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.
Hand and Plough to go hand-in-hand
Jammu, Mar 20: Sealing an alliance after days of hectic parleys, the Congress and National Conference Wednesday announced they will fight two and one Lok Sabha seats respectively, while agreeing on a “friendly contest” on the rest three constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir.
In a joint press conference here, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and NC patron Farooq Abdullah told the media that while the Congress will contest on the Jammu and Udhampur seats, the National Conference will fight from Srinagar.
There will be a “friendly contest” between the two parties on the Baramulla, Anantnag and Ladakh seats, Abdullah said.
“I will contest from the Srinagar seat,” he told the press conference.
State Congress chief Gulam Ahmed Mir and AICC General Secretary Ambika Soni were also present during the presser.
The state sends six Lok Sabha MPs.
The arrangement was worked out after a four-member Congress team led by Azad visited the residence of Farooq Abdullah at Bhatandi here.
Senior National Conference leaders were present in the meeting.
Azad declared that keeping in view the stature of Farooq in the national and the state politics, the Congress will not field its candidate against him from Srinagar Lok Sabha Constituency.
He lauded the crucial role being played by senior Abdullah in the national politics in strengthening secular forces and isolating the divisive parties, which pose grave threat to India’s unity.
He said India has been hugely heeding to the advice of the National Conference leader which was greatly witnessed during the Opposition conclaves in various parts of the country including Kolkata.
Farooq advised the Congress to stich alliance with the like-minded parties elsewhere in the country in order to meeting the challenge posed by divisive and communal forces.
He said India is passing through a difficult phase and there was urgent need to unite and foil the machinations of the inimical forces.
While the Congress team comprised senior leader Ambika Soni, Pradesh Congress President Ghulam Ahmed Mir and former minister Nawang Rigzin Jora, the National Conference was represented in the meeting by senior leader Mohammed Shaffi Uri besides Provincial Presidents Devender Singh Rana and Nasir Aslam Wani.
Cong surrendered to NC’s ‘pro-separatist’ agenda: BJP
Monitor News Bureau
Srinagar, Mar 20: The Jammu and Kashmir BJP Wednesday alleged that the Congress had conceded to the National Conference’s (NC) “pro-separatist” agenda after the two parties announced a pre-poll alliance in the state.
The Congress and the NC finalised arrangements for the six Lok Sabha seats of the state earlier in the day.
“The NC-Congress alliance is an eye wash and a wakeup call for Jammu,” BJP spokesperson Brig (retd) Anil Gupta told reporters.
“The Congress has not only surrendered to the National Conference but also conceded to the pro-separatist, Kashmir-centric, communal and divisive agenda of that party,” he said.
He added that the “opportunistic” alliance was aimed at promoting “Kashmiri hegemony”.
With the NC insisting on contesting from all the three seats in Kashmir, the party’s couldn’t-care-less attitude towards Jammu is obvious, Gupta said.
The BJP spokesperson claimed the Congress, like the NC, will oppose granting citizenship to West Pakistan refugees and inheritance rights to the state’s daughters.
The Congress-NC combine will put an end to anti militancy operations and revive the over ground support network, Gupta alleged.
“They will revoke the ban on Jamaat-e-Islami Kashmir and promote radicalisation in Kashmir. They will ensure that Rohingya and Bangladeshi Muslims are given permanent residence so that the demography of the region is changed and Jammu also becomes insecure like the Valley,” he warned.
“People of Jammu will do a great disservice to their future generations if they vote for the communal and divisive agenda of the NC-Congress alliance,” Gupta said.
“It would not be surprising if the Peoples Democratic Party also joins hands with them to further marginalise the voice of Jammu,” he said.
While the Congress will contest on the Jammu and Udhampur seats, the NC will fight from Srinagar, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said at a joint press conference here with NC president Omar Abdullah.
There will be a “friendly contest” between the two parties on the Baramulla, Anantnag and Ladakh seats, Abdullah said.
Notification issued for Srinagar constituency
Monitor News Bureau
Srinagar, Mar 20: With the Election Commission issuing notification for general elections to the 2-Srinagar Parliamentary Constituency, the Returning Officer (RO) for the Constituency, Dr Shahid Iqbal Choudhary, has issued guidelines to candidates for filing of nomination papers.
The guidelines state that nominations for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat can be filed at the office of the Returning Officer from 11 am to 3 pm adding that number of proposers allowed are one for candidates of national and state parties and ten for unrecognized parties and independents.
It further states that the maximum number of persons allowed at the time of filing of nomination by a candidate are 5 including the candidate whereas the maximum number of vehicles allowed for each candidate are 3.
The candidates will also have to have separate bank accounts opened before filing their nominations.
The guidelines state that no column on the nomination form must be left blank.
The candidates have been advised to go through the latest guidelines of the ECI or approach the office of the RO for further clarifications to avoid shortcomings in the nomination papers.
ADC Srinagar KK Sidha has been appointed as the nodal officer for facilitating nomination of candidates.
Pertinently, as per the election notification for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat, the last date for filing of nominations is 26 March 2019 while the scrutiny of nomination papers will be conducted on March 27.
The last date for withdrawal of nominations is March 29 whereas the polling will be held on April 18 (from 7 am to 6 pm).
The Srinagar Lok Sabha seat is spread over three districts of Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal. It has 12,90,318 voters who are eligible to cast their votes at 1,716 polling stations set up in the constituency.
The RO said that 26 polling stations will be set up for migrant voters of the Lok Sabha constituency including 21 in Jammu, 1 in Udhampur and 4 in New Delhi.
State polls delayed as JK sought addt’l 70k troops
New Delhi, Mar 20: The Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections were deferred as the state administration asked for over 70,000 paramilitary troops for conducting simultaneous polls, a demand which could not be acceded to, officials said Wednesday.
A home ministry official said the Jammu and Kashmir administration’s demand of about 717 companies of paramilitary personnel could not be met as a large number of forces would be required across the country for general elections.
A company of paramilitary comprises about 100 personnel.
The state elections may be held any time after the Parliamentary polls, the officials said.
The Home Ministry and the administration of J&K, which is currently under the President’s rule, had apprised the Election Commission of the security situation in the state when a team of the poll panel had visited there on March 4-5.
The EC team had gone there for assessing the situation and checking poll preparedness in the wake of the February 14 militant strike in Pulwama in which over 40 CRPF troopers were killed.
The J&K administration’s demand could not be met as a large number of personnel would be required for deployment across the country during the Parliamentary polls, therefore, the state elections were deferred, the official said.
The demand on behalf of the Jammu and Kashmir administration was placed by the then Addition Director General of Jammu and Kashmir Police Muneer Khan, who was recently appointed as State Chief Information Commission.
The National Conference, the PDP and the Congress, had sought simultaneous polls and criticised the EC decision. The Jammu and Kashmir unit of the BJP had also pitched for holding the polls together.
Higher deployment of forces may be necessitated during the polls as they have to secure the routes to be taken by the candidates for campaign, the venue of rallies, besides the security of candidates itself.
During the 2014 polls, a little more than 10,000 polling stations were set up, while the EC has announced the number will be 11,316 this time, requiring additional forces to secure them.
While 77 candidates were in the fray for the six Lok Sabha seats in 2014, 831 fought the state elections a few months later to elect 87 MLAs.
In the 2014 state assembly elections, a total of 428 companies of paramilitary forces were deployed and 47 were managed from the existing counterinsurgency grid, another official said.
During the last Parliamentary elections, the security situation had improved considerably and about 300 companies were deployed of which 126 were drawn from the counterinsurgency grid.
Before that, during the Parliamentary elections of 2009, altogether 300 companies were deployed on poll duties and 58 were again mobilised internally.
In the 2008 assembly elections, 218 companies were sought from the Centre and in addition 58 were mobilised internally by the then state government, the official said.
Another official said the large number of security personnel would be required for the Assembly elections too as Pakistan-based militant groups would make all out efforts to disrupt the process not only in the Kashmir Valley but in border districts such as Rajouri, Poonch and Doda.
During the last assembly elections, the government had provided about 100 SUVs to the candidates and requirement of such vehicles would be more this time, the official said.
The final assessment on holding the assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir will be taken by a three-member panel set up by the Election Commission.
The governor’s rule was imposed in in the state on June 19, 2018 when the Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP government was reduced to minority following withdrawal of support by the 25-member BJP.
Initially, the assembly was kept in suspended animation, but the governor on November 21 dissolved the 87-member house after the PDP, supported by the Congress and arch-rivals National Conference, tried to stake claim to form a new government.
When the governor’s rule expired on December 19, 2018, President’s rule was imposed in the state as under the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, there is no provision for extension of governor’s rule.
Valley shuts against Rizwan’s custodial killing
Srinagar, Mar 20: A complete shutdown was observed in Kashmir valley on Wednesday against the alleged custodial killing of Rizwan Assad Pandith, a principal of a local public school in Awantipora who was detained on Sunday.
All the business establishments were closed and public traffic was off the roads.
The shutdown was observed in all the district headquarters in the Valley.
Heavy contingent of forces were deployed in old city Srinagar to thwart any rallies and protests. Internet in various areas was slowed down.
Rizwan died in police custody after he was a suspect for questioning in militancy related case.
Reports said that the family is associated with Jamat -e- Islami and his father, Asadullah Pandit is a member of the organization.
JeI has been declared unlawful and most of their leadership has been jailed. Joint Resistance leadership called for a shutdown against what they termed as ‘custodial killing of a teacher’.
Rizwan’s body was handed over to the family late last night and thousands participated in his last rites before he was laid to rest amid massive pro freedom, pro Islam and Pro Pakistan sloganeering.
Meanwhile, authorities have suspended Train service for security reasons after receiving an advisory from divisional administration and police.
A railway official said that no train will run on Srinagar-Badgam and Baramulla in north Kashmir. Similarly, no train will also chug on Badgam-Srinagar-Anantnag-Qazigund in south Kashmir to Banihal in Jammu region.