Localizing The Soldier

If everything goes as per the script then some soldiers in Kashmir peripheries will be busy with local tongue-twisters next month. Lt Gen Syed Atta Hasnain who leads the Srinagar based 15-corps announced in Handwara that the army will learn Kashmiri language, culture and sensibilities in an attempt to connect with the local population and “win their hearts”.

The army hopes to teach the language to at least 300 soldiers and officers every year in formal classrooms at the Human Resource Development Centre of the Corps command. They have already evolved a capsule course for soldiers to learn Kashmiri but classes were held infrequently. Defence spokesman told reporters that now the classes will be more frequent and will be pursued vigorously.

As per the doctrine that eventually led to the establishment of Rashtriya Rifles, the force – a paramilitary managed and controlled by the army – would be stationed across J&K and will be encouraged to eventually get ingrained in the local culture. As the operational assignments are gradually coming down, the force can invoke the long term goals.

But Kashmir’s linguistic activists need not to be happy because they are not being employed by the army. The army has its own educational staff and it is currently using the services of its two regiments, J&K Light Infantry and J&K Rifles, which has sizeable number of Kashmiri jawans.

Apart from the language, it is cricket that forms part of army’s ‘outreach’ programme. It intends to launch a Kashmir Premier League in the coming summer. General Hasnian said they will be selected one or two teams from every Kashmir district and the best will be sponsored to get trained in the best academies. Plans are to arrange the Twenty-20 tournaments this summer.

Given the keen interest that the people exhibited in the just concluded world cup – to the level of India versus Pakistan, the army pitched fixed major screens in the countryside to help locals watch the match. There were plans of showing the match on these screens at 12 places. But the idea was abandoned on police intervention that forced a ban on watching the match in public places in Srinagar.

Disciplining Lawmakers
State’s lawmakers are used to going with party whips rather than individual understanding on issues. That is perhaps why they have left a key area untouched. Under the central Peoples Representation Act of 1951 that was amended around 10 years back, the MPs and MLAs forming the electoral colleges for Rajya Sabha are bound to vote in open in accordance with the whips of their respective parties. All the voters are openly voting even in J&K as far as elections for Rajya Sabha are concerned. But they cannot do it the same way when they vote for the State Legislative Council members for which elections are slated on April 13.

The parties have issued the whips but who knows who votes for whom and if there is cross voting it will have surprising results. Under the J&K Peoples’ Representation Act, the MLAs cannot show their votes to the whip or the authorized polling agent because it will make the ballot paper invalid. So the lawmakers have left a lacuna in the law that gives them the autonomy of listening to the whip and deciding the vote preference at individual level. There is a stringent anti-defection law but how can it be proved that A voted for B and not C. This can trigger horse trading.

This has created a crisis because there are groupings in all parties. Congress factionalism led to withdrawals of its two members that triggered acrimony. PDP is apprehensive that a few of its members may not stick to the word. Even there are serious problems within NC as well. For six berths, there are 12 candidates – three each from NC and BJP and two each from PDP, Congress and NPP – in fray.

So the executive has taken over. A Jammu newspaper reported that government agencies are closely monitoring the movement of all “high focus MLAs”, besides certain bank accounts and telephonic communications. It said four BJP MLAs have assured support to the NC candidate against “a deluge of favours, both personal and political.”

The Concern
Locals celebrating the return of 84 young Kashmiri Pandit employees in Hawl belt of Pulwama was preceded by two incidents not linked to the function directly. These were two statements that came from former governor Jagmohan and erstwhile JKLF leader Bita Karatay. Both of them are accused of making direct contributions to the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits.

Jagmohan recently told reporters that Pandits did not flee on his advice. Before he entered the Srinagar Raj Bhawan, he has said, 25000 Pandits had already fled! He has insisted that he tried his bit to arrest the migration but failed in wake of prominent Pandits getting slain. Jagmohan has termed the allegations on this front against him as mere propaganda that was unleashed by the pro-Pakistan elements in Kashmir who were scared by his earlier “excellent” track record as J&K governor.

On the other front a Banglore based tabloid carried a report carrying Farooq Ahmad Dar alias Bitta Karatay saying that he was concerned over the state of Kashmiri Pandits and is encouraging them to return. Karatay was in jail for over 17 years for killing a number of Pandits.

But after over two decades when a complete generation of the Pandits is at the core of decision-making of the community, do these statements really matter. Reasons that led to the exodus are well known and the situation is offering its own remedies to the problems. Let the past players stay away.

It is non-lethal now
Bonhomie for two years is too much of it, even if it is the trade between the two halves of Kashmir. Last week (April 6, 2011), the trans-LoC traders in Poonch met at zero land in full attendance of the officers from two sides, fought a pitched battle that included a small fist-fighting segment as well. The trade that was closed for last three week is unlikely to resume till the bonhomie “wounds” are healed.

In absence of proper communication between the traders, banking, clarity on currency and tradable items, the barter trade is suffering for want of a dispute resolution mechanism. It was the latter that triggered a crisis forcing the two to fight with each other. Members of the trade from both sides accused each other of being dishonest and defaulters eventually coming to blows as the facilitators were watching!

Unlike the trade in Kashmir, the Poonch traders had evolved a system of their own. Every three months they would meet around zero line in presence of the officials and decide on various issues regarding trade. Usually this meeting would decide about the exchange rate for the next quarter.

Officials who were witness to the non-televised, rare non-lethal battle on the LoC said at least half a dozen traders from Rawlakot (PaK) blamed their counterparts in Jammu and Poonch of purchasing high-cost items from them and later exporting low-cost items at inflated values in exchange. Similar charges were levelled by around 8-10 traders from this side as well.

Maqbool Ahmed and Abdul Hamza of M/s Maqbool and Hamza Traders of Muzaffarabad, virtually came to blows with Haji Latief from Poonch forcing officers to intervene.

Traders from both the sides – 60 from J&K and 90 from PaK – had brought their detailed accounts with them to manage the disputes but failed. Rawalkot side accused 29 Jammu traders of being defaulters and 18 from Poonch sides “bartered” the allegation to 18 traders of PaK. As the situation was not conducive for any more discussions, the meeting was called off and the two sides tentatively decide to use telephone to settle disputes. Next meeting between the two sides is scheduled for July.

Charity Starts At Home
Javed Iqbal Balwan, a KAS officer who is Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Jammu & Kashmir State Wakf Council (SWC) and ex-officio Special Officer of Auqaf has been accused of allotting a shop at Talab Khatikan to his wife Chaman Ara. It is being dubbed as the start of “charity at home”.It is all about a building that SWC built through Jammu Municipal Corporation at Khatikan for rehabilitating house owners and shopkeepers whose properties are being demolished for expansion and beautification of Masjid Khatikaan in Jammu and widening of a road from Taj Hotel to DC office.

Interestingly the officer’s wife moved the application soon after her husband took over as the custodian of affairs. She never was affected by the demolition and road widening plans, according to reports appearing in media in Jammu.

The officer has confirmed that he was not only present in the meeting in which the requested was approved and confirmed, but all the Council members were aware that the application belongs to his wife. He has been quoted saying that she got a shop allotted after all the people affected in the expansion plans were rehabilitated, a claim reports dispute. Decisions taken by the State Wakf Council cannot be challenged even in court. Reports claim that the locals are willing to offer a premium of half a million bucks for the shop that CEO’s wife is being given for a premium of Rs 100 thousand.

This case is termed to be an opposite of another interesting case in which a highly corrupt officer drafted documents suggesting that he is divorced from his wife. Before his divorce he had transferred the titles of all his properties to his wife. Nobody can touch him because as per documentary evidence they are separated. Actually they are not!!

After Forty Years
Fr Jim Borst, 79, a Dutch missionary had been asked for the second time since July last year, to leave J&K within seven days following the deportation order by state government on accusations of carrying out proselytizing activities.

Earlier also Borst was  served a notice by the Foreigners Registration Officer, (FRO) to quit by July 2010. But, later his permission was renewed till 2014.

Borst is an educator who has served as Principal since September 1963 at St Joseph’s School, Baramulla started by the Mill Hill Missionaries in 1905 and Burn Hall School, Srinagar started by the same missionaries in 1954.

Since 1997, Borst is running two schools in Kashmir. Both are called “School of the Good Shepherd”, one in Pulwama and the other in Shivpora, Srinagar.

According to Joseph K Dhar Predhuman, a Kashmiri Pandit and a close associate of Borst, there is no evidence of his proselytizing activities. Dhar has translated the Bible into the Kashmiri Language with Borst and converted to Catholicism.

Mgr Peter Celestine, Bishop of the state had branded the allegations as “fabricated and baseless” on the priest’s deportation.
Several Muslim figures received their education right from Dr Farooq Abdullah to Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and the present chief minister Omar Abdullah from schools started by the missionaries both the Catholic and Protestant.

 In 2003, his institution, Good Shepherd School, Pulwama was attacked on two occasions by unidentified gunmen.

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