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My Tryst with Kashmir and What it means to me

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By Ramnik Mohan

 

News of violence and unrest coming from any part of the country – nay, the world – is disturbing. All the more so if it lasts and continues over long periods of time. And yet there are parts of the country that are special in a special way, and such news coming from there has a qualitatively altogether different effect on us. Jammu and Kashmir and the North-East are two such areas battling this scenario not just over a few months or years but over decades, as we know. Such news from these places affects you in a way news from other places doesn’t, even though one may not have visited them – in my case it is all the more so in the case of Jammu and Kashmir, for sure. I ask myself the question – what is it that makes me feel deeply troubled and hurt to the core with every such piece of news?

 

One possible answer is that more often than not, this has to do with its very nature – sad, unhappy, mind-and-heart numbing, tragic news that only adds to the misfortunes piling up over the decades for the inhabitants there, with no light to be seen at the end of the tunnel, people living as if in a constant zone of battle. The news of the bout of violence just this past week in Kulgam and the shutdown in Srinagar is another such instance.

Another quite obvious reason for deep, troubled concern common to both Kashmir and the North-East is the political aspect of discontent bordering on secessionism, and linked to it the failure of the Indian State to settle these issues to the satisfaction of the people inhabiting these parts of our land. This is, in a way, the ‘nationalist’ concern.

Are these reasons enough, I ponder – and dwell deeper.

Another aspect looms before my eyes – the “exotic” view of a paradise-on-earth land torn asunder by violence – is this what touches the very core of my concern? Is it the deep deep anguish arising out of the despoilment of the natural, awe-inspiring scenic beauty dotted with shikaras and lakes and stately chinars on majestic mountains that troubles our minds?

This too fails to fully convince me as an answer, seeming to be just one more dimension of the issue at hand.

I am gradually led to the real underlying cause of this sense of deep disappointment and hurt : it comes from the stupendous failure, especially on the part of the political dispensation, of not being able to connect to the people who inhabit these lands. What lies at the heart of the tragedy is the alienation that people from these parts of our nation feel, not just from the governments at the Centre but from the rest of us, the people on the ‘mainland’, a process that has now been on for decades. (One recalls the citizen, say, from Manipur living in Delhi, recounting exactly the same sense of alienation as the Kashmiri’s). This, to my mind, is the nub of the whole issue, a sense that is buttressed and strengthened in the light of personal experiences shared by friends and acquaintances from Kashmir. Irony of ironies, this is so in spite of the fact that there is a simultaneous account of the warmth with which guests from outside the state are hosted by Kashmiris – the glorious warmth of the wazwans, the kaftans and the phirans and the kangris reflected in the welcome accorded to visitors from outside in cozy Kashmiri hearths and homes.

It is, then, not just the land that stands blighted – the real issue is of flesh-and-blood human beings alienated and suffering all these years, their lives scarred and bruised, devoid of joy and happiness, including psychologically challenged children who have seen nothing but violence and fear around. This scathingly brutal truth is what brings on the ache with every new bout of violence that visits Kashmir – and the North-East; in this lies the answer to my query, born of an acute sense of longed-for empathy that one ought to be capable of developing for compatriots and fellow human beings.

I have been to Jammu and Kashmir just thrice to date, and that not beyond Jammu and the Vaishno Devi shrine visited more as an opportunity for trekking than for the obeisance. One recalls the happy chance of having witnessed the imposing Sheikh Abdullah addressing an audience at the foothills of the trek up to the shrine.

Never been to the Valley, and yet feeling for it so very deeply!? How did this happen?

As I ponder over this, my mind comes back again to the people of the land – the flesh-and-blood Kashmiris of various hues who became friends: some from afar, others in face-to-face interaction, still others in more tangential ways and forms, especially in terms of sharing a world-view. When you have those you know and care for living in a region such as Kashmir, it is perhaps but natural to feel concerned not just for them but for the land they come from too.

I recall the time of the earthquake that devastated parts of Kashmir on both sides of the border in 2005 – and the funds collected by school-going children in a city in Haryana, sent to the good doctor in Srinagar whose contact I got from Vinod Raina (alas, no longer with us) and her so very warm response appreciating this effort and assuring us that the amount will reach those it was meant for. This bond of humanity and common concern was, so far as I can recall, my first real contact with the Kashmir I had never been to – and have still not been to.

I recall also, just about three years later, the bitterness and anger with which a lady – Kashmiri Pandit – recalled those terrifying days of having to abandon their hearths and homes in the 1990s in the wake of the violence they faced – and sharply in contrast, her father, calm and cool and collected even in that moment of recalling the horrors recounted by his daughter, with not a trace of bitterness in him. He, even though much much older, became a friend of sorts as did his grand-daughter with whom I still remain in touch.

Further down the memory lane of time come three youngsters, two of whom had bitter memories to share right from their childhoods affected by the violence back home, and the travails and tribulations they had to face in the ‘mainland’ India where they had come for studies and job. The third, a Kashmiri Pandit, has the empathy for what her homeland – not just Jammu but Kashmir too – is going through. She has the deep human concern that cuts across and transcends all barriers of region and religion and keeps alive the flame of the syncretic Kashmiri ethos.

But what I recall the most every time there is disturbing news from Kashmir is a group-interaction we had with one of these three youngsters – an intelligent young girl from Kashmir sharing her experience of living in Haryana where she had come for her studies. There was an element of pain, at times even of distress, in the experiences she shared of her memories from her home-state. The pain extended to the injustice she felt in not being considered Indian enough even though her grandfather had been in the Indian army. Yet she was, broadly speaking, refreshingly positive and fairly appreciative of the time spent in Haryana in spite of the oddities she faced here and there. This, at that point of time, was a comforting thought, for that sharing happened somewhere around the time of the unrest in Kashmir following the killing of Burhan Wani. The fact that we had gathered to listen to her, and heard her out as she recounted the unhappy and bitter experiences of growing up under the shadow of the guns of the security forces that in actual fact increased a sense of insecurity rather than security, was something that she appreciated no end.

She too is a friend that Kashmir has given me.

I cannot but mention a few more sets of friends, tangential friends one feels so close to in thought – the rafoogars (darners) and dry-cleaners from Kashmir just a street down my house whose ever so cheerful demeanour welcomes me on every visit for the dry-cleaning or to get a torn clothing darned; the politician of the class of Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, the only CPI (M) MLA from Kashmir whose impassioned pleas for Kashmiriyat and a humanitarian view of things cannot but convince you of the rightness of what he so passionately says; journalists like the late Messrs. Balraj Puri, Ved Bhasin and the so tragically shot dead Shujaat Bukhari ; secular, people’s artistes, educationists and writers like M.K.Raina (who has worked in the state on theatre and culture even in the most adverse circumstances), Vinod Raina, Badri Raina and Rahman Rahi; and the Lal Deds and Nund Rishis (aka Sheikh Nur ud-Din Wali) whose deep springs of mysticism and spirituality are the cherished heritage of what the real Kashmir is. One may not have met any of them in person, and yet they are friends, for they occupy the same mind-space in terms of the society and nation one aspires for. These are just a few names the mind readily recalls, though there would be many more one fails to mention due to constraints of space.

An interaction with a Kashmiri actually boils down to how Kashmir is located in our consciousness. What is of significance is how we negotiate this terrain. One needs to look at it not as an issue purely related to the possession of a piece of land, a territory, but with consideration for the human beings who populate that territory, trying to understand their aspirations and desires and wishes, and the travails they have gone through. The same would apply to our friends from the North-East, entailing a sensitive and sensible understanding of how and why they are ‘different’, what their cultural ethos is, and how this difference is what makes India the beautiful country it is.

I end, again, with our interaction with the young, sensitive girl from Kashmir. For her, the peace in Haryana was in sharp contrast to the unrest and violence in her home-state. So, the pain she felt was palpable as she recounted the experience of witnessing her fellow-students transformed into divided caste-identities during the violent Jat reservation stir of early 2016. And yet, she retains the vivaciousness of youth even as one also recalls her poignant remark to the effect that this vivaciousness is perhaps an attempt at regaining what was lost of it in her childhood! She is now back to her birthplace, in a hard-earned job, and this dost of hers awaits the day he will partake of the warmth of Kashmir, she a host to this ‘guest’.

(Courtesy: countercurrents.org)

 


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Opinion

Some baffling decisions of the SC

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By Manini Chatterjee

Of the three pillars of the state, the judiciary has always evoked much greater respect from ordinary citizens than either the legislature or the executive. Since the legislature comprises elected representatives of the people, we — the people who elect them — feel justly entitled to criticize them at will. The executive, similarly, is more often pilloried than praised when it fails to deliver on its many promises.

The judiciary, on the other hand, has usually been treated as a hallowed institution. Judges, unlike politicians, are seen not only as wise but also possessed of thinner skins. The fear of being hauled up for contempt of court (what construes contempt remains a mystery to most of us) acts as a deterrent to commenting on the judiciary.

 

But that silence was broken last year. And not by an irreverent media or crusading activists or outspoken lawmakers. It was members of the highest judiciary who dealt the blow, coming out with home truths whose reverberations have yet to subside.

On January 12, 2018, the then four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court — J. Chelameswar, RanjanGogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph — held an unprecedented press conference in the capital. In the course of the press conference, they revealed the letters they had written to the then Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, questioning his style of administration and the manner in which he allocated cases to difference benches of the court. Expressing dismay at the CJI’s refusal to address their grievances, they said, “Unless the institution of Supreme Court is preserved, democracy won’t survive in the country.”

That press conference, which alluded to government interference in the workings of the court, was not a one-off affair. Soon after, in separate letters to the CJI, J. Chelameswar and Kurian Joseph expressed concerns about the judiciary’s independence in face of the executive’s encroachment.

But what made waves in circles well beyond the judiciary was RanjanGogoi’s speech on July 12 to a packed auditorium in Delhi.Delivering the RamnathGoenka memorial lecture, Gogoi spoke at length on the “Vision of Justice” and the role of the judiciary in upholding constitutional ideals.

In the course of the lecture, he quoted an article from the Economist which said, “…independent judges and noisy journalists are democracy’s first line of defence.” Gogoi went on to say, “I agree but will only suggest a slight modification in today’s context — not only independent judges and noisy journalists, but even independent journalists and sometimes noisy judges.” Those words made headlines then and have been quoted frequently since.

Pointing out that the judiciary had been endowed with great societal trust, he said, “This very fact gives it its credibility and this very credibility gives it its legitimacy… I will only say that if it wishes to preserve its moral and institutional leverage, it must remain uncontaminated. And, independent. And, fierce. And, at all times. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So is an institution.”

Gogoi’s speech was remarkable because he was in line to be the next Chief Justice. In fact, many feared that he had risked his career with that speech and the government might not elevate him to the post of the CJI after Dipak Misra retired.

Those fears were belied. Gogoi became the Chief Justice of India in early October. But, truth be told, hopes that a feisty judiciary would force more transparency on opaque and questionable executive decisions have also remained unfulfilled.

Some of the Supreme Court’s decisions, such as in the case relating to the removal of the Central Bureau of Investigation chief, has left even retired judges puzzled.

On October 23, the government conducted a midnight raid on the headquarters of the CBI and seized a whole lot of material related to pending investigations. It then summarily removed the CBI chief, AlokVerma, from his post. Since Verma had been appointed by a three-member selection committee (comprising the prime minister, the leader of the largest Opposition party and the CJI), he contended that only that committee could remove him — and not the central vigilance commissioner. Verma moved the Supreme Court with alacrity against his arbitrary removal.

The apex court chose not to adjudicate on the removal. Instead, it appointed a retired Supreme Court judge, A.K. Patnaik, to supervise a CVC probe into the allegations of corruption levelled against Verma by his bête noire, the then CBI special director, Rakesh Asthana. It directed the probe be completed within two weeks. The three-judge bench of Gogoi, Sanjay KishanKaul, and K.M. Joseph passed no strictures against the manner in which the raids were conducted by the government nor asked why and what materials had been seized.

Although the probe was completed in two weeks and the report presented to the court, it was not till January 8 that the judges delivered their verdict. On the face of it, the verdict was a victory for Verma. It said that only the three-member selection committee could transfer or divest Verma of his powers, and not the CVC or the Centre.

Again, puzzlingly, it passed no strictures against the government for removing him in the manner it did. Instead, it asked the selection committee to go through the contents of the CVC probe report and decide in a week whether Verma should be exonerated or indicted.

The government convened a meeting the very next day and less than 48 hours after he was reinstated as CBI chief, Verma was once again given marching orders. The CJI had recused himself from the panel, and appointed the judge, A.K. Sikri in his stead. Sikri and the prime minister, Narendra Modi, voted to remove Verma while MallikarjunKharge dissented.

What followed has been extremely unflattering for the apex court. A.K. Patnaik, the judge who had supervised the CVC probe, told The Indian Express that “[t]here was no evidence against Verma regarding corruption”, that the decision to remove him was “very very hasty”, and that the committee “should have applied their mind thoroughly, especially as a Supreme Court judge was there.”

Speaking to The Telegraph, two highly respected former Chief Justices of India also expressed misgivings on the way the committee took the decision without giving Verma a chance to present his side of the case. Former CJI, T.S. Thakur, underlined that if a decision was being taken on the basis of an adverse report against an individual, that individual must be given an opportunity to present his point of view. “If that process has not been followed… then any decision based on such adverse findings will be contrary to the principles of natural justice.”

Another former CJI, R.M. Lodha, said much the same thing: “He (Verma) needs to be heard. Ordinarily, he should be heard. Principles of natural justice deserved to be followed.”

In other words, the Supreme Court’s failure to explicitly state that Verma should be given a hearing violated the principles of natural justice.

Similarly, a CJI-headed bench’s verdict on the Rafale deal has also raised eyebrows. While the government, understandably, has hailed the verdict as a “clean chit”, the detailed review petition filed by ArunShourie, Yashwant Sinha and Prashant Bhushan points out how the “the government has blatantly misled the Hon’ble Court and the Hon’ble Court has grossly erred in placing reliance on false averments in the note not even supported by an affidavit.” In layman’s language, it questions the touching faith the apex court placed in the assertions of the government in spite of evidence to the contrary.

The Supreme Court collegium’s decision to appoint two judges to the apex court after retracting an earlier selection of two other judges is the latest controversy to hit the judiciary.

The CJI, reportedly, is “very upset” over the “media leaks” on the collegium’s functioning. Last week, he also advised the advocate, Prashant Bhushan — who wanted the government to disclose the names shortlisted by the search committee for the post of Lokpal — not to “look at things from a negative point of view” and to “be positive” instead.

That is fine advice from a spiritual guru. But advocating such a course in today’s India can also be construed as unquestioning faith in a majoritarian government’s intents and actions. The apex court has baffled us on many counts in the last few months. But that someone who spoke in praise of noisy judges and independent journalists should now worry about adverse media reports and negative attitudes to the government is, perhaps, the most bewildering of them all…

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Opinion

Growing menace of corruption

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By Tawfeeq Irshad Mir

“One who listens to truth is not less than one who utters the truth”

With glued memories of my infantile period, hardly I could retrieve the surroundings and the events happening around, Brought up in a very small village “Goripora” in Sopore town of Kashmir, a village with meticulous presence, conscious, a mixture of intellect and a think tank of its own, whenever I revert my memory lane through times, I find myself in the nap of my grandfather, an image of an old man enveloped in “chadar” yet young by mind, he was the then head of village, people of all ages enjoyed his presence, igniting the debate pertaining to different issues, being the head of the village, so mostly revenue matters were discussed and the consistent content of all debates used to be “corruption” the word that recurrently vibrated my neurons and propelled me as to what is this corruption all about, initial understanding was like this, “to get your work down, have a chicken to please” and sometimes “the person inflated the pocket to get the work down” in common Kashmiri language, you might have encountered the word most frequently “channel, like the person has channel,designated to corruption. As being in rural area, the incentives for corruption used to be” chicken “an apple box” sometimes red beans “probably due to lack of money as people used to exchange their daily needs rather than money. As I grew up, exposed myself to the environment, what I found was interesting, now an updated version of corruption :every now, people discussing the scourge of corruption, as like a curse, preferably in revenue department, to have an income certificate, an amount of 2 to 3 hundred rupees was a prerequisite, with the time I found people paying huge amounts to get their land acquisitions settled, even to get a driving licence, driving skill hardly mattered, as the time passed by, now the word “corruption” was a constant encrypted into the minds of people, a peculiar picture of engulfing in corruption was most obvious from electricity department, then it was not digitalized, the new house holder enjoyed the bless even without registration by simply paying a meagre amount to officials in the department. “Not a single institution is prone to corruption” but it’s deleterious effects on education and recruitment system “has perturb and monstrous consequences. As I observed during the years, it was evident during the board exams, every one among us might have witnessed the special privilege being offered to some students in the examination Hall, a corruption of intimate level, eventually with the enlightenment of newspapers, social media, the youth Began to lay their repercussions on corruption pertaining to selection process whether it be for further education or selection of job process, like the ‘x’ person got selected because the said person had paid a huge amount for it, it swept the general consensus of youth, dredging them to denial resorting to premature statements that “now this education is futile as you won’t get any things unless you don’t have enough money, there is no place for poor fellows, we can’t continue with this” and the consequence was such that many talented ones dredged in drug dependency, heralding their further education.

 

Here I am talking about corruption on the local level, attached to the ground where I am the self-observant of this scourge, many a times I have been a part of discussions locally regarding this remorse, but in an alienated elite.

Social networking sites are filled with tons of data regarding corruption, gallons of ink have been spent on news papers to reflect this horror, while everyone apparently and seemingly attacking the subsequent political discourse and the concerned administrative systems,

“I have a virtual opinion, I believe, “every human being has encoded traits, and has a natural tendency to express these traits, both positive and negative as like in all other animals, but the best thing about humans is to differentiate between right and wrong and the ability to direct their energies toward humanity, that’s why called humans, but one’s the person is exacerbated by materialistic influence, the person tends to express the negative trait to fulfil the Ill designed desires, and simply the person who endorses or resorts to such mischievous act of corruption, the person is engulfed my this wild trait “
Now what astonishes me the most,” while everyone seemingly denigrates this scourge, then who supports it, I mean everyone is raising in objection to it, then who constitutes to the corruption.

I would like to prove my content with objective analysis, suppose I am the person, and I am asked to give some amount to secure a place in any govt. department, despite irrelevant educational qualifications and out of any fearful selection procedure, now it’s all about me, would I agree or not, so surely the moment I am in such a position, I will surely opt for it, likewise I believe every single person on the planet not only in the valley, will opt the same, I jus made an analogy and it almost pertains to every aspect. So literally, I mean to say that corruption is from within, not a system is corrupted, in fact the people with this thinking make the system corrupt and that’s how it seems that the whole system is overwhelmed with corruption, it is engrained in the minds of people, “the humans have rbcs, wbcs, and platelets in blood, but I suspect we have one more” corruption cell “in our blood and we have genes encoded with it dominantly.

” We have to deter this menace from within, the moment we object to this greed, it needs to be abolished from within, sanitising the systems won’t yield any results, because it’s already ingrained in the minds of people, so we have to interpret and analyse and suppress this wild trait only then we will get rid of this wild menace infesting our spirituality, ethos”

(The writer is pursuing graduation in Nursing at G M C, Srinagar and can be reached at: [email protected])

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Opinion

Why the JNU story won’t die

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By Rakesh Batabyal

Not too long ago in the history of the Republic — 1974 to be precise — a large body of students entered the lobby, and later the room of Vice-Chancellor G Parthasarathy, the founding head of Jawaharlal Nehru University, a man charged with the setting up of a world-class university, and announced that they were gheraoing him. They wanted the barriers of gender separating the girls’ and boys’ hostels to be done away with, as it smacked of a feudal society based on patriarchy. They were expressing the most progressive ideas agitating the young mind — the gendered barricades encompassing society. Parthasarathy, who had interacted with the most powerful people in the world, found this group of students, many of whom did not even speak English (the language of the diplomatic elite that he was familiar with), more powerful than all who had come before — they were students, yet their demands were not for their own interests, nor even for something euphemistically called national interest. They were protesting for something which in their minds they thought would make society better all-in-all. He did not ask for the police, did not chide them, neither was he demurred — he talked to them about social, bureaucratic and other miscellaneous issues that would not permit such a great idea to be immediately pursued in a traditional society; it would in fact be harmed through the vicious constrictions of traditional society. Its time would come, though, one fine day, and then the society would remember the pioneers — those JNU students. Such was the spirit embodied in the foundation of the university that is JNU. There are many other instances that reinforced these values and established the spirit of dissent and dialogue that became the signature of this great institution.

In the mid-1980s, a Dean of Students introduced a register for women students/ guests entering the men’s hostel, where the purpose of visit was to be recorded. Many uncharitable remarks made the administration understand its own lack of practical wisdom, and this rule was never strictly enforced.

 

Then, in the late 1980s, an ever-watchful body of students discovered that a senior official was drawing salary from two sources. In the pre-RTI age, they made efforts to get at the source. The Vice-Chancellor, a stickler for rules, had to disown the officer; at no point was a student either issued a show-cause notice or shown the door.

In the early 1990s, students wanted to strike against the administration and they were sitting on a hunger strike when the Vice-Chancellor himself joined them in the strike, saying this was his cause too. Professor Yoginder K Alagh, the Vice-Chancellor, was no mean scholar and knew that the students were not demanding something out of the world.

Thus, through such acts, the young were indicating the new and emerging mores, which led to the university not being ossified. Teachers had their individual political and intellectual predilections and students too had their own, but one saw the campus, like the nation, carry on with the variety and colour of these differences.
There were shouts and slogans to drown the other, but they were more a demonstration of intellectual prowess than threats to physically eliminate the other. When the State imposed Emergency in 1975, JNU students became part of street agitations. Their refusal to allow then prime minister Indira Gandhi into the campus is the stuff of legends.

The story of an institution is a story of shared memories and shared ideals. JNU, as it has grown in the last 50 years, is one such great story. Within this story lay millions of small lives and their careers as they have woven the narrative of this country in the last half century.

A university reflects the character of a nation: its moral self, its confidence and its resolve to face the world. When we sat at the table in our hostel mess, when we all talked about our larger vision and smaller plans — about fighting the capital and its sway, our resolve to finish off shades of Apartheid or the discriminating caste hierarchies — we were speaking of the society and for a future society. The shared memories of those talks, of the politics that gave us the language to express those visions and plans, are small stories in the big world.

As the University celebrates its 50th anniversary, it is these shared memories of the collective self that will keep the beauty of the institution intact. All that is beautiful needs to be cherished and the memories are those beautiful things that direct us towards a great future. It is unfortunate that those who do not cherish the memory and what JNU stands for, are at the helm of affairs today. But memories fortunately cannot be killed, only repressed in some circles.

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