Kashmir: Man-made natural disaster?

October 10, 2014

By Gautam Navlakha

Even in the midst of a calamity, a war of perceptions is never too far. It is evident in the two narratives  coming out of Kashmir as people grapple with flood and its aftermath. The first one highlights the contribution of the army with editorials, TV reporters and print media eulogizing its role  and focusing on asking the victims if they felt “grateful” to the army for saving them, and to show how ‘separatists’ are engaging in mud-slinging. One channel went so far as to ask for Yasin Mailk’s arrest as he was a “traitor”, without even verifying the authenticity of the report filed by a little known news agency. Few had anything to say  about the ‘saffron nationalists’ who assaulted the Vice Chancellor of Vikram university  in Ujjain  for asking landlords not to press Kashmiri students for rent since their families are affected by flood. The other narrative was reportage from the ground in Kashmir, where reporters visited areas wading through waters day in and day out  and focused on what was happening in area after area bringing out the role of the local people who lent a helping hand rather than wait for help to arrive. Stories of distress  and heroism all were covered, and stories of how people helped each other cutting across divides emerged. But the perception manipulation tried to obviate the fact that the flood fury affected Jammu and Kashmir and cut across even borders – 3000 villages across Pakistan-held Kashmir and Punjab  were submerged. This story remained uncovered for most Indians.

Fury of flood

Natural calamities are a great leveler, sparing none.  Flood water inundated the Army’s 15th corps headquarters in Srinagar’s Badamibagh,  as well as civil administration’s residential and work places.  High and low, rich and poor, military and civilian, tourists and locals were caught in its grip in Jammu as well as in Kashmir. Full extent of destruction caused by landslides in Reasi and Udhampur or flood in parts of Rajouri and Poonch which remained cut off took two weeks to be known.  Once water receded  in Jammu, the situation improved but left behind a tale of loss and destruction.  However, the submergence of large parts of Srinagar, the summer capital and the key link to coordinate and reach help to those affected  in the valley, meant that the civil and military administration could not respond  in time.

This calamity also revealed that rescue and relief is not a level playing field. In Kashmir, the slow pace of rescue and relief by authorities saw locals left to fend for themselves while  13,000 tourists/pilgrims were saved first and flown out, followed by officials and others with influence. A large number of migrant labourers remained stuck with the local population. There may have been a reason for this, no doubt; to ease the burden of rehabilitation and care. But this only meant that rescuing local people  got delayed.

On day 10 of the floods (14th September)  the General Officer Commanding of Army`s Chinar Corps Lt General Subrata Saha made a startling claim that Srinagar had “well transitioned” from rescue to relief work. “Nobody is marooned any longer strictly speaking”.,   The Director General of National Disaster Response Force announced  three days later,  on September 17, that in “technical terms rescue operations (have) concluded “. On day 10, the army claimed that it had rescued 1.84 lakh people across Kashmir using 224 boats with them and 148 boats of National Disaster Relief Force. But, the very same day, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, while criticising ‘rumour mongers’  said that   80,000 people were rescued, of  which 59,000 were rescued by the Army, 10,000 by NDRF and rest 21,000 by the CRPF, police and local volunteers. So. what happened to the   one lakh more which the army claimed it had rescued?  And why this exaggeration and claim that rescue was over, when it was not?  An indirect endorsement for the slow pace of rescue  was the decision to divert most of the troops to the LoC.  Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi  told the Supreme Court bench headed by the Chief Justice on 15th September that  this is the time of “maximum infiltration. Forces have to be diverted there and these are sensitive parts.”  (1) So, even at a time of natural catastrophe, counter-insurgency  concerns were  never too far away, even if it meant prolonging the agony of those trapped.

This is not to belittle the efforts of anyone, least of all the army personnel in this situation. Not only because such decisions are not taken by soldiers but by the higher authorities. But also to point out that rushing to take credit and refusing to acknowledge the contribution of the local people,  when even military and civil administration was marooned, and locals people saved soldiers and civilians, brings out a different story.  There was a delay of 48-72 hours in rescue operations. It picked up slowly. The first air-dropping of food stuffs also revealed that sub-standard material  or material from 2009 was provided.  Maybe it was done unwittingly but that makes it even more despicable.  Once rescue was replaced by relief it showed how a callous central government prolonged the agony of the people. Water pumps sent to draw water out from inundated areas were either found to be small units not capable of flushing out the quantity of water, or the huge contraptions sent were without, for instance, pipes. Engineers were sent but without any order or clear instruction as to what they were supposed to do. Materials were piling up in Udhampur railway station and Srinagar airport because of paper work required. While media was praising the central government and the army, on the groundchaos persisted and showed both the central and state and military and civil administration to be lacking coordination and purpose.

Look at the staggering impact. No less than 2600 villages were flooded and 390 submerged. Atleast half of Srinagar was inundated with 20 feet water or more. It is estimated that 15% of houses (30,000 of 2,01,588, as per 2011 census) suffered damages. And this figure does not include Srinagar! Another report shows that no less than 2,34,516 structures suffered damage, 20,000 completely destroyed,   including 70 army installations.  Crops on 3 lakh hectares were destroyed causing a loss of an estimated 3674 crore rupees. These are preliminary estimates and until normalcy is restored and Srinagar, the summer capital, is back on its feet, the full extent of damage caused will remain a partial estimate. But there are other losses such as the loss of rare items in the museum. 25 out of 28 police stations were severely damaged destroying 60% of the documents such as FIRs, case diaries, registers etc. Srinagar’s lower court estimates that  80% of its records were destroyed.

Today, on day 21 of the floods, Lal Chowk still remains under water, not as much as before but enough to keep it shut. Houses standing under water because flushing water out from areas is making slow progress means that these houses will not survive and will have to be pulled down. It is this traumatic and staggering reality that stares at people. While Indian media now has turned its guns elsewhere and Kashmir recedes from the news headlines, this tragic reality escapes those whose hearts are filled with majoritarian malice and hatred.  This is the dominant discourse.

But the fact is that J&K remains a “Disturbed Area” where civilians have suffered at the hands of armed forces egregiously over the past 25 years without any hope of justice. This fact somehow escaped  the self-serving patriots who grace TV studios and edit pages. The projection of army’s role and to credit them  with rescue work reached ridiculous heights with electronic channels pushing mikes in face of rescued people on helicopters asking them if they felt “grateful” to the army for “saving their lives”. Either the reporters were drunk on jingoism or just bigots who did not have any empathy for flood victims. Significantly, the  fact that local people even at the risk of their lives reached out and saved soldiers of CRPF, Rashtriya Rifles, Police etc and did not show any malice towards them at this time of disaster somehow escaped the self serving corporate media. No wonder when  unverified reports of  ‘separatists’  inciting people against the army was flashed no one asked  that before leading charge the story had to be verified and  what actually transpired found out.  That  studio ‘hawks’ ran down local people for being ungrateful to their  army “saviours” or news reporters blamed ‘separatists’ for inciting the people  made things worse. This orchestrated campaign to refurbish the image of an army which has committed heinous crimes against our own people in the name of ‘proxy war’  for over 25 years was  something  like the mobile companies announcing a week of free calls for their subscribers in Kashmir when the tele- communications remained  down  for most!

While the fury of the flood  could not have been prevented, with 15 inches of precipitation in a week, it could have been tempered. But it is startling that Central Water Commission which forecasts floods and issues advisory to states had no flood warning for J&K. (2)   How come?  Once waters inundated Anantnag, Shopian, on 2nd/3rd September and reached Pampore just 24 hours before arriving in Srinagar on 5th September, there was ample advance notice, as  rains had continued to pour. The lack of preparation for such an eventuality, requisitioning boats and other emergency provisions, removing people from low lying areas and  sand bagging rives banks, not only caught both the civilian and military administration off-guard but resulted in making the devastation greater.  That civil administration in Bandipora in north Kashmir used the advance warning to make preparations and saved lakhs of people from being affected in north Kashmir by floods shows that something could have been done even at this late stage to reduce the ferocious impact of flood water.

J&K state government claims it had pleaded with Central government to clear Rs 1500 crore plan in 2009 to dredge river Jhelum but was allocated only Rs 100 cr. Which raises several issues:  why  was central clearance required to dredge river?  And why was it not cleared by the UPA II government?  Share of central grants in J&K’s GSDP was 9%  in 1980-81, and rose to 47% by 2010-11.(3) All grants are tied to projects approved by the centre. In other words, local factors are less important than national, which conditions and distorts priorities, since everything is evaluated from a ‘security’ prism. For instance when emergency relief material was being collected and sent from different parts the police and agencies in Srinagar tended to be suspicious and they searched emergency relief  lest  some ‘separatists’  take advantage of the situation. On 21st September, nearly three weeks after the floods hit Kashmir, six tons of relief material  were returned from Srinagar to Delhi because this was being sent by Kashmiri students in Delhi. And now comes news that government is obstructing local people from undertaking relief and routing everything through NGOs and INGOs it can trust for being pro-India. In the midst of war the government does not want advantage to accrue to local people.

History of  Neglect

Urban planning was resumed in J&K in 1999. But the Plan remained on paper and clogging of natural water drainage system and poor dredging of Jhelum and other rivers and lakes  did not halt. War,unplanned growth of towns, and tourism and pilgrimage related construction, such as in forests around Pahalgam, and on the Lidder river bank as well as meadows around, which make up the catchment for Lidder water basin,  all contributed to the dismal state of environment. It is difficult for good sense to prevail when, for example,  Amarnath pilgrimage in south Kashmir is  promoted as a ‘patriotic endeavor’,   as a mark of  ‘solidarity with Indian soldiers fighting on the border’! (4)

However, a macro reason for the frequency of floods, according to Zubair A Dar, is the unresolved nature of the Kashmir dispute which has brought out the deficiencies of the Indus Water Treaty since it prohibits Jammu and Kashmir from building dams with water storage upstream.  He pointed out that despite  Pakistan building large dams and storage facilities downstream, they could not insulate themselves to flooding upstream. Ban on dams upstream with storage facilities, or enlarging the catchment area of Wular lake to prevent damage downstream, makes flood control  schemes difficult.  The severity of floods in Azad Kashmir and south Punjab inundating Multan presently strengthens this hypothesis. But the main reason for the logjam over IWT is that Pakistan fears that India can up the ante during conflict through ‘strategic wartime usage”  of dams and storage , which can cripple Pakistan, which is dependent for up to 77% of  its water requirement  from  Jhelum, Chenab and Indus. (5)

In other words,  the  unsettled  conditions and unresolved dispute  compounds the problems  many times over. It is not local politics, where severe restrictions remain on the much abused ‘separatists’ to even hold a peaceful protest or articulate their demand. But it is national chauvinism politicking over  J&K which remains an over-riding factor. (6)  The manner in which electronic media, government and private,  played up army’s efforts and condemned local people for venting anger at the delay in rescue and relief, even when army officers were also cited as saying that  they understood the “anxieties” of the people because of the slow pace of rescue,  shows how unfeeling such anchors and so many of their studio guests were to the tragedy unfolding.  In fact the shrill cry over  occasional incidents of stones and abuse hurled at the army and NDRF and officials and police have been deliberately exaggerated (7)  Print media has been, in contrast, much more credible.  In other words, for the bigoted minds even natural calamity was good enough to pour scorn on Kashmiri Muslims who are being accused of being ungrateful when they were saved by the army or NDRF.  In order to appreciate the deep divide that already existed  between Kashmir and India it is, therefore, necessary to step back and see what was happening in J&K just before flood fury swept  J&K.

Fomenting divisions

The political waters had already been made murkier with the Bharatiya Janata Party coming to power.  They claimed on 3rd June 2014 that within J&K “there is huge discrimination against Ladakh and Jammu regions in terms of development, education, public employment, expenditure and number of elected representatives”.  And  that BJP  will “boost morale of homeless Kashmiri Pandits and people of Jammu”. (8) While the material basis of such claims remain rhetorical rather than real it is a euphemism for implying that Hindu majority Jammu region suffers at hands of Muslims of Kashmir. Indeed MHA  officials began putting out half truths such as that Jammu’s population is more than Kashmir’s but there are fewer assembly seats for Jammu. Census data for 2011 blows this claim to smithereens but under BJP lies and half truths enjoy premium and officials ever ready to oblige new masters plant suitable stories.  Significantly, the only two provisions made in the budget of 2014-15 of the Narendra  Modi government was to allocate Rs100 cr to set up IIT in Jammu, and Rs 500 cr for return of Kashmiri migrants. The glaring absence of any provision for Kashmir was not lost on local people.

The issue of migrants is particularly significant for the way in which BJP promotes hindu majoritarian interests. That 65,000 households of Kashmiri Pandits should return to their home and hearth is beyond dispute. But the more disconcerting aspects of the proposal of the Home Minister  was to direct the J&K  government to allocate land in areas from  where Kashmiri Pandit migrants originally came,  to  “demarcate” the land, and provide security for migrants. The timing of the MHA letter and making it public even before it reached the state government  when the state was facing unprecedented floods, probably was an expression of lack of compassion  for people of J&K.

But more disturbing was the idea of setting up “secured clusters” which will clearly divide migrants from residents.  The point is return of Kashmiri migrants should not be allowed to get tied up with the counter-insurgency apparatus closely paralleling Israeli settlements.  Indian media may not take note of this and may be indifferent to the implication of such a move for creating  a volatile condition. But Kashmiris did give expression to such anxieties and fears therefore to ignore them is at our own peril.

BJP’s efforts are taking place in the context of the specific conditions that operate in J&K and on a people aware of their predicament of living under a regime where legal immunity is provided to the  armed forces side-by-side with complete denial of equal protection of their right to life and freedoms to the civilians. It is not  extraordinary conditions requiring extraordinary measures for a short duration. J&K remains in its 25th year of remaining “disturbed” with one of the heaviest troop deployment to boot. It has a civilian government devoid of authority over all the central forces and agencies, control and command remains in the hands of centrally approved bureaucrats in state’s own police and civil administration. The wheeling-dealing of NC has not done much to defuse a powder keg from being created. The efforts of the Army to promote sports  and tourism to channel some of the energy  of youth and away from “politics” co-exists with deep rage over how the same youth are met in J&K or elsewhere in India  if they  give vent to their aspirations and convictions.  Incidents abound of organized hooliganism by the Hindutva brigade in Indian universities and colleges where the Kashmiri students study, as part of centrally sponsored program called ‘Udan’. And barring JNU and DU there is hardly any organized protest in India against this. If all this was designed to “winning of hearts and minds”, first through manufactured consent and latter through coercion, it is obvious that it has not gone very far.

Muzamil Jaleel  recently wrote , that the “impression that Delhi had used dialogue (with Pakistan) merely to strengthen the status quo is also reinforced by the progress — or lack of it — in negotiations between Delhi and mainstream parties in Kashmir that didn’t question a solution within the bounds of the Indian Constitution. Never mind entertaining political demands like the NC’s resolution for the restoration of autonomy or the PDP’s ambitious self-rule proposal, Delhi did not even accept smaller administrative recommendations by its own working groups, who sought the repeal of draconian laws like the AFSPA. The report compiled by the most recent group of Central interlocutors wasn’t even acknowledged.” (9)

The objective was to tire out, if not to suffocate,  those who espoused “Azaadi”  without making any political gesture to the people by shifting, if not changing the goal post.  Political resolution of the dispute finds no resonance in Narendra Modi’s India. Not even among the opposition parties who, barring few exceptions,  by and large found something praiseworthy in this shambolic gesture or chose to remain low key.

Until the talks were called off this year, all the meetings held between the two countries  made little progress.  They also barely caused a flutter in Kashmir. Nothing was expected to come of out of them. And skepticism greeted  those who advocated talks. The high turnout in elections for state assembly as NC and PDP repeatedly declared should not be seen as a substitute for dispute resolution. The parties advocated  talking to “separatists”, because assembly has no power to resolve the dispute, and since they question accession. With no progress at home in either terms of de-militarisation (withdrawal of legal immunity for armed forces, justice for crimes committed by armed forces personnel, and repeal of draconian laws) or in terms of autonomy/self-rule  arrangement, the political cauldron becomes murkier  with communal appeal of BJP for Hindu votes in J&K.

But the question is what does it portend?  Commentators are divided in reading the ‘tea leaves’. Some believe that the “unequivocal message was that Hurriyat is irrelevant in the new political management of Kashmir.”  And argue that Hurriyat’s  poll boycott would enable BJP to cobble together  a coalition. It is argued that Hurriyat faces not just de-legitimation” but invites the risk of “victmisation”.(10)  As a result it was argued that  all this would  “empower” the pro-India parties and the state Assembly.

Trouble is that ‘empowerment’ of Assembly, as more than a debating chamber,  requires a real basis. Powers of the Assembly are severely circumscribed by its inability to influence the prevailing security perception or  the power  to dismantle the repressive regime. Recall that the Union Law Ministry under UPA II categorically stated that the state government has no powers to recall Disturbed Area Act. This power rests with the Governor,  who is not bound by the advice of his council of minister. On the other hand,  those who argue that the emergence of BJP would augur well for the Azaadi movement because it  would polarize the situation  as banking too heavily on passively gaining from BJP’s calculated manipulative politics.

Facts on the Ground

So although militancy has sharply declined and the number of militants operating in J&K are said to be no more than a few hundred, the officials nevertheless provide other fearful scenarios  to  justify the regime of tight control  being maintained over  Muslims of J&K. For instance the Army, which continues to have more than 200,000 soldiers  deployed in the hinterland of Kashmir valley, as part of its “security grid”  claims that it is not only there to consolidate the gains of past years but also to prevent any untoward fallout of Taliban’s likely emergence in Afghanistan as the ‘victor’.   The UPA II government also accepted its failure to persuade the Army to agree to withdraw the “Disturbed Area” notificationfrom four districts in J&K, two in Kashmir and Jammu each, and free them of AFSPA. This is a manifestation of the clout that the Army exercises over issues related to Kashmir.

In other words, militancy gets magnified although numbers do not back the fear-based scenario. Former Deputy NSA under UPA II government, Nehchel  Sandhu, questioned the Army’s belief that NATO’s pullout from Afghanistan poses a threat to India. He pointed out that “(t)here is nothing to suggest there would be a spillover  of the Afghan situation into India. After the withdrawal the groups there would first try to take-over Afghanistan rather than divert strategy towards India. But this did not prevent the Army from calling the shots . (11)

Legal immunity enjoyed by the armed forces, i.e. preventing armed forces personnel  from being brought to justice, opposition of local communities to continued occupation of land, especially meadows, water bodies, and public buildings  by them, put armed forces and civilians on an unequal footing. One is armed and enjoys immunity and exercises its clout in myriad ways. Whereas,  civilians are disarmed of legal and equal protection of law  and their political expression severely curtailed.

What is rarely understood is also how armed conflict also spawns its own political-economy of rewards  and employment for ‘kills’.  Haseeb Drabu  (12) points out how the system implemented in Kashmir was to incentivize killing of “militants”, not their arrest. So much so that those “who aid and abet…in locating the militant” too partake of reward and provides the informer and his associates an employment opportunity.   Every “successful operation”, says Drabu, allows the police to appoint Special Police Officers  on an ad hoc basis. When a police officer, thereafter, give a citation listing those who helped and participated in an ‘operation’ , it results in their confirmation of service. Drabu observes that “a good and decorated police officer is not the one who integrates and prevents boys from becoming militants but one who kills them after they become militants.”  Of course provided the person killed is not a civilian passed off as a ‘militant’. While this is the prevailing system in Kashmir,  the absence of any progress over  political resolution, creates a compelling situation for revival of militancy.

Disunity among the Hurriyat and the absence of an organization robs the Hurriyat of the  capacity to capitalize on various opportunities circumstances created for them. Because all the fearful scenarios being worked out could have been nullified by such an organization by ensuring slightly higher turnout in five constituencies in Kashmir which BJP is eyeing,  of which only three offer them some hope of a breakthrough namely Amira Kadal and Habba Kadal in Srinagar and Sopore. BJP’s calculation is to exploit the boycott call by the Hurriyat and ensure Kashmiri Pandit votes to edge past others. The low voting percentage in these constituencies suffices to make Kashmiri Pandit vote count. Whereas a cohesive organization could  ensure sufficient polling to outsmart the BJP. In other words, while polarization and that too communal  divide is here to stay, and assimilationist tendencies gain ground the fallout of this will be to push people more towards taking matters into their own hands.

In order to appreciate this let us look at what reduced level of militant activities nevertheless reveal. Although exchanges between militants and security forces declined by 23% in 2013 compared to 2012 the number of soldiers and officers killed rose from 12 in 2012 to 53 in 2013. Moreover, what is troubling is not infiltration because  up to July 31st, 2014 just 24 out of 93 militants who allegedly tried to “infiltrate”  succeeded. Such numbers pale before the thousands who tried to cross at one point. But the fact that aspiring militants do not have to cross into Pakistan anymore to receive training and weapons but these are now locally available!

In other words while the government steps up its propaganda against Pakistan for stepping up its ‘proxy war’, fact of the matter is that not only more locals are joining but that they do not have to cross LoC anymore. The combination of the two i.e. targeting military forces/targets and steering away from civilians because locals are more sensitive to local population’s concerns  tends to indicate that it is a different generation of militants who are joining their ranks. And if armed forces are continued to be valorized for the ignoble task of “transforming the will and attitude of the people” then nothing prevents this from being realized.

When the middle ground has been decimated because Government of India scuttled all efforts directed at autonomy  and remained unwilling to concede anything of significance to propel towards de-militarisation  then in such vitiated situation BJP’s majoritarian push will act as a  great boost for militancy. The political grapevine  in Delhi claim that IB is perturbed over BJP’s ideological push in J&K because it threatens to disturb the status-quo. The point is that such an approach is geared to create divisions and anxieties about BJP in the minds of Muslims across J&K. Now in a situation where BJP’s advocacy of riding roughshod over   whatever that concerns Muslims and privileging Hindus of J&K becomes the hegemonic  discourse then what becomes manifest is the importance of power play. Language of power and  assimilation of Kashmir  has made it abundantly clear that the only language Government of India   understand is that of power.

A people infuriated by the slow and tortuous rescue and relief operations  and experience of primarily fending for themselves  when faced with brutal military suppression  has even more reason to demand Azaadi. A winter of discontent threatens to upset the apple carts of wishful thinking and the make-believe reality of India’s  jingoistic rulers.

Notes

1. Italics added. The Hindu 16/09/2014.  Asian Age claimed on 13th September that Jammat ul Dawa’s  Hafeez Saeed was camping close to LoC and trying to infiltrate Lashkar’s naval unit into Kashmir?

2. Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network  on Dams Rivers and People, The Hindu 10/09/2014 says none of  CWC’s level or inflow forecasts included J&K and there were no hydrographs for rivers of the state, “a shocking omission”.

3. The Statesman 28th August,2014.

4. The area  is described thus by  the  District Forest Officer, Pahalgam in a  communication dated 5-10-2012 to the Pahalgam Development Authority.  The letter mentioned that:

whatever Pahalgam is famous  and important for is because of its forests and undisturbed natural  microclmatic region created by these forests in the biggest ever catchment of 123,600 hectares named and codified (HDDERIEL) wherein 98 number of micro water sheds has a stable base to contribute the Jhelum basin predominately. Viewing the importance of the fragile zone Government vide order # 148/FST of 2005 dated 29.03.2005 had asked that “no agency be authorized to use forest land (grassland in forests) for any activity which proves hazardous for the regeneration of the younger seedlings and saplings…..That circular shape of Sheshnag spread over approximately 578 kanals need not be disturbed as concrete work will definitely contribute to erosion and will choke the oozing capacity of the lakes because these slopes are acting as a sponge to pave the way for the filtered seepage of melted precipitation.”

This being the case it stands to reason that construction activities ought to be curtailed here. But on July 13, 2012 a two judge bench comprising Justice BS Chauhan and Swatantra Kumar on their own motion versus Union of India said that “(t)his Court has repeatedly held that in terms of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, a person has a right to live in dignity and not be subjected to inhuman treatment particularly in such places where large number of people are bound to visit because of their faith”.  It pointed to “Today’s Times of India and The Hindustan Times reports 67 deaths of (Amarnath) pilgrims mostly because of cardiac arrest as well as for other reasons….In our considered opinion the pilgrims have a constitutional right under Article 21 and 19(1)(d) to move freely within the territory of India, free of fear, with dignity and safety and to ensure enforcement of such right is the primary obligation of the state and the central government”. It then went on to say that “Visit of lakhs people to the state of J&K generates revenue for the state, in fact, for the residents of the state and add to the need for better tourism.”

They go on to say that  “(i)t is a settled canon of constitutional law that the doctrine of sustainable development also forms part of Article 21 of the Constitution. The ‘precautionary principle’ and the ‘polluter pays principle” flow from the core value in Article 21. Supreme Court in its judicial dictum in the case of Glenrock Estates Pvt Ltd vs State of Tamilnadu (2010) 10 SCC 96 has held that  “forests in India are an important part of environment. They constitute a national asset and intergenerational equity is also part of the Article 21…..The state is not only expected but is under a constitutional command to treat every citizen with human dignity and ensure equal treatment to all”. “  And then points out that pilgrims “ have a rights and state is under constitutional obligation to provide safe passages,  proper medical aid, appropriate arrangement and at least some shelter to the thousand of yatris visiting holy cave every day.”

In other words the plight of the devotees of Shiva pained the H’ble judges to take up the matter suo moto. Such was their concern that they also went on to implicitly reprimand  the state and the residents by pointing out that they stand to make pecuniary gains from tourism, and therefore implied that  the needs and welfare of  pilgrims  must be given weight over  that of the residents of the state. The H’ble judges , therefore, argue that “It is a settled canon of constitutional law that the doctrine of sustainable development also forms part of Article 21 of the Constitution”. By assuming that pilgrims benefit the state government and permanent residents  their interest were subordinate to the  interests of pilgrims, because it is assumed that pilgrims welfare will ultimately bring benefit to the residents as much as that faith overrides other consideration.

Thus Article 21 and 19(1)(d) is invoked on behalf of the pilgrims. The first order they issued was on July 23rd when they set up a special high powered committee (SHPC).  The elevation of right of the ‘faithfuls’ and its application to the  area where the cave is located cannot be de-linked from other considerations even if the Court  moved by their own ‘faith’ could do so.

5. The Dam Way, Zubair A Dar, Indian Express 10/09/2014.

6. Competitive jingoism  between BJP and Congress in J&K for appearing as benefactor of  non-Muslims with each trying to outdo the other corroborates this. Almost all commentators run of shy of mentioning that conflict originated and took place in Indian held Kashmir, an area under control of India for 67 years. Successive Indian governments dirtied the water long before Pakistan even began to fish in them. The extent of  Hindu communlisation besides can be gauged from another fact. A press statement issued by J&K Coalition of Civil Society in May-June 2013 shared the composition of Village Defense Committees and Special Police Officer on the basis of information elicited by them using the RTI. Unfortunately, Indian media scrupulously ignored this.  The data shows the following:  In Kishtwar out of 3287 VDCs  no less than 3174 are Hindus i.e. they comprise nearly 97% of the total. In Doda out of 6521 as much as 5874 or 91% are Hindus. And in Ramban out of 2901 ninety three per cent or 2697 are Hindus. And they continue to be armed and receive honorarium/salary. Their numbers make the ‘institutional bias ‘ (euphemism for preference and patronizing of  Hindutva elements by authorities)  clear.  Such is the extent of promotion of communalization in J&K that 90 per cent of the armed members of the Village Defense Committees in Doda district, (with 60-40% Muslim-Hindu ratio) are Hindus. How many of them are members of extreme Hindu right wing is anybody’s guess. But that such persons were recruited in large number is not hidden from anyone.

7. See “A Kashmir Fable” by Shankar Roy Chowdhury, Asian Age, 16th September, 2014 and Jaya Jaitly,  “And then the waters rose”, Indian Express, 16th September, 2014 to see how chauvinism gets eulogized.

8. The Economic Times 3rd June 2014. Also a study of Economic Survey of J&K since it began to be brought out in 2002-03 establishes that there is no basis for such claims of discrimination.  As for Kashmiri Pandit’s return to the valley the proposal to set up clusters  for them protected by security forces is designed to perpetuate the divide and use Kashmiri Pandits as pawns to keep the people divided between “nationalists” and “anti-nationals”.

9. Muzamil Jaleel ,Indian Express 1st September, 2014  “The Tough Talks Begin”.

10. Haseeb Drabu writing in Greater Kashmir ,August 26,2014 “The Boycott Bind”. See also for a contrarian view Showkat Mota, A Lotus in the Lake, Outlook, August 30, 2014

11. February 20th, 2014, Asian Age. Besides the casualty suffered by Pakistan in the firing across the border/LoC, i.e. loss of  8 persons, which included civilians and soldiers and injury to 12 civilians, as against 3 civilian deaths and 17 injured suffered by India,  suggests that firing was indiscriminate and heavy by the Indian forces. As against killing of 3 Pakistani soldier during this phase India lost none. The firing picked up by  July 17 and subsided only towards end of August 2014. The interesting feature this time was that ceasefire violations by both sides were maximum along demarcated International Border than the un-demarcated LoC.  Also at this juncture Pakistan’s capacity to fight on two fronts, west and east, simultaneously with civil war also being waged against Pakistani Taliban,  is severely restricted.   Timing of ceasefire violations  seems  to provide maximum traction to BJP   to launch a self-serving campaign and project its  “nationalist” credentials. . It is also worth noting how a section of the ‘experts’ community have been pushing for increasing India’s military engagement in Afghanistan.Something that US and NATO have been advocating too. But if US-NATO find the cost unbearable and could not defeat Taliban what makes anyone believe that India will emerge unscathed?

12. Haseeb Drabu “Death of a Militant”, Greater Kashmir,  September 4, 2014.

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