Kashmir: A wounded Paradise

By Faisal Magray

The Kashmir conflict continues to be unresolved after more than six decades, fuelling the conventional and nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan and bleeding their economy. Both countries have gone to war on three occasions over Kashmir and the possibility of war between the two countries has become frightening given their nuclear weapon capability.

Kashmir continues to be the bone of contention between India and Pakistan. Each side insists it is right and the other is wrong. India insists that the accession of Kashmir to India is final and complete and hence Kashmir is an integral part of India and that all would be well in Kashmir, but for Pakistan's cross-border terrorism. Pakistan on the other hand, insists that Kashmir is a disputed territory and that it is merely providing moral and diplomatic support for an indigenous freedom struggle in Kashmir. 

A large number of Kashmiris do not believe that the 1947 accession is final; they insist that Kashmir is a disputed territory and demand self-determination. The Kashmir conflict not only continues to raise the spectre of war between India and Pakistan, but it also continues to produce serious human rights violations: summary executions, rape, and torture by both sides.

In their effort to curb support for pro-independence militants, security forces have resorted to arbitrary arrest and collective punishments of entire neighborhoods, tactics which have only led to further disaffection from India. The militants have kidnapped and killed civil servants and suspected informers.
 "Disappearances" of detainees also remain a serious problem. Not only has the practice continued, but there has been no accountability for hundreds of cases of "disappearances" that have taken place since 1990. An association of the parents of the disappeared person (APDP), one of the few human rights groups functioning in the state, has been Struggling from long time against  government to provide information about their missing sons.

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Palhalan : The Gaza Of Kashmir

 By  Faisal Magray

Palhalan is called the ‘Gaza of Kashmir’, a hillside settlement in the north of  Kashmir. It looks like an idyllic rural spot, where bushels of red chilies hang from the eves of steep-roofed wooden houses and hay wains jostle with shepherds in narrow streets. But the village has been caught up in months of violent protests that have roiled Kashmir. In 2010 an uprising  left over 120 people dead and thousands injured. Youngsters daub anti-India slogans on walls, yell at Indian police and soldiers to “go home”, and hurl stones.

Since July, ten people had succumbed to armed forces firing in Palhalan area. More than 90 have been wounded and hundreds have been arrested. Palhalan is a village where the Jamaat has had strong roots. During the heights of militancy Palhalan became a stronghold of the Hizb, the militant arm of the Jamaat.

When Kashmir was burning in the summer unrest, Palhalan, a village in Baramulla district, 30 km north of Srinagar, embodied that anger. As life returns to a fatigued normalcy in most parts of the Valley, Palhalan still reeled under military control, earning it the epithet of Kashmir’s ‘curfew village’.

Cut off from the rest of the Valley, Palhalan was subjected to two-and-a-half months of curfews, including 39 days at a stretch. Its phone lines were snapped, mobile phone services disabled and outsiders barred. As the death count rose, there were reports of molestations, looting, mosques being ransacked and boys being picked up from paddy fields during work.

 Family of  Adil ramzan sheikh a seventh grader was shot dead by govt forces inside a pattan hosipital.  Adil deaths not the first tragedy to have befallen the sheikhs. His grandfather was shot dead by government gunmen in 1997.
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Education In Shambles

By Faisal Magray

Government Schools in Kashmir work in the rented buildings ranging from a single room to three rooms, whether  owned or rented, almost all are dilapidated. Information revealed by the Directorate of School Education shows that there are 11633 Government schools in Kashmir division. This exceeds the number of villages, which stand at around 5,000. Most of the Government school buildings are rented, and few are government owned. Total enrolment in these schools is 10.23 Lacs out of which 5.73 lacs are Male students and 4.50 lacs are female. Most of the students who are enrolled in these schools belong to less privileged sections of society.

The picture is grimmer in the schools of Kashmir valley. Poor infrastructure continues to mar the performance of government schools, parents who are economically backward are sending their wards to these institutions. The government is not putting proper effort into streamlining the management of these schools.The economic survey report tabled recently in State Legislative Assembly revealed that the number of dilapidated schools across Jammu and Kashmir doubled in just one year from 474 to 948.
Majority of the Government schools in Kashmir Division lack basic infrastructure like toilets, washrooms, and play grounds, furniture, libraries etc. School Children are worst sufferers, they often do the job of cleaning and sweeping the school premises. They lay mats on the floor in the morning and roll them off every evening. The reason there are no sweepers in schools so the burden shifts to the children.

The common trend in Kashmir is that majority of parents who are economically wealthy, are admitting their wards to private schools which are said to have better facilities than those run by government. Lack of infrastructure apart, outdated teaching methods, outdated books, and the absence of libraries for children are other factors responsible for the trend.
A scene of utter dereliction and bits of collapsed building, this school dwarfs government’s tall claims of providing basic infrastructure. Inside, the condition of school is equally worse. The school is in shambles and teachers say the building could collapse any time.
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Annual Urs At Sufi Shrine

By Faisal Magray

The annual Urs – death anniversary— of revered Kashmiri saint, Sheikh Hamza Makhdoom (RA) is observed every year on the 24th of Safar, the second month in the Islamic calendar, with fervor and gaiety. Hazrat Sheikh Hamza Makhdoom sahib, popularly known as Makdoom Sahib and Sultan-Ul-Arifeen meaning ‘King of Gnostics’, is highly revered by Kashmiri Muslims and his shrine located on the southern side of the Hari Parbhat hill in downtown Srinagar Kashmir , is thronged by thousands of people during the 13-day Urs.

Sufi Saint had played a vital role in the diffusion of religious and spiritual education, social and political consciousness among Kashmiri Muslims. He inherited the mysticism, from the very childhood was inclined to the company of holy men, and to the truth. Kashmiri Muslims have been paying obeisance at the shrine for nearly 500 years now.

He not only guided people in religious studies but there are thousands who were benefited from his spiritual powers.  Apart from the annual Urs, thousands of people visit the shrine usually on Thursdays and Mondays, besides every 13th of the Islamic calendar to pay obeisance.

   View of Makhdoom Sahib Shrine which  is located on the southern side of Hari Parbat Hill in    Srinagar  kashmir . The  shrine  is double storied, in the name of the Sufi saint Makhdoom Sahib  popularly    known as  Sultan-Ul-Arifeen. Thousands of Kashmiri Muslims who believe in Sufism    throng the shrine  to offer prayers.
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Blog : Memories Do Not Fade Away

By Faisal Magray

It was a Friday morning in early summer of 2010. The sun felt warm. The air was filled with the rich smell of blood. Restless birds flew from branch to branch. Sitting in my room I took a cup of tea while surfing newspapers on the net. The situation in Kashmir was tense and while I was reading a latest news story, I received a call from a friend saying that the Central Reserve Police Force (CPRF) had shot a youth in the Chanapora area, 2 km from my home. Despite curfew, I was eager to cover this event I took my camera with me to go the spot where the incident took place. It was the first protest that I was going to cover. With both excitement as well as fear in my mind, I made my way to the spot where the protest was going on.

When I reached the main road which leads to Chanapora, I saw that it was cordoned off by the CRPF and Jammu and Kashmir police. A CRPF man stopped me for checking and asked me to show my press card and curfew pass. I showed him my identity card and he asked me to go back home. “Go and enjoy with your girl friend,” one CRPF person gently told me, “instead of going to Lone Mohalla.” That was the mohalla I was going to in Chanapora. I protested, and few minutes later the police sub-inspector allowed me to go to the spot.
But reaching there was the toughest job due to the curfew. The roads and streets were deserted except for a few police and paramilitary vehicles. Burned tyres, broken window panes and stones filled the roads. The road looked more like a dustbin. Shops were closed and a security person took guard on every nook and corner. As I was walking, all that followed me was my shadow, and sometimes shadows of pigeons and other birds, under the harsh sunlight. While walking through the lanes of Lone Mohalla, I saw a young boy washing blood on the road. It was the spot where Iqbal was shot.

Finally I took a route through a small lane with many zig zags. The lanes were also deserted, women opened their windows silently and closed them instantly, doors and curtains of the houses were all closed. Silence prevailed.
Using many alternative routes through the congested lanes, I finally reached Lone Mohalla. The situation in Lone Mohalla was entirely different. A large number of people old and young, especially women and children, were shouting anti-India slogans. The protesters were pelting stones on the security forces. When the forces were not able to control the situation, they started aerial firing and teargas shelling. I took my camera and started to shoot from the protestors’ side. While shooting, one of my relative, who resided in the same area, pulled my shirt and dragged me inside her house and insisted on me not to cover what was happening. I spent a few minutes in the house and managed to escape from there, when she went to the kitchen to get tea for me. I was the only person with a camera in my hand and couldn’t see any other photojournalist covering the situation. Suddenly I saw two photojournalists shooting from the other side; I managed to cross the road. While crossing, I saw that the police and paramilitary crawling like ants. Two police personals were behind a giant Chinar tree. They had kept a squared mirror on which they used to keep an eye on the protestors. Using the mirror for direction, they shot teargas canisters and pellets on the protestors.

I was reminded of Iqbal, and went to his house. Iqbal was a 19-year-old boy who had left his studies and worked as a salesman. On 30 July 2010, when Iqbal was going to buy biscuits from a shop near his home, he was shot in the head by CRPF troopers outside his home. Iqbal received fatal injuries on his eye and neck. He was first rushed to the SMHS hospital but they were unable to operate. Later, he was shifted to SKIMS for specialized treatment. Doctors declared Iqbal was in a state of coma. Six days later, he was still in coma in the surgical intensive care on bed number 6 in SKIMS.

Iqbal’s house was a simple, single storey house. As I stepped into the room, I was filled with the smell of tears and grief. Everybody present there was crying incessantly and I found myself engulfed in a gloomy atmosphere. Someone pointed towards a woman, telling me that she was Iqbal’s mother, Hafeeza. She was not crying. There were no tears in her eyes, yet one could see the utter grief in her eyes. I had camera in my hand and when I looked at Iqbal’s mother, she spread her hands before me and was pleading for justice for her son. I clicked a portrait of grief but couldn’t dare look straight at Iqbal’s mother. She was silent, nothing moved her, and she looked like a statue. The neighbours were trying to console the family and I remembered that somebody had told me that Iqbal’s mother was deaf. I was in a shock, completely lost. But questions were cropping up in my mind.

The woman was deaf. When did she come to know about her son being shot? Who told her that he was in coma?

Look around in the room, I saw a person sitting in a corner. His hands were full of blood. The room smelt of blood and tears. I asked someone about him and I was told that he was the Iqbal’s elder brother. With bloodied hands, with a grim look, he was holding a picture of Iqbal. Iqbal’s father, Abdul Majeed Khan had died a year before leaving behind his wife Hafeeza Begum and five children. The dramatic play of the sun and shadows went on all until twilight.I left Iqbal’s house and went home.

 Six days later, I heard the shocking news: Iqbal was dead. It was the 55th day of the unrest. Iqbal had remained in coma until he died, or until he was killed. He was the 47th innocent killed. Iqbal had fought for six days before he gave up his last battle.
Iqbal’s body was brought to Chanapora. It was a Wednesday evening. Grief and sadness descended all over. Hundreds of people took to the streets and staged pro-freedom demonstrations. The local and international press faced a lot of harassment as they were not allowed to cover the funeral procession. But they somehow managed to come from alternative routes to reach the spot. People from the adjoining areas like Nowgam, Budshah Nagar, Mehjoor Nagar, Natipora, Kralpaora and Bagh-e-Mehtab also joined the procession. Iqbal’s dead body was taken to the open ground for a few hours where thousands of people gathered shouting pro-freedom and anti-India slogans.
“Go India, go back! Hum kya chahte? Azadi… We want freedom!”

It was dusk when Iqbal was buried. His brother was wailing along the narrow lanes of the Mohalla. Soon, he fell unconscious. One of the women courageously carried water and kept his head in her lap and put water in his mouth with a spoon.
Curfew was imposed by the authorities in various places but despite the strict curfew, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Kashmir’s Islamist, pro-freedom leader, came to attend the funeral of Iqbal and offered a nimaz-e-jinazah for him. After the jinazah, Geelani sahib delivered a speech in front of thousands of people:
“Indian atrocities will not sustain for long. God will help us fight against this oppression. We only stage peaceful protests and our youth are always unarmed. Do not throw stones.”People were filled with emotion, looking at him, thoughtfully.I clicked some more pictures and headed towards home as it was getting dark. There were no vehicles, curfew remained imposed. I started to walk.

It was 8pm and every one was going home discussing politics, the Indian brutality, human right violations of the 90s. Some were discussing the thought-provoking speech of Syed Ali Shah Geelani. As I was returning home by the main road, I saw a woman walking with a milk pot and I thought police and paramilitary must have gone. But I was wrong, they had not gone but they were hiding behind walls.

While walking I met three strangers. I somehow started a conversation with them and we stopped at an electric pole for a few minutes under the yellow light. Suddenly a group of CRPF and some police personnel appeared in front of us, asking us to raise our hands. It was shocking, we were frightened. We raised our hands in confusion. Some of the troopers, speaking in Bengali, ordered us to bend down. But, unable to understand the language properly, we couldn’t get what we were being asked to do. They took their thick wooden rods and started beating us up. We were crying in pain.

After the troopers were done with thrashing us, one of the policemen who had covered his face in a green cloth with a white crescent, and what looked very similar to a Pakistani flag, asked us to go across the road. He then asked us to bend down. He then caught me and started rolling the rod over my thighs. I was dying in pain, my whole body aching. I wondered why they were doing all this. Perhaps they thought I was a protester.

I started crying out, telling them that I was a journalist. But as they heard those words – I am a journalist – they were enraged even more and started to beat me more ruthlessly. “You people report only one side, and never our side,” said one of them. My cries made no difference, and they continued rolling the rod. Finally, they stopped.

Around 8:30 pm, a CRPF vehicle came. I got very nervous and thought they would now carry us to the army camp. A senior official was seated in the vehicle and he told the security personnel to leave us. For a moment, we were all paralyzed. Would they shoot us now, on our backs? The fear prevented us from moving. We remained stagnant. The official told us to go or else they’d again beat us up. We walked a few step and looked back. We walked a few more steps, looking back nervously, fearing they would shoot us any moment. We started to walk faster and faster and until we stopped looking back and finally reached the Natipora chowk.

As I stopped, I could listen to my heart beating fast. The pain was killing me.We spotted a house and went inside and asked for water. But as they saw our condition, they asked us to stay for a while and gave us medicines. We left the house a while later. I realised that the other two men belonged to the same area. Shouting anti-India slogans, they headed for their homes. I somehow managed to reach my home too.
I didn’t tell my parents about the incident and went straight to my room. I called my younger brother, Junaid, and told him what had happened. He quickly brought some ice cubes and wrapped them in a cotton cloth and began massaging around my wounds. I slowly began feeling some relief and fell asleep.Those moments haunt me even today. Memories just don’t fade away.

Whenever I go to cover protests, the incident comes alive in front of my eyes. And questions crop up in my mind. Why did the “security” forces beat us up that day? How long will the “security” forces keep killing people?

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Kashmir Intifada

 By  Faisal Magray

For four months following June 2010, the Kashmir valley was torn by mass protests - locally called the uprising or intifada -which were met with overwhelming force by Indian security forces. Curfews and closures were frequent, often shading into each other. Hundreds were killed and thousands injured. But there are also cases where mourners and even people engaged in daily activities have been indiscriminately fired upon.

Currently occupied by over 7,00,000 army, police and paramilitary personnel, the valley maintains the world’s highest concentration of soldiers, outnumbering all other conflict zones including Afghanistan, Burma and Iraq. Kashmir witnessed over a hundred twenty violent deaths during  summer unrest , known in some circles as the "second uprising" for freedom. In most cases, lethal force was applied against unarmed civilians — protestors, mourners, mere bystanders, or those who inadvertently got drawn into the cycle of protests. The pattern was similar in all parts of the valley, whether rural or urban. Instances were rife of the armed forces firing on unarmed assemblies or protests.

The story of injuries suffered through Kashmir's long months of unrest is in many ways as shocking as the story of the deaths. The official figure is that as many as 515 persons were injured between June and mid-October 2010; the actual numbers are likely to be many more. In the SMHS hospital records, the following categorisation of injuries had been made: bullet injury; pellet injury, firearm injury, tear gas burn, trauma, scalp injury, beating injuries, near drowning, eye injury, and stone pelting injuries. Present essay is a compilation of what I witnessed during kashmir Unrest, be it an Strict curfew day, Oppression, a dreadful night, powerful protests, the death of an innocent people, or children playing cricket.

An Indian paramilitary trooper stands guard near a barbed wire fence during a curfew imposed in Srinagar,Kashmir.
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By  Faisal Magray

The day of Ashura is marked by Muslims as a whole, but for Shia Muslims it is a major religious commemoration of the martyrdom at Karbala of Hussein (A.S.), a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W). For Shia Muslims, Ashura is a solemn day of mourning the martyrdom of Hussein (A.S.) in 680 AD at Karbala in modern-day Iraq. It is marked with mourning rituals and passion plays re-enacting the martyrdom.

Shia men and women dressed in black also parade through the streets slapping their chests and chanting.  Some Shia men seek to emulate the suffering of Hussein (A.S.) by flagellating themselves with chains or cutting their foreheads until blood streams from their bodies.
Some Shia leaders and groups discourage the bloodletting, saying it creates a backward and negative image of Shia Muslims. Such leaders encourage people to donate blood.

Devout  Shiite men  beat their chests as they mark Ashura in Down town srinagar. Ashura falls on the 10th day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar and marks the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein (A.S.), who was killed in 680 A.D. during the battle of Karbala.
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A look at an ancient craft

 By  Faisal Magray

Having served Kashmiri homes for centuries, traditional earthen pottery might soon become a thing of the past. Pottery took the shape of indigenous Kashmiri art and some people adopted it as a profession. Pottery is one such art, which was once very popular in Kashmir. The people, who are associated with this art, are called Kral (in kashmiri ) and (Potter in english).

Hundreds of people were, once, associated with this trade and products made by them were used for domestic purpose. The potter used to make numerous utensils with different designs  in their workshop. It is a wheel driven by hands. In the middle of it is placed a lump of clay from which pots are made. When desired pot is ready, it is then detached from the wheel by a special thread called kralpan (in kashmiri). From large vessels to miniature cups, they are first baked in the potters miniature kiln and then decorated. After then they are carried to the adjacent village markets where they are sold.

In Nishat, Srinagar, the locality of Kral Sangri was known for pottery making. Young and old in each family would make earthen pots. However, now only a few families make these earthen utensils in the entire locality. Pottery, once the main source of income for many, is now a closed chapter the inhabitants do not want to return to. During the past few decades these earthen pots have been replaced with aluminium, plastic and steel products, affecting the livelihood of a large number of artisans engaged in the trade.

However the tradition of using these items is fading away. It has forced the people, who are involved in this business, to look for alternatives as the demand for these items is declining. They have closed their workshops. Their condition is not good  they are living a miserable life. The golden hands which once chiseled marvels of soil have been neglected. These craftsmen have been deceived by their own ancestral art because it did not stand the assault of machine made utensils.

             The pots are shaped on the wheel. Potters’ hands work like machines they shape utensils    effortlessly.
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