This Blog provides an insight on the Kashmir-issue, India and Pakistan. The articles on this Blog can be best described as thought-provoking. The articles thrive to trigger debate about the miseries enslaved Kashmiris are facing and discuss also possible solutions to this long standing conflict. It also aims to convince readers why Independent Kashmir is the best solution for all parties involved.

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Friday, July 1, 2011

This is Srinagar!

 As the aircraft began landing, the captain announced from the cockpit “This is Srinagar Airport and the temperature outside is 17 degrees C.” Our tour of Srinagar and some more scenic places of the valley began.

Out from the airport, we were to haggle with the taxi and Somo stand. Each proposed arbitrary rent to ferry us to the city. The first impression after leaving the airport was that CRP and police are spread out thickly. However, like previous years, the CRP does not stop vehicles at every place for checking. But surely government functionaries and security staff seemed to be the prisoners of some inexplicable fear.

At Haiderpora, we found a large police force crowded around a particular house by the side of the road. This was the residence of Sayyed Ali Shah Geelani, usually house arrested at least for five days in a week by Omar Abdullah government. We parked our vehicle by roadside, convinced the security guards and obtained permission to meet with Geelani Sahib.

Geelani’s attendants treated us with respect and offered us qahwa. The fragile leader came in. His eyes were bright though his face reflected the long and arduous political struggle through which he has gone. He was polite to know who we were and gave us the permission to put some questions to him.

Q: You fought election for an Indian State legislature thrice and won, took oath according to Indian constitution and were made interim Speaker of the assembly. How come you suddenly made an about turn and initiated a fierce struggle against India’s illegal occupation of Kashmir.
A: A principled man like Gandhi ji is called Bapu in and outside India. I had joined the assembly believing that I would make the Indian leadership and the Indian civil society understand that injustice and highhandedness were perpetrated on Kashmiris. But I found that most of the Indian leaders, institutions and agencies, army and other organizations, all had a fossilized view that Kashmir can be kept in possession through deceit, oppression, murder, loot, black laws and military muscle.
Q: Please reflect on the unity among the separatist organizations and the split in the Hurriyat.
A: I will remain in unison with only such forces as will not enter into any dialogue unless India agrees that Kashmir is a disputed land. I cannot unite with such forces as meet with the Indians covertly or overtly.
Q: Despite sacrifices we make, we are humiliated. Despite going through enormous financial losses we are not clear what is our destination and what do we want. And what you say, does it not depress freedom loving people?
A: Our movement was initiated by ISI. We do not know our destination because the movement is not in our hands. We are just carrying out the orders without knowing where we are headed to.

Impressed by his courtesy, we took leave of him and headed towards Lal Chowk. We got held up in a traffic jam. Strange is the traffic culture in Srinagar. Nobody keeps to his side. Most of the streets are still the same old Tonga streets of 1970s with no STOP signboard. The driver or the passengers decide where the bus will stop. Traffic functionaries take pleasure of traffic chaos; they have their palms greased on daily basis without subjecting the autos, Somos and buses to traffic check. Only vehicles plying out of the valley are checked for pocketing the daily quota of bribe money whether there documents are in order or not.

Everywhere along the road, including the civil lines of Lal Chowk, heaps of litter lies on either side. Were the municipal functionaries on strike? No, people from homes or hotels and restaurant throw litter on the streets as dust bins are no where placed. Once or twice week garbage is collected and disposed off but there are no disposal units anywhere in the city. It is dumped underground and helps proliferation of environmental pollution. For a population of 10.5 million neither the government nor private sector has installed any re-cycling plant. Exhausted and nauseated, we retired for rest and refreshment for next day’s ordeal.

Dal Lake was our site of visit the next morning. The once world famous clean Dal is an enormous reservoir of silt, mud and garbage. We saw beautiful houseboats and new residential houses coming up on Dal with glittering electricity and water connection while garbage floated on the surface of water. Dal habitation has become a constituency of political leaders. Their removal is out of question. Thanks to LAWDA’s corrupt and fraudulent practices, illegal construction on Dal Lake is flourishing by leaps and bounds. About two scores of boats engaged in cleaning the Dal are part of corrupt practice. LAWDA functionaries inflate the number of boats engaged in cleaning by fifty per cent and pocket the additional money.

We thought of spending a night in much trumpeted houseboat and experience an adventure. On enquiry, we were told the outlet of the toilet in houseboats terminates in the water of the Dal. Not reconciled to commit the sin, we suppressed our desire of spending a gala night in a house boat. Vehicles of all sorts, flag cars and even Star Ambassadors are given a wash on the banks of the Dal just under the nose of the traffic police on duty. The lake has been made a source of income for the administration and LAWDA.

New Delhi provided billions of rupees by way of support to preserve and develop Dal. A committee under the chairmanship of Deputy Chief Minister was constituted for Dal development project. Once or twice he does pay a casual visit to the site to befool himself and the people. We ruminated whether there was another foolhardy community in the world bent upon destroying its pure and transparent water resources?  We were told that the polluted water of Dal was pump lifted and provided for drinking to the citizens. No wonder the people are afflicted with many contagious diseases. Dal is the dumping ground of garbage of 35000 Dal residents plus thousands of tourists. Garbage and polluted water of the hotels and restaurants located on the bank of the Dal is also drained into its waters. In next half a century of little less, the once glorious and glittering Dal will turn into a vast ditch of marshland depriving the coming generations of pure water. Evidently rulers, denizens of Dal, house boat owners and people with self aggrandizement have made a firm resolve to bring about the death of the Dal. The simplest solution of this problem was to relocate the entire population and sideline the houseboats with outlets draining out into street drains.

We thought of visiting city gardens of Shalimar, Nishat, Harwan and Cheshma Shahi where thousands of tourists come for a pleasure rip. No toilet facilities are available there, and if an odd one exists, it is stinking and spreading bad smell all over the garden. In the name of removing this dirt, millions are reported to have been embezzled and misappropriated.

Pilgrimage to Amarnath was round the corner and hence we decided to visit Sona Marg. We found the pilgrims spreading litter on either side of the road right up to Baltal. After all there should have been adequate sanitary arrangement right from Jammu to Baltal for nearly five lakh pilgrims to Amarnath. For the entire journey from Jammu to Baltal, there is neither reasonable arrangement of hotels and restaurant nor of bathrooms and toilets. Pilgrims enjoy defecating openly on green patches, nullahs and forests. They come to wash their sins by pouring water on the lingam of Shiva. I believe that of all the figures, it is Lord Shiva who is much more annoyed on spreading filth everywhere. Where do the Trust people invest hundreds of millions of rupees that pour into its coffers? It is the duty of the government and the Trust authorities to make excellent arrangement of eateries and toilets along the entire route of pilgrimage. If dirt and garbage of five lakh pilgrims is allowed to be spread in open like this for another five years there will be such an ecological disaster that event the Shiva lingam may not be formed owing to climatic change. This will put an end to Amarnath pilgrimage. The devotees of Shiva shall have to preserve the ecological balance of Kashmir if they intend to have the darshan year after year. All along the road from Baltal to Amarnath, we find litter like empty bottles, polythene bags and dirt abounding on both sides.

On return, we were pleased to see the pure and transparent waters of Sona Marg Lake but ruminated with sorrow that the way in which ecology of the place is polluted it might one day threaten the beautiful lake as well. Proceeding to Kargil and Leh, we did not find any reasonably good restaurant anywhere along the long route nor a clean toilet though hundreds of thousands of soldiers are in perpetual mobility along the road. Even tea shops, if one are there is like a dirty offensive eatery. The Leh road is beautiful and scenic and the entire area is swarmed by the armed forces. Nothing by the name of industry exists in this vast barren area that could provide employment to the youth there. However the people were conscious of environmental cleanliness and ecology.

We were happy that the River Sindh was not polluted the way the Jhelum is. The people of Leh are conscious of keeping water resources clean. I can say that this beautiful area has so far escaped the depredations of human depravity. May be that the region remains cut off for 6-7 months in a year. Here people are economically far weaker in comparison to those in the valley or in Jammu province. The mainstay of economy is either government jobs or labour force working with army or minimal tourism during summer.

Hill Councils for Leh and Kargil have helped to devolve power to the people’s representatives to some extent. But they are also upset that unless Kashmir issue is solved people will continue to be the victim of this tussle. People here are friendly and nice to meet and talk to.

With reminiscences sweet and bitter we began our return journey. The question that haunted us was whether conditions in J&K would return to normalcy and whether people in this beautiful patch of land could breathe the air of freedom.

We made a detour to Gulmarg.  People informed us that the widening of the road from Narbal to Gulmarg has been going on for last ten years. No decent restaurant or toilet is to be found along the entire route from Srinagar to Gulmarg. Not a single dustbin was visible and the tourists just threw disposables on the roadside.

At Gulmarg we had to stand in line if we wanted to take a ride in Gandola Lift chair. Some locals promised to provide tickets immediately if we paid two hundred rupees extra. The tourists had sworn that they would not pay any bribe in Indian currency as it carried the imprint of Bapu or Gandhiji a truthful person.

A deafening noise coming from right hand side was from a  lawyer from Delhi and his family strongly arguing with the functionaries over a dirty and broken toilet. They said that despite earning lakhs of rupees from Gandola there were not sufficient toilets around nor are these kept clean. He was not averse to paying one rupee per head if toilets were kept clean and usable.

Atop the mountains, we could not believe that we were enjoying the pristine purity of nature and environment. Tears welled up in our eyes and we stood crossed fingers if our future generations would have the luck to see these rare scenic beauties because we have destroyed the forests. We found trees lay on ground as if human bodies were beheaded and trunks fallen on the ground. On questioning, we were told that a large mafia of forest thieves of whom forest functionaries and officers were a part, are engaged in this unprecedented destruction and loot of forest wealth. 

Many tourists complained of hoteliers of Gulmarg looting them. Nowhere is the hotel tariff fixed and if there is a rush of tourists, they are charged anything between five and ten thousand rupees per night. In lean season the same rooms could be rented for 500 rupees. There is no control on the price of meals in restaurants nor is the food offered of established health standards.

We talked to some people about Kashmir issue. They gave vent to their anger saying during past two decades more than a lakh had been martyred. Indian army and security forces had created graveyards for our youth at every step. Our protests against lack of water and electricity bring nothing but bullets. There are thousands of graves about which nobody knows who has been laid to rest in them. Thousands have been lifted from roadside, homes and shops and nothing is known about what happened to them. Thousands are languishing in jails without being prosecuted under law. They remained imprisoned for ten or fifteen years. Administration is humiliating the judiciary by not implementing its verdicts. Any person set free by the court is re-arrested by the administration twice or thrice and even up to eight times.

They said that the rulers in New Delhi put such people in seats of power here as showed they were more loyal to them than to the people they governed. That is why a lion’s share of the enormous funds provided by New Delhi fills the pockets of local politicians. Nothing exists in the name of accountability. Some went to the extent to allege that funds provided from PM’s Fund are diverted to private accounts by the rulers and some bureaucrats and through this source they earn hundreds of thousands. Law has been made the handmaid of local administrative machinery. Law for the poor is punishment but a sport for the rich. No industry exists that would provide employment to the people. More than eight hundred thousands boys and girls with graduate and post-graduate degrees are without a job. Government or semi-government jobs usually go to the kith and kin of politicians of mainstream parties otherwise one has to pay in lakhs to be admitted to a government job. Some shopkeepers protested against daily strikes. They castigated the government for charging taxes from them despite strikes.

Greatly dismayed with these reports, we sought relaxation and went to Dood Pathri health resort in district Budgam. On both sides of the road we found hundreds of functional kiln works. We stopped at a place and made some enquiries. We were told that anybody can give a hefty bribe to the local authorities and set up a kiln not taking account of pollution of environment that it would cause. Even the arable land is also converted to kiln work.

Next we caught sight of orchards with fruit hanging from them. In a brief exchange with the owners of the orchard, who we thought made good fortune, we were told as this:  “It is people like you who fix the price of our fruit in markets like Delhi, Jullundhar, Mumbai and Amritsar because we cannot sell the fruit out of our sweet will as there is the danger of it getting rotten. We don’t have cold storage arrangement in Kashmir. At times we have to pay the transport expenses from our pockets.”

As we passed Arizal and headed towards Dood Pathri, we found large number of trees fallen by the roadside. We were about to cry on beholding this incredible scene. Some persons standing by asked us the reason why we were dismayed? We said we did not expect to be a witness to this large scale destruction of trees. They were frank enough to confess that they felled the trees in connivance with forest functionaries and then distribute the spoils of the loot among themselves. We never thought our state would become a desert for us. What makes you cry then, they asked?

The scenic beauty of Dood Pathri brought us some solace. During interaction with the locals, one of them said that if he told the truth he had the fear of his life. Here is a loot of plots of land. Influential people have distributed plots among their own kith and kin. As our tour proceeded, we were lost in thoughts that whosoever talked to us talked only in negative terms as they presented the picture to us.                                

We thought of seeking answers to our questions from a bureaucrat. With difficulty a bureaucrat agreed to respond on condition of anonymity. Unusually only a couple of files lay on his table. When we asked about turmoil and disturbance in Kashmir, the Secretary opened his heart. Following is the crux of what he said:

“The entire polity has been corrupted. Honest officers like I am get just one small office room, one table and a telephone. Corrupt and deceitful officers are posted at lucrative positions. Ranks are sold in all departments, police stations, tehsils and districts.  A dead body can neither be buried nor cremated without paying a bribe. Orderlies and petty clerks are indicted on charges of corruption. Anybody can be arrested within ten minutes on charges of corruption because a host of corrupt officers and ministers have income disproportionate to their expenditures. Besides that they have raised properties, bank accounts for their children and grandchildren sill to be born. Officers of my ilk have only two ways to survive. Either to sit complacently in these dilapidated rooms and go on gloating on our honesty or like others we also succumb to pollute our hands in this dirt.”

As we plied along the street, suddenly public traffic was halted and people were shoved to one side of the street. The Chief Minister’s cavalcade was to pass half an hour later. No fewer than forty vehicles were in CM’s trail. A fancy of meeting with the CM and seeking answer to a couple of questions took us by arm. We could make an appointment after an effort.

Q: Do you think the present peace can become permanent peace in Kashmir?
A: No not at all until Kashmir issue is resolved.
Q: You had promised a clean and transparent administration. How come the state is No. 1 in corruption?
A: How can I catch hold of anybody without a convincing proof?
Q: A certain officer in your administration alleged to have embezzled crores of rupees and the Vigilance has recorded two cases against him. On the recommendation of your other ministers you sanctioned him two years of extension when he had superannuated. (Omar flew into rage and when we disclosed the name he promised to conduct an enquiry)
Q: 117 boys were martyred in 2010. Isn’t this a burden on your conscience?
A: New Delhi is responsible for this. Better ask them. Why should I carry the burden on my conscience? I am a king. People are born and people die. We have put the young chief minister to enjoyment.
  
We came out and proceeded to meet with a few Pandits. First we met with one who had never left the valley. He runs his pharmacy shop nicely. Our conversation proceeded as follows:

Q: Did you ever feel any fear in staying here?
A: What fear? It is my birth place. I have my sisters and brothers around me.
Q: Why did others run away?
A: I think they were too hasty in apprehending any fear. Some excesses were done with some people.

We met with a Pandit leader. It went as follows:

Q: How many Pandits are left in the valley?
A: Around 34000
Q: Are they facing any excesses?
A: No excesses took place on communal basis. But some people may have done excesses with one another as happens in other communities.
Q:  Why don’t Kashmiri Pandits return?
A: Migration became a business with some people. Indian government, too, does not want them to return. It has created habitats for them in and around Jammu investing crores of rupees. Our children born in migration or those who were still infants when migration took place have never known Kashmir and its multi-cultural structure. They are indoctrinated that Kashmiri Muslims unleashed loot, killing and arson and forced them out of Kashmir. Hence they have settled in different cities and towns of India including Jammu. Some of them have formed political groupings and raise different slogans and they are obstructing those poor Pandits from returning to Kashmir who are living a miserable life in poverty and squalor in refugee camps. By raising habitats for the Pandits not in the valley but away from it, the government has practically obstructed their return to the valley. Otherwise despite being a Pandit, I can say that the Pandits have nothing to fear in the valley. Sikh and Hindu brothers are already living here.

Mirwaiz Omar Farooq with whom we had made an appointment received us cordially and entertained us over a cup of qahwa. Pertinent to mention that the elders of his house have not served Kashmir only in terms of religious services but has also rendered valuable service in the field of spreading education. Below is the resume of our conversation with him:

Q: What is the solution for the Kashmir Issue?”
A: India and Pakistan should sit together to find a solution keeping in mind the sentiments of the people of Kashmir.
Q: Do you mean the people of Jammu, Ladakh and Gilgit when you talk of “people of Kashmir”?
A: Actually this is a dispute of the people of the Valley. But India and Pakistan shall have to keep the interests of the Muslims of Poonch, Rajouri, Doda and Kargil also in mind. This can find elucidation when discussed in roundtable. (he minced words)
Q: Many people are refused passport for no reason. Most of the applicants are students. Even a boy born six months after his militant father was killed, too, is denied passport. But you get the passport to visit Washington, France, Canada, Pakistan, Belgium, Saudi Arabia and London.
A: (His face changed its colour). You better put this question to the Indians. I was not associated with any militancy. My father and my maternal uncle both were martyred. Passport is my fundamental right. I say it is everybody’s fundamental right. A father, brother or son cannot be punished for the crime one may have committed.
Q: Why unity is not forged between the two factions of Hurriyat or various factions outside the Hurriyat?
A: We tried our best but Geelani Sahib was not forthcoming. We can only continue our efforts for unity.
Q: Do you think you can solve Kashmir issue without a single programme, a single slogan and a single leadership among different separatist organizations engaged in struggle against injustice and for freedom?
A: We are trying. Maybe some happenings, some episodes bring us together.

Leaving him in his dreams of episodes, we left the place; we came out feeling that Mirwaiz has modern thinking and he had many things to say for the welfare of the people. But why he did not give expression to these thoughts remained a mystery with us.

We intended to pay obeisance at the holy shrine of Hazratbal. But what bemused us was that on one hand Kashmiri Muslims have all veneration and respect for Hazratbal shrine where the relic of the Holy Prophet is preserved. On the other hand the waters of Dal Lake in close proximity of the shrine stink foul. We were amazed whether these Muslims have forgotten the words of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) that cleanliness is half of the faith. Isn’t it showing disrespect to the instructions of the Holy Prophet to scatter filth around the shrine in the Dal and on the streets?

As we proceeded to meet with some lawyers in the bar, we became a witness to an episode that forced us o stop our vehicle. A wounded boy lay on the road. The boys were playing on the road and a passing vehicle had struck him down. We asked the crowd present on the site if there were no playing  grounds for the children in the city. Some among the audience hurled abuses on the government and said: “ All the state lands, grasslands, and custodian land which could have become the playing ground for the children have been occupied illegally by NC, Congress, PDP and other influential persons, army and security forces. We don’t have a single stadium here like one in other Indian states. Only bureaucrats, mainstream political leaders and those who are the apple of Chief Minster’s eye can get the membership of Royal Golf Club because the CM is its chairman. No poor student can become a golfer. When there are no swimming pools, football grounds and golf course provision, how are the youth of this place going to give vent to their energy? Of course stone pelting remains the option.

We said to the bar office bearers that lawyers are the architects of a nation. They can be convinced through logic and can convince others through logic. We asked them what they thought about Kashmir in terms of law and what course of action would they suggest. They said they wanted freedom (aazaadi). What is the meaning of freedom? They said it means self determination in accordance with the UN resolutions. But there is no mention of self-determination in these resolutions. All they say is that people have to make a choice between India and Pakistan... What freedom they wanted, we asked. They had no answer. I said that the practice in the bars everywhere in the world is that the heads of the countries and leaders of political parties are invited to a collective deliberation at the bar and there is a debate on their ideology and their idea and programme about carrying the nation forward. They do not care to which party the participants belong and what ideology they pursue. This sort of interaction helps political leaders to know the lawyers’ and the people’s views better and also the prospect of carrying the country forward on logical conclusion.

Some of the back benchers among the audience laughed in their sleeves. “Sir, you are not talking to the lawyers in Delhi, Lahore or the US but to Kashmiri lawyers where anybody thinking differently is branded a traitor and agent. Please don’t expect any discussion in this bar at least on the basis of logic. If a lawyer takes recourse to logic while debating an issue, his adversary will stand up, create big noise and repudiate him. One who makes a loud noise and issues threats will dominate others.

Crestfallen, we left the bar and these questions rang loud in our heads:

• Will a nation destroy a paradise-like land for self aggrandizement?

• Will any nation send a thousand to martyrdom without an objective, without destination and without planning?

• Can political parties of a nation run a movement despite so many   sacrifices and wishes of the people but without forging unity among themselves?

• Will a nation be collectively prepared to accept bribes, steal electricity, usurp the rights of others, and perpetrate oppression on one another despite offering prayers and calls for prayers and performing other religious obligations?

• Are those separatist organizations whose mandate is accession to Pakistan really willing to accept the yoke of servitude of Pakistan once they succeed in wriggling out of the yoke of Indian servitude?

• I feel that this community has fallen in the hands of weird parties and weird political leadership and is making endless sacrifices of life while panting for real destination.

• I am convinced that India is feeling proud of her democracy and the freedom of judiciary. In the same proportion I see that it is wrecking both democracy and freedom of judiciary in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. This should put all Indians to shame.

• I also felt that this nation has lost the destination and the milestone indicating the destination. This frustration has come down to erode the moral frontiers. I also thought that India was making this state a colony and allowed oppression through the instrumentality of some Kashmiri agents. There is hullabaloo about democracy but nobody in Kashmir has tasted the fruit of true democracy.

With these impressions of our tour of Kashmir, we departed from Srinagar. We said good bye to Kashmir but hoped that the atmosphere changed in Kashmir and one day it would re-emerge as the paradise on earth.

This article was published in Daily 'Greater Kashmir' on 29th June 2011.