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Is Kashmir facing a new crisis?

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By Andrew Whitehead.

June has been a cruel month in Kashmir. As it opened, there appeared to be a glimmer of hope in one of the most enduring of separatist conflicts. The Indian government announced a unilateral ceasefire for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, undertaking not to initiate security operations against separatist militants. More than that, senior figures in India’s Hindu nationalist BJP-led government spoke of the need for dialogue including with political leaders of the separatists – and while those Kashmiris grouped in the Joint Resistance Leadership responded dismissively, they kept the door ajar.
By the end of the month, hopes of a dialogue had been dashed. The Indian government – ignoring the advice of the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state – refused to extend the Ramadan ceasefire. And the BJP, junior partner in the state’s coalition government, also withdrew from the alliance – prompting the resignation of the chief minister, the collapse of the state government and the imposition of a form of direct administration by unelected officials known as governor’s rule.
Amid the turbulence, and intensifying the air of crisis, came a deep personal and political tragedy: the best known and best regarded of Kashmiri journalists, Shujaat Bukhari, was shot dead outside his office in the Kashmiri capital, Srinagar. He was the editor of an English language daily newspaper, ‘Rising Kashmir’, and a voice for moderation and dialogue; he had taken part in some of the informal initiatives, sometimes called ‘track two’ diplomacy, intended to keep channels of communication open across borders, ceasefire lines and political divides. The motive for the killing is unclear – though Indian police say they have identified three separatist militants whom they believe to be responsible – but it is the most politically charged assassination in Kashmir for well over a decade.
The Ramadan ceasefire and Delhi’s stated openness to dialogue with separatists seemed to suggest a new approach. It didn’t last long.

As India approaches a general election – due in the first half of 2019 – its only Muslim majority state, and its most disaffected, is once more in the throes of a political crisis and a worsening security situation. One leading academic export has described the collapse of the Jammu and Kashmir coalition government as a setback for peace. In the Kashmir valley, the young in particular feel that they have no political voice and no agency, adding to the air of volatility.
The Kashmir conflict dates back to the British withdrawal from India in 1947, which was completed without a clear understanding about the future of the princely-ruled state of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan believed that ties of religion, culture and geography meant that it should have Kashmir, but the maharajah – who initially supported independence – belatedly acceded to India. Pakistani irregular forces invaded and took control of some parts of the west and north-west of the state – which seventy years later remain under Pakistan’s control. That prompted the first of several wars between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, leading to its informal partition. Both India and Pakistan continue to claim sovereignty over all of the former princely state; United Nations military observers have been based there for many decades without achieving anything of substance.
In 1989, Kashmiri grievances erupted into an anti-India insurgency – which was armed, supported and encouraged by Pakistan. For several years, Kashmir was in effect at war – with hundreds of thousands of Indian troops stationed there to suppress the armed separatist movement, and tens of thousands of Kashmiris losing their lives. By the end of the 1990s, the Indian army had largely defeated the armed separatists and although these militant groups are once more recruiting, they are much weaker than twenty years ago. Pakistan’s support for armed Kashmiri groups has also greatly diminished – though, in India’s view, it hasn’t completely stopped.
Alongside the political tension within Indian Kashmir is the stalemate between India and Pakistan along the highly militarised ceasefire line (known as the ‘line of control’). There are frequent breaches of the line – notably mortar fire – with both military and civilian casualties. While India would probably accept turning the ceasefire line into an international border and formalising the princely state’s partition, that would give Pakistan nothing to show for decades of mobilising for its fellow Muslims in Kashmir.
Adding to the political complexity, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir consists of three distinct regions with sharply contrasting cultures and religious profiles: the Kashmir valley, the most populous part of the state and the heartland of Kashmiri culture, has a population of about seven million and is overwhelmingly Muslim; the Jammu region, with a slightly smaller population, has a Hindu majority; and the much more remote area of Ladakh, with a very small population, has cultural ties with Tibet and is itself divided between Buddhist and Shia Muslim areas.
In the last state-level elections in Jammu and Kashmir, at the close of 2014, the BJP emerged as a major political force there for the first time, becoming the dominant party in the Jammu region. But it made no impact at all in the Kashmir valley, where the upper hand in state elections has alternated between the two Kashmiri nationalist parties, both largely dynastic, which are willing to work within the Indian political system. In those elections, the People’s Democratic Party – sometimes described as ‘soft separatists’ – polled strongly. And against all expectations, the PDP and the BJP agreed to form a coalition administration at state level, with the PDP’s patriarch, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed – who earlier in his political career had been the first Muslim to serve as India’s home minister – as the chief minister. He described the alliance, with only a touch of hyperbole, as like the North Pole and the South Pole coming together.
The two parties agreed a minimum programme for their coalition government which emphasised dialogue and reconciliation, and appeared to suggest a willingness to pursue a political initiative to address Kashmiri grievances. Nothing came of it. And when in July 2016, a young armed militant leader, Burhan Wani – who had become hugely popular through social media – was shot dead by Indian troops, the Kashmir valley erupted in mass protests. Indian troops and paramilitaries responded forcefully. Scores of protestors were killed, and hundreds were injured by the pellet guns then routinely used by Indian troops to disperse demonstrations.
Since then, the level of violence has abated – but the anger of many young Kashmiris has not. For the first time in several years, the armed separatist groups have attracted a steady stream of new recruits. In the eyes of many Kashmiris, the coalition government – led, after Sayeed’s death, by his daughter, Mehbooba Mufti – was complicit in an insensitive and harsh approach to mass protests.
The Indian government’s appointment in October of last year of a former head of intelligence, Dineshwar Sharma, as its interlocutor in Kashmir, was the first sign of a willingness to recognise that Kashmir is as much a political as a security issue. The Ramadan ceasefire and Delhi’s stated openness to dialogue with separatists seemed to suggest a new approach. It didn’t last long.
The alliance between the BJP and the PDP was always awkward – and Mehbooba Mufti was less comfortable than her father in accommodating an ally which was a junior coalition partner but was also, because it formed the national government, hugely more powerful. She has argued forcefully against a ‘muscular’ security policy in Kashmir – and the ending of the coalition lifts some of the political constraints on Indian security forces should they wish to adopt a more determined policy against separatist militants. But the BJP’s main motive in bringing down the state government is probably political: the BJP’s local support base in Jammu had little sympathy for the PDP or its leader, and with national elections approaching in which the BJP’s overall majority in Parliament is under threat, the alliance had become an electoral liability.
The Indian government pointed to the killing of Shujaat Bukhari as an indication that their unilateral ceasefire had failed, and so as indirectly a factor in the breaking of the alliance. Bukhari’s friends believe he would have been horrified that his name was being used to justify the prioritising of a security policy over political dialogue.
Just hours before Bukhari’s death, and largely eclipsed by it, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights produced its first ever report on the human rights situation across Kashmir. Although the UN was denied access on the ground in both sides of Kashmir, Indian and Pakistani, it produced a thorough and authoritative document, detailing concerns about security policy, allegations of sexual violence and custodial deaths, the use of pellet guns and the legal immunity enjoyed by Indian forces in Kashmir. It called for ‘a comprehensive independent international investigation of human rights violations’ in Indian Kashmir. The Indian government promptly rejected the report and its recommendations.
(http://theasiadialogue.com)

 

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Opinion

INDESCRIBABLE JOHN ELI

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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])

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Manto: Why I wanted to read a ‘lewd’ writer

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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.

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Gauhar Raza: Giving Poetry the Power to Protest

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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.”

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