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Editorial

Road rage in Jammu and Kashmir

The Kashmir Monitor

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The death of 17 persons in a road accident in Kishtwar last week has again showed up that human tragedies occurring on the state road do concern little to the people in power. At least, 15 other persons were injured in the accident. That was the third major accident in Kishtwar in the past one month. On August 21, 13 persons were killed and 12 others injured when their vehicle plunged into a gorge in the same district. Jammu and Kashmir ranks second across India in the tally of road accidents per 10,000 vehicles with an average of over 900 deaths every year in the last five years, according to the union ministry of road transport and highways report released recently. Sikkim and Madhya Pradesh are the two other states with the highest number of road accidents. The average number of deaths in a year has been over 900 in the state during last 5 years. Last year 926 persons have died in over 5,000 road mishaps across the state. Year 2016 witnessed 958 deaths in road accidents, while 917 people have died in 2015. During 2014 and 2013 the number stood at 992 and 990 respectively. The study also revealed that any accident in Jammu and Kashmir has 64 percent chances of being “death prone”, the worst among Indian states. Vehicle design, speed of operation, road design, road environment, driving skill, and drivers’ behaviour are picked up as some of the main factors that lead to deaths on roads. Nearly one-third of all road accidents can be attributed to rash driving. Dilapidated and half constructed roads do also contribute to this grave human tragedy. Most people would probably agree that travelling above 80 kmph is on the state roads is dangerous and would lead to a disastrous accident. The tipper and Sumo drivers are feared as most dreaded. In chase for making most of their business and reaching their destinations ahead of their fellow drivers, they are causing scare on roads. They race in extraordinary speed. Given the condition of our roads, even moderate speed can drive one to death. It goes without saying that Jammu and Kashmir has the worst roads. These are not just narrow but also in poor condition. Most of these roads are dilapidated and rundown. That is not true about rural areas only but the main cities of Srinagar and Jammu too have poorly managed narrow roads. To cap it all, the government is quite indifferent to the mess on roads and rising deaths. Government in virtual terms has done nothing to minimize deaths. Beyond announcing token relief in some bucks, government thinking appears to have got frozen. The government awakes to such horrific incident on the day of happening only. Issuing statements of concern and sympathizing with the families of the dead and announcing relief is all government has been doing. All that is needed is that government should move beyond it if it in real terms cares for its people. It needs to take stringent measures to restore peace on roads. In the first place, the road maintenance and management should be improved. Roads are the face of development. Bad roads not only speak of bad governance but also put the lives of citizens at risk. In the last assembly session, the state government introduced a bill in the House to provide for the constitution of an all powerful State Road Safety Council and establishment of a Road Safety Fund. But nothing more was heard or done on the subject as follow up action. The government also needs to galvanize and discipline its traffic management machinery. Traffic police and other organs of the state responsible for regulation of traffic are not doing their job honestly. They have turned their duty into business. Rather than putting a hold on unauthorized driving, they encourage it by taking money from un-licensed drivers. Overcrowding and overloading in passenger vehicles is another source of income for them. Many traffic policemen could be seen on prowl for such drivers at strategic points. In final analysis, the picture is quite grim. Government need to have a re-look and rethink of what it has been doing rather undoing in restoring peace on Kashmir roads if it really cares for people


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Editorial

What the exit polls mean for India

The Kashmir Monitor

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A series of exit polls have predicted return of Narendra Modi to power as the voting process in the general elections completed on Sunday. More than half a dozen polls suggested that Modi and his party BJP are all set to get the majority in the elections and they will get 280 to 300 seats (in the House of 543) when the votes would be counted on May 23. It goes without saying that exit polls are not exact polls. India has a patchy track record of exit polls. In 2004 and 2009 general elections, the exit polls had predicted BJP’s win. But the final result was against the BJP. It was the Congress which stole the show. However, if this time the polls matched the official results, it would have a loud message for the entire country. Sectarian divide and economic distress have been two key issues which dominated the five-year rule of Narendra Modi. The rise of Hinutwa forces was the other main highlight of this rule. Several moves aimed at changing the idea of India (from secular to Hindu) were set in foot at various levels. Key Hindutwa figures were given crucial positions in and outside the government that had created a sought of deep wedge in the society. Muslims, lower caste Hindus (Dalits) and Christians mainly faced the brunt of this campaign. Dozens of Muslims were killed by Hindu zealots (cow vigilantes) on flimsy accusations of transporting cows for slaughter and carrying beef. In UP, under Adityanath Yogi, places with Muslim names were changed with Hindu names which many people saw as an attempt to erase the Muslim past. The farmers’ distress was at its peak. Hundreds of farmers committed suicides following deteriorating economic conditions. The GST and demonetization affected badly the traders and business class who expressed their anger publicly.

Despite all this, Modi (if one goes by the exit poll) remains incredibly the most popular leader of India. He was the face of the party’s campaign, addressing 142 rallies across the country. In his speeches, he targeted Congress and other opposition parties and leaders as “Pakistani proxies”. It appears that the ideological change the Modi government has initiated in his previous rule has got social approval. The worrying part of it is that Modi’s supposed victory would embolden the Hindutwa brigade to assert Hindu nationalist policies with more vigor and force. For the people of Jammu and Kashmir too it is fraught with more risks. It is yet another hard era dawning at the people of Kashmir. Removal Articles 370 and 35-A of Indian constitution which safeguard the interests of the people of the state have been part of BJP’s election campaign. No less a person that home minister Rajnath Singh said on several occasions that these articles would be quashed. It is most likely that the new BJP government would undo these constitutional provisions to annul the state’s special status. It would mean yet another period of uncertainty ahead of the people of Kashmir. The larger picture is that Indo-Pak relations touched the lowest ever ebb in the past five years of Modi rule. The two countries virtually came to the brink of nuclear war. The air strike inside Pakistan by Indian air force and the retaliatory action by Pakistan army had plunged the region into the war, which however was averted due to international intervention. Muscular policy in foreign as well as domestic affairs is likely to remain the core of Modi’s new government. Its consequences are not difficult to imagine. The minorities, Muslims, Dalits and Christian in particular, have definitely a cause to be worried if the exit polls turned out to exact polls.

 
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Editorial

The “messy” business of assembly elections

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The Assembly elections, which many people had speculated would be held soon after parliamentary elections, are unlikely to be held so soon.

The 40-days polling process has come to an end with final phase of polling for 59 parliamentary seats across different states on Sunday.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) took stock of Kashmir situation on many occasions in the past one month to weigh out the possibility of Assembly elections but there has been no definite word from the Commission so far.

 

Last month, some hints had been dropped from different sources that the Assembly elections could be held in June before the start of Amarnath Yatra. However, the way ECI has maintained silence on the subject; it is now unlikely that any such plan is under the consideration of the Commission. It is believed the elections could be postponed till November. Jammu and Kashmir is currently reeling President’s rule.

Last year, Governor’s Rule was imposed in the state on June 19 after the ruling alliance between the BJP and Mehbooba Mufti fell apart. Six months later, on November 21, the state Assembly was dissolved by the Governor. A month later, on December 19, President’s Rule was imposed.

Its six-month term ends in July 18. President’s Rule in the state needs to be extended before July 2 for which the new government at the centre has to take charge immediately after the election results on May 23. What makes the issue even more complicated is what if new government at the Centre refused to extend President’s rule beyond the scheduled date. ECI is reported to have sought legal opinion on the subject to escape the blame for the mess that could happen.
Almost all the pro election groups in Jammu and Kashmir are in favour of holding assembly elections without delay. NC, PDP and BJP have been demanding that elections should be held as soon as possible. Election Commission of India visited the state and held consultations with the relevant political parties and state administration many a times over the past six months. The elections are delayed under garb of ‘situation not being conducive’. But there is one silver lining which suggests that the assembly elections would not be too difficult proposition. The “peaceful” conduct of parliamentary elections shows the way. Though there had been unprecedented boycott of the polling but these were peaceful as well. A general refrain is that major sections of society were in favor of elected government in the state. They believe that presence of elected government is necessary to safeguard the interests of the state. A common refrain is that the BJP-led central government has been trying to trample upon the state’s special position by undoing Article 35-A and 370 of the Indian constitution which grants some special position to Jammu and Kashmir. With Delhi’s man (Governor) at the helm of affairs, it is unlikely the present dispensation would defend it. A few months back Governor’s administration took a slew of measures including separating Ladakh from Kashmir division, changes procedure of issuing Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC), amendment in rules of Jammu & Kashmir Protection of Human Rights Act — by virtue of which the State Human Rights Commission will be unable to investigate any complaint of human rights violation submitted one year after the incident — “an act beyond its mandate” has necessitated the need for an elected government. In that context, the sentiment for boycott of polls is not so deep among common people. ECI should take the advantage of the situation and it should not have deferred the assembly polls. The ECI can still rethink and re-schedule the assembly elections soon after the parliamentary elections.


Almost all the pro election groups in Jammu and Kashmir are in favour of holding assembly elections without delay. NC, PDP and BJP have been demanding that elections should be held as soon as possible. Election Commission of India visited the state and held consultations with the relevant political parties and state administration many a times over the past six months. The elections are delayed under garb of ‘situation not being conducive’. But there is one silver lining which suggests that the assembly elections would not be too difficult proposition. The “peaceful” conduct of parliamentary elections shows the way. Though there had been unprecedented boycott of the polling but these were peaceful as well. A general refrain is that major sections of society were in favor of elected government in the state. They believe that presence of elected government is necessary to safeguard the interests of the state. A common refrain is that the BJP-led central government has been trying to trample upon the state’s special position by undoing Article 35-A and 370 of the Indian constitution which grants some special position to Jammu and Kashmir. With Delhi’s man (Governor) at the helm of affairs, it is unlikely the present dispensation would defend it. A few months back Governor’s administration took a slew of measures including separating Ladakh from Kashmir division, changes procedure of issuing Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC), amendment in rules of Jammu & Kashmir Protection of Human Rights Act — by virtue of which the State Human Rights Commission will be unable to investigate any complaint of human rights violation submitted one year after the incident — “an act beyond its mandate” has necessitated the need for an elected government. In that context, the sentiment for boycott of polls is not so deep among common people. ECI should take the advantage of the situation and it should not have deferred the assembly polls. The ECI can still rethink and re-schedule the assembly elections soon after the parliamentary elections.

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Editorial

Ramadan beggars

The Kashmir Monitor

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Begging is legally prohibited in Kashmir. But it is the most cherished profession for a large number of people with no fear of law. The generosity with which people oblige beggars by giving them alms is driving more and more people to the profession. Come Ramadan, non-state residents also join this class and one sees beggars surfacing in huge numbers, swarming streets and homes like mosquitoes. They are found everywhere—homes, mosques, streets crossings, shopping malls, government offices, public places. There is no class distinction of these beggars. They are young and old—men, women and children. They are healthy but pose to be infirm, put up indigent faces when they approach their target. It is the easiest and simple way to find sympathy. Begging is professed even by ‘respected’ citizens. They have found novel ways for begging, which do little affect their ‘respectability’. It rather adds to their ‘stature’ and ‘standing’ in social life. They would approach their targets in the name of helping orphans, physically infirm and poor people. One comes across hundreds of people collecting alms in the name of ‘orphanages’. A single ‘orphanage’ generally uses dozens of people—young and old, mostly with long beards—to collects alms, who are paid a particular percentage of the money collected as their return commission. This gives the ‘collectors’ more a sense of commitment and dedications.

Since Kashmir has witnessed deaths at large-scale in the past years of armed trouble, people get influenced easily by the ‘orphan’ theory of money seekers. No doubt there are some credible institutions run of by people of impeccable integrity and honesty which are dedicated to the cause of orphans and poor. One cannot ignore the services rendered by RahatManzil (YateemKhanaBemina), JK YateemTurst and JK Yateem Foundation in this field. People running these institutions deserve all praise and encouragement, and there should be a great reward for them before Almighty Allah as well. There could be some more institutions, which might be contributing towards the society in their own way. But most of the ‘orphanages’ exist only in name. All you need is a hand bill indicating Iftar and Sehri timing and a coupon or receipt book under some orphanage-name. One finds sign boards (of orphanages) erected at various places across the city. But their veracity has never been checked. One wonders how an orphanage can be run in a small room. It should have been the job of police to check the activities of such people. Many such centers are being run under the very nose of police. Some years back KothiBagh Police Station arrested office-bearers of a so-called orphanage for being involved in immoral activities.

Since Ramadan is the month of sympathy and compassion, people give alms to the seekers generously and without checking their antecedents. This has quite a serious negative impact on the entire social fabric of our society. It not only encourages people to take recourse to means of easy money but also inculcates sick and corrupt mindset. Last year, the begging was restricted to some extent after ban on it at public places by district magistrate Srinagar but this time it is the very old scene that is being witnessed on Srinagar streets. There is urgent need to protect our society from this negative fallout. We have already suffered much on this front, and we cannot afford any more losses if we want to live as a responsible and civilized people. Police can play a major role in reining in fake and fraudulent people.

 

During Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah’s government in late 70s, police had cracked down on beggars and the practice had somewhat stopped but for a brief period. It is necessary that the anti-begging law is practiced and society be cleared of this uncivil and insulting menace. People seeking alms in the name of institutions may also be verified, and fake among them be dealt under law.

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