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No country for women

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India is regarded as world’s biggest democracy. But more than half of its population, women, have been described as the most vulnerable lot, prone to sexual and physical attacks. In a recent survey, global experts put India as the most dangerous country for women, worse than war-torn Afghanistan and Syria which occupy second and third place. The Thomson Reuters Foundation, which conducted the survey, released its results early this week of a survey of 550 experts on women’s issues, finding India to be the most dangerous nation for sexual violence against women, as well as human trafficking for domestic work, forced labor, forced marriage and sexual slavery, among other reasons. It was also described as the most dangerous country in the world for cultural traditions that impact women, the survey found, citing acid attacks, female genital mutilation, child marriage and physical abuse. India was the fourth most dangerous country for women in the same survey in 2011. The release of the report comes amid mounting public outrage after a series of high-profile rape cases, including rape and murder of a 8-year old girl in Kathua and rape of 16-year old girl in Unnao Utter Pradesh, have forced the issue onto the national agenda. The worst of it is that in, both, Kathua and Onnao cases people associated with the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) were involved directly as also indirectly. In Unnao, the minor girl was not only raped by a BJP legislator but her father was done to death in police station for complaining about the rape of her daughter. In Kathua, then BJP minister besides several local and state level leaders of the BJP rallied around the people accused in rape and murder of the 8-year nomadic girl. Though the case if now being heard by a court in Pathankote, the BJP leaders are still running a public campaign in favor of the accused. India has long grappled with the issue violence against women. After public outrage and angry demonstration across the country against the rape of a young doctor in Delhi in 2012, government of India introduced some stringent punishment sections to the existing rape law. But it, in no way, helped reduce crimes against women. In a quite reverse way, there was rather increase in sexual crimes against women. But despite the introduction of stricter laws, around 100 sexual assaults are reported to police in the country every day, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, with nearly 39,000 alleged attacks reported in 2016, an increase of 12% from the previous year. It is a serious indictment of a country which boosts of a great humanitarian and cultural history. It should be a matter of concern for the society and country as a whole that India’s glorious past is being replaced by a disgraceful era with open support from the people in power. The rape and murder of Kathua gilr could be termed as a poisonous cocktail of religious bigotry and communal prejudice. The Muslim girl was kept captive in a Hindu temple, fed sedatives and raped repeatedly and latter murdered and dumped in a forest. It was a warning to nomad Muslims to leave the area. Eight Hindu men have been charged with the Kashmir gang-rape and murder. In the southern state of Kerala, a bank manager declared on his Facebook wall that it was “good” that the nomad girl was killed, because “she would have come as a [human] bomb against India tomorrow”. His employers sacked him. It should surprise one that the crimes against women are supported at highest government level. A rape—accused in Rajasthan, Nihal Chand, was accorded a ministerial berth in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in 2014. It doesn’t matter if India is really the most dangerous country for women. It does matter that too many women in India live in a constant state of fear. And our government’s silence tells us that we’re on our own.


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Editorial

Ominous signals

The Kashmir Monitor

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The highway in Kashmir is not just a road these days. It is a statement, a very strong statement that tells the people that they are dominated 24×7. A statement that rings in your ears, reminding you that you may live here but the place isn’t yours. The highway is also a proof of the Kashmir imbroglio at its worst these days. You reside along the highway, you need a permission to cross it. You need to drive to a hospital and use the highway, you need to ask a magistrate first. You dare question the men in uniform, you end up beaten and humiliated, not matter who you are. On Tuesday, the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) of Dooru in Anantnag, who’s supposed to permit civilians to use the road, was himself beaten black and blue by army personnel manning the highway. Ironically, the Magistrate was facilitating India’s ‘democracy’ in Kashmir. He was on election duty and also heading towards Qazigund to resolve the matter of traffic congestion on the highway in the morning. The Magistrate and his subordinates, who, as per his written statement, were travelling in a government vehicle, were stopped at Dalwach crossing by the army men ordering them to halt till the convoy passed. The magistrate complied. But for no reason, his driver was dragged out and beaten by the armed personnel. When the magistrate tried to intervene, telling the men in camouflage that he was an SDM and was called in by the District Magistrate Anantnag, who, as per the statement was waiting for him at Vessu, he was picked up by collar, abused and dragged, and then thrashed on gunpoint. The officials, as per the SDM’s statement, were held on gunpoint, their vehicle and other belongings, including their phones and election-related material, were searched and damaged. As if that wasn’t enough humiliation, the officials were then held hostage for about half an hour, during which the army personnel removed the safety locks of their weapons, aimed guns at them and threatened to kill them. It was only after the Deputy Commissioner Anantnag reached the spot that the SDM and other officials were set free. Imagine what a commoner would be facing if a magistrate goes through such disgrace and ordeal! The government forces in Kashmir are not concerned about who, or in what state, you are. You can be a busy government official, who needs to reach some place of importance, you can be a patient in an ambulance, who needs immediate medical care, you can be anyone but for the gun-wielding troopers, you are the same. They treat you as cannon fodder, lesser human beings, who can be jack-booted on the might of laws like AFSPA. The claim is not rhetorical. Only last Wednesday, an ambulance ferrying a cancer patient, was stopped on the highway to let the convoys pass through. The man eventually died. A video of the incident when the ambulance was stopped had gone viral on social media. A person can be seen telling the paramilitary trooper that they were carrying a patient, but the trooper does not allow him to pass through until the long, serpentine convoy clears. Another video that had gone viral on social media shows a young lad being choked down by an armed trooper. Apparently, the incident happened on the Sanat Nagar highway intersection in Srinagar. The youth literally has a fight with the armed forces, who pounced upon him, thrashing him with their long, wooden batons. All these incidents carry a clear message for the people of Kashmir: that the oppressors will treat you as second-class citizens in your own homeland, and they will do so with impunity. Still for the sake of argument and the fact that we believe in the near-hollow image of whatever little freedom is left in this place, the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Satya Pal Malik is expected to use his office and establish some sanity on the ground. How do you expect to conduct elections, an exercise of democracy, in a place where the electorate is suppressed with muscle power? Mr Governor, it is time to do something even if that means just a face-saving act for you.

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Editorial

Speaking Truth to Power

The Kashmir Monitor

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The people who are either in power or with wealth and influence like to be followed or obeyed and usually don’t like detractors challenging their wrong views or opinions. Speaking truth to power is not easy and requires moral courage and deep conviction. Thus, it is not difficult to see the rarity of such a trait in today’s human beings who seem to be motivated more by material gains than what’s morally right and just.
The religion of Islam puts great emphasis on upholding truth and justice under all circumstances, even against one’s loved ones. Let me share below some relevant verses of the Qur’an:“O ye who believe! Be ye staunch in justice, witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or (your) parents or (your) kindred, whether (the case be of) a rich man or a poor man, for Allah is nearer unto both (them ye are). So follow not passion lest ye lapse (from truth) and if ye lapse or fall away, then lo! Allah is ever Informed of what ye do.” –(4:135)
“O ye who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity and let not hatred of any people seduce you that ye deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty. Observe your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is informed of what ye do.” –(5:8)
Prophet Muhammad said, “Speak the truth even when it is bitter.” He also said, “No man can attain a firm faith, unless he developed strength of character and that cannot be achieved unless one acquires the habit of speaking the truth.” He said, “By Allah, you must enjoin good and forbid evil, and hold the hand of aggressors to persuade them to act justly and make them steadfast on truth, failing which Allah will punish you along with others (i.e., wrong doers) and you will be cursed like the Bani Israel.”
Caliph Umar famously said to a congregation of Muslims gathered in a mosque near Jerusalem, “… And speak the truth. Do not hesitate to say what you consider to be the truth. Say what you feel. Let your conscience be your guide. Let your intentions be good, for verily God is aware of your intentions. In your deeds your intentions count. Fear God, and fear no one else.”
It is not difficult to understand how and why the Qur’anic commandments and Islamic teachings had emboldened many Muslims throughout the Islamic history, dating from the time of the first call of pure monotheism to more contemporary times, to dare to speak the truth. When Prophet preached pure monotheism amongst the pagan Arabs of his time, he and his followers) faced much resistance from the leaders of the community. Islam was a new faith amongst the Arabs of the 7th century C.E. that challenged the old order – customs, traditions, rules and regulations, requiring uncompromising belief in an unseen God – Allah. It challenged the Makkan aristocracy. It required the believer to change his/her lifestyle so that he/she won’t lie, deceive, gamble, intoxicate, kill, murder, steal, fornicate, commit female infanticide, etc. It required fasting (without food and water) from dawn to dusk, during the entire month of Ramadan, a task which was very difficult in unusually hot summer days of Arabia. It required praying five times daily to remind the believer of his/her servitude to Allah and accountability of his/her deeds – good and bad, large and small. It demanded paying the poor-due (zakat) and making regular charity (sadaqah), feeding the indigent and relieving pains and sufferings of fellow creatures – acts that are against innate human attitude towards wealth and possession. It advocated freeing of slaves. It demanded fair treatment of all – especially, the women and orphans. It preached brotherhood and sisterhood of mankind, irrespective of one’s upbringing, colour, race, nationality and wealth. It demanded standing out for truth and justice, even if it was against one’s own soul (nafs). It demanded leading a clean life away from sin and vice that is always mindful of relationship with Allah, fellow creatures and environment, and his/her own self.

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Editorial

The highway blues

The Kashmir Monitor

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The Srinagar-Jammu National Highway is no more a freeway. The 290-km long road, the only surface link between the valley and the rest of the world, is in the worst condition with landslides, shooting stones and road sinking becoming a regular feature. After every two or three days, the road is closed for general traffic due to one or the other reason. The reasons are not only natural but man-made too. The haphazard and unplanned human interference in the mountainous region in the name of road-widening is the main of cataclysms in major parts of the highway. The 51-km Banihal—Ramban—Naushri patch and 25-km Chinani—Udhampur stretch are in the worst condition. On a normal day when there are no landslides or any other hindrance, it takes a passenger vehicle 8 to 10 hours to cross over the danger zone. For truckers, it is normal for them to take three to four days to cross over the highway. In case of blockades in the shape of landslides or shooting stones, it can take days together even a light vehicle traveler to reach the destination. There are around two dozen spots on Banihal—Naushri stretch—including Bali Nullah, Amar Cheshma, Naushri, Karool, Ramban, Seri, Kelamore, Fagmoola, Digdool, Khooni nullaha, Pantihal, Magarkoot, Ramsoo, Nachilana, Chamalwas and Shatani Nullaha, which are prone to land-sliding, shooting stones or sinking of road. On Monday the authorities closed the highway for any kind of vehicular movement following landslides at Ramso. As the landslides were cleared by the evening, another blockade struck the highway. Large cracks developed in the road at Ramban near JK bank office causing scare among the residents and travelers. The building housing the bank also developed cracks. The vehicular movement was immediately suspended on the highway and the Bank staff was shifted to a safer place. The local residents staged protest against the Construction Company and concerned government officials for their lackadaisical attitude towards management and repair work of the highway. Hundreds of light vehicles and trucks loaded with essential commodities have been stranded on the highway. Latest reports said that some of these vehicles have been allowed to move towards Srinagar after the repair work was completed. Almost a similar scene is witnessed daily on Chinani-Udhampur patch. Even more hazardous moments scare the travelers due to traffic jams. This predicament is a regular feature on the highway. Even in absence of landslides and other natural blockades, the traffic jams make a daily scene on the road. This is primarily due to ill-management of the vehicular movement. The highway is open for one way traffic only but one finds always a two way movement. It is generally alleged that the police, responsible for managing the traffic on the highway, do allow vehicular movement from the opposite side as well against bribes by the truckers. This two-way traffic causes jams at important bottlenecks. At times travelers get stuck in jams for hours together. Last week, the vehicular movement got blocked at a bottle neck at Udhumpur for around six hours. The passengers who had touched the Udhumpur bypass naka point at 8am were allowed to move forward at 4pm. Passengers complained that it took them 40 hours to reach Srinagar. The passengers and drivers too are responsible for the plight on the highway. They overtake each other, in their bid to make it first, and form several lines leaving little space for vehicles coming from opposite side to pass on. This is the main cause of traffic jam on the road which, on occasions, takes hours to clear. As the highway is the sole link, it is the responsibility of everyone to adhere to traffic rules to make it a safe and smooth journey.

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