9415News from Kashmir: J&K govt denounces anti-Islam film; appeals for calm
- Sep 19, 2012J&K govt denounces anti-Islam film; appeals for calm
Last Updated: Wednesday, September 19, 2012, 19:05
Srinagar: Condemning the anti-Islam film, that triggered protests across several countries, the Jammu and Kashmir government on Wednesday said it was an attempt to wedge apart different sections of the society and create hatred.
"The state Cabinet which met here today under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has condemned the production and telecast of blasphemous film on holy Prophet, describing it an attempt to hurt the sentiments of people and disturb international peace," a spokesman of the state government said.
Sharing the sentiments and concern of the people of Jammu and Kashmir over the film released by an extremist and made available on the Internet, the state Cabinet observed the act as provocative, unethical and against the religious and human sentiments, the spokesman said.
The fringe elements behind this blasphemous work possess only motive to wedge apart different sections of the society and create hatred, the government said.
"People should see through the designs of such elements and remain calm while expressing their anger," it added.
The chief minster, expressing serious concern over such attempts by vested interests, said such acts should be denounced and condemned by all.
"We share the feelings and grief of the people and condemn the act vehemently," he said appealing the people to maintain calm and not to get provoked as the people behind this act want to create disturbance.
Kashmir observed a general strike, and peaceful protests were held at many places across the Valley yesterday against the video.
However, there were stray incidents of stone-pelting in the city while a group of protesters set ablaze a government vehicle near Pologround.
There were no reports of anyone getting injured in these incidents.
Complete shutdown: Kashmir continues to burn in flames of anti-U.S. sentiment
By MAIL TODAY REPORTER
PUBLISHED: 23:54, 18 September 2012 | UPDATED: 23:54, 18 September 2012
Protests against the anti-Islam film failed to die down in Jammu and Kashmir, with marches being taken out across the Valley on Tuesday amid complete shutdown.
The shutdown call was initially given by a number of religious organisations but the separatists stepped in later to support it.
The call evoked complete response with shops, business establishments, schools and colleges remaining closed and traffic off the roads.
Hues of peace in Kashmiri tea
September 18, 2012
Employment eludes Kashmir's youth
No new industries coming up in Indian-administered state, which is still feeling the effects of civil unrest.
Last Modified: 15 Aug 2012 11:08
In 2010 violence erupted across Indian-administered Kashmir as a wave of protests erupted against the Indian rule.
For weeks, a state of curfew was imposed, bringing down productivity and people's morale.
While normaity has returned back to the state, there are other problems facing people here.
No new jobs have been created and no new industries are being set up. Because of this, more than 600,000 people are looking for work.
Prerna Suri reports from Srinagar. the state capital, where the economy has been suffering because of years of unrest.
Dressing down in Kashmir
As tourists begin to return to the embattled region, the Jamaat-I-Islami group asks visitors to wear modest attire.
Prerna Suri Last Modified: 19 Jul 2012 14:41
Srinagar, Kashmir - July sees the snow melting from the Pir Panjal mountains. And Dal Lake is shimmering in the summer sun. The view is picture-postcard-perfect, as Francoise Zenati enjoys her third cup of "Kava", a traditional Kashmiri tea blended with mixed nuts and saffron. "It's been my dream to visit this place since my parents came here for their honeymoon in the 1970s. And I'm glad I've made it," says the French national.
Francoise couldn't have imagined coming to Kashmir even a few years ago. Conflict between the Indian armed forces and pro-autonomy groups backed by Pakistan resulted in tens of thousands being killed. Thousands more remain missing. For years, Kashmir was off-limits for tourists.
But the biggest casualty in this entire conflict has been its people. For decades, entire generations have experienced a life full of curfews, restrictions and security checks. And those whose very survival depended on tourism saw their businesses and lives decline. The Sufi poet Amir Khusrau's words describing Kashmir as "paradise" seemed for many years a mirage.
That is, until now. In the past two years, there's been a change in Srinagar's landscape. Instead of military personnel, tourists walk along the Dal Lake promenade made famous in 1970s' Bollywood films such as Kashmir Ki Kali. The famed "shikaras" or houseboats dotting the lake have a more cheerful stride than usual. That's partly because a record 1.1 million tourists visited Kashmir in 2011, and this year's number is expected to rise to almost two million before the onset of winter.
Time to cover up?
So, a recent advisory asking tourists to comply with a dress code issued by an Islamist organisation, the Jamaat-I-Islami, has come as a shock to many.
"In the 1990s a fringe group started telling women that they had to wear burqa. Some women had acid thrown on their faces for not doing it. But we are a free people, who can decide what can't and
can be worn," Basheer Mantra, a senior journalist who has covered Kashmir for many years, told Al Jazeera.
For somebody as liberal as Mantra, the statement is an affront to his secular and liberal values. But he also says it will hurt the valley's fledgling tourism status. "This year we've had a record number of tourists ... So, I'm quite surprised why the Jamaat would pick this season of all to issue such a diktat."
There are others, such as journalist Iftikhar Gilani, who believes the dress code will not have any impact. "The Jamaat is only advising tourists and is not forcing anyone to abide by it," he says. "There are signs in other states of India like the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where tourists are advised to dress decently. This is no different."
Francoise Zenati agrees. A French national who is Muslim, she comes from a country where her child can't wear a headscarf at school. For her, covering up is a small price to pay to visit Kashmir.
"They're not asking us to don full burqas. Every community has a right to dictate what is acceptable - or not - according to their core values. If I have to wear a salwar kameez to visit Kashmir, it's not harming or hurting me."
Those who may be hurt are the ones who are doing business there. For once, Kashmir has seen many foreign tourists joining domestic travellers. And for business owners, any hint of a radical turnaround may be disastrous.
"The season has started picking up from last year. I'm afraid this new dress code might keep my clients away from Kashmir," said Hussain Bhat, owner of a fleet of houseboats in Srinagar.
Hussain said he has spent $10,000 over the past two years renovating his houseboat named Firdaus, fitting it with all the custom-made luxuries needed to weather the seasons - a heater, an air conditioner and a fully-stocked kitchen. "It's been my dream to carry on with my family business. I've seen over the past few years what curfews and restrictions can do to your business. All you need is a single spark in Kashmir to light up an entire fire," he adds broodingly.
Tolerance versus freedom
For centuries, Kashmir was the epitome of religious syncretism. Sufi saints mingled with Hindu scholars producing one of the most tolerant societies in the subcontinent.
Ashvin Kumar, an independent filmmaker whose movies include Inshallah, Kashmir: Living Terror and Inshallah, Football - all set in Kashmir - says he's surprised by the recent statement.
"This imposition of so-called Islamic values is a thinly veiled attempt on reiterating values Kashmir never really stood for," he says. "Kashmir has always been the epitome of tolerance and a temperate interpretation of Islam. I find this step highly repugnant in both spirit and practice."
The Jamaat-I-Islami says it's not imposing its will on anyone. "We are not suggesting any particular dress-code for the tourists. We are only saying that they should take care of the local ethos and the traditions of the place. We are not asking them to adopt Islamic dress code," Zahid Ali, a counsel for the group, says.
But while the state government hasn't endorsed or rejected the advisory, it still poses the age-old dilemmas of cultural sensitivity versus individual freedom.
Basheer thinks it's the Jamaat's way of "becoming more relevant".
"I think the Jamaat is losing its political significance and that's why they're coming out with such radical words. Religion is always the best stick to beat people with. Today they're clamping down on dresses. Tomorrow they'll shut down liquor shops."
For Francoise Zenati, it's simple: "If people come to the Vatican and are expected to dress conservatively, then so be it for Kashmir. It's worth it. This way we'll get to see paradise at least once in our life."
Follow Prerna Suri on Twitter: @PrernaSuriAJE
The mass graves of Kashmir
For 22 years this contested region has endured a regime of torture and disappeared civilians. Now a local laywer is discovering their unmarked graves and challenging India's abuses
The Guardian, Monday 9 July 2012 20.14 BST
One sodden evening in April 2010, an Indian army major from the 4 Rajputana Rifles arrived at a remote police post where the mountains gather in a half-hitch around Kashmir, India's northernmost state. Major Opinder Singh "seemed in a hurry", a duty policeman recalled. Up in the heights of the Pir Panjal range, down through which the major had descended, it was snowing and his boots let in water. "The officer reported that the previous night his men had killed three Pakistani terrorists who had crossed over into our Machil sector," the policeman recalled. "Where are the bodies?" the policeman had asked, filling in a First Information Report that started a criminal enquiry. "They were buried where they were shot," the major retorted, before taking off in his jeep.
"It was not unusual," the policeman later told investigators, when questioned as to why he had not insisted on viewing the corpses or checking the identities. Kashmir had been in turmoil since Partition in 1947 and on a virtual war footing for the past two decades, with some estimates placing the dead at 70,000. Strung with razor wire and anti-missile netting, the state had been transformed into one of the most militarised places on earth, with one Indian paramilitary or soldier stationed for every 17 residents. The Pakistani intelligence services and military trained and funded a legion of irregulars, who infiltrated over the mountains to kick-start a full-blown insurgency in 1989, keeping the Indian-ruled portion of the Muslim-majority state permanently alight.
Once picture-perfect, a place of pilgrimage for backpackers and mystics of all religions, Kashmir had become one of the most beautiful and dangerous frontlines in the world. Machil, the sector in which Singh had sprung his operation, was especially treacherous, consisting of a clutch of isolated villages strung along the Line of Control (LoC), a high-altitude ceasefire line that had split Kashmir in 1972. Up here in the thin air, India had created a fearsome barrier, made lethal with the help of Israeli technology, a partially electrified series of fences connected to motion detectors, surrounded by a heavily mined no-man's land.
On 30 April, 2010, an armed forces spokesman in Srinagar, Kashmir's summer capital, confirmed Singh's story. "Three militants have been killed in a shootout," said Lieutenant Colonel JS Brar, detailing how three AK-47s, one Pakistani pistol, ammunition, cigarettes, chocolates, dates, two water bottles, a Kenwood radio and 1,000 Pakistani rupees had been recovered. The standard-issue infiltration kit. The corpseless triple-death inquiry was an open and shut case.
However, a few days later, at Panzalla police station, 30 miles from Machil, a simple missing case was causing everyone problems. Three Kashmiri families from nearby Nadihal village had turned up to report the disappearance of their sons: Mohammad, 19, Riyaz, 20, and Shahzad, 27, an apple farmer, a herder and a labourer. They had not seen them since 28 April and would not be calmed by detectives. Soon, their appeals drew the attention of Kashmir's most dogged human rights lawyer, Parvez Imroz, whose response to what would become known as the "Machil Encounter" was about to create a watershed in Kashmir.
Dressed in the uniform of the Kashmiri bar, a crisp white shirt and sombre morning suit, over the past two decades Imroz had become a fixture at the high court in Srinagar, filing thousands of habeas corpus actions (which literally translates as "produce the bodies") on behalf of families who claimed their relatives had vanished while in the custody of the Indian security forces.
These actions rarely succeeded, the Indian army insisting that the missing had flitted over the LoC to Pakistan, recalling historic scenes at the start of the insurgency that terrified New Delhi, when tens of thousands of young Kashmiris jumped aboard buses manned by youthful conductors shouting: "Pakistan, Pakistan here we come." But what the writs did achieve was to create a paper trail from which Imroz was able to estimate that 8,000 Kashmiri non-combatants had vanished from army custody in a state the size of Ireland – four times more than disappeared under Pinochet in Chile. "The military grip has been suffocating," he told the Guardian, "and making someone vanish sows far more fear than spilling their blood".
Imroz had spent much of his career facing down security forces protected by specially drafted laws. Under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, soldiers and paramilitaries enjoy total immunity from prosecution, unless the ministry of defence sanction their trial. Using new Right to Information (RTI) laws, Imroz obtained confirmation that despite the fact that hundreds of soldiers stood accused of murder, rape and torture, not a single case had proceeded. In contrast, Kashmiri citizens are dealt with using the Jammu & Kashmir Public Safety Act, under which they can be jailed, preventively, for two years, if deemed likely to commit subversive acts in the future, with an estimated 20,000 detained, according to Human Rights Watch.
Imroz's campaigning achieved other things. He caught the attention of the UN, and this year Christof Heyns, a special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, warned India that all of these draconian laws had no place in a functioning democracy and should be scrapped. The price for confronting the security forces and the militants they faced down was severe. In 1992, Imroz mourned the loss of his Hindu mentor, an activist who was gunned down by Muslim insurgents. Three years later, Imroz was driving home from court when he felt a cold draught grip his chest. "I slumped over the wheel, inexplicably," he recalled. Bystanders who came to his rescue told him he had been shot. A militant group later claimed it was a case of mistaken identity. In 1996, the Indian army abducted Imroz's friend and fellow lawyer, Jalil Andrabi, whose mutilated body was found after three weeks. Imroz shut himself off. For years he refused to marry or have children, worried they
would be targeted. In 2002, his accomplished protégé, Khurram Parvez, a young Kashmiri graduate, was badly injured in an IED attack that killed his driver and a female colleague, Asiya Jeelani. Two years after that, a gunman posing as a client, shot dead another of Imroz's legal allies. In 2005, when Imroz was awarded the Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize, first given to Nelson Mandela, he was unable to accept it in person as India declined to issue him a passport.
But Imroz's reputation began to build in the countryside, from where terrified villagers travelled to besiege his rickety chambers on the Bund, in central Srinagar, carrying with them stories. In 2008, these accounts enabled the lawyer to make his greatest discovery. While surveying disappearance cases in villages across two of Kashmir's 23 districts, including Baramulla, from where the three Nadihal men would vanish in 2010, villagers showed him a hitherto unknown network of unmarked and mass graves: muddy pits and mossy mounds, pock-marking pine forests and orchards. According to eyewitnesses, all had been dug under the gaze of the Indian security forces and all contained the bodies of local men. Some were fresh, others decayed, hinting at a covert slaughter that went back many years.
Imroz widened his search, mapping almost 1,000 locations. He was shocked by the implications. Indian law requires that the police probe every violent death and that corpses be identified. But in the village of Bimyar, white-haired Atta Muhammad Khan came forward to describe how he had been forced to inter 203 unidentified bodies under cover of the night – men whose identities and crimes were unstated. "Some corpses were disfigured. Others were burnt. We did not ask questions." It was a similar story in Kichama village, where the lawyer mapped 235 unmarked graves and in Bijhama, where 200 more unidentified corpses had been interred. In Srinagar, Imroz's team alerted the government's State Human Rights Commission (SHRC). "We suspected the missing of Kashmir were buried at these secret sites," he said, publishing a report, Facts Under Ground.
An official response came two months later, just after 10pm on 30 June, 2008. Imroz had at last married Rukhsana, a business woman, and they now had two children, his daughter Zeenish, 12, and a boy, Tauqir, aged seven. The family lived in Kralpora, a tree-lined suburb eight miles from Srinagar city centre. No one called round on the offchance. Rukhsana heard a rap at the door and glanced outside to see that their security lights had been smashed. "I knew what this meant," she said, the door knock immediately conjuring memories of murdered friends. Imroz ran to the back of the house and shouted for his brother, Sheikh Mushtaq Ahmad, who lived next door.
As Ahmad emerged with a torch, a shot was fired, narrowly missing his son. A stranger screamed: "Put that light out." Then, a grenade exploded, shrapnel pitting the front door. Tear gas shells followed, waking neighbours who unlocked the village mosque. The imam mobilised residents to surround Imroz's house, as an armoured vehicle and two jeeps from the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force and police Special Task Force, took off. "They had come to kill us," Rukhsana recalled. "We need protection," she said. Who do you need protection from, I asked her. "From our own government of course. It's jungle law."
After the attack, Human Rights Watch called on India to "protect Parvez Imroz, an award-winning human rights lawyer" and his case was raised in the European parliament. His family pleaded for him to quit. "I was terrified," the lawyer conceded. "I was starting to have horrible dreams. But being silent is a crime."
Imroz and his team redoubled their efforts, spreading their net across 55 villages in three districts, Bandipora, Baramulla and Kupwara. An ad-hoc inquiry run by volunteers and funded by donations saw the number of unmarked and mass graves mapped rise to 2,700. Inside them were 2,943 bodies; 80% of them unidentified. "These were hellish images from a war that no one has ever reported," said Imroz. "We suspected this to be prima-facie evidence of war crimes," he added. "Who are the dead, how did they die, in whose hands and who interred them?"
The SHRC finally agreed to an inquiry. Soon, it had its work cut out. Using RTI laws, the police were forced to concede that they had lodged 2,683 cases for the covertly interred in just three districts. And a new deposition submitted by Imroz's field workers covering two more districts, Rajoori and Poonch, mapped 3,844 more unmarked and mass graves, taking the total number to more than 6,000. There are still another 16 districts yet to be surveyed, leaving Imroz to wonder how many violent deaths and surreptitious burials have been concealed across Kashmir. Finally, last September, the SHRC made an announcement, stating that Imroz's discovery was correct: "There is every possibility that unidentified dead bodies buried in various unmarked graves … may contain the victims of enforced disappearances." The UN weighed in this year, a report to the Human Rights Council warning India of its obligations under human rights treaties and laws. Kashmiri families
had a "right to know the truth" and that "when the disappeared person is found to be dead, the right … to have the remains of their loved one returned to them, and to dispose of those remains according to their own tradition, religion or culture".
After the Nadihal men disappeared, Imroz's field worker, Parvaiz Matta, travelled to the village. He found an eyewitness, Fayaz Wani, a close friend of the missing men. Wani finally revealed the Indian army had offered the men jobs, in a deal brokered by a Special Police Officer (SPO), who had given them a sum equivalent to £7 each, "as a show of good will", before taking them to a remote army camp in Machil.
The families of the missing men filed a complaint against the SPO, Bashir Lone. "This man broke down, admitting his role, claiming that nine soldiers at a remote army camp had shot the three men, so they could claim reward money," Matta said. (The army routinely gives financial rewards to soldiers who kill militants.) On 28 May, 2010, three bodies were exhumed from unmarked graves close to the camp, some of those already mapped by Imroz, and in which the government said were foreign fighters. Their families identified Shahzad, Riyaz and Mohammad by their clothes.
The Nadihal cash-for-killing story and news of a legion of unidentified dead lying in unmarked graves, sent hundreds of thousands of demonstrators on to the streets in the summer of 2010. Sensing the building anger, the army and central government in New Delhi promised an inquiry, offering, without irony, talks to anyone in Kashmir "who renounced violence". However, when no answers came, Kashmir went into convulsions, as crowds of youths armed with stones ambushed soldiers, police and paramilitaries who returned fire with live rounds. I arrived in Kashmir shortly after. More than 100 demonstrators had been killed, many of them children. International news channels briefly took an interest, asking if Kashmir was experiencing its own Arab Spring. But the cameras left quickly, as a vicious crackdown began clearing the streets: the government's own statistics showing that more than 5,300 Kashmiri youths, many of them children, were arrested.
In 2011, Imroz went to work again, investigating how India had restored the peace, and I shadowed him. He took statements from those who had been released and the families of those still incarcerated. "The affidavits made for chilling reading," he said. The majority of youths alleged torture, with independent medical examinations confirming that many had their fingernails pulled and bones crushed. One teenage prisoner told the Guardian: "The police started on our hands and fingers, breaking them with gun butts, and by the end when tears were streaming down our faces, we were hung by our ankles and had chilli rubbed in our wounds." Others claimed to have petrol funnelled into their rectums. One group alleged in court that they were forced to sodomise each other, while a police cameraman filmed.
This year, Imroz and his field workers widened the research to commence the first state-wide inquiry into the use of torture. Their findings will go to the UN and to Human Rights Watch later this summer but a draft seen by the Guardian suggests that not only is torture endemic, it is systemic. In one cluster of 50 villages, more than 2,000 extreme cases of torture were documented, any of which would kick-start an SHRC inquiry, and all of which left victims maimed and psychologically scarred. Methods included branding, electric shocks, simulated drowning, striping flesh with razor blades and piping petrol into anuses.
This work suggests that the statewide ratio for Kashmiris who have experienced torture is one in six. "For the 50 villages, in this small snapshot, we located 50 centres run by the army and paramilitaries in which torture had been practised," Imroz said. The methods, language and even the architecture of the torture chambers are identical. "What we are looking at is not a few errant officers." Files released under RTI laws show how these practises go back to 1989. These documents, seen by the Guardian, also reveal horrific practises, including one sizeable cluster, confidentially probed by the government itself, where men from the Border Security Force (BSF) lopped off the limbs of suspects and fed prisoners with their own flesh.
The Guardian traced one of the victims, a shepherd Qalandar Khatana, 45. Hobbling on crutches, bandages covering his ankles, both feet having been sawn off, he recalled: "I was held down, a BSF trooper produced a knife and then I passed out as the blood gushed from me." His file says a government investigator confirmed the story and produced eyewitnesses.
Another villager, Nasir Sheikh, a carpenter, who lost both legs below the knee and one hand, added: "The smell was of death – urine, shit, sweat. You knew you were about to be slowly murdered. It was like being thrown down a well where no one can hear you scream." His file confirms the story and suggests that compensation be paid. The UN special rapporteur on torture has been refused entry to Kashmir since 1993. Domestic legislation to outlaw torture has stalled. "When will the world start asking as tough questions of India as it is of Syria?" Imroz asked. "Or are we Kashmiris invisible?"
• Kashmir's Torture Trail, Tuesday 10 July at 11:10pm on Channel 4
Kashmir’s Torture Trail - video excerpt
Peace broken in Kashmir as forces fire on protesters
Killing by security forces outside power station could reignite separatist unrest in disputed region
JOHN ELLIOTT NEW DELHI TUESDAY 03 JANUARY 2012
The fragile peace in India's disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir was broken yesterday when security forces opened fire on demonstrators protesting against electricity power shortages, killing a 25-year old man and injuring two others.
Anger has been spreading across the mountainous region, where temperatures have dropped to near freezing, since unusually heavy power cuts were imposed last month. Yesterday's demonstration was outside a power project at Uri near Boniyar, 90kms from the state's summer capital of Srinagar.
Members of the Central Industrial Security Force opened fire when a group of about 500 protesters marched towards the project's main gate. This is a central government force hired by the National Hydro Power Corporation and has little experience of handling the delicate situation in Kashmir, where there have been demands for some form of autonomy from India for over 60 years.
B R Sharma, the state's home secretary, said five CISF personnel, including a sub-inspector, had been arrested. "The incident could have been avoided if CISF men had co-ordination with state police," he said.
Street riots escalated in 2008, culminating in more than 100 civilians being killed in 2010. That cycle of violence was broken last summer, partly because Kashmir police and paramilitary forces were retrained to curb their previously heavy-handed tactics when dealing with usually young, stone-throwing rioters. But there is now a risk that the protests could be used by leaders of Kashmir's autonomy movement, and opposition political parties, to revive street demonstrations.
Last week police used tear and pepper gas to clear protesters who had burnt tyres and blocked a highway linking Srinagar to the winter capital of Jammu at Ganderbal, the constituency of Omar Abdullah, the state's chief minister. A government Power Development Department building was attacked in Srinagar. Demonstrations were also reported from districts across Kashmir and these are now expected to spread following yesterday's killing.
Under the new electricity schedule, power cuts of 72 to 96 hours a week have been imposed in many areas where usage is not metered, and 24 hours where new digital meters have been installed. However, residents are complaining that the cuts have been more extensive than the schedules – in some cases lasting for 15 hours – and that they are far more severe than in previous years.
Last Thursday, Mr Abdullah blamed the shortages partly on the sort of extensive theft of electricity that is widespread across India. "People should realise that by indulging in such acts they are making life miserable for others," he said. He responded to criticisms of the government from Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a leading Muslim cleric who heads a pro-autonomy party, by asking him to "issue a fatwa against those who indulge in power theft".
Power distribution losses due to the poor network account for more than 58 per cent of the state's power generation, which amounts to only 758 megawatts compared with peak demand of more than 2,100 megawatts. During winters, local hydro power generation drops to around 300 megawatts because of reduced discharge from rivers and this winter the situation is more serious because of unusually dry weather.
Rising tensions: timeline
April 2011: More than 3,000 officers are trained in non-lethal methods of crowd control, including the use of water cannon and tear gas.
February 2011: A key highway is blocked by protesters over the death of a 21-year-old man at the hands of the army.
July 2010 The imposition of a curfew is followed by days of violent clashes that leave at least 25 protesters dead and dozens injured.
June 2010: Thousands march through Srinagar after a 17-year-old student was killed in the crossfire between protesters and police.