The Asian Age – Donald Trump’s visit sparks fear among J&K Sikhs

Trump and First Lady Melania are scheduled to travel to Ahmedabad, Agra and New Delhi on 24 and 25 February.

Yusuf Jameel

Srinagar – Jammu & Kashmir – India, 23 February 2020. The US President Donald Trump’s upcoming visit of India has caused fear psychosis and panic among the Sikhs of Kashmir Valley as they are reminded of the ‘horror’ of the night of March 19, 2000 when as many as 35 members of the minority community were massacred by gunmen in Chattisinghpora village of southern Anantnag district during then President Bill Clinton’s official visit of the country.

Stating this, Jagmohan Singh Raina, chairman of All Parties Sikh Coordination Committee (APSCC), an amalgam of J&K’s Sikh organizations, said that the Sikhs of the Valley have to face such fearful situation whenever a high profile foreign personality, especially, that from USA visits India.

“The whole of India seems to be busy in making preparations for Mr Trump’s visit, but for Sikhs of Kashmir, the visit has brought in fears that the members of community are yet again on the radar.

The Sikhs are feeling insecure and they fear that something untoward might happen on the eve of Donald Trump’s visit,” Mr. Raina said in a statement here on Saturday.

In 2000, on the intervening night of 19 and 20 March, when the then US President Mr. Clinton was in India, 35 Sikhs were shot dead by gunmen in Army uniforms after descending to Chattisinghpora. A local woman had also died of cardiac arrest on seeing piles of bullet-riddled corpses of the victims, raising the toll to 36.

The authorities had blamed the gory incident on separatist militants. Five days after the massacre, Army and J&K police had claimed that five perpetrators were killed in an encounter in Anantnag’s Pathribal area and all of them were foreign terrorists.

But later, it turned out to be a fake encounter and all the five slain men were unarmed civilians, who were picked up by the forces from different areas of the district earlier. Subsequently, at least ten persons were also killed after security forces opened fire on the people protesting against the fake encounter in Anantnag’s Brakapora area.

The CBI had in 2006 chargesheeted Brigadier Ajay Saxena, Lt. Colonel Brajendra Pratap Singh, Major Sourabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxena and Subedar Idrees Khan for killing five civilians.

However, in January 2014, the Army closed the Pathribal fake encounter case, asserting that the evidence recorded couldn’t establish a prime-facie case against any of the accused.

The Army had taken up the case from the civil court in 2012 following the directions of the Supreme Court before which it has earlier challenged the charge-sheet filed by the CBI, which had described the incident as staged encounter and the killing of the civilian as a cold-blooded murder.

Even after the lapse of nearly two decades the people of J&K particularly the Sikhs of the Valley are still waiting for the justice to be delivered. Mr Raina said that the scars inflicted on the Sikhs of the Valley during Mr Clinton’s visit “are yet to be removed even after 20 years as the people who carried out the crime are yet to be identified”.

He said, “It is highly unfortunate that neither the Government of India nor the successive J&K governments have reached to any conclusion with respect to identifying the killers of Sikhs at Chattisinghpora. The people at helm have just been making claims and truth of the matter is killers continue to roam free,” he added.

He said the Sikhs of the Valley were gripped by panic also during the India visit of (former) President Barrack Obama “but, fortunately, nothing untoward happened”. He, however, asked the Sikh living in village of north and south Kashmir “to remain alert and vigilant” during the Trump visit.

http://www.asianage.com/india/all-india/230220/donald-trumps-visit-sparks-fear-among-jk-sikhs.html

The Hindu – Congress leader Mani Shanker Aiyar slams envoys

Special Correspondent

Srinagar – Jammu & Kashmir – India, 17 February 2020. Congress leader Mani Shanker Aiyar, who was restricted to a Srinagar hotel and prevented from participating in a conference here, termed the Kashmir situation far from normal and criticised the foreign diplomats who claimed to see signs of normalcy during their recent visit.

“Any foreign Ambassdor who went to Srinagar just two days before I did and claimed that he has seen signs of normalcy should never have been promoted to above third secretary status. I say this as an Indian foreign service officer,” Mr Aiyer told The Hindu.

Mr Aiyar and O P Shah, who heads the Centre for Peace and Progress, had planned a meet and invited civil society groups.

”The hotel where we were staying had just three rooms booked. It was me, Mr. Shah and an armed policeman who monitored movement of all those who visited us. Hours before the conference was to start, the police barricaded the hotel. We were also restricted to its premises,” Mr. Aiyer said.

”If the foreign envoys could visit and meet the groups of delegations recently despite Section 144, why can’t we meet groups inside a hotel? It’s clear there is no normalcy. If Amit Shah regards disallowing this kind of meeting as normalcy I would like him to explain what is normalcy,” he said.

“I decided to visit J&K because the Prime Minister said opposition leaders should go there and see for themselves. Besides, Mr Amit Shah said he is not placing any restrictions on people going or coming. In effect, if one goes to endorse their normalcy, you are allowed to go.

If you want to listen to people and see what is boiling in their hearts, it’s not allowed,” said Mr Aiyer.

He said during his stay in Kashmir he just witnessed empty hotels, shikara-walas (boat owners) waiting to host a tourist and armed security personnel manning the streets.

“It’s clear there is no normalcy. If Mr Amit Shah regards disallowing this kind of meeting as normalcy I would like him to explain what is normalcy. What are they afraid of if normalcy has returned? Why are they continuing with restrictions on the people of Kashmir.

There is fear and apprehension everywhere that the lid on the steam kettle will blow off by the internal pressure. Though nobody is able to say when and what will be the trigger. Many here fear ailing Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Geelani’s death could provide that trigger,” he added.

This kind of behaviour, he said, showed that the situation in Kashmir is not under control of the Government of India. “The huge military presence seems an attempt at dominating the local population,” he added.

The Congress leader said there were bogus attempts at creating some kind of alternative to the genuine leadership, which is in the prison.

“I realised that the entire Sheikh family is now in detention of one kind or other without recognition to the fact that this is the family that acceded with India and upheld the flag of India for 70 years in every corner of Kashmir,” he added.

He lamented that there was no attempt to reach out to the people. “It’s believed that by intimidation and by cultivating quislings, the Centre will be able to sell development discourse.

J&K is far ahead on most of the development indices because of Article 370. In fact, there is plummeting of J&K’s GDP since August 5. The Kashmir problem is far from over but got aggravated instead,” he warned.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/congress-leader-mani-shanker-aiyar-slams-envoys/article30837856.ece

The Asian Age – Second batch of foreign diplomats shown around Kashmir

Briefings, meetings and boat rides organized for their benefit

Yusuf Jameel

Srinagar – Jammu & Kashmir – India, 12 February 2020. A second batch of New Delhi-based diplomats from over two dozen countries began a two-day tour of Jammu & Kashmir for an on-the-spot assessment of the situation in the troubled territory.

Reports emanating from Delhi said the Russian ambassador to India declined an invitation to join the delegation.

In Srinagar, the delegation was briefed by top Army officers on the security situation in the districts and along the Line of Control (LoC).

They were told of Pakistan’s “unremitting attempts to push in militants and terrorists and perpetrate ceasefire violations” along the de facto border, a defence spokesman said here.

Earlier in the day, the visiting envoys interacted with fruit growers and traders in Baramulla district and had a series of meetings with representatives of political parties, trade unions, civil society groups, women entrepreneurs and a select group of media persons, all handpicked by their hosts.

They were also treated to shikara rides on the Dal lake.

After a night’s stay in a luxury Srinagar hotel, the delegation will visit the winter capital Jammu on Thursday where they are scheduled to meet Lt Governor Girish Chandra Murmu, his advisors and government functionaries, officials of the police and security forces and leaders and representatives of various political parties, civil society groups and business leaders.

Opposition criticism

This is the third visit by foreign diplomats and lawmakers to Jammu & Kashmir since 05 August last year, when the erstwhile state was stripped of its special status and bifurcated into two union territories.

Supervised by the Union Home Ministry, the visits have been strongly criticized by the opposition which questioned the wisdom of “wasting money and other resources of the state by sponsoring such pleasure trips.”

Congress leader Saifuddin Soz said, “The visiting delegation should be allowed to meet the three former chief ministers who have been incarcerated. I too have some ideas to share with them but I wonder if they will be allowed to meet me. I’ve been under house arrest for the past six months.”

He added, “Taking them on shikara rides on the Dal lake and allowing them to meet only people handpicked by the government agencies are not going to help. Such tamashas have in the past left a negative impact on the psyche of the people, especially in the Kashmir Valley.”

Presence of EU diplomats

This batch of diplomats being conducted around Kashmir includes those from Canada, Austria, Uzbekistan, Uganda, Slovak Republic, Netherlands, Namibia, Kyrgyz Republic, Bulgaria, Germany, Tajikistan, France, Mexico, Denmark, Italy, Afghanistan, New Zealand, Poland and Rwanda.

The presence of diplomats from European Union member countries in this delegation is significant. The EU Parliament recently saw moves to bring in a joint draft resolution on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the Kashmir situation. A vote on the resolution was later deferred.

In mid January, envoys of 15 countries including United States ambassador to India Kenneth I. Juster and diplomats from Vietnam, South Korea, Brazil, Niger, Nigeria, Morocco, Guyana, Argentina, Philippines, Norway, Maldives, Fiji, Togo, Bangladesh and Peru had visited J&K at the invitation of the MEA which had said that they wanted to see firsthand the efforts being made by the government to normalise situation in the union territory.

In October last year, 27 MPs, drawn mainly from far-right parties, of 11 European countries visited Srinagar but the EU embassy in Delhi was quick to clarify then that they were in India in their “personal capacity” and not as part of an official delegation.

That visit too had drawn criticism by the Congress, National Conference (NC), People’s Democratic Party (PDP), CPM and other mainstream parties, terming it a “guided tour aimed at misleading the world about the ground realities in J&K.” The opposition and a section of the media had in particular criticised the manner in which European MPs were brought to Srinagar.

The Congress also questioned the wisdom and probity of the government in inviting foreign diplomats to visit J&K when the country’s own political leaders including MPs are being denied access to the erstwhile state.

However, Union minister of state for home affairs G. Kishan Reddy told the Lok Sabha on Tuesday that there are no restrictions on Indian citizens visitng J&K.

https://www.asianage.com/india/all-india/120220/second-batch-of-foreign-diplomats-shown-around-kashmir.html

The Hindu – Five Kashmiri political leaders released after four months of detention

Peerzada Ashiq

Srinagar – Jammu & Kashmir – India, 30 December 2019. The leaders released belong to the National Conference, the PDP and the Congress, and were kept under preventive detention, officials said.

The J&K administration started a phased release of detained mainstream leaders on Monday. Five politicians and former legislators of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Peoples Conference (PC) and the National Conference (NC) were released after five months of detention.

According to an official, the NC’s Ishfaq Jabbar, a former legislator from Ganderbal, Ghulam Nabi Bhat, PDP’s Bashir Mir from Kangan and Zahoor Mir from Pampore, also a former minister; and Peoples Conference’s Yasir Reshi, also a former legislator, were released on in the afternoon.

They are among the over 270 political leaders who were detained during the clampdown launched on mainstream regional parties on 05 August, the day the Centre revoked J&K’s special status. The politicians were initially held in the Centaur Hotel in Srinagar and later shifted to the MLAs Hostel, a former legislators’ residence-turned-sub-jail in Srinagar.

Top official sources said more political leaders are likely to be released in the first fortnight of the new year “as Kashmir has by far remained peaceful”.

An official said around 27 political detainees, including senior NC leader Ali Muhammad Sagar, PDP’s Naeem Akhtar, PC chief Sajad Lone and J&K Peoples Movement president Shah Faesal, continue to remain behind bars, under Section 107, an apparent threat to peace and public tranquillity.

However, NC president Dr Farooq Abdullah and vice-president Omar Abdullah, and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti remain in detention in separate sub jails in the city.

Monday’s release of politicians comes more than a month after the November 25 release of two mainstream regional leaders.

None of the detained leaders have been charged with any crime or trespass, not even those who are detained under section 107. Very odd, not very legal, no justice !
Man in Blue

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/five-kashmiri-political-leaders-released-after-four-months-of-detention/article30433629.ece?homepage=true

The New Indian Express – Sikhs in Kashmir agree to demolition of gurdwara to make way for national highway

The gurdwara was one of four bottlenecks in the road project, most parts of which were completed in 2013.

Srinagar – Jammu & Kashmir – India, 12 December 2019. In an exemplary act, the Sikh community in Kashmir on Thursday agreed to the demolition of a 72-year-old gurdwara to make way for a national highway connecting Srinagar with Baramulla which had been stuck for over a decade, an official said.

According to a settlement reached between the Sikh community and the Srinagar district administration, a new gurdwara will be built at an alternative site nearby.

Established in 1947, Gurdwara Damdama Sahib mainly served migrant families from Pakistan.

It organised langars and undertook many social service initiatives such as flood rescue.

The gurdwara was one of four bottlenecks in the road project, most parts of which were completed in 2013.

Further, a litigation in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court had kept the matter related to the relocation of the gurdwara lingering for years.

Srinagar Deputy Commissioner Shahid Iqbal Choudhary swung into action to break the deadlock and personally intervened in the discussion process. He reached out to the Sikh community to devise an amicable solution to the issue.

Choudhary held a series of meetings over the past week to examine a range of options to resolve the issue.

“Finally, today in the presence of the deputy commissioner and the gurdwara management, the demolition of Gurdwara Damdama Saheb was started. The gurdwara will function from a makeshift space till a new one is constructed at the agreed location.

The state public works department (PWD) has been entrusted with the construction of the gurdwara as per the design provided by the Sikh community,” the official said.

Giving details, he said that the government of India started construction of the national highway from Srinagar to Baramulla in 2006.

Later, the project was funded under the Prime Minister’s Development Plan.

The stretch of the road where the gurudwara stood was executed by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), while the Anantnag-Srinagar section was constructed by the National Highways Authority of India.

The road was completed in 2013, but the four bottlenecks remained.

In 2014, the owner of the site proposed for relocation of the gurdwara objected to it and obtained a stay from the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. Besides the gurdwara, the three other bottlenecks were a power line, a petrol pump and water supply lines.

The official said the work on the demolition of the petrol pump and shifting of power lines and water supply lines has also started.

The work is likely to be completed in the next 10 days, he said.

“BRO will start construction of the road stretch this month. The administrative outreach of DC Srinagar to resolve this 13 years long pending complex issue is an example of a proactive approach for an efficient resolution aimed at public welfare,” he said.

“The act and gesture of the Sikh community here have created a history in Kashmir and will be remembered for ever,” Deputy Commissioner Choudhary said.

Noisy and polluting tin cans on wheels are still worshiped In India

https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2019/dec/12/sikhs-in-kashmir-agree-to-demolition-of-gurudwara-to-make-way-for-national-highway-2075284.html

The Print – Why Kashmiri Pandits can’t return to the Valley, even if they want to

When there exists no practical policy or intent to rebuild Kashmiri Pandit homes, how can anyone expect us to give a sure-shot answer on whether we want to return or not?

Ieshan Vinay Misri

Srinagar – Jammu & Kashmir – India, 05 December 2019. The question of Kashmiri Pandits returning to Kashmir is again up in the air as a more-or-less renowned journalist for an online media house just published something about it.

I personally don’t care about what exactly is opined in the said article as facts, especially the historical facts, about Kashmir in general and about Kashmiri Pandits’ communally forced exodus in particular.

Even after 30 years, the facts and the interpretations of those historical facts about the Kashmiri Pandit exodus are still either denied, misrepresented or misconstrued, and still the onus of proving the crime against them is on the Pandits themselves.

After questioning everything Kashmiri Pandits are and stand for or what they have been through, even the successes have been used as a narrative to whitewash the atrocities on them. And then they are asked whether they would go back.

Above all, the questions, will you return? When will you return? How many will return? are now another instrument to deny justice. Even if you say “yes”, they say you really won’t. In this context, some very basic facts need to be cleared on why we as a community are ambivalent on the “question of return”.

To begin with, the question of returning to Kashmir that is/was home is an oversimplification. For most of us, home has been burned, wrecked and razed to ground.

When there exists no practical and pragmatic policy or intent to rebuild it or to make it habitable again for the Hindu minorities, how can anyone expect us to give a sure-shot answer on whether we want to return or not? Can anyone live in a wreck? Will anyone return to the place that still is in the same situation socially, economically and politically when Kashmiri Pandits were forced to get out of their homes.

Add to it, the constraints of xenophobia, security threats and threat of communal violence, which triggered the exodus back in 1990.

In addition, after the exodus, most Kashmiri Pandits had to start from zero. They worked and struggled hard against all odds. A person who was completely uprooted from a place and after years of toiling has made it all work for him/her, is now confronted with an existential question of leaving it all again, relocating, and starting again from a place that doesn’t offer much, where most of the youth are either unemployed, radicalised or studying/working outside.

Can uprooting oneself again or expecting one to take the whole pain of relocation again based on just some fantasy, which is nothing more than castles in air, be expected of the Kashmiri Pandit community? And if they are ambiguous, undecided or don’t want to go after struggling for 30 years to get re-established, they are judged, their plight is denied and their right to the place of their origin is discounted.

Plus, a one-room quarter that was provided after struggling in the tents for almost two decades is pronounced as some luxury. And, a false narrative of “non-existent” refugee camps is created wherein the fact that the tents got replaced by concrete quarters is conveniently misrepresented so as to hint that Kashmiri Pandits have already gotten enough and shouldn’t be demanding a dignified return to their homeland.

This narrative is a convenient denial of what and how much Kashmiri Pandits lost. It overlooks the fact that justice hasn’t been done even after 30 years. This narrative is a replica of the jihadi propaganda that Kashmiri Pandits left because they were given huge sums, lucrative jobs, and property by the government of India, but in reality, it was snake and scorpion bites, scorching heat and half a tomato.

Moreover, the simple fact that escapes the comprehension ability of some people is that Jagati Township is a camp because people there still want to return. The term ‘camp’ signifies the state of long-term impermanence regardless of the physical structure or the name. The very reason the Jagati Township is called a camp is because the history and events of Kashmir exodus haven’t reached their logical conclusion and justice still evades us.

Unless and until the practical constraint of the return of Pandits is not dealt with in a realistic and pragmatic manner, the question of return remains futile and meaningless. It is nothing but another rhetorical tool in the hands of those who want to deny the decades-long suffering of the community.

The author is a Research Associate at Citizens’ Foundation for Policy Solutions (CFPS). Views are personal.

This article was originally published on The Medium on 3 December.

Why Kashmiri Pandits can’t return to the Valley, even if they want to

BBC News – Kashmir conflict: Pro-India politicians feel ‘betrayed’ by Modi

Srinagar – Jammu & Kashmir – India, 04 December 2019. Dozens of mainstream political leaders and workers have been under detention in Indian-administered Kashmir since August, when India stripped the region of its semi-autonomous status. Sameer Yasir reports on why political workers in the valley feel betrayed.

Saleem Mir stood pensively by the window of his room overlooking the Jhelum river, which cuts through the heart of Srinagar and flows into Pakistan. Mr Mir, who toiled for years to get people to vote for Kashmir’s oldest political party, the pro-India National Conference, now feels like a total outcast in his own homeland.

Kashmiris like Mr Mir are used to being branded as “traitors” by their own people for siding with India during the 30-year armed revolt against Delhi’s rule in the Muslim-majority region. Many have relatives or friends who have been killed by militants for siding with India.

“Now we are also enemies in the eyes of India,” said Mr Mir, who belongs to Kulgam district, a region that has witnessed a spiral of deadly violence in recent years.

Enemies of India

In August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) oversaw a crackdown that they argued was necessary to prevent disorder in the disputed region.

It was stripped of its autonomy, split it into two federally-run territories, put under a lockdown, and most of the state’s political leaders and workers, including those who have been loyal to India, were incarcerated.

“Our intention is that politicians do not engage in any activities that could serve as a magnet for violence, as it has been the case in the past. A related issue is that social media and the internet have been used to radicalise. We want to prevent the loss of life,” India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said.

Mr Mir was among more than 5,000 people, including businessmen, civil society members, lawyers and activists, who were detained. Those still under detention include former chief ministers Omar Abdullah, Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, the first woman to be hold the position, as well as several former lawmakers.

Former chief minister Mr Abdullah, still a member of parliament, has been detained under the controversial Public Safety Act (PSA), which allows detention without formal charge for two years, among other things.

Mr Abdullah, whose family had been instrumental in tying Kashmir’s future to Delhi, appeared on television before his detention and appealed to the people of India, saying he had stood with them and it was their time to reciprocate.

Mir Mohammad Fayaz, an MP belonging to the PDP, has written to the federal Home Minister Amit Shah, demanding the release of all political leaders. He said that the leaders had been recently shifted to a new jail in “a very humiliating and downgrading manner”.

Wiping out the middle ground

Kashmir’s political parties have always operated in a middle-ground, between integrating completely with India and seeking outright independence.

By the very act of participating in India’s democratic processes and fighting elections, they acknowledged Delhi’s right to have a say in the affairs of the region. But in order to win votes, they have had to speak the language of popular sentiment.

Therefore, its two main parties, the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) officially stand for Kashmir’s right to autonomy and self-rule within the federal structure of India.

And for more than a decade, after the insurgency ebbed, the status-quo in Kashmir largely worked in India’s favour. People voted in elections and India said it proved that democracy was thriving in the region. With the detention of the leaders, things have changed.

The latest move by Delhi has “wiped out the middle-ground held by Kashmiri politicians” and this void could be very well “filled by militants”, said Siddiq Wahid, a historian.

Mr Wahid added people would now confront these political parties by saying: “We knew it, we told you so all along.”

No trust

“The idea of mainstream politics is dead in Kashmir now,” says Kapil Kak, a retired air vice-marshal.

Mr Kak, a native of Kashmir who has been part of many initiatives aimed at resolving the dispute, said India has lost 70 years of its hard work in Indian-administered Kashmir: “Who will vouch for it now?”

Political workers, who have backed India despite facing threats, attacks and public humiliation, feel completely let down and fear for their safety now.

“We should have never trusted India,” Mr Mir, now a free man, said.

Rehman Sheikh, whose cousin, a founding member of PDP, was killed and his house set on fire in Shopian district, said Mr Modi’s government had simply “belittled my brother’s sacrifice”.

“The India for which we bled so badly has rendered us worthless by forcibly taking away our basic political rights,” Mr Sheikh said.

“Party workers come to us and ask ‘what is our future?’,” said Tanveer Alam, whose cousin, a former lawmaker, is also being detained. “I have no answers. I keep silent.”

We are finished

Mumtaz Peer, who saw his father killed by militants, said if “gunmen arrive at my door, no one will now come to save me”. “We are finished,” Mr Peer, who worked for a former state lawmaker, said. “We are just waiting for this time to pass.”

Mr Peer said that had the valley’s mainstream political class invested time and effort to lobby for Kashmir’s independence instead of trying to strengthen India’s hold on the region, people “would have achieved the goal of independence”.

“Our only problem is we are Kashmiris and Muslim. We fought for India in Kashmir and this is what we got in return,” Mr Peer said.

Ghulam Hassan Rahi, a politician who fought many elections in northern Kashmir during the heyday of insurgency, and continued his activism despite threats from militants, said now when he meets his political workers, he keeps his head down.

One worker, Mr Rahi said, recently confronted him, telling him that it doesn’t matter “how much bidding Kashmiri Muslims will do for India, Delhi will never trust them because they are Muslims”.

“I kept my head down and walked away,” Mr Rahi said.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-50513004

The Telegraph – In custody in Kashmir: Slap, kick and rats

How politicians were treated in captivity to make them fall in line

Murtaza Shibli, a British Kashmiri author and journalist who lives between Srinagar, Lahore and London, reports on the life in incarceration of several politicians in Kashmir since the August 5 clampdown.

Murtaza Shibli

Srinagar – Jammu & Kashmir – India, 20 November 2019. Shibli, who was in Kashmir when the crackdown unfolded, gathered the following information, which includes specific details, over several weeks.

He has put in the report only information he could corroborate with multiple sources, including officials and the relatives of some of those detained. Needless to say, given the situation in Kashmir, few were willing to be quoted on record. Several other names and alleged instances were omitted because of the lack of reliable confirmation.

Two weeks after the Darbar Move, a 150-year-old biannual tradition of shifting the main government work from summer capital Srinagar to the winter headquarters at Jammu, the bunch of demobilised unionist Kashmiri politicians incarcerated at the Centaur Lake View Hotel in Srinagar earned their own move.

But this transfer was without any darbar, bereft of the hoopla that would usually carry their caravans with vehicles and attendants, both official and party workers, amid a lot of ostentatious paraphernalia, all at the expense of the public purse.

With a controlled media, at Srinagar and elsewhere in the country, the relocation was artfully disguised as a progression for the benefit of the detainees, for, according to the news reports, all attributed to official sources, there were inadequate arrangements to deal with the rising cold.

This is simply not true. The Centaur Hotel is a four-star hotel with central heating that had been running smoothly in the past but suddenly became insufficient.

The transfer of the detainees, who include former ministers, legislators and bureaucrats who had benefited from New Delhi’s largesse for controlling and managing Kashmiri aspirations under the misleading rubric of “mainstream politics”, is a terrible demotion.

This is a ploy at their further denigration to wear them down psychologically. In the words of a family member of a detainee, this action was undertaken to “show them their place in the new arrangement”.

The new detention place is a part of the MLA Hostel that contains one-room or studio flats with little or no arrangement for heating.

According to information this writer received, there was no heating arrangement on the first night and the inmates, already shaken by the rough treatment during their transfer, quaked for the night. Next morning, they were each provided with a single-rod electric room heater that could barely warm one’s hands, that too when close.

The detention space has been fortified with large corrugated sheets of steel, making the small park at the hostel out of bounds for the inmates.

The entrances and the windows have been boarded up with chipboard and the remainder of the glass panes covered with a dark film to control the ingress of any natural light to a minimum in addition to blocking any outside view. This will create a ghoulish milieu for those cooped in.

Also, unlike the Centaur Hotel, the new place will face the frequent power cuts that are normal in Kashmir during winter, leaving the much-touted heating facilities practically useless.

For almost all the detainees, this would be their first-ever experience of prison-like conditions and, according to the official thinking that has guided the move, will soften them into submission.

So far, Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and many pro-India politicians such as Imran Raza Ansari (People’s Conference), Rafi Ahmed Mir (PDP) and Khalid Najib Suharwardy (NC) have reportedly furnished bonds to avail certain liberties in lieu of their silence.

All of them are now free except for the Mirwaiz, who has earned a reprieve from the NIA-led inquiries into his impressive portfolio of wealth and assets, allegedly accumulated without any known source of income.

The detention of over 100 days at the Centaur Hotel was not easy, either, as the politicians were deprived of their pampered lifestyles. After the initial shock of the loss of position and prestige, when some of them tried to create a sort of a routine they faced obstacles from the very police force that once danced to their tunes.

No one was allowed to go outside into the sprawling lawns. When the inmates finally settled for the hotel corridor to avail a walk, they would often be stopped by the cops or unidentified men in mufti.

In one instance, when Sajjad Ghani Lone was taking a stroll, a non-Kashmiri person looped an arm over his shoulder, unsettling him in the process. Lone stopped waywardly but was ordered to continue walking, carrying along the man who also asked for his introduction, yelling, “Tu kaun hey?”

This was rendered in an unflatteringly harsh tone, making sure everyone else around heard, so as to dismantle any pride left in Lone. The man then reportedly roared that it was he who had made Chowdhury Zulfikar Ali a minister in Mehbooba Mufti’s previous government.

Earlier, Lone had managed to sweet-talk an on-duty police officer and use his phone to call a person who was purportedly Amit Shah. A call that lasted a couple of minutes saw “Lone pleading like a baby” and reminding the listener of his and his family’s sacrifices for “the country and the BJP in the state”.

The receiver of the call apparently promised to talk to him again. But soon afterwards, the police chief was informed of the call and an investigation was ordered. The on-duty police officer was immediately suspended and the anecdotal information that has reached the outside world suggests that pressure was increased on Lone to completely cower him into submission.

Omar Abdullah and his father Farooq have shown the least or no resistance, with the senior Abdullah responding to the loss of his political standing with unsettling signs. “He often laughs without a reason and has little appreciation of the situation,” said a source close to his family.

However, former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti grew agitated and, at one time, was locked in a fight with a lady police constable. One of her estranged family members in New Delhi told this writer that she had turned into a psychological wreck, and one day when she looked herself in the mirror, she was mortified and this resulted in the fight.

She was calmed down but not before receiving a few slaps on face and head from the lady constable, and, later, a lot of abuse from a senior police officer who had been given an extension before the amendments to Article 370. The situation stabilised after some basic make-up facilities were restored.

Mehbooba’s devaluation from a sprawling Chashma Shahi guesthouse to a nondescript government building that had been ravaged by the 2014 floods followed her daughter Iltija’s Twitterstorm over her mother’s poor health.

The pressures of life inside the Centaur had already unsettled many former legislators. After a week into his detention, National Conference MLC Showkat Hussain Ganai started criticising his party’s founder, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, for what he termed “the serfdom of Kashmiris”. When he couldn’t control his acidic gob, another NC leader beat him up.

Naeem Akhtar, former minister of education in the PDP, won heaps of rebuke for his unwarranted interventions. The vocal among the lot -– Bashir Veeri, Nizam-ud-Din Bhat and Shah Faesal, were bitten by rats they believe were deliberately let loose in their rooms as a sort of punishment.

Most of the detained politicians were seized during raids on the night between August 4 and 5. The operation was led by the Special Operations Group of the Jammu and Kashmir police, a force officially raised to fight terrorism.

Before being taken to the Centaur, they were kept in various police lines or attached government properties, closed from the public view with no contact with the outside world.

Some of them, like Sartaj Madni, a former minister and uncle of Mehbooba Mufti, and Altaf Kaloo, former MLC, were reportedly roughed up in the initial days before being shifted to Srinagar. Madni kept complaining for several days, not stopping to mention he had been a former minister. But more than three months into his detention he has mellowed down.

The new place is supposed to bring everyone else to order and wring out every possible trace of rebellion from their hearts and minds, and turn them into dependable assets, if not reliable partners.

Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter rebuts

Dear Sir,

The Telegraph published an article today regarding the current situation of political detainees in Kashmir. Your correspondent claims that my mother Ms Mehbooba Mufti has been manhandled by lady police constables and is a ‘psychological wreck. He then goes on to write that in the course of an altercation, she was repeatedly slapped in the face and head.

I have to admit that since her incarceration I heard all kinds of bizarre rumours but this surely is the most absurd one. The sense of disappointment one feels is compounded by the fact that this has been printed by a credible independent newspaper like The Telegraph whose recent coverage vis a vis Kashmir has been outstanding & based on ground realities.

Such cheap sensationalism stories certainly don’t behove a newspaper of your reputation that has stood up to the establishment & reported the truth.

I’m sure you will agree that Journalism certainly isn’t concocting nonsense and attributing it to ‘sources’. That’s Expected of Indian Rwanda TV and other pliable newspapers. Not the Telegraph.

In the course of these three months I have spoken up constantly about the manner in which Kashmiris have been brutalised. I also speak as an anguished daughter and find it quite odd that your correspondent didn’t bother double checking the lies that he eventually passed off as ‘the truth’.

The intention to malign Ms Mufti’s reputation is painfully obvious. I hope in the future you are more responsible about your reportage. Meanwhile, I recommend the gentleman in question sticks to writing fiction novels.

Regards,

Iltija

https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/in-custody-in-kashmir-slap-kick-and-rats/cid/1720535

The Tribune – Jammu & Kashmir administration shifts 34 political prisoners from hotel to MLA hostel

Srinagar – Jammu & Kashmir – India, 17 November 2019. As Srinagar reeled under harsh winter conditions, the Jammu and Kashmir administration on Sunday shifted all 34 political prisoners, lodged at the Centaur Hotel since 05 August, to the MLA Hostel as the facility lacked proper heating arrangements, officials said.

The winter chill took a toll on the health of the detenues, National Conference, PDP and People’s Conference leaders and prominent social activists, and the security personnel guarding them.

They were lodged at the hotel on the bank of the scenic Dal Lake on 05 August when the central government announced its decision to abrogate Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution and split the state into two Union territories.

Kashmir Valley, including Srinagar City, was reeling under winter chill and witnessed the season’s first snowfall earlier this month.
The seat of administration in the newly created Union territory has moved from Srinagar to Jammu for the winter months.

The administration carried out required modification of rooms in the MLA Hostel on Maulana Azad Road in the heart of the city to accommodate the political prisoners. It has been declared as a subsidiary jail by an order of the J-K home department.

Among the political prisoners are Sajjad Lone of People’s Conference (PC), Ali Mohammad Sagar of National Conference (NC), Naeem Akhtar of the PDP and former IAS officer Shah Faesal.

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti was on Friday shifted to a government accommodation in the city from a tourist hut located at the foothills of Zaberwan range, officials said here.

The move was necessitated as the approaching winters and frequent power cuts made it difficult to stay in the hut which was converted into a jail after she was detained on 05 August this year.

According to the officials privy to the development, Centaur Hotel, owned by the Indian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), has submitted a bill of nearly Rs 3 crore to the home department for over 100 days of boarding and lodging of the detenues.

The administration has, however, rejected the claims of Centaur Hotel and argued that the facility was converted into a subsidiary jail on 05 August and therefore, government rates would be paid.

The rates sanctioned by the administration would be around Rs 800 per day as against Rs 5,000 charged by the hotel, the officials said.

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/jammu-kashmir/j-k-admn-shifts-34-political-prisoners-from-hotel-to-mla-hostel/862164.html

The Hindu – Lieutenant Governors take charge in Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh

Amit Baruah

Srinagar – Jammu & Kashmir – India, 31 October 2019. Girish Murmu sworn in as J&K’s first Lieutenant Governor; R K Mathur takes over as Ladakh Lieutenant Governor.

Jammu and Kashmir became the first State of the Indian Union to be reduced to a Union Territory (UT), with former IAS officer Girish Murmu being sworn in as its first Lieutenant Governor (LG) on Thursday .

Bifurcated from the former State, Ladakh also became a UT, with former civil servant R K Mathur taking over as its Lieutenant Governor in Leh.

The Kashmir Valley saw a complete shutdown, as Mr Murmu, a Gujarat cadre IAS officer handpicked by the Centre, became the new executive authority of the UT, which will now be directly administered by the Union Home Ministry.

Former Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti continue to be under detention from August 4, a day before the Rajya Sabha voted to end special status to J&K.

The Indian Union now has 28 States and nine UTs. J&K’s State Constitution has also ceased to operate.

Hours before the swearing-in ceremony at the Raj Bhavan, on the outskirts of Srinagar, this correspondent saw all roads leading to it being sealed off by security forces. There was heavy security in the area.

All shops and business establishments downed their shutters and no private vehicles could be seen plying in the city. In the weeks gone by, shops were open in the morning hours and their shutters were downed by 10 am. But on Thursday, all of them were all closed.

Residents of the Kashmir Valley continue to have no access to both fixed-line and mobile Internet services, which were snapped on the midnight of 04 August.

Anger on the streets

There was palpable anger on the streets. A bunch of people told this correspondent on Residency Road that ending their special status was an “act of betrayal” by the BJP government at the Centre.

“No bandh call has been given by separatists or militants, but people have spontaneously downed the shutters in protest against the ending of our special status. It is the people who have taken over as leaders of this movement,” one shopkeeper, who took this correspondent to his shuttered shop, said.

“How can we believe that full statehood will be restored to us when so many promises made to us on autonomy have been flouted by the Government of India?” another shopkeeper, who preferred anonymity like his colleague, said.

Both the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party expressed their anguish over the change in J&K’s status. “Forcible division will neither change the unity and collective character of J&K, nor will it solve the Kashmir problem,” the NC said in a statement.

On 05 August, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said in the Rajya Sabha that the government would consider restoring full statehood to J&K if the Union Territory model worked well.

Interestingly, while the J&K UT will have a 114-member elected Assembly, up from 107 earlier, and a Chief Minister, the Ladakh UT will be controlled directly by the Lieutenant Governor.

Soon after being sworn in, Mr Mathur said, “We will chalk out a blueprint to push development in different sectors. Health and education will remain a key focus.”

With inputs from Peerzada Ashiq

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/jammu-kashmir-ceases-to-be-state-becomes-ut-along-with-ladakh/article29841139.ece