Month: April 2011

Until My Freedom Has Come [New Book on Kashmir]

Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada In Kashmir by Sanjay Kak (coming soon).

In the troubled history of contemporary Kashmir, the summer of 2010 will be remembered as a watershed. Protests against the ‘encounter’ killings of civilians turned into an unprecedented display of courage, as a new generation took to the streets, their only weapons the stones in their hands. It has been called Kashmir’s Intifada, marking a paradigm shift from armed militancy to mass rebellion. Significantly, this was also accompanied by a remarkable explosion in the writing on Kashmir, in a new language of ideas that bypasses the old and parochial ways in which Kashmir has been seen and understood.

The pieces in this volume voice the rage and helplessness sweeping through the Valley, while also offering rare insights into the lives of those caught in the crossfire. With contributions from journalists, academics and artists, Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir is a timely collection of some of the most exciting writing that has recently emerged from within Kashmir, and about it.

Sanjay Kak is a documentary film-maker whose work includes Jashn-e- Azadi (How We Celebrate Freedom, 2007), a feature-length film about Kashmir. He is based in New Delhi.

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Aijaz Hussain from Kashmir

From The Canadian Press: “Development plan threatens fish and environment

Within the icy waters of Kashmir’s boulder-strewn streams, a thriving trout population feeds a promising fish industry and lures anglers to the foot of the Himalayas.

But not for long, warn experts, who say plans for boulder crushing and gravel extraction along Kashmir’s rivers could pollute the valley’s waters and drive away the fish.

The trout are a key ingredient in India-controlled Kashmir’s campaign to bring back tourists to the lush, mountainous region — a place replete with idyllic vistas and flower-filled meadows — despite a 22-year battle for independence that has seen 68,000 people killed.

The violence has subsided in recent years and resistance today is mostly expressed through street protests, but the trout industry is still not out of danger: Fisheries Department officials say they were quietly ordered to set aside nearly five decades of laws that forbade mining and rock-crushing along riverbanks, laws intended to protect the fishing industry.

Defying its own rules, the department recently cleared the way for two companies to set up boulder-crushing units near the Arin and Lidder rivers. The Geology and Mining Department will allow 36 streams to be mined for gravel and stones to be used for building materials.

Fisheries officials, who spoke on condition their names not be used because of the controversy, said they had been pressed to approve those permits by higher government officials.

They declined to say why they’d faced pressure, but the region has seen a surge in construction since violence began tapering off in 2007, leaving companies increasingly anxious for supplies.

The latest plans, though, could be catastrophic for Kashmir’s trout. Scientists say the noise, dredging and dust will disturb the fish and clog the waterways, depleting them of protein-rich foods. Dust would also coat the nearby Kolahoi Glacier, the region’s biggest, accelerating its melting and threatening long-term water supplies.

The streams are the main water sources for most of Kashmir’s 12 million people.

The decision to allow riverside stone crushers appears geared toward saving transportation costs for crushing companies. The two companies involved did not return calls for comment, and the government refused to discuss the policy change.

“This is like killing the goose that laid golden eggs,” said Shakeel Romshoo, head of the geology department at the University of Kashmir. “This is a serious threat, not only to the fish, but also to our environment and tourism.”

The case sets up a conflict between development and sustainability playing out across India, as officials struggle to balance anti-poverty efforts with environmental protection.

The strain is felt strongly in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in its entirety by both. Armed conflict over the decades has stymied growth and kept the India-controlled region reliant on New Delhi for funds. While India’s growth rate has charged ahead near 9 per cent, Kashmir’s remains stagnant.

The local government wants to develop trout fishing and farming to boost employment and tourism.

Trout — both rainbow and the more aggressive brown species — have flourished in Kashmir’s oxygen-rich waters since 1900, when India was still a British colony and the first Scottish trout eggs were sent to Kashmir’s maharaja.

In the 1980s, Kashmir’s government began trout farming in manmade ponds fed by glacial runoff. The conditions proved perfect for the sensitive species, which need cold, clean waters and a diet of aquatic insects, small fish and crustaceans.

With subsidies for fish farmers, at least 120 private trout ponds have been built. The government also plans a fish hatchery project, said Fisheries Department Director P. Angchuk.

Meanwhile, tourism officials are touting the trout alongside Kashmir’s skiing, trekking and golfing.

During the 1980s, Kashmir reeled in thousands of Westerners keen to cast rods into the fast-flowing serpentine Himalayan streams.

The sport suffered in the 1990s, as insurgent violence shook the region. Indian army soldiers were also accused of widespread poaching, often using crude methods like grenades, electric shocks and poison.

Sport fishing has recovered as the violence waned, and more than 4,000 permits were issued in the last three years.

But fish farming still has a way to go. At least half the government’s annual 195-ton haul is released back into the wild, with the rest sold locally for about one-fourth of Western prices. Export potential is hindered by a lack of direct international flights and no infrastructure for preparing fish for market.

With the right policies and investment, the sector could be extremely valuable, said Shakeel Qalandar, former head of the Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir, bringing in many millions of dollars a year.

The project to allow riverside stone crushing, on the other hand, “will permanently destroy the natural habitat of the trout and has serious environmental implications. But we have been helpless,” Fisheries Department head Angchuk told the Indian Express newspaper. He refused later to elaborate, but did not refute the reported comments.

“The government is acting so strangely,” said fish farmer Ghulam Hassan, who switched last year from catching carp to building a trout pond. “First it spends huge money to promote fish culture, and then allows measures which are going to destroy the fish.”

Azad Essa in Srinagar

From Aljazeera: “The Disappeared of Kashmir

His unibrow twists and arches furiously. The creases on his face tighten. His eyes shift from the door and with his index finger he points towards the ceiling. Then he stares straight at me and begins to speak – his voice like a calamitous clap of thunder, echoing off the cold walls and ringing in my ears.

I have no idea what he is saying, but his tone conveys everything.

“Take it easy … they are here to listen to your story … don’t be angry,” says Parveena Ahangar, the chairperson of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), one of two organisations going by the same name in Kashmir, as she tugs gently at the old man’s knee.

But he refuses and embarks on a second tirade; spitting as he pronounces a series of adjectives that I recognise as expletives.

A friend who has accompanied me for the purpose of translating whispers: “I can’t translate all of this. He is cursing just about everyone there is to possibly swear at.”

Ghulam Muhammad Wani needs a moment to clear his mind. I happily give him three.

The 80-year-old is short and stocky but cuts an imposing figure. Dressed in a dirty, brown pheran, he sits on the floor of his living room in Rajbagh, Srinagar. His overstretched woolen socks loop around the contours of his feet, stealing dust from the parched carpet below.

He tells us his story.

A father’s anguish

On the evening of May 14, 1996, members of the counter-insurgent Ikhwan group, a pro-government militia made up of former insurgents, now working for the Indian army, knocked on his door and took off with this son, Imtiyaz Ahmed Wani.

Suspected of being an insurgent, a separatist fighting for freedom from the Indian state, Imtiyaz disappeared without trace.

After searching from pillar to post, visiting police stations and army officers, Wani went to the State Human Rights Commission to file a complaint about his missing son. Finding no joy there, he sold a property, took out a loan and paid a seemingly sympathetic counter-insurgent who promised information about his missing son. But the money, like his son, disappeared.

“My son was a gardener at the forest department, earning Rs 2,000 ($45) a month; he did no wrong,” Wani finally offers.

“It has been 15 years,” he trails off.

During his desperate search for Imtiyaz, a policeman from the Special Task Force (a counter-insurgency wing of the Jammu and Kashmir police force) came to his house and offered him 1,200 rupees ($30) as piecemeal compensation. Over time, Wani was also approached by politicians offering him “aid” in exchange for his silence.

“I told them to leave … it would have been like accepting blood money.

“They robbed me of my son, who will now bury me when I go?” Wani asks the silent room.

Buried Evidence, a report published by the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir (IPTK) in 2009, reported the number to be “8,000 plus”.

It is a figure disputed by the Indian government and SM Sahai, the chief of police in Kashmir, says it is grossly exaggerated.

“This number is not correct, and most of the missing persons are fighters who crossed [the] border into Pakistan, and are still there,” he says.

Human rights activists say the government has repeatedly released contradictory figures, indicating a lack of seriousness in addressing the issue.

“One day, they say it is 3,931 people missing, the next day it is 3,749 … they are not serious about it,” says Parvez Imroz, a human rights activist and co-founder of the original Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP).

Zahir-ud-Din, a local journalist whose investigation into disappearances in Kashmir culminated in a book, Did they vanish in thin air, concurs that the state has marginalised the issue. One can even pick up on it from the language employed – ‘missing’ as opposed to ‘disappearance’, ud-Din says. (To read more click on the link above)

KSN letter to UN Special Representative

April 15, 2011

Margot Wallstrom,

UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict

cc.UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon (by mail)

Dr. Navanetham Pillay, UN High Commissioner on Human Rights

Ms. Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences.

Dear Ms. Wallstrom,

We are writing to you with grave concern regarding your remarks on Kashmir as reported in sections of the Indian press. According to a report published in the Calcutta News (http://www.calcuttanews.net/story/765726/ht/No-reports-of-sexual-violence-by-Indian-troops-in-Kashmir-UN), you are quoted as having said that “’So far, we do not have proper reports about this….so far, we have not received any proper reporting on such cases….I can’t say that there was anything in particular (about Kashmir).”

Contrary to your reported words, human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International and Medecins sans Frontieres have consistently recorded the use of rape and sexual violence against Kashmiri women by Indian forces as a deliberate strategy in counterinsurgency since 1989.

If your statements are reported correctly, they display a shocking lack of knowledge of the facts. Further, your willingness to make public statements on the matter despite the lack of knowledge discredits your office and the United Nations. Your reported remarks provide political cover and support to the Indian government which has engaged in a military reign of terror against the civilian population of Kashmir since 1989.

Given the gravity of the situation, we sincerely call upon you to clarify and correct your remarks. We urgently ask you to acquaint yourself with the full range and scope of sexual violence and torture by Indian forces against Kashmiri women and men, and to take concrete steps to support the victims and bring the perpetrators to justice. We are providing as evidence links to online copies of some of human rights reports.

Kashmir Solidarity Network seeks to generate wider public interest in Kashmir, and help develop an educated and informed solidarity for the people of Kashmir across the world. 

We look forward to your response.

Kashmir Solidarity Network

_______________________________________________________________

Reports

Amnesty International 1991 India: Rape and Ill-treatment of Women in Kashmir: Zarifa Bano, Bakhti, and many others (the Kunan-Poshpura incident)

http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA20/010/1991/en/256dbe4d-ee56-11dd-9381-bdd29f83d3a8/asa200101991en.html

Amnesty International 1993 India: Reports of Rape in 1993

http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?lang=e&id=7BC6BB3C1946833B802569A6006048D7

Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights 1993 Rape in Kashmir. A Crime of War

http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/1993/05/01/rape-kashmir

Human Rights Watch 1996 India’s Secret Army in Kashmir. New Patterns of Abuse Emerge in the Conflict

http://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/1996/India2.htm

Human Rights Watch 1999 Behind the Kashmir Conflict. Abuses by Indian security forces and militant groups continue

http://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/1999/kashmir/

Medecins sans Frontiers 2006 Kashmir:Violence and Health

http://www.artsenzondergrenzen.nl/pdf/KASHMIRFINALVERSION221106.pdf

United Nations Human Rights Commission 2003 Integration of the Human Rights of Women and the Gender Perspective:Violence Against Women

http://www.unhchr.ch/Huridocda/Huridoca.nsf/0/3ab4d356d165f1b4c1256ce1003c048a/$FILE/G0310400.pdf

United Nations High Commission on Human Rights, Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences 200-2004 Annual Report. Communications to and from governments

http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/women/rapporteur/annual.htm

Report of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Margaret Sekaggya 2011

http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/defenders/docs/A.HRC.16.44.Add.1_EFSonly.pdf

Video links