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EDITORIALS

Guns fall silent in Lanka
Time to tackle humanitarian crisis

T
hose worried about the humanitarian crisis caused by the all-out war by Sri Lankan Army against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) must be feeling relieved with the military drive coming to an end on Monday. 

BJP riding a tiger
Gorkhaland deserves careful handling
T
he Bharatiya Janata Party is at pains to point out that it has not yet endorsed the demand for a separate Gorkhaland. The party rushed S.S. Ahluwalia to Kolkata to smoothen ruffled feathers within the state unit and to signal that the party manifesto makes a bare mention that the demand would be looked at sympathetically after the general election.





EARLIER STORIES

Advance of the Taliban
April
27, 2009
Qualification for MPs
April
26, 2009
Pakistan worries US
April
25, 2009
The electoral odyssey
April
24, 2009
Saving Tamil refugees
April
23, 2009
Eye in the sky
April
22, 2009
Threat to Kashmir voters
April
21, 2009
Aid for Pakistan
April
20, 2009
Voting for democracy
April
19, 2009
Democracy alive and well
April
18, 2009


Tytler, Sajjan still free
CBI credibility has suffered a knock
T
he manner in which the Central Bureau of Investigation has been conducting itself is cause for serious concern. Reports as to how the CBI Director had overruled his officers’ opinion for prosecution of Congress leader Jagdish Tytler and gave him a “clean chit” in the 1984 Bara Hindu Rao anti-Sikh riots proves the extent of rot in the country’s premier investigating agency.

ARTICLE

Few options for Pakistan
Defiance of world opinion may prove costly
by Sushant Sareen
M
any years ago when the US tried to dissuade Pakistan from developing a nuclear bomb, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto declared that Pakistanis would eat grass but have the bomb. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan overnight transformed Pakistan into a frontline state against communist expansionism.

MIDDLE

Crossing borders
by Shelley Walia
T
HE aura is the same, the location is the same, but this time the occasion is different. As I stand on the beautiful palm-fringed knoll jutting out into the Aguada Bay at the Taj Hotel in Goa, I recall how on in 1497 when Vasco da Gama set sail from the River Tagus in Lisbon, it would have been difficult to conceive of the tremendous historical implications that would result from this adventure.

OPED

Why Pakistan is caving in to the Taliban
by Mohammed Hanif
T
he day after Pakistan’s government signed a peace deal with the Taliban allowing them to implement their own version of sharia in the Swat Valley, there was a traffic jam at a square in downtown Mingora, the main town in the region. The square, Green Chowk, has acquired the nickname Khooni Chowk, or Bloody Square, because the Taliban used to string up their victims there.

Kashmiri Pandits look back in pain
by Anuja Khushu
“I want to see my apple trees, take me to my orchards. I want to sit under the Chinar tree. Want to see my fields, my cows, buffalo sheds. Take me to my Kashmir,” says Gunwati (75) everytime when someone happens to pass by her home or comes to see her family.

Delhi Durbar
Keeping off Narendra Modi
A
run Shourie may be touting Narendra Modi as some great ‘Hindutva’ icon and the next in line for India’s premiership, but the real test of his popularity ought to be determined by how many of the party candidates, particularly in Bihar and Jharkhand, readily invited the Gujarat Chief Minister to canvass for them.





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EDITORIALS

Guns fall silent in Lanka
Time to tackle humanitarian crisis

Those worried about the humanitarian crisis caused by the all-out war by Sri Lankan Army against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) must be feeling relieved with the military drive coming to an end on Monday. An announcement by the Sri Lankan government had it that the security forces had been instructed “to end the use of heavy caliber guns, combat aircraft and aerial weapons which could cause civilian casualties”. Colombo has claimed that it has taken the decision after ascertaining the facts that its “combat operations have reached their conclusion”. However, there is no word about the fate of LTTE supremo V. Prabhakaran. He could not have escaped to safety like his son Charles by using a semi-submersible craft owing to his poor state of health.

Interestingly, the guns fell silent after the Sri Lankan government first rejected the LTTE offer of “unilateral ceasefire” on Sunday, saying that the fighting would go on so long as the remaining LTTE men did not surrender. The pressure from India, the UN, the US and the European Union must have played a role in Colombo’s decision besides the fact that its military objective has almost been achieved. Sri Lanka could no longer ignore the massive humanitarian crisis that had been getting worse with every day passing. The military offensive that began in January last year resulted in the rebels getting confined to a small no-fire zone after the Tigers’ de facto capital, Killinochchi, was captured early this year. The LTTE appeared to be gasping for breath when on April 20 the Sri Lankan Army issued an ultimatum to the Tigers to surrender within a few hours.

The war has left over 200,000 people homeless, according to official figures. But the actual figure must be more than this. The Sri Lanka government claims that the uprooted people have been provided temporary shelter, and there have been no starvation deaths. The actual condition in these shelters, however, will be known now after the end of the hostilities. The cause of rehabilitation of the displaced Tamil civilians must be the top priority. As the UN aptly described it, Sri Lanka is faced with the “toughest humanitarian crisis in the world” today.
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BJP riding a tiger
Gorkhaland deserves careful handling

The Bharatiya Janata Party is at pains to point out that it has not yet endorsed the demand for a separate Gorkhaland. The party rushed S.S. Ahluwalia to Kolkata to smoothen ruffled feathers within the state unit and to signal that the party manifesto makes a bare mention that the demand would be looked at sympathetically after the general election. Not surprisingly, nobody is convinced. This is because the BJP has clearly won the support of the separatist group active in Darjeeling Hills, the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha, on the understanding that the party would grant the Morcha’s wish if it is voted back to power. It is the Morcha, which is spearheading the campaign of the BJP candidate from Darjeeling, former Union Minister for External Affairs Jaswant Singh. He has already made it clear that he plans to press for the creation of a separate state.

The BJP, however, might well discover that it is riding a tiger. The demand for smaller states has cropped up in the past in different parts of the country, including Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, and if Gorkhaland is conceded, the party might find it difficult to resist pressures elsewhere. Moreover, the demand for Gorkhaland is also receiving support from another militant group in North Bengal, which has been demanding a separate state of Kamtapur for the Rajbanshi community. At the same time, the demand for integrating the tribal areas of the state with Jharkhand is also alive. It is a complicated situation that deserved more careful handling by a political party that aspires to return to power at the Centre.

The Left Front government and the CPM seem to be paying the price for abdicating the responsibility of administering the Hills. They were content to pander to GNLF ( Gorkha National Liberation Front) chief Subhas Ghising and watched with silent satisfaction as Ghising and his men in the Gorkha Hill Area Development Authority plundered public money and went on a spending spree on outlandish projects. Issues like drinking water, infrastructure, education and employment were allowed to be handled by Mr Ghising and his men. Although a tripartite agreement was signed in 2005 to bring Darjeeling Hills under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, reservations expressed by a parliamentary committee has kept the implementation pending. All this has helped the sense of alienation to grow among people in a sensitive part of the country. The genuine grievances of the people ought to be met, election or no election, Gorkhaland or no Gorkhaland. That should be the bottomline.
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Tytler, Sajjan still free
CBI credibility has suffered a knock

The manner in which the Central Bureau of Investigation has been conducting itself is cause for serious concern. Reports as to how the CBI Director had overruled his officers’ opinion for prosecution of Congress leader Jagdish Tytler and gave him a “clean chit” in the 1984 Bara Hindu Rao anti-Sikh riots proves the extent of rot in the country’s premier investigating agency. Though the Joint Director and the DIG had recommended that Mr Tytler be booked on charges of murder and rioting on the basis of available evidence, Mr Tytler was bailed out, apparently under political pressure. Of course, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should be believed when he says that he was “neither consulted, nor informed about the clean chit.” Unfortunately, even in the case of Mr Sajjan Kumar, another Congress leader, the CBI is not doing its duty to nail him, despite the time lag.

The people are entitled to know why the CBI probe into Mr Sajjan Kumar’s role in the riots case is moving at a snail’s pace. This is surprising because by its own admission, it has “strong witness statements”. The CBI reportedly took as many as five years to get its appeal against Mr Sajjan Kumar’s acquittal admitted in the Delhi High Court. The fact that even arguments have not begun till today suggests that something is fundamentally wrong with the CBI’s style of functioning.

The CBI’s handling of the disproportionate assets case against Samajwadi Party supremo Mulaym Singh Yadav and his family members is well known. The Supreme Court said recently that the agency was “acting at the behest of” the Central Government in the matter. Questioning the agency’s rationale in seeking the Law Ministry’s opinion about the withdrawal of its earlier application seeking to file the report on inquiry to the court, it said, “You are not acting on your own”. It is time the CBI was made truly autonomous, insulating it from political and extraneous influences. As its credibility has suffered a serious setback over the years, its statutory role as also the very mode of appointment of the Director and other top officers on deputation to the CBI need to be reviewed.
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Thought for the Day

We combat obstacles in order to get repose, and,when got, the repose is insupportable. — Henry Brooks Adams
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ARTICLE

Few options for Pakistan
Defiance of world opinion may prove costly
by Sushant Sareen

Many years ago when the US tried to dissuade Pakistan from developing a nuclear bomb, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto declared that Pakistanis would eat grass but have the bomb. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan overnight transformed Pakistan into a frontline state against communist expansionism. The US found it expedient to turn a blind eye to Islamabad's nuclear programme in return for using Pakistan as the staging post against the Soviets in Afghanistan. This allowed Pakistan to become a nuclear weapon state without having to develop a taste for grass.

Today, once again, many strategists in Pakistan are convinced that they are indispensable for the US in its war on terror. They advocate that Pakistan needs to use its pivotal position not only to dictate terms to the US but also squeeze the Americans to cough up the billions of dollars needed to keep Pakistan afloat. According to these people, Pakistan should negotiate with the US from a position of strength and not as a supplicant.

Pakistan, they feel, is ideally placed to extract concessions from the US on Kashmir, a civilian nuclear deal similar to the one signed with India, a Marshall Plan-type economic reconstruction programme, consulting with Pakistan on the future political set-up in Afghanistan, limiting the Indian presence in Afghanistan, and providing Pakistan with the latest in military technology. The Pakistanis even want a say on the manner in which the US is conducting the war, more so when it comes to US drone strikes on terrorist targets inside Pakistani territory.

Propelling this list of demands is the conviction that the US is in such dire straits in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region that it will have to concede most, if not all, of Pakistan's demands. All that is required is a bit of tough bargaining backed by a little brinkmanship which includes stopping US logistics supply through Pakistan, withdrawal of air bases and other facilities like over-flight rights and, if necessary, shooting down US drones. And the biggest trump card that Pakistan holds, or so they believe, is the threat to disengage from the US-led war.

Clearly, by trying to use its continued cooperation in the war on terror as leverage, Pakistan is playing a dangerous game of poker and that too with a country that invented this game. But the Pakistanis seem to have ignored the consequences of the US calling its bluff. What if the US actually decides to withdraw from the region and tackle the Islamist menace in other, more indirect and insidious ways?

Contrary to what most Pakistanis think, a US pullout from the region will not restore peace and order there. Unless the Pakistanis are looking forward to the Taliban type of peace (of the graveyard!), the reality is that if the Americans leave, Pakistan may collapse like a house of cards.

To be sure, terrorism or Talibanisation will not end with US exiting. Instead, a US withdrawal will embolden the Islamists into going all-out to capture the control of the Pakistani state. After all, after having forced two super powers to concede defeat, the Islamists will naturally see Pakistan as ripe for the picking, especially since the Pakistan Army seems to have no stomach for fighting the Taliban. What are the odds of Pakistan being able to withstand the onslaught of the Taliban? Or will the state simply fold up and let the Taliban take control of the country?

Even if the Pakistanis succeed in keeping the Taliban at bay, what will become of the Pakistani economy without the American aid? Can Pakistan realistically expect to stay afloat without US and, by extension, Western assistance? And what are the chances that the Americans, after being forced out of the region by Pakistan and nursing the wounds of a war gone wrong in part because of real and/or imagined Pakistani perfidy, will not turn the economic screws real tight on Pakistan? In the event, are the Pakistanis ready to develop a taste for grass? Or is it the case that the Pakistani strategists advocating defiance of the US are hallucinating under the effects of grass (of the smoking variety) and are, therefore, unable to distinguish between smoking grass and eating grass.

Perhaps the Pakistanis are banking upon their all-weather friend China taking care of them. May be, they are depending on the Islamic bloc, especially Saudi Arabia, to bail them out. But can handouts from the Chinese and the Saudis mitigate the pain that a break with the US will inflict on Pakistan? It is important not to forget that while the Chinese have never denied the Pakistanis anything, they have always charged a price for everything. What is more, these days the Chinese have been pretty tight-fisted in giving budgetary support to Pakistan.

The Saudis, on the other hand, have ostensibly given lunch after free lunch to the Pakistanis either in the form of free oil, or by supplying oil on deferred payment which is the same as giving free oil since the deferred payments weren’t expected to be ever realised. In addition, the Saudis often underwrote Pakistan's budget. But being great tradesmen, surely the Saudis must expect something in return. It couldn’t have been just Islamic solidarity that made the Saudis open their coffers to the Pakistanis. Dark, but unsubstantiated, rumours suggest a nuke angle to the Pakistan-Saudi relationship.

In any case, today even the Saudis appear cut up with the ruling dispensation in Pakistan. Some suggest that this is because the Saudis don’t want to bail out President Asif Zardari because he is a Shia, and would like to see him replaced by the Sunni Nawaz Sharif. Whatever the reason, the Saudi reluctance to come to Pakistan's assistance means that the US has become indispensable for Pakistan's economic survival.

While preaching defiance in newspaper columns, public speeches and TV talk shows is very popular, practising defiance is a totally different ball game. Defiance becomes even more difficult for an elite class used to living beyond its means by treating loans as a disposable income.

Unless the Pakistanis realise the horrendous repercussions of defiance, and take all the measures that they should be taking to slay the monsters of fanaticism that they have themselves created, they will probably end up eating grass. There are no easy options left. Pakistan can either extend unflinching cooperation to the US, or else develop a cuisine based on grass.
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MIDDLE

Crossing borders
by Shelley Walia

THE aura is the same, the location is the same, but this time the occasion is different. As I stand on the beautiful palm-fringed knoll jutting out into the Aguada Bay at the Taj Hotel in Goa, I recall how on in 1497 when Vasco da Gama set sail from the River Tagus in Lisbon, it would have been difficult to conceive of the tremendous historical implications that would result from this adventure.

Vasco da Gama never visited Goa, though now there exists a coastal city by the name of Vasco to celebrate its everlasting association with Portugal. The present occasion is a traditional Indian wedding ceremony of a friend’s daughter. It is the coming together of friends and relatives across cultures and borders signifying a transcultural comingling that would have been hard to imagine in the 16th century. While the bridegroom is American, the bride is half Norwegian and half Indian.

On this pleasant afternoon, looking across the Arabian sea I imagine hordes of Portuguese conquerors landing on Sinquerim Beach with the imperialist ambitions of not only establishing a colony, but encouraging the spread of Christianity, often with tyrannical acts leading to many natives adapting to Christianity.

In 1510, the Portuguese overthrew the local kings, leading to the establishment of a permanent settlement in Velha Goa (or Old Goa). A protracted period of violence and political turmoil along with a repressive religious policy resulted in a widespread migration of the native Goan population. By the mid-18th century, the area under occupation spread to most of Goa’s present-day boundaries, finally consolidating into the largest Portuguese colony.

It was Afonso de Albuquerque who set up the Portuguese empire in India, “first by destroying, then creating”. Through his initiative the Portuguese bestowed on Goa the glory of western imperialism and wealth. It was Linschoten, the Dutchman who gave Goa the epithets like ‘Rome of Asia’ , ‘Pearl of the Orient’ or ‘Golden Goa’ which aptly sum up not only the variety of spices, fruits and herbal plants of this region, but of stunning beaches like Morjim, Ashvem and Bogmalo well known for their Olive Ridley turtles and laidback atmosphere, as well as the heritage monuments such as the. cathedrals and churchs with gilded altars matching the grandeur of European architecture.

I happily see this occasion as the metamorphosis of assailants into friends and relatives who celebrate the coming together of two nationalities, of two people in love, but belonging to different cultures. A cool breeze blows across the shores and the snowwhite waves eternally beat on the Indian coast as they must have centuries ago. But this time the sea is not symbolic of the formidable memory of centuries of colonisation, but a friendly warm image of fertility and marriage.

For a moment, I become part of Goan history for the moment represents to me centuries of Indian history, the coming of the invaders, the melange of cultural practices, of architecture and art, of language and ceremony, of ritual and romance.

War, exploitation and dominance seem far away and remote. This time it is hilarity and warmth, love and affection. Strangers from the west are welcomed to remould the past, reshape the present and travel so far to be wedlocked into harmony and lasting relationship. While the bridegroom expresses his undying love for the bride, the young bride in turn has no qualms in humorously telling the congregation (the Norwegian practice of pre-dinner speeches by close relations was closely adhered to) that her man is her “banker, her cleaner and her cook”. I am amused to imagine an Indian bride making similar remarks in Punjabi at her nuptials. The consequences would be disastrous.

But on this occasion it is laughter and affection that replace the fear on the faces of the natives at the might of the invading armies five hundred years ago on the same shores.
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OPED

Why Pakistan is caving in to the Taliban
by Mohammed Hanif

The day after Pakistan’s government signed a peace deal with the Taliban allowing them to implement their own version of sharia in the Swat Valley, there was a traffic jam at a square in downtown Mingora, the main town in the region. The square, Green Chowk, has acquired the nickname Khooni Chowk, or Bloody Square, because the Taliban used to string up their victims there.

“Look at this.” A shopkeeper pointed to the hubbub. “This is what people wanted, to get out and do business. Take the security forces away, take the Taliban away, and we can get on with our lives.” He, like many Pakistanis, believed that the deal with the Taliban was the only way to stop bullet-riddled bodies from turning up at Khooni Chowk.

Mingora is not a backwater, not part of the Wild West that foreign journalists invoke whenever they talk about the Taliban. It’s bursting with aspiration; it has law schools, a medical college, a nurses’ training institute. There is even a heritage museum. Yet when peace arrived on Feb. 16, all the women vanished. They were not in the streets or in the offices, not even in the bazaar, which sells nothing but fabric, bags, shoes and fashion accessories.

The music market vanished, too. All 400 shops. The owner of one had converted it into a kebab joint. “This is sharia,” he spat at his grill, which hissed with more smoke than fire. Across from his stand, a barber had hung the obligatory “No un-Islamic haircuts, no shaves” sign and was taking an early morning nap, his face covered with a newspaper.

This, I was told, was the price of peace.

As a Taliban insurgency gains strength in Pakistan, my country seems to be preparing to surrender. In areas where the Taliban formally hold sway, such as Swat, people have bowed to their guns. And in the heartland, in Punjab and other regions, there is a disquieting acceptance of the inevitability of the Taliban’s rise to power.

Over the past two years, Pakistani civil society has driven a military dictator from power and managed to force an elected government to restore our top judges to the bench. But when it comes to the Taliban, it seems incapable of speaking with one voice.

There is little sense of an impending crisis, just the blithe belief that the Taliban are not as bad as they seem, and that in any case, Pakistan’s fractious government and security services are no match for these men with beards and guns. I hear vague comparisons with the days before the Iranian revolution; the only problem is that we don’t seem to have a Khomeini, at least not yet. And we do have nuclear bombs.

In my hometown in Punjab, a businessman friend was inspired by the news from Swat. “If two hundred Taliban take over our town, then we can all start making our own decisions. Who needs this corrupt system anyway?” My friend is a typical middle-class conservative Pakistani, and people in cities across the country share his excitement. I tried to reason with him: “You drop your daughters off at school every morning, you always have music on in your car. That would be unthinkable if they take over.” He hesitated and then rolled out the explanation that most urban Pakistanis offer.

“What they are doing in Swat is their Pashtun culture,” he said, speaking of the ethnic group that dominates western Pakistan. “Islam says education is compulsory for every man and woman. And we Punjabis don’t have their culture.”

I have confronted the same naive assertion on TV talk shows and in Urdu newspapers: The Taliban ideology is sound; it’s their methods that need to be modified. Somehow people hope that when the Islamists march into Lahore or Islamabad, they’ll suddenly realize that Islam is a religion of peace, that music is good and that girls should be allowed to go to school.

People who have experienced Taliban rule have no such illusions. When the Taliban took over Swat, they held a “peace” march. Thousands of men in black turbans and regulation beards stomped through the city. “There wasn’t a single local among them,” a schoolteacher in Mingora recalled.”I sat at home with my family and quivered with fear.” Then he hesitated and made sure that my recorder was switched off, afraid that what he was about to say might be seen as blasphemous. “I felt like a non-Muslim citizen of Mecca the day it was conquered by prophet Muhammad’s army. And I am a practising Muslim.”

Among the women of Swat, the fear and resignation is even stronger. The Taliban have blown up girls’ schools and dumped bodies of professional dancers in Bloody Square. Women told me their stories behind closed doors, from under their newly purchased burqas, and always after extracting solemn promises of anonymity. “We have become prisoners in our own houses. We can’t even go out to buy groceries. It’s all over for us,” one told me.

This resignation was on display recently when a video surfaced showing the Taliban flogging a teen-age girl for stepping out of her house unaccompanied by a male family member. The gruesome display outraged civil society and portions of the media.

But apologists for the Taliban were louder, and the response in Pakistan followed a pattern that has become familiar since 9/11: first denial and then willful ignorance. “The video was fake.” “The media should not have run it.” “Are you using this video as an excuse to criticize the Koran?”

By the time the debate died down, the Urdu media had concluded that the video was part of a conspiracy to derail the Swat peace deal, but that the punishment was appropriate. Again the justifications. Maybe the Taliban had not followed the proper procedures, but surely they can be reasoned with.

While Taliban cheerleaders monopolize the airwaves, their advance parties are already in the cities. Schools in Lahore and Islamabad are routinely shut down after receiving anonymous threats. The education ministry circulated a notice in Karachi last week warning coed schools to beef up security. The same is true in the industrial hub of Sialkot.

Sure, thousands have turned up at anti-Taliban rallies; there are Facebook groups galore protesting their policies. But people know that raising a banner in a city square or clicking on an e-petition is not going to convince the Taliban to give up their arms and go back to their day jobs (or, in most cases, return to an endless cycle of unemployment).

There were hopes that Pakistan’s security services would fight the Taliban, but the army and the intelligence agencies seem so obsessed with the supposed menace from India that they are ignoring the menace at home. If they are not colluding with the Taliban, as many observers believe they are, they are staying neutral. In fact, they are so neutral that they rent their bases to the United States for launching missile-laden unmanned aircraft while simultaneously supporting the very people those missiles are aimed at.

The writer, a special correspondent for the BBC’s Urdu service, is the author of the novel, “A Case of Exploding Mangoes”

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post
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Kashmiri Pandits look back in pain
by Anuja Khushu

“I want to see my apple trees, take me to my orchards. I want to sit under the Chinar tree. Want to see my fields, my cows, buffalo sheds. Take me to my Kashmir,” says Gunwati (75) everytime when someone happens to pass by her home or comes to see her family.

Neha Pandita (16), who lives in Mishriwala Camp, says that her parents burst into tears everytime they remember their lives in Kashmir. “Sometimes I enjoy these things but only in dreams and not in reality. But I want to see all these in reality”.

Even today the years of living under constant stress has left women like Gunwati ravaged. While Gunwati longs for the land of her youth, for young Neha it does not even form the stuff of memories having spent most of her growing years in a camp in Jammu, hearing about the homeland only from the older generation.

Both women are from the community of Kashmiri Pandits, who were forced out of their homes in the Kashmir Valley because of militancy in the early 90s.

For these women and thousands of people grenade explosions, killings and encounters are more common their perhaps a routine day at work or a family gathering for the evening meal.

The pain of experiencing brutal killings, of damaged houses and watching communities migrate to other regions, all had a direct bearing on the psyche of the people who lived in the conflict zone.

The fallout of this has been highly detrimental to the psyche of people across Kashmir leading to widespread stress-related disorders. For the community of Kashmiri Pandits, however, this has been compounded by the fact that they have been rendered homeless and rootless. Now living in Jammu, they still carry the scars.

As many as 3,00,000 people have fled their home and hearth, reduced to living the lives of refugees outside Kashmir. In what appears to be a flicker of a moment, they lost almost everything that their lives were based on — their roots, identity, homes, possessions and, most painful, their sense of belonging. Their memories are full of the trauma and tragedy of being uprooted.

Even after 18 years of migration, a majority of the Kashmiri Pandits are living in squalid camps in Jammu, Udhampur and Delhi with families of five to six people often huddled into a small room.

Living in abysmal conditions in camps, they face spiralling health and economic problems. Sometimes a single room is shared by three generations. At other places, sometimes six families live in one hall separated by partitions of blankets or bed sheets. For those who had lived in the idyllic environs of the Kashmir valley, the degeneration of life has been unbearable.

A leading neurologist, Dr Sushil Razdan, conducted a study to estimate the prevalence of dementia among the elderly in a migrant camp at Mishirwala, Jammu. He found that it is 6.5 per cent among the Kashmiri Pandits, aged 60 years and above, which is higher than that reported from other parts of India.

“Such individuals, mostly middle-aged, are unable to adjust to a cultural set up, language and environment alien to them and so many other things,” says Dr Razdan. He adds that they feel cut-off and experience a sense of aloofness as most of the youngsters in search of a better future have moved to different parts of the country and even abroad, leaving their old parents alone.

A 1997 study based on inquiries at various migrant camps in Jammu and Delhi revealed that there had been only 16 births compared to 49 deaths in about 300 families between 1990 and 1995, a period during which terrorist violence in J&K was at its peak. Deaths were recorded mostly of people in the age group of 20 to 45.

Dr K.L. Chowdhary, an eminent physician and neurologist, says: “Causes for the low birth rates were primarily identified as premature menopause in women, hypo-function of the reproductive system and lack of adequate accommodation and privacy.”

The trauma of the exodus has taken a toll on all. The incidence of stress-related conditions like insomnia, depression and hypertension have increased and birth rates have declined significantly.

Doctors who have been treating members of the community say that they had aged physically and mentally by 10 to 15 years beyond their natural age and this trend could threaten their very existence as a community. Their relatively small number, coupled with a tradition of non-violent protest, has made them largely irrelevant in the political discourse.

After the exodus of 1990, most Kashmiri Pandits were hopeful that they would one day return to their homes in the Valley with the same honour and dignity they once had. But the months stretched into years and now the years have stretched into a decade-and-a-half of exile, whose end is nowhere in sight.

The yearning for their homeland is still confined to the dreams that Gunwati and others like her cherish of, once again, seeing their precious Chinar trees and apple orchards in the Kashmir valley.

— Charkha Features
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Delhi Durbar
Keeping off Narendra Modi

Arun Shourie may be touting Narendra Modi as some great ‘Hindutva’ icon and the next in line for India’s premiership, but the real test of his popularity ought to be determined by how many of the party candidates, particularly in Bihar and Jharkhand, readily invited the Gujarat Chief Minister to canvass for them.

One BJP leader who has rejected outright Modi’s offer to campaign for him is Yashwant Sinha, contesting from Hazaribagh in Jharkhand. Another is Arjun Munda in Jamshedpur.

Modi went all the way to Koderma, close to Hazaribagh. And Munda’s people in Jamshedpur admitted privately that with dissensions between the Congress and the JMM, Munda was hoping to secure some non-BJP votes too and Modi’s arrival would immediately put off fence-sitters.

The same was true of Sinha, whose rival CPI would have gone to town if Modi had campaigned in Hazaribagh. So much for the nationwide popularity of Modi, already being hailed as its next prime ministerial candidate by the saffron party.

Ragging menace

It was a trip down the memory lane for Justices Arijit Pasayat and Asok Kumar Ganguly when they heard for an hour the arguments of the lawyers of Himachal Pradesh and other ragging-hit states last week.

“How pleasant was our childhood, totally free from peer or parental pressure, quite contrary to the experience of children these days,” the judges reminisced, instantly transporting all the middle-aged people present in the jam-packed court to their memorable salad days.

The parents of the 19-year-old first year medical student of Dr Rajendra Prasad Government Medical College (RPGMC), Tanda (HP), who was killed in a brutal ragging incident, were present in the visitors’ enclosure with moist eyes.

It was quite depressing that the country’s value system had degenerated to this level where ragging was rampant with inebriated senior students tormenting their hapless juniors, who were just out of their traumatic experience of school-level Board exams, the judges observed.

Sri Lanka issue

Usually, Foreign Ministry mandarins conduct diplomacy away from the media glare. But it was a different story altogether this time when unrest spread all over Tamil Nadu in view of the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka. With political parties in the state engaged in scoring brownie points over each other over the plight of Tamil civilians caught in the conflict in Sri Lanka, the UPA is obviously worried about the likely fallout of the situation on the poll prospects of its ally, the DMK.

Hence, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh summoned Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee from the latter’s campaign trail and held an emergency late night meeting last week at which it was decided to send NSA M.K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon to Colombo as India’s special emissaries to convey to President Rajapaksa New Delhi’s concern over the plight of civilians.

The grapevine has it that New Delhi has again demanded that Prabhakaran be handed over to India if he is captured to stand trial in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

To this, Sri Lanka’s response was: “We will hand him over to you as soon as we finish him.”

Contributed by Faraz Ahmad, R. Sedhuraman and Ashok Tuteja
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Corrections and clarifications

  • The headline “UN chief rushes to Colombo” ( Page 11, April 26) was misleading as the report referred to the UN “humanitarian chief” and not the Secretary General.
  • In the report “ 4 held in PMT scam” ( Page 23, April 19) it should be read “ entrance test” and not “ examination test”.
  • In the report “Code violation: DC gets FIR lodged” ( Page 3, April 20, Haryana edition), it should be Representation of the People Act’ and not ‘Public Act’.
  • In separate reports ( Page 1, April 21 and Page 4, April 26) on the Akali manifesto and a political rally in Gurdaspur, the word “ stacked” has been incorrectly used to describe money ‘stashed’ abroad.
  • In the report about six medical students of Tanda getting expelled (Page 10, April 26), the word “returned” was sufficient to indicate that students had come back drunk. The word ‘back’ with ‘returned’ is redundant..
  • In the same report from Kangra, it should read ‘unruly’ in place of ‘hardcore’.

Despite our earnest endeavour to keep The Tribune error-free, some errors do creep in at times. We are always eager to correct them.

We request our readers to write or e-mail to us whenever they find any error. We will carry corrections and clarifications, wherever necessary, every Tuesday & Friday.

Readers in such cases can write to Mr Uttam Sengupta, Associate Editor, The Tribune, Chandigarh, with the word “Corrections” on the envelope. His e-mail ID is uttamsengupta@tribunemail.com.

H.K. Dua, Editor-in-Chief

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