|Saturday, September 16, 2000,
A closer call
Opening the Gates
Progressive Muslim laws
Finance Commission report
Worldwide denial of human rights
A closer call
INDIA's ties with the mighty dollar empire, so goes the Vajpayee strategy, will rest on two pillars: anti-terrorism and close economic cooperation. In his three major speeches so far in the USA the Prime Minister has been laying heavy stress on these issues. His Asia Society speech was a sharp attack on Pakistan-propped up terrorist depredation in Jammu and Kashmir. He went into the rosy economic prospects at the CII-organised business summit. He more or less divided his address to the US Congress between these two themes. There is a third major subject but it is of utmost interest only to the host nation and it is nonproliferation. He has slurred over this, merely stressing Indias moratorium on tests and underlining its security concerns. There is a veiled reference to China in this but only a veiled one. What is striking is the unmistakable bluntness in his allusions to Pakistan. He once talked of jehad and came back to it again in the US Congress. In our neighbourhood, he read out the script, religious war is fashioned into and proclaimed as instruments of state policy. Since this speech must have been written days earlier, it is not a riposte to General Musharrafs jehad reference at the UN but a new argument. Linked with the Prime Ministers accusation that the terrorist target is actually Indias multi-religious polity, this logic will go down well with modern minds. And it indeed did the American lawmakers. Ironically, while he was expounding on this secular theme, several Christian groups were protesting outside the building against minorities-directed violence. This throws up a point. Like his famous crackdown on economic dissenters, the Prime Minister should also severely rein in the hardline Hindutva elements in the Sangh Parivar. Political support for India in the USA is widening. At one time people friendly to this country could be counted on ones fingers; today the group has at least 100 members and is growing. The end of cold war is only one reason; a change of policy by this country and the shenanigans of Pakistan have also shaped this new relationship.
For the sake of form,
Washington is delinking friendly ties with India from
those with Pakistan. And is also insisting that there are
several steps the two neighbours can take to reduce
tension. The implication is that while Islamabad has to
end assistance to militants and shelling across the
border, New Delhi too should initiate moves to break the
deadlock. There is no suggestion of any particular
initiative, but unnamed officials have said that India
can soften its opposition to talks with Pakistan but
insist on a bilateral structure and only with a
democratically elected leader. This offer will mark the
end of what the Americans feel a rigid attitude without
yielding any ground to the present military regime. It is
possible that this point was vigorously canvassed during
the several meetings between the diplomats from both
sides. While there is no difference of perception on
world trends, the question of nonproliferation will need
nimble policy footwork. And also signing the CTBT, on
which the government has not started even the preliminary
work on building a consensus. Of course the USA has not
ratified it either, but India is committed to nuclear
disarmament for long years, which adds weight to its
obligation. A positive move here will remove, what Mr
Vajpayee calls, a shadow across the relationship.
Opening the Gates
A TRIP to India by Bill Gates when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is away to the USA, and so are some of the top names in the industry, is strange. The hard drive of his laptop must be functioning rather erratically. But the computer and monopoly wizard sure knows the mental architecture of the men who matter in India. They gave the Microsoft honcho a treatment befitting royalty. Ten Chief Ministers waited on the richest man on earth, as did the Minister for Information Technology, Mr Pramod Mahajan. Nothing unusual in that! After all, didnt our honourable MPs hop, skip and jump like schoolboys to mob Mr Bill Clinton? The US President was mighty pleased. So is the Microsoft headman. He is, or at least he says he is, impressed by the focus and awareness of Indian politicians on information technology and would tell the politicians back home of the innovative ways they are planning to use IT in government. High praise that, indeed, but that doesnt translate into much in real terms. The major initiative that he has announced for India mainly comprises a $50 million investment over three years in Microsofts Hyderabad software development facility. Coming from him, it is smaller than chickenfeed. Then there is a $5 million grant to the Ministry of Information Technology for promoting IT education in rural areas and another $5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. that is something like getting a 10-rupee tip from the Sultan of Brunei. To be fair, he was not here on a philanthropy trip but surely India needs to occupy far more space on his extra-large monitor than it does at present.
Mr Gates may deny the
true purpose of his visit, but the fact remains that his
overtures have a lot to do with the scope for
exploitation of the trained manpower which can be had for
a song here. Then there is also the impetus provided by
the legal hassles that he is having back home. The Chief
Ministers on their part were not even clear what his trip
was all about. Most of them clamoured for more investment
in their respective states. The synergy that should have
been flowing regarding the optimum utilisation of
bleeding-edge technology in better governance was just
not there. How can it be when they are not even
conversant with the basic purpose of his marketing
exercise? Gates second trip here in three years was
to hawk the e-governance package that his group has
prepared. The Chief Ministers wooed him with details of
the wonderful work that they have done in promoting
industry. Transplanting Gates latest offerings here
will amount to skipping a whole step in the evolutionary
ladder. Before we can think of e-governance, we have to
concentrate on some measure of simple, old-fashioned
Progressive Muslim laws
LAST month eminent scholars, intellectuals, academics and advocates launched the Muslim Women's Forum for mobilising public opinion in favour of the early codification of personal laws. On the top of the list was the demand for the abolition of the system of "triple talaq". A study conducted by a former member of the National Commission for Women Dr Syeda Hameed revealed that the divorce laws in their present form were largely responsible for the ill-treatment of Muslim women by their husbands. The Forum may now have many valid reasons for organising a celebration. Its demand for reforms in the divorce laws has reached the ears of the members of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. The apex law-making body for Indian Muslims has recommended sweeping changes in the personal laws governing marriage and divorce. The most revolutionary change is the firm rejection of the practice of triple talaq in its present distorted form. Under the procedure prescribed by the board a man wanting to divorce his wife would have to wait for three menstrual cycles, without any form of physical contact, for the talaq to become legally enforceable. There is more good news for the champions of Muslim women's rights which have thus far been denied to them by distorting the relevant provisions of the Quran and the Sunnah. The Muslim Personal Law Board has drastically altered the format of the outdated "nikahnama" [ marriage contract] and has virtually granted the same marriage and divorce rights to women as are available to men. Since Muslim marriage is a mutual contract of living together as husband and wife the new "nikahnama" itself would contain the conditions which would be binding on both the parties.
The amendments besides
ensuring payment of an adequate amount of money to the
bride as "mehr" [dower] also seek to place
restrictions on the husband's right to have four wives.
But the provisions which more or less answer the Muslim
women's demand for a fair deal are the ones which give
the wife the right to divorce her husband. A Muslim woman
would have the right to divorce if her husband's
whereabouts are not known for a period of two years or he
refuses to provide maintenance to his wife for one year
or he is of unsound mind or the couple has been separated
for a minimum period of one year or the husband is
suffering from an incurable venereal disease or is cruel
to his wife. However, any form of celebration of the
proposed reforms may be premature. The board has invited
suggestions and objections after which proposed
amendments would be placed before the general body
session of Muslim clerics in Bangalore on October 29. The
Muslim Women's Forum and other organisations demanding
radical changes in and the codification of personal laws
should utilise the period until the crucial session, for
the ratification of the amendments, for mobilising public
opinion against attempts by obscurantist elements to
scuttle the reforms process. If the amendments are
rejected by the general body of Muslim clerics, the
so-called pro-reform groups would have only themselves to
blame. They have about 45 days for building a powerful
pro-reforms movement. The lunatic fringe is responsible
for giving Indian Muslims a bad image. It must be
silenced at the crucial Bangalore session on October 29.
Finance Commission report
REPORTS of the finance commissions have never evoked such a reaction as that of the Eleventh Finance Commission (EFC). The criticism of the reports in the past mainly remained limited to academic circles and most of the states did not react, perhaps due to political considerations of strong Centre and dependent state governments. Now that the balance has largely been reversed due to the coming into power of the relatively stronger regional parties, the reaction is much more vocal even when the approach followed has done away with the inadequacies of the past.
Many flaws in the Centre-State financial relations have been pointed out. The Central Government has been sharing only income tax and union excise duties with the states, while the proceeds of two major taxes corporation tax and custom duty were not sharable. Another major drawback was the imbalance in the responsibilities and tax powers of the Centre and the states. While the elastic sources of tax revenue are with the Centre, more developmental, administrative and social responsibilities have been assigned to the states, rendering the states virtually dependent on the Centre.
Further, in the criteria for allocation of taxes and grants, negligible weightage has been given to tax effort, economy, efficiency and performance. As a result, poverty and backwardness have become vested interests to demand more share of taxes and grants. When almost unconditional financial assistance and grants are forthcoming from the Centre even to meet revenue account deficits, the incentive to put in own tax efforts is reduced.
The Sarkaria Commission recommended amendment of the Constitution for the sharing of corporation tax with the states but rejected further enlargement of the divisible pool. The Tenth Finance Commission (TFC), though gave recommendations as per the traditional approach of sharing only income tax and union excise duties, but suggested an alternative scheme of vertical resource sharing to facilitate the progress of tax reforms. According to the alternative approach, the share of states in the gross receipts of central taxes was suggested to be 26 per cent and another 3 per cent in lieu of additional duties of excise. On the basis of alternative scheme of devolution recommended by TFC, the Constitution (Eightieth Amendment) Act, 2000 was passed by Parliament and the Act received assent of the President on June 9, 2000. The Act changed the basic pattern of sharing of Central taxes with the states.
The Finance Commission is now required to determine the share of union taxes and duties, which is transferred to the states and inter se share of states in the taxes and duties which are leviable in the states. As expenditure tax and service tax are not leviable in Jammu and Kashmir, this was kept in view by the EFC.
For recommending the share of states in the union taxes and duties the EFC worked out the share of states in income tax and union excise duties recommended by different finance commissions and converted it into share in all union duties and taxes. The share ranged between 26.30-31.59 per cent in different years during the period 1980-81 to 1999-2000. Different states asked for the shares varying between 33-50 per cent in their memoranda submitted to the EFC and the Central Government urged for pegging it at 29 per cent of the current level (1999-2000) of Central taxes and reduced percentage (say 20 per cent) for the incremental gross tax revenue.
The EFC recommended share of states to be fixed at 28 per cent of the net proceeds of all taxes and duties. As the proceeds of additional duties of excise could not be passed on to the states with the deletion of Article 272 of the Constitution, the EFC recommended that 1.5 per cent of the sharable union taxes and duties to be allocated to the states separately. Thus, in all, 29.5 per cent of the net proceeds of all union taxes and duties have been recommended to be allocated to states. In the past five years 1995-96 to 1999-2000, the share of states in the net proceeds of all union taxes and duties worked out to over 28 per cent. The marginal increase to 29.5 per cent in the share did not come up to the expectation of the states.
Inter se distribution of the aggregate share of states in the central tax revenue has been governed by formulae which changed with different finance commissions. It also varied for sharing of income tax and union excise duties. Fifth (1969), Sixth (1973) and Seventh (1978) Finance Commissions gave 90 per cent weightage to population and 10 per cent to assessment for sharing of income tax. For sharing of union excise duties also Fifth and Sixth Finance Commissions gave 75-80 per cent weightage to population and 20-25 per cent to socio-economic backwardness, but the Seventh Finance Commission gave only 25 per cent weightage to population and virtually 75 per cent to poverty and backwardness. The Eighth F.C. (1984) gave 10 per cent weightage to assessment and of the remaining 90 per cent; 25 per cent weightage was given to population and 75 per cent to economic backwardness, the Ninth F.C. (1989) gave 10 per cent weightage to contribution, 22.5 per cent to population and remaining 67.5 per cent to socio-economic backwardness. Tenth F.C. (1994) gave 20 per cent weightage to population (1971), 10 per cent to tax effort, 5 per cent to area and 65 per cent to socio-economic and infrastructural backwardness. Thus the weightage given to backwardness virtually amounted to about 70 per cent, the poorer states with higher proportion of population also got larger share on that account.
The Eleventh F.C. (2000) has further reduced the weight of population to 10 per cent and of tax effort to 5 per cent. While fiscal discipline and area have been given a weight of 7.5 per cent each, virtually more than 70 per cent weightage is given to socio-economic and infrastructural backwardness.
The worst sufferers in the devolution have been Maharashtra, Punjab, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Haryana. Andhra Pradesh, which has emerged as the leader of dissatisfied states, and Kerala have felt the pinch only in Eleventh F.C. recommendations, while Assam and Manipur, which have also joined the group of dissatisfied states have reasonably gained from the recommendations. It is ironical that Andhra Pradesh and Kerala continued getting increasing share upto Tenth F.C., when these were termed as backward states. Once the states have started experiencing rapid development through sustained efforts of the government through better administration and population control, these have been penalised by curtailing their shares in central devolution. The major flaw lies in the allocation criteria, which assigns no weight to collection of taxes and population control while very low weights are assigned to tax effort and fiscal discipline. Even the use of recent population for allocating the shares goes against those states (like Kerala) which have succeeded in reducing population growth through determined family planning efforts. As the criteria puts premium on population growth, therefore the argument for use of the 1971 population data for allocation formula is justified.
In the allocation for upgradation and special problem grants, Punjab has been provided grant for upgradation of police administration, setting up of four regional diagnostic centres and for promoting girls education. Similarly, for maintenance of accounts of village level panchayats and creation of data base for finances of local bodies, reasonable shares have been allocated to the developed states, including Punjab. On the whole, in the allocation of grants-in-aid special problem states like Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur and Meghalaya have got the much larger shares than their shares in union taxes and duties. The only exception appears to be Assam, which got only 1.57 per cent share in grants-in-aid despite having special problems.
Debt position of states has been worsening over time. It increased from Rs 1,83,386 crore as on March 31, 1994, to Rs 4,73,677 crore as on March 31, 2000. Leaving aside special category states, outstanding debt in Punjab during 1985-94 increased at the highest rate. It continued rising during 1994-2000 and reached a figure of Rs 24,601 crore on March 31, 2000 from Rs 12,031 crore on March 31, 1995. During 1996-99 debt position of most of other states has also worsened, but in Punjab interest payments constitute 33.33 per cent of total revenue receipts and the state tops the list in this respect. Tenth F.C. gave debt relief of Rs 25 crore to Punjab, in addition to the relief of Rs 495.22 crore on repayment of special term loans. Eleventh F.C. has estimated debt relief of Rs 600-700 crore to all states on fresh central loans during 1995-2000 under the fiscal performance linked scheme.
The decision of the Government of India to waive the special term loan to Punjab during 1984-94 for combating insurgency and militancy in the state was conveyed to Eleventh F.C. while the Commission recommended debt relief in case of Jammu and Kashmir, it recommended a moratorium on the payment of installments of debt and interest on the special term loan to Punjab during the period 2000-05, so that State is able to build its economy and be in a better position to repay the loan and the interest accruing thereon in subsequent years. This moratorium was limited to total amount of Rs 3396.15 crore. After the period of moratorium is over, the Commission recommended debt relief to security-related component of expenditure only. In this respect also, the recommendations of the Commission fall short of the expectations of Punjab.
On the whole though the approach followed by the Commission, as per the Eightieth Amendment Act 2000, to make net proceeds of all union taxes and duties sharable with the states is correct, but fixation of the share at 29.5 is inadequate to fulfil the needs and aspirations of the states. The criteria of allocation gives no weightage to collection and inadequate weightage to tax effort and efficiency, while excessive weightage is given to socio-economic backwardness. A reasonable formula should assign 50 per cent weightage to backwardness, 20 per cent to population of 1971, 20 per cent to tax effort and 10 per cent to collection, otherwise there is fear of bringing balanced regional development at lower level of equilibrium by pulling down the developed states. If a state like Maharashtra contributing more than 36 per cent share of direct taxes, gets only 4.632 per cent; Gujarat contributing 5.76 per cent, get only 2.821 per cent; Punjab contributing 2.13 per cent, gets only 1.147 per cent; while on the other hand, Bihar contributing 0.98 per cent, gets 14.597 per cent; Uttar Pradesh contributing 4.69 per cent gets 19.798 per cent share of devolution of the sources: there is bound to be resentment amongst the developed states.
In fact ideally there should be an upper and lower ceiling; the developed states should not get less than half of their contribution proportion, while less developed states should not get more than double of their contribution proportion to union taxes and duties. The objective of balanced regional development has to be sought without penalising efficiency and rewarding inefficiency. The system of matching grants has to be adopted in recommending grants-in-aid, so that the states are motivated to mobilise more resources.
Worldwide denial of human rights
DESPITE the increasing emphasis on human rights and the endorsement of international conventions on human rights issues, large-scale violations of human rights continue to take place all over the world. These violations are rooted in inequalities, poverty, conflicts and the urge to dominate others. The inadequacy of the justice system is also responsible for many violations. The Human Development Report 2000 has provided alarming statistics and facts on several aspects of these violations.
Poverty and economic deprivation lead every day to violations of human rights, including the right to life. Nearly 30,000 children die every day in developing countries from mainly preventable causes. About a third of children under five suffer from malnutrition. About 790 million people are hungry and suffer food insecurity.
More than a billion people live in inadequate housing and about 100 million are estimated to be homeless. More than a billion people living in developing countries lack access to safe water, and more than 2.4 billion lack adequate sanitation, 1.2 billion people have to subsist on less than $ 1 a day.
At least 150 million of worlds workers were unemployed at the end of 1998. As many as 900 million were underemployed.
About 90 million children are out of school at the primary level and 232 million at the secondary level. About 100 million children are estimated to be living or working on the street.
In developing countries there are about 250 million child labourers 140 million boys and 110 million girls. Asia has 153 million child workers while Africa has 80 million.
Much of the poverty and economic deprivation is rooted in economic inequalities. In recent decades the already substantial inequalities have increased at the international level as well as within nations. The distance between the income of the richest and the poorest country was 44 to 1 in 1973. By 1992 this had increased to 72 to 1.
Recent years have seen a deterioration in the economic well-being of several countries. The average annual growth of income per capita during 1990-98 was negative in as many as 49 developing or transition countries.
Even in some of the richest countries, a significant number of people continue to suffer deprivation due to inequalities. According to 1997 statistics 17 per cent of the people live below the poverty line in the USA (13 per cent in Italy and 12 per cent in Australia), again in the USA, about 750,000 people are homeless on any given night. In 1998 35 million people were unemployed in OECD countries, which include the richest countries.
In developing countries, the problems created by inequalities for the poor are even worse. In Brazil, Guatemala and Jamaica the share of the top 20 per cent in national income is more than 25 times that of the bottom 20 per cent people.
Apart from economic inequality, social inequality caused by discrimination based on race, caste, colour etc also contribute to the suffering of many disadvantages sections.
In S.Africa as many as 29 per cent of African males are unemployed, compared to only 4 per cent white males. In Nepal Brahmins have a life expectancy of 61, while the lowest castes, earlier regarded as untouchables, have a life expectancy of only 46 years. 4321 race related hate crimes were reported in USA in 1998.
In Zimbabwe white farmers own most of the 4660 large-scale commercial farms, covering 11 million hectares of land, while 30 per cent of all households are for all practical purposes landless. In Malaysia only two Orang Asli (indigenous people) out of 10000 have title to their land.
Another leading form of social injustice is injustice based on gender. Around the world on average, about one in every three women has experienced violence in an intimate relationship. Between 85 million and 115 million girls and women have undergone some form of genital mutilation. Every year an estimated two million young girls undergo genital mutilation.
Trafficking of women and children for prostitution has increased in recent years with globalisation. Nearly 500,000 women a year are trafficked out of countries in Eastern Europe and the CIS. In Asia about 250,000 people, mostly women and children, are estimated to be trafficked every year.
About 1.2 million women and girls under the age of 18 are trafficked for prostitution each year. In sample surveys 20 per cent of girls report sexual abuse in Switzerland, 17 per cent in Oslo, Norway and 14 per cent in New Zealand.
While human rights violations are a reality of everyday life, these become much worse at the time of war and conflict. Five million people are estimated to have died in interstate conflicts in the 1990s. Globally in 1998 there were more than 10 million refugees and five million internally displaced persons. War and internal conflicts in the 1990s forced 50 million people to flee their homes one person out of every 120 on earth.
About 300,000 children were soldiers in the 1990s, and six million were injured in armed conflicts.
Human right violations also increase when democratic rights are not respected, or when there are several weaknesses in the system of justice.
About 40 countries do not have a multiparty electoral system. In the 1990s several countries resorted to non-electoral regimes.
Of the 45 countries that have data on this subject, more than half have fewer than 10 judges per 100000 people. In India in 1996 there were more than 5000 pending cases per judge and in Bangladesh more than 2000. In Panama 157 people per 100000 await trial or adjudication, in Estonia 115 and in Madagascar 100. The average custody while awaiting trial in 1994 was 60 weeks in Mexico, 40 weeks in Hungary and 30 weeks in the Czech Republic.
Clearly despite the endorsement of several human rights conventions by an increasing number of countries, a lot remains to be done before the human rights situation can be called tolerable, leave alone satisfactory.
Where everyone wants peace
WHEN I returned to Srinagar last week, after a gap of nearly two years, I deliberately chose a week in which there was no violence, no peace talks, no other event of major consequence. It is only if you do this that the truth about what is happening reveals itself. I think it did to me in the three days I spent wandering around the valley but what I saw is a story of so many complications, so many nuances, that I plan to tell it in more than one installment, it simply isnt possible in a thousand words.
My first impression as we landed at Srinagar airport on a hot, clear afternoon was that everything seemed completely normal: no soldiers, no para-militaries, no bunkers and no visible signs of strife or tension. A big change since last time. The taxi driver who drove me into town was an 18-year-old youth called Omar who confirmed that things had indeed become almost normal and till the killings of the pilgrims on the Amarnath Yatra, last month, tourist had been pouring in. Omar was a child when Kashmir succumbed to what local people call gun culture and longs to see a peaceful, tourist season. He had hoped that this would be the year. There were so many tourists, so many hundreds coming every day till those killings in Pahalgam. Everyone is sad about that.
The tourists may have gone but Srinagar looked as normal as it has ever done. It was hard to believe that a car bomb went off in the heart of the city only a few weeks ago. But, since Srinagar does not always give you a true picture of what is happening in Kashmir I drove, after checking into the Broadway Hotel, towards Sopore, once a hotbed of militancy. It was also where I once met Abdul Majeed Dar more than five years ago, the Hizbul Mujahideen leader who initiated the peace talks with the Indian Government.
The road to Sopore looked as if it had not been repaired in 10 years and it was not the only thing that showed the ravages of 10 years of violence. You saw signs of it in the decrepit houses and decaying, dirty bazaars of suburban Srinagar and in the general air of a city going quietly to seed.
No sooner did we leave the city limits than paramilitary and police pickets began to line the route. They looked incongruous amid the sunlit rice fields we passed as did the army and paramilitary encampments with their high walls and their menacing machine guns.
My first stop was Pattan, which has also seen its full share of violence and mayhem, but this afternoon it looked peaceful and quite normal until I stopped to talk to the local people. I wanted to talk to those who had lost relatives in the violence and nearly everyone had their own story to tell. Nazir Ahmeds brother Shabir Ahmed (17) went to Srinagar and never came back. The Army arrested him, his family was allowed to meet him once and nine months later they found his body. He was a taxi driver. Nobody knows what happened. Bashir Ahmeds father, Habibullah Qazi, was killed when the Army opened fire because a convoy was fired upon. Abdul Rashid Gujari (52) was killed when a grenade was thrown in the middle of Pattan bazar two years ago. Tariq Ahmed Dar (12), a student at Dar-ul-Uloom in Baramula, disappeared two months ago. Nobody knows where he could be. Altogether more than 200 people from Pattan have lost their lives since the violence began, local people said.
There has been one big change in recent months, they said. The militants are no longer people they know but strangers who come and do what they have to and then disappear to camps in the jungle. In earlier times everyone knew who the militants were since they would seek shelter and food at night in local homes, now nobody knows any more.
So, what now, I asked, what do the people want? Peace, they said, in one voice but peace with dignity and azadi. After so many lives have been lost it would be wrong to give up the struggle and no, they do not want to go to Pakistan. If Pakistan tries to take Kashmir there will be a freedom struggle again just like there has been to liberate Kashmir from India.
On the way to Sopore we drove past apple orchards with trees heavy with apples. We also passed big signboards which seemed determined to force people to think of peace. Best quality of delicious apples are grown here and Kashmir land of saffron and beauty were some of their messages. It seemed an absurd exercise since the words were in English, a language that local people had no knowledge of.
In Sopore I stopped for tea and kebabs at a grubby, local restaurant whose dusty pink walls were covered with equally absurd posters of desert landscapes and blonde girls clutching swans and one that said I love everything old, old books, old wine, old friends. The owner, a nervous, slightly angry young man said they had seen some bad times. In 1991 they arrested me after there had been some firing in the square below. They beat me so badly that my head split open look here, they made me stand in the snow all day and broke my watch. But, those days were bad, there would be firing sometimes ten times a day. The bullets sometimes came into the restaurant, look there thats a bullet mark and those there as well.
I remember Sopore on an earlier visit when young men stopped me in the street to show me their watches which they kept on Pakistani time. Much has changed since, I was told, nobody wants Pakistan any more and everyone wants peace. When the Hizbul Mujahideen announced their ceasefire (last month) a wave of joy seemed to spread through the city, it was like a dead man had suddenly come alive.
Again, I was told that the nature of the militancy had changed and that nobody knew who they were any more. There are no local militants left. I was also told that people were desperate for things like electricity and drinking water. Power cuts happen on a daily basis and water comes once a week. They blamed Farooq Abdullah for this and everyone said they hated him because they blamed him for much of what had gone wrong.
From Sopore to a village called Wodura where I met Fatima Begum whose two policemen sons have been killed in the past three years. Nasir Ahmed (19) was killed only last month and Fatima Begum wept throughout the time I was there and said her life had been destroyed. What else was there to say?
Back in Srinagar, that
night, I dined with a senior bureaucrat. We had a drink
in his magnificent, moonlit garden overlooking the Dal
Lake and he told me things were much better since Kashmir
got a democratically elected government four years ago.
The sound of Air Force fighters conducting night
exercises was the only reminder that Kashmir was not a
place of immeasurable peace and beauty.
It is not speech that man should seek to know;
he should know the speaker.
It is not smell that man should seek to know;
he should know the One who smells.
It is not visual appearances that man should seek to understand;
he should understand the seer.
It is not sound that man should seek to know;
he should know the One who hears.
It is not taste that man should seek to know;
he should know the One who knows taste ....
It is not mind that man should seek to understand,
he should know the One who thinks.
Kaushitakibrahmana Upanishad, 3.8
The Supreme Lord is not two. To me belongs the glory of meditating that I, His devoted servant, am He. As one imagines, so one becomes. Therefore, practice the meditation of "I am He". Then all your actions will become His action.
Natchintanai, the Collected Songs of Sage Yogaswami
Man is an animal who lifts his head to the sky and does not see the spiders on his ceiling.
Jules Renard, Journal, April 1894
You cannot put a rope around the neck of an idea... you cannot confine it in the strongest prison cell that your slaves could ever build.
Sean O'Casey, Death of Thomas Ashe
We are all born mad. Some remain so.
Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
If a donkey brays at you do not bray at him.
George Herbert, Jacula Prudentum
Have faith in the wisdom of the ancients; do not pit your tiny little brain against the institutions of the saints and their discourses.
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