#StandwithKashmir and IK in NYC: History in the Making!

I know some friends are waiting for a personal update about the NYC protests/ activities yesterday, but I am still so overwhelmed by it all that it is tough to sound more somber and analytical than in the below. But here are some initial thoughts. This is especially for Seeme Gull Khan Hasan whose questions and comments kept me company on the bus home. I know she was there in spirit as was my friend and sister-in-arms Helen (@Bea) in Sweden who watched all of it on social media while we were on the streets. Here it goes:

Got up at 4 am to make my way towards Northern Virginia where one batch of buses organised by the local Kashmiri Diaspora was waiting to take us all to NY. There were many such collection points throughout the entire area. All of it amazingly well organised. Thank you all for doing this! And thank you for hooking me up with them, Anwar Iqbal.

A young friend from Srinagar with whom I had coordinated for days on twitter sat down next to me, signalling the beginning of a new friendship that I know will last for long beyond our first collective action for Kashmir. We know many of the same people back home, and our talks on the bus were a drive down memory lane. Another young man from Kupwara joined us and we stayed together the entire day/ evening. I thought about the term Six Degrees of Separation which in my limited understanding of it means that all people sharing a common DNA will eventually meet.

Throughout the entire drive I felt like a huge security blanked had been draped around me. Such familiarity, such solidarity, such unity of purpose! I would have been fine never to get off the bus! And of course every few minutes there was some announcement about food with some boxes/ tiffins making their way down the isle. Nobody in the West will ever understand the food symbolism of Southasia and how it gives the term “breaking bread together” a whole new meaning. I have not felt that at home as on that bus for years!

After a 5 hour drive, the bus dropped us very close to the designated venue of the protests and right outside the UN. Thousands had already gathered and the numbers kept swelling. It was not easy to find people in a crowd that was almost uniformly wearing red #StandwithKashmir T-shirts! We looked like an army fighting for the freedom of Kashmiris! But despite the huge numbers participating (an estimated 16,000) being there together made us all realize what a small but ever more determined universe we inhabit. Again and again I bumped into somebody I knew and had not seen for ages. Some where Kashmiris I had met during our protest outside the White House a few weeks ago. Some people from back home. Some were activists I had met during a previous visit to NY during the same occasion. Many came up to me and said I am so and so, and we have been friends on twitter/ facebook for long and it is so great to finally meet.

There was another and much smaller rally of NRIs with a couple of Balochs, Kashmiris Hindus, and members of the Hindu American Foundation across the street from us, but the NY police made sure we never came into clashing distance. The barriers that had been erected to keep us apart were symbolic of a partition the gap of which seems to be growing wider today than the one having been created so many decades ago. Fortunately, their activities fizzled out long before ours. One of their cheer leaders was Tareq Fatah, and I kept wondering why their organizers could not come up with somebody with a bit more credibility!

Many of us were listening to IK’s speech on our phones and people kept clapping throughout and especially during his strong comments against Modi and of course in support of Kashmiris. There was nobody in the crowd who did not draw hope and inspiration from his words, and everybody felt represented by him inside the hall not far from us and where he was reaching out to the community of nations. Thank you for managing to unite us around a common message and thank you even more for making Kashmiris and their Right to Self Determination the center piece of all your activities over the past week. This has made it possible for all of us to march into the same direction, and it has started a healing process between different camps that was long overdue. Your activities over the past week in NY were enabling all of us to speak up in unity for those who have been silenced, and whose entire identity is being completely diminished so many miles away in a place that so many of us love more than anything else in the world! Our message to everybody is loud and clear: you will never be abandoned by any of us for a minute, and the slogan #StandwithKashmir will forever be our collective leitmotif as it has been for so many weeks already and throughout the world!

Many of us decided to stay on to join the candle light vigil at Times Square which had been organized by StandwithKashmir.org and a few others. In between the protests and the vigil there were other side events organised by academics and writers to raise awareness about the history and plight of Kashmiris in different venues nearby. In the evening, it became a tidal wave of Kashmiris from both sides of the border and their friends and well-wishers from near and far that flooded most of Times Square. The people in red had gathered by the thousands again to send their determination and goodwill and complete solidarity back home to Kashmir. The site of the pro freedom slogans displayed on the most famous and expensive billboard anywhere is something none of us will ever forget!!! And just like the apple is lowered at the same place at midnight on December 31 every year, a sight which is shared on the same billboard with millions around the world, we felt our demand to lift the siege of Kashmiris and to set them free was beamed for once to the entire universe. Thank you to those who made this possible. I am so humbled by the efforts of so many to unite everybody and help tell the world from NY that humanity could not allow what has been happening to an entire people for so many decades.

My two new Kashmiri friends who had traveled on the same bus with me in the morning stayed with me throughout the day to make sure I felt cared for and to also meet up with others I knew at both events. For 24 hours I felt not only overwhelmingly inspired by the collective larger goal of all of us but safe and surrounded by family and friends. Nothing creates more closeness and affection than commitment to a common cause. It can be positively intoxicating.

We took a late bus back to DC and reached Union Station by 2 in the morning. Almost 24 hours after leaving my flat, I could not help but feel that I had been yet again part of a new chapter in the long and torturous history of Kashmiris. One that was the beginning of a new and even more determined story-line scripted by Kashmirir people around the world and one where everybody has finally been united by a strong Ambassador-at-Large and his sincere and well received message that neither he nor any of us would ever abandon Kashmir.

Thank you IK and everybody else who made all of this possible! Let us make it a Million Kashmiri March the next time around!!! United we stand and united we win!

Women’s Voice: Fact Finding Report on Kashmir September 17th – 21st 2019

shared by Nandita Narain

Women’s Voice: Fact Finding Report on Kashmir
September 17th – 21st 2019


[Kindly note. To protect the identity of the people we met, all names in the Report have been changed. We have not named the villages we visited for the very same reason]


These are lines by Comrade Abdul Sattar Ranjoor. We held these as a beacon during our four-day sojourn in a locked and shuttered land called Kashmir.

Spring buds will flower
Nightingales’ pain will abate
Lovers wounds will start healing
Sickness will leave the ailing
Heart’s longing of Ranjoor will be fulfilled
When the poorest will rule
Wearing the crown of glory

(Ranjoor was killed in 1990)

A team of 5 women visited Kashmir from September 17th-21st 2019. We wanted to see with our own eyes how this 43 day lockdown had affected the people, particularly women and children.

The team consisted of Annie Raja, Kawaljit Kaur, Pankhuri Zaheer from National Federation Indian Women, Poonam Kaushik from Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan and Syeda Hameed from Muslim Women’s Forum.

Besides spending time in Srinagar, we visited several villages in the districts of Shopian, Pulwama and Bandipora. We went to hospitals, schools, homes, market places, spoke to people in the rural as well as urban areas, to men, women, youth and children. This Report is our chashmdeed gawahi (eye witness account) of ordinary people who have lived for 43 days under an iron siege.

Shops closed, hotels closed, schools, colleges, institutes and universities closed, streets deserted was the first visual impact as we drove out from the airport. To us it seemed a punitive mahaul that blocked breathing freely.

The picture of Kashmir that rises before our eyes is not the populist image; shikara, houseboat, lotus, Dal Lake. It is that of women, a Zubeida, a Shamima, a Khurshida standing at the door of their homes, waiting. Waiting and waiting for their 14, 15, 17, 19 year old sons. Their last glimpse is embedded in each heart, they dare not give up hope but they know it will be a long wait before they see their tortured bodies or their corpses… if they do. ‘We have been caged’ these words we heard everywhere. Doctors, teachers, students, workers asked us, “What would you do in Delhi if internet services were cut off for 5 minutes?” We had no answer.

Across all villages of the four districts, peoples’ experiences were the same. They all spoke of lights, which had to be turned off around 8PM after Maghreb prayers. In Bandipora, we saw a young girl who made the mistake of keeping a lamp lit to read for her exam on the chance that her school may open soon. Army men angered by this breach of ‘curfew’, jumped the wall to barge in. Father and son, the only males in the house were taken away for questioning. ‘What questions?’, no one dared ask. The two have been detained since then. ‘We insist that men should go indoors after 6 PM. Man or boy seen after dusk is a huge risk. If absolutely necessary, we women go outside’. These words were spoken by Zarina from a village near Bandipora district headquarters. ‘In a reflex action, my four year old places a finger on her lips when she hears a dog bark after dusk. Barking dogs mean an imminent visit by army. I can’t switch on the phone for light so I can take my little girl to the toilet. Light shows from far and if that happens our men pay with their lives’.

The living are inadvertently tortured by the dead. ‘People die without warning or mourning. How will I inform my sisters about their mother’s death?’ Ghulam Ahmed’s voice was choked. ‘They are in Traal, in Pattan. I had to perform her soyem without her children’. The story was the same wherever we went. People had no means of reaching out to loved ones. 43 days were like the silence of death.

Public transportation was zero. People who had private cars took them out only for essential chores. Women stood on roadsides, flagging cars and bikes for rides. People stopped and helped out; helplessness of both sides was their unspoken bond. ‘I was on my bike going towards Awantipora. A woman flagged me. My bike lurched on a speed breaker. She was thrown off. I took her to the nearby hospital. She went in a coma. I am a poor man how could I pay for her treatment? How and who could I inform?’ These daily events were recounted wherever we went. At a Lalla Ded Women’s Hospital in Srinagar several young women doctors expressed their absolute frustration at the hurdles that had been placed in their way since the abrogation of Article 370. ‘There are cases where women cannot come in time for deliveries. There are very few ambulances, the few that are running are stopped at pickets on the way. The result? There are several cases of overdue deliveries that produce babies with birth deformities. It is a life long affliction, living death for parents”. Conversely, we were told that several women are delivering babies prematurely due to the stress and khauf (fear) in the present condition. “It feels like the government is strangling us and then sadistically asking us to speak at the same time,’ a young woman doctor said as she clutched her throat to show how she felt.

A senior doctor from Bandipora Hospital told us that people come from Kulgam, Kupwara, and other districts. Mental disorders, heart attacks, today there are more cases than he could ever recall. For emergencies junior doctors desperately look for seniors; there is no way of reaching them on phone. If they are out of the premises, they run on the streets shouting, asking, searching in sheer desperation. One orthopaedic doctor from SKIMS was stopped at the army imposed blockade while he was going for duty. He was held for 7 days. Safia in Shopian had cancer surgery. ‘I desperately need a check up in case it has recurred. Baji, I can’t reach my doctor. The only way is to go to the city, but how do I get there? And if I do, will he be there?’ Ayushman Bharat, an internet based scheme, cannot be availed by doctors and patients.

Women in villages stood before us with vacant eyes. ‘How do we know where they are? Our boys who were taken away, snatched away from our homes. Our men go to the police station, they are asked to go to the headquarters. They beg rides from travellers and some manage to get there. On the board are names of ‘stone pelters’ who have been lodged in different jails, Agra, Jodhpur, Ambedkar, Jhajjar.’ A man standing by adds, ‘Baji we are crushed. Only a few of us who can beg and borrow, go hundreds of miles only to be pushed around by hostile jail guards in completely unfamiliar cities.’

At Gurdwaras we met women who said they have always felt secure in Kashmir. ‘Molestation of women in rest of India about which we read is unheard of in Kashmir’. Young women complained they were harassed by army, including removal of their niqab

‘Army pounces on young boys; it seems they hate their very sight. When fathers go to rescue their children they are made to deposit money, anywhere between 20000 to 60000’. So palpable is their hatred for Kashmiri youth that when there is the dreaded knock on the door of a home, an old man is sent to open it. ‘We hope and pray they will spare a buzurg. But their slaps land on all faces, regardless whether they are old or young, or even the very young. In any case, Baji, we keep our doors lightly latched so they open easily with one kick’. The irony of these simply spoken words!

Boys as young as 14 or 15 are taken away, tortured, some for as long as 45 days. Their papers are taken away, families not informed. Old FIR’s are not closed. Phones are snatched; collect it from the army camp they are told. No one in his senses ever went back, even for a slightly expensive phone. A woman recounted how they came for her 22 year old son. But since his hand was in plaster they took away her 14 year old instead. In another village we heard that two men were brutally beaten. No reason. One returned, after 20 days, broken in body and spirit. The other is still in custody. One estimate given to us was 13000 boys lifted during this lockdown. They don’t even spare our rations. During random checking of houses which occurs at all odd hours of the night, the army persons come in and throw out the family. A young man working as SPO told us. ‘We keep a sizeable amount of rice, pulses, edible oil in reserve. Kerosene is mixed in the ration bins, sometimes that, sometimes koyla’.

Tehmina from Anantnag recently urged her husband, ‘Let us have another child. If our Faiz gets killed at least we will have one more to call our own. Abdul Haleem was silent. He could see the dead body of his little boy lying on his hands even as she spoke these words. ‘Yeh sun kar, meri ruh kaanp gayi,” he tells us.

A thirty year old lawyer from Karna was found dead in his rented accommodation. He was intensely depressed. Condolence notice was issued by Secy Bar Association. Immediately after that he was taken into custody. Why? We spoke to a JK policeman. All of them have been divested of their guns and handed dandas. ‘How do you feel, losing your guns?’ ‘Both good and bad’ came the reply. ‘Why?’ Good because we were always afraid of them being snatched away. Bad because we have no means now to defend ourselves in a shootout. One woman security guard said ‘Indian govt wants to make this a Palestine. This will be fought by the us, Kashmiris’. One young professional told us, ‘We want freedom. We don’t want India, we don’t want Pakistan. We will pay any price for this. Ye Kashmiri khoon hai. Koi bhi qurbani denge’.

Everywhere we went there were two inexorable sentiments. First, desire for Azadi; they want nothing of either India or Pakistan. The humiliation and torture they have suffered for 70 years has reached a point of no return. Abrogation of 370 some say has snapped the last tie they had with India. Even those people who always stood with the Indian State have been rejected by the Govt. ‘So, what is the worth in their eyes, of us, ordinary Kashmiris?’ Since all their leaders have been placed under PSA or under house arrest, the common people have become their own leaders. Their suffering is untold, so is their patience. The second, was the mothers anguished cries (who had seen many children’s corpses with wounds from torture) asking for immediate stop to this brutalisation of innocents. Their children’s lives should not be snuffed out by gun and jackboots.

As we report our experiences and observations of our stay in Kashmir, we end with two conclusions. That the Kashmiri people have in the last 50 days shown an amazing amount of resilience in the face of brutality and blackout by the Indian government and the army. The incidents that were recounted to us sent shivers down our spines and this report only summarises some of them. We salute the courage and resoluteness of the Kashmiri people. Secondly, we reiterate that nothing about the situation is normal. All those claiming that the situation is slowly returning to normalcy are making false claims based on distorted facts.

Poets speak for humankind. We began our report with lines from the Kashmiri poet Ranjoor, we end with lines from Hindi poet Dushyant. Both indicate the way forward for Kashmir:

Ho gayi hai peerh parbat si pighalni chahiye
Iss Himalaya se koi Ganga nikalni chahiye

We Demand:

1. FOR NORMALCY Withdraw the Army and Paramilitary forces with immediate effect
2. FOR CONFIDENCE BUILDING Immediately Cancel all cases/ FIRs and Release all those, especially the youth who are under custody and in jail since the Abrogation of Article 370
3. FOR ENSURING JUSTICE Conduct inquiry on the widespread violence and tortures unleashed by the Army and other security personnel.
4. COMPENSATION to all those families whose loved ones lost lives because of non availability of transportation and absence of communication.

In Addition:

• Immediately restore all communication lines in Kashmir including internet and mobile networks.
• Restore Article 370 and 35 A.
• All future decisions about the political future of Jammu and Kashmir must be taken through a process of dialogue with the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
• All army personnel must be removed from the civilian areas of Jammu and Kashmir.
• An time bound inquiry committee must be constituted to look into the excesses committed by the army.

My preliminary rebuttal to the lies propagated by the Indian Ambassador to the US in the wake of abrogation of Article 370/ Article 35-A and bifurcating the region against the will of the people

In response to the pack of lies by the Indian Ambassador to the US:

For starters:

(1) The J & K RTI Act is much stronger than the Indian law which has been watered down again and again since 2014; in fact, RTI has been used in Kashmir more than anywhere else and there was an influential civil society RTI Movement;
(2) Women could very much participate in Panchayat elections, and if needed I can provide a list of names of some who won in 2011, including one KP panch from Tangmarg;
(3) The inheritance provisions contained in Art 35 A and prohibiting women who married an outsider from claiming their inheritance etc were struck down by the J & K High Court years ago and were already no longer valid;
(4)Economically J & K is much better off than most states in India, including and especially Gujarat;
(5) All important socio economic indicators are much better in Kashmir, including nutrition, health and education and especially for women and children;
(6); J & K never experienced the kind of poverty levels India experiences throughout because of Sheikh Abdullah’s land reforms. They were revolutionary at the time and made it possible for every Kashmiri to own land (land to the tiller) and prohibited large landholdings to remain in the hands of the rich and privileged; no Kashmiri will ever be homeless unlike the poor in India.
(7) Funds appropriated by India for “the development of Kashmir” have always been utilized primarily for paying the salaries of government employees the number of which is ridiculously high. Among other things, Delhi always felt providing/ funding government employment would create loyalties to the state and never discouraged it!
(8) According to his statement, there will be an additional 50,000 state government jobs added to an already hopelessly bloated bureaucracy!!! This will drain “development funds” even further.”
(9) The communications blackout has NOT been lifted at all. Landlines have been restored in many areas, but the saturation of landlines has been poor for a long time. Many people disconnected their lines and switched to mobile telephony a long time ago; he is simply lying because of all the pressure brought on India from abroad!
(10) There were thousands of migrant workers from India in Kashmir. All of them said they were paid higher daily wages and treated better than in India. Add to that hordes of beggars from India having created a begging mafia in the Valley!
(11) There have been several “investment conferences” like the one planned but which has already been canceled/ postponed because of the communications blockade. Nothing ever came out of it before, despite companies being able to lease land for 99 years the terms of which were renewable (The Taj and other hotels built properties that way in Kashmir); the main problems for investors is no all weather road communication throughout the year and the dismal power situation which is not only a function of poor management, discriminatory policies, most of the power generated being added to the Northern Power Grid of India, but also the water levels getting lower and lower during winters because of climate change.
(12) The armed rebellion has nothing at all to do with economic/ job issues. In fact, most of the “New Age Militants” since 2016 have been from well-to-do families and some left their jobs as teachers/ lecturers etc to join. Armed rebels join primarily because they have been abused by security forces and/ or because they demand secession from India. Not because they have nothing to do!

And none of this even touches on the political, including that Kashmir NEVER merged with India; that the document of accession was signed under duress but even so mentions that “a referendum would follow;” and then of course the promise to hold a plebiscite which is demanded more and more every day. He also does not mention that aggression/ tension between India and Pak this time was started by India with Rajnath Singh reversing the no-first-use policy in a recent statement and ringing alarm bells everywhere; moreover the “plan” to take back AJK/ GB is no longer just a fleeting threat but is discussed on TV almost every night!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbazwH9oIpw&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR3HPfqvrDytVmrH-8jB74BolSQflqI847g7eYrs-5aQf0xu8EbVBquHveg


Sample cover letter to submit JKCCS report on torture in Kashmir to elected representatives

http://jkccs.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/TORTURE-Indian-State%E2%80%99s-Instrument-of-Control-in-Indian-administered-Jammu-and-Kashmir.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3jrBHBGeaGC9HrN2WLnWqexKxR_Jj0ITpD6eC-Hx5dkRd7hPDqMIxfxHE

Date

The Honorable ________
Office Address
United States House of Representatives or United State Senate
Washington, DC

Dear Representative/Senator/ Member of Parliament ______________: 

As a constituent, a concerned citizen, and member of the Kashmiri American (or Australian/ British/ Canadian etc) community, I am attaching a copy of an extremely disturbing report regarding past and present use of torture by the Indian Army in Indian Administered Kashmir. The comprehensive report prepared by a prominent civil society group (JKCCS) and released on Monday shows how India has been using torture as a “matter of policy” and “instrument of control” in Kashmir, where rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989.

Torture is the most under-reported human rights violation perpetrated by the Indian state in the disputed region, but due to legal, political and moral impunity extended to the armed forces, not a single prosecution has taken place in any case of human rights violations. The new report includes 432 case studies involving torture and maps trends and patterns, targets, perpetrators, locations and other details. The cases include 293 civilians and 119 militants, among others, and 27 were minors when they were tortured. The report says 40 people among those later died due to various injuries inflicted due to torture. It also criticizes Indian troops for firing shotgun pellets against protesters, and blinding and maiming hundreds of people, including children.

The report recommends an investigation be led by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It also urges India to ratify the U.N. Convention against torture and also allow global rights groups “unhindered access” to Kashmir. Last year, the U.N. in its first report on Kashmir called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations like rape, torture and extrajudicial killings in the region.

Much global attention and condemnation of torture followed exposés of torture practiced in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons and other places, but the use of torture remains hidden in Kashmir, where tens of thousands of civilians have been subjected to it. Despite the UN and relevant committees dealing with human rights finally taking note of the issue, they cannot or will not take more effective action without pressure from member states. I therefore ask you to take note of the most recent findings and kindly take a stand at the earliest.

Thank you for your attention to this pressing matter.

My Memo to PMO regarding Opening of Trade from IOK to Muzaffarabad

REQUEST TO ACCELERATE OPENING OF THE SRINAGAR-MUZAFFARABAD ROAD FOR TRADE 

 Submitted to

The Honorable Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India

By

The All Valley Fruit Growers Association of Kashmir

August 16, 2008

Introduction

The All Valley Fruit Growers Association (AVFGA), an apex body of orchard owners, is the premier trade group representing the interests of the fruit industry of Kashmir. Based in Srinagar, its membership  comprises fruit growers from all fruit growing areas of the state.

As a result of the economic blockage of the Jammu-Srinagar Highway and the continuing protests throughout our state, the Kashmir fruit growers industry has already incurred cumulative losses of over Rs 75 crore, with an additional loss of Rs 2.5 crore suffered each passing day of the current crisis in Jammu & Kashmir. Eighty per cent of the population in Kashmir is directly or indirectly dependent on horticulture.

The health of the fruit industry of Kashmir, estimated at Rs 2500 crore annually, has been in serious jeopardy following the economic blockage of Jammu-Srinagar Highway, the only official route connecting Kashmir to other parts of India. It is in this spirit that the AVFGA decided, while being faced with the total destruction of the state’s fruit crop, to attempt on August 11th to export its stranded produce across the LoC via the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Road. 

The Government’s brutal actions against the fruit growers while seeking relief for the industry were unconscionable, inhuman, and unjustified, as the march towards Muzaffarabad was peaceful and prompted by economic need rather than larger political aims. The program organized by the fruit industry was also seen as a logical extension of steps already taken by the Governments of Pakistan and India regarding the opening of border points between the two parts of Kashmir, including the one at Muzaffarabad near the LoC.

The fruit growers of Kashmir deeply regret that because of the current crisis in the state, and the prolonged instability in Pakistan, the Government of India has not been able to put a final text regarding cross-border trade at the LoC on the table of both parliaments.

However, the fruit growers of Kashmir fully support all principles espoused by the Governments of India and Pakistan over the past four years, and believe that making borders irrelevant between India and Pakistan is not only the bridge to permanent good relations between the two countries but also the key to greater stability in the state and region.

In view of the above, the fruit industry begs for relief and requests that the Government of India open the alternative trade route at the border near Muzaffarabad (PoK) at the earliest, so that fruit growers of Kashmir can sell their produce  across the LoC and potentially reach other markets in the region.

Background

Over the past several years, the Governments of India and Pakistan been negotiating the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Road as well as the softening of other border points in the region as part of a composite peace dialogue between the two countries that begun in 2004.

Top-level representatives of both countries, leaders of the J & K State Government, and a broad range of local and regional public and private interest groups view the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Road, among other traditional trade routes, as the ideal vehicle for advancing vital economic ties between India and Pakistan, the two parts of Kashmir, and other SAARC nations. Furthermore, allowing hassle-free transport of people and goods along traditional trade routes, including the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Road, would not only satisfy overwhelming public sentiment in J & K in favor of opening these routes, but also provide the bridge to permanent good relations between India and Pakistan.

An opened Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Road would assure:

  • accelerated economic development of both parts of Kashmir;
    • additional foreign exchange through the free flow of goods between both parts of Kashmir;
    • a much-needed additional artery for expanded trade development between India and Pakistan and other SAARC countries;
    • an alternative route to export goods from Kashmir to PAK and other parts of India in case of any future closures or obstructions  of the Jammu-Srinagar Highway;
    • ending of economic isolation of both parts of Kashmir;
    • significant new tourism opportunities for both parts of Kashmir; and
    • some alleviation of security problems through regional infrastructure development and attendant social and economic benefits to local and business communities on both sides of the border.

Based on overwhelming public and private support in Kashmir for the opening of the Srinagar- Muzaffarabad Road, the Government of India should signal project priority and trigger immediate implementation action.

The political pre-conditions for the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Road and other border point trade routes have already been satisfied through:

  • An agreement reached in September 2004 between the President of Pakistan and the Prime Minister of India stating that borders would be softened between the two parts of Kashmir;
    • Consensus between India and Pakistan during an April 2005 meeting in Delhi to adopt a more “people centered” rather than “territory centered” approach that would make borders irrelevant between the two parts of Kashmir;
    • Multiple re-affirmative decisions espoused during various Roundtable Conferences on the Future of Kashmir by  representatives of both India and Pakistan, committing to making borders between the two parts of Kashmir irrelevant,; 
    • Various agreements on and implementation of a large number of steps, including the commencement of bus service between the two parts of Kashmir along the Srinagar- Muzaffarabad Road, and the opening of various other border points as part of the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan begun in 2004,;
    • A broad framework agreement reached during back channel discussions between India and Pakistan, concretizing the principles for a permanent settlement of the Kashmir dispute, including the opening of trade routes between both parts of Kashmir;
    • An August 13, 2008 statement by the Union Home Minister at Delhi categorically assuring that the Government of India would have no objection if Kashmiri traders sent their goods to Muzaffarabad across the LOC;
    • Assurance in the same statement, that a list of goods to be traded across the LOC had already been submitted to Pakistan authorities for approval, and that once Pakistan had taken the required steps towards finalizing cross-border trade at the LOC, Kashmiri traders could commence exporting their produce to Muzaffarabad at the earliest.

 

Recent Crisis

On August 11, a broad contingent of trade bodies, including the All Valley Fruit Growers Association, All Traders Federation, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce, J & K Transporters Association, and Hotel and Houseboat Owners Associations, among others, began a peaceful “Chalo March” from Srinagar towards Muzaffarabad along the Srinagar- Muzaffarabad highway. A wide variety of prominent civil society groups and non-political associations from throughout the state, and thousands of villagers from localities along the way, joined the march from their respective localities to express solidarity for the move. Several  Lakh people from different parts of the state participated in the program.

The short-term goal of the march was to enable fruit-laden truckers, having been stranded in various parts of J & K, to transport their loads across the LoC into PAK Kashmir and from there to alternative markets in Pakistan, India, and other regions.  As a result of an informal economic blockade imposed by anti- Muslim and anti-Kashmiri rightwing extremist agitating along the Jammu-Srinagar Highway, Kashmiri fruit truckers have not only been brutalized repeatedly, but flow of essential goods to and from other parts of India have been critically interrupted, causing not only crores in economic losses to the local fruit industry but also seriously affecting the availability of medicines, petrol and other crucial items in the state.

The long-term goal of the march was to raise awareness domestically and internationally about the need for additional trade routes to be opened into and out of Kashmir, so that any current or future obstruction of the only official artery linking the state to the rest of the world could be mitigated locally, and to derail any additional designs by vested interests to cripple the state’s move towards peace and greater economic self sufficiency.

The essence of the march was strictly non-political and peaceful with a view towards future borderless trade with other SAARC nations, and also to remedy Kashmir’s economic isolation vis-à-vis the rest of the world. 

The fruit traders’ concerns had been expressed in various public fora, reported in major local and national media, and the planned program had been announced to the public and government officials at least five days in advance. During the visit of the Delhi all-party committee constituted to mitigate the raging shrine issue, the traders had publicly announced their intention to seek opening of alternative trade links in view of the atrocities that had been committed along the Jammu-Srinagar Highway, the increasing shortages of essential goods seriously affecting the normal every-day-life of ordinary Kashmiris, and the economic losses that had been incurred by the state’s major industries as a result of the Jammu agitations and the ensuing economic blockage.

While the Home Minister of India commented in his press conference on August 10 at Srinagar that “the march would be a mistake and he hoped it would not be done,” no curfew was imposed on August 11 in any part of Kashmir, nor were any official prohibitory orders issued. Participants in the march thus did not violate any existing or temporary restrictions on their civil and constitutional rights to express their views as part of a peaceful demonstration solely aimed to raise awareness about the current plight of the people in the state and the need for practical change in view of the most recent crisis. In no way was the planned march aimed at raising levels of violence in the region, nor was it part of any ulterior designs by any group to align Kashmir more closely and politically with any of its immediate neighbors at the expense of its relationship with the rest of India.

Conclusion

Therefore, in light of the on-going economic crisis the Kashmir fruit industry is facing, the atrocities that have been committed during and after the peaceful protest march organized by the fruit growers of Kashmir, and in memory of the many innocent protesters that have succumbed to their injuries, the AVFGA urges the Prime Minister of India to take cognizance of the state’s plight and assure extra-ordinary steps to immediately (1) make the highway to Jammu permanently safe from fanatical elements; (2) provide traders with the security of armed convoys to assure that Kashmir’s produce reaches other parts of India without any further delay and obstruction; (3) discuss with Pakistan the possibility of buying some or all of Kashmir’s fruit crop across the LoC near Muzaffarabad; and (4) most urgently coordinate with Pakistan regarding the creation of trade and  transit facilities on both sides of the LoC at Muzaffarabad, so that the fruit industry’s attempts to reach alternative markets via the only other viable trade route connecting Kashmir to the rest of the world can succeed.

The Kashmir Show

This from 2009 but now enter Shah Faisal!

Carin I. Fischer

I was thinking last night of a movie I watched many years ago while still living in the US. It is called The Truman Show and the hero of the story is Truman Burbank. Everything Truman Burbank does is witnessed by a global audience of millions. Whether he’s eating, sleeping, heading off to work or taking a bath, the world is watching – and he doesn’t know it. At least not at first. Truman has been brought up inside a giant Hollywood dome, inside of which is a made-for-TV town. Everyone he knows – his neighbors, his workmates, his parents, his wife, and even his best friend since childhood – are actors hired by a media mogul for the planet’s biggest and most intricate one-man gawp-fest. The trouble is, Truman gradually starts getting itchy feet. He wants to travel the world in search of his one true love, an actress quickly pulled from the show for attempting to tell him the truth. And, when things start going wrong in the make-belief town, such as giant pieces of production equipment falling from the sky and he is accidentally picking up a radio frequency describing his every movement, Truman finally begins to smell a particularly large rat and tries to escape into reality. 
 
The story corresponds to life in Kashmir. Most everything one does here is watched by entertainment censors and directed by show producers. All that is projected is choreographed to suit the taste of a specific audience. A media mogul has been put in charge of creating a sanitized set that hardly reflects reality and is aimed to show outside viewers a make belief world. Much money is spent on the set to assure that no accurate picture of events, more complicated undercurrents, or the true nature of the leading actors is projected in print or on television. No criticism of the producer or main script writers is allowed. Anyone who attempts to tell the truth is quickly removed from the set.
 
As I am looking at the front pages of today’s local press, I am stunned by the remarkable distance between the choreographed and the real. But like most of the audience of the Kashmir Show, I willingly force myself into a daily suspension of disbelief.  There are reports of the young and dynamic Chief Producer attracting crores in private investment soon to be spent on the set of the show. A former and much more seasoned Chief Producer is depicted inaugurating make-belief tourism venues while interacting with larger-than-life actor officials in a surprise return appearance as though he had never been cancelled from the show. Then there is a statement of a rebel chief actor from another set across a nearby border saying that militancy would remain very much part of the plot as violence always sells and assured a continued worldwide viewership. Other actors portraying forensic experts in a nearby locality have all over sudden changed their story-line on their own, proclaiming that one victim previously believed to have died of rape and murder had in reality been a virgin and that the script would need to be adjusted to reflect that new turn of events. A fictional pro freedom leader, portrayed by a young and  independent actor, is urged by older more seasoned independent ones, who have refused to join the national actors’ union, to stick to the story line of previous episodes and to stop revising the script on his own. Meanwhile another former Chief Producer is making the rounds, while handing out previews of his own parallel plot, insisting that his script was the only one that was acceptable to the local audience and that the current program was bound to be discontinued for lack of creativity. Then there is a small subplot of some small-time actors playing bad guys and who continue to loot the forests of the set with full knowledge of those cast as forest protection officials. Undoubtedly, it pays more to play a bad character than one who is cast to uphold the law. In a different part of the show, award winning actors from other movie sets are reportedly enjoying a game of golf with discarded Chief Producers. Meanwhile members of the independent local script writer guilds are contemplating strikes aimed to project a different kind of drama to the audience at large. They are hoping that broadcasting a more accurate reality show might be appreciated by a more analytical and sophisticated viewership. However, past and present reviews of the Kashmir Show clearly demonstrate that truth never qualifies as entertainment, and as bubbles burst ratings also plummet.
 
Having been rejected as both a main character or even an extra in the Kashmir Show, I wonder if I can still aspire to one day participate in a different story line, or whether I have  permanently lost the plot? 

With people (sadly) once again considering unionist parties and voting, I am sharing this old piece from 2008. The opposing party is the NC, the local policeman somebody who was aligned with them but has recently joined Sajad Lone/PC after his retirement. He was once a member of the local SOG. Of course after the NC won during that election, the new MLA/ Minister stopped my project in an effort to make the project funds his own.

The perils of Pauline

GREATER KASHMIR

The Perils of Pauline

Getting to know the Ugly Underbelly of Local Politics

By Carin Jodha Fischer

I was going to write about models of greater economic self-reliance but, while finding that there are in fact fitting and little known models that could be emulated by Kashmir, that piece will have to wait for some time. As so often here, events that affect you on a personal, instead of a strictly academic, level tend to fully occupy your mind space at the expense of sharing viable solutions that could be of benefit to all. But, perhaps in a perverted kind of way, my story today is also part of the same theme.As explained before in this publication, I came to Kashmir to work on both rural development and environmental conservation with a special focus on remote areas. One of my models has always been rural tourism development because, if executed correctly, it combines the raising of income levels and skill sets of the poorest communities with a marked improvement of the ecological balance of the areas in which they reside. To that end, for the past year and a half, I have been trying to implement a community-based “Trekking for Trees Program” in the upper reaches of Rafiabad as part of a rural tourism development initiative approved by the J & K Tourism Department and recently sanctioned for funding by the Union Ministry of Tourism. While doing my groundwork for a Detailed Project Report, I spent a great deal of time in sixty remote and very poor villages throughout Rafiabad. I also put up for almost a year in a small place that for the purposes of this article I shall call “Bad-ua.” Over the months and while staying in this breathtakingly beautiful place I slowly came to know that the village was at war. And this war was not one waged against the security forces stationed at its backdoor, but much rather against itself and its own people. Sadly, age-old family feuds have divided the villagers of Bad-ua not only along socio-economic but also along political lines, with local members of opposing mainstream parties adding fuel to the fire while fighting for political space in a place where family problems often translate into the switching of party affiliations. In the process and encouraged by warring candidates, all common ground has been lost. Because of the obstacles I have faced as a result of the village’s internal political divisions, I feel that my experience with some of the self-proclaimed leaders of Bad-ua deserves case study treatment. This is not only for the purposes of discussion by social scientists, but also to lend credence to other columnists who have warned that internal divisions could seriously hamper the advancement of the public good in Kashmir. And mind you, none of what I experienced was the doing of the poor, who of course stand to suffer the most by the destructive manipulations of some of their mainstream leaders. I was first introduced to Rafiabad and Bad-ua by a former Minister of Tourism, who had asked me to explore possibilities for tourism development in the poorest areas of his constituency. Call me naïve, but as far as I could tell then, this was not part of an attempt to gain political mileage for himself or his party in the upcoming elections, but rather out of a visible concern for lack of development in those parts and the rampant deforestation that had led to a chronic drinking water shortage. In subsequent months, we worked together closely, not only because I came to like his place very much, but also because he greatly helped facilitate my movement throughout the area. From the beginning, however, there were attempts by some of his political opponents to scuttle what I was intending to do. Rumors of my being a “campaign gimmick” and not serious about my project were spread soon after I arrived on the scene. Regardless of all the public town meetings I held about details of the rural tourism development program, these false rumors intensified and got nastier over time. Among the initial stories that were planted was that I had come to corrupt locals with “Western values” and that I was planning to peddle alcohol to the young. Despite my professional track record, I found myself on the defensive again and again. One local journalist, closely affiliated with one of the two opposing parties, went so far as to say that I was brought by the Tourism Minister to “lure local girls into working in massage parlors.” As a result of these rumors, I was asked by last winter to be on the safe side and delay my project until after the election, a suggestion I declined politely, even after being warned that political opponents, perhaps posing as militants, could harm me. Similarly, while planning to move to the area to do my work, a DSP who was closely aligned with one of the opposing parties , tried his level best to prevent me from moving to the upper reaches and Bad-ua, saying the entire Rafiabad area was “crawling with militants” and that he could not allow me to work there fearing an “international incident.” I later found out that he, as many others in uniform, was not only biased politically but also much benefiting from the illegal timber trade in the area.Despite all of this, I moved to Bad-ua in late spring and commenced my work. The house I selected for my stay was strategically located for the exploratory treks we were planning throughout the entire area, and its inhabitants had not only a sufficient command of the English language but also much needed enthusiasm for the project. Importantly, unemployed as they were, they also had the required time to assist me in identifying trekking routes, guides, and houses for home-stay upgradation. Unfortunately, they were also associated with the above- mentioned Tourism Minister’s party, who unbeknownst to his opponents had specifically advised me not to stay at that particular locality or that house, because of the nasty turn politics often took there, and out of concern for my personal safety as a result of the rivalries between my hosts and some of the rest of the village. Throughout the spring and well into the summer, attempts by opposing political camps to scuttle the project increased. According to the local SHO, a police inspector related to one half of the village, and allegedly well funded by two different mainstream parties, was behind a demand made to a cleric that a fatwa be issued against me for trying to spread Christianity. Along similar lines, attempts were made to file an FIR against my hosts for allowing someone engaged in the conversion of locals to stay at their house, and the local headman and others were interrogated by police as to my purported “missionary activities.” For the record, I am not a Christian! During the launch party of our Trekking for Trees Program, which was attended by hundreds of villagers from throughout the area, opponent party workers lined up at a neighboring village to prevent additional villagers from reaching, claiming that the event was sponsored by “a Christian” and that the welcome feast organized by locals for the very first group of tourists to the area was actually a “campaign rally” of the party they were trying to unseat. Perhaps worst of all, the next day those tourists were arrested by the army in an unrestricted area of Rafiabad under the false pretense that the trekkers, most of them foreign, were traversing restricted territory. The evening of their detention, I was told by the army that they had responded to a phone call, alerting them that militants had abducted the trekking group. According to local sources, the call was made by the same police inspector who was behind the fatwa request in yet another attempt to end the tourism development program as part of a larger political conspiracy to scuttle any activity initiated by his political opponent. While I of course can’t prove that particular allegation, I wonder how else it could have been possible for that police inspector to gloatingly inform a local relative of the detention of the trekkers hours before they were actually intercepted. After the incident, it took many hours of army intelligence interrogation before the officer in charge was finally convinced that I was working on officially sanctioned rural tourism development instead of bringing advance teams of foreign agents or any other mischief to the forests of Rafiabad. Meanwhile party workers of the opposing camp fanned out throughout villages to proclaim that tourism development had now been stopped. As an interesting aside, the tourists were taken from Rafiabad to an area of Uri from where the police inspector was functioning in both his official and unofficial capacities.In a different, but not altogether unrelated, incident some time later, I was forced into an verbal duel with the same political opponents and close associates of the police inspector over the senseless destruction of drinking water pipes newly laid nearby by the Department of PHE and leading to local violence between warring political and family camps at Bad-ua and another locality. The drinking water scheme was sanctioned by the same politician who had brought me there, and it is violently opposed by his foes for no other logical reason than being a “scheme of a particular political persuasion” that has to be stopped at all costs so he won’t appear more effective. While admittedly that issue is not for me to solve, it did concern me a great deal because of the effect such dangerously destructive behavior could have on future tourist groups putting up in the forest near the water pipes through which drinking water will flow to the households of some 40,000 poor people. Following the curfew imposed throughout the Valley, I brought journalists of the Greater Kashmir with me to Rafiabad and also to Bad-ua to investigate food shortages that had been reported to me, and also to write about the problems of local orchardists resulting from restrictions on their movements. Villagers then also talked about an increase in timber cutting since curfew had been imposed. While speaking to some locals on the side, one of the reporters was informed of the many alleged political conspiracies hatched by the very police inspector and members of his political camp, and the hardship locals had been facing as a result of his activities. My hosts and I are of course now being blamed for the story that was written about him even though I did nothing to prompt the report that appeared. As a result, while visiting the area again a few days ago to announce that the money for my rural tourism project had finally been sanctioned, relatives of the police inspector and members of one of the rival political parties publicly threatened me to stay out of Bad-ua while at the same time alerting me to the fact that the police inspector was “backed by very big men.” I am not trying to be flippant when I say that I very much hope this story is being read by some of the “big men” who are backing me. While I can’t and won’t abandon the people of Rafiabad, for the first time since I began my work there, I wonder if from now on I should travel to the area with security detail, something I despise and never felt I needed, being protected by thousands of locals, and so far mostly from bears. Obviously such a change in my style would most certainly not be prompted by fear of any militant threat. The entire Rafiabad area is safe, but some of its politicians’ designs clearly are not. My experiences at Bad-ua have taught me that local political affiliations there have little or nothing to do with ideology or a desire for social change. Rather, they stem from age-old family and neighborly feuds that prompt people to extend their support to opposing candidates in an effort to settle personal scores and to selfishly prevent the advancement of the most needy. Sometimes this misguided support results in violence and the hampering of projects aimed to benefit all. Throughout my summer in the village, I listened to story after story of hardships suffered by the poor of the area at the hands of a small group of mostly well-to-do and educated political supporters of different parties seeking to unseat the incumbent because of their personal dislike for each other and those favoring him. The nexus between the most destructive political elements and someone in uniform entrusted with guarding the safety of the public is particularly disturbing. As a result, work on my project has sometimes been difficult and overshadowed by personal and political battles that have nothing to do with what I have set out to achieve. My war is against poverty and environmental destruction, and not against the political opponents of the man who first took me there. I have received overwhelming support from thousands of villagers throughout the area, and nothing will change my determination to improve their lives in any way I can. But there is an important lesson to be learned from what I have experienced over the past year. It is easy to only blame outside forces for the lack of development activities and economic self-sufficiency. It is much more difficult to introspect and hold ourselves responsible for selfish deeds that only hurt the poorest among us. For security reasons, I may have to shift my base of operations in Rafiabad to another locality nearby. Being openly threatened by members of one political camp, and relatives of a police inspector aligned with it, may force me to take such a step, even though the majority of the poor people at Bad-ua are begging me to stay. If I have to, only dirty politics and some of the locals’ refusal to end their petty wars for the sake of the common good would have to be blamed. I fear that under the current set of circumstances and the kind of leadership being asserted, the greater economic self-reliance I am advocating for Kashmir won’t reach Bad-ua any time soon. And neither militants nor any of the other usual suspects would have anything to do with it. There can’t be real progress without unity. It’s an important lesson to learn, I feel.

Something I wrote for tehelka a long, long time ago…

Tehelka 

Washington, January 30, 2002

State of the Union…

It is unseasonably warm in Washington. A balmy breeze blew past Capitol Hill tonight as Congress gathered for the State of the Union address. Part political love fest, part populist  theater, and part declaration of national purpose, this one event long ago took on a life of its own.

Leading a nation united by terrorist attacks, disheartened by recession, and
slowly finding its way back to politics as usual, the State of the Union
address presented President George W Bush with an opportunity to declare the nation’s political agenda, set the stage for his party in the upcoming
midterm elections, and further cement an alarmingly high popularity rating.

The reviews of political pundits and the early poll returns show that in
one respect Bush attained his central goal. He enjoys unremittingly unanimous support among the American people. This is not unusual: a
nation attacked is a nation united. In most other respects, it is singularly
frightening. Tonight’s speech was, at its heart, American politics in its
basest and most depraved incarnation.

On the domestic front, there were few surprises. The unholy union between
Enron and the Republican Party, in which campaign coffers were filled with
Enron funds and thousands of employees saw their life savings evaporate,
was brushed aside with a request that Congress initiate financial safeguards
and accounting reforms. Senior citizens were promised aid for prescription
costs, and the Senate was asked to pass a Republican economic stimulus package that has already cleared the House. A call went out for citizens to pledge themselves to national service and for the formation of a “Freedom Corps”  -the Bush equivalent of Kennedy’s Peace Corps. All were warmly received – although  the “Freedom Corps” exhortation seemed to land on the floor with a resounding thud,  where it will lie in embarrassed prostration until it is forgotten. The military, of course, will get more than its share. Bush called for a huge increase in military spending – including a call once again for the development of the technically doubtful “missile shield”.

The preceding was, of course, the second act.

As it inevitably would be, the war on terrorism took centre stage. Wrapping
himself in the flag and anointing himself with the tears of a nation, Bush
began the address as the righteous defender of freedom – a true warrior
born on the Fourth of July. 

One can find some comfort in a few small things. Restraint is not usually
found in his references to terrorism; thankfully, the word “evil” was only
used five times in less than an hour. The remainder, however, was derisorily true to form. Terrorism against the US, a phenomenon that has grown out of decades of careless American foreign policy, was again reduced to a simplistic falsehood – the war against terror is a war against those who would deprive of us our “freedom”.

This theme is wonderfully simple. It avoids so many uncomfortable questions and one basic truth – that terrorists couldn’t care less about our
freedom. Terrorists simply want us to die. This is because the US has been “free” to support oppressive regimes in Islamic states, “free” to support Israel in whatever it does, and “free” to pursue its interests regardless of the
rights of others. As the defender of “freedom, one can then be “free,” as
the only nation that has used nuclear weapons, to proclaim that Iran, Iraq,
and North Korea must not be allowed to develop these weapons on their
own.

Irony or thoughtfulness have no place in this approach. How Ronald Reagan’s Mujahideen “Freedom Fighters” have become George W Bush’s “evildoers” does not need to be examined. When speaking to your nation, trot out the wounded soldier and the new leader of “liberated” Afghanistan, place the flag on your shoulders, and tell your people that they must fight to be free.

Whatever you do, don’t ever ask why.

Kashmir Action Network (KAN)

In comes 2019:

I have registered the Kashmir Action Network (KAN) on Capitol Hill to be able to officially advocate issues associated with Kashmir with the US Congress and Senate. Last year when I submitted a letter regarding Aasif Sultan and journalists in Kashmir to the Senate and Congress Foreign Relations Committees, I was told by staffers that it would be easier for them to highlight it if presented under an official banner. Registration on the Hill is free and one has to only file a financial statement once a year. Since there is no funding and it is strictly for volunteers, there will be no issue with that. But it will be a public record for anybody to inspect if questions arise.

The Kashmir Action Network will be similar to the Yemeni Alliance Committee and involve mostly online and other grassroots lobbying tools by Kashmiris and/ or friends of Kashmiris who are voters in the US. I will therefore spend much time initially collecting data regarding their location and to match them with their respective Representatives in Congress/ Senate. Whenever issues arise, I will draft sample/ boilerplate letters for members (with inputs) and issue instructions how to submit them and make phone calls if required.

I will update here and through an online news portal about everything that gets submitted and the status. I will also share it on other social media. This is because there is no money for a professional website (unless somebody volunteers to create one!) And I will say it again: no funding from anywhere so no labels please!!! The objective will be to raise awareness about rampant HR violations, shrinking democratic space/ freedom of speech, and that status quo is not an option. The group will NOT advance a particular solution because that is kiss of death in Washington, and the objective is to make the case that there must be one. It will be selective in its membership. So please do not ask “what about Kashmiri Pandits?” They are already represented on the Hill and beyond and generally do not share our politics.

I will keep you posted. Meanwhile if you have friends who are voters in the US and would like to be part of the network, please let me know. MOST IMPORTANTLY: there will be no leaders, no annual meetings, no specific past or present group affiliation. Only the grassroots with inputs by people from both IOK and Azad Kashmir. More later….