Millions of “Million Marches” later, J&K will still be part of India

Million March” is to be held on October 26 in London: calling for the independence of the State of Jammu and Kashmir from the Union of India. October 26 is the day when the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir became part of India in 1947. The rally will be led by former Prime Minister of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader, Barrister Sultan Mahmood Chaudhry. It will begin at London’s Trafalgar Square and end at Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron’s office at 10 Downing Street where a petition would be submitted urging the United Kingdom to push India to resolve the Kashmir imbroglio with Pakistan.

When the British left India, the princely states of the Indian subcontinent had the option to join either India or Pakistan. Jammu and Kashmir was one among the 560-odd princely states whose political future was to be decided by its ruler.  Initially, the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir chose neither India nor Pakistan. On October 22, 1947, Pakistani tribal raiders invaded Kashmir. Maharaja Hari Singh, then ruler of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, sought help from the Indian government. Indian government agreed to help only if Jammu and Kashmir State decided to join the Union of India. On October 26, 1947, the state of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to the Union of India through Instrument of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh, which was accepted by the then Governor General of India, Louis Mountbatten. The next day, i.e. October 27, 1947, Indian troops landed in Srinagar and stopped the aggression being displayed Pakistan.

The Instrument of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh was similar to the ones signed by other princely states in India. Additionally, the accession was also supported by National Conference, the largest political party of Jammu and Kashmir, headed by Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah.

The Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir endorsed the accession on November 17, 1956, and finalised the constitution for the state. Part II, Section 3 of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir states, “The State of Jammu and Kashmir is and shall be an integral part of the Union of India”. It meant that the accession of Jammu and Kashmir State with the Union of India was complete and irrevocable.

Further, Section 4 states, “The territory of the State shall comprise all the territories which on the fifteenth day of August, 1947, were under the sovereignty or suzerainty of the Ruler of the state.” It implies that the parts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir held by Pakistan and China are illegally occupied. Part XII, Section 147 of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution asserts that Section 3 of the constitution cannot be altered by any bill or amendment.

Pakistan has fomented trouble in Jammu and Kashmir State since its formation in 1947 and it continues to do so through insurgency and terrorism not only in Jammu and Kashmir, but in all of India. The most recent instance is the ceasefire violations along the international border and line of control in J&K.

On “Million March” day, Jammu and Kashmir’s Chief Minister Omar Abdullah says, “I have no problem propounding an ideology, but rather than sitting in cosy capitals like London they should come here and do it”. It is regrettable to hear such remarks from the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister – saying that he has no problem with this ideology. What is this ideology about? It is about secession of the state of Jammu and Kashmir from Union of India. In other words, it is nothing but sedition. Is the Chief Minister implying that seditious activities in Jammu and Kashmir are fine? This lackadaisical attitude by the J&K State government (irrespective of who is in power) towards such elements has led to such a state of affairs, where the separatists roam freely and create trouble. We witnessed that lately during the flood rescue and relief operations in Kashmir valley. Also, more than a couple of times, the ISIS flag has been displayed in the so-called peaceful protest, which is alarming.

While those advocating secession can participate in a “Million March” or whatever anywhere in the world, the secession of Jammu and Kashmir is not going to happen. Happy 67th Jammu and Kashmir Accession Day to the people of the nation, particularly the citizens of the state!

P.S. Folks who are participating in or supporting “Million March”, don’t forget to shout “Hum Kya Chahte, Azadi”.

(Published in Newslaundry)

Haider: Vishal Bhardwaj’s Chutzpah

After years, I watched first day first show of a Bollywood film. Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet based in Kashmir valley. It is the story of a son’s pursuit for his missing father. Set in 1995, the protagonist of the film is Haider Meer played by actor Shahid Kapoor whose father Dr. Hilal Meer gets disappeared after crackdown by Indian Army which leaves Haider’s mother Ghazala (Tabu) half-widow. Later on, Haider’s father is found murdered. Shraddha Kapoor, as Arshia who is a journalist, is the Ophelia of Haider.

Through Arshia, Haider meets Roohdar (Irrfan Khan) who is a Pakistani militant. Roohdar tells Haider that the person responsible for his father’s disappearance and murder is his own uncle Khurram Meer (Kay Kay Menon). Khurram marries Ghazala after the death of Haider’s father. Will Haider revenge his father’s murder, after knowing that Khurram killed his father and married his mother? Will Haider kill Khurram or not, that is the question?

Haider is Shahid Kapoor’s best performance till date while Shraddha Kapoor is fine. Irrfan Khan is impressive in his short role. Kay Kay Menon as Khurram is powerful. The eloquent Tabu again proves her versatility that she can do any role. The background score and the cinematography add to the drama. ‘Bismil’ song shot at the historic 8th century Sun Temple at Martand in Kashmir encompasses the entire story of the film.

Haider is a bold attempt to show turbulent Kashmir of 1995. Vishal Bhardwaj captures the ‘Azadi’ sentiment prevalent in the valley (though not all want Azadi in Kashmir) which is manifested by Shahid Kapoor’s monologue at the Srinagar city’s square. There is ‘Chutzpah/AFSPA’, ‘Separatists India Se Azadi Nahi, Pakistan Se Ghulami Maang Rahe Hain’, ‘Hum Hain Ki Hum Nahin’, ‘Hum Kya Chahte, Azadi’ in the film which indicates the political scenario in the valley. It attempts to show the excesses and alleged human rights violation committed by Indian Army. Though there is not a word on terrorism which engulfed the entire valley in 1990s. The film gives an impression that Indian Army is the negative element present in the valley. It fails to tell that Indian Army is the peace-keeper in the valley. In the end of the film, Indian Army gets a token mention for their rescue operations in recent floods in Jammu and Kashmir.

Haider shows a part of larger Kashmir conflict rather the consequences of it. It tells you about disappearances, half widows, unmarked graves, Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFPSA). There are many stories in Kashmir valley which need attention, which has been forgotten, which nobody cares to look into. Thousands of security forces which include Indian Army, Border Security Force (BSF), Jammu and Kashmir Police, and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have laid down their lives protecting the people of the valley. Terrorism in Kashmir led to ethnic cleansing of around four to five lakh Kashmiri Hindus from their homeland. I hope someday Bollywood attempts to make films on the other stories from Kashmir valley.

Shraddha Kapoor struggles hard to sing lines of a Kashmiri song ‘Butinoye Doorer Chouni Zarai, Bal Marayo’. Likewise, lines of another Kashmiri folk song ‘Roshe Walla Myane Dilbaro, Poshan Bahar Aa Yoor Walo’ by Tabu & Kay Kay Menon lack proper diction. I was expecting better diction of the Kashmiri lines given the fact that the film is co-written by Basharat Peer who is a Kashmiri. May be he was more busy in focusing on the script (especially portrayal of Indian Army) that he forgot to pay heed to it.

I also wonder why Bollywood film-makers don’t approach Kashmiri singers to sing Kashmiri lines. Remember ‘Urzu Urzu Durkut’ song in Yahaan, a film by Shoojit Sircar? It is actually ‘Orzuv, Orzuv Dorkuth’.

The film has evoked mixed reactions across the country. On social media, Facebook and Twitter, many people are protesting against Haider and demanding its boycott because it shows Indian Army in bad light. Well, boycotting is a personal choice. In a democratic set-up, everyone is free to choose his/her subject for making a film. What needs to be understood is that Indian Army as an institution stands tall and it will continue to do so. It is noteworthy that on Twitter there has been a call for ‪’Boycott Haider’ instead of ‘‎Ban Haider’ (as per the Twitter trend); a progress towards freedom of expression.

Haider is Vishal Bhardwaj’s chutzpah. Watch Haider for the drama, Vishal Bhardwaj’s direction, the performances by its actors, and the stunning cinematography.

(Published in The Newsminute)

No Justice, No Reconciliation

Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes says, “Writing is struggle against silence”. I say, writing is struggle against distortions too. Whenever there is an attempt to distort your story, you have to raise your voice and reiterate your story because your story, the truth, is the struggle for your existence. More so when you are away from home, in exile!

On Sunday evening, there was a debate on NDTV’s “We The People” on the subject “Kashmiri Pandits: In Search of Home”. The topic of discussion was the rehabilitation of exiled Kashmiri Hindus in Kashmir in wake of the recent Konsar Nag Yatra controversy. The reconciliation between majority and minority communities of Kashmir valley (Muslims and Pandits) was also discussed. That discussion prompts me to write this story.

Time and again, the reconciliation between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits has been talked about and debated under the ambit of Kashmiriyat (like the rhetoric that the solution of Kashmir conflict should be under the ambit of Insaniyat). Ah! This Kashmiriyat and Insaniyat! Kashmiriyat is used as a ploy to pretend that nothing happened in the valley to Kashmiri Pandits. When Pandits demand justice for the killings, rapes, loss, and homelessness, they are told there is Kashmiriyat.

Kashmiriyat, if ever it existed, is a term given to the mutual and peaceful co-existence of Pandits and Muslims in the pristine valley of Kashmir much before insurgency and terrorism. It has died in the valley many times in the past. Recently, Kashmiriyat died when the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits happened, resulting in their displacement from the valley. It died when Pandits were selectively targeted and murdered heinously. It died when a Pandit woman was raped and then cut into pieces by a mechanical saw. For those who don’t know, the exodus of 1990 is the seventh exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from the valley.

That is not to say that Pandits and Muslims were always at conflict with each other in Kashmir. Of course, they lived together for hundreds of years till 1990. On an individual level, Pandits and Muslims have been very amicable. But as communities, they disagree, particularly over political views. Those disagreements led to a rift in 1990 when the majority of the majority community of Kashmiri Muslims (not all) supported the cause of secession of Jammu & Kashmir from the Union of India through an armed struggle in which Hindus were killed. They failed in their struggle for Azadi. Jammu and Kashmir is still very much a part of India. It will remain so. In the meantime, Pandits lost faith in the majority community of Muslims who happened to be their neighbours. Many Kashmiri Muslims chose to support the gun rather than their neighbours. There has existed a trust deficit since then.

It has been twenty five years since the exodus, but I haven’t seen even once the community of Kashmiri Muslims stand up for the Pandits whom they call their brethren. Rather, they have sided with those who have been responsible for their displacement. How can there be reconciliation between the community of Pandits and Muslims? There can’t be any reconciliation while there is silence over the killings and exodus of Pandits. Moreover, the myth factory in Kashmir valley still propagates the “Jagmohan theory” which states that the then governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Jagmohan, is responsible for the 1990 exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from the valley.

For reconciliation to happen, the past needs to be addressed. The path of reconciliation is through admission of failure by the community of Kashmiri Muslims in protecting their Pandit brethren. The path of reconciliation is by shunning the voices of separatism and religious intolerance. Reconciliation is difficult without justice for those Pandits who were murdered and raped. From past experience of the last two decades, frankly speaking, I don’t see that happening in the near future.

On the question of return of Pandits, it is not only about the level of militancy in Kashmir. It is about the nationality and religion/faith of Kashmiri Hindus on which they won’t compromise. How is the return of Pandits possible when there has been a continuous attack on their faith in the last two decades? A recent example is the shutdown of Konsar Nag Yatra by local Kashmiri Muslims. They had a problem with a small group of 40 Pandits who were supposed to visit Konsar Nag, a glacial lake located at an altitude of 12000 feet in Kulgam district of south Kashmir, as pilgrims. These Kashmiri Muslims believe that the Pandits will pollute the environment by going for a pilgrimage. It all happened under the garb of Kashmiriyat. The more they attack the faith of Kashmiri Pandits, the stronger their conviction becomes. Period!

P.S. I was speaking to my father over the phone yesterday. Among other things, we talked about upcoming assembly elections in J&K. He said, “There seems like a concerted attempt in goofing up of the electoral voter list of Pandits. How come there are mistakes (distorted names, missing names etc.) in electoral voter lists when these same voter lists were correct before. Is this a further attempt to erase them from Kashmir valley?” My father has been filling correction forms every other day.

(Originally Published in Newslaundry)

Book Review: Karachi, You’re Killing Me!

Pakistan! The name strikes only one thing in mind – a country which has been epicenter of terrorism and always has been at loggerheads with India since it birth in 1947. There is more to Pakistan than terrorism, killings, etc. We don’t get to hear stories about people, culture, life etc. in India. Stories from Pakistan have always aroused interest in me; about its cities, people, festivals etc. Here comes a novel – Karachi, You’re Killing Me! – which takes you through the city of Karachi, its people and the life there.  The novel is written by Pakistani journalist Saba Imtiaz.

The main protagonist of the novel is Ayesha Khan, a journalist in her twenties. She is working at Daily News in Karachi. Ayesha reports on all sorts of things – bomb blasts, literature festivals, murders, kidnappings, fashion shows, protests etc. Kamran, who is Ayesha’s boss at Daily News, is not at all kind to her. Kamran was gifted the newspaper by his industrialist father on his twenty sixth birthday ‘following a giant tantrum.’ Ayesha desperately wants to move out of Pakistan but her attempts don’t succeed. She is stuck with low-paying job at Daily News. Ayesha lives with his father who perhaps loves his cat more than his daughter. All of that has made Ayesha’s life dull and miserable.

There is Saad who is a banker and works in Dubai. He is Ayesha’s best friend since fifth class. Saad has been a great support to Ayesha and the one who cheers her up. There is Zara who is a fine investigative reporter working with Morning News TV. Zara is the one who tries to make Ayesha’s life lively. She takes her to parties and fashion events. They smoke and booze together. Zara also wishes that Ayesha finds a man in her life. She introduces her to Hasan. After seeing Hasan for some months, her relationship with Hasan ended on a day when Ayesha arrived late at his birthday party and then left abruptly after being called by her boss Kamran. Amidst all the commotion around, will she finds love in the city of Karachi? I am not going to tell you. Read the novel.

Each chapter of the novel as well as the section within begins with a headline which tells you about the happenings in Pakistan. It is a diary of a journalist struggling in the city of Karachi with the chaos in her life and around. In the novel, Saba Imtiaz paints the picture of problems faced by journalists in Pakistan on a daily basis. Being a journalist herself, she has done a fine job in doing that.

Saba’s novel seems semi-autobiographical in nature. The characters and the events in the novel look genuine. The novel is funny, thrilling, and intriguing. It is a novel which will keep you gripped. The novel is a good read over a weekend or when you are going for a long distance travel. By the way, don’t expect literary pearls from this novel. Karachi, You’re Killing Me! is a perfect plot for a Bollywood movie. A thriller!

(Originally Published in DNA)

Of Men and Monuments

Last night, I watched the film, The Monuments Men, directed by Hollywood star George Clooney. The film is loosely based on the book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by American writer Robert M Edsel. It’s about a group of men who were given the task to save art works, artefacts and masterpieces from the Nazis during World War II and return these to their owners.

Clooney plays the character of Lieutenant Frank Stokes, who leads this peculiar mission. Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler had planned to build a Fuhrer museum in Austria in which he wished to keep all the art works stolen from neighbouring European countries.

In the movie, Lieutenant Frank Stokes (deftly played by Clooney) addresses his fellow comrades as they embark on their mission: “You can wipe out the generation of people, you can burn their homes to the ground, and somehow, they will still come back. But if you destroy their achievements and their history, then it is like they never existed. Just ash floating! That is what Hitler wants. And it is the one thing we simply can’t allow.”

Frank Stokes’ powerful words resonate and underline the importance of preserving art. Art is, after all, fundamental to the character and essence of any civilisation. As American Opera Soprano, Beverly Sills rightly says, “Art is the signature of civilisation”. In fact, civilisations across histories have expressed themselves through art. Isn’t it?

The film reminded me of the destruction of Hindu temples and shrines in the Kashmir valley by fanatical groups. It is worthwhile to note that in the humdrum of daily news, a protest in this context went largely unnoticed. Neither society, nor the so-called intelligentsia bothered to take note of a group of men and women who held a protest march in the heart of Srinagar demanding the passage of a Bill for the protection of temples and religious shrines in the Kashmir valley, among other things. Twenty five years ago, the guardians of these temples and shrines had to abandon them in order to save their own life.

Kameshwar Mandir, Habba Kadal, Srinagar

Kameshwar Mandir, Karfali Mohalla, Habba Kadal, Srinagar
(Photo Courtesy: Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti, Srinagar)

This wasn’t the first time the people of the ethnic Hindu minority community in Kashmir were protesting. They have been protesting for years now. These demands regarding the protection, rebuilding and restoration of Hindu shrines in Kashmir valley have been made for years.

These temples and shrines are not the usual places of faith. They represent the 5,000-year-old civilisation that existed in the Kashmir valley. The architecture of such shrines and temples is more than just a form of art. The idols of deities are masterpieces depicting ancient history.

Shiv Temple, Bijbehara, AnantnagShiv Temple, Bijbehara, Anantnag
(Photo Courtesy: Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti, Srinagar)

Such magnificent art works were destroyed and desecrated by fanatics, much in the same way as Nazis destroyed art and artefacts in Europe during World War II.

In recent times, we have witnessed the destruction of artefacts by those who try to distort history. In 2001, the Taliban destroyed the world’s largest standing Buddha statues in Afghanistan. The destruction of such statues which are more than thousands of years old was carried out to erase the ancient Buddhist history. Likewise in Mali, Islamists damaged the shrines of Muslim saints in the city of Timbuktu.

It is more than a year since I had last written on temples and shrines of Hindus in Kashmir – The Gods Have To Wait. Not much has changed since then.

We have seen many politicians of Jammu and Kashmir, including Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, assure the Pandit community about extending protection to temples and shrines in Kashmir. But these assurances are just hollow words. The fact is Kashmiri Hindu Shrines and Religious Places (Management and Regulation) Bill hasn’t been passed by the state government of Jammu and Kashmir till date.

Shiv Temple, KulgamShiv Temple, Kulgam
(Photo Courtesy: Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti, Srinagar)

Watching the movie, a thought crossed my mind. I wish there were Monuments Men who could have saved the symbols of Hindu civilisation in the Kashmir valley. Had they been there, the temples and shrines wouldn’t have been desecrated.

I wish such men existed to protect the magnificent places of faith. And that the fanatics who desecrated the temples understood that these temples, shrines, idols and so on, don’t belong only to Hindus. They represent the collective ancient history of the Kashmir valley. In the Kashmir valley, the gods are waiting from more than two decades for their abode to be restored and for their guardians (Kashmiri Hindus) to return.