Posts Tagged ‘Amarnath cave shrine’

INDIA: Dialogue Missing as Kashmir Erupts

September 2, 2008

Analysis by Praful Bidwai | Inter Press Service, Sep 2, 2008


NEW DELHI, – Even as the Jammu region of the strife-torn Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir is settling down to normality and peace, a two month-old turmoil in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley shows no signs of abating.

The Kashmir unrest, which unseated the elected government of the state in July, now threatens to become a serious problem for India yet again, with international ramifications, in particular implications for India’s already fraught relations with Pakistan.

Following independence in 1947 and the partition of India, on the basis of religion, Jammu and Kashmir became disputed between Pakistan and India and three wars have been fought between the two countries for the territory’s complete possession. India’s Jammu and Kashmir state is referred to by Pakistan as “Indian-occupied Kashmir” while India refers to Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas collectively as “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir”.

India’s Jammu and Kashmir state consists of two distinct regions; Hindu-dominated Jammu and the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. A third region, Ladakh, is largely Buddhist. Srinagar in the Kashmir Valley serves as the summer capital and Jammu town the winter capital.

Trouble began with rival Hindu and Muslim militants protesting for and against the transfer of 100 acres of land for camping arrangements to host a Hindu pilgrimage to a shrine in a cave in the Kashmir Valley, called the Amarnath Shrine, where an ice stalactite that forms for up to two months in a year, is worshipped by devout Hindus.

Political organisations in the Kashmir Valley saw the transfer as a means of placating the Hindus and as an intrusion into their autonomous cultural space.

Their protests led the state government to cancel the transfer. The Hindu-majority Jammu region reacted to this with an emotionally charged violent agitation and a blockade of goods entering the Valley along the Jammu-Srinagar highway, the only functional road connecting mainland India to the Kashmir Valley.

This blockade added to the ferocity of the protests in the Valley, and put Kashmiri separatists in their forefront. Some groups that favour merger of the Kashmir Valley with Pakistan waved the green flag of the neighbouring country.

The government of Jammu and Kashmir finally reached a settlement on Sunday with the Sri Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti (SAYSS), a coalition of different groups spearheading the agitation in Jammu, many of which are close to the pro-Hindu, nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Sunday’s settlement allows for temporary arrangements to be made for makeshift tents and other facilities during the pilgrimage, without a change in the ownership and status of or title to the land.

Following the agreement, the agitation in Jammu was formally withdrawn. But that has had very little impact on the Kashmir Valley, where the government re-imposed a curfew after thousands of people took to the streets in its Northern towns.

While many Kashmiri parties have not yet reacted to the agreement, the People’s Democratic Party, which ran a coalition government with the Congress party in Jammu and Kashmir for nearly six years, condemned it as a “unilateralist” and “authoritarian” move, made without consulting the Valley’s politicians.

Some other political leaders from the Valley termed the settlement “irrelevant” to resolving the larger Kashmir question of autonomy and freedom in keeping with the sentiments of the people.

“The ease with which the settlement was reached, without substantially changing the status quo, and with only minor concessions being offered to the SAYSS, shows that the agitation was politically motivated in the first place,” says Kamal Mitra Chenoy, a political scientist at Jawaharlal Nehru University here, who has been involved with reconciliation and peace efforts in Jammu and Kashmir for many years.

“The BJP was fishing in the troubled waters in Kashmir with an eye on the legislative assembly elections, which are due by the end of the year, but are likely to be postponed,’’ said Chenoy. ‘’The organisations it controls in Jammu used deplorably rough methods to enforce a traffic blockade of the Valley, including attacking truck drivers with rocks and acid bulbs. Its methods drew an adverse reaction from the rest of India, which is one reason why it withdrew the agitation. But it has succeeded in polarising Jammu and Kashmir along regional and communal lines.”

One indication of this is the growing alienation of the Valley’s people from India and the pro-separatist mood now prevalent there. The Kashmir situation was repeatedly mishandled by New Delhi through its appointee, Jammu and Kashmir Governor N.N. Vohra and his administration.

The administration first failed to anticipate the protests, and then cracked down heavily on them. Many Kashmiris complain that the government handled the Jammu agitation with kid gloves, but used excessive force in the Valley to suppress even peaceful protests: “rubber bullets in Jammu, and live bullets in the Valley”.

The government relented in the Valley during much of August, as it proceeded to break the blockade in Jammu. However, since Aug. 24, it has resorted to a crackdown, arrests of prominent leaders, and repeated curfew.

“This has resulted in heightening the alienation of ordinary Kashmiris from the Indian state,” says Yusuf Tarigami, a Jammu and Kashmir lawmaker from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and a widely respected political leader. “Mercifully, that alienation is not as severe as in the early 1990s, and may yet prove transient.”

Tarigami cites a number of differences between the post-1989 climate and the present situation. Then, a number of militant groups, including the largely indigenous Hizbul Mujaheedin, were hyperactive in demanding “freedom” and Kashmir’s separation from India.

These militant groups managed and subdued the relatively moderate political leadership of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. Pakistan armed and financed the militant groups and lent them logistical support. Savage repression unleashed by Indian security forces only helped them build a support base in the Valley.

Today, militant groups are no longer able to recruit cadres. Until the anti-land transfer protests broke out, the Kashmir Valley was relatively peaceful and the extremists were isolated. Issues of governance and day-to-day survival became dominant. Tourism experienced a boom.

The Hurriyat was even on the verge of deciding not to issue a call to boycott the assembly elections, as it usually does.

“Above all, Kashmir has not been a live political issue in Pakistan since the peace process with India made progress,” says Karachi-based social activist and political analyst Karamat Ali. “It hasn’t figured in the domestic political debate at all since the February elections and later developments, including Pervez Musharraf’s resignation as president.”

This offers a chance for India to begin a serious dialogue with the different separatist political currents in Kashmir and put the issue of autonomy up-front on the table.

But the Indian establishment appears divided on the issue. Hardliners such as National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan play down the serious nature of Kashmiri alienation and popular discontent with the domineering presence of Indian security forces in the Valley. Narayanan told a television channel, two days ago that he expected the Kashmir situation to become normal in 10 days’ time.

However, another section of the government has advised Governor Vohra to explore the possibility of a dialogue with separatist leaders and Vohra has been contacting them since Sunday.

“Eventually,” says Chenoy, “a viable solution to the Kashmir problem will have to be found in the kind of suggestions for regional and interregional autonomy made 10 years ago by an official committee chaired by Balraj Puri, and through a strengthening of the special status for Kashmir guaranteed by a particular section (Article 370) of the Indian Constitution. This must be accompanied by a thinning out of the presence of Indian security forces in the Valley, and devolution of power to local and regional bodies.”

Jammu and Kashmir is the only state in India which enjoys special autonomy under Article 370, according to which, laws enacted by Indian parliament, except those concerning defence, communication and foreign policy, is inapplicable unless ratified by the state legislature.

But Chenoy emphasises that “in the short run, there is no substitute for a dialogue. That alone can build the necessary confidence and goodwill, which India so badly needs’’.

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Kashmir repression rewards Hindu far right

August 16, 2008

Nagesh Rao reports from India on the latest wave of repression in the Indian-controlled sector of Kashmir.

Kashmir activists clash with Indian security forces. (Abid Bhat | flickr)Kashmir activists clash with Indian security forces. (Abid Bhat | flickr)

AT LEAST 18 people were killed August 12 and13 by police and military bullets in the Indian-controlled section of Kashmir. Among them was a senior political leader, Sheikh Abdul Aziz of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), a coalition of various pro-independence and separatist, but also pro-Pakistani, organizations based in Kashmir.

The brutal attacks by security forces on Kashmiri activists have been extensively reported on, even by the mainstream media. On August 11, police and paramilitary forces opened fire on a nonviolent march by Kashmiris protesting the economic blockade of Kashmir by rioting Hindu mobs in Jammu. Five people, including Abdul Aziz, were killed, and according to The Hindu newspaper, some 230 more were injured, mostly by bullet wounds. The march to Muzaffarabad in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir was stopped by the Indian forces at the Line of Control (LoC) that serves as the de facto border between Indian- and Pakistani-controlled regions.

In an effort to snuff out any protests against the killing of Sheikh Aziz, a military curfew has been imposed on all of Indian-occupied Kashmir. In protests against these repressive measures, at least 13–and perhaps as many as 24–were killed August 12.
Kashmir is on fire–and the far-right Hindutva forces are cheering on.

At the tip of the current crisis sits a controversial land transfer deal involving a Hindu pilgrimage site in the middle of Muslim-majority Kashmir. According to an article by Gautam Navlakha in the Economic and Political Weekly, the pilgrimage known as Amarnath yatra was, until recently, a little-known journey undertaken by small numbers of Shaivite (worshippers of Shiva) Hindus. As recently as 1989, only 12,000 pilgrims–in a country of nearly a billion Hindus–undertook the pilgrimage.

Earlier this year, in a move that could only be considered provocative and insensitive towards the Kashmiris, the state government decided to legitimize the demand for Hindu control of the Amarnath yatra by granting nearly 40 hectares (100 acres) of land around the Amarnath Cave to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB).

As Navlakha writes: “The origins of the conflagration in June in Kashmir on forest land allocation for construction of facilities for the Amarnath yatra lie in open state promotion of the pilgrimage. The yatra has caused considerable damage to the economy and ecology of the area. The high-handed actions of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board only aggravated the situation.”

The land transfer agreement was merely the latest in a series of land grabs by Hindu organizations led by the SASB. As Navlakha pointed out, “The SASB runs a virtually parallel administration and acts as a ‘sovereign body’ promoting Hindu interests, increasing the number of pilgrims from 12,000 in 1989 to over 400,000 in 2007 and extending the period of the pilgrimage from 15 days to two and half months.”

Kashmiris rightly protested against this blatant act of state promotion of a specific religion in their state, as well as the damage to the ecology of the area. Soon after, the state’s government, a coalition involving the Congress Party and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), collapsed. The PDP, a business-dominated Kashmiri party, joined the protests and withdrew from the government.

On July 1, the governor, under pressure, revoked the order transferring land to the SASB. As if on cue, Hindu activists in Jammu, which is part of Kashmir state, began protesting. On July 7, the streets of Jammu exploded, ignited by the cadres of the Hindu right. As mobs rioted in the streets demanding the “restoration” of the land to the Hindus, some of the ideologues of the Hindu right took to the airwaves in the name of the “oppressed” and “neglected” Hindus of Jammu. Others proclaimed, in Orwellian fashion, that this was a “Hindu intifada.”

Behind it all, however, was the organizational power of the forces of the Hindu extreme right, including the RSS, the Shiv Sena, the VHP and others. The Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP), has launched a three-day “nationwide agitation” to support the demands of the Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti (SASS), which is a front for the Hindu right.

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DURING THE weeks of riots that followed in Jammu, the police had showed remarkable restraint, which stands in sharp contrast to their current murderous and trigger-happy approach to Kashmiri Muslims. Cops stood by while Hindu mobs wielding crude weapons laid siege to Kashmir, blockading the Jammu-Srinagar national highway and choking off the movement of goods into and out of the valley.

A letter of protest addressed to the United Nations by prominent progressive scholars and academics from across the world rightly points out that about

95-97 percent of the population of the [Kashmir] Valley is Muslim, while Muslims are a minority in India. This has made Kashmir the target of increasingly aggressive campaigns by Hindu nationalist groups since 1947, despite guarantees of autonomy written into the Indian Constitution…To a population suffering the effects of 19 years of armed conflict, the economic crisis caused by the blockade comes as the last straw.

Kashmiri activists responded to this economic blockade with various forms of nonviolent civil disobedience. Activists like Yasin Malik, chairman of the independence-seeking, secular-democratic Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), began an indefinite hunger strike. Others, led by Kashmiri businesses, the APHC, and the PDP called for a mass march across the Line of Control and to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. The march took place on August 11, and it was then that security forces killed Sheikh Abdul Aziz and four others.

While Indian newspaper editorials on August 12 vilified the marchers as “extremists” and “separatists,” TV news outlets were showing live video of police firing indiscriminately into groups of unarmed protestors at Aziz’s funeral procession. Tens of thousands of men and women also protested across the Kashmir Valley against the imposition of a military curfew–the first Kashmir-wide curfew in 13 years. They too were fired upon.

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THE CRISIS is unfolding too rapidly for anyone to be able to predict its future direction. The Hindu right has begun to term this as a Jammu vs. Kashmir issue. The two regions, they claim, have disparate interests, and ought to be separated. At the same time, by demanding a Hindu takeover of the Amarnath yatra, the right wants to assert the (Hindu) Indian nation’s sovereignty over Kashmir. The demand for bifurcation of the state is a calculated effort to stir up communalism, while the agitation over Amarnath is a carefully planned nationalist and chauvinist tactic.

The Hindu right, in other words, has lit a new communalist fire that it hopes to fan into a nationalist conflagration ahead of next year’s general elections. The sheer numbers of protesters on the streets, both in Jammu and in Kashmir, indicate that the crisis will not be resolved any time soon. But the crisis does come at an opportune time for a newly resurgent Hindu fundamentalist right wing in India, as well as for the beleaguered Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who’s clinging to power amid an effort to impeach him. Musharraf may well try to use the political crisis to try to escape his predicament.

Meanwhile, the main left-wing parties in India offer little by way of an alternative. An editorial in the Communist Party of India-Marxist newspaper, People’s Democracy, draws a simplistic equation between the Hindutva forces in Jammu and “extremist elements” in Kashmir. The editorial goes on to warn that “such a conflagration…undermines the unity and integrity of India” and puts its “national security” at risk.

The editorial makes no mention, of course, of the Kashmiris’ right to determine their own future without any interference from the Indian state and military. The editorial calls for a “process of dialogue” with the SASS, the Hindu organization spearheading the Jammu protests, while the only mention of Kashmiri activists is the passing reference to “extremists.” Small wonder that the left finds little traction in the Kashmir Valley, while the right succeeds in agitating on the streets of Jammu.

While the electoral left hedges its bets, it’s critical that progressive activists in India extend and display their solidarity with the people of Kashmir–and stand up to the communalist ideologues who currently dominate the debate.

Muslims take to streets as Kashmir protests continue

August 14, 2008

Yahoo News, Thu Aug 14, 4:41 AM ET

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – Protesters shouting “we want freedom” took to the streets of Kashmir on Thursday as a land dispute between Muslims and Hindus boiled into a litmus test of New Delhi’s hold on the troubled Himalayan region.

The row pits Muslims in Kashmir against Hindus in Jammu — the two main regions which make up the state of Jammu and Kashmir — in what is one of the hardest challenges facing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government since it took office in 2004.

At least 23 people have been killed and over 500 injured in clashes between Muslim protesters and police this week, hospital records show.

The protests are some of the biggest since a separatist revolt against New Delhi broke out in the region 20 years ago.

The dispute over land allocated to Hindu pilgrims visiting a shrine in Kashmir has snowballed into a full-scale anti-India protest, uniting Kashmiri separatists and reviving calls for independence.

A curfew remained in force in many parts of the state, but the protests seemed not to have spread elsewhere.

“I strongly condemn the reign of terror let loose by the Indian forces against the besieged people of Kashmir,” said Mohammed Yasin Malik, who led a protest in Srinagar.

“Indian troops cannot suppress our struggle.”

The dispute began after the Kashmir government promised to give forest land to a trust that runs Amarnath, a cave shrine visited by Hindu pilgrims. Many Muslims were enraged.

The government then rescinded its decision, which in turn angered Hindus in Jammu who attacked lorries carrying supplies to Kashmir valley and blocked the region’s highway, the only surface link with the rest of India.

Challenging the blockade, Kashmiris took to the streets.

Muslim Pakistan, which controls part of Kashmir, condemned the violence, sparking angry protests from India which accuses its nuclear-armed rival of supporting Kashmiri separatists.

Through Wednesday night, thousands of Kashmiri protesters shouted anti-India slogans, condemning security forces. Hundreds of Muslims also assembled in mosques and shrines which relayed the slogans on loudspeakers.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch urged India to show restraint.

“The Indian government should order troops and police to refrain from using lethal force against violent protesters in Jammu and Kashmir unless absolutely necessary to protect life,” it said.

(Reporting By Sheikh Mushtaq; Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and David Fox)


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