The pain will be ours alone, Kashmir ! /Rashmi Talwar/ Daily Kashmir Images


snapshot the pain kashmir imagesThe pain will be ours alone, Kashmir !

Rashmi Talwar

O the pretense of strength, of willpower, fervor, sacrifice
Peep in my empty womb
Am I hoping for sunshine?
Will rainbows hug me?
~unknown

“Mama I have a head-ache, a tummy-ache, a tooth-ache, ear-ache!” Mama would pop a tablet, kiss me, say –“All will be well” while stroking my forehead. The fake-ache was for a pesky teacher, a test, punishment, home-work or just about anything to skip school.

Soon she’s busy in daily chores and peeps. “Are you better?” –“No!” I lie gleefully and let out a suitable groan, till well past school time. I lie in bed. TVs are nonexistent, radio is a spoiler, comics and novels are under censorship. To speak, to move out, even to look out the window, all my fundamental rights are curtailed. One little lie, and a vast abyss of nothingness- agony, insanity, unbearable.

Another time, an accident: Bystanders gather on the spot, exclaim their –‘Hawwws..! And Haiiis..!’ Call up my husband’s pager. At the doctor -“We’ll have to plaster the ankle, it’s a hairline fracture, but the wrist can be just bandaged,” I insert -“No, Doc plaster my wrist too!” –He winks at his assistant – “Two plasters!” I am excited–“Now, I really look like an accident victim!”
Relatives visit, inquire, listen to my story, and exclaim -“Oh how terrible!” I continue – How a woman trying to pick her child in the front seat drove right across and bolted my rickshaw- “I felt as if I was flying, and landed with a thud, you know!” And adding a little spice – “You know, I checked my neck, I also checked my diamond ring, only after checking, I, started howling loudly, Hee Hee!” “You are brave!” one says. I have turned my adversity into an opportunity, I pat myself. I glow in the make-belief glory of compliments. They write something cute on my plaster with pierced hearts, smilies and leave. Fourth day, there are no doorbells. I look at my plaster, read the messages all in a minute. Only one minute passes in my long road to recovery. My pains, my helplessness all get magnified in my solitude.

Another accident: I slip from the stairs; the shattered glass embeds in my hand and punctures a blood vessel. Blood spouts like a tap, running down the stairs.
Sitting on the stairs, my head swims due to blood loss, I calmly hold my bleeding hand and ask my house help,–“Go, get all the ice in the refrigerator and a towel!”
He stands staring. I urge –“Hurry, don’t look at me!”
Rushed to a hospital with blood all over, a nurse presses the bleeding punctured vessel, the bleeding stops as the glass shard blocks the blood flow. The cutting foreign body drives excruciating pain the whole night. Next day I am operated, but the wrongly pressed shard has cut my nerves too. The same evening driving a car managed with a plastered hand, I reach The Tribune office for work. I brush it aside as a cut, when colleagues inquire. I am able to function better without self-pity and borrowed strengths now. I work from that day onwards with one hand, my focus only on work and on recovery. It takes six months and physiotherapy to get the hand to function.

Another time, I am advised for urgent surgery. “Report back in a week and we shall operate!” the doctor says emotionlessly. “It can be delayed a little, plus we don’t have patient space” the doctor at Ganga Ram Hospital Delhi, adds.
I return to Amritsar that evening. In a week I arrange all my daily wear, toiletries, towels, others, keep a neat guest room downstairs to take me. I even place a walking stick.
My house help assists me for two days. Third day she’s in a hurry, fourth, she skips. By the fifth day I have learned to manage everything- the pain, the chores, indigenously working out solutions. People visit. My Mum admires-“You are brave”, I take it casually. Now, only focused on recovery. I am back in good health in no time.

These may be minor incidents but what stayed with me –“You have to bear your own pain, all alone!”

“O Mother, O Kashmir, my pain was just a scratch, yours- Mammoth!
Listen to my little prayers.
They shall come, pay sympathies, some justifying, some calling exalted divinity, some soothing, some listening, some talking memorials, some anger- revenge, some lullabys.
The broken promises, history, anger, restrictions, all, meaningless.
In the dark cold screaming silences- Mother, you’ll wonder –“Which piece of mother-land demands a price of your children.”
No fruit, sweet; no sound, soothing; no rainbows, – Only raw, clutching, solitary, tearing, pain.
The pain will always be our own. To Bear, All Alone!”

chinar leaf

Photo by Rashmi Talwar

The writer can be emailed at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

FIRST PUBLISHED IN DAILY KASHMIR IMAGES ON AUGUST 10, 2016
http://dailykashmirimages.com/Details/117243/the-pain-will-be-ours-alone-kashmir

“Udtaa Punjab” Punjab’s Shame forgotten ? / Rashmi Talwar


 

Udta Punjab .jpg

“UDTAA PUNJAB”

rush sopore

Author :Rashmi Talwar

Punjab’s Shame forgotten

Rashmi Talwar

In October 2012, when Rahul Gandhi, then Congress general secretary pointed out that 70% of Punjab’s Youth was into drugs, it was probably one of the few sane statements by the Congress-heir in-waiting that were insanely true. Akali-Dal and BJP tried a cover-up with a vicious Pappu campaign to shield the deadly dark secret of Punjab.

But like Ishq aur Musq chupai nahi chupte (Love and fragrance cannot be hidden), the ill kept secret that leaked in small doses earlier with regular hauls of drugs from Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Indo-Pak border, broke out in the open with – “Udtaa Punjab”- a cine portrayal of the real drug scene of the once robust state.

CBFC’s nonsensical objections besides reports of ruling combine of Akali-BJP trying to stall the release of the movie, turned around to give Udtaa its extra innings!

The political opportunity was grabbed by Amritsar’s MP and Congress head – Capt Amarinder Singh, who had given a sound beating at the hustings to Arun Jaitely (Union Finance Minister). Capt threatened to release uncut CDs of ‘Udtaa’ at Majitha in defiance of CBFC ruling on June 17th. The High Court of course made only a single cut and a few disclaimers to give a green signal to the movie, now embellished with extra hype.

But the fact that the CD were to be released at Majitha – a stronghold of Akali MLA Bikram Singh Majithia, brother of Akali MP Harsimrat Badal and brother in law of deputy CM Sukhbir Badal, an accused in the multi-crore Bhola Drug scam, was a huge pointer in the direction of the ruling party’s leaders alleged involvement in Punjab’s notorious drug trade.

Drugs became an integral part of the Punjab election scenario in late 80’s when Pakistan replaced guns and ammunition with Narco-terrorism post Punjab’s terrorism era. With the attraction of ‘minor-risk-for- big-money’ the political stalwarts of Punjab gave it their tacit support, turning drugs into big business. If the recent arrest of Ramzaan(32) a drug smuggler from Pakistan arrested from Sowana border outpost in Fazilka district on June 13, who confessed waging a ‘drug Jihad’ to ruin young generation of ‘Kafirs’ in border regions of India. Ramzaan is a prized catch as a first Pakistani drug-smuggler to be caught. How is it that BSF has never caught any smuggler before and only muffled them into silence with death?
Any Punjabi will tell you –“Drugs are freely distributed amongst electorate in every nook and corner of Punjab. The election commission having never taken the issue seriously, the trend is fast and furious”.

Hence watching ‘Udtaa Punjab’ felt like a no –holds barred peep, into the drug dens of Punjab that emerge from scene to scene and surprises no one in this stupor state. A timed release with forthcoming elections in Punjab is the film’s bane and benefit. Abhishek Chaubey’s Udtaa gained more curiosity by CBFC hyperbole and reports of film’s piracy than merely by its subject and story.

The movie served to wipe out the carefully crafted media-campaign by ruling combine on All FMs with ‘paid farmers’ of various villages swearing that there was no drug wave as is being made out by opposition parties. One advertisement went –“Our village has 1400 population and none, I swear, is into drugs, be cautious about rumor mongers!” in an old villager’s voice. Punjab is laughing at the advertisements making spoofs of the tailored propaganda that openly smacks of cover- up of Punjab’s lethal cocktails and killing ‘Chitta’ or drug powder. Kashmir too is falling to the taste of drugs percolating from Punjab and across the border into this enchantingly beautiful but vulnerable state with its share of deep troubles.
However with the wave of Terrorism lashing the world, the scourge of drugs is put on the back burner. The FM channels also have riveted to old advertisement lines. Someone told the ruling party –“ The issue of drugs is almost dead, so lets pull down the ad-campaign and latch on to the value status of developments in the state”.

It comes as no surprise that the role of Punjab Police in drug dealing is glaring from a sizable number of Police personnel under treatment for drugs in parts of Tarn Taran and Amritsar including their children in rehabilitation centers here .
The role of BSF is also not a clean slate for the massive quantity of drugs being seized on the border. “The amount of drug seizures shown on media are just half or less than the actual haul”, an officer once revealed jokingly. The movie too includes this episode.
Drugs became an integral part of the Punjab election scenario in late 80’s when Pakistan replaced guns and ammunition with Narco-terrorism post Punjab’s terrorism era. With the attraction of ‘minor-risk-for- big-money’ the political stalwarts of Punjab gave it their tacit support, turning drugs into big business. The recent arrest of Ramzaan(32) a drug smuggler from Pakistan arrested from Sowana border outpost in Fazilka district on June 13, is who confessed waging a ‘drug Jihad’ to ruin young generation of ‘Kafirs’ in border regions of India, clearly points a finger at Pakistan’s covert tactics. Ramzaan is a prized catch as a first Pakistani drug-smuggler to be caught. If it is true that Ramzaan is the first Pakistani smuggler to be caught alive, how is it that BSF has never nabbed any smuggler before despite huge drug hauls, and only muffled them into silence with death?

The matinee show of the film in Amritsar, saw colored characters follow in to the movie hall to watch Punjab’s shame. Along with many police personnel, one loudmouthed one in plainclothes was accompanied by a Police officer. A stout bicep-tricep supporting guy in black clothes with gel-standing hair had menacing tattoos hanging on his arms. Many boys in the audience were with a studded ear. Women were few and had to endure the hootings at the drop of cusswords that fell in a steady drizzle throughout the film. The movie hall was strategically surrounded by Punjab Police personnel, on the opening day.
If truth be told, then ‘Udtaa Punjab’ is a searing flash across Punjab’s blue-smoke horizon of snorts, dragon-trials, capsules and needles. Names of infamous areas along Punjab’s border of village Hawellian, Tarn Taran, Narli, Amritsar are actual hotbed smuggling dens that were skillfully woven in conversations laced with authentic countryside abuses.
The film starts with ‘triply’ on a jittery scooter coping with a ride into lush fields near the unfettered international border, a packet is skillfully flung across the barbed wire fencing by a Shot-Put thrower, his jacket emblazoned with word ‘Pakistan’. Perhaps that is the only hint on the rampant cross-border smuggling. Drug smuggling in border villages is a whole-hearted business that undauntedly runs through a cross country network including smuggling aboard the Samjhauta Express- peddled as ‘a train of emotions’ between India & Pakistan, PVC pipe conduits, lady couriers, messenger pigeons, kites and balloons with Urdu couplets and numbers, courier- buffaloes in swamp areas. Add to it, is the emerging dragon power of Gurudoms and quack racketeers in Punjab.

The film is just the tip of an iceberg with flagrantly flourishing drug mafia in Punjab’s hinterland, supported by local politicians in cahoots with the police. Udtaa’s story runs around operations of the drug cartel, a once bribe-happy-turned-good cop played by Daljit Dosanjh- a versatile actor excelling in slapstick comedy, aptly named ‘Sartaj Singh’ in the film, a name synonymous with benign music of singer Sartaj’s signature ‘Sai’ brand played at Amrit vela or pre-dawn, in Punjabi homes, more like a prayer. Dosanjh as Sartaj plays a corrupt police officer to the hilt till drugs lay their deadly eggs in his own home. Shahid Kapoor playing Tommy Singh the Rockstar singer, is named closely with a namesake popular Punjabi Rockstar who is known to have cut several albums on nasha (intoxicate).
The simple murmurings of Punjab’s stalwart poet Shiv Batalvi -‘Ikk Kudi si’ takes the cake for music, otherwise sounding banal and nonsensical, used for furthering the narration.

Using drugs as talent enhancers by singers is a tragic reality of Punjab. Drug mafias swoop on upcoming singers promising enhanced talents with stimulating drug cocktails simultaneously prompting them to sing popular songs on drugs, nasha, botal (alcohol) and power.
In the thick of drugs sits Kareena Kapoor Khan alias Preet Sahni, a rehab clinic doctor, pout-less and natural, accusing the officer in denial mode with the choicest expletives, to drill the reality of police’s underhand dealings in drug consignments that turnaround to snare and gulp their own homesteads.
Punjabis identify with the colorful language, people, lifestyle and profanities that are common, as the four main characters build up the story. Especially impressive is Aalia Bhatt with her class performance as hockey player turned Bihari migrant. She comes across realistically with her half nail henna smear, a ubiquitous nose-stud and freckled skin with her Bihari abuses. Aalia is fast emerging as one of the finest actress as well as a budding singer. It is seen that migrant laborers in Punjab are emerging as one of the fastest growing drug consumer with drugs like Phukki, Doda, Charas, Ganja growing freely in the countryside.

The narrative of the film felt a little ruffled at times but situations leap outs, run around and close clutches the throat in a gripping portal of Punjab’s robust Punjabis turning into shitpots!

Yesterday, an old woman working in a spinning in a factory in Shaheedaan area of Amritsar related about her 16- year son’s death in a drug overdose, completely tearless, in a monotone sounding more relieved than pained at the loss of her child.
Likewise, Maqboolpura of Amritsar is infamously referred to as the ‘locality of widows’ as most male members became sacrificial offerings to drugs. Once a robust industrial area Chehharta has been ruined with the ‘chitta’, some allege the local MLA‘s drug dealing behind the ruin. The same MLA was booed out from a gathering by Sri Sri Ravi Shanker of ‘Art of living’ for coming drunk on the stage, a few months back.
Harinder Brar, portrayed as a Politician in the film is thus believable. One who is equally at ease, being the largest drug cocktail manufacturer, as he is, with coining a slogan and stretching his vocals cords to a blast, denouncing drugs in public-appearances. That the film director catches the absolute rustic flavor of Punjab and realtime settings have painfully ruffled political feathers.
One character in the film calls the drug trade ‘the Green Revolution –Part II’ of Punjab, the following rough estimate shows the repulsive scenario as Crores go down the drain- “Average spending per day of a heroin user (Rs 1500) opium user (Rs 350) Pharma drugs (Rs 250) , majority of users are heroin addicts. Incidentally, 90% of users are literate while half of them are from rural areas mostly in the age group of 15 to 45 years”.

While Shekhar Gupta founder Editor, The Quint- online news magazine, lashes–“Pahlaj ji deserve the sack for gifting Udtaa Punjab undeserved fame. Compared to Haider, Madras Cafe, Wasseypur, this is clichéd & juvenile.”
I answer -“Agreed, Shekhar! Udtaa is an average cinematic excellence, but it is the reality that hits in its most naked and goriest forms!”
Pappu was right.

Writer can be emailed at –rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

‘Gulab Gang’ to change destinies !/ Rashmi Talwar/ Rising Kashmir


Central Government Schemes

‘Gulab Gang’ to change destinies !

Rashmi Talwar

250 Indian Journalists at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi with Maneka Gandhi

250 Indian Journalists at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi with Maneka Gandhi

 ‘Gulab Gang’ to change destinies !

Rashmi Talwar

New Delhi —Handing over my room key at the reception counter of Ashok Hotel, Delhi, I counted the backpacks lying next to the baggage of each woman at the check-out counter, help desk or the hotel’s impressive lobby. The Ashok is a historic hotel, the first-five star in Delhi built at an approximate cost of Rs.1.5 crore in the year 1955. The backpacks were all the same size, in two different colors, blue and red. Color didn’t matter, what mattered was that 250 women journalists were carrying with them a power-pack to change the destinies of millions of people in nook and corners of the country.

Women journalists had descended in the capital of India from 30 states/ UTs representing 120 media organizations, proficient in 11 languages for a historic moment – ‘First All India Women Journalists Workshop’ on a collaborative invite from Ministry of Women & Child Development(WCD) and Press Information Bureau (PIB). The central government embarked on this novel idea to tap the massive human resource of women journalists for their power and reach via their respective medias to plug loopholes found due to lack of information and proper implementation of schemes, alongside realtime sensitive monitoring.

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi, the minister for Women and Child Development (WCD), addressed women journalists as the Ministry’s ‘secret agents army’, the ‘Gulab Gang’, ‘agents of change’  and ‘information multipliers’ and rolled out various schemes, merely heard on radio or TV with less than satisfactory implementation in the crannies of the nation.

 With recent instances and incidents, the interactive session took on a lively note and in return created a brigade of monitoring agents for various schemes that were otherwise being availed mostly in metro cities.

 “What Ministry wants to focus is on bringing a paradigm shift from welfare schemes to disseminating rights of vital sections —education, health, employment opportunities, safety, protection from violence, trafficking,” Maneka, together with Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, told women journalists at Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan. Fortunately, Jammu and Kashmir, with its own constitution , having adopted the central government schemes, too was a partner and a beneficiary.

‘Khoya Paya’

Few in India may have any clue about placing a missing child’s report in the ‘Khoya Paya’ Scheme of the government at  <khoyapaya.gov.in>where the website columns segregate as -‘My child is missing’ or ‘I have sighted a child’ and even ‘Search for a missing child’.

In the past two decades, Kashmir has reported a sizeable number of missing children, runaways, many in illegal detentions, many crossed over the LoC, and others just vanished.

I would hope the government could extend this facility for ‘missing persons’ too.

About 500 families of ‘missing persons’ including ‘Kashmir’s Half–Widows’ have failed to locate their missing husbands, dead or alive.  In two districts of Bandipora and Baramulla in Kashmir more than 100 have gone missing. Alternately, families of missing have demanded DNA tests on unmarked graves to establish identities as a fair process of Justice. Cases of illegal detention too can be curtailed thus in the country as a whole, if the center takes the lead.

‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ (BBBP)—

The center’s ‘BBBP’ scheme comes to the aid of unborn girl child, to eradicate the skewed gender ratio in favor of male child. “Jammu and Kashmir has one of the worst track records of female gender ratio. It could be, as they consider themselves in a war-zone and wouldn’t want girls to be taken hostages,” Maneka stated. However number of families of women having two or three children, were seen seeking ‘sterilization’ in a Kashmir government hospital. The reason was ‘fear that these women may be impregnated by militants or army personnel’. Both have a free run in Kashmir with militants running amok and army protected by AFSPA.

Government is already coming upon heavily against offenders of sex selective abortions under PCPNDT Act, 1994 regulating ultrasound scan centers and doctors, identifying gender critical regions and focusing on 100-districts with abysmal records, besides placing DMs to network with Ultrasound centers to monitor. “Interestingly the new lingo in such centers has become ‘ladoo’ for boy and ‘barfi’ for a girl”, Maneka said. From 1000:976 in 1961, the National gender ratio average has fallen to 1000:918 in 2011.

Panic Button

A new application hardwired into mobile phones to send alerts to 10 people around the affected area in distress situation for women on a press of a button. Digit’5’ and ‘9’ are being contemplated as SOS buttons.

E-Haat

The government has woken up to the fact that the power and talent of nearly half the population of the nation remains untapped and underutilized. Breaking shackles of slavery and becoming self-reliant is one of the biggest dreams of a woman. To market her products that she prepares in the home space like sehras or garlands, buttons, various masalas, warian (salty cookies), Papar (poppadums), chutneys, jams, baskets, sherbets and pickles, growing organic vegetables besides services like mehandi designing, fruit pickers, tiffin box services, flower bouquet, cake or candle business or as in Kashmir, dried vegetables like Tomatoes, Turnips, Brinjal, even fish,  … could unfailingly reach people around or countrywide through a free service of E-Haat with complete marketing facilities as an e-commerce platform. “We are shortly going to connect with online business portals such as Amazon and Flipkart,” revealed Maneka.

One-stop centers -‘Sakhi’

To support women affected by any kind of violence through a range of services-police assistance, medical aid, legal, psycho-social counseling and a short stay shelter home — under one roof.

Tech Anganwadis

Anganwadis, fulfill nutrition, pre-school and other needs of children uptil 5-years of age, are aimed to fight malnutrition, lack of education. With total lack of monitoring the Anganwadi  as providers  have turned into corruption dens. However to garner results for its core activities and to stem corruption government has come up with an idea to make these Tech savvy with tablet recordings, finger print attendance and standardized nutritious food for children. “However CCTV were not cost effective for the huge number and widespread centers”, said Maneka, in answer to a query.

Sukanya Samridhi Yojana

Opening an account in any of the 28 banks or post offices for a girl child upto 10 years of age and maturity at 21 years of her age with a maximum deposit of Rs 1.5 lakh per year in a girl’s account would give benefit of interests rates of 9.2 % plus 100% tax exemption yearly as well as on the amount at maturity to parents. The money could be used for higher education or during the time of marriage.

Juvenile Justice

Kashmir raised a query on Juvenile justice “In the Harwan Juvenile Home in Srinagar, a number of kids are kept without trials for months, why?” Maneka answered –“The children’s plight in Juvenile home, should be immediately brought to notice of Justice Madan B. Lokur, who would be shortly inspecting juvenile homes for justice trespassed.” Special provisions in law have been made in Juvenile Justice law to tackle child offenders committing heinous offences after the infamous Nirbhaya Case of Delhi gang rape in a moving bus.

Jan Dhaan Yojana

Open bank accounts with any bank with zero deposit; get life cover of Rs 30,000 and accidental cover of Rs one lakh besides debit card.

Other Highlights

  • Childline to help children in distress/ track/restore/rehabilitate missing children
  • Posters in Rail bogies to report abandoned child or child in suspicious circumstances
  • Railways alerted on 20 railway stations infamous for child trafficking including – Howrah, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkatta, Varanasi. Recently 56 missing children were recovered thus from Itarasi.
  • 33% reservation of women in police – To make police services more gender sensitive.
  • Adoption & fostering- Easy legal adoption. If you foster a child, government bears expenses.
  • Rastriya Mahila Kosh grants loan at 6 % for women NGOs
  • More ‘Balika Vadhus’ (child marriages) due to rampant eve teasing, stalking, harassment, molestation of adolescent girls.
  • Government contemplating free bus passes for women over 60 years.
  • Maternity leave for women in all work places for six and a half months.
  • For ending discrimination against women during recruitment due to mandatory maternity leave ensured by government, it was suggested to give ‘paternity’ leave to the father, to bring both partners at par in the home and work space.
  • Contemplating declaration of sex of unborn girl child to village would ensure safety and security of female fetuses.
  • A 1000 bedded ‘Swadhar Greh’ at Vrindavan for abandoned widows. Puri and Varanasi recorded largest number in this inhuman practice of abandonment. Vegetable garden, cowshed, skill development centers would be included in it for making abandoned women self-sustaining.
  • As many as 1363 missing children were found through Khoya Paya web portal and mobile app.
  • Crèches in Haryana under Anganwadi programs were adjudged the best.
  • Child rights email cp.ncpcr@nic.in.
  • All deliveries mandatory in hospitals to keep track of childbirth and gender count.
  • In collaboration with Facebook, Ministry of Women and Child Development is running a contest for the first time to select 100 women achievers
  • Skewed sex ratios are leading to social upheavals including increasing crime against women, besides kidnapping and smuggling of ‘prospective wives’ from places like Uttrakhand for Haryana, Rajasthan grooms.
  • Panipat in Haryana has lowest female sex ratio.
  • Through public nominations and voting on Facebook, women improving their community and making an impact on people shall be felicitated by government.
  • ‘Sabla scheme’ for providing life skills, supplementary nutrition and basic health check-up facilities for adolescent girls, aims at all round development of 11-18 year girls.
  • Contemplating ‘Adopt a Home’ scheme by big companies under corporate social responsibility to avail tax benefits.
  • National Children’s fund for Brilliant children in orphanages scoring above 70% marks to get scholarships till college
  • Sweeping Adoption reforms to make the process easy, transparent and quick.
  • Matrimonial websites regulated to thwart complaints of stalking and harassment of women registered on sites.
  • Mandatory mention of widow’s name in death certificates.
  • Jeevan Jyoti Bima (Insurance scheme – for (18 to 50 years) enrolled in this scheme a holder would pay Rs 330 as premium annually (about a rupee daily) would be covered for life insurance at Rs 2 lakhs.
  • ‘Ujjwala Yojana’ scheme – For smoke free homes in rural India, to provide 5 crore LPG connections to Below Poverty Line (BPL) families in the next three years.

Author can be emailed at – rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

Published in Rising Kashmir on June 27, 2016 

URL:http://risingkashmir.in/news/gulab-gang-to-change-destinies

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Gulmarg- Land of Lord Ghorawalla ! /Rashmi Talwar/ Rising Kashmir


gulmarg ghorawalla.jpgGulmarg- Land of Lord Ghorawalla !

 Rashmi Talwar

 

“Helicopter service in Gulmarg; flying you on top of the world;

Places where we fly: Mont Apharwat, Frozen Lake, Sunshine, Tosa Maidan and Srinagar Airport.

Rs 7500/ per person.”

 

Much as I was elated by this small red billboard, I noticed on the way back from Gulmarg, Kashmir, owing to my senior citizen parents – not in the best of health, who could see some exotic places if they so desired, it got me thinking about the place Gulmarg –the famed ‘Meadow of flowers’.

Gulmarg waters do not speak. They take side lanes, quietly dolloping down from crevices and flow silently downstream, moistening lush undulating daisy slopes, embellished with hues and shades of wild swinging flowers in the softest breeze. Rolling hilltops are a fairyland where children would love to roll downhill and play antique games of L-O-N-D-O-N —London.

‘The meadow of flowers’ appears to open as a large cine screen after a Deodar tree-lined ribboned road enters a passage cut through the hills. I feel immersed into the spectacular beauty of the vista of Gulmarg, that appears like Switzerland, where no condescending boundary walls rupture the beatific scenery perched at an approximate altitude of 2650 m and located merely 56 km north of Srinagar- the Capital of Jammu& Kashmir, a simple 90 minute drive.

However, after a day and a night stay at Gulmarg, I realized that other than the exotic flowers, Gulmarg can boast of the best talkers and fighters in the region. They are the famous Ghorawallas or Horse owners of Gulmarg, whose fame spreads throughout the Kashmir valley.

1 gullmarg ghoda.jpgThe verdant greens, sugary air and exotic flowers of the valley have done little to sweeten their moods, disposure or decency. Hence like the naturally growing pitcher plant – or insectivorous plant on Gulmarg slopes and crevices, the famed Ghorawallas of Gulmarg have learnt to trap their prey by fear, falsehood or fallacy.  While the pitcher plant may remain a silent spectator to its squirming prey, this variety is highly advanced. It is loudmouthed, threatening, ready to turn anything into a big street brawl, capable of mob terror, fleecing, uses Pakistan slogans to instill fear and even resorts to violence with ‘Kashmiri’ drivers from other regions besides tourists.

One wearing pheran or loose cloak, kohled eyed and henna reddened beard and hair, possessed a rare knack of odd combinations. Seeing the Poop litter in this scenic valley, I suggested poop bags could be used for Ghoras or horses like in European countries to keep the place clean. The smarting Ghorawalla took it as a jibe–“The dayyy Poop bags will arrive in Gulmarg, Kashmir will go to Pakistan!” he declared.

Interestingly, although Government claims a stronghold on the Gondola services of Gulmarg, the Ghorawallas have the real say on plying to the Gondola site. If access to gondola and everything in-between feels so cumbersome in Gulmarg where the lords and Masters are the Ghorawallas, a shake of the grey cells should be of priority to Helicopter Service in the region, for a hassle-free, better and more lucrative business turnover. Perhaps the Heli services which has found few takers till now, and Ghorawallas should sit in a bilateral meeting to chalk out the strategies for the smooth operation, with Ghorawalla as a shareholder of the profit.

After all, the Ghorawallas in Gulmarg have united and created a solid vote-bank of the sitting Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and therefore are supposedly given a free rein to loot the tourists while whispers abound that the  police and bureaucracy are told to lie low and quietly collect their ‘cuts’ for being cooperative in ‘smart’ deals.

If you wish to use the circumbulation road of this scenic window of flowers – “Either you hire a a horse or Ghora or pay for a Snow Vehicle PVC,” a Ghorawalla literally barks to incoming tourists. Interestingly, like local warlords many of these Ghorawallas own both these modes of transport.

Perchance if you were able to push in a currency note as a chai-paani into the rough hands of the loudest protesting Ghorawalla, as a clearance to use your own taxi for the roundabout road, he will give you a free show of his stained toothed smile, even pull out his gruff hand to shake yours most vigorously, salute you and will assure you, there would be no Ghorawalla to stop or hassle you.  The next, you know, another Ghorawalla, a short distance ahead will stop your vehicle, put his hand out for a bakshish (bribe) and dial a number on his cellphone to tell the next Ghorawalla about the welcome and protocol to be meted to you for plying your own vehicle. By the end of the route you could be lighter by a few hundred currency notes, for having indulged and navigated in a drive around.

Tourists on a day tour, a one and a half hour drive from Srinagar, are in for the best theatrics. If they decide to hire none of the above transport modes, they will be made to feel like a celebrity as the Ghorawallas will stalk them throughout their trek. They’ll urge them for a free test ride on the horse and then hold out their hand for the price.

By chance if you do settle a deal for a horse, marking out the territory of the ride, another surprise awaits you.  Ghorawalla will refuse pointblank that he was a party to this deal and may ask two to five times more. If you feel strongly up for justice, and are not ready to give up without a fight, you’ll witness the speed with which tens of other Ghorawallas surround you and curse your riches for holding back payment to a poor Ghorawalla! Until you decide to call curtains.

When I requested a security man to let me pass by the barricade by paying a fee of Rs 50, as was mentioned there, because my parents could neither climb a horse nor take the PVC or snow vehicle, the police personnel asked me to make a deal, a deal with a Ghorawalla! The Lord Ghorawalla stood with his foot on a rock and picked his tooth staring at me. If there is the slightest of feelings that flits past you, that there is any rule of law here, please feign a memory lapse. The best recourse would be to equip yourself to beg or cry or whimper. These emotional froths just might work.

Two barricades in the circular road cuts a road through the stunning valley. Only if you are on night stay showing your booking on the cellphone, would you be allowed to ply your vehicle or taxi in the area. But this too has a clause and your night booking is ‘not yet’ a lucky ticket!

“You are fortunate if you booked a stay inside the barricaded area, else all those booked in hotels or huts or guest houses outside the barricade are barred from passing and treated at par with  other day tourists.”

Once a Ghorawallas told me to take the horse instead of the Gondola, up the hill on the Gondola Kangoori route as I had failed to purchase an online ticket. “It is a big blunder,” He shook his head and continued-“Why didn’t you buy ticket online and now Gondola ticket counter is closed for three days, until previous bookings are cleared”. He told me he could extricate few tickets in the black. He also suggested that going on his horse was the best adventure I could have, would cost less than Gondola and the views would be breathtaking by the royal horse ride. Adding,-“Many a times the Gondola develops faults mid-air, and was hardly safe.” I decided to check and found readily available Gondola tickets not only for Phase-I but also Phase –II for one fourth the price and an assurance that breakdowns are rarest of rare cases. Ghorawalla during our conversation had also explained that I might like to fill the tummy of his animal as a sadkaa or offering to the Divine, with an extra for horse-feed as his ‘poor’ horse did not relish mountain grass on this slope.

This takes me to the red billboard for Heli services –“Are the tourists visiting Gulmarg being freely allowed access to the Helicopter service or will they have to kowtow to the Lord Ghorawalla in the land of bloom showers?

For all you know, the Ghorawalla may just find another story using his trading skills, to strike a deal with a naive tourist claiming his horse has wings! “So you don’t really need a helicopter at that cost when it flits away so quickly, you miss all the beauty na, and the views are stunning from my flying horse!” he may add.

Author can be emailed at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR
URL:http://epaper.risingkashmir.com/PopUp.aspx?8ZkljZ_ppDowoQ4O6jlOjc6Q_ep_ep

 

Afghan Girl Exposes the US/ Rashmi Talwar/ Rising Kashmir


ScreenShot Heela Faryal Afghanistan

Brave Afghan girl exposes the US

Afghan girl exposes the US 

Rashmi Talwar

No veil, no dupatta, not even a scarf, Heela Faryal (not her real name), in her early twenties, came wearing a buttoned Purple long sleeved Kurta and straight black pants with silver slippers. Curious Karachi college girls went up to Heela- Afghanistan’s lone woman participant in a conference on women, but the latter swiftly turned, avoiding any selfies with the excited girls. It was not for her to exchange phone numbers or emails. She remained quiet even as her glowing face with a halo of dark curly hair on her shoulders failed to hide her youthful enthusiasm.

Heela, appeared stoic, as the only international speaker other than me from India, but her eyes were soft and smiling, choosing to get photographed only with speakers who had been informed to avoid any publication of her photograph owing to threat to her life.

Real time yardstick of a progressive nation comes from how their women are treated. The land of Heela’s forefathers in Afghanistan had been so unforgiving; it made her highly strung and secretive. Losing trust in human beings and simple humanity can be very, very shattering. This was Heela Faryal member of secret action group for women RAWA (Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan).

“No, I can’t tell you my real name,” she pleaded even though I was an international speaker like her. “No, I cannot even give you my phone number, please”, she supplicated, when I asked her.

She traveled to Karachi from Kabul, Afghanistan for the “‘Hum Aurtaen’ – No more Violence” programme by Tehrik-E- Niswan, a woman’s cultural action group based in Pakistan, headed by its stunning danseuse, actor and director Sheema Kermani.

Heela, a Muslim, yet didn’t feel one with those in Pakistan- who had freely come to attend the conference. In her country Afghanistan women were ensconced in the home space, treated brutally and worse than any other nation.

On stage, UK-read Heela, delivered her written content in English, without flinching she stirred the youthful women audience, with the unfolding of instances of Afghan women laid silent by horrendous torture and heinous killings over minor aberrations.

She introduced herself as a member of RAWA- oldest organization in Afghanistan that fights for rights of women, social rights and freedom while taking a stand against the Afghan fundamentalists and their international backers.

Naturally she was on their hit-list!

Heela related to the audience about Afghanistan’s most horrific crime ever committed against a 26-year woman in 2015. – “It was not inside the darkness and closed doors of her husband or father’s home. It was in broad daylight, in central Kabul, under the nose of local policemen and government, when Farkhunda, a young Islamic studies student, was encircled and lynched by a mob who accused her of burning the Quran. Brutally kicked, her hair yanked, spitted upon, punched and stomped, veil ripped off her face, bludgeoned with stones outside the mosque, the mob then dragged her motionless body some 300 meters into a street and her corpse was run over with a car and set afire. Her bloodied clothes couldn’t catch fire and the men threw their own clothing topis and scarves to burn her. The hideous remains were thrown in the dry Kabul River. Farkhunda’s crime: She had argued with a mullah, who then falsely accused her of burning the Quran.”

The audience was deathly silent and attentive. It was a chilling account.

It was on record, that a number of prominent public officials turned to social networking site Facebook immediately after Farkhunda’s gruesome killing, to endorse the act. The Deputy Minister for Culture &amp; Information Afghanistan -Simin Ghazal Hasanzada approved the execution, wrote- “Working for the infidels.” The official spokesman of Kabul police Hashmat Stanekzai wrote “Farkhunda- thought, like several other unbelievers, that this kind of action and insult will get them U.S. or European citizenship. But before reaching their target, they lost their life.” Zalmai Zabuli, chief of the complaints commission of upper house of parliament, posted a picture of Farkhunda with this message: “This is the horrible and hated person who was punished by our Muslim compatriots for her action. Thus, they proved to her masters that Afghans want only Islam and cannot tolerate imperialism, apostasy, and spies.”

Pausing and taking a deep breath, Heela took up for another 19-year- old Rukhshana, stoned to death in a mud pit by a Taliban kangaroo court in a Mullah-dominated western province of Afghanistan, for eloping last year. “Her screams echoed as an angry crowd of Taliban threw rocks at her, ending her in a stoned silence”.

“Treatment of women in Afghanistan would put even cannibals to shame”, some whispered in the audience.

She spoke out about women in Afghanistan crushed by several demonic forces including – the US and its allies, Jehadists, Taliban, and now the ISIS.” Coming down heavily on America she contended- “The US used women’s rights as an excuse to invade my country Afghanistan and continues to kill innocent women and children and conduct their terrifying drone attacks and chilling night raids in all parts of Afghanistan. The biggest crime the US has committed is the installation of fundamentalists in a puppet government.”

Without a blink, she pointed to the alleged black sheep in the government made with US support- “Afghanistan’s National Unity Government is headed by long-time CIA mercenaries-Ashraf Ghani (current President of Afghanistan) and Abdullah Abdullah (CE of Afghanistan), after US Secretary of state-John Kerry brokered a deal.” And added-“Abdullah Abdullah is one of the leaders of the most infamous fundamentalist parties of Afghanistan, Shoraye Nizar.”

She further accused–“Afghanistan’s current government, Parliament, and judiciary are all occupied at highest positions by criminals, heinous fundamentalists and warlords implicated in grave war crimes, and enjoy unconditional backing of western powers”. Adding more names to the alleged black list she pointed out – Mohammad Noor (Governor of Balkh Province ), Karim Khalil Dostum (former Vice President of  Afghanistan), Mohammed Mohaqiq (a politician), Sarwar Danish (former Vice President of Afghanistan), Ustad Murad, Ahmad Khan, Alimi Balkhi (Minister of Refugees&amp; Repatriation ), Taj M. Mujahid.”

The names except for Afghanistan’s present president Ashraf Ghani didn’t register with the Pakistani audience much, but most understood they were one of the top crème of the government in Afghanistan.

Taking a piercing dig at the Afghanistan Parliament, Heela lamented-“In 2009 Afghanistan Parliament attempted to legalize marital rape!”

The question in many minds arose –“How could they even ‘attempt’ such a law with the US looking over their shoulder?”

The audience was clearly reminded of a recent protest against the new Pakistani law called the ‘Punjab Protection of women against violence, Act’ that saw a coalition of 30 religious and political parties declaring the law un-Islamic and an attempt to secularize Pakistan- a country evolved on theological lines.

Heela meantime, quoting a UN report said -“According to United Nations, the Taliban’s reach is widest today since 2001. The suicide attacks by Taliban, and constant war with Afghan government has made life hell and civilian deaths in 2015 were highest, majority being women.

While public executions, stoning and amputation are widespread, the Taliban are welcomed with open arms to join the government instead of putting them on trial,” she trailed off in a stoic voice.

I am sure it was not hard in Pakistan to understand how their political dispensations segregation of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban to further their agendas in many countries, had aggravated the situation beyond control in their own backyards. The Easter attack in Lahore killing 72 and injuring hundreds was recent incident hard to ignore.

Heela took on the ISIS with the same venom, and said –“If this was not enough, the branch of ISIS in Afghanistan has begun taking root and already started committing atrocities.” And asked  “What was the conclusive result of US and its allies, long presence in Afghanistan?”

She only saw blank faces as no one knew the answer.

And continued –“Afghanistan is under the thumb of four brutal forces-The USA and allies; Jihadists; Taliban and now the ISIS. The prime victims are always women.” Castigating foreign funds for inhuman use, she vented –“Islamic fundamentalism comes in many brands and forms and killers are created by misogynists or women-haters, and almost always funded by foreign sponsors to further their interests in other countries.” Afghanistan’s with its $60 billion dollars in foreign aid, is 3rd most corrupt country and has devoured all its Aid and funds.

This was not far from the truth, as a well-documented fact had surfaced that US Pentagon auditors were perplexed over the missing US military equipment worth $420 million in year 2013. The report also stated that between 2006- 2010, equipment valued at nearly $240 million could not be accounted for.

Heela struck the USA’s warped policies, due to which an alarming rise was seen in narcoticproduction in Afghanistan –“Thanks to US invasion; Afghanistan has risen to become a narco-producing state of more than 90% of world’s opium. Women have not escaped the effects of this drug production and about 890,000 out of an unofficial figure of 3.5 million addicts are women including children, in Afghanistan.”

She also criticized the US for falsely and consistently trumpeting gains made by women of Afghanistan buttressing them with instances of presence of females in the Parliament and the relative freedom of women in a few urban cities. “What remains unsaid is that most of these female officials are tied to fundamentalist parties and share their misogynist mindset. These are mere cosmetic changes, only used for propaganda purposes to justify the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan to the people of the world. It is merely to peddle the fact that supposed gains will be lost if foreign troops withdraw,” she boomed.

Her revelation about Afghanistan realpolitik was indeed stark and shocking. In India and many other countries, the US viewpoint was believed, however we were shaken out of our opinions with the facts put across by this young citizen of the beleaguered nation.

And Heela continued –“Despite US and allies presence, which accounts for medical help too, Afghanistan still has the highest maternal mortality rate with one out of nine deaths during childbirth. 57% afghan brides are under 16, about 87% women are illiterate and merely 5%girls attend secondary schools,” she held these counts as offhand and said the ground reality was much worse. ‘Afghanistan is rightfully called the ‘worst place to be a woman’.

Heela concluded with a call for an organized progressive grassroots movement for greater freedom to women in Afghanistan.

She got a resounding applause at the end of it. It was not about delivery of a written piece it was a solidarity gesture with the female sex that few men along with women in Pakistan had also watched and an acknowledgment of Heela’s bravery in exposing the wrongs in her society without fear.

The youngest member of RAWA was not only daring but possessed the wherewithal for survival and anonymity. She couldn’t have stopped many giggly young Pakistani girls from taking her picture during her stage address but with a single stroke she swiped all her pictures from my iPhone with function of ‘airdrop’ leaving me with no pictures of her and smoothly evaded to give me her contact number.

Her act did not fray me; rather it brought a smile and reminded me of a phrase- “Desperate times need desperate means”! And conversely compelled me to salute this heroic young woman of Afghanistan! Just a few days after this address, Heela’s friend request entered my Facebook inbox, naturally picture-less.

The Author can be emailed at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON 17TH APRIL 2016

Of an enflamed horizon, ruddy Earth and the air between/ Rashmi Talwar/ Rising Kashmir


Jammu Lit Fest –

Book Review

RED MAIZE BY DANESH RANA 

Red Maize screenshot RK-1

Of an enflamed horizon, ruddy Earth and the air between

Rashmi Talwar

Danesh Rana’s debut novel – Red Maize, is a shout, an expose, on men, machinery and

machinations. It uncovers a unique cocktail of intrigues to lure, entrap, mutilate and torture. It’s about selling your conscience for plum postings, self-claimed leadership, medals and badges, even a marriage. It’s about bed and betrayal, money and moolah, faith and faithlessness.

‘Red Maize’ is a searing cry of Jammu and Kashmir, of a bloody horizon, the ruddied earth and the air between, that threatens to puncture the water veins and infuse it with blood of innocents, bringing forth a harvest of red maize.

The book is set in a humble hamlet of Morha Madana in Doda district of Jammu, a mountainous region surrounded by snow peaks, its rich soil bearing bountiful maize, life flowing sonorously like the melodic poetry of river Chenab. Then comes a time when the languorously grazing village, being an ideal hiding place for stealth, is quietly invaded by a market of blood shops- selling human flesh and death.

Morha’s insulated location, in the lap of snow peaked mountains and inhospitable jungle terrains, makes it an ideal abode for spreading religious radicalism. The radical wave swiftly turns into virtual reality, giving birth to the meanest, ugliest forms of indoctrination, where stakes are high, contrasting between–Soldier or Militant, between -‘A Heaven on Earth! or ‘A Heaven in Afterlife!’

It is a story of how a venomously planted thought mercilessly snatches youthful sons and pretty daughters and pushes their mutilated bodies into ignoble graves. Where mothers like Kausar Jan or Fauzia’s mother stand trembling, knowing little difference between an unbearable life and a living hell! It sucks your innards as they carry forth their fractured existence, brought by mindless ‘men’ in their lives.

In this death street one of the shops –‘Tanzeem’ – sells its merchandise of Jihad – holy war. The village gives it, its first indigenous militant commander, Shakeel Mujahid, that changes the destiny of the entire village. Shakeel, a loving jobless youth and the love of his widowed mother Kausar Jan. Basking in the sun on green slopes, while his goats grazed, fascinated by cricket matches and antics of militants, Shakeel follows the bloodhounds and falls for their gruesome playground of guns and gore.

Gul Mohammed’s is another such shop, of ‘mukhbirs’, craftily tri-timing at various opportune times – village folk, army and militants alike, sacrificing his daughters in this horrifying game of chess.

His lifestyle reminds one of stashed wealth, grabbed, usurped and stowed away by many such flourishing shops, blessed by political dispensations. The proof of this are mushrooming luxurious bungalows in cities and towns and hundreds of them scattered along remote villages and the countryside in Kashmir and Jammu. The ‘region of turmoil’ surprises many a visitor with some of the finest upcoming and completed bungalows. Not only did such money fund plush homes, it was weaned into high priced education in foreign countries of children of influential families, jet-set politicians, heads of high decibel organizations, radical and separatist associations and religious councils.

While their own wards are ensured to be safe and privileged, street youth are instigated, charmed, compelled and coaxed to pick up the gun or turn into a ‘sangbaaz’, the stone throwers, whiling away their youth and lives in jails or playing hide and seek in dangerous jungles and snow peaks with guns and bullets as toys. Where mothers like Kausar Jan are crushed under the dual extraction of dues from both militants and soldiers, besides becoming pawns in the hands of unscrupulous greed.

The third shop is that of the army- which no doubt kills, blows up, exterminates in the name of the country but is also a beneficiary, with AFSPA and PSA cushioning them from prosecution. Many trophies, medals, badges, promotions, peace postings, besides atrocities, tortures, killings, rapes, fake encounters and unmarked graves have stories with threads connected to the army.

Danesh has woven a story of intrigues sparing none – the army, locals and the militants. Shakeel Mujahid, in the story, is the manifestation of youth lured. His brother Khalid- the payer for his brother’s deeds by helplessly turning into a militant and his youngest brother- an easy dispensation for trophies!

Major Rathore comes across as manipulative, essentially less-ugly in his interaction with Kausar Jan, the mother- but brute, intimidating and cunning in the name of fighting militancy in remote areas. Rathore also has a match – a super ego demon unleashing nameless atrocities and creating killing fields.

How a NTR (nothing to report) is recognizable to villagers as a moment of relief; the rookie ‘kaapi’ (cadet) indoctrination to carry out everything to create Hell for a Promised Heaven, is revealing. Use of words such as ‘Passementerie’ (essentially embroidery on military uniforms) for adornment on the local salwar kameez of a Kashmiri girl gives a clue on the writer, a police officer. A Kashmiri’s typical reaction to situations like singing of Wanwun -the wedding songs on the death of a Mujahid is etched observantly. The reality of children in Kashmir playing ‘Encounter-Encounter’ with cricket bats as Kalashnikovs makes it well researched.

The book seems to be written in the times of early 1990s as Agra’s failed -walk the talk- steps in much later.

The writer’s use of Kausar Jan as a metaphor for Kashmir — the coveted vale of conflict, of lust and love, of mujahids and soldiers, being wooed and humiliated, of millions of blooms strewn with deadly thorns, Jannat and Jahannam, a nuclear flashpoint, a laboratory of death, is truly a wake-up call for the administration, politicians and the armed forces.

‘Red Maize’ calls for the protector to take the first humane step and not turn perpetrator. It calls for vigilance and healing, a touch marinated in much love and compassion. Perhaps AFSPA should be removed or replaced with a less draconian law, much as most of Kashmir believes the militancy is a Fassad and not Jihad (mischief and not a holy war).

Perhaps, the new political dispensation of Mehbooba Mufti develops a vision to erase some of the stains of political, police and public manipulations, and close few of the blood shops, with a touch, albeit, a woman or a mother’s healing touch, that may bring some comfort to Kashmir, is an awaited wish.

Writer can be emailed at: rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON FEBRUARY 3, 2016
URL:http://epaper.risingkashmir.com/PopUp.aspx?3sDiTh_bsXH2wtZADHif2tpQ_ep_ep

India-Pak PMs Meet/ And then they came…/ Rashmi Talwar Rising Kashmir


snapshot IndoPak PMs meet jan2016.JPGIndia-Pak Meet

And then they came ….

Rashmi Talwar

India-Pakistan’s bonhomie has always spelt good tidings for Kashmir. It was on Christmas this time. Christmas –a special day just for family, like Diwali and Eid. Yet Christmas of 2015 leaped on to script history, with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi diverting his sleigh (Air orce One) to neighboring Pakistan and his surprise Santa-isque-halt in Pakistan, on this festive day. Only three other Indian Prime Ministers have visited the perceived belligerent neighbor in the past.

In the spirit of jingle-bells, the PM’s reindeers didn’t mind bypassing the capital city of  Islamabad, instead, cozied up to vibrant Lahore in equal comfort. Modi extended birthday and wedding wishes in the same breath, to a Grandfather-Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif on his birthday and his granddaughter- Mehr-un-Nisa on her wedding day.

Just a week later India faced an attack at Pathankot, allegedly by terrorists deemed to belong to Pak based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed, controlled by Maulana Masood Azhar, who was released in lieu of hijacked Indian plane IC-814 on Christmas day of 1999.  Many pawns and paws have come under a cloud and an alert has been loudly sounded in Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir and Delhi. This comes as third in the series of attacks with the first in Udhampur, then Dina Nagar in Gurdaspur and now Pathankot.

Only a week back, India and Pakistan were warmed over the Indian PM’s visit and media threw up interesting Santa Clauses between India and Pakistan- Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Nawaz Sharif share birthdays on Christmas. Dr Manmohan Singh, former Indian PM’s desire to straddle the three regions of Kabul, Islamabad and New Delhi, all in a day-trip for his three daily meals, was recalled but it was Modi’s unusual step that took the limelight, touted as –‘dreams come true for those who dare’!

Just after inaugurating the new Parliament House in Kabul, initiated by India in 2007, Modi

spoke to Nawaz Sharif and conveyed his greetings on the latter’s birthday. Nawaz responded in typical Punjabi heartiness- ‘Since you would be flying over my country, why don’t you drop by and also bless my granddaughter Mehr-un-Nisa at her wedding’. Modi accepted spontaneously. The Christmas bonhomie lived up to its name and the spontaneity of India-Pak PM meet, appeared to have thawed some snow back home in Kashmir too. Post this visit, Kashmir’s perceived icy -‘Radical-Modi’ gave way to momentary warmth for the PM. Warmth that helped tiny tendrils of a new sapling to emerge from under the sheets of snow in Kashmir, due to thisout-of-the-box approach seen as– path-breaking, unconventional, strong and decisive.

Following the India-Pak Christmas, Pak Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhary briefed the media – “As a part of the comprehensive dialogue, the foreign secretaries of the two countries will meet in mid-January 2016”, he said. Some peace doves on both sides called it “a coup of sorts by the two leaders away from the media glare and the highly polarized domestic politics”.

The impromptu visit of PM also left Kashmiri separatists wide-mouthed. Separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani shook his head and said ‘we have no issues on better ties between India and Pakistan’. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Hurriyat Conference’s Chairman took on positive note -“It’s a good development that leaders of two nations have started meeting and talking. We welcome it,” Mirwaiz told a Kashmir based newspaper. “We now hope that the two countries show political will to resolve all pending issues, including the core issue of Kashmir.”

Omar Abdullah, former chief Minister Jammu & Kashmir, posted on a social networking site twitter – “Indo-Pakistan relations have been plagued by knee-jerk reactions and a lack of consistency, looking towards two prime ministers to correct this, this time”, he tweeted.

All this, even as intelligence inputs had already put forces on alert, on a possible terrorist attack with a fresh infiltration from across the border, even before the PMs Meet.

Modi’s Tarzan-visit maybe a cause for cheer and be termed a diplomatic accomplishment in Indo-Pak relations, but has also caused a flutter. ‘Will it be stamped as a walk on haloed steps of predecessor Vajpayee, so popular with Kashmiris and Pakistanis, or will it become just a flash in the pan?’ cynics wondered and waited on both sides.

The cynics were not entirely off mark as the Pathankot attack was aimed to scuttle the nascent goodwill engaged in by both countries. The continuance of hostilities between the two neighbors serves the vested interests of many in both countries including Pakistan Army, the terror groups on one side and the Hindutva brigade on the other.

Political observers opine – ‘The Indian PM’s visit somewhat negated the growing clout of Pakistan army chief -Gen Raheel Sharif, who compelled Pakistani political leadership to change the discussion agenda decided at the Ufa joint conference and forced to make Kashmir the number one agenda point.’ Many however assert the General’s involvement in giving clearance to Indian Prime Minister’s flight in Pakistan, however reluctant it maybe, was tacit, and enclosed the blessings of his recent US hosts. But the slight to the Pak general’s growing clout, with the nation’s political leadership taking its own chances, couldn’t have gone well with the army chief.

Pathankot Attack may thus be listed as captive sketch of recent events. Many feel the attack, though a handiwork of ultras on the forefront has the implicit support of Pak army. Indian involvement in harboring and plotting the attack too cannot be ruled out. When PM visited Pakistan, a lobby in India was silenced, that of Sangh Parivar, who indulged in political rhetoric, communal and anti-Pak statements unmindful of the caustic harm to India’s foreign and domestic policies. But with Pathankot attack the Sangh found another nail to hit.

Modi’s acceptance of Nawaz Sharif’s invitation, greetings, personal reception, the Jhaapis and a Heli-visit to Sharif’s Raiwind house, may have created goodwill for both leaders in Pakistan and India, but had an expected spillover. Precisely for this reason, the impromptu option was exercised. Because, had the visit been announced and then implemented, a terror-attack would have been timed to coincide before the visit. If nothing at all, the visit still stamps the peace overtures of India and puts the ball in the court of Pakistan to respond suitably and with equal vigor.

Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh told ANI: “Pakistan is our neighbour and we want peace, but any terrorist attack on India will get a befitting response.” Indian analysts take this as the Home Minister showing restraint and indicating Delhi’s will to continue talks with Pakistan. Every time a peace process is about to start, the same pattern of attacks are seen. Dr. Ajai Sahni, Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management, Delhi opines –“It (the attack) may lead to a momentary pause in the peace dialogue and battering from the opposition for not pursuing a harder line with Pakistan, but I don’t think it will have a long- term impact.”

“The moment Modi touched down in Lahore (and probably even before), something like this was doomed to happen,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert in Washington while confiding to a newspaper. And added “At this point, there’s sufficient goodwill in India-Pakistan relations to weather this attack. Saboteurs won’t win this one.” Given the history, geography, regional and global geopolitics, India and Pakistan have little choice but to remain engaged even in conflict situations, just as during Kargil war when engagement at political and military level continued.
All this, while Kashmir awaits the next move, wondering whether it will have to shiver in icy weather this New Year or will the warm jingle belled Kangri under the pheran ward off the chill between the two nations? It’s still hard to say.

The writer can be reached at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

URL:http://risingkashmir.com/article/and-then-they-came-/

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