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The Kashmir Chiaroscuro

by FARZANA VERSEY

Kashmir has been suffering for almost 20 years due to what is dismissively referred to as “insurgency”. It did not need a phallic symbol that turns to ice in a cave and has religious significance to further become a hotbed for political machinations.

Several thousand feet high up in the bosom of the Himalayas, devotees have been visiting the cave every year on a pilgrimage to watch this amazing sight where Lord Shiva is said to appear. The pilgrimage has been taking place for 150 years. This year, before it could begin, the Congress government decided to transfer the adjoining land to the Shree Amarnath Shrine Board with the understanding that they would not construct permanent structures and only provide temporary sheds and facilities for the visitors.

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) removed its support to the Congress, and the National Conference, the Opposition, protested. The land allocation was cancelled just as soon as it was made. Jammu burned. The rightwing Hindu parties created havoc in other states – public property was destroyed, civilians injured in firing.

Instead of seeking a vote of confidence, the chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad resigned but not before informing the media that his decision to give the land was an administrative issue and in the national interest.

Why is the Congress suddenly interested in toilet facilities and how have sleeping bags become a matter of national interest?

Why did the National Conference protest? Wasn’t its leader Omar Abdullah who asked the Centre to provide insurance facilities for foreign tourists?

Why did the PDP that has been talking about the Sufi heritage of Kashmir object?

The worst form of politics is being played out and the ones who are being maligned are the mullahs by bigots in sophisticated clothing. Take Francois Gautier. Sitting in Paris, this French journalist, much in the manner of Koenraad Elst, has been fanning the fires of the intellectual elite. He talks about Kashmir being the seat of Shaivism where yoga was practised for thousands of years and many saints attained nirvana, self-realisation.

If he put that glass of Chardonnay down, he might like to understand that while we must respect history (more appropriately, mythology in this case), we cannot relive it. He shows his complete confusion when he says, “Millions of devotees have flocked to Amarnath over the centuries?and Muslims from Kashmir should show them generosity, because in India, although Muslims have been a minority since the beginning, Hindus have always respected the religion of Islam. Indeed, Muslims in India have had a freedom that Hindus or Christians do not enjoy in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.”

The pilgrims have been visiting every year, so there is no question about showing generosity. As regards Hindus respecting Islam, for one who is obsessive about what happened thousands of years ago, a decade or so is of no consequence. He forgets the Bombay riots, the Gujarat riots, the undertrials in prisons. He also forgets that both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are Islamic nations, in that their constitution is not obscure about this. If, as in Pakistan, someone gets elected to a position in the government or government-affiliated body, she/he has to take the oath of office in the name of Allah. It is clear. Therefore, the polity is not striving for ‘equality’.

India is a secular democratic republic and therefore what Muslims or any other minority groups get is a matter of right and not a result of anybody’s generosity.

Monsieur Gautier appears to be in a pugnacious mood when he questions, “Perhaps our outrageously petty minded and self righteous Muslim leaders of Kashmir will tell us what the only Muslim majority state in India does in return for the Hindu pilgrims in Kashmir?”

When the land transfer order was revoked, it was the Jammu and Kashmir Waqf Board, the custodian of the shrine, which insisted that no political speeches would be allowed at the thanksgiving planned at the Hazratbal shrine.

One report stated that for the first time in the troubled history of the state, the anti-riot Rapid Action Force (RAF) was asked to step in as violent protests spread.

While Islamic fundamentalism is supposed to have caused the problems this time and the government is said to have copped out to cater to the Muslim vote bank, no one seems to realise that people continue to be killed in the Valley. Since most Hindus have left, it has got to be Muslims dying. So, why is this happening? Why are innocents being arrested in a Muslim-majority state? What special provisions are made for those civilians who continue to live in the Valley and cannot even go to the local mosque let alone a pilgrimage?

In 2003, when 24 Pandits were shot dead in the hamlet of Nadimarg, BJP leader L.K.Advani was at the scene of the carnage almost immediately after a special 90-minute meeting was held to discuss a “healing touch policy”. Rs. 1 lakh compensation was offered on the spot. Security was beefed up for the 28 survivors and in other areas as well where the minorities lived. Did no one notice that the last rites were performed by their Muslim neighbours?

A year prior to that the then prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, who took one month to visit Gujarat after the establishment-buffered riots and killings, made a trip to Jammu and Kashmir within a week following the terrorist attack on the Kaluchak security camp.

One police officer told Human Rights Watch/Asia, “The government has recruited criminals who loot and steal and extort and these criminals are living in security force camps. This is the third force—the renegades. It is completely true that they exist…It is 100 percent true that police investigate crimes, arrest individuals and then the army interferes and lets them go so they can work with the army as renegade forces.”

Are only Hindu religious places threatened? Wasn’t it a Muslim who blew up the Charar-e-Sharif? Had the Kashmiri Pandits stayed back they might have no doubt been under threat from terrorists as are the rest. But no Kashmiri Pandit has ever been arrested by government organisations. Therefore, it is unfortunate that such groups make it seem like the local population has talked about the extermination of Hindus.

When a delegation of them visited Srinagar in 2005, Syed Ali Shah Geelani of the hardliner faction of the Hurriyat Conference had observed, “The government will not take the Kashmiri Pandits back. They (the government) have made the Pandits a museum piece so that they are able to show any foreign dignitary visiting the valley that look what has happened to our people by militancy”.

While we blame the Valley population for wanting a separate identity, the Panun Kashmir movement blatantly propagates its own separatist ideology and as early as 1991, two years after the real trouble started in Kashmir, it talked about its determination “to carve out a union territory on the soil of Kashmir”. They say they will act as a “buffer against the export of jihad into India” and yet they have been asking for a separation on the basis of their religious identity.

The Kashmir issue has from the very beginning been about self-determination and not religion, much as the Palestine issue. However, in the past few years, ever since Hindu fundamentalists have begun to assert themselves with greater vehemence, a transformation has taken place.

Now, there are objections being raised about “tens of thousands of mosques” being built by Indian Muslims returning from the Gulf. No figures are provided. Those returning from the UAE have indeed built lavish homes, often kitschy. That is the only appalling aspect.

On the other hand, Hindu refugees from Kashmir are being rehabilitated by the state government in ‘safe zones’. To demand more in the name of integration, a Pandit group has asked for reservation of three seats in the assembly and one in Parliament for the community.

This news does not get prominence. It is the state government that is taking the initiative. So where are the safe zones for the other Kashmiris? Where are the reservations for those who lead unprotected lives?

Geelani had once said: “When one of our study groups started work to compile the death toll, they were jailed.”

Now the battle is between calling the establishments “Indian agents” and “Pakistani agents”. Mirwaiz Omar Farooq has often been asked why the separatist organisations do not contest elections. Everyone knows about the low turnout at such polls. Besides, how involved would the Hurriyat itself be in an election process where the state machinery would be working against it?

The government is smart about playing one group against the other, which is the reason there is factionalism. When Abdul Ghani Lone was killed, the government moaned for the “moderate voice”, although he had made it clear that he had no truck with the Indian government. Why was his security cut down by half? How many times did our government sit and discuss issues with the “lone moderate voice” of Kashmir? Was this just a way to create a cleavage among those who fight for the spoils of unsolicited martyrdom?

Is religion being made the new martyr in the state? By suggesting that they have been excluded from negotiations on Kashmir, the Hindu groups are being tutored to make it into a communal problem. They are playing into the hands of politicians who do not wish to solve the Kashmir issue. This is their cash cow.

No one is interested in the Amarnath Yatra except for electoral gains. The number of pilgrims has increased from 12,000 in 1989 to 450,000 in 2005, and is all set to cross 500,000 this year despite the prevalence of militancy. These figures should tell their own story. Kashmir wants self-determination not a war with its own people.

FARZANA VERSEY is the author of A Journey Interrupted: Being Indian in Pakistan, Harper Collins. She can be reached at kaaghaz.kalam@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

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Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections

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