By RAHIBA R. PARVEEN
Last month, Firdousa was at home in Shadimarg village in south Kashmir, awaiting the birth of her third child, which was due in about three months. Now, Firdousa and her unborn child lie buried in a nearby graveyard, leaving behind a grieving husband and two distraught children.
Firdousa was killed in a cross-fire outside her home in Pulwama district on 19 October, another victim of the rising violence in the Valley.
Cold, hard numbers show that since the Narendra Modi-led BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014, there has been a 70 per cent rise in civilian deaths. There have also been sharp increases in violence, killings, and the feeling of alienation among the masses. The space for mainstream politics has shrunk, and border skirmishes have hit a new high.
The overall number of killings — including civilians, security forces personnel, policemen and militants — has almost tripled from 117 in 2012 to 304 so far this year.
The number of civilians killed has more than tripled in these six years; the number of security personnel killed has quadrupled. Among these personnel, the number of policemen being killed has shown the steepest increase — from four in 2012 to 43 and counting this year.
The 21 October grenade explosion that killed seven civilians in Kulgam was part of the growing trend of grenade attacks in the Valley — the number of such attacks has risen from 27 in 2012 to 49 in 2017.
All this seems to have had an adverse impact on tourism in Kashmir — from 13.09 lakh visitors in 2012, the number nosedived to just 7 lakh until September this year, with not much time left for an upswing in fortunes.
Meanwhile, the number of ceasefire violations by Pakistan has risen nearly 15-fold in the last six years, with 2018’s mark of 1,591 (so far) being almost double the number registered in 2017, which itself was almost double the violations in 2016.
These violations have resulted in a mounting number of security personnel casualties. Infiltration attempts from across the international border and the Line of Control have also jumped from 222 in 2014 to 406 in 2017.
Academic Radha Kumar, who was part of the Dileep Padgaonkar-led interlocutor panel for Kashmir formed in 2010, told ThePrint that the situation had indeed got out of hand.
“The armed militancy is back, and so is the alienation and the anger. There is popular support (for the militants), not only through mass funerals, but people coming to try and block security forces’ operations,” Kumar said.
“It doesn’t help that you have Governor’s Rule. You have the suspended assembly. You have very little insight and no peace initiative. No attempts to have talks.
“There is no doubt that Kashmir has slipped out of hand, but there are many reasons for it. The time at which we were appointed (after violent protests and riots in 2010) was also very bad. But there is something exponentially wrong about the situation now.”
The state’s former director general of police, Shesh Paul Vaid, concurred on the point of alienation.
“When the national media portrays every Kashmiri as anti-national, it alienates people of the Valley. When Kashmiris studying outside are attacked, it leads to alienation. If media picks up one problem and portrays it in certain way, it alienates the youth,” said Vaid.
Unlike in the 1990s, this wave of local militancy is being fed by social media, said Vaid. Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani used it to pose with guns in several viral pictures and videos. After Wani was killed in an encounter in 2016, educated young men picked up guns without taking any formal training.
“After Burhan Wani, social media was misused extensively from across the border to radicalise the youth. Alienation is also a contributing factor. Now, it is happening at a bigger scale,” Vaid told ThePrint.
When the PDP-BJP government was ruling the state, security forces announced a “soft approach” towards militants — according to Vaid, about 70 boys were prevented from joining the militancy and 20-odd surrendered.
However, Vaid himself was transferred and replaced as J&K DGP by Dilbagh Singh after militants demanded a quid pro quo, kidnapping policemen’s kin to secure the release of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo’s father.
A top police officer in the J&K Police said the recruitment of militants had dropped significantly in the last two months. “This year, the total number of local militants killed is around 96 so far. The number of commanders killed is also much higher,” the officer said.
The last J&K assembly elections were held in the winter of 2014, about six months after the Lok Sabha polls that brought the BJP to power at the Centre. The Valley was devastated after massive flooding in September that year, and yet, a staggering 66 per cent of voters exercised their franchise.
Contrast that with the numbers registered during the recent urban local body (ULB) polls — the Kashmir Valley saw turnouts of 8.3, 3.4, 3.49 and 4.2 per cent in the four phases respectively. The overall voting percentage for the state, including the Jammu and Ladakh regions, was just 35.1 per cent.
The state’s oldest mainstream political party, the National Conference, has blamed former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti of the rival Peoples Democratic Party for being “insensitive” to the people during her coalition government with the BJP, which it believes has resulted in this alienation of the people.
NC spokesperson Tanvir Sadiq said Mehbooba relied so much on New Delhi that the state was “run by the Centre”, not her.
Party chief and former CM Omar Abdullah also blamed the now-defunct PDP-BJP alliance, and said the country needs to question Prime Minister Narendra Modi for mishandling the state.
“It is something that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have to be made answerable for. You inherited a state where elections were regularly held on time and with people’s participation,” Abdullah had told ThePrint in an interview.
Incidentally, the PDP and the NC both boycotted the ULB polls, with Mehbooba going as far as to say that people who participated in these elections were “rogue elements” lured by money.
Her former partner BJP claimed victory in these polls because, for the first time, it won 100 local body seats in the Kashmir Valley. However, the numbers told a different story — 76 of these seats featured no contest at all, while in two seats, even its own candidates stayed away from the polling booths.
On its part, the BJP blamed every political party to have held power before it for “appeasement policies”.
“It is because of the previous governments and their appeasement policies that militancy increased. It is because of them the Kashmiri Pandits had to leave,” said former deputy chief minister and BJP leader Kavinder Gupta.
Asked about the low turnout in the ULB polls, Gupta insisted on looking at the proverbial bright side. “For the first time, elections were held so peacefully. We are hoping more people will participate in the panchayat elections in November,” he said.
In 2014, while the Modi wave was sweeping through large swathes of the country, people in Muslim-majority Kashmir were wary of “saffron forces”. The BJP used the Hindu-versus-Muslim ploy in the Hindu-majority Jammu region, and people flocked to vote for it.
Mehbooba, on the other hand, asked for a pro-PDP vote in the Valley to keep the BJP away from state politics in the assembly polls later that year. She pinned many wrongs — such as the killing of young boys and the use of pellets during the 2010 unrest — on Omar Abdullah’s incumbent government.
No one at the time could’ve guessed that the PDP would give the BJP a taste of power for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, Mehbooba, whose late father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed forged the alliance with the BJP in 2015, said: “Mufti sahib took a very tough and unpopular decision to align with the BJP only to create (an) atmosphere of reconciliation and dialogue.” However, she said the attempt to recreate some of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s magic had failed, because “Modi is no Vajpayee”.
The parties’ ‘Agenda of Alliance’ — a common minimum programme they were supposed to work towards — is virtually a lost document.
However, BJP’s Gupta blamed the break-up on the PDP. “We made the government with PDP respecting the mandate we got and based it on governance. But the moment they began running government on their whims, we decided to withdraw,” he said.
On the financial front, Prime Minister Modi’s first address in Kashmir, at Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium in November 2015, saw the announcement of a mega financial package of Rs 80,000 crore for the state. However, this package was for specific projects.
Fast-forward three years, and the man in charge of J&K, new governor Satya Pal Malik, says many other projects are stuck due to a lack of money, and that the government has had to borrow Rs 8,000 crore in bank loans.
“We have made a list of projects stuck due to lack of money. We have made a development corporation and picked up Rs 8,000 crore from banks. In six months, you will see a different Kashmir,” Malik insisted.
Many politicians and pundits have referred to the central government’s approach towards Kashmir as “muscular”, but the BJP’s Gupta rubbishes these claims.
“There is no such thing called ‘muscular’ policy. Our security forces show full restraint,” he said.
Yet, civilians continue to allege the use of excessive force by security personnel.
The use of pellets has allegedly led to a generation of blinded youngsters — the state human rights commission’s own statistics say there are over 2,000 pellet victims currently in J&K.
Then, there are cordon and search operations (CASO) across the Valley, mostly in residential areas, which are allegedly followed by encounters and killings.
The Army denies such allegations, with defence spokesperson Rajesh Kalia saying its policy is to give local militants the chance to surrender. However, if the militants refuse to budge, the encounter takes place, which leads to damage to property.
According to official data accessed by IndiaSpend, in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district alone, at least 105 homes were destroyed during gunfights between 2015 and March 2018.
In October last year, the Centre appointed a new interlocutor for Kashmir, former Intelligence Bureau chief Dineshwar Sharma. He said he had the mandate to talk to anybody in Kashmir, including the Hurriyat Conference.
However, Sharma has since met only one Hurriyat leader, Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat, although he has visited all three regions of the state and met various civil society delegations, including youth.
The sticking point is the Hurriyat’s demand to include all stakeholders, including Pakistan, and transparency and a clear agenda from New Delhi.
BJP’s Gupta said there was no need to speak to Hurriyat or Pakistan. “Why should we talk to Pakistan and about what? Kashmir belongs to us and the part which Pakistan has occupied also belongs to us,” he said.
Governor Malik, meanwhile, said the Hurriyat were “important players”, but their insistence on bringing Pakistan to the discussion table had to be discarded.
“I respect Hurriyat leaders and think they are important players. My contention is that they say ‘talk to Pakistan’, which should not be the case. Pakistan is no stakeholder; it is a troublemaker. We think talks with Hurriyat are separate, while we will deal with Pakistan separately,” he said.
Asked what the solution to this worsening crisis was, Radha Kumar said there was no other way but dialogue and reconciliation.
Vaid stressed that a “whole government” approach was needed to bring the situation under control.
“It has to be fought on multiple fronts. It needs a whole government approach, not just leaving things to the security forces. Everyone, including the state and the Centre, has to play a role,” said Vaid.
NC’s Omar Abdullah put the onus to find the solution on those in power — the state governor, the National Security Advisor, the Prime Minister and the Home Minister.
“They need to first be able to accept that there is something wrong. You need to first diagnose the problem and then treat it. In this case, they are living in denial about the very existence of problem,” he said.
PDP’s Mehbooba, on the other hand, advocated a more neighbourly approach towards Pakistan.
“India has to learn to accept Pakistan as a country, as was done by Vajpayee. We need to work on these similarities rather than contradictions, and build a relationship of if not friends, at least normal neighbours… which will change the atmosphere here in the Valley.
“All this has to be followed by other confidence building measures on the ground, like less crackdowns and ending other means of harassment of people.”
INDESCRIBABLE JOHN ELI
By Shabbir Aariz
This indeed is proverbially a herculean task to describe or define John Elia in any particular frame. Whosoever while mentioning him, is either trapped in contradictions of one’s own opinion or is able to confine to a few verses of John Elia to judge him. But the more one tries to understand John, the more confused one is and I believe that you need another John Elia to explain him. He is a phenomenon, a thing like a live fish to hold in your hand or an elephant amongst blinds to be described. Wusatullah Khan, a noted broadcaster, holds that knowing John is as good as dating with a liberated lady. And it is quite obvious that a man who in him is a philosopher, a scholar, a biographer, a linguist with command over Urdu, Arabic, English, Persian, Sanskrit and Hebrew and needless to say that the Ismaili sect of the subcontinent could not find anyone other than John to translate Ismaili treatises from Hebrew, it becomes a tedious affair to be conclusive about John. Common perception though with an element of truth is that John is a progressive Marxist, an unconventional poet and always in denial of everything including himself while himself saying in three line verse,
“KISKO FUSAT K MUJSAY BAHAS KARAY…..
OOR SABIT KARAY K MERA WAJOOD….
ZINDZGI K LIYAY ZARORI HAY
(Anyone prepared to argue and prove that my existence is imperative for life). His poetry is admittedly very close to life and his verses in the words of a legendry poet, Majrooh Sultanpuri, are like a dialogue which no other poet has the distinction to be capable of. John has an extra-ordinary craft of connecting with his audience that has created an unprecedented fan following which no other contemporary poet can claim to have. So magical is his poetry and its rendition that it has created a cult of his admirers with such an obsession and longing for the life of melancholy lead by John Elia himself. It is no secret that he was never a happy man with defiance and protest against everything and anything around. Loudly a nonconformist when he says
“unjaman main mayri khamooshi…..
burdabari nahin hay wehshat hay”.
His style made him famous and popular. He appears to be disgusted even with creation when he says … “HASILE KUN HAY YEH JAHANE KHARAAB….
YAHI MUMKIN THA AYSI UJLAT MAIN”.
His admirers strangely wish to pass through the same pain and despair that is hallmark of John’s poetry besides satire and the disdain for the system which contributed to his sadness in life. He has so glorified and romanticized the pain and sadness that it leaves his audience in frenzied ecstasy.
John Elia was born in the year 1931 and died in 2002. He originally belonged to Amroha in the state of Uttar Pradesh, younger brother of Rayees Amrohi, a known journalist and writer. John migrated to Pakistan in the year 1957 and settled in Karachi where he is buried now. But Amroha never left his heart and mind. He never felt comfortable after leaving Amroha partly because his stay in Karachi brought him in conflict with the system too. Many other things have also contributed to his sadness in life. He was married to a well-known writer of Pakistan, Zahida Hina but in mid-80’s , the relation between the two became bumpy and ended up in divorce which left John devastated and for ten long years thereafter went in depression without writing a word.
As is true about many in the history of literature, John earned his name and fame more after his death than in his life time while he was not received well and felt a strange type of suffocation when he says,
“AAP APNAY SAY HUMSUKHAN REHNA…..
HUMNISHEEN SAANS PHOOL JATI HAY”.
Thanks to the electronic boom and You Tube that brought him to the lime light and enabled audience to reach him and his works. As if this was not enough that his first poetic collection only came to be published when he reached the age of 60. It is worthwhile mention that he has as many as seven poetic collections to his credit namely SHAYAD, YANI, LEKIN, GUMAAN, GOYA, FARMOD and RAMOOZ. Except one, all other are published posthumously. This is besides his scholarly works in prose which may require greater insight to go into.
John all his life remained honest, direct and straightforward in expressing his views on matters of public interest. He also never demonstrated any pretentions or reservations while expressing the truth of his personal life. He never made any secret of his fantasies, love affairs or drinking habits. Yet he was never at peace either with the times or with himself. John Elia, in my humble opinion lived ahead of times and even the desire of dying young without being bed ridden was not granted to him except that he strangely enough wanted to die of tuberculosis and which he did.
(The author, a senior lawyers, is a well known poet and writer. Feedback at: [email protected])
Manto: Why I wanted to read a ‘lewd’ writer
By Naveed Hussain
I first read Saadat Hasan Manto as a teenager and the spirit of what I’m writing now was etched on my memory in those years.
I was too young to understand the intricacies of his stories but I enjoyed what I read and craved for more. Back then, Manto wasn’t available in the small town of Haripur where I lived. A friend introduced me to a schoolteacher, a bibliophile who had a modest collection of Manto in his personal library.
“Why do you want to read Manto, he’s a ribald, lewd writer,” he quipped. “This is exactly why I want to read him,” I replied, almost impulsively. He smiled and agreed to lend me Manto’s books. Thus began my journey to explore Manto. The more I read, the deeper my love for him became.
Manto was a nonconformist, an unorthodox and ruthlessly bold writer. He didn’t believe in the so-called literary norms of ‘decency’ and ‘civility’ set by didactic writers of his time. For him, truth is truth. No matter how bitter and despicable the reality, Manto never dilutes the truth. Like a muckraker, he pokes his nose into the muck, rakes it, and then holds it up to the reader – in all its profound ugliness and twisted beauty. “If you don’t know your society, read my stories. If you find a defect, it’s the defect of your society, not my stories,” he says.
Manto wrote on socially taboo topics like sex, incest and prostitution, which earned him the wrath of contemporary traditionalists, conservatives and even progressives. For some of his ‘lewd’ and ‘obscene’ stories he had to face lawsuits – among them were great stories such as Thanda Gosht, Bu, Khol Do, Dhuan and Kali Shalwar.
But it is to miss the point to simply say that Manto wrote about sex. He wrote about the sexual debauchery of men and the sexual exploitation of women; about our patriarchal society where women are often treated as a ‘sex toy’, not a human being. Unlike many, I don’t compare Manto with DH Lawrence, because Manto is not lustful, even though he explicitly writes about the female anatomy. He’s more like Guy de Maupassant, who sees the throbbing heart, not the sensuous body, of the prostitute.
Manto blames the ‘diseased mind’ for reading ‘ribaldry’ into his stories. If a sex maniac derives morbid gratification from Venus De Milo, should we blame Alexandros of Antioch for chiselling such a ‘graphic’ sculpture? No, certainly not.
For contemporary literary pundits, Manto was also unacceptable because he wrote ‘indecent’ language. “They [the critics] criticise me when my characters verbally abuse one another – but why don’t they criticise their society instead where hundreds of thousands of profanities are hurled on the streets, every day,” he wonders.
I also love Manto because he was honest. He was an unflinchingly true writer who believed in calling a spade a spade. Sketch-writing was introduced as a genre in Urdu literature much earlier, but Manto created his own peculiar tell-all style. He didn’t write only the good qualities of his characters. “In my bathroom, everyone is naked. I don’t clothe them because it’s the tailor’s job,” he writes.
Manto’s sketches, which he initially wrote for the Lahore-based Daily Afaq newspaper, were later collected and published as Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wasn’t a hypocrite. He minced no words while writing about his dead friends. “I curse a thousand times a so-called civilised society where a man’s character is cleansed of all its ills and tagged as ‘May-God-Bless Him’,” Manto wrote in Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wrote sketches of filmstars Ashok Kumar, Shyam, Noor Jahan, literary figures such as Meera Ji, Agha Hashar and Ismat Chughtai and some politicians. “I have no camera that could have washed smallpox marks off the face of Agha Hashar or change obscenities uttered by him in his flowery style.”
Before embarking on his literary career, Manto had read Russian, French and English masters like Chekhov, Gorky, Victor Hugo, de Maupassant and Oscar Wilde and translated some of their works into Urdu. Surprisingly enough, despite his love for revolutionaries, Manto was not a Marxist ideologue. He was a humanist who was pained to see social injustices, economic disparities and exploitation of the underprivileged. He hated the obscurantist clergy and parasitic elites alike.
Although Manto had migrated to Pakistan after 1947, he couldn’t understand the rationale of partitioning a land along religious lines. His stories of bloodshed and cross-border migration, such as Teetwaal Ka Kutta and Toba Tek Singh, made him unpopular with ‘patriotic’ Pakistanis. To this day he remains a shadowy figure on the official literary lists of Pakistan: our school curricula, our national awards, our drawing room conversations.
Manto was acknowledged as a creative genius even by his detractors. And he knew this, which is perhaps why he wanted these words to mark his grave: “Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto and with him lie all the secrets and mysteries of the art of short story writing. Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is the greater short story writer: he or God.”
Manto’s family feared his self-written epitaph would attract the unwanted attention of the ignorantly religious, so on his grave one finds a Ghalib couplet. He faced censorship all his life and even now has chunks of his stories taken out by the authorities. But as we mark his centenary year, I can say this with the instant certainty I felt as a young man in Haripur: the words and stories of Saadat Hasan Manto will outlive us all.
Gauhar Raza: Giving Poetry the Power to Protest
By Asheesh Mamgain
If things were different his poems would have been different, or maybe he would not have been a poet at all. But things are what they are. And that is why Gauhar Raza, the poet is writing, and it is why he writes his poetry of protest.
“Maybe I would have written about love, the beauty of nature and science. But as things stand my poetry is predominantly about resistance and protest,” said Raza, who is faithful to the tradition of resistance poetry to the extent that he has throttled, without much difficulty, the romantic and the scientist in him. “The need to write poetry always arose when something happened around me which affected me, to the core. I have never written and will never write poetry just for the sake of it.”
“The murder of Safdar Hashmi, the breaking up of the Soviet Union, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the killing of an activist in Afghanistan, the death of Rohith Vemula are some of those things,” he said.
Raza’s second published collection of ghazals and nazms (71 in all) came out in November 2017 and is titled Khamoshi, or Silence.
Is there a lot of anger in his poems? Yes, there is definitely a lot of anger. But then there is also hope. That is where Raza becomes special.
“For me, a poem that merely complains or rants about the injustice, violence and persecution happening all around is not enough. A poet has to go beyond this; he has to give a vision. The vision of an alternative world, of a better world. Only then will his poetry be successful and meaningful. A poet has to show the consciousness he wants to bring into society.”
So how does he define good poetry? “Well, a good poem should be able to raise the level of the reader at least one notch higher, and also give him a fresh perspective about the aspect being dealt in the poem. Something new to dwell upon,” said Raza.
The influences that shaped his poetic thought came pretty early, at home and at the Aligarh Muslim University where he studied. Raza’s father, Wizarat Hussain, worked in the education department there and was a second-generation Leftist.
“The question about the existence of God came up very early in my life and soon I became an atheist for life,” said Raza. Literature was read with passion at home and by the time he was 15 he had read all the Urdu literature available at the AMU library as well as a solid portion of Russian literature.
“During my growing years, Leftist thought had a major presence in the university. On the other hand, the fundamental forces were also steadily getting stronger. I was smitten by the leftist idea. I was part of a literary study circle, we served tea at the secret meetings of leftist groups and listened to discussions at home between my father and other intellectuals such as Irfan Habib and Iqtidar Alam Khan.”
There was a lot of churning in his mind and soon he started pouring the remnants of all that into his poems. When it comes to poetry some of Raza’s major influences have been Ghalib, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi. He is often seen reciting their work at length during his various lectures, with Sahir Ludhianvi’s long poem ‘Parchhaiyan’ or Shadows one of his favourites.
“Writing the kind of poetry I do is not easy. Each time a write a poem I must relive all the pain and emotion I went through when the particular incident happened that forced me to write. All those disturbing images come rushing back to me. It is a difficult thing to undergo.”
Nor is poetry Raza’s only means of reaching the people. He recently retired as chief scientist from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. He is also into documentary filmmaking, his documentaries on Bhagat Singh and the 2002 Gujarat genocide being very well known.
Where does poetry stand today, as a means of communication with the reader? According to Raza, “for one, social media has helped. It has helped poets reach a wider audience. Also, the tradition of musharias and kavi sammelans (poetry meets) is still very strong in India. So even if a poet is competing with the multimedia world, it is easy to reach one’s audience with one’s poetry, provided you have something pertinent to say.”
More broadly speaking, however, “I have to say that things have progressed in a disturbing direction. A poem I wrote 20 years ago, I could rededicate it to Rohith Vemula and then to Gauri Lankesh. This disturbing trend is seen all over the world. I believe that the fall of the USSR has been a major turning point in the way our World has evolved.”
A few lines from one of his poems brings out his concern and struggle.
Mein phool khilata hoon jab bhi,
Woh baad e khizan le aate hain,
Mein geet sunata hoon jab bhi,
Yeh aag se ji bahlate hain.
Whenever I make a flower blossom
They bring the autumn wind
Whenever I sing a song
They give the soul succour with flame.
But Raza is still hopeful. “There has been a resurgence of resistance poetry in Urdu in the recent past. The trend of religious poetry in Urdu has also reduced in recent times. The youth today has become more involved in this attempt to bring a positive change. I have seen young people reading protest poetry and reacting to it. Once again universities have become a place of resistance and struggle for change.”