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What Is It Like To Be A Muslim In India?

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By Moin Qazi

Do not show the face of Islam to others; instead show your face as the follower of true Islam representing character, knowledge, tolerance and piety

? Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (17 October 1817 – 27 March 1898)

 

An educated, secular and liberal Indian Muslim is in a bind; he is torn between finding the right balance between loyalty to his faith and adherence to the new tests of patriotism being imposed by certain intolerant groups. The high voltage saffronisation wave that is demonising Muslims has broken the resistance of even strong neutral and secular groups who are now inclined to go with the official tide. The centuries old secular souls is slowly being ruptured.

India has suddenly become deaf to its minorities who are shuddering with muteness at the growing intolerance of saffron hordes. Mocking and ridiculing of Muslims is now rife in public spaces.

India’s once cherished and internationally lauded secular values have been drowned in the sea of primitive majoritarian politics which is driven more by uncontrollable rage than by sensible reason. Not just Hindutva foot soldiers but democratic institutions and spaces are being used to suppress religious freedom. We are fast seeing a potential breakdown of what was a flourishing multicultural society. Muslims are made to routinely confront a culture of fear which sees everything Muslim as pure evil.

I can feel the disdain emanating from officers when they look at my passport and find I havea Muslim name. Other friends — much richer and better known than most of us — will tell you how difficult it is to rent a house if you are a Muslim.A sense of despair runs through the entire Muslim community and they are passing through the most horrific phase post Partition.

Continuing inebriation on account of political popularity has emboldened the intolerant elements in the ruling party, who are now openly imposing their own moral benchmarks with regard to diet, dress, faith and patriotism totally overlooking the cultural sentiments of others. This rhetoric is injecting anti-Muslim sentiments in a climate when Muslims are already feeling alienated and marginalised. The political and social environment has never been so hostile. An ordinary Muslim is being hissed and snarled with vileness by all and sundry in full glare of the law.

The majority of Indian Muslims not only have to worry about worsening communal relations and police brutality, but also face high unemployment and widespread poverty.

They live in urban ghettos or squalid villages and suffer from ignorance, ridicule, humiliation and the profound sense of pain caused by calculated and senseless ridicule of their religious practices only serves to alienate them from the national mainstream.

India must not forget that it has an entire generation of young Muslims who are born into a turbulent era, and whose mindset and identity is being nurtured in an environment where they apprehend being suspected as ‘disloyal others’. Some of them are highly talented and are in the vanguard of the nation’s new development revolution.

The negative profiling of Muslims can cause alienation among the Muslim community; and as a result of this alienation, there will be enough space for fissiparous tendencies leading to long term fissures. Studies have shown that one of the factors underpinning radicalisation is a sense of loss of belonging and identity.

An analysis of 198 countries by the Pew Research Centre finds India is the fourth-worst country in the world for religious intolerance and violence. Only three countries — Syria, Nigeria and Iraq — are before India in this name-and-shame list, and even Pakistan fares much better than India on this front, being in the tenth position.

Muslims have been forced to think deeply about their role in present day political climate in India. It isn’t so much a battle of what it means to be a Muslim in India. It’s a greater battle between broader India, of how tolerant and open-minded it will be about minorities, about Indian values of democracy and secularism, about recognising how true they want to be to the Indian values of openness and freedom for all.

Of late, the Indian secular fabric is increasingly becoming fragile. Many on either side don’t believe in either tolerance or moderation and are determined to follow the age old adage ‘paying them in their own coin’ too literally. The official machinery which had earlier been by and large very subtle in it communal agenda is now baring its fangs brazenly.

Religion is often portrayed simply as a social or political construct, although for millions of people, religion is a daily practice, and the very real framework of an understanding that connects human lives to a spiritual reality. For the laity, faith is the prism through which they view the world, and their religious communities are their central environments. For them it is a benign force, shorn of the political sentiments which are manipulated into an ideological construct by ideological groups for their election algorithms.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of faith in the lives of people for whom it is a creed of peace and love. It is evident that most people would prefer to live in peace than in conflict. At their very core, all religions espouse peace, tolerance and compassion. Yet, often the only religious voices on the front pages are those speaking messages of hatred or violence, especially in stories about conflict or social tensions. One of the best ways of breaking down barriers between faiths is building relationships and getting to know each other. It’s not just a platitude but it actually is a verse from the Q’uran where the Lord says, ‘He made us different so we can get to know each other.’
Taking that verse to heart and getting to know other people and coming together on issues that are common to all of us can synergise a new spirit of bonhomie. We’re all concerned with education and poverty, growing inflation, surging unemployment and taxes, where we can find common ground and work towards a better world and better future for all of us.

There is much in common among people irrespective of the faith they profess. It is this which needs to be explored. We need to be able to see the other and say ‘we understand you are different, but we also understand the difference’.
There is ample scope for reconciliation if only we are willing to avail of the myriad opportunities staring at us.

Despite the many superficial differences, all our deeper and more permanent values are similar. The respect for knowledge, justice, truth, compassion towards the less privileged commitment for healthy family life, and the striving to improve our world and make it a better place for everyone are commonalities to people of all faiths. A more sobering reflection can help us smoothen the ridges that keep straining our relationships.

The majority must realise that the minorities face a severe emotional complex. An ordinary Muslim carries a lot of weight on his shoulders; having a lot of responsibility. Having responsibility to his own community and responsibility to his fellow Indians to not only convey the right impression of Islam but embody the principles of nationalism deemed correct by the majority. You have to be an exemplary, upright and righteous individual; people are going to look at you and judge other Muslims based on your conduct. I have to be on my guard all the time because I know people are looking and they generally are going to associate any actions I do as representative of my religion.

We’re all ambassadors of whatever we are. You’re an ambassador to your faith and society as you live your lives. It is not what you profess or preach that matters; it is finally your actions that define you and your thoughts. Your public perception is built over a period of time and is shaped by the uniformity in your speech and behaviour.

A dichotomous behaviour is bound to erode your credibility and your loyalty to your faith can very well be misperceived as disloyalty to national values. The cardinal values that underpin your faith and your patriotism are normally shared by each other: ethical conduct and pluralist character.
It is worth quoting Dr S Radhakrishnan, the philosopher president of India, ‘What counts is not creed but conduct. By their fruits ye shall know them and not by their beliefs. Religion is not correct belief but righteous living. The Hindu view that every method of spiritual growth, every path to the Truth is worthy of reverence has much to commend itself (The Hindu View of Life, 1962).’
There’s always a certain level of bias initially when people meet you. I think that the main challenge is having those conversations and getting people to a level where they stop seeing you just as a Muslim, but a fellow Indian and person of faith. It is equally true that in recent times the highly volatile and hostile environment has made the situation very complicated. Proffering advices is easier said than done.

Being Muslim and being Indian are compatible and go hand-in-hand. You don’t need to compromise your faith to prove your patriotism; real patriotism is demonstrated through the timeless values of Indian civilisation — fairness, justice, tolerance and pluralism.

I am reminded of the writings of the great author Amin Maalouf on Identity. In re-reading them, I realize I had forgotten how relevant his thinking is for the times in which we live. Written in 1998, Maalouf says:

“[In] the age of globalization and of the ever-accelerating intermingling of elements in which we are all caught up, a new concept of identity is needed, and needed urgently. We cannot be satisfied with forcing billions of bewildered human beings to choose between excessive assertion of their identity and the loss of their identity altogether, between fundamentalism and disintegration. But that is the logical consequence of the prevailing attitude on the subject.

If our contemporaries are not encouraged to accept their multiple affiliations and allegiances; if they cannot reconcile their needs for identity with an open and unprejudiced tolerance of other cultures; if they feel as if they need to choose between the denial of self and the denial of the other – then we shall be bringing into being legions of the lost and hordes of bloodthirsty madmen.”

“For it is the way we look at other people that imprisons them within their own narrowest allegiances. And it is also the way we look at them that may set them free.”

Muslims are faced in a dilemma of dichotomous loyalties and the best inspiration for them in these trying times is of Maulana Azad who was the president of Indian National Congress during the negotiation of independence and was a key ally of Gandhi and Nehru.

‘I am a Musalman and am proud of that fact. Islam’s splendid traditions of 1,300 years are my inheritance. I am unwilling to lose even the smallest part of this inheritance. The teaching and history of Islam, its arts and letters and civilisation, are my wealth and my fortune. It is my duty to protect them.

‘As a Musalman I have a special interest in Islamic religion and culture, and I cannot tolerate any interference with them. But in addition to these sentiments, I have others also which the realities and conditions of my life have forced upon me. The spirit of Islam does not come in the way of these sentiments; it guides and helps me forward.

‘I am proud of being an Indian. I am part of the indivisible unity that is Indian nationality. I am indispensable to this noble edifice, and without me this splendid structure of India is incomplete. I am an essential element which has gone to build India. I can never surrender this claim.

‘It was India’s historic destiny that many human races and cultures and religions should flow to her, finding a home in her hospitable soil, and that many a caravan should find rest here. Even before the dawn of history, these caravans trekked into India and wave after wave of newcomers followed. This vast and fertile land gave welcome to all, and took them to her bosom. One of the last of these caravans, following the footsteps of its predecessors, was that of the followers of Islam.

‘They came here and settled here for good.’

India has been a flag bearer of pluralism and has always held the candle of tolerance, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence. Muslims have time again responded to the challenges of the nation and facts and history attest to their role in building this great nation. Alienating one fifth of this population will not help the country and will be against the spirit of its centuries’ old ethos.

(Moin Qazi, a regular contributor to this newspaper, is the author of ‘Village Diary of a Heretic Banker.’ He has spent more than three decades in the development sector)


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Opinion

A prayer for our times

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Rajeev Bhargava

As all of us ordinary citizens recovered from the carnage in Pulwama, and wondered how the government would respond to this latest instance of cross-border terrorism, one television channel showed us poignant images of grieving relatives of the fallen soldiers. While a few, driven by moral hatred for the perpetrators, were understandably crying for revenge, others, even at this moment of utmost suffering, spoke of the futility of retaliation. “It would only bring similar suffering to fellow humans,” said one widow from the rural hinterland. Hers was a cry for peace, not for vengeful violence. “War can only be the last resort, after everything else has failed,” she wisely counselled.

Yes, war is sometimes necessary, especially in self-defence. But one doesn’t have to be an unconditional pacifist to acknowledge the misfortunes it begets or to decry war mongering. Nor is readiness to go to war the only indicator of patriotism. True, patriots must be prepared to die in defence of their ‘patria’, their mother or fatherland. But one is not any less a patriot if one strives for everyone in his country living peacefully, happily, flourishing, leading life to its fullness. Fighting the daily challenges faced by their countrymen, seeking to improve their lot, always loving them and their habitat, and expressing this love in word or deed as the occasion demands is the everyday vocation of a patriot.

 

 A country at war is different. War is disruptive, and because it is lethal and involves human sacrifice, a patriot must eschew any bravado about it. This is particularly expected from contemporary leaders, patriots who never themselves go to war; quite unlike the past where the ruler who declared war was expected to always lead from the front on the battlefield. After all, it is our Army officers and jawans who die, not the ones who call for and support war. Our rulers move about with elaborate security to protect their own lives. If they don’t allow others to play with their lives, they must ensure that no one plays with the life of their countrymen, most of all our soldiers. Decisions on war must then be taken responsibly, without haste, not for spectacular effect or as tactical ploys in a game.

The inner workings of the human mind are mysterious, however. For it is not these thoughts that crossed my mind when I saw those moving images on television. This reasoning is retrospective; thoughts that have occurred to me now, post-facto. At that time, a strange melange of emotions — feelings of grief, despair, shame, nostalgia — curdled up and then suddenly, from nowhere, the lyrics of an immortal song by Sahir Ludhianvi, set to tune by Jaidev and sung melodiously by Lata Mangeshkar in the 1961 Dev Anand classic Hum Dono, came unbidden to mind: “Maangon ka sindoor na chhutey, maa behenon ki aas naa tootey (may no one be widowed; may no mother or sister lose hope of their loved one returning).”

In the film, these lines are part of a prayer for peace led by the wife and mother of a Major of the Indian Army missing in action — a prayer not only that their own loved one returns home safe but that no wife, mother or sister may lose loved ones in war. Death in war is an interruption, an anomaly. It takes away from us young, active, lively persons who have not yet lived their full life. When a soldier dies in the prime of life, he leaves many tasks unfinished, many relationships incomplete, millions of desires unfulfilled. And according to popular belief, when a person at the height of his powers meets a bloody, violent, untimely end, his prana or atman remains in limbo, trapped in no man’s land; it leaves the body without reaching wherever it is meant to go and keeps hovering around us. May this never happen to anyone, says the poet. “Deh bina bhatke na praan (may the spirit not abruptly detach from the body and wander restlessly).”

But this mellifluous song is more than a comforting prayer for peace. It subtly points fingers at those who injudiciously push us into war, at the economically strong and politically powerful who bring war upon us for their own benefit, to serve their own nefarious purpose. “O saare jag ke rakhawaale, nirbal ko bal dene waale, balwaanon ko de de gyaan (jnana) (you, who watch over the entire universe, you who empower the weak, may you also grant wisdom to the mighty).”

Jnana here refers not simply to knowledge, but to wisdom, moral insight, indeed to conscience. May the rulers rule with a conscience! May they be able to distinguish right conduct from wrong. Really, only such people should guide us when we are faced with the dilemma of whether or not to undertake morally retributive action.

And this is not all. The prayer then becomes a plea that we all be endowed with sanmati — to put our intelligence to good use, to have sound judgments, that all have a conscience. Why? Because unsound judgments, faulty moral reasoning and suspension of good sense are not the lot of leaders alone but also of those who support them and legitimise their actions. It is after all we, ordinary folks, who are swayed by war hysteria. Those without good sense get the leaders they deserve. May the gift of sanmati be bestowed on us. For only people with sanmati can rein in leaders who have lost all sense of good and bad, right and wrong.

But who is this prayer addressed to? “Allah tero naam, Ishwar tero naam (You, whose name is both Allah and Ishwar). In this, his masterstroke, Sahir invokes not only Gandhi, but an entire, centuries-old religio-philosophical legacy of the subcontinent in which all traditions are believed to share the same semantic universe that enables the god of one religion to be translated into the god of another. This is inclusive monotheism at its best, where god is one but referred to in different traditions by different names. And so, the prayer is addressed to Allah, Ishwar, and implicitly to the god of every religion.

With men spewing venom, not satisfied with fighting a war with their own fellow countrymen, itching to go to war with others, nothing (empathy, reason, dialogue) seems to work. Helpless spectators, no longer in control of their collective life, in sight of a looming disaster on the horizon, often break into a prayer. What else can those stripped of agency do but hope that somehow good sense may prevail, that all of us be delivered from the collective insanity that shows no sign of loosening its grip? Thus, those who believe in one god, invoke him; those who believe in gods and goddesses, invoke them; and those who believe in neither, hope for some good fortune to fall in their lap! This is why this is a prayer for our times: we offer this prayer to you, Allah to some, Ishwar to others, that you miraculously bring an end to needless killings, wisdom and conscience to the rich and powerful, and peace and good sense to everyone.

(Courtesy: The Hindu)

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The ‘Clash of Civilisations’ Thesis Stalks the World

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By Ram Puniyani

The horrific massacre in Christchurch on March 15 has shaken the world. The killer, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, is an Australian citizen. Nearly 50 people died in the attack in which Tarrant attacked two mosques. Those killed include nine from India.

Tarrant had fixed a camera on his head so as to live stream the massacre. The Christchurch terrorist was consumed by intense racism and hatred of Muslims. He posted a long statement online, a “manifesto” of “white nationalism” before undertaking the dastardly act.

 

New Zealand Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern, who at 38 years of age is among the youngest heads of government in the world, was the first to term the shootings an act of terrorism. Arden declared that the victims, many of whom may be migrants or refugees, “are us”, and the shooter “is not”. The overriding theme of the Prime Minister’s statements was that her country represents “diversity, compassion and refuge”.

The Pope in a touching speech said, “In these days, in addition to the pain of wars and conflicts that do not cease to afflict humanity, there have been the victims of the horrible attack against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand… I am close to our Muslim brothers and all that community… ”

As in India, the phobia of Islam and Muslims is founded on the narrow version of history. This phobia against Muslims around the world gained momentum after the 9/11 Twin Towers attack in New York.

This phobia has by now constructed its own History, selective and distorted, that centres around Muslim invaders and their alleged crimes in the medieval past. This History generates endless accusations. It singles out and exaggerates, holding a large and diverse group of people collectively responsible for these acts.

It is tragic that Tarrant’s hateful note is being supported by those who believe in this notion of politics and history. Again, taking revenge for the past is one of the dimensions of the agenda governing these ideologues: “To take revenge on the invaders for the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders in European lands throughout history.”

Again, the radicalisation of the likes of Tarrant is due to the rabid propaganda current in the Western media – and many places besides – where Muslims are constantly presented in a negative light. Many newspapers and media groups – owned by a few – like the Daily Mail in the UK and Fox News in the USA have taken the lead in spreading negative perceptions against Muslims.

Such propaganda, along with many anti-immigrant and xenophobic websites, is spreading hatred against Muslims which in turn is the foundation of the attacks on Muslims. Muslims are also being demonised in terms familiar from anti-Semitism, portraying them as less than trustworthy, lesser citizens and inferior humans or not humans at all.

Many such biases and myths are prevalent in India also. In the Western mode of propaganda Muslims are now being portrayed as people whose wearing of the hijab is sufficient proof that they are against the norms of the West – against the US Constitution, for example. Similarities with prevalent perceptions in India!

One recalls the Norwegian Christian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik at this point of time. In a carefully planned attack in 2011, Brevik killed 69 youth with a machine gun and other assault weapons. He also had issued a manifesto, in which he said his primary goal was to remove Muslims from Europe.

Breivik also called for cooperation between Jewish groups in Israel, Buddhists in China, and Hindu nationalist groups in India to contain Islam. He wrote, “It is essential that the European and Indian resistance movements learn from each other and cooperate as much as possible. Our goals are more or less identical.”

We must note, that there are strong parallels between Tarrant’s and Breivik’s manifestos and the ideology of Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, on the question of the nature of Islam: Muslims and coexistence with Muslims. Much like rightwing parties in the European mainstream, the BJP in India does condemn the violence for name’s sake, but participates in spreading the underlying ideology which is based on Islam-phobia.

Worldwide, this despicable politics is in a way the outcome of the ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis propounded by Samuel Huntington. At the end of the Cold War, with the collapse of Soviet Russia, Francis Fukuyama stated that now Western liberal democracy would be the final form of political system.

Building on this, Huntington stated that now the primary conflict would be around civilisations and cultures. Nation-states would remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics would occur between nations and groups belonging to different ‘civilisations’.

“The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.” As per this manifesto Western civilisation is faced with a challenge from backward Islamic civilisation, providing the basis for the American policy of attack on many Muslim-majority countries like Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Iran among others.

To counter this thesis the United Nations undertook the initiative for an ‘Alliance of Civilisations’ when Kofi Annan was Secretary-General. The high-level committee he appointed gave a report which argues that all the progress in the world has been due to the alliances between different cultures and civilisations.

Today we are facing times where American politics of ‘control over oil wells’ led to the formations like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. After the 9/11 attacks perpetrated by men whom the US government formerly supported and armed, the US media popularised the phrase ‘Islamic terrorism’. What we are witnessing today is the fallout of this policy, which was pursued simply to control oil wealth.

The Islam-Muslim phobia this generated, in the West and elsewhere, has led in due course to White Nationalism. Like other forms of majoritarianism and violence, this needs to be countered ideologically, by demonstrating the inherent tendency of alliance between diverse cultures found throughout human history in the world.

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Opinion

The Sikh Empire’s Expedition to Balakot

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Ananth Karthikeyan

A few weeks ago, the Indian Air Force’s Balakot air strike using French-built Mirage-2000s bought India and Pakistan to the brink of war, and perhaps changed the regional dynamics forever. Balakot has a history which has been a subject of much interest in the past few days: it was the site of the end of Syed Ahmad Barelvi’s jihad at the hands of the Sikh Empire. Today we look at this history and another curious fact – this was not the first time that French weaponry has been wielded against Islamist fanatics in this region.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh (r. 1801-1839) was aware of the superiority of Europeans in technology and modern methods of war. He sought to close this gap by importing talent and building an indigenous capability. Ranjit Singh welcomed experienced scientists, engineers, mercenaries and officers from European nations to ensure that his kingdom could withstand any threat. Besides, the Afghan kingdom, the Pathan tribes and jihadis were threatening his western borders. French know-how became a major element in the defence of his realm. After Napoleon lost in Waterloo (June 1815) thousands of French and allied European soldiers were dismissed: the governments of Europe, including the new government of France, distrusted those who served under Napoleon. A few settled into civilian life, but most could not: fighting was all they knew, and they did not wish to waste the skills they honed fighting in three continents. Many offered their services to Asian kings who wished to modernize their backward militaries.

 

At this juncture, Ranjit Singh accepted talented Napoleonic officers such as Jean-Francois Allard, Jean-Baptiste Ventura, Paolo Avitabile, and Claude Auguste Court into his service. Besides such officers, there were chemists, doctors, engineers and soldiers of American, German, Italian, Polish and Irish extraction also. Many foreigners were given plum roles in the Empire. Claude Auguste Court was a product of the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris and apparently knew the science of artillery. Paolo Avitabile also had considerable experience as an artillery officer. Court and Avitabile, along with the Sikh leader Lehna Singh Majithia (who possessed great skill in engineering), overhauled the Sikh artillery. They established the training program for the gunners. Court re-organized the artillery command structure and established arsenals and magazines on European lines. The existing weapon foundries and workshops (established by Ranjit Singh and Mian Qadir Baksh in 1807) were rebuilt with French know-how to manufacture a variety of high-quality guns and artillery. Ranjit Singh soon possessed a formidable artillery of about 500 pieces, including mobile horse-drawn artillery. Court was bestowed large cash awards and titles when he introduced his new shells, fuses and commenced full-scale production.

The meteoric rise of the Sikhs and the decline of the Muslim kingdoms of India had agitated many Islamic fundamentalists. The most influential of them was the popular preacher Syed Ahmed Barelvi, who hailed from present-day Rae Bareilly. In 1825, thousands of his followers from the Gangetic Plains took up his call for jihad against infidel powers and followed him to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Barelvi’s Jihad was supported by many Afghan chiefs, who were usually suspicious of all outsiders. Barelvi was able to field nearly 100,000 Mujahideen and launched a five-year guerilla war against the Sikh Empire.

However, Barelvi’s orthodox interpretation of scriptures and stern disregard of Afghan tribal traditions soon led to many Afghans leaving his cause. Barelvi suffered a crushing defeat in a battle with the Sikhs near Nowshera in March 1827. Later some Afghan tribes turned on Barelvi and massacred hundreds of his followers in Peshawar in November 1830. Barelvi and his loyalists now decided to move out and try their luck in Kashmir. However, a Sikh army led by Sher Singh surrounded the Mujahideen at a mountain fort in Balakot and annihilated them in May 1831.

Ranjit Singh’s French guns and artillery were widely used in such battles in the turbulent North West frontier. Artillery and firearms which performed reliably enabled the Sikhs to prevail against great odds. Perhaps even more critical was the discipline instilled in the new infantry battalions by the European officers. Officers such as Ventura and Court also led campaigns into the North West frontier. However, after Ranjit Singh died, neither their weapons nor their courage could save the Sikhs from civil war and treachery. During this chaos, the surviving Europeans returned to their homelands. Soon the British defeated the Sikhs and the Afghans also took back some of their lands.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region is still turbulent, and weapons from many nations are still used here in the name of pacification, anti-terror and innumerable internal conflicts. History is repeating in strange ways and there are irony and dark humour in the shadow of the mushroom cloud. India’s French Mirages are the latest entrants in this theatre — let us hope it is not a destabilising element.

(dnaindia.com)

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