same in Kashmir! Where is the political willpower?

ALSO READ: Has The Nation Forgotten Kashmir?

We have grown up in the shadow of guns and security forces and as kids. In fact children in Kashmir grow up sooner than the rest of the country. We keep an eye on all political news, all local and national developments because our lives depend on it. For youngsters in the rest of the country, news does not hold that importance. Just a few days ago there was a blast at the IAF base in Jammu and we wondered if our internet connections would be snapped off again and our education would suffer. Thankfully that didn’t happen.

Sometimes I wonder how our future is going to turn out, but then each day I pull out my faith from greater depths and march on towards my dreams. I have a small set up called Nowab Electronics & Electricals and I would love to make it big, but the continuous internet suspensions make it difficult. But as I said earlier I keep my faith.

Ours is a Christian family living in Kashmir and there is a sizeable population of Christians here. My father is a priest as well as a Principal and we talk about faith often; many a times that is the only thing we have to hold on to as we have no idea what will happen in the state. But right now I am really looking forward to the restoration of statehood and dialogues between state and central government leaders. My parents kept my name as Joy Abhishek Nawab to signify that we believe in love and secularism (Joy for Christianity, Abhishek for Hinduism and Nowab for Islam).

'It's Tough To Be a Kashmiri Cop's Wife'

Arifa Tausif tells her countrymen how she and other wives of J&K policemen keep lying to their children that dad is coming this Saturday; dad is attending the parent-teacher meet this time; we’re going on a picnic this weekend. Read her heart-wrenching account here:   For the wives of policemen, the adolescent fancy of ‘being together’ through thick and thin turns out to be a distant dream. We halt for lunch. We keep waiting to dine together. We keep planning to attend family functions or funerals God forbid! together. We keep scheduling an outing. But that hardly ever happens. It’s not about solo parenting only. We’re the biggest liars! We keep lying to our children that ‘dad is coming this Saturday’. We lie that dad is attending the parent-teacher meet this time. We lie that we’re going on a picnic this weekend. We keep lying that dad is going to join us this Eid, or that marriage. We keep lying to their old ailing parents that he is expected this or that day. We lie to our own selves. We wait and wait, and only wait. Let it be today, tomorrow or a day after, but the plan hardly ever subsides. Even if it does, a police officer only marks his physical appearance at home. Mentally (and telephonically) he is attending to his duties without fail. The risks and dangers are increasing day by day. Every single casualty of a policeman elsewhere makes our life additionally insecure and worrisome. Plus, the varying political ideology of the society makes it hard to explain to the people that doing a job in the police department never means disloyalty to one’s people. It’s not always a matter of choice. It’s only the state of affairs of our state that veterinarians are now working as DySps, while a degree in physical education makes you an administrator and a degree in politics lands you in business. And specialisation in business administration makes you a government contractor. But those with expertise, in a layman’s discussion, prove you to be as outlaws. So the stress increases even when you are out of your home, because in case of any unfortunate event (a pellet injury to someone for instance), people do make us somehow feel responsible for the same. And then, when anything untoward happens to the policemen, there is hardly anyone to even sympathise with us. I pray my children understand all this at the earliest. I wish my state comes out of these dark clouds and we see the dawn of a peaceful and prosperous Kashmir. The article first appeared on a local news website in Kashmir (PTI)]]>

BJP pulls out of alliance with PDP in J&K

An opportunistic alliance has come to an end. BJP is running away after destroying the peace in the valley. https://t.co/P2C9ZMZtuk

— Congress (@INCIndia) June 19, 2018 The BJP won 25 seats and the PDP 28 in the 87-member assembly and came together in alliance, two months after the December 2014 elections. The NC has 15 seats, the Congress 12 and others seven. Although the BJP and the PDP had campaigned vigorously against each other, they came together with an Agenda of Alliance in the hope of pulling the state out of the cycle of violence. But the Alliance never took hold and the two parties disagreed on most issues even as the security situation continued to deteriorate. Both Omar and the Congress said they will not form an alliance with any party to form government in the state. The BJP also said it favours governor’s rule. If imposed, it will be the fourth time since 2008 and the eighth time since 1977. Madhav said the decision to withdraw was taken after consulting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah. Immediately after his news conference, senior PDP minister and party’s chief spokesperson Naeem Akhthar told reporters in Srinagar that the BJP’s decision had caught the party by surprise. The BJP blamed the PDP for failing to improve the security conditions in the Kashmir Valley. Madhav cited last week’s killing of senior journalist Shujaat Bukhari in the heart of Srinagar in the highly secured area of Press Enclave by unidentified gunmen. The same day — two days before Eid — an Army jawan was abducted while going on Eid leave and killed. “Keeping in mind that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and in order to control the prevailing situation in the state, we have decided that the reins of power in the state be handed over to the governor,” Madhav added. Terrorism, violence and radicalism have risen and the fundamental rights of citizens, including right to life and free speech, are in danger, the BJP leader said. BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Kavinder Gupta told reporters in Delhi that he and his ministerial colleagues have submitted their resignations to the governor as well as to the chief minister. “Centre did everything for the Valley. We’ve tried to put a full-stop to the ceasefire violations by Pakistan. PDP has not been successful in fulfilling its promises. Our leaders have been facing a lot of difficulties from PDP in developmental works in Jammu and Ladakh,” Madhav said. “We are not questioning the intentions of PDP but they have failed in improving the condition of life in Kashmir,” he added. Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said here that the BJP had committed a “Himalayan blunder” by forming a government with the PDP. He said the BJP, a national party, should not have allied with PDP, a regional player. “The regional parties should have been allowed to form an alliance among themselves,” he told reporters. (PTI)]]>