On April 1, a postgraduate girl student at the University of Kashmir was attacked by dogs in the campus, leaving her with deep bite injuries on the neck. A student from Botany department was sitting in the Botanical garden of the campus for her project, when she was attacked. She was admitted in the hospital with class 3rd (severe) injury in the neck. The University of Kashmir has become a hub of canines with hardly any steps taken by the authorities to curb the menace. That the capital Srinagar is turning into a city of dogs is the most talked about subject but little ever heard by the people in authority. Packs of strays lurk everywhere in public parks, guard alleyways and street corners and howl nightly in neighborhoods. Walking on city roads early morning or late in the evening is akin to swimming with sharks. With concerned authorities (SMC) watching as a mute spectator, the stray dogs have found educational institutions as their roaming grounds. Dogs can be seen roaming and crouching in and around many other college and school grounds across the city. Lal Chowk, the heart of the city and hub of commercial activities, too has a fearsome share of stray dogs.
What can be more shocking: more than 20000 have been bitten by dogs across Kashmir, last year. Official records say that 20098 persons were bitten by dogs between January 2017 and November 2017. The most dog bite cases were recorded in Srinagar. The SMHS Hospital’s, Anti-Rabies Clinic received a massive 6825 dog bite cases. It is a usual phenomenon little moving the authorities to take measures to check the menace. Earlier staggering 80,000 cases of dog bites were recorded between 2012 and 2016. As many as 24 people were reported to have died of rabies during this period. According to official records, nearly half of the cases of dog bites happen to be the Class III bites—where the victim has one or further bites, scratches, licks on broken skin, or extra contact that breaks the skin. The uncontrolled population of dogs is reported to be the cause of growing canine-human conflict. The Srinagar city alone is reported to have over one lakh population of dogs. That means for every 13 persons is one dog. Treading in early morning or late evening hours is fraught with dangers of being attacks by dogs anywhere and everywhere in the city. There is no lane, by lane or street that is devoid of dogs, and their population is increasing at geometrical progression. If dog-population is allowed to remain unchecked it would, in the next five years, take over the humans and could go to up 20 lakh. One can well imagine the scenario. Gory images of a six-year-old boy’s face of Boniyar Uri mauled by street dogs some time back should have been chilling reminder to the state administration to wake up but they continue to be in slumber giving the impression that the suffering people mean little to them. School children are the most vulnerable lot to dog-attacks. Several school going children fell victim to the stray dog-bites ever since the menace surfaced in the city. At least 5000 children, most of them school going, have been bitten by dogs in the past five years. Dogs also pose serious threat to people who have to leave for work early morning or who go for early morning walks or return late nights from work. While stepping into an unknown lane during these hours is dangerous. What is equally dangerous is to enter your own lane. It appears that the government likes to relish with dogs than to rile with humans hitting streets very oft and on.
Forced marriage in Pakistan
Two minor Hindu girls (sisters) were allegedly kidnapped and forcibly married after being converted to Islam in Pakistan’s Sindh province, triggering protests by the minority community. The two girls, 13-year-old Raveena and 15-year-old Reena, were allegedly kidnapped by a group of “influential” men from their home in Ghotki district on the eve of Holi. Soon after the kidnapping, a video went viral in which a cleric was purportedly shown soleminising the Nikah (marriage) of the two girls. Later another video surfaced in which the two sisters claimed they embraced Islam themselves and no one forced them to covert or get married. The Hindu community in Pakistan has carried out massive demonstrations calling for strict action to be taken against those responsible, while reminding Prime Minister Imran Khan of his promises to the minorities of the country. Hindu community apart, the incident did cause outrage in the majority community in Pakistan as well and there were demands of legal action from various political and social groups against the kidnappers and their helpers. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan again set an example by ordering inquiry into the incident. Imran Khan ordered the Sindh and Punjab government to work in tandem to retrieve the girls and arrest the people involved in the incident. It is quite encouraging that the police in, both, Sindh and Punjab have launched a manhunt to track down the alleged perpetrators. Six persons, one of them main suspect as also the so called Molvi who solemnized the marriage, are reported to have been arrested while the efforts arrest other involved persons were on. It goes without saying that minorities, in most of the countries in the world, are the victims of majoritarian-hood. They are harassed and humiliated by the members of the majority community every now and then. Pakistan is no exception. However, what makes the difference is the response of the state to such shameful incidents. Since the rise of Imran Khan to the highest seat of governance, the minorities in Pakistan feel a hope in him.
On completion of his 100 days in office, Imran Khan, in an address to his nation, assured equal rights for all citizens of Pakistan irrespective of region and religion. He even took a dig on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “We will show the Modi government how to treat minorities. Even in India, people are saying that minorities are not being treated as equal citizens”. Three days later, on Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s birthday, Khan tweeted, “Quaid envisaged Pakistan as a democratic, just and compassionate nation. Most importantly he wanted our minorities to be equal citizens. It should be remembered that his early political career was as an ambassador for Hindu-Muslim unity”. That makes the Pak Prime Minister’s intentions known. But intentions need to be put into action. Though Imran Khan has ordered inquiry into the kidnapping and forced marriage of the two Hindu girls but he needs to bring discipline in his government at the lowest level as well so that such incidents do not happen at all. The Mullahs and Molvis of Pakistan also need to understand the basic values of Islam. Quran strictly prohibits of forced conversions and marriages. “There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong” (Sura-Baqra, verse 256).
Islam is a religion of plain and clear directions. It is the choice of the person to accept or reject it. Nobody shoulf be forced to accept Islam. Forcing non-Muslim women into marriage is not only violation of Islamic teachings but also tarnish the image of the Allah’s religion. One hopes that Pakistan government, in particular, and Pakistani society, in general, adheres to the true spirit of Islam and do not become the cause for other people to curse this religion based on social justice, compassion and truthfulness.
Taking the bull by the horn
Peoples Democratic Party President Mahbooba Mufti’s decision to contest from south Kashmir parliamentary seat could be termed as a bold and calculated. Bold; because she knows it for the fact that she is the most unpopular political being in Kashmir presently. Calculated; because she knows she is taking on a first-time political nominee. Mahbooba Mufti is competing against National Conference nominee and former high court Justice Hasnain Masoodi. This is Justice Masoodi’s first rendezvous with politics. He is not known to a vast majority of people across the board. He has remained out of public gaze during entire career. However, it was in the last days of his career that he caught public and political attention. In October 2015, while presiding over a case about Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, Justice Masoodi gave a landmark ruling on Article 370 of Indian constitution which accords special status to the state. Justice Masoodi, in his judgment, said that Article 370 was a permanent Article and it could not be altered or aborted. The permanent status of 370 is facing a challenge in the Supreme Court by some hard-line Hindu individuals and groups. Justice Masoodi’s retired from service just two months later, and again went off the public minds. Mahbooba Mufti is counting on this weakness of her NC rival. But despite this, it would not be an easy walk for the PDP President.
Mahbooba Mufti is facing a sort of political isolation presently. She is the most disliked person in party bastion, south Kashmir. Since its rise to power in 2002, south Kashmir has remained a stronghold of the PDP. The PDP has won all the parliamentary election held since 2004 from south Kashmir. In Assembly elections too, the PDP won majority of the seats in south Kashmir (10 in 2002, 12 in 2008, 10 in 2014). But everything changed in 2016 when a mass rebellion against Indian rule began in the wake of Hizb commander Burhan Wani’s killing by government forces. Hundreds and thousands hit streets to mourn the death of Wani. Government forces used all their might and power to crush the rebellion. Over 100 persons, mostly young school and college going students fell to the bullets of government forces. More than 15,000 other persons were injured in pellet firing by government forces. Hundreds of them were hit in eyes losing eyes sight, some of them permanently. Hundreds others were brutalized by use of other muscular means. Mahbooba Mufti not only watched the brutality as a distant gawk but also justified the use of force. She defended the killing of the people in streets and said when people attack some formation of security forces, it would evoke reaction. On one occasions, she crossed all borders while justifying these killings saying “what for they (those killed in police firing) gone there. (Who kiya doodh aur toffee lene gaye thay, she said. The withdrawal of support by the BJP that led to the fall of Mahbooba Mufti government struck further blow to her party. That led to dozens of senior leaders and former minister of the PDP to leave the party and join other parties or form their own one. Mahbooba was virtually living in political seclusion. It was, however, her arch rival Omar Abdullah who gave her a new life and brought her out again in the political limelight. As a move to block central government’s move to dissolve assembly in November, Omar Abdullah declared support for formation of the government in the state by joining hands with PDP. Though the move did not materialize as central government played spoilsport but it definitely provided Mahbooba Mufti a corridor to come of the isolation and take the central stage. Though people have not forgotten yet the reign of terror they faced in her regime but she has since been trying to refresh her relationship with voters in south Kashmir. By taking the challenge of facing the election in person shows her renewed confidence and conviction
The muscular policy
Central government’s power-driven Kashmir policy is touching new zenith. After Jamaat-e-Islami, the government banned Yasin Malik-led Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) under ‘anti terror’ law on Friday. The outfit has been declared outlaw for promotion of secessionist activities in Jammu and Kashmir. The JKLF chief Yasin Malik has been arrested and lodged in Jammu’s Kot Balwal jail. Yasin Malik is also likely to face penalty by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and confiscation of foreign exchange recovered from him. The adjudication proceedings against Malik have already begun. The ED, on Friday, imposed a fine of Rs 14.4 lakh on Hurriyat (G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani for “illegally possessing foreign exchange of around $10,000”. A Delhi court, last week, allowed ED to quiz Geelani’s son-in-law Altaf Shah and others in connection with an alleged funding case. Shah has been in Delhi’s Tihar jail for the past more than a year on charges of being involved in hawala funding. Delhi has gheraoed Mirwaiz Umar Farooq as well. He has been summoned by National Investigating Agency (NIA) to appear at its Delhi office in connection with investigations regarding alleged hawala funding in Kashmir. Mirwaiz, however, has refused to attend the Agency’s Delhi office for security reasons, and instead he sought the case to be shifted to Srinagar and offered his full cooperation. Earlier, the government withdrew security of all the Hurriyat leaders including Mirwaiz as a measure to tighten screws around separatist camp. The other known face of the separatist camp Shabir Shah has been in jail for over a year on the allegations of hawala funding. Masarat Alam Bhat, a key leader of Geelani-led Hurriyat Conference has been in jail since 2010. There is a grapevine in political and media circles that the central government might come with some more strict measures against separatist leaders. Banning the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat and Jamiat-e-Ahl Hadees is seen as next step New Delhi might go in for.
But would it resolve the problem is a question that needs to be thought over? This is not for the first time that such harsh measures are taken by the government. In early 90s, when militancy first surfaced in Kashmir, almost all the political outfits on the separatist were reeling under ban. Thousands, not just hundreds, of political activists and common people were facing incarceration. This was coupled with a ferocious campaign by government forces against militants. Extrajudicial killings and random arrests were order of the day. Almost 10,000 have gone missing under the custody of the forces. Such measures are still in force, and at times in harsher way. The frequent and fierce use of pellets and bullets against civilians is a common practice. But this has never helped the government anyway nor would it help in future. The policy makers in Delhi need to rethink their Kashmir strategy. They are again and again using the formulas and prescriptions which have already failed, and are bound to fail again. One more reason that the policy makers in Delhi must take into account is the growing world concern over the happenings in Kashmir. India and Pakistan have just returned from the brink of a nuclear clash. International opinion is catching up with the fact that it was Kashmir that pushed the two countries towards the war. It continues to haunt the minds that allowing the issue to remain simmering is dangerous for the world peace. Bombs and tanks shall not bring peace. These will only bring destruction. Before the international community intervenes, New Delhi should take the initiative and shun its muscular approach in Kashmir. Instead of banning and jailing parties and peoples, policy of rapprochement and reconciliation should be given the chance. Government of India should open the channels of dialogue with Kashmir as also with Pakistan. That is the only way forward. Muscular approach has failed in the past it shall fail in future as well.