The Indian Express – Gurez Valley: Dard tribe’s last sanctuary and their fight for survival

The onslaught of modernisation and the partition has squeezed the Dard tribe to the remote Gurez valley, where they are struggling to save their Shina language and culture

Muzamil Jaleel

Srinagar-Jammu & Kashmir-India, 19 October 2017. Herodotus mentioned about them. Ancient Greek and Roman writers recorded their chronicles when they were at the zenith of their power and influence that extended from northern Afghanistan to central Tibet.

Dard Shin or Dard tribe once had their homeland spread across the valleys, tucked inside the great Himalayas at the edge of north Kashmir from Chitral and Yasin, across the Indus regions of Gilgit, Chilas and Bunji to Gurez valley.
Studying Kalhana’s Rajtarangni (river of kings), Kashmir’s 12th century chronicle, British historian Sir Aurel Stein remarked that the seat of Dards has not changed since the time of Herodotus.

The onslaught of modernization and finally the partition that sliced the Dard Shin homeland by a hostile Line of Control between India and Pakistan, this tribe squeezed to the remote and hidden Gurez valley in north Kashmir struggling to save their vanishing Shina language, their culture, traditions and a distinct identity.

Perhaps it is this physical isolation that also protected and preserved the environmental and cultural treasures of Gurez Valley that once stood on the Silk route connecting Kashmir to Kashgar (now Xingjian province of China). Today the last remnants of this unique ethnic group, the 25,000 Dard Shin people, is waging its final battle of survival.

Their small sanctuary in the hidden valley of Gurez is at the verge of being submerged by the dam of a hydro-power project and the entire tribe permanently uprooted from their ancient homeland.

In the new season of bonhomie, India and Pakistan are fast ironing out their differences on larger political dispute over Kashmir. The 330 MW Kishenganga hydro-electric power project is a little irritant that is being sorted out through a dialogue between technical experts of the two countries.

Ironically, the India-Pakistan dispute on this power project is water and thus the debate is limited to the contours of the Indus Water Treaty, a water sharing agreement between the neighbours signed in 1960. There is hardly any mention of the rights of these tribals, whose lives are at the alter of this developmental project.

There is no disagreement over the destruction of the captivating Gurez valley, which is also home to endangered snow leopard, hangul deer, barking deer, musk deer, black bear, markhor, ibex and marmot besides several exotic species of flowers and plants.

There is no debate over the vast archealogical treasure hidden in this valley that will be permanently inundated by the water of the dam.

The recent archealogical surveys in the neighbouring valleys of Gurez, across the LoC, have “uncovered hundreds of inscriptions in Kharoshthi, Brahmi, Hebrew, and Tibetan that provide insights into the origins of the Kashmiri people and the early history of Buddhism”. The last Council of Buddhism is believed to have been held in Kanzalwan in Gurez.

Then the ruins of ancient Sharda University too are buried in Gurez. Sir Walter Lawrence, the British Settlement Commissioner of Kashmir, who visited Gurez in 1894, called this valley “the most beautiful of Kashmir’s Margs, those beautiful stretches of turf which, ringed round with great forests, lie at an elevation of from 7,000 to 9,000 feet above the sea’’.

In his famous book, “Valley of Kashmir’’, Lawrence writes that “Gurez is a lovely valley of substantial length lying at an elevation of about 8,000 ft. above sea. The Kishenganga river flows through it, and on either side tower mountain scraps of indescribable grandeur. Perhaps one of the most beautiful scenes in the whole of Kashmir is the grove of huge poplars through which the traveler enters the Gurez valley’’.

And more than a century later, the awe-striking scenic beauty of Gurez, its forests and wildlife are literally unchanged. My first contact with Gurez valley and the Dard shin people came through the distinctive woolen skull caps which they wore while roaming the market in Bandipore, my home town. Gurez valley’s only physical link with the rest of the world is a 35 mile treacherous hilly road that connects it to Bandipore.

This road remains closed for almost six months every year, hidden under mounds of snow. So whenever the winter snow would melt, hordes of Dards would cross the Kanzalwan pass to arrive in Bandipore for shopping and other businesses.

They would wait till the road was opened for traffic. Those days only the One-Ton trucks would ply on the Gurez road and Bandipore had a few of them. A few drivers, considered brave on wheels, from Wudar neighbourhood had bought a bunch of discarded army trucks, painted them and decorated them like brides. They would ferry passengers and goods.

Then there were dozens of tales of adventure when villagers would track the mountains to carry salt slabs for their animals, which would go for grazing in the meadows across Kanzalwan every summer. There were no hotels, no guest houses thus the visitors from Gurez would be guests in villages across Bandipore. The Dards would come to our village as well and I still remember a few Shina words that I had picked up during our conversations.

Although it is years since that contact has broken, I still recall “Kacha bill (what is the time)’’. And now our future generation will only find about the Dards, their home in the lap of breathtaking Gurez valley and Shina only in the pages of history books.

While there is no support to stop the project from anybody, the only silver lining in this tragic story, however, is the resolve of the Dard Shin tribals and their leadership to resist the mass destruction of their only homeland. “The work on this project will start only on our dead bodies.

The government cannot decide the fate of our people without consulting us. Nobody has even talked to me about it,” Nazir Gurezi, who represents the Dard Shin constituency of Gurez in Jammu and Kashmir Legislative assembly, told me. “It is not just to build a power project. It is an issue of life and death for our entire tribe and our ancestral homeland.

This project will submerge our homes, dislocate us and will come as a death blow to our unique culture, our vanishing Shina language, our heritage.” Gurezi said that the entire tribe is united.

But he acknowledges that once India and Pakistan resolve their dispute over the water of Kishanganga, there hardly anything that can prevent the construction of the hydro-power project and the subsequent destruction of their lives and homeland. “We are a miniscule population. We will fight but I know it is a very difficult struggle,’’ he said.

The 330 MW Kishanganga hydro-electric power project, scheduled to be built in Gurez Valley, involves damming of Kishanganga or Neelam river and the proposed 103 metre reservoir will submerge most of the Gurez valley along with its 25 villages, six summer high altitude habitats for shepherds and eight camping sites.

The water of Kishanganga river will then be diverted through a 27 kilometre tunnel dug through the mountains to Bandipore where it will join the Wular lake and then Jehlum river. Kishanganga river currently meets Jehlum river at Muzaffarabad. The J&K government had earlier commissioned the project to a Swedish consortium SCANSKA but in 2000 it was handed over to National Hydo-electric Power Corporation (NHPC).

As per the plan, the J&K government is to acquire 7,703 Kanals of cultivated land, 7,869 Kanals of non-cultivated land and more than 400 Kanals of forest area. Five years ago, the Sub-divisional magistrate, Sopore, had even issued land acquisition notices to seven villages Badwan, Fakirpora, Wampora, Khandiyal, Mastan Khopri, Markote and Dawar.

In fact, the first phase of the would submerge the homes of around 10,000 tribals while the entire 25,000 Dard Shin tribe will lose its homeland till the completion of the project. The government remains very clear about its resolve to build the power project. Their approach is extremely simplistic.

They say that the Dard Shin tribe has to make a compromise and dislocate because the power project will bring prosperity. “They (Dards) have to be dislocated. It is essential. We will adjust them somewhere else,” then J&K Power minister Mohammad Sharief Niaz said in very clear terms.

When asked about the consequences of the project on this unique tribe, the environmental and other concerns, Niaz said that “if we (government) think in these terms, then we will have to shut down all our projects”. The project will bring prosperity is also highly disputed.

According to the agreement between the J&K government and the NHPC, that will construct the power project, the State will get only 12 per cent free electricity while the rest will be sold by the Corporation. The project might quench the thirst for electricity in New Delhi or Srinagar but the Dards have hardly anything to gain.

Though there is no doubt that their loss cannot be compensated by any material gains, the J&K government doesn’t shy from making tall claims. The government says that they have incorporated an “attractive relief and rehabilitation package’’ for the tribe in the project thus there should be no problems.

“There is no question of displacement of the tribe without a proper alternative for their rehabilitation,” Basharat Ahmad Dhar, J&K Commissioner Secretary, Power department said. “The Government will look for an alternate site, where a new colony with all the facilities like roads, hospitals, schools will be set up for them. Besides they will get a dislocation allowance and other benefits.”

The Dard shin tribals, however, say that they don’t agree that the government’s rehabilitation package will save them. “They (the government) didn’t even talk to us. I am an elected representative of the people of Gurez and I have no idea what is happening,’’ Nazir Gurezi told me.

“We are very clear. We will move the Supreme Court. We will come out on the roads to protest against our mass destruction’’. The subtle realization that they are going to lose their homeland and thus the unique identity, intrinsically tied to Gurez, has terrified the Dards. “Gurez valley is the last sanctuary not only for our people but our language as well.

Our tribe will die as soon as we are dislocated and permanently scattered across Kashmir,’’ Abdul Rasheed Mapnoo, a Dard who works in a government department told me categorically. “Gurez valley is the most beautiful part of Kashmir. It’s not just a home to our people but to hundreds of distinct plants, wildlife,’’ he said.

“The environment of Gurez, its forest and its water was protected because it is a hidden valley. We had hoped that the government will try to build it as a tourist resort but they are planning its total destruction’’. Mapnoo’s anger and frustration perhaps encompasses the helplessness of this small tribe.

“I am planning to go as soon as the road is reopened in June and take lots of pictures. I am sure once we are thrown out there will be no Dards left. We need to keep some memories for posterity,” he said.

Gurez Valley: Dard tribe’s last sanctuary and their fight for survival

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The Indian Express – Its worker murdered, RSS urges Akal Takht to clear air on 2004 decree

Speaking to The Indian Express, Avtar Singh Shastri, Mahasachiv, Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, asked the Akal Takht to “end the misconception” on the 2004 directive to remove the hatred created by it.

Kamaldeep Singh Brar

Amritsar-Panjab-India, 18 October 2017. Although the police have not named any suspects in Tuesday’s killing of a prominent RSS worker in Ludhiana, a top functionary of the RSS Sikh wing, Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, has said “misconceptions” about the RSS decision to observe the 350th anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh combined with a “no-longer valid” 2004 directive against RSS by Akal Takht could be behind the killing.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Avtar Singh Shastri, Mahasachiv, Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, asked the Akal Takht to “end the misconception” on the 2004 directive to remove the hatred created by it.

“We have approached the Akal Takht many a time to end the misconception around the 2004 directive,” he said. On July 13, 2004, the Akal Takht issued a directive warning Sikhs about the activities of RSS and Rashtraia Sikh Sangat, which were both proactively involved in organising functions to mark the 400th anniversary of the first installation of the Guru Granth Sahib.

The Akal Takht asked Sikhs not to cooperate with the RSS in any function relating to the anniversary. Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh told The Indian Express that the directive issued against RSS in 2004 remained valid.
However, asked if this could be the motive for the murder, the Jathedar said, “I do not know about murder and the question is not relevant.” Ravinder Gosain was shot dead outside his home Tuesday morning soon after he returned from the morning shakha.

The RSS is scheduled to hold a function to commemorate the 10th Sikh guru on October 25 in Delhi’s Talkatora stadium. Invitations have gone out to the jathedars of each of the five Takhts.

The head of the SGPC has also been invited. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat is likely to attend this function. Avtar Singh, national general secretary of Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, said the 2004 directive was “always misread” and that there was “always opportunity to end the unwanted hatred”.

“I am afraid that the hatred created against RSS with the misuse of directive against us could pollute mind of anyone and such hatred could be a reason behind murder of Gosain that we witnessed on Tuesday. So, there is need to clear the air on this,” he said, adding that he and his organisation had great respect for Akal Takht.

Giani Gurbachan Singh said he was still asking Sikhs to remain cautious of RSS. “There are some people who may be Sikh in appearance because they have grown long beard and wear turbans. But just growing your hair doesn’t make one Sikh until one follows teachings of Guru. Sikhs should be aware of such misguiding propaganda,” he said.

“There are people who always keep doing mischievous things to hurt the spirit of Sikhism. Be it RSS or Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, they are bound to hurt Sikhism.

So Sikhs should remain aware about such activities,” he said. “It is true that RSS approached Akal Takht twice to dissolve that directive. In response, Akal Takht had asked some questions from the RSS, which were never answered. I will never go on any invite by RSS and no Sikh should go,” the Jathedar said.

Its worker murdered, RSS urges Akal Takht to clear air on 2004 decree

The Indian Express – Alimuddin Ansari lynching case: Kin dies, witness unable to depose

Alimuddin was killed by a mob in Ramgarh on June 29 on the suspicion that he was carrying beef. More than a dozen people, including eight from the Bajrang Dal and local BJP unit, were arrested.

Ranchi, 13 October 2017. The wife of a witness in the Alimuddin Ansari lynching case died in an accident in Town police station area of Ramgarh district on Thursday. Alimuddin’s son also sustained minor injuries.

Alimuddin was killed by a mob in Ramgarh on June 29 on the suspicion that he was carrying beef. More than a dozen people, including eight from the Bajrang Dal and local BJP unit, were arrested.

Alimuddin’s brother Jalil Ansari, a witness in the murder case, had come to depose before the court on Thursday. He had forgotten his identity proof, so he asked his wife Julekha, aged around 50, and Alimuddin’s son Shahzad Ansari (22) to go home and get it. The accident occurred while they were on their way.

The police said that an unidentified bike hit the victim’s bike.

Alimuddin’s wife Mariam Khatoon claimed the accident could have been the handiwork of the “opposite side”. Jalil could not depose, she said.

Alimuddin Ansari lynching case: Kin dies, witness unable to depose

The Indian Express – Five linked to Sanatan Sanstha are key suspects in Gauri Lankesh’s murder

Johnson T A

Bengaluru, 6 October 2017. Five persons linked to the right-wing Sanatan Sanstha organisation, including four with Interpol red-corner notices against their names for their alleged involvement in a bomb blast in Madgaon in Goa in 2009, have emerged as key suspects in the murder of journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh outside her home in Bengaluru on September 5.

The five missing persons are: Praveen Limkar, 34, from Kolhapur; Jayaprakash alias Anna, 45, from Mangalore; Sarang Akolkar, 38, from Pune; Rudra Patil, 37, from Sangli and Vinay Pawar, 32, from Satara.

They are among the key suspects being investigated by a Special Investigation Team of the Karnataka police as part of its probe into the murder of Lankesh.

The names of Rudra Patil, Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar had earlier emerged in the CBI investigation into the 20 August 2013 murder of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, 69, at Kolhapur in Maharashtra; in the Maharashtra SIT’s probe into the February 16, 2015 shooting of leftist thinker and rationalist Govind Pansare, 81 in Pune; and in the probe into the August 30, 2015 murder of Kannada scholar and researcher M M Kalburgi, 77, in Dharwad, Karnataka.

Hundreds from Lankesh’s home state march in capital for slain journalist

Limkar, Anna, Akolkar and Patil are also suspected to have played a major role in the October 19, 2009 bomb blast in Madgaon where two Sanatan Sanstha men were killed while transporting an IED that was to be planted at a Diwali program in Madgaon.

The National Investigation Agency has listed these four men linked to the Sanstha among its most wanted suspects and a red-corner notice has been issued against their names by the Interpol.

Sources familiar with the investigation into the four murders of rationalists and activists said that the cracking of the Gauri Lankesh murder case hinges on the ability of the Karnataka SIT to track down the five missing Sanstha men.

An advocate of the Sanatan Sanstha Sanjay Punalekar, at a recent press conference, claimed that some of its members may be absconding from the law because they were afraid of being wrongly accused in cases.

As first reported by The Indian Express, a forensic analysis of four empty cartridges and the four bullets fired to kill Lankesh had concluded that markings on the bullets and cartridges bear a close resemblance to those found on bullets and cartridges fired to kill Kalburgi.

This confirmed preliminary findings suggesting that Lankesh and scholar Kalburgi were probably shot with the same 7.65-mm pistol. The ballistic finding suggests that one common group is behind the two killings, say sources.

Findings from a comparison of the ballistic evidence from the Lankesh and Kalburgi cases adds to existing forensic evidence from the shooting of Pansare where the same 7.65-mm countrymade gun used in the Kalburgi murder was found to have been used.

Govind Pansare and his wife Uma Pansare were shot with five bullets from two 7.65-mm country made guns. A comparison of the ballistic evidence found in the Pansare case with that of evidence in the shooting of Dabholkar revealed that a second gun used to shoot the Pansares was the one that was used to kill Dabholkar.

Sources in the Karnataka SIT probing the Lankesh case said “good progress” has been achieved in the probe.

Karnataka Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy also said this week that the SIT has conclusive evidence regarding the alleged perpetrators of Lankesh’s murder.

Five linked to Sanatan Sanstha are key suspects in Gauri Lankesh’s murder

The Indian Express – Pehlu Khan lynching case: All held in the case are out on bail

Pehlu Khan and four others were attacked by cow vigilantes in Alwar’s Behror on April 1, the mob accused them to be cattle smugglers, beat them up. Pehlu died two days later.

Hamza Khan

Jaipur, 29 September 2017. The Rajasthan High Court has granted bail to the last two persons held in the Pehlu Khan lynching case.

Earlier, three people were granted bail by the high court and two by a juvenile court. Two other accused are untraceable.

Bail was granted to Dayanand, 47, and Yogesh Kumar, 30, on September 18 “on the ground that their case was similar to others who were granted bail before them. It was no different. The high court accepted our plea and granted them bail,” said Harendra Singh, the advocate for the accused.

Pehlu and four others, among them his two sons, were returning from a cattle fair on Jaipur’s outskirts on April 1 and were headed to their homes in Haryana when they were attacked by cow vigilantes in Alwar’s Behror.

The mob, accusing them to be cattle smugglers, beat them up. Pehlu died two days later.

The first among the accused to be granted bail was Ravindra, on July 12, followed by Kaluram on August 9 and Vipin on August 31.

Arguing for Ravindra, former Bar Council of India Chairman Biri Singh Sinsinwar had said the petitioner wasn’t named in the FIR and he was seen at Jagwas crossing in a similar incident involving cow vigilantes an hour before Pehlu was lynched at Shaheed Ramkumar crossing, 1 km from Jagwas crossing.

Moreover, no incriminating recovery was made from Ravindra, his counsel said. Ravindra’s bail set the stage for the bail of Kaluram.

While senior advocate V R Bajwa, along with Amir Aziz and the public prosecutor had argued against Ravindra’s bail plea, Kaluram’s plea was opposed by Aziz and the public prosecutor.

Curiously, when it came to Vipin’s bail plea, no private lawyer could be roped in by Pehlu’s family. “When Vipin’s hearing was listed, I informed them (Pehlu family) about the case but they could not take it up through a lawyer”, Aziz said. “This made the bail process easier for petitioners”.

In the court, the petitioners argued that Vipin’s case was similar to Ravindra and Kaluram’s and he was given bail, but Aziz said the counsel for petitioner misled the court.

“Even if we assume that Ravindra and Kaluram were not on the spot, how can Vipin’s case be similar to them when a stick allegedly used in the assault was found with him,” Aziz said.

According to the chargesheet filed by Behror SHO Ramesh Sinsinwar, the police found a wooden stick in Vipin’s home that was hidden below a bed.

“The entire investigation has been botched by the police. Those who were named in the FIR were given a clean chit while those arrested are now being let out on bail as they are not named in the FIR,” Aziz said.

Pehlu Khan lynching case: All held in the case are out on bail

The Indian Express – Once again, India promises to ratify Torture Convention in Geneva

Of interest was the statement by the NHRC. It was a vastly improved statement than the one made in May. Though the NHRC claims it differs from the Home Ministry on the proposed deportation of Rohingya refugees, it is yet to intervene in the Supreme Court on this matter.

Ravi Nair

New York, UN, 22 September 2017. The adoption of India’s report to the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last evening, by consensus, hid more than it revealed to the public eye.

India blunted the criticism of member states by stating it had accepted 152 out of the 250 recommendations made to it in May, when India’s third periodic report was reviewed. As for the remaining 98 recommendations, India merely took “note” of them.

Human rights worthies like China, the Ivory Coast, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Iran, Iraq, Kyrghyzstan, Peoples Democratic Republic of Laos and Libya lauded India’s efforts. It was difficult not to notice the raised eyebrows in many parts of the room when the very democratic Lao People’s Democratic Republic lauded freedom of religion in India!

Estonia, the little Baltic state which is currently President of the European Council, was honest. It welcomed India’s decision to ratify the UN Convention against Torture (CAT), which India had signed in 1997.

India had made a similar commitment during the earlier second periodic review process in 2012. Only to forget it before the ink was dry.

The ratification of the Torture Convention is a major issue. Countries that had raised it in May included, Germany, Botswana, Norway, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Greece, Guatemala, Italy Lebanon, Montenegro, Mozambique, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, the US, Portugal, Australia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Israel, Chile, Burkina Faso, the Russian Federation, Denmark, Indonesia, Guatemala and Sierra Leone.

No western conspiracy this! Across the spectrum, North and South, the issue of rampant torture in India is an issue of concern.

Estonia also called upon India to become a signatory to the Rome Statute which set up the International Criminal Court (ICC). Latvia and Uruguay had raised the issue in May 2017. India is vehemently opposed to subject itself to the jurisdiction of the ICC.

Estonia also called upon India to ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which calls for the abolition of the death penalty.

Portugal, Guatemala, Ireland Mozambique, Greece, Namibia, Rwanda, Belgium. Lithuania, Italy, Spain, Australia, Montenegro, Timor-Leste and France had raised it in May.

How many more countries will it take and how many more judicial killings will it take in India to prove that the killing of any human is wrong?

Estonia also expressed concern about judicial delay and the attacks on freedom of expression in India. This had also been raised earlier by Ethiopia. It also raised the issue of constriction of space for civil society.

Canada, Sweden, Pakistan, Switzerland, had referred to it in May. Another Baltic state, Lithuania and a member state of the European Union made similar calls to India. Many other country statements were not made orally yesterday due to paucity of time.

Of interest was the statement of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). It was a vastly improved statement than the one made in May. Though the NHRC claims it differs from the Home Ministry on the proposed deportation of Rohingya refugees, it is yet to intervene in the Supreme Court.

And yesterday, Home minister Rajnath Singh launched another diatribe against them.

The NHRC’s accreditation to the Global Alliance of National Human Institutions (GANHRI) is coming up in mid November 2017. Kenya and Slovakia had urged India to sign and ratify the Refugee Convention and conventions of Statelessness of 1954 and 1961 in May.

Some of the key recommendations made by countries that were merely “noted” in UN jargon, India can no longer “reject” recommendations, it can only take “note” of them, related to anti conversion laws. The Holy See had requested that India strengthen efforts to guarantee freedom of religion to everyone in this world’s largest democracy.

Italy, Germany, Netherlands, amongst others, said India must abolish anti-conversion laws with relation to religions or make the legislation less vague. Meanwhile, only in August, the BJP-ruled state of Jharkhand, passed a new anti-conversion law.

A number of countries focused attention on the need to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and expressed concern about the excessive use of force by security personnel, Switzerland, Slovakia, France, Peru, Greece, Pakistan and Sierra Leone among others.

While Germany, Norway, Republic of Korea, the US and the Czech Republic all called for amendment of the draconian Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act. India must start dealing with these issues with political will, as the international community is unlikely to let up scrutiny of its human rights record.

Once again, India promises to ratify Torture convention in Geneva

The Indian Express – An inter-religion marriage triggers communal divide in Leh, and exodus

The undercurrents of communal discord rose to the surface here over the last week as news spread of the marriage of a Buddhist woman, who had converted to Islam in 2015, to a Muslim man from Kargil. The two were married on July 31, and the LBA suspects that the conversion and the marriage may have been conducted under duress.

Naveed Iqbal

Leh-Ladakh-J&K-India, 15 September 2017. On Thursday, as the deadline issued by the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) for people from Kargil to leave ran out, Chandu market, a row of shops and tea stalls just off the main road in Leh, wore an abandoned look.

The LBA is a self-styled “welfare group” that works towards “safeguarding the interests” of what they call a “religious micro-minority” in the Ladakh region of Muslim-majority J&K.

The undercurrents of communal discord rose to the surface here over the last week as news spread of the marriage of a Buddhist woman, who had converted to Islam in 2015, to a Muslim man from Kargil. The two were married on July 31, and the LBA suspects that the conversion and the marriage may have been conducted under duress.

A week ago, the LBA held a public rally where they asked people from Kargil, who were living and working in Leh, to “leave town by September 14 and tell their leaders in Kargil to arrange employment for them”. Many Kargil residents find employment in Leh during the tourist season.

Speaking to The Indian Express, LBA vice-president P T Kunzang said, “We have a floating population of about 50,000 people in Leh. No one has ever been harassed here, but a strong message had to be sent to the religious leaders in Leh because they cannot find jobs and livelihood here and also snatch our girls”.

Asked about the marriage that led to the tension, he said, “Why has the girl not been allowed to talk to her parents? I agree that she is an adult and she has the right to choose her religion and partner, but why the secrecy about her whereabouts”?

According to Uday Bhaskar B, Senior Superintendent of Police, Leh, the woman’s family approached police about ten days ago to register a complaint about their “missing” daughter.

“The police investigated and the woman (Stanzin Saldon, now called Shifah) was traced in Jammu. We sent a team there along with her brother. However, we received a court order on September 8, instructing police not to harass the couple. So, the team came back,” the officer said.

According to LBA, a woman police officer in Jammu told the family that she had spoken to Saldon. “The officer said she had spoken to Saldon who told her that she did not wish to speak to anyone from her family,” Kunzang said.

While the family and police looked for Saldon, the LBA issued its ultimatum. In the week since, at least three incidents of violence have been recorded in Leh. Two of those were linked to Muslim men from Kargil allegedly being involved in relationships with Buddhist women in Leh.

One incident involved a meat-shop owner who allegedly kept his outlet open on the day of the full moon, when Buddhists do not consume meat.

On Thursday, as tourists flooded the main plaza in town and the district administration claimed that the situation was “under control,” a police vehicle remained stationed in the market and non-uniformed policemen patrolled the streets.

On Friday, the district administration will hold a “peace meeting” with the three major religious groups in town — LBA, Anjuman Imamiya (a Shia Muslim group), and Anjuman Moin-Ul-Islam (a Sunni group). Officially, the event is being described as an “introduction meeting” for the new district commissioner who took office on Thursday.

Apart from economic and political differences between the two districts, conversions remain the biggest cause for discord in the region. In 1989, the region witnessed clashes between Buddhists and Muslims. The LBA claims that in the last 25 years, over 90 cases of conversion of Buddhist women to Islam have taken place.

An inter-religion marriage triggers communal divide in Leh, and exodus

The Indian Express – Curfew imposed in Sirsa as search underway at Dera headquarters, 41 central force companies keep watch

The operation is being conducted under the supervision of a retired District and Sessions Judge Anil Kumar Singh Panwar, who entered the dera premises at 8:35 am on Friday. However, the police forces had entered the dera early in the morning.

Sukhbir Siwach

Sirsa-Haryana-India, 8 September 2017. The Haryana police and paramilitary forces have begun the search and sanitisation operations inside the Dera Sacha Sauda’s headquarters at Sirsa on Friday morning.

The operation is being conducted under the supervision of a retired District and Sessions Judge Anil Kumar Singh Panwar, who entered the dera premises at 8:35 am on Friday.

However, the police forces had entered the dera early in the morning. Panwar has been appointed as Court Commissioner by the Punjab and Haryana High Court to monitor the search operation.

The sources have hinted that the sanitisation process could easily last a couple of days as the sprawling dera is spread in about 700 acres of land. Over a dozen blacksmiths have also been hired to break the numerous locks inside the Dera.

Forty-one companies of central forces accompanied by sniffer dogs will keep a strict vigil on security inside and outside the dera. Curfew has been imposed in areas surrounding headquarters in Sirsa which will continue till search operations last. Meanwhile, the media and public have been barred to enter the campus.

There is a lot of suspense over a suspected Gufa (cave) inside the dera where the dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh had sexually exploited the sadhvis (female followers).

Two victim sadhvis, who had shown courage to speak against the dera chief, had told the court that the baba had raped them inside the gufa of the dera. During one of the court hearings, one victim had identified Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who had appeared before the court through video conferencing.

“I used to reside at the Girls’ hostel of the Dera and Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh had renamed me as ‘Nazam’…Sadhvis used to perform duty as guard at the door from Girls’s hostel to Gufa from 8 pm to 12 in the night and from 12 in the night till 4 pm,” the Sadhvi had told the court.

She had clarified that by “Gufa”, she meant the place where the dera chief used to reside. She further deposed that in September 1999, she was deputed on duty as guard from 8 pm to 12 in the night outside the gate of the Gufa and at around 10 pm, the Baba came out of the gufa and called her inside the Gufa where he raped her.

However, the dera management has made it clear that there was no Gufa inside the dera and the residential place of the dera chief was called the Gufa.

“The place where the saints used to meditate is called Gufa and in the same manner, the residence of the dera chief was called as Gufa by the dera followers. A place which is being projected as Gufa by the TV channels is actually a way to the dera resort, ” said an official of dera’s media wing.

Curfew imposed in Sirsa as search underway at Dera headquarters, 41 central force companies keep watch

The Indian Express – Not only women, men too need to speak up against domestic violence: Varnika Kundu

The panel raised important issues like acceptance of the LGBTQ community in the society, gender-neutrality of Domestic Violence Act and importance of media in fighting social issues. More than 200 students and professors attended the discussion

Chandigarh, 1 September 2017. Varnika Kundu spoke about gender equality during a panel discussion on redefining feminism held at the Panjab University on Thursday. The panel discussion was organised by city-based NGO SWAG.

“I believe that the youth needs to come forward and fight for justice. Not only women but men too need to speak up when they face any domestic violence because unless we fight for ourselves, no one else will,” said Kundu.

Appreciating the role of media in her personal experience, Kundu said it was only because of the influence of media that she got justice. The panel raised important issues like acceptance of the LGBTQ community in the society, gender-neutrality of the Domestic Violence Act and importance of media in fighting social issues.

More than 200 students and professors from the university and other colleges attended the discussion. Dr Shruti Bedi, author and professor of law department, Panjab University, provided a legal dimension to the discussion by putting forth landmark cases in relation to Domestic Violence Act and Section 497 of IPC that deals with adultery.

Bedi also provided justified apprehensions to the laws which people claim not to be gender neutral.

Ishita Uppal, founder and president, SWAG, said the NGO aims to promote feminism in a way that a girl should not be afraid of going out during the night but we even want that boys should not live in the fear of having false cases implicated against them.

“We aim to bring a change in the mind-set of the youth to get rid of the social problems in the society. SWAG is not just an NGO, but an attempt towards productive social upliftment,” said Radhika Pasrija, vice-president of SWAG.

Not only women, men too need to speak up against domestic violence: Varnika Kundu

The Indian Express – Gurmit Ram Rahim rape case hearing: Day before verdict, victim says she trusts system

Tears in her eyes, she added, “But I have trust in this system till now. Umeed ki kiran hai (There is a ray of hope). We have fought so long for justice, only because the guilty should be punished 100 percent.”

Sukhbir Siwach

Chandigarh, 25 August 2017. A day before a CBI court in Panchkula pronounces its verdict in a rape case against Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, one of the complainants told The Indian Express that she is hopeful that her long wait for justice will end Friday.

“Hamney to suna hai, ye India hai, yahan aasani se nyay nahi milta hai. aur woh bhi jab ladai ek powerful ke khilaf ho. Paise wala kuch bhi kar sakta hai yahan. (We have heard it’s not easy to get justice in India, especially when the fight is against a powerful person. A person who has money can do anything here),” said the complainant, a former sadhvi at the dera.

Tears in her eyes, she added, “But I have trust in this system till now. Umeed ki kiran hai (There is a ray of hope). We have fought so long for justice, only because the guilty should be punished 100 percent.”

“Fortunately, this case was handled by honest officers from CBI. They have tried their best to ensure justice to us. That’s why we have hope,” said the complainant.

The CBI had lodged the FIR against the dera chief in 2002. The Punjab and Haryana High Court had referred the matter to the agency after an anonymous letter purportedly written by a sadhvi began circulating.

In the letter addressed to the PM, Haryana CM and Chief Justice of high court, the sadhvi accused the dera chief of raping her and other sadhvis and pleaded for an inquiry.

Before referring the matter for a CBI probe, the high court had taken a report on the matter from the District and Sessions Judge of Sirsa.

The CBI subsequently succeeded in locating two sadhvis who deposed before a trial court that the dera chief sexually exploited them. In 2008, a CBI court ordered framing of rape charges against the dera chief.

The complainant alleged, “My life has changed after I gave the statement. I can’t move freely. There is danger to my life. I am also apprehensive about lives of my family members”.

“Nothing can happen in the dera without permission of the ‘Baba’ because of his terror. I have heard that if somebody speaks against the Guru, he should be lynched. The followers take his preachings as message of God. The dera chief gives money to followers if they influence their relatives and others to join the dera”.

Ram Rahim rape case hearing: Day before verdict, victim says trusts system