Srinagar, Jan 19: On chilly Friday afternoon, Haroon Rasheed, a Rohingya Muslim refugee, rests on a rock outside his rental accommodation at Khimber here, loudly praying in his native language.
He raises his hands westwards, and prays for peace in Rakhine state of Myanmar from where Muslim have been fleeing to other parts of world to escape ethnic cleansing being executed by the country’s army.
His eyes moisten and sobbing rises as he takes the names of his slain kin: Qasim, his uncle, and Abdul Mutalib, brother-in-law, both of whom “the Buddhist cut into pieces”.
Subconsciously, Rasheed puts on his ragged boots and heads home.
Hesitatingly, he begins narrating his ordeal from the harrowing past, a detail painful enough to make 50-year-old him break into tears like a child.
He recalls January 2014, when had been expecting a good winter harvest at his native place.
“I had never imagined that my condition would be this worse in future. I was a rich man three years ago and now I am living in a shack, far away from my native land. We would have vegetables in our gardens ready to be transported to the market at this time of the year,” he remembers.
Rasheed, a farmer, lived in Mondo, Myanmar, along with his family of five.
In 2014, he, like thousands of other fellow Rohingyas, had to flee in the dead of the night after local Buddhists started attacking Muslims in the area.
“I can’t narrate the scene when I saw my brother-in-law in a pool of blood. All the villagers left and ran for safety,” he says.
Rasheed, pointing to his rugged appearance, says, I “was never like this.”
“I had 20 acres of land, 15 cows and nearly 40 sheep and hens,” he says, refusing to be photographed or filmed.
Tagging along his family, Rasheed, in search of safety and hopefully life, first landed in Bangladesh.
Not satisfied with the earnings and growing expenses, he entered into India via West Bengal border.
“We faced a lot of problems in Bangladesh, where we struggled to find work. The value of money there is too less to suffice our needs. We had to put our lives in danger and entered into Indian Territory,” Rasheed says.
Fearing deporting by the local government in West Bengal, Rasheed says he had to wander in cities like Hyderabad and New Delhi to find a place to live in.
“The voice against the Rohingyas was already growing strong in India, so we had to look for an even safer place,” he says.
His family along with many refugee families lived in a makeshift camp in Jammu for Rs 1,000 a year till 2016.
Rasheed claims that Jammu had not been safe for them initially, as the local Hindu populace would often threaten to exile them.
“Many Rohingya refugee families are living there in Jammu. But we felt that Kashmir, being a Muslim-majority place, would be safer for us, which we do feel here,” he says.
A year of safety, food and shelter in Kashmir is not that satisfies these Rohingyas refugees. All these 11 refugee families long to return to their homeland.
“If anyone tells me peace has returned to Burma, I won’t stay here for a moment. Our country is a part of our Imaan (faith). Even if we are offered biryani, or any other cuisine to eat, it doesn’t equal a simple roti available at home,” Rasheed says.
Rasheed is joined by another Rohingya refugee Anayatullah, a student turned labourer, who said that living in Kashmir during winters have been challenging for them.
“We are refugees without enough clothes or food. We came from a warm place and our body cannot bear this bone-chilling cold here,” he says.
Anaytullah claims they rarely get any help from the locals and have to toil hard during harsh winters to eke out their living.
“Initially, the nearby villagers came to help us by donating rice and vegetables. But then, we had to arrange everything ourselves by doing menial jobs,” he says.
“During winter there is not much work, even if we find work, it is hard to take up the job during the cold climate.”
Although they get good returns compared to other states, Anaytullah says, they have to pay a hefty sum as rent for their stay in Kashmir.
“Each family which has sole earner has to pay Rs 2,000-3,000 for each room. But the problems like health issues and food is consuming our earnings,” he says.
The refugees say they often have to struggle for basic needs like electricity and water at their rented accommodation.
“Our women have to walk a kilometre at least to fetch water. Then this absence of electricity has made our lives miserable during cold weather. We can’t even complain, as we are refugees here,” he says.
JK’s liability swells
Srinagar, Jan 17: Similar to previous years, Jammu and Kashmir has accrued a liability of over Rs 7,000 crore in the ongoing fiscal even as experts blame state’s political leadership for not finding a solution to the issue.
Official documents of the finance department reveal that the state is running a liability of Rs 7,531 crore so far this fiscal, a figure close to the annual build-up J&K witnesses every year.
The total liabilities for the state have now swelled up to over Rs 68,000 crore.“The three fiscal parameters–revenue deficit, fiscal deficit and outstanding liability–indicate the extent of overall fiscal balance in the finances of the state government during the specified period. The nature of deficit is an indicator of the prudence of budgetary policy of the state government. Another useful measure of the deficit-base in a state’s fiscal policy is the State’s Own Deficit (SOD),” the documents reveal.
Noted economist, Professor Nisar Ali said the state’s expenditure and revenue system has been “mismanaged”.“The power purchase has been an important factor for swelling liabilities. The GST has further increased the mismanagement between expenditure and tax revenue,” he said.
Prof Ali also blamed J&K’s political leadership for increasing liabilities.“The annual liabilities increase due to power purchases despite the state having huge hydro resources. The state’s leadership has failed to fight for the return of power projects.
“It also depends upon the government of India how it wants to find a solution to this problem,” he added.
Endorsing Prof Ali’s views, a senior official of the finance department said that little or no use of revenue generation avenues, increasing power purchases and bulging expenditure on salaries are the main contributors to the escalating liabilities of the state.“There is a steep rise in salary and pension bills, power deficit, rising interest liabilities, loan repayments, and deficit on account of non-tax revenue,” the official said.
Conducive atmosphere inevitable for dialogue: Farooq
Srinagar, Jan 17: Former Chief Minister and National Conference (NC) president, Dr Farooq Abdullah on Thursday said that the favourable atmosphere is inevitable for dialogue, which is the only way out to settle the issues.
Addressing party workers in Jammu, Dr Farooq said that the dialogue is the only way out to resolve the issues but there is a need of conducive atmosphere which is inevitable. He added that “under the shades of gun, no dialogue process is possible. We have to stop bullet culture for lasting peace in the region.”
“NC has also given priority to the people. When I became Chief Minister in 1996, I fought with many things as the school were shut, no bridge was there, no office was functioning as the people were frightened by the turmoil then, but I stood up to fight against the forces who were inimical to peace.”
About 35 percent reservation in other states, Dr Farooq said that the incumbent Chief Minister of Odissa, Naveen Patnayak has written to him, suggesting there should be reservation of 35 percentfor women in Jammu and Kashmir also. “We will implement the law, which will ensure 35 percent reservation to women in the State once getting into the power,” he said.
However, he said that it is not easy to take such decisions as when his government took a decision to make 50 percent reservation for girls in Medical College then some people knocked the door of Supreme Court to put halt over the decision.
Dr Farooq also appealed the party workers to work hard and ensure the win of NC leaders who will be contesting the elections.
Abundant snowfall in January makes Gulmarg the perfect winter-destination for tourists
Srinagar, Jan 17: Unlike last January, the abundant snowfall so far this month has attracted a lot of tourists to Gulmarg as the destination is brimming with over 90 per cent occupancy these days.
The valley has received at least four moderate to heavy snowfalls this year with an even stronger wet spell predicted from January 19 to 23.
Tourists from across the world are cherishing this and making their way to Gulmarg, whose slopes offer a perfect destination for skiing.
Speaking to The Kashmir Monitor, CEO Gulmarg Development Authority, Syed Hanief Balkhi said that most of the hotels are fully occupied as people are heading to Gulmarg to enjoy the charismatic scenery offered by the snow-covered hills.“Gulmarg is under 4-5 feet snow and is looking like a playground these days. Tourists from India and abroad enjoy skiing, snow cycling, ice skating, snow-sculptor activity, sledge-racing and other games here,” he said.
Apart from the hoteliers, the rush of the tourists, Balkhi said, has provided good workdays for sledge keepers, skating guides, local cab drivers and many others associated with tourism.
In 2018, as per the official figures, Gulmarg received 5.76 lakh tourists as compared to 5.69 lakh in the preceding year.
The tourism players also expressed satisfaction over the rush of tourists heading to the valley.
President Hotel and Restaurant Owners Federation, Wahid Malik said that snowfalls have pushed up the number of tourists visiting the valley.
“Gulmarg saw lesser arrival when winters begun, however, now the snow has ensured all the hotels and resorts are booked,” he said adding that Gulmarg hotels are running on 90 per cent occupancy so far this season.
Gulmarg is declared the ‘heartland of winter sports in India’ by the Winter Games Federation. This year too, Gulmarg Tourism Authority is going to organise winter sports carnival starting from the first week of February.
Additional Director Tourism Department, Nasir Khan said that Gulmarg is “rocking these days as it has received 34,712 and 35,022 tourists in the month of November and December”.
“We are going to organize the winter carnival from the next month to make the place more attractive,” he said.
He added that night market and cultural shows will also be arranged by the department.