NEWSNOTES

   

The SITUATION

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AS the people in Kashmir Valley woke up on Saturday morning, the social networking sites were abuzz with rumors about the hanging of Mohammad Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri convict in the 2001 Parliament Attack.

Restrictions were imposed in all the parts of valley and paramilitary forces deployed at around 2 am in morning. As the news spread, people started coming out of their homes and started protesting. The centre of the protests was north Kashmir where Afzal Guru lived.

In Baramulla town, 36 people were bought to district hospital and treated for different injuries, according to hospital administration. Out of them, eight were referred to Srinagar for further treatment and one of them, according to doctors at Baramulla hospital, might lose his eyesight.

The critically injured who was bought to Srinagar was a 14-year-old Ubaid Mushtaq, a resident of Watergam area in Rafiabad. He breathed his last at the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS)in Srinagar where doctors were under reportedly under pressure to declare as dead those protestors who had expired. Apparently the doctors had thought of putting Ubaid on ventilator when the family came to know about his death and decided to move his dead body in the wee hours of morning. Thousands of people participated in his funeral in Watergam.

Some SKIMS doctors were quoted in a section of newspapers that they were working under duress and not to declare any protestor dead. “We have been told by our bosses that nobody should die. They told us that they have been directed by the government,” said a senior doctor at SKIMS. “We have been told that if somebody succumbs, he should not be declared dead.”

After the death of two youth in Sumbal, Sonawari, the state government said a boat had “capsized” on February 10, “drowning” the 24-year-old Tariq Ahmad Bhat and 14-year-old Zameer Ahmad Dar.

Five persons were rescued. IGP Kashmir SM Sahai had appealed the forces to exercise restraint while dealing with protesters. “Investigations in Watergam incident will reveal the other people involved in the incident. CRPF men are assisting the police,” he said.

On the other hand, the unabated use of pepper and teargas by police and paramilitary forces on protestors in Kashmir raised a serious health concern among the experts and medicos. Doctors cautioned people about the ill-effects of pepper gas, “When the skin is exposed to it, people can experience tingling, intense burning pain, swelling, redness, and, occasionally, blistering. If it gets in the eyes, it can cause pain and stinging and/or temporary blindness that lasts for an hour or so,” said an eye specialist.

So far, hundreds of people have been arrested in nocturnal raids by state police in various parts of Kashmir. The arrests have created a fear among the youth and they are playing hide-and-seek with the police to evade arrest. So far, three protestors have died and many are injured.

Braving BAJRANG DAL

HANGING of Afzal Guru had its impact outside Kashmir as well. Despite being in minority, Kashmiris wherever present in India came out and protested vehemently. Not only police, but right wing Hindu groups also attacked the protesting Kashmiris. “Never seen such helplessness when a few Kashmiri students and professionals joined in by their friends from JNU were beaten by Sangh activists, Hindustan Times reported.

The protesters including girls raised freedom slogans in a surcharged atmosphere. As reported, the goons were there even before the protesters started arriving with some Kashmiri Pandits lurking in the background. The protest witnessed freedom slogans and demands of justice. “Lekey Rahenge Azadi” , the protesters shouted while being whisked away by police.

Not only in Delhi, 16 Kashmiri students were booked by Dehradun police for “unlawful assembly” and “disturbing peace.” No action was taken against Hindu groups who attacked the students. In turn, the students who carried out peaceful protest march were booked under Section 151 of the CrPC. The students belonging to Hemawati Nandan Baughna Garwhal University and its affiliated colleges were booked after they held funeral prayers in absentia for Afzal. Later the students were released on bail and reportedly they have reportedly gone into hiding because of fear.

Police said the students from Kashmir were taken into custody to avert any confrontation with VHP activists who were also planning to stage a parallel demonstration.

In Bundelkhand University, similar incident was reported which left three Kashmiri students injured.

‘Justice Hanged’, a printed statement carried by over 100 protesters in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) campus to protest against the “country’s criminal justice system.” said

Stop PRESS

AFTER the news of Afzal Guru’s hanging broke last Saturday, strict restrictions followed and so did the clampdown on media and internet services in Kashmir valley. This is not something new to Kashmir. Every time a crisis of this nature evolves and media becomes the first casualty of the state’s security apparatus.

As an eerie calm prevailed in Kashmir last Saturday, vernacular newspaper editors and printers were informed by police not to make any effort to go to print. The order was ‘verbal’ and police party was sent to printing presses to ensure that there was no activity. All the newspapers which defied the orders were stopped from hitting stands on Sunday with bundles of copies seized by police prior to their circulation.

Omar Abdullah tried to wash his hands and sought to blame security forces for the clampdown on media, the security grid released a government order issued by the Srinagar District Magistrate on February 9, 2013. “In view of apprehensions of the breach of peace and to stop the incitement of the violence, the broadcast/telecast of the news from local radio / FM / cable channels operating in District Srinagar are hereby suspended temporarily, till further orders,” the three lines order said. “The order has clear hand written marking to the police for strict compliance.”

The ban didn’t extend to Delhi-based news networks. Though the order did not mention newspapers, the offices stayed shut nonetheless. “Police talks to us on day-to-day basis that they will not permit us to print,” Abdul Rashid Mukhdoomi, the printer and publisher of Greater Kashmir said. “They even go to printing presses on daily basis.” He said he was unaware of any order and has not been served so far. “The tragic part is that we do not know when they will permit us to go to the print,” he said.

Though all the major newspapers used their online editions to update news, it served no purpose because internet services were withdrawn, excluding BSNL’s home broadband service in a few selected areas. Even though the news channels are operating, not many people are able to watch news. Cable operators were asked not to beam the news channels. Only those people have access to news channels who have installed private dishes.

Admitting that there was no official order to stops newspapers from printing, a senior official said that in law and order situation, it is the police that takes over from state administration. When newspapers resumed functioning on Wednesday, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said that there was no ban imposed on publication of newspapers. “There is no ban on newspapers in Kashmir. Papers are choosing not to print because restrictions make delivery of newspapers impossible,” Omar wrote on micro-blogging site Twitter.”If there was a ban, then it would have extended to their Internet editions as well which are regularly being updated,” he said.

Omar challenged, “And those continuously going on about a ‘government gag’ would be well advised to produce a single copy of this gag order,” he added. He conveniently forgot to mention who the in charge of security grid in Kashmir was.

Brand Tourism

REAPING the benefits of apparent peace, Bollywood filmmakers are returning to the state which was once their favorite shooting destination. Latest arrival were Bollywood heartthrobs Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone who came to shoot for the upcoming film “Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani” at the famous ski resort of Gulmarg. Last King Khan visited valley for his movie jab Tak Hai Jaan

Tourism minister of state said that “violence levels have fallen considerably of late, prompting revival of tourism and the arrival of domestic and foreign tourists in Kashmir has gone up.”

Of late, the expectation of heavy tourist inflow this year received a setback with Afzal Guru’s hanging Many were on their way out of the valley. The situation put a question mark on the tourism related activity. “Most of tourists who were there chose to go back. They were perhaps frightened,” said a hotelier.

After two successful years, 2013 has not given the hope to continue. Jammu and Kashmir tourism department officials said the tension on the LoC after the killing of two Indian soldiers by Pakistani troops and Afzal’s hanging had taken a toll on the industry.

“Only few tourists were present in Kashmir and they too are mostly those who had come for skiing at Gulmarg. While many tourists have left, there have been many cancellations too, roughly 40 per cent,” an official said.

The repercussions were felt across the global. The United Kingdom advised its citizens against travelling to Jammu and Kashmir following imposition of curfew in the Valley in the wake of Guru’s execution.

The UK had partially withdrawn its adverse travel advisory on J&K last year, which advised its citizens against visiting the Valley. The advisory was imposed in 1995. The UK was the third major country to revoke travel advisory on Kashmir after Germany and Japan.

The larger concern is whether state will pick threads from 2012 and continue the trend or else the graph will drop. No matter how many records the state will break in receiving the tourist, but the ultimately reality is that, peace here is fragile. Routine tourism apart, there is concern what will be the mood when annual Amarnath Yatra will start, this time for a extended period?

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