Friday, November 2, 2007

The Lashkar Act I by Andrew Whitehead

My mission as a historian of Kashmir started 10 years ago at the St Joseph's mission in Baramulla. There I met Sister Emilia, an Italian nun who had lived in Kashmir since 1933, and heard her first-hand account of one of the defining moments in South Asia's modern history. She was the last survivor at St Joseph's of the attack by armed Pathan tribesmen in October 1947."There were rumours that they were coming; we were thinking they won't do nothing to us," she told me. "The Monday after the feast of Christ the King they reached here. Then they started to shoot. We were working still. The hospital had patients. They were on the veranda of the hospital, going from one ward to another."Sister Emilia offered a window on to a deeply contested episode—a moment that was slipping out of living memory.
The invaders, who decades later were still disturbing her dreams, had been encouraged to enter Kashmir by elements in the Pakistan establishment to claim the Muslim-majority, Hindu-ruled princely state for Islam and Pakistan.I urgently sought out others who had lived through the attack. In England, Tom Dykes told me how he was awoken on that Monday morning by the sound of gunfire. He was five years old. He and some nuns sought refuge in a locked room at the convent hospital, but the attackers started to batter down the door. "The splinters started to fly, and I could see the wild faces through the cracks. At the back of the room there was another door, and it was not locked and I ran." His parents were among the six people killed in the attack; he and his two younger brothers survived.In Baramulla town, a man who in 1947 had pro-Pakistan sympathies recalled how the mood had turned against the invaders. "They provided me with a guard, one of the tribal men," he told me, his sense of outrage still undimmed. "After two days, they looted me also!"
An elderly Sikh woman recounted how her three female cousins, all then teenagers like her, had been abducted and never heard of since.A journalist colleague in the North West Frontier Province succeeded in tracking down a veteran of the tribal lashkar. "We were asked by the Pir of Manki Sharif to come and fight," said Khan Shah Afridi. "He told us we should not be afraid—it is a war between Muslims and infidels and we will get Kashmir freed. We shot whoever we saw in Baramulla. We forced Hindus to run for their lives."
These voices offered compelling testimony about how Kashmir first came to be in the grip of conflict. It was a human perspective to what so often is presented as a dispute about territory. And there was a remarkable conjunction of dates—the day on which the tribal fighters ransacked St Joseph's, October 27, 1947, was also the day that the first ever Indian troops landed in Kashmir.Scouring through the archives, further remarkable testimony came to light. A missionary priest had set down by hand in an old desk diary a vivid account of the attack on Baramulla. I was perhaps the first person apart from the author to have read it.
Old copies of the Hindustan Times and the Times of India revealed how Sheikh Abdullah and his supporters set up an armed militia to defend Srinagar—and in recent months, I have met Kashmiri men and women who served in that force.These rich historical sources help answer questions about how the invaders were organised, why they failed to capitalise on local disenchantment with the maharaja, and why they were unable, in spite of initial military superiority, to capture Srinagar. The events of those few days 60 years ago have moulded the region's political geography—it's a story too important to be left to the official chroniclers.
If the Kashmir dispute had ever been settled, then an account of how the conflict first flared up would be of academic value only.But it remains one of the world's most enduring geopolitical faultlines, compounded by the rise of Islamic radicalism and by the nuclear power status of both principal parties. Partisan history has been part of the problem.
The Kashmir issue has been snagged by an almost theological reiteration, from one perspective or another, of the events of 1947. It's as if, in Delhi and Islamabad (less so in Srinagar), there's a feeling that if we can argue that our side was right 60 years ago, then it vindicates our approach to Kashmir ever since.Yet it's difficult to see how any crisis can be settled unless it is first understood, or how it can be understood without a grasp of how it started. Once you begin to look at the complexities of the past, simple solutions no longer seem to make so much sense. And once those who care about Kashmir start to agree on a common narrative of the valley's modern history, then broader agreement may not be too far away.
(Andrew Whitehead's account of the origins of the Kashmir conflict, Mission in Kashmir, is published this month by Penguin India.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The New Paradigms

Many readers of this blog would be wondering why we dont often post what we want to say.They seldom see our opinion on the blog.More often that not this blog carries news which is published in various newspapers and magazines across the world.Yes the news has relevance to our cause but isn't our opinion far more important that what the world says about it.I often wonder as the read through the maze of events from bombings of Karachi to suicide squads of FATA in Pakistan to our own backyard where separatists swear at each other .When "venerable" leaders like Geelani are almost punched in their own backyard I am reminded of the oft repeated Kashmiri proverb "Aenem Soy vavem soy lagem soy panesey' For those who dont know what Soy is,it is a shrub which if rubbed against human skin causes painful blisters.
As we sat through our meeting with Ambassadors of European Union(a news our secular media chose to black out,yet every newspaper carried pictures of these very gentlemen meeting "the new Gandhi"since Yasin Malik is the darling of the Indian Media moreso left leaning secular progressive and liberal comrades in journalistic attire)I was wondering if this is another exercise in futility or are we pressing something home.
To be honest I wasnt disappointed,the two news items that are posted below are an indication of what one of my favourite poets Allama Iqbal said and I qoute
Jo dil se nikalte hai baat asar rakhte hai
Par nahee taqat-e-parvaaz magar rakhte hai
(The voice that emanates from the heart has its own impact
Even though it does not have wings,but it does have the power to soar)
Here are the news items.......
EU Group- Militancy turning Kashmir into lucrative business
A European group monitoring Jammu and Kashmir has said militancy had turned into a lucrative business in the state with criminals taking advantage of the troubled situation were indulging in extortion and abduction in the name of the so-called movement.
The Belgian Association for Solidarity with Jammu and Kashmir, in its recent report, has said criminals were taking advantage of the troubled situation in the state. "They are abducting people for money, raping, murdering, extorting money from businessperson, using mafia practices under the movement. Militancy is a lucrative industry," the report, submitted to the European Union and the United Nations during the recent session of the sub-commission on human rights, said.
The report, prepared by Association President Paul Beersmans after his visit to Jammu and Kashmir and meeting every shade of opinion including political leaders, separatists and government functionaries, has also asked Pakistan to stop cross-border terrorism and infiltration, end sending money, ammunition and weapons and stop giving training to militants. " long as Pakistan supports terrorism openly or covertly, there cannot be peace in Jammu and Kashmir. Without peace there cannot be a solution," the 20-page report said. Beersmans also advised that composite dialogue between India and Pakistan must continue. "The process is slow and one should not expect a short-term solution. This can only be reached through small steps," it said.

Source : Times Of India

Kashmiri Pandits in Jammu Camps(in Kashmir Affairs)
Amina Rawat

Kundan Bhan’s anguish commenced way before her migration to Jammu in April 1990. Married at the tender age of 10 to a man 25 years her senior, her married life which was striven with poverty, ended soon after her husband suffered a heart attack in February 1986. Unable to bear the poverty and the burden of living with her Uncle who made his annoyance known to her, she went to live in Srinagar with her three sons on rent in 1988/9 only to migrate to Jammu soon after to live in even more deplorable conditions.
She remembers her short stay in Srinagar consisting of hartals, crackdowns, firings, processions with slogans, and bombs, adding that some Pandits were also killed and gave grace to Bhagwan [God] as she recounted her story of how her son Raju was saved twice from the obliteration of the bombs.
However, it was the fear and the threat from these proceedings which led her, and many of the other Kashmiri Pandits interviewed to make the sudden decision to flee the Valley leaving their property and possessions behind.
Roshan Lal Tickoo, a 56 year old originally from Bijbehara, who is a fellow resident at Mishriwala Camp and migrated a month before Kundan Bhan, left after his Hindu neighbour was gunned down and described his experience of the night he had to leave; "Our neighbours advised us to go as they couldn’t protect us any longer. We didn’t think we’d be here so long so I only got one trunk, a few beddings and utensils. At that time I only had one daughter of a few months. We left in secrecy in a private truck with 4-5 families, a truck belonging to a Muslim and when they came back, the militants blasted this truck for helping the Kashmiri Pandits." Since then he has never been back to Bijbehara and has no idea what has happened to his property.
When RL Tickoo, first came to Jammu, he and his family lived in tents for 8 years before the government made rows of "pigeon hole" like bricked one room tenements, one for each family, with the sanitation gutters flowing openly in the narrow lanes between the rows. These single room abodes serve as a lounge, a kitchen and a bedroom for all members of the family. RL Tickoo has seven people living with him; his wife, three teenage daughters, one son and his mother. As one of his daughters served us tea and sweets, he described a list of problems he has encountered; "I find it most difficult sitting in one room with seven people, and when we have guests they also have to stay in this one room. We had space back there with our own house and rice fields. Second, the smoke pollution from the brick kilns around us has led to poor health and has affected my chest particularly. Nor does the weather suit us, we are unable to tolerate it coming from temperate conditions, my mother is ill as a result and many other elders have died of strokes from the heat. Some have also died of snake bites, we also have to keep our eyes open 24 hours for snakes." He spends much of his day reading the newspapers stating that this idleness was contributing to his tensions, finally adding "health is wealth."
The living conditions in Muthi camp were much more pitiful; smaller and less well structured tenements with no windows, and unlike the other camps where each family had there own wash and toilet area attached to their tenement, in Muthi camp they had to be shared with dozens of families. Whilst being filmed, Janti Devi, a retired teacher from Pahalgam spoke passionately and tearfully about the politicization of their affliction; "This is our living quarters; Muthi camp. What is it? Muthi camp. We don’t have anything; roti, clothes, houses. We suffer in all ways; eating, drinking, sitting, getting up, living. …We ask the government to give us just the amenities to live a basic life and organisations come and go to see our suffering but we don’t get anything. On our name, the money does come from above [the government], but who are they giving it to? The Muslims and the bureaucrats. And on our name these people are building a name for themselves. Thus, these irresponsible government officials know our plight, even Sonia Ghandi came and saw."
The young teenage girls interviewed explained the awkwardness of getting changed with their brothers and fathers all living under one roof and the difficulty in studying with noise coming from all walks of life in the congested surroundings. As for the younger children, who were born and lived all their lives in the camp, they gathered excitedly in front of the camera in their school uniforms with smiling faces, ignorant of any better way of life.
Roshan Lal Raina lives in Purkhoo camp, the largest one in Jammu and is Member of State Apex Community for Migrant Affairs. He is a 48 year old former teacher from Pulwama and migrated in February 1990 after he was openly threatened in his residence stating "my neighbours openly threatened me, thank God they did before killing me. …3,000 people were killed before leaving the Valley. We are the aborigines of Kashmir Valley, if you look at history; nothing belongs to Kashmiri Muslims."
He described living on the road side even on his initial arrival to Jammu even before the government gave him a roof under which to stay. From there he started to struggle for his family’s future again but explained the difficulties of Kashmiri migrants getting jobs; "How can I get a job here? 12,000 Kashmiri Pandits have retired here but in the last 17 years only about 300 Pandits have been employed to replace them, there are currently only 4,700 Pandits in government jobs. ..if this rate stays the same then in a few years
Kashmir Pandits will have no jobs. And our educated youth remain mentally retarded. It is the greatness of the locals in Jammu that they have accommodated us and given us resources, but will they tolerate us if we replace their jobs?"
Those previously employed by the government receive a migrant salary, but not the full pay or benefits as other government employees. Others receive much less.
Kundan Bhan’s source of income is a pension of Rs.1000/month and the wages of her son Raju who is a driver but only works for a few months a year due to limited work availability.
Roshan Lal Raina and his family in Purkhoo Camp Sadly, most of their income is spent on medication. "I cope with Rs.1000 on myself; I spend very little on food and drink. I have a heart problem, a back problem and pains. Before I was very strong and did a lot of work with no help from anyone at all. My Raju was also plump before, now look at him, so skinny, I worry so much for him, I don’t know what to do with Raju, even he is finished with tension." She sheds tears as she talks about her son and shows me the 6-7 types of tablets and in addition the 3-4 bottles of medication she spends her meagre monthly income on.
Two months ago, Kundan Bhan, now in her late forties, went back to her home town in Kashmir Valley for the first time and spoke reminiscently of how well she was received by Muslims. When I asked her what she thought the last 17 years of the turmoil in Kashmir was about, she aptly replied "Who knows, …who even knows who’s firing the bullet."