Omar must know Army is not the enemy

M J Akbar, 19 September 2010, 05:33 AM IST

Self-preservation is the default mode of the self-destructive. Omar Abdullah is trapped in an existential dilemma. He cannot blame himself for the wreck he has wrought. To do so would severely damage, if not abort, a political career born in genetic entitlement and wafted into that exhilarating but oxygen-thin ozone layer of celebrity. He cannot blame Delhi either, the favoured recourse of regional parties caught in a crisis, for he is a child of Delhi in more senses than one. He owes his job to the masters of the Capital, Congress and more specifically Rahul Gandhi. He tried blaming the local opposition, particularly his bete noire Mehbooba Mufti, but that is a futile dead end. It could not take him out of the maze. Mehbooba is in control of neither the street nor the secretariat. Blaming Pakistan is too obvious to raise anything more substantial than a yawn.

He has, therefore, selected the only escape route he could think of: blame the Indian Army. After 90 deaths in 90 days, the dilution of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has become the fulcrum of his political fortunes. He did not offer to leave because of the complete collapse of governance and total absence of ideas. He threatened to resign if the Union government did not punish the Indian Army.

For which sin? Not a single death in the present crisis has resulted from an Army bullet. Those bullets came from the guns of the J&K police and CRPF. Why has everyone chosen to obscure this fact with silence and raise dust against the Army?

This question has disturbing dimensions. Why have separatists and militants never demanded that the state government disband the local police and send back the CRPF for taking such a toll? Why is the secessionist, and alas political, verbiage targeted at the Army and no one but the Army? The Indian Army came into the picture for the first time only on the evening of September 15. That was during discussions with the Fifth Corps on how to respond to the next stage of a carefully designed strategy — sit-ins before Army camps, meant to sustain the focus on the Army and weaken its presence in the valley. The Army has not been deployed in the demonstrations, and is concentrating only on its counter-insurgency role.

Why is the Indian Army the one-point target of those who want to break India? The answer is uncomplicated. The police, whether state or central, cannot defend the territorial integrity of India. The Indian Army can. It is therefore in the interest of secessionists and their mentors in Islamabad to create discord between the Indian Army and the Indian state.

Why is the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir lending his voice to this cacophony? Which gallery is a desperate Omar Abdullah playing to?

This crisis did not begin 90 days ago or a hundred days ago. It began in the minds of people who had an agenda and whose intricate planning was propelled onto the street by the Kashmir Jamaat e-Islami and its leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The Kashmir Jamaat has never made any secret of its objective, which is to merge the valley with Pakistan. It has financial and ideological links with Pakistan. It has deliberately disassociated itself from the Jamaat e-Islami in the rest of India. This slings-and-stones model was crafted to elicit world sympathy, and create a David versus Goliath confrontation. (David is a prophet of Islam as well, and lauded as a supreme instance of a jihadi in the holy Quran.)

The timing was certainly influenced by President Barack Obama’s scheduled November visit to India.  Both Obama and his secretary of state Hillary Clinton have said, at some point in their campaigns, that Palestine and Kashmir required resolution. Pakistan wants Kashmir on Obama’s must-do list as part of its pay-off for helping in Afghanistan, and protest builds pressure.

Intelligence officers should have picked up what any well-informed journalist in Srinagar knew. Prevention is the true cure in governance. The administration compounded intelligence failure by behaving like a bumbling, stumbling Goliath once demonstrations began.

Delhi was so indifferent that it did not even bumble. It took 90 days to hold an all-party meeting that suffused the airwaves with inanities.  Why was Delhi silent until the volcano burst and lava spread beyond the valley? Manmohan Singh promised this week to talk to “anyone” who abjured violence. Kashmiris have the right to ask: why did you not talk when there was peace? This government inherited a Kashmir in improving health. It has frittered away a legacy.

Rahul Gandhi, who can be PM any day he chooses, says, disingenuously that he is unfamiliar with the complexities of AFSPA. The Prime Minister knows what it means: to weaken the Indian Army in Kashmir is to weaken India.

Hey Ram: Let’s give away Kashmir

Ramananda Sengupta  | 2008-08-28 13:05:12

Give away Kashmir. Give it the azadi that the people are demanding.

Because our democracy, God bless it, does not allow us to ‘trample over’ the wishes of the people.

And while we are at it, perhaps we should ‘give away’ parts of the northeast as well. Because people there too are chafing over ‘Indian rule.’

In other words, instead of summarily trying and executing the people who blatantly abuse, denigrate and desecrate our nation, who openly raise anti-national slogans on our soil, we should actually bow before their demands. That has been the long-standing demand of our friendly neighbour, Pakistan.

But all of a sudden, sections of the Indian mainstream media — and people like Arundhati Roy — are echoing these views.

‘What if he (Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a separatist ‘leader’) and his followers were to adopt the strategies of non-cooperation and satyagraha, which were used (by Gandhi) to gain independence?’ asks Jug Suraiya in an article titled ‘India Minus K-word’, in the Times of India dated August 20, 2008. ‘Could the Indian state use physical force against such a peaceful mass movement – if in fact it did arise, as some say it now has – and still retain its moral idea of itself?’

“If you believe in democracy, then giving Kashmiris the right to self-determination is the correct thing to do. And even if you don’t, surely we will be better off being rid of this constant, painful strain on our resources, our lives, and our honour as a nation?” argues Vir Sanghvi in the Hindustan Times. (Think the unthinkable, August 16)

“India needs azadi from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs azadi from India,” pontificates Ms Roy, the writer turned whatever.

But if I was scared when I read all this, I was downright terrified when a reasonably reliable contact in one of our intelligence agencies hinted that this was actually a “trial balloon” being floated at the behest of the UPA government, to gauge the people’s reaction to such a proposal.

But then, should I expect better from a government which actually wanted the ban on the Students Islamic Movement of India, clearly linked to the recent terrorist attacks, to be lifted?

So, give in to the demands of people like Yasin Malik, the gent who is not sure whether he wants to be a Gandhi or a terrorist swine. The man who a few days ago was ready to go on a “fast-to-death” like the Mahatma, all for peace, and then let it be known that he was ‘co-ordinating’ his activities with Hafiz Sayed, the maniac who heads the Lashkar-e-Taiba. (External link) . Let the terrorists win.

Give away Kashmir. After all, it has been a drain on the national exchequer for over 60 years. As Vir Sanghvi explains, “Kashmiri are Indian citizens but Indians are not necessarily Kashmiri citizens. We cannot vote for elections to their assembly or own any property in Kashmir. Then, there is the money. Bihar gets per capita central assistance of Rs 876 per year. Kashmir gets over 10 times more: Rs 9,754 per year. While in Bihar and other states, this assistance is mainly in the forms of loans to the state, in Kashmir 90 per cent is an outright grant. Kashmir’s entire Five Year Plan expenditure is met by the Indian taxpayer.”

Which is why J&K has 3.56 per cent poverty level while Maharashtra has about 25 per cent.

The BJP had pledged to rescind Article 370, which grants special rights to Kashmiris, but reneged on this after coming to power. Apparently doing so could lead to the accession of the state itself being questioned or revoked. Excuse me? So all that talk about the state being an integral part of India is horse manure?

So, after subsidising the state for so long, we should just walk away? After strident declarations, three wars, we should now hand it over on a plate to Pakistan, with our compliments?

Mansoor Ijaz , a Pakistani-American who was reportedly used by President Bill Clinton to mediate on the Kashmir dispute, once told me that “Pakistan had too much blood invested in Kashmir to just walk away.”

India, if we are to accept the Suraiyas, Sanghvis and Roys, obviously does not. We can shrug off the blood being shed by our men in uniform each and every day in Kashmir. Just like we did after the 1971 war, when we agreed to release 90,000 Pakistani Prisoners of War and return more than 15,000 sq km of captured territory, without settling the Kashmir dispute once and for all.

The latest agitation in Jammu and Kashmir was sparked over the allotment of some forest land for Amarnath pilgrims. The separatists immediately denounced this as an attempt to change the demography of the state. They should know, having successfully cleansed the Valley of Pandits earlier.

The government’s knee jerk decision to revoke the allotment of land sparked off protests in Jammu, and there were reports of a blockade of the Kashmir Valley by the Hindus of Jammu. “It’s now Jammu vs Kashmir!” screamed our headlines.

Mehbooba Mufti, the president of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), then declared her support for a march –sponsored by the fruit-growers association of Kashmir and the Hurriyat Conference — towards Muzaffarabad, in Pakistan occupied Kashmir — to sell their produce.

Instead of letting them go there and then permanently blocking their return, Indian security forces broke up the march. Sheikh Abdul Aziz, a separatist leader, and three others were shot dead by unknown assailants, though our men in uniform were immediately blamed. On the other side of the border, a similar march by Pakistanis reportedly carrying food and other essential items for their brethren in the Valley was halted by Pakistani security forces using tear gas at Chakothi.

But hold on. A week before that, the Indian home ministry said there was “credible and mounting evidence that Hurriyat was using the contrived complaint of an ‘economic blockade’ to nudge the people to look towards Pakistan-controlled Muzaffarabad.”

Briefing journalists, a senior Intelligence official vehemently rejected reports about the blockade, and said as of the morning of Wednesday, August 13, “over 236 trucks and tankers carrying oil, gas, sheep, medicines and poultry products crossed the Jawahar Tunnel from the Jammu side early in the morning, and at least 82 of these vehicles had reached Srinagar by afternoon.”

As for the trucks reportedly stranded in the Valley, he said a particular transport operator, known to be a Hurriyat man, was stubbornly refusing to let his fleet move towards Jammu despite being repeatedly assured of full security. This, the official argued, indicated that the “so called blockade” had been staged by Pakistan’s ISI and the Hurriyat, to help the latter regain some of its fast eroding credibility in the Valley.

Give away the Kashmir Valley. Forget its economic and strategic importance, it’s immense potential for power generation, and the fact that it gives access to the river heads of the mighty Indus, the Jhelum and Chenab, which flow into Pakistan. Forget land access to Ladakh.

And forget the fact that we will be creating a Waziristan on our borders. Let the Kashmir Valley become the new headquarters of the Taliban, the Al-Qaeda, the LeT, the Jaish-e-Mohammed.

All this, because we do not have the leadership or the statesmanship to tackle the root cause of all the unrest in Kashmir: Pakistan.

If we were to divert or dam the three rivers that feed Pakistan, we could turn that nation into a desert. Have we ever considered leveraging this, the Indus Water Treaty be damned? Surely even the thick-skinned ISI, and the Mad Mullahs who lead the militants, would come to heel when faced with the prospect of indulging in urine therapy to quench their thirst?

We boast of being a superpower in waiting. If India and Indians think that Article 370 in law or “in effect” needs to be abrogated or “ignored” – then let us do it – openly or through subterfuge. Big countries do this all the time. Threaten something bigger, and then revoke the offensive Article, legally or illegally.

“I don’t think we yet understand power. I don’t think we understand power at all,” Arundhati Ghose, one of India’s finest diplomats, once told me.

“Economically, today we have more power, relatively, compared to what we had 10 or 20 years ago. But we do not understand it. We do not how to use it, we don’t know how to project it, we are uncomfortable with it. We are more comfortable with the powerless. If you have power, you have to be able to use it, to leverage it. Be very clear about what it is you want,” said the lady who torpedoed American attempts to force us to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in August 1996.

And for those who tout our democratic traditions, they need to know that:

Democracy must work for the 500 million people of the Gangetic plains too.

Democracy means that we must punish, not reward, ethnic cleansing.

Democracy means that we must not allow a Waziristan next to Himachal Pradesh.

Democracy means that we must not allow appeasement of the worst human rights abuses.

Democracy means that we must treat all religious groups “equally.”

Democracy means the state has the right to do whatever it takes, including the use of brute force, to check elements that threaten it.

Whether it is the Kashmir Valley militants or the Naxals, anyone who believes that force, violence and attacks against specific groups helps their cause must be taught, forcefully if needed, that it does not. Because otherwise we could say that the extreme Hindu groups also are a people’s movement against Muslims, so, should we now allow them to target and kill Muslims?

As for morality, let us be very clear that when we’re talking about the well being of more than a billion people – moral principles which guide our individual daily lives are not adequate. National priorities cannot be evaluated based on our individual moralities.

Anyone who promotes secessionism or separatism -—violently or peacefully — should be tried and punished under stringent sedition laws. The boundaries of our nation are not negotiable.

Anyone who uses religion to justify terror or other anti-national acts is the diseased north end of a south-bound swine. And should be treated as such.

And anyone who feels that this is not their country is welcome to try their luck elsewhere.

If we cannot do all this, then why Kashmir, we might as well give away India.


Whose man is that soldier fighting in Kashmir?

Tarun Vijay

14 September 2010, 07:44 PM IST

India must be the only country in the world where being an antinational murderer means a person or organization getting invitations for talks with the government. Mir Waiz and Geelani should have been booked months ago and punished for their anti-India activities. They not only instigated Kashmiri youth to attack our patriotic people and soldiers but also vitiated the entire atmosphere in the valley bringing normal life to a halt and using Kashmiri youth as fodder for their Pakistani plots, resulting in so many killings of young boys. The fact of the matter is that the killers in Kashmir are these two pro-Pakistani elements, who would have been taken to task by any government with a spine much earlier than their fangs grew more poisonous. In such a situation, instead of talking tough and straight, the government is not only giving confused signals to ‘soften’ (whatever that means) the Armed Forces Special Powers Act but making gestures to terrorist supporters to come to talk. Talks, always a welcome way to find a solution, can be held or even an indication for a discussion can be sent only when the atmosphere is ripe for it and the other side, offenders in this case, show a willingness to come to terms. I must  say Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sounded reasonable at the Armed Forces commanders’ meet on September 13 when he said: “The youth of Kashmir are our citizens and their grievances have to be addressed….We are willing to talk to every person or group which abjures violence, within the framework of our Constitution.” But is this the time to extend an olive branch?

Have they ever thought what effect these gestures by the government have on the morale of the soldiers?

For whom is the Indian soldier fighting the battle in Kashmir?

It pains me immensely to see how our secular media sirens show their undiluted love for the separatists on TV screens and they go to the streets of Srinagar only to interview the unpatriotic people. When they invite any of the antinational separatists on their shows, they display an utter lack of sensitivity towards those who love their country and give all the space and time to those voices of insanity and violence with a soft, affectionate anchoring you seldom witness when they put on trial any leader showing patriotic leanings. There was hardly a time, except during the Kargil war, when the voices representing the soldiers were given a chance to come to the TV studios or have their say on the editorial pages of the media empires. He is despised, hated and made responsible for all the bad happenings, in a sweeping manner. No one has treid to see the hardened daily routine a soldier is subjected to from 6am to sunset, and after that the night vigil. Anything untoward happens and rogue actors like Salman Khan say meekly to the Pakistan media: Oh, it was the fault of the Indian security personnel. Salman should have been tried for treason. But we have people who lovingly go to his house and try to ‘settle the issue’. These very people and their governors make this day possible when anyone feels free to speak against the soldiers, against the national psyche of patriotism. A soldier is not a daily wage earner like the stone pelters. He is a representative of the nation’s time-honoured traditions. He is nurtured and nourished on a family’s “khandaani izzat” – “Mera beta fauji hai”. Ask any politician acting as an apologist for the separatist murderers, has he ever thought of sending his child to the forces?  A family offers mannats at the feet of their wahe guru over devatas to ensure their son gets selected in the “fauj”. He is trained by the best of the warriors at the National Defence Academy or the Indian Military Academy. Some lucky ones get selected early and go through the National Defence School route and see the pictures when they recommissioned – after a thrilling passing out parade in Dehradun. Their caps in the air and their moms and dads hugging them with moist eyes. Years of training and a life of a great Indian patriotic goes waste before the gang of rogue pro-Pakistan elements who have hardly any idea what they are demanding.

Whether he is in the Army or in CRPF, BSF or ITBP, the story is the same. He is there not because he wanted to loot and rape and maim people. He was sent by the Indian government to safeguard the interests of the nation and the Constitution. He is a uniformed gentleman. Those who blow the case of rights violation must be heard definitely. But can an individual’s fault be attributed to the olive green or the khaki fraternity of the soldier? I absolutely agree with Manmohan Singh when he says “The youth of Kashmir are our citizens and their grievances have to be addressed”. But this should be done through good governance and a mechanism that can win their trust and not through “Srinagar-CM-living-in-Delhi” type Omars who never find time to place a wreath on the body of a soldier martyred in Kashmir.

In fact, the killers of Kashmir are people like Mir Waiz and Geelani. The angst of Kashmir must be directed against them. The soldier would be too happy to go back to his barracks and celebrate Diwali and Eid with family.

In the secular sultanate of Delhi’s power brokers, a soldier is just another babu, another employee to be denied a justifiable demand of “one rank-one pension” by those politicians who raise their salaries 300% in a jiffy. And in the media he is a punching bag. Just read a poem an Indian soldier wrote (saw it on a blog; Ali, perhaps, was his name).

Why do I still serve you?

How you play with us, did you ever see?

At Seven, I had decided what I wanted to be;

I would serve you to the end,

All these boundaries I would defend.

Now you make me look like a fool,

When at seventeen and just out of school;

Went to the place where they made “men out of boys”

Lived a tough life …sacrificed a few joys…

In those days, I would see my “civilian” friends,

Living a life with the fashion trends;

Enjoying their so called “college days”

While I sweated and bled in the sun and haze…

But I never thought twice about what where or why

All I knew was when the time came, I’d be ready to do or die.

At 21 and with my commission in hand,

Under the glory of the parade and the band,

I took the oath to protect you over land, air or sea,

And make the supreme sacrifice when the need came to be.

I stood there with a sense of recognition,

But on that day I never had the premonition,

that when the time came to give me my due,

You’d just say, “What is so great that you do?”

Long back you promised a well-to-do life;

And when I’m away, take care of my wife.

You came and saw the hardships I live through,

And I saw you make a note or two,

And I hoped you would realise the worth of me;

but now I know you’ll never be able to see,

Because you only see the glorified life of mine,

Did you see the place where death looms all the time?

Did you meet the man standing guard in the snow?

The name of his newborn he does not know…

Did you meet the man whose father breathed his last?

While the sailor patrolled our seas so vast?

You still know I’ll not be the one to raise my voice

I will stand tall and protect you in Punjab Himachal and Thois.

But that’s just me you have in the sun and rain,

For now at twenty-four, you make me think again;

About the decision I made, seven years back;

Should I have chosen another life, some other track?

Will I tell my son to follow my lead?

Will I tell my son, you’ll get all that you need?

This is the country you will serve

This country will give you all that you deserve?

I heard you tell the world “India is shining”

I told my men, that’s a reason for us to be smiling

This is the India you and I will defend!

But tell me how long will you be able to pretend?

You go on promise all that you may,

But it’s the souls of your own men you betray.

Did you read how some of our eminent citizens

Write about me and ridicule my very existence?

I ask you to please come and see what I do,

Come and have a look at what I go through

Live my life just for a day

Maybe you’ll have something else to say?

I will still risk my life without a sigh

To keep your flag flying high

but today I ask myself a question or two…

Oh India…. Why do I still serve you?


Stone pelters of Srinagar and the walnut tree

Tarun Vijay

01 July 2010, 08:40 PM IST

Rafiq was a small-time wage earner in Srinagar. He worked in a suburban bag factory as a semi-skilled labourer. His cousin had been found dead in police custody a day before and hence he took leave to join the jenaja — last journey of his dear cousin the week we were in Srinagar to organize a seminar in memory of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who laid his life for the full and irreversible integration of Kashmir with the rest of India. Suddenly stone pelting began by some of those who were part of the jenaja, as anger mounted to see police personnel in the way, resulting in a shootout.

Next moment, Rafiq, who had come to share the grief of the loss of his brother, was dead. A stray bullet had pierced through him.

I felt disturbed hearing the news. What was Rafiq’s crime? How can one explain to the mother and sister of the poor fellow the reason of his jeneja at the age of 28? Couldn’t the police have acted with some restraint and let the anger pass with looking the other side or just keeping away from the jenaja route? Can all the Muslims in Srinagar or the valley be dubbed anti-nationals and terrorists? If we say the valley belongs to us, then those who people the valley must also be owned up and made to feel our warmth of belongingness.

Kashmir is us. Then surely the people too are our own.

And so was Colonel Neeraj Sood, who died fighting the terrorists. He laid down his life courageously serving the motherland. While we empathized with the family of Rafiq and felt strongly about how police can be further restrained, I found no one, in Srinagar publicly mourning the martyrdom of Colonel Sood.

No politician went to salute his body at the airport, no media organization wrote about his death with a sense of sorrow.

On the contrary, there was a provocative glee on the front pages of the Kashmir dailies describing the colonel’s death.


The security forces are in Kashmir on the orders of the constitutional powers and they are simply obeying the democratically elected governors. The same people are happily accepted as personal security guards by even the separatist leaders of the valley, but are often mocked at, almost lynched and brutalized when found lonely and vulnerable. I can understand the anger among Delhi or Murshidabad people against the rough and rude behaviour of a police force run under a colonized framework, but if a soldier in khaki is beaten up in Srinagar, it’s not because he is wearing khaki. It’s India he represents. His motherland, India, which is beaten up.


If the Srinagar  youth are us and we feel an affinity with them, it’s not because they are pro-Pakistan or demand separatism, but because we feel they are Indians and we must show our camaraderie to them as fellow citizens living under the grace of the tricolour. Hence, we must share their agonies and pains and dreams and ambitions to rise like Shah Faisal, who topped the Indian Civil Services exam and wants to be a role model for the Kashmiri youth — not the stone pelters.

Jawans of the security forces, which include the police too, are as much children of Mother India as are the Indian Kashmiri youth of the valley.

I visited various parts of Kashmir and know for sure the trouble that hogs the limelight in Delhi and elsewhere is simply limited to a few urban centres crowded by a lazy and almost semiliterate on Kashmir, national and international media. The whole exercise of the stone pelters and their “abbas” is to attract attention and show that not everything is fine in Srinagar. The local people, be those shikarawallas  (boat owners in Dal Lake) or small shopkeepers want their business to run, see their children grow in a happy atmosphere, have them study in good schools and colleges and rise in life. For them, business means attracting more tourists. They feel aghast that if these stone-age separatists are so devoted to Kashmiri welfare, why do they spoil their business in the peak tourist season? They don’t want to shut their shops and businesses almost every other day, sometimes for weeks at a stretch, but the fear of getting killed by the anti-national elements and having no corner to take shelter, they yield to the bandh calls of the terrorist groups. It’s the separatists who are using the common Kashmiri as cannon fodder to their lunatic agitational approach, funded and guided by Islamabad. They have a vested interest in keeping the common people poor, backward and indulging in stone pelting, because a happy, prosperous and peaceful Kashmir would delegitimize their claims and demands.

So what happens when a Shiva temple is burnt on the outskirts of Srinagar during a bandh call? Or an Amarnath Yatra is sought to be shrunk to just 15 days in the name of environment protection by those who were responsible to kill the Dal lake with pollutants and have nothing to say about that? When the falsehood overpowers the stark naked truth and the media laps up the make-believe stories strengthening a notion that all Kashmiris support separatism? Nothing.

Half a million Hindus were coerced to leave their homes and nothing happened. Temples were destroyed and nothing happened. Not even a feeble series by a chivalrous mediaperson to document the destruction of places of Hindu worship. The president of the Bar Association of Srinagar gave a statement to the press that said: “I am not Indian.” It was front-paged by many newspapers. Nothing happened. An advocate, who declares that he is not an Indian, is practising in the courts and the authorities are keeping a silence on his mouthful of anti-India statements. Being an Indian has become a matter of loss in Kashmir with the Centre’s Nehruvian policies and provincial politicians using separatist emotions for votes.

No stories on Hindus who still remain in Srinagar and Anantnag. They seem to have been categorized as expendable.

Kashmir is full of good, noble-hearted and intelligent people. It’s only the small coterie of separatists fed on New Delhi’s appeasement and American support (like Hurriyat — no base except a Washington-Islamabad helpline). A scholarly politician, a Muslim leader, was in tears while describing the pathetic condition of Hindus in the valley. And he narrated a true story of an abandoned Hindu home that turned my eyes moist.

In a village near Srinagar, abandoned by Kashmiri Hindus, he saw a walnut tree peeping out of a window. It was a strange sight. Walnut trees are grown in an orchard and not in drawing rooms. He went close and found the tree had taken roots inside a room and since the windows were broken, it grew to the side where the light of the sun came from. The plants always grow like that, towards the sun. How was it possible that a walnut tree was planted inside a room? No, perhaps, and he used his imagination, when the Hindus were on a run, in a hurry a member of the household might have left some walnuts inside the room. Years of moisture and a dilapidated condition of the house, which used to reverberate with sounds of laughter and tears of joy or mourning, made the left-over walnuts take root and grow.

Take root and grow?

A house was turned into a jungle.

And nobody would like to speak about it.

A walnut tree grew from inside a house.

Usually, and quite naturally houses grow under a tree shadow. Trees never grow from within a living house.

The walnut tree growing from inside a baithak, a living room of a family must be telling a tale. Where were the samovars, children, the kahwa and the songs when the walnut took a root?

And the slogans of the Hindu Muslim unity, the sufi tradition, the message of brotherhood emanating from Charar -i-Shareef and Hazrat Bal?

No one answered.

I share the grief of Rafiq. But not at the cost of forgetting the martyrdom of Colonel Sood.

I must, with thanks, reproduce a poetic tribute by Shiv Om Rana to Colonel Neeraj Sood here as my tribute to a great martyr:

An ode to Late Col Neeraj Sood

(who laid down his life Kashmir while chasing terrorists)

Rest In peace.

O! My brother-in-arms.

For you wished very young,

To be thus destined.

Expect not your countrymen,

Or political masters

To mourn or give a trime.

For them your life is yet another brine.

TV channels will show a flick or two,

So will print media do.

But all will be forgotten

In another day or two.

Only your family will carry the cross

Of missing son, brother

Husband or father

For rest of their life.

Rest In peace.

O! My brother-in-arms.

For you wished very young,

To be thus destined.


An unprecedented dialogue on Kashmir

Tarun Vijay

18 August 2010, 11:33 AM IST

In an unprecedented turn of events, it was for Nitin Gadkari to make a move and have us invite the youth of Kashmir and have them engaged in an dialogue, which was described by the vice-chancellor of Islamic University, Prof Siddiq Wahid, as unprecedented and the most useful interaction ever held. Nitin Gadkari said: “Why don’t they speak what they want to speak in a free and frank atmosphere, and we will say what we think and believe to be the best solution for Kashmir.” It set the tone of the dialogue and the students — all brilliant, power-packed with views, pursuing their master’s and PhDs in various subjects including journalism, engineering, MBA and science — gathered in Delhi on August 17 in what can be termed as a historic ice-breaking moment.

They spoke as much as they wanted to, met Nitin Gadkari in a two-hour thrilling Q&A, chatted across the board with the president of Delhi University Students’ Union, Manoj Chaudhry, and a group of senior students from JNU, had discussions with Balbir Punj, MP, questioned P Chidambaram, the ubiquitous home minister, and capped the day with a visit to Akshardham temple, enjoying the boat ride exhibition depicting the great achievements of India and had “prasadam”, and ended the day’s “roza” there. Earlier they were taken to Hazrat Nizamuddin Chishti dargah to offer namaz and obeisance.

The programme began with floral tributes to Bharat Mata and Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee. A minute’s silence was observed in memory of all the innocent people, including the security personnel, killed in Kashmir, and then a free flow of view began. If Kashmiri Muslim students spoke about what they termed political repression of Delhi, atrocities of the forces, the Kashmiri Hindu students — Radhika Kaul, Aditya and Suneida Kachroo — challenged the other side’s view, stone pelting, pain and anguish of the Hindus exiled, violence and Pakistan’s sponsorship of the separatist agitations. Gadkari displayed amazing patience and resilience to listen. Prof Wahid had said earlier that “all that we want is to be heard. We are often given sermons and everybody wants us to listen, but we too want to have a say.”

The professor and his students were not disappointed. Everybody was in a mood to listen. And then, before leaving, Gadkari said: “We want you to make progress as proud Indian citizens. All the problems and grievances can be understood and addressed within an Indian constitutional framework. There is a plethora of complaints from Indians residing in various states. No one can ever be satisfied in a democracy. So is true of  Jammu & Kashmir. The integration of Kashmir with India is final and non-negotiable, from this point of a devotional faith to our nation, all other issues can be discussed. Education, economic development, better governance and a happier social milieu are what we wish for Kashmir and all our states.”

So was the view of P Chidambaram, who spoke to students like a wisdom tree. He listened to the students patiently, in spite of his urgent engagements in Parliament and said: “Be part of the Indian story. The rest will follow naturally. Shun violence and aspire for development. I will immediately withdraw the security forces and send them back to barracks.”

He said: “Can you expect a soldier, crowded by a dozen stone pelters and feeling helpless, just about to be lynched, not to open fire to save his life?  You pelt stones, make security personnel targets, burn government  property and expect us to remain silent and do nothing?”

Everyone lamented the killing of innocent people in the valley, and felt that violence must come to an end. Manoj Chaudhry was at his best to put the scenario in perspective. He said: “You think such incidents happens only in the valley? What about the killings of Gujjars in Rajasthan and the brutalities of Naxals in Chattisgarh and Bengal?”

Tejinder Singh, a student leader, said: “Four thousand Sikhs were massacred in Delhi and elsewhere in 1984. Should that mean they demand separation from India? Why do Sikhs remain loyal to India and democracy,  but Kashmiri Muslims demand azadi?”

Prof Jahangir Tantri of Kashmir University spoke about the pains of Kashmiri Hindus and said Muslims wanted them back. “They were the happiness and raunaq of Kashmir. We feel deeply anguished not to see them in Rainawari and other places of the valley.”

Rakhshanda, Lubna, Afsana, Nazeer, and their “just returned from a 20-year stint in the US” professor, Fouzia, were at their strongest putting across a different view, a view which Delhi won’t agree to. The spoke for azadi and an end to “repression of Delhi”. “All governments are puppets controlled by Delhi,” they said.

What about the Mufti government, which was an outcome of a universally hailed free and objective election? I asked. Balbir Punj said: “You hate a government that you elect. Always, the valley leaders have ruled J&K, which includes Jammu and Ladakh, but you never care or agitate for their woes and pains and complain against Delhi and not against your own valley leaders?”

Yatindra Jit Singh, who belongs to Kashmir, said: “Burning of the tricolour is as unacceptable and provoking to me as burning of the Quran is to any Muslim. You burn our national flag, stone-pelt soldiers, demand a quivered azadi, and still want to enjoy the fruits of Indian democracy and the freedom the Constitution provides. Why don’t you protest against the separatists who are spoiling the future of a common Kashmiri and sending their children to abroad for better careers?”

Shehla Masood, president of Muslim Women’s Progressive Society, challenged the separatist viewpoint and asked: “Where are the issues of women’s empowerment and unshackling them from the clutches of the Taliban and mullas? Why are the separatists silent on the educational and economic development of the society? Their agenda seems to be guided by factors other than the real welfare of Muslims.”

The beauty is that the dialogue continues. Sharing and engaging in decent, logical exchange of views is certainly an Indian trait, a universally acceptable way to find solutions. (To be continued.)


Kashmir’s ‘Azadi’ with the tricolour

Tarun Vijay

23 August 2010, 11:42 AM IST

Concluding part of  “An unprecedented dialogue on Kashmir”:

Sushma Swaraj stunned the students from the valley on August 18 with the question “tell me what idea of the so-called ‘azadi’ you have and I shall speak after that”. The students decided to have one among them to define what they thought about the concept of freedom they were seeking for Kashmir. Sarmad said: “We want to include Gilgit, Baltistan, Jammu and Ladakh in ‘Azad Kashmir’ and will have friendly relations with Pakistan and India.” Some others tried to interject with more ideas. There was no clear voice that could describe what they mean by “azadi” when they chant it.

Now the leader of the opposition explained in a motherly way that they were all like her children. She said: “So, son, first decide what you want. Some want to remain independent, some want Gilgit and Baltistan, some want to go with Pakistan. No one is clear. You already have Jammu and Ladakh; enjoy an autonomy which is not available to any other Indian state. Gilgit and Baltistan you can’t have without getting into a scuffle and that may lead to a war. The best ‘azadi’ that all of you enjoy is with the tricolour. The Indian Constitution provides everything that a citizen can aspire for. It has space for all the shades and opinions within its framework. Look at the educational and technological advances other Indian states are making and see the number of Kashmiri youths coming out of the valley to take advantage of it — in Bangalore, Chennai,  Mumbai and Delhi. That’s the freedom of development and reaching the sky for lifetime achivements.” She brillinatly punctured the ‘azadi’ fumblings and made Manjoor Yusuf, a braveheart student from Srinagar, to come to the dais and declare: “It’s wrong to say that all Kashmiri Muslims want ‘azadi’. We want our future with India. It’s a great country and in the last election 61% of the citizens of Kashmir cast their votes. India, not Pakistan, is our destiny.” The atmosphere changed in a second. A small section of “azadi” seekers couldn’t say anything except jeering at the Indian voice from Kashmir. He later complained that some of the students threatened him, “but I am not scared, sir”. He was firm.

Smriti Irani, actor (Tulsi) and national president of the BJP’s women’s wing, charmingly disarmed the separatism advocates. “Azadi — What for and how? By making innocent kids and young people leave their homes and pelt stones on soldiers who are guarding the nation under their constitutional duty? Why should you not be  concentrating on making the education system better and responsive? All the separatist leaders including Gilani and Andrabi send their children to various Indian cities and abroad to get the best education and settle down as progressive persons, but make the valley youth cannon fodder for their nefarious games, played and funded by Pakistan. Why don’t you see the game?”

The Kashmiri Hindu students, like Radhika Kaul (just about to leave for Yale University) asked why none from Jammu or Ladakh supported what they said and wanted to be distanced from all their claims. “Why none of you ever, even in passing, refer to the pains and aspirations of these two areas which you think form an essential part of your so called ‘Azad Kashmir’?”

“Your ‘Azad Kashmir’ remains a small, marginalized cry of a section of stone pelters in the valley alone,” said Aditya Kaul. Utpal Kaul — born, brought up and educated in Srinagar — reminisced about his student days, about his Muslim teachers and the tradition of “Dal Cross” and “Wooler Cross” by girl students too who had pretty good hockey and tennis teams. “Where has all that vanished? Why do you want to be just confined to a small area of the valley? Give leadership to the Indian Muslims. Where is the space of Indian Muslims on your radar?” Prof Fouzia too became emotional and said: “We always had the tradition of mosques and temples existing side by side.” To this, Aditya wanted to know, where have all the temples gone now? Thousands of them have been demolished and graffiti in foul language written against Hindus on their half-burnt walls. Why none of them ever protested against such happenings?

Editors’ interaction with the students hinged on how political aspirations are taking a turn in the valley. Chandan Mitra of the Pioneer, Rajesh Kalra of the Times Group and Shoma Chaudhry from Tehelka tried to understand and put forth their viewpoints about Kashmir’s problems and their solutions. Shoma spoke about the new wave of political demands in the valley and termed stone pelting too as an expression of anger. Chandan predictably took the nationalist line and tried to explain how the Indian democracy is the best framework. “Be part of a larger Indian milieu and everything can be sorted out,” he emphasized. Large sections of Muslim students, apart from those who came from Islamic University nodded in affirmation. Rajesh Kalra asked students about their academic pursuits and their dreams. He said that unless they joined the mainstream of a struggle within the Indian framework how could they think they could excel in their lives.

The thrilling part was the arrival of the seven young turk membes of Parliament belonging to various political parties.

Harsimrat Kaur Badal was at her eloquent best. She narrated emotionally the trauma Punjab had gone through during the Khalistan movement. How every Sikh was a suspect, how young Sikhs were killed as suspects by the security forces and the massacre of 1984. “But gradually we all felt separatism was not an answer, it gave nothing but blankness, a black hole. Today Punjab youths are in the grip of drugs and all sorts of negative traits, a direct fallout of the insurgency. Punjab lost its vibrant, dynamic youth in a movement that was self-defeating.” “And listen,” she turned a tigress, “I am not from the Congress or the BJP, but I am an Indian and as an Indian I must clearly tell you that till the last Indian is alive, no one will ever allow Kashmir to secede from us. It’s an integral part of us, of India.” The conference room rose to hail her with roaring claps. The voices of “azadi” had no answer. Neeraj Shekhar asked: “How many of you have voted in the last elections?” Islamic University students said in unison: “No one.” “Why?” asked Neeraj.  They said: “Because the elections are always rigged, so we have no faith in them.” This was contested again by Manzoor Yusuf, who said 61% of Kashmiris voted in the elections. “That means you do not represent the majority.” Aditya pointed out: “A known separatist leader, Bilal Lone, contested the election and lost his deposit. It means the majority of Kashmiris do not like separatists.”

Priya Dutt said in her inimitable style: “Why on earth you declare first that you are not an Indian and then ask for more? How can one come on a dialogue table with a baggage of preconceived notions and then begin with riders? We are with you, we understand your pains and sorrows, we share your grief and demands for justice, but that can be met only under an Indian constitutional framework. And no one, no party or ideology or shade of belief, can ever give you ‘azadi’. Take it today as firmly as possible.”

Anurag Thakur, the young turk from Himachal who is also the president of Himachal Cricket Association and national president of the BJP’s youth wing, spoke from the heart: “We are with you on every issue that creates pain or anguish, but as Indians. Nothing can ever be discussed beyond the parameters of our Indianness. We are talking to you not because you are different but because you have always been a part of us, an inalienable story of a larger Indian epic.” Madhu Yashki narrated his own story from Andhra Pradesh, where he too was witness to the demand of a Telangana state. “It never pays to be an extremist, trust me. Our destinies and dreams are best protected under the umbrella of our Indianness.”

Jayant Chaudhary was candid. “You want peace, right?” And everyone nodded. So friends, peace as I read somewhere, is like lovemaking. You have to keep your eyes shut and let the process take its course. Coming on a dialogue table with preconditions spoils the game. Then he said: “Tell me why some of you want ‘azadi’.” The students, voicing separatist threads, fumbled, “Pandit Nehru had promised a plebiscite.” “But that was to be held without any demographic changes. The valley has gone tremendous change in its population contours, with Hindus ousted and people from across the border rehabilitated post-1947,” retorted Radhika Kaul.

None could explain why they want “azadi”; none could reply why Ladakh and Jammu remained absent from their worldview. Students who wanted “separation” were not keen to listen to the voices of Indianness from their own Muslim brothers and sisters from Srinagar. They said that even the 2002 and 2008 elections — universally hailed as free and fair, including by UN observers — were rigged.

“We have a lost generation in the valley, fed from their early childhood that they are different, hence they have, a separate flag, a separate constitutional provision and they do not belong to India as Bihar and Assam do. Some of the students claimed Kashmiris were a different race and a different “kaum” unlike Indians. I said: “Read at least Sheikh Abdullah’s biography, ‘Atishe Chinar’, in which he traces his roots, two generations back, to Kaul Hindus. There are Rainas, Kauls and Bhatts this side, exiled from their homes, and Rainas, Kauls and Bhatts on the other side. Why the divide just because one has a different way of worship?”

Ram Madhav, national executive member of the RSS, shared his views and took difficult questions with aplomb, asserting the age-old unity of Jammu & Kashmir with India. “We can never think to have Kashmir separated from India at any cost,” he asserted. “We would like every person in J&K to prosper and have a government of his choice within the framework of the Indian Constitution.”

This dialogue could happen because Prof Siddiq Wahid and Prof Fouzia Kazi were among the believers in resolving issues through talks. I wish I were a student of Dr Fouzia, who was so articulate and spoke with great maturity and élan. The same goes for Prof Wahid. The students were brilliant, and put forth their views assertively and decently. The dialogue has convinced us that there are people in the valley who believe in sharing the views rather than stone pelting and killing. No bullet can ever find a solution to a complex problem and building bridges in spite of all hurdles and challenges remains the course of a civil society. That has to be supported from both sides, though. The vice chancellor, Prof Wahid, invited us  to continue the dialogue in Srinagar, in his Islamic University of Science and Technology. We have accepted the invitation. Friends are made. Sinead Kachroo of Aman Satya Kachroo Trust shared the feelings of Kashmiri students by offering to wear a black band to mourn the deaths of innocent people in the valley; it deeply touched the hearts of everybody.

Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee gave his life in Srinagar for the complete integration of Kashmir with the rest of India. That a thinktank named after him would carry forward the dialogue in Srinagar and in Delhi with those who have a different opinion is a landmark event. That was what Bal Apte, the President of the organization, said, asserting the ancient threads of unity that bind Jammu & Kashmir inseparably with Bharat Vasrha. “We never imagined an India without Kashmir and will never do so.” Kashmir se Kanya Kumari tak Bharat ek hai.

Reaching out and continuing talks can only be a better way out.


Mission Kashmir

By Col J P Singh, Retd

A lot has been said, written and spoken about the Kashmir issue lamentably by some Kashmiri, vast Pakistani and a trifle Indian media. The transcripts have assumed the style of a running commentary of a tri series test match between India, Pakistan and Kashmir. Every effort is made by these commentators to project prolonged flouting of rules by the powers that be Indian. They justify anger and stone pelting and condemn the actions of security forces. Unfortunately some politicians too have become commentators and are doing the same inside and outside the Parliament. In addition we hear the debates on Kashmir and Kalmadi daily on prime time TV channels. One hears more of the past unfulfilled promises and betrayals than Article 370, appeasement, trust, development and the future. It is indeed an irony of fate that for most of the commentators, Kashmir has become a game of intrigues, political maneuvering and wild goose chase. Such venomous chess moves make the issue sensational and stand as stumbling block in the restoration of normalcy. To justify debating, writing or suggesting anything on Kashmir, for that matter on any subject of public interest; the interested personalities would know it better, that a review of its geographical, historical, cultural and ethnic perspective is very essential for correct representation of Kashmir tangle. These factors called ground realities or faulty assessment of ground realities should be an overriding factor on any debate on Kashmir including inside or outside the Parliament.

Home Minister has appealed separatist leaders and Mr Geelani in particular for a dialogue to find a solution for lasting peace and normalcy. Geelani has rejected the offer out rightly on the grounds that unless Kashmir is accepted as disputed territory and the armed forces are withdrawn, he will not talk. Offer of dialogue has also been rejected by other faction of Hurriyat and PDP. They want to rule J&K as personal fiefdom but cannot tolerate any one else ruling the state and hence don’t accept dialogue and multi party democracy. Hence continuation of agitation to the PDP means fall of Omar Govt and holding of fresh election under the Governor rule. Hurriyat considers Kashmir as disputed territory. Intelligentia has to constantly remind Geelani Sahib and the ilk of the historical reality of Kashmir which he seem to have forgotten, as a result of advancing age despite knowing it better than any one else,.

For decades Pakistan has been criticising accession of Kashmir and exciting separatists and hard liners to raise the slogan of Azadi. Pak media calls it Indian held Kashmir. They call POK as Azad Kashmir; the crooked name given to its enslaved and militarily occupied portion of Indian territory. The inhabitants of POK are denied their democratic and fundamental rights. Pakistan gets lot of revenue from POK by way of taxes and natural resources while ignoring its poverty and development. Does India make any demand of revenue from Kashmir? Pot calling the kettle black need to be reminded that the fact that India does not make any revenue from Kashmir is because it is its integral part. Territory if annexed / held, in the past or at present, as is the case of Iraq / Afghanistan, is to generate revenues and to take away its natural resources. India does not do it from its integral states. So for as the slogan of Azadi is concerned they have been heard in the past from North East, South and within J&K. Ladakh and Jammu have raised slogans of Azadi from Kashmiri domination through worst of agitations in the past. Kashmiris have been raising slogans of Azadi on the drop of a hat. Such slogans do not threaten sovereignty of the nation. But the inclusion of women and violence in the agitation does make the problem unique. This is the first time that the women in large numbers have chucked stones at the security men and burnt govt vehicles and property. It is not the slogans of Azadi but these additional dimensions which make the problem / solution unique. Tamils sought Azadi in Sri Lanka through a violent agitation and ruined themselves. Baluch are demanding Azadi from Pakistan and face the wrath of their military might. India is a perspective super power. Such hiccups do not upset the applecart for India.

Kashmir rightly or wrongly is a bitter fallout of Indian partition on the basis of religion. The dispute if any is a creation of M A Jinnah in connivance with those who wanted to fragment India. The current unrest is manifestation of last ditch effort of such elements who cannot see Kashmir as part of India. It assumes importance because after failing to achieve its objective through military means Pakistan has now embarked upon a new strategy. It is a methodically planned strategy to undermine Indian state’s legitimacy in Kashmir. By whipping up the emotions of people to the tirade that justice has been denied to Kashmiris all along and hence they must agitate for Azadi; they are putting them on the path of self destruction The sinister objective of Pakistan is to colonise Kashmir after its independence, if that ever happens, as they did in Afghanistan through Talibans. When Pakistan talks of Kashmir, the world knows that the rhetoric is to divert the attention of its masses from other pressing problems and unprecedented political instability. Geelani and other politicians also know it. The new strategy of ISI therefore is call of Azadi by Kashmiris by putting women and youths in the front line of violent agitation.

Delhi is keen to address the grievances and aspirations of Kashmiris, Ladakhis and Dogras. Sectarian problem, if any, is internal matter of India and a minor hiccup. Russia, China, Pakistan and many other countries have bigger sectarian uprisings than us. Under the circumstances the restoration of normalcy at the earliest and tough talk with all sections of society are natural course of action in the best interest of nation. The policy of appeasement adopted by various govts and political parties for Kashmiri Muslims is dangerous for the nation because it has created division and rift in three regions as well as among different sections of society. Policy of appeasement must be abandoned at the negotiating table because it has failed to win the hearts and minds of Kashmiris. The best solution may lie in withdrawing special treatment being given to Kashmir in terms of political and economic packages.

Historically Kashmir is a closed chapter. Any attempt, no matter how tentative, by any person or party to revive the subject of dispute violates Indian Constitution. Parliament is the custodian of constitution. Therefore a clear message must go from the Parliament for those who are vitiating peace in Kashmir that enough is enough. Should they not join in the efforts of reconciliation, as debated by Parliament, they must be taken to task under the law. Govt is alive to local irritants like human rights violations, unemployment, rampant corruption and psychological trauma of women. It is trying its best to solve these problems. It has been trying to ensure that security forces use maximum restraints while handling protests.

Fears which must be lurking the mind of Parliamentarians is participation of women in violent agitation and stray case of violence against Sikh Community. Longer and violent strife curbs freedom of innocent masses. Such strifes force migrations to peaceful places causing ideological cleansing. We have already had ethnic cleansing of Pundits. If Sikhs and moderate Muslim are forced out of Kashmir, alleged object of ISI of colonization / Talibanisation of Kashmir will be achieved. This dimension also makes problem unique. J&K is integral part of India and will continue to remain so. Chief Minister did squander the opportunities of establishing a chord with public when the militancy was lowest after the election. Still he must be given time and opportunity to rule and minimize agony of women, youths and innocent masses.

The centre and the State govts must continue to invite all interested parties to the negotiating table and find answer to various political questions suggested by Dr Karan Singh to the best interest of all regions and sections of society even if it means giving thora-thora to each one but not as appeasement.

Daily Excelsior


Mutiny cry from mosque

– Shrine loudspeakers blare pro-freedom chants in Valley; eight-year-old among eight dead


Srinagar, Aug. 2: Mosque loudspeakers crackled across Kashmir today, blaring not a call to prayer but a call for rebellion.

The shrines turned protest pulpits overnight in a throwback to the early 1990s when the governor of the day, Jagmohan, had dubbed them “centre of revolution (sic)”.

The trigger for the return to a tactic used 20 years ago was the death of eight civilians in clashes with security forces yesterday, the bloodiest day of the seven-week unrest that started in the second week of June.

Today’s death count was also eight, but a boy injured yesterday was among those who died. Sameer Ahmad, an eight-year-old from Srinagar who is the youngest victim of the current spell of violence, died of injuries suffered during a clash. The police blamed his wounds on a stampede. The seven other victims included at least two school-going teenagers, one of whom died in hospital after a tear-gas shell hit him on Saturday.

The death toll has risen to 39 since the violence began on June 11. Twenty-two of the deaths have occurred in the past four days.

Today’s flash point was Budgam, where a mob of hundreds torched two state government offices and a portion of the railway station, the police said.

At Rajpura, also in Pulwama, protesters set fire to all the four buildings in a police station, injuring 20 people. The incident mirrored yesterday’s raid on the Khrew police station, 20km from Srinagar, by a mob that unknowingly torched an explosives-packed storeroom, triggering a blast that killed five people.

At Kralpora in north Kashmir’s Kupwara, a mob looted arms from a police post, triggering retaliation that killed one person. The agitators fled with four rifles.

One person was killed in police firing after agitators attacked a police post and attempted to set fire to it in Kulgam. At neighbouring Sangam in Anantnag, CRPF personnel fired on a stone-throwing mob. The stampede that followed claimed a life.

The continued violence came on a day chief minister Omar Abdullah discussed the situation with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Delhi.

If the streets were on fire, mosques appeared to rekindle a familiar spark.

A police officer who had been on duty in Srinagar in 1990 highlighted the parallels between the events then and now. “People know the power of mosques. They had used it with perfection during Jagmohan’s stint as governor and they tried to repeat it today.”

Mosques, the officer said, serve two purposes for protesters. “It amplifies their call. The slogans coming from mosques make one feel as if the entire population has joined the protests. It frustrates the government. Plus, they (the people) feel safe, thinking they are protesting peacefully inside and will not be harmed by the police.”

Jagmohan mentioned several incidents in his book, My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir. “The subversives used mosques extensively for rearing, nursing and fanning their activities. In fact, one of the instructions was to make mosques centre of revolution (sic).”

History was repeating itself today as scores of mosques reverberated with azaadi songs, and pro-freedom and anti-India slogans. Thousands, including the elderly and children, flocked to such mosques. Some went even at night.

At many places, the crowd spilled onto the streets. But at the forefront were mostly teenagers or youths in their early twenties — described as the “children of conflict” because they were born during the past 20 years of strife. Many were painting roads and walls with the slogan: “Go India go”.

“It’s a do-or-die situation for us. Either we’ll get it (azaadi) now or never,” said a 17-year-old in Srinagar’s Hazratbal as he joined a dozen-odd youngsters in pulling down concertina wires strung together by the police to block traffic in the curfew-bound city.

The group’s next step was to put up hurdles to deny the policemen access to their locality and use the obstacles as shields to launch a form of attack that has become common for months now: stone-throwing.

“Our parents picked up the gun to fight for azaadi but we want to achieve it through peaceful means. If that is not allowed, we will pick up stones,” the 17-year-old said.

The authorities aren’t unaware of the trouble that can be fomented from mosques, and Jagmohan’s “centre of revolution” phrase is on their mind. That could explain why they have not permitted prayer gatherings in some mosques. That includes the Jamia Masjid, Kashmir’s main mosque, where Friday prayers have not been allowed for five weeks now.

Residents in Srinagar’s old city said they had heard gunshots throughout last night, apparently fired by security forces to keep the people indoors. But in several other places,cops watched helplessly as protesters marched.

Officials said reinforcements were rushed to such spots before dawn to enforce the curfew, but many mosques, mostly on the city outskirts, continued to draw protesters.


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