Author: Saadut
•9:54 PM

That dry December day when trees were stripped of their entire splendorous honor, standing naked to the bone in piercing chilly winds, as if put to a torture technique often practiced by Indian soldiers as a persecution starter on common Kashmiris. That kind of day when winter school holidays had already set in, some kind of pervasive frigid cloak seemed to gradually envelope the city yet there was no trace of snow. My school exams were just over and post-winter options were being evaluated at home. Those laid out winter days, when foot prints on dew stayed longer than on other days, some kind of a lull in Srinagar seemed to have been broken by strange and eerie silences. 

On one of these motionless and cold evenings, scores of youth from around the city were seen converging towards Bohri Kadal chowk, the centre of downtown. In fading lights of the evening I too slipped out from home, flowing along the rush amidst these crowds amassing in anticipation of the unknown, like a river in spate not sure of the course it would take or the bank it would breach. It was in this flow of seemingly endless stream of people I met ‘R’ near Naidkadal. He was already a known senior journalist with a video news magazine. The taxi that ‘R’ had been travelling in, while covering the events was suddenly taken over by sloganeering enthusiastic youth; the roof of taxi almost giving in under their scramble. While ‘R’ and his camera team preferred to walk alongside, the pitch of young men reverberated over lost groans of the taxi driver.  Later as the cold and dry December evening started to bite wintry and the crowds realized there was nothing more to expect this evening, they thinned. We walked further ahead the meandering Nallamar road that turned to its left towards Khanyar, just close to the spot where the government had not long ago in memory brutally killed scores of civilians over electricity protests, the city was already turning into a ghost town. Crowds we left behind, melted to enveloping darkness and Kashmir kept awake to an uncertain night.

A couple of days back (December 8th, 1989) Rubiya Syed, daughter of the then Indian home minister Mufti Mohammad Syed had been kidnapped by rebels owing allegiance to JKLF. Rubiya Syed an intern doctor at the local maternity hospital had been forced from a matador near her Nowgam home in city outskirts and whisked away into a waiting Maruti car. JKLF had been demanding the release of 5 people against the release of home minister’s daughter. While all this was happening in Kashmir, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah had been holidaying in London. For years there had been growing undercurrents of rebellion in Kashmir against New Delhi’s political handling of Kashmir and the apathy of local governments. And the ‘87 rigging of elections had already added more fuel to the prevalent anti Delhi sentiment, followed by alleged widespread torture of opposition MUF cadres. Reportedly after the kidnapping of Rubiya Syed, senior IB officials including Ved Marwah (then Director General NSG) had landed in Kashmir to handle the situation even before Farooq Abdullah had come back. 

By the dimming lights of Khanyar square, shopkeepers had downed early shutters and fled to an abandoned evening, with the exception of a lone commodity store by the left bend that turned towards Hazratbal. Interestingly this small store, that in a low ceiling that sunk before the rising road level, in later years acted as some sort of an evening beacon for frightened travelers of a spirit stripped dark city even during the peak of turmoil, daring to remain open on most solitary evenings except the ones when murderous men in military fatigues ran over everything and massacred. Under these dimming lights of the square ‘R’ expressed a need for local support in his story and decided that we meet again tomorrow morning at Broadway hotel, and by afternoon next day I was already a part of his team. Nothing much filtered out on this day; the government was not coming out with anything and the crowds in downtown continued pouring in endless streams, like a river in spate likely to break its banks, drowning everything with it.  

Next day it came to fore that a senior journalist from Kashmir was negotiating between JKLF and the government, (later joined in the negotiations by Justice ML Bhat, who was a friend of Mufti Mohammad Syed). Each passing day the crowds started getting bigger in the city square, resonating expressions of anger against the state and slowly opening up voices of dissent. The rare press briefing held at the police control room yielded not much information. It was after one of such briefings, as journalists had retreated to hotels for lunch, a fleeting rumor was passed on to us; two very senior police officials might have been discussing the possibility of a preemptive strike to free the hostage and minutes after their highly confidential meeting had ended the ‘interlocutor’ had called up one of the senior officials “don’t even think of doing that (what you discussed in the confidential meeting)”. The stunned senior security official left stone-faced and at a loss of reaction, called up the other senior officer in disgust “surely one among us is to blame (for the leak)!

The hotel lobby had become a virtual hub of journalists following this story, each trying to prey on any lead the other may have and each holding close to chest any information they might have sniffed. On the second afternoon during lunch ‘R’ took me aside and pointed to this gentleman in medium height, wheatish complexion with a receding hairline “beware of him!”. Right after lunch the same gentleman approached ‘R’ and exchanged pleasantries with him, trying unsuccessfully drawing him into a longish conversation about events. Late in the evening while we were coming back from downtown, ‘R’ suddenly asked to take a detour from our routine way to hotel. We had taken a totally different path and when back in there a nervous ‘R’ surprised us “Mr.*** (the gentleman in medium height, wheatish complexion with a receding hairline) may look like an innocuous reporter but I am sure he is a mole. We need to secure all our tapes away from the hotel”. The tapes were carefully wrapped and it was decided that I secure them at my home. The taxi dropped me home past midnight, driving over empty roads that had been taken over by howling dogs chasing filtering shadows of the odd street lights. Surely ‘R’ knew something about this ‘reporter’ that we didn’t know, which in later years dawned on me was a norm with Indian agencies scattering ‘plants’ in Kashmir in guises or under cloaked patronage. Then there was this north Indian ‘journalist’ at the hotel who had a ‘successful stint’ in reporting Punjab insurgency and now had flown down (two days after most journalists arrived here) to report on December ’89 incidents in Kashmir. I never saw this ‘journalist’ rush to downtown for reporting or observing the events there, often found him rushing away from the centre of these events to unknown but seemingly opposite directions than ground zero. Years later came to fore that he might have been another ‘national interest reporter’. There was also this lady who somehow in later days got a whiff that we were arranging for an interview with militants and one evening stopped me by her room, from where the ‘national interest reporter’ left as I was walking the corridor, requesting me to help her in arranging such an interview. “We are friends” she tried to tell me, extended her hand from an evening gown. Sweat breaking on my forehead like scattered beads, I stammered, excused right from the door and paced away. 

By 13th December early morning Indian ministers I K Gujral and Arif Mohammad Khan flew to Kashmir to break the deadlock. The inertia of local governance that had for years been left at the mercy of an indifferent aristocracy was pushed aside by New Delhi; something was surely moving now within the Indian government and there were feelers that deal had been reached somewhere. By afternoon the tempo in downtown Srinagar was escalating, a deluge of people swarming from all sides converged on this city square. We took vantage positions over the concrete slab of shopping lines on the eastern wing of Bohri Kadal square, close to where the roads led to Nowhatta. Suddenly from among the sea of people a lean keffiyeh donning young man climbed the dysfunctional tall central streetlight of this town square, and hoisted a light green and red flag; the crowds erupted to roars and slogans. The air was electrifying as rallying cries of the crowd pierced everything else. Within some minutes as another young man tried to scale the tall dead light, reached midway and hoisted one more flag, the crowd lost boundaries, erupting in defiance. ‘R’ grappled what angle to shoot from ; ‘there’, ‘here’, ‘swarming crowds’ ‘that sloganeering’, his cameraman a south Indian of sturdy but short build could not keep pace. Those were days of the U-matic media (20 minutes each), where professional cameras weighed a ton, unlike the present day compact palm held digital formats. Hence maneuvering such equipment did not come easy.

At around half past five, there was commotion on the northern side of the square, the road that led to Saraf Kadal; suddenly from among the crowd a young man raised a pistol in the air and shot four or five rounds of celebratory fire. The crowds went into frenzy and amid sloganeering the young man was raised on shoulders, unending hands reached from the crowd to greet and touch him. We cried desperately “are you getting the frame!” ; the cameraman had seemingly lost the shot. As this young man suddenly evaporated within the crowd, minutes later farther down south of the square crowds had spotted somebody and there was a mad rush as the boys were tearing to have a glimpse. We ran through the crowd, south side, behind the mosque courtyard, over the stone paved steps of back street, down three steps, turning right, squeezing through the green collapsible grill that led through this chaos to the green mosque courtyard. We ran over the narrow mosque ladder, pushing our way and to direct sight of the cheering crowds who had this young man raised on shoulders. Amid unrelenting slogans and cheers, some boys were passing bits of paper scribbled in haste; some were jostling and pushing to shake hands or to simply touch him, flowing with this deluge. ‘Ashfaq Saeba’ somebody cried, ‘Bhaijana’ (dear brother) came from the other side. An old man from within the mosque courtyard, standing by the edge of a shop slab that extended from the fringe of this mosque courtyard, with a white flowing beard, creaseless milky white dress and a embroidered white cap shouted ‘khudayas kermaev havaale’ (May God be with you); a sea was out there as he merged unknown into this tide. Meanwhile confirmation came that the rebels had been freed at around 5:00 PM (reportedly near Saraf Kadal and they had silently melted away into the maze of Downtown) and Rubiya Syed two hours later. As evening engulfed over the city, the square was still not dark, celebratory crowds were living the night in roaring chorus of defiance.  And the old man with the white flowing beard was already standing on the podium near the flag hoisted dysfunctional tall central streetlight of the town square, raising his fists high among the sea of people, shouting slogans of freedom; the old man’s voice perched high among the defiant crowd ‘hum kya chahte Azadi’ (what do we seek? Freedom). There were women clinging to ornamental latticed windows of old cluttered downtown houses, homes that had lost their shadows to a leaning rapturous evening, responding to every slogan that came from the town square “Azadi”. A city had suddenly woken up from a long enforced coma. Rubiya Syeed had been freed and so had been the spirit of defiance. 

As I dragged over a seemingly unending night, I kept wondering about the pieces of paper that many enthusiastic youth had scribbled and passed on to ‘Ashfaq’. By morning the pieces of this puzzle fell into place; lured by dissidence and fed up with an anarchic state, scores of young men in the crowd had been scribbling their names and details with requests to be enlisted in the separatist movement. Voices that had been muted for long enough, had suddenly found a vent in resistance. Ashfaq Majeed was one of the pioneers of rebel movement in Kashmir, from the famous ‘HAJY’ group of JKLF. Ashfaq known to be a bright student, studied in one of well known schools of Kashmir, Tyndale Biscoe School (my alma mater) and later in SP College. New Delhi’s denial of political rights to Kashmir over decades, his personal experiences in ’87 rigged elections and the extreme state torture of opposition activists that followed, led him to the rebel movement. Ashfaq was killed on 30th March 1990. The old man of the city square with the white flowing beard and embroidered whit cap was once known to have been a staunch supporter of the ruling party, but disillusioned with decades of political deceit played in Kashmir, cherished the ‘Azadi’ dream; later reportedly was killed in the Hawal massacre (May 21st 1990).

Kashmir was never to be the same again.

~Memories Never Die~ 

Author: Saadut
•6:42 PM

"I say with all respect to our Constitution that it just does not matter what your Constitution says; if the people of Kashmir do not want it, it will not go there. Because what is the alternative? The alternative is compulsion and coercion..." (Selected works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vol. 18, p. 418).

The ‘accession’ of Jammu & Kashmir with India on 26th October only happened for three subjects; defense, foreign affairs and communications. Article 370 (originally put as Article 306 A) was agreed upon by between teams led by Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah after five months of discussions, and most of these discussions kept in mind the UN resolutions and the International nature of Kashmir dispute. Keeping in view India’s International obligations (and promises) for a settlement on Kashmir, the word “Temporary” was fixed to this article, pointing to the expiry of the article as soon as Kashmir was resolved (via UN mandated plebiscite).

The rants of Indians extremist right winged parties against 370 notwithstanding, the founder of rightist Jana Sangh, Shyama Prasad Mookerji, who was a minister in Nehru’s Cabinet, was privy to the discussions and formulation of the Article 370 document. He was in full agreement to 370 till he was a minister with New Delhi, his change of heart coming only in 1951 when he had already parted ways with Nehru and formed the extreme right Jana Sangh. And whatever noise BJP may be making right now, fact is it did nothing to 370 when it was in power in New Delhi.

While Article 370 might give the impression that the state of Jammu & Kashmir enjoyed any degree of autonomy, in reality Kashmir never saw any autonomy or self governance rights from New Delhi. In fact Kashmir was always treated lower than other states in India and deprived of all democratic, legislative and economic rights available elsewhere. And this erosion of rights in Kashmir was done using Article 370 as a sleeve, via which New Delhi extended its proxy hand to control Kashmir. While initially 370 was used as a tool by India to get hold of Kashmir with the lure of autonomy and demographic safety, the same act had been carefully devised by New Delhi to allow control of Kashmir as a colony, devoid of political powers

Crux of what Article 370 says:

The provisions of Article 1 (of Indian Constitution) and of this article shall apply in relation to that State” (1-c)

The power of (Indian) Parliament to make laws for the said State shall be limited to those matters in the Union List and the Concurrent List which, in consultation with the Government of the State, are declared by the President to correspond to matters specified in the Instrument of Accession governing the accession of the State to the Dominion of India……” and “such other matters in the said Lists as, with the concurrence of the Government of the State, the President may by order specify Explanation…” (1 - b, i & ii).

Article 1 of the Indian constitution is applied on Jammu and Kashmir via Article 370 (1-c), J&K being mentioned along with other states of Union in the 1st Schedule as Article 1 (2). Hence abrogation of 370 would also mean cessation of application of Article 1 on Jammu & Kashmir, which in turn would open the doors of its secession from the Indian Union.

And since “The power of Parliament to make laws for J&K shall be limited … in consultation with the government of J&K”(1 - b, i & ii) it was never difficult for New Delhi to pass such laws using governments in J&K that it has always nominated, nurtured and controlled via proxy elections.

Political freedom in Kashmir was always trampled by New Delhi to install puppet governments who could then act as faithful employees of New Delhi and work in accordance with India’s plan in Kashmir, including that for erosion of Article 370.  Balraj Puri claims that in 1953 he advised Jawaharlal Nehru to extend political freedom in Kashmir. Nehru replied “we have gambled at the international stage on Kashmir, we cannot afford to lose it. At the moment, we are there at the point of the bayonet. Till things improve, democracy and morality can wait.” (Kashmir Towards Insurgency, page 46).  “…Chief Ministers of that State had been nominees of Delhi. Their appointment to that post was legitimised by the holding of farcical and totally rigged elections in which the Congress party led by Delhi's nominee was elected by huge majorities."(Ex Governor of J&K B.K Nehru in ‘Nice Guys Finish Second’ 1997 ; pp. 614-5).

The 3rdclause of Article 370:

“Notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this article, the President may, by public notification, declare that this article shall cease to be operative or shall be operative only with such exceptions and modifications………Provided that the recommendation of the Constituent Assembly of the State referred to in clause (2) shall be necessary before the President issues such a notification” (370-3).

Hence Article 370 can never be abrogated because it would require the “concurrence” of State Constituent Assembly that ceased to exist since 1957. Also Article 370 cannot be abrogated or amended by amending provisions of Article 368 of the Indian Constitution, since this article has a clear provision regarding J&K wherein ‘(no constitutional amendment) "shall have effect in relation to the State of Jammu and Kashmir" (unless applied via Article 370 by a Presidential Order)’. And since even this amendment would require the concurrence of the state government and final ratification by its Constituent Assembly, it would not be technically possible.

Ironically much hype in India has been given to the land ownership rights in Jammu & Kashmir bestowed only on state subjects here. But then almost similar rights are in place in Himachal Pradesh and states of the North East in India, aimed at protecting ethnic identities and land ownership in these places. Be it unknown to most Indians that these land ownership rights existed in Kashmir even before India was free and have not been specially created or conferred with Article 370. And women of J&K do not lose their domicile right by marrying non-state subjects, contrary to the lies being peddled on Indian media.

Even though Article 370 had been put in place as the only bridge linking India and Kashmir, New Delhi had already planned ways and means to erode this relationship. On 4th December 1964, Indian Home Minister G. L. Nanda is quoted to have said “(370) would be used to serve as a tunnel in the wall to increase India’s grip on Kashmir”. And it was this “tunnel in the wall” that India has been using to bore deep holes into the foundations of J&K. There have been countless occasions when India used its proxies in the Jammu & Kashmir to push for amendments or reduced this Article 370 to a hollow shell. 

On February 14, 1954 the then Home Minister of Jammu and Kashmir D.P. Dhar, moved a motion ‘in order to enable the Centre to discharge its responsibilities which devolve upon it under the Constitution, those provisions of the Constitution of India, which may be necessary for the purpose, should be made applicable to the State in an appropriate manner’ and got it passed in the Constituent Assembly. Pertinently Sheikh Abdullah had already been dismissed & arrested by Nehru on 8th August, 1953 to be subsequently arrested for 11 years. D.P Dhar was suitably rewarded by India in later years. In another example of how New Delhi treated Kashmir as a colony befit of political rights, the President of India on 30th July 1986 made an order under Article 370, extending Article 249 of the Indian Constitution to Kashmir, in order to empower Parliament to legislate even on a matter in the State List, on the strength of a Rajya Sabha resolution.  Former secretary law and parliamentary affairs to J&K Government in ‘Kashmir Times’ (20th April, 1995) described how this ‘manipulation was done in a single day’ against the Law Secretary's advice and ‘in the absence of a Council of Ministers’ with the concurrence of New Delhi’s appointee, Governor Jagmohan. 

In contrast to popular perception in India that Article 370 was promulgated to bestow any autonomy upon J&K, fact is that the State of Jammu & Kashmir was autonomous in governance right from British times, even while common people had been deprived any human rights under Dogras, as they continue to be derived of even now un India. Article 370 was only used as an instrument by India to access Kashmir, and gradually whatever autonomy the state had enjoyed even before ‘accession’ was eroded stealthily by Indian mechanizations’ in concurrence with their political nominees here. 

Article 370 is an empty drum now, which political parties whip and beat whenever they have to score electoral points.  India is not doing any favor to Kashmir by retaining this hollow instrument in place; it is only doing itself a favor by retaining the only constitutional link between India and Kashmir. Not to forget that Kashmir is not like any other state in India, it is an International dispute that India has committed to redress and resolve. Any attempt by Indian politicians to play with 370 will only force open questions about the future of Kashmir. 

3rd December, 2013

Author: Saadut
•10:52 PM

She used to tuck it away underneath her pillow every night, like a talisman that would guard her wishful dreams, like some treasure that she needed to guard from the night. With three miniature diamonds sitting like a crest on its top, the ring emitted brilliance of burning dusk that in evening light wore a look of some shining liquid fire. The glitter on her ring finger would often compete with the glow on her smiling face, the diamond ring at times winning for attention. This seemed the only piece of adornment she would ever prefer over her plain clothes, those stood out as elegant and neat as her thoughts. 

One evening that fall, four years ago, right after she had passed college and university was still a spring away, the family went out to dine. The Chinese restaurant was on the top floor of this mall in the food court, with the ground and first floors spread out with fashion and designer outlets, a couple of exquisite jewelers shops near the right bend towards the escalator. It was when dinner had been done with, and the mall lights were reflecting over glazed walls in tangled shadows of competing neon, she stopped by the jewelers showcase captivated by the sparkles in tiny boxes spread over velvet on glass shelves. Closing her hands over eyebrows, narrowing eyes as if peering over a distant star that shone many lightyears afar, towards a ring that perched like an empress over a velvety box on its glass pedestal. As she was transfixed there it took a lot of calling from Mom to make her move, but even then she kept on glancing back at the sparkle that called her attraction. In the brilliance of an aura held in that velvety box, she has seen her reflections. Dad, who shared a deep bond with his daughter, noticed the glimmer in her eyes when she was almost stuck in a silent conversation with that ring. She had never been a demanding kid and he knew she would never press him for this, but he had also seen a longing in her eyes near the showcase window. Next evening, after having come back from office, he slipped in her hand a tiny velvety box that opened up to a starry effulgence. That night she tried hard to sleep, but slumber evaded her over a seemingly endless night. She tried the ring on all her fingers, by the edges of her thumb too, and then would slip it back to her ring finger, sometimes putting it back in the box, and then tucking it away in the drawer only to reopen it again.  From that day she wore it almost always. Her Dad passed away two years later, leaving a deep void within her. There is nothing that can comfort such a loss; no words can lighten this anguish. In the following years whenever she felt like confiding into someone, she would whisper to the ring and let her heart unburden of its entire affliction.

University itself was a challenging puzzle, not with demands of being studious; she always passed in the top slot, but with aimlessness staring at the end of her course. Most courses in the university try to fit you in pre defined exams, where a routine syllabi is drilled and parrot repeated and then put to the ‘who among you can reproduce the parroted routine from memory’ tests. Universities, I found, don’t really prepare you for the practical challenges of life, the anticipation of the unseen and the unanticipated. It was here that one spring afternoon during an interactive session on ‘social networks and political renaissance’ that she saw him for the first time. Defending the right of political and social resistance, he always advocated the rise of the individual from societies to allow the change within. This had been his maiden visit to the university event, an invitation he had accepted with a lot of reluctance knowing that the state had always been monitoring him. Standing by the doorway to a packed room, she never figured when the talk had ended and even before she realized, he had already disappeared among small groups of dispersed discussions. Like mad she scrambled, pushed through the jumbled crowd where faces were hidden by evening shadows, and rushed towards the notice board that had announced the event. Grasping, panting as she scrutinized the board for his details; there it was his first name only and nothing more. ‘What identity is a first name only?’ she asked herself.  For the next two weeks she had nothing more than his first name. He left the very next day of the event that had been his first ever visit to this place. It was after two weeks that she stumbled upon one of his write-ups on a web magazine, which she read and re-read umpteen times, unable to hide the joy of moving beyond his first name. And it took him more than a month to reply to her mail, that too in a one liner ending with ‘Regards’. This frost continued over next winter, she searching for all his work, keeping an eye for every word he wrote and he replying rarely to her mails.

Early spring a thaw came, the first conversation almost happened over phone when he was on his second visit to her city. She somehow had found out about his visit, called his hotel room, and on her first call could not muster the courage to talk, froze in silence for a minute and dropped the line. Then she looked at her ring pleadingly, muttered a prayer and mustered courage; called and this time they talked for a few moments that seemed like an infinity for her. The ring held a charm for her wishes; she looked up and figured someone was praying in sync with her. She had held the ring during all trials and tribulations of the past years and it always seemed to comfort her, some kind of unseen force.

The freeze having broken they talked often, expressing the unhidden, laughing away the unavoidable and at times confiding their worst fears. Something between them was connecting, even while they had never met. Back home she would often grab her younger sister to endlessly talk about him, her oft repeated blabber of his praise. The younger sibling would smile at her repertoire; she unaware of the bored audience that sat tamed yawning.

The next fall, for almost a week there was no reply from him, all her mails or attempted calls going into a blank vortex of sorts. Uneasiness bore a discomfiture that sunk like a rock in her heart; her frown was visible to everyone at home. She would talk in briefs and then withdraw to reclusive silences that wore a sulk. For some days, like a hermetic, she withdrew to her room, often walking to her window, partially opening the curtains and standing there for hours in wait, looking out blank. On a Saturday afternoon the younger sister, wanting to break her seclusion, somehow managed to plead her for an evening out. Venturing aimless they drifted to a familiar mall with the Chinese restaurant on the top floor. Among pacing shoppers with heavy hands and screaming kids the noises of a weekend seemed incomprehensible to her. As if all these voices meant nothing in her vacuum of silence, walking insulated from all this din.  The turbulence within her was no match for the babble outside.

Then she stopped by the right bend towards the escalator, trying to see his image in reflections of a glittering showcase, while behind her descended interlaced chaotic shadows over drab glazed walls. The jewelers showcase seemed empty today; all its velvet spread barren like autumn fields plucked of its yield. A voice was heard from behind “May you see within yourself what you want to see in this glass. May he see your longing in himself”. A bedraggled old man in unkempt hair, with dry ash grey skin and a lean skinny figure concealed under layers of clothes, in seemingly satisfied eyes, extended his cap begging for a pittance.  “May he see your longing in himself” he repeated. She again looked at the showcase window where now the velvet seemed to shine even in its emptiness, having given its treasures in yore for somebody’s smiles. And then she imagined figures in glass reflections, of an old man, of that young man, of her own self smiling. She drew her hand to the ring finger, extracted her diamond ring and dropped it in the beggars cap. The younger sibling clasped her own mouth in surprise, turned towards her and even before she could turn back in a fraction of second to stop this giveaway, the beggar was nowhere to be found. 

Meanwhile jumbled faceless shadows continued to pour over drab glazed walls of an autumn evening.