Thursday, August 12, 2010

Kashmir's cry for 'freedom'

It is yesterday once more in Kashmir. From the time I have flown into the valley on Monday, Srinagar has resembled a ghost town, bringing back memories of a visit two years ago. The only signs of life are tetchy security forces manning checkpoints or idly fiddling with their mobile phones, the odd chemist or a cigarette shop that is open, an occasional car with a flashing red beacon or an ambulance hurtling down its empty roads, a "ration truck" bringing in supplies to its besieged residents. The interminable day and night curfews have drained all life out of Srinagar. People have retreated into their homes leaving back graffiti on the walls screaming Go Back India! In the restive old city, surly young men sit outside shuttered homes and shops and glare at the troops peering out of sandbagged bunkers and manning the razor wire checkpoints. People wake up at the crack of dawn to store up on supplies when the grocers open for a few minutes. At night, an eerie silence descends over the city as the moon plays hide and seek with the clouds.
It is another summer of unrest in what is possibly the most scenic valley in the world. Two months of cyclical violence between stone pelting protesters and heavily armed security forces have left more than 50 dead - mostly teenagers. Things are looking grimmer than ever before. It's a summer that could turn out to be another defining point in the valley's tortured history. A whole generation of children of the conflict - Kashmiri writer Basharat Peer evocatively calls it their "war of adolescence" - who grew up in the days of militancy and violence in the early 1990s are driving the protests today. (Seven out of 10 Kashmiris are below 25.)
Growing up in the shadow of the gun and what they say is "perpetual humiliation" by the security forces, they are angry, alienated and distrustful of the state. As prominent opposition leader Mehbooba Mufti tells me when I visit her at her heavily secured home overlooking the stunning Dal lake: "If these young men are not given something to look forward to, God help Kashmir." The valley, most residents say, is in the early stages of an intifada.
Mainstream politicians admit that they have lost confidence of the people. "We can only wait and watch how the situation develops," says Ms Mufti. The hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani appears to be only leader with a modicum of legitimacy, however precarious. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's "give peace a chance " appeal to Kashmiris in a televised speech on Tuesday appears to have left them cold. When politics and the state withers away, it creates a dangerous vacuum. One senses an early beginning of this in Kashmir today.
In the labyrinthine heart of the old city of cone-roofed cheek by jowl brick homes and shops, old "heritage" houses in elegant decrepitude, overflowing sewers and potholed roads, India has receded further from the collective consciousness of its residents. In their homes, mothers are stocking memories of their dead children in trunks, suitcases, cupboards and school bags. Most have died in the firing by security forces.
One mother emptied a cupboard and a suitcase full of of her 14 yr-old boy's belongings for me. Wamiq Farooq had gone to play in the neighbourhood when a tear gas shell fired by the troops exploded on his head. Doctors tried to revive him for an hour at the hospital before declaring him dead. Now, sitting on a brown rug in a modest family home, his mother brings out Wamiq's red tie, red belt, white cap, fraying blue uniform, half a dozen school trophies, report cards, school certificates and then his pithy death certificate. "He is sure to be a face in the crowd," writes his school principal on one certificate praising Wamiq, the Tom and Jerry cartoons and science-loving teenaged son of a street vendor father. Then she slowly puts back Wamiq - his life and death - back into the suitcase and the cupboard and tells me, her eyes welling up: "I never understood why Kashmiri people demand freedom. After Wamiq's death, I do. I want freedom too. So that my children can return home unharmed and in peace."

Pregnant women told not to fast during holy Ramadan

Pregnant women who fast during Ramadan could be putting the health of their unborn baby at risk, according to a new study.
Fasting during the month is one of the five pillars of Islam, although pregnant women are exempt if it poses a risk to their health. However, some Muslim women still choose to fast, despite the health implications. Aanisa Butt, 32, fasted during both of her pregnancies.
''I wouldn't fast everyday, I would do one day of fasting followed by a day of rest. Doing alternate days helped me keep my energy levels up,'' she said.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and a time when Muslims across the world fast from dawn until sunset. ''When Ramadan falls in the summer, it can be really difficult to stay without food and water the whole day and if you're pregnant it is even more hard,'' said Aanisa.
''But I wasn't worried about my health or my baby's. I think Allah gives you strength and he protects your unborn child.'' Although Aanisa gave birth to two healthy sons, if women fast for long hours during their pregnancy it can result in problems for their unborn child.
A study by scientists in the United States, based on census data from the US, Iraq and Uganda, found that pregnant women who fast are likely to have smaller babies who are more prone to learning disabilities in adulthood. The researchers from Columbia University found that this trend was most marked if mothers-to-be fasted early on in their pregnancy and during the summer when longer days meant they went more hours without food. Religious leaders say pregnant women shouldn't attempt to fast as it puts the health of their unborn baby at risk.

Exempt :Imam Madani Abdur Rahman, from London, says Islam does give pregnant women options. Nurse Nuala Close says pregnant women should seek advice during Ramadan
''We have to assess the situation, if the doctor says fasting could cause problems for the mother or her baby, then women should not fast. Health must always come first," he added.
Pregnant women who request an exemption from fasting are expected to make up the days they have missed after the baby is born. Nuala Close is a nurse at Barts and London Hospital. She says many women do not make use of this provision. ''If women are exempt from fasting they have to make it up at another time, like once they've finished breastfeeding or in the lighter hours.

Kashmir crisis threatens pregnant women

Lack of regular check-ups cause complicated births
Srinagar: The ongoing crisis in the Kashmir Valley and the resultant curfews and restrictions has drastically slashed both the patient inflow and ante-natal checkup of expecting women, thereby taking toll on the health of the mother as well as the newborn.
Experts fear that lack of regular consultation during pregnancy and the increasing number of "obstruct" cases, is resulting in high mother-baby mortaility rate across the Valley. “Due to the lack of ante-natal checkup, we have witnessed some cases that are very hard to manage and treat in these situations,” a doctor at Srinagar's Lal Ded Hospital said. She said there has also been an increase in the referral cases to the tertiary-care hospital and this, according to her, has added challenges to the hospital administration. “We deal with such patients with utmost care. Despite a handful of staff available, we try to provide the best treatment possible to the patients,” she said. However, officials at LD declined to show the exact figures of mother-baby deaths, citing some technical problems as reasons. Most expecting women have their first and longest ante-natal checkup between weeks 8-12 of pregnancy. The doctors suggest that earlier the checkup, better for the patient; and there will also be check on the increasing mortality rate. Meanwhile, patients admitted that due to lack of regular examination during the period of pregnancy, they have to face lots of healthb problems. “It has been difficult for patients to visit consultants during the present Kashmir unrest. This has affected the maternity care badly. I had to spend more days at the hospital because of some complications,” said a patient Mehmooda from central Kashmir’s Budgam district.
Mehmooda’s newborn baby has been put on the ventilator and it is only her husband attending to the child at ward 218 of the hospital. Her other family members or relatives could not reach the hospital owing to the disturbed conditions, curfews and restrictions. Meanwhile, noted gynecologist and Principal Government Medical CollegeSrinagar Dr Shahida Mir told Rising Kashmir that the lack of ante-natal checkup and regular examination poses a severe health hazard which can take toll on the lives of the patients. “During ante-natal examination, complicacies get timely treatment which is good for both mother as well as the baby. But the ongoing crisis has put hurdles to this important checkup and is affecting their health,” she said. “We have been receiving several complicated cases and the number is ever rising. The prolonged curfews and restrictions across the Valley have crippled the OPD. But we have to remain firm to treat emergency cases,” Dr Mir said. “We have been receiving several complicated cases and the number is ever increasing. Prolonged curfews and restrictions across Valley have crippled the OPD. But we have to remain firm to treat emergency cases,” she said. Mir said that the morbidity rate among the patients is on increase and patients referred from different areas of the valley encounter many problems which later take toll on their health. "During the ongoing disturbances morbidity rate has increased and patients complain of different problems,” she added.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why Kashmir is again on a knife-edge

Whether they are being listened to or not, the people of Kashmir have been making a point every day for the past two months - they are tired of the status quo.
Twenty years after massive peaceful protests on the streets of the Kashmir Valley were superseded by violence, the people have hit the streets again - and not without good reason. About 50 people, mostly students, have been killed in sporadic police shootings since the death on 11 June of a Srinagar teenager, Tufail Ahmed Mattoo, who was killed by a tear gas shell as he returned home from class.Mattoo, who was just a few days shy of his 18th birthday, died after security forces opened fire on an anti-India demonstration, but locals say he was not involved in the protest.He was one of many teenagers who have fallen victim to Indian policemen and paramilitaries in Srinagar and other parts of the Kashmir Valley in the last two months.
There has been a depressing cycle of protests, death, violence at funerals and more deaths. And across Indian-administered Kashmir ordinary people - children, women and men - have been taking on police personnel.
What are their grievances?
After elections to the state assembly at the end of 2008, where Indian Kashmir saw a turnout of 60%, a popular government headed by Omar Abdullah - grandson of modern Kashmir founder Sheikh Abdullah - took power.
Kashmiris, Delhi felt, were now part and parcel of Indian democracy.
The elections came soon after protests over the planned transfer of some land near the Amarnath shrine, one of the holiest shrines of the Hindu religion.
The state government proposed the transfer of forest land to organisers of pilgrimages to the site, triggering controversy and anger.The authorities dropped the plan following Muslim protests, and then found itself subjected to Hindu demonstrations protesting that decision. At least five people were killed in the protests.The following year - in May 2009 - the Valley was rocked by allegations that two women had been raped and killed by the security forces.
And this year has been characterised by a seemingly never-ending series of street protests.
The approaching month of Ramadan may be the only thing that will dampen violence that has been raging since June.
"What we are seeing is a massive eruption of discontent that can turn into an insurgency," Wajahat Habibullah, a former chief secretary of Indian-administered KashmirIt shows that the leaders of Kashmir have lost contact with the people."
Sarwar Kashani, a young Kashmiri journalist based in Delhi, believes the sentiments which fuelled the Valley boycott of Indian elections in 1989 have not changed. "The rejection of the status quo remains," he says. For 20 years, the Indian state battled hard to deal with the militants. Now they have to deal with the people again. This time they are confronted with a largely leaderless mob - very different from fighting an insurgency.Over the last 20 years, many Indian prime ministers and leaders have promised the people of Kashmir different forms of autonomy. In 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set up five different committees to address their problems. But all these have come to nothing.The dialogue with Kashmiri leaders is off and the peace process with Pakistan is in limbo.
The government of India is lucky that the international focus on Kashmir is virtually non-existent. Some years ago, this would have been a big issue. British Prime Minister David Cameron did not use the K word (Kashmir) during his recent trip to India, but instead chose to talk about Pakistan.In the 1990s, Western countries would often refer to the disputed nature of the entire territory of Jammu and Kashmir. But, in the post-9/11 world, militancy has lost its sheen. The one-time champion of the Kashmiri cause, Pakistan, whose intelligence agencies propped up militant groups in the 1990s, has also lost much of its international credibility. In short, much of the world is not interested in Kashmir or the Kashmiris. The expansion of the Indian economy is another reason why the world does not want to anger Delhi. Indian officialdom can be quick to take offence and Western officials now seem to want to accommodate Delhi on Kashmir. In the end, it is not international attention (or the lack of it) that should govern Delhi's Kashmir policy. The world's largest democracy, and its civil society, must understand that stones cannot be met indefinitely by more bullets.
Anti-Indian sentiment is growing stronger among young Kashmiris

The new face of Kashmiri women

S.m. Hali
The freedom movement in Indian Held Kashmir has received fresh impetus with its women taking up the cause of freedom. The situation in Kashmir has greatly deteriorated since the death of a 17-year-old student, who succumbed to his injuries after being hit by a teargas shell. Protest rallies have been baton charged, teargassed and brutally fired upon, with more than 50 lives being lost. However, just as the freedom struggle seemed to be stagnating, the women emerged on the streets, beating on their utensils, throwing stones at the Indian forces and chanting slogans for freedom. Over the years, Kashmiri women have played an important role in the struggle for freedom. Names like Asiya Andrabi, who led protest rallies comprising Kashmiri women, have filled volumes. However, the image of Kashmiri women in the liberation struggle has been mostly of wives, mothers, sisters or daughters mourning over the dead body of a relative, who embraced shahadat as a result of the atrocities of the Indian army. The new face of the Kashmiri women is unparalleled. Hundreds of women and girls, many in shalwar kameez, have since been regularly out on the streets chanting “we want freedom!” and “blood for blood!” Indeed, their message is loud and clear. Although the Indian army has not refrained from targeting the unarmed women, dealing with female protesters is a fraught challenge for the police and paramilitary troops. Many women who do not directly take part in rallies carry drinking water to the protesters and also direct youths down escape routes as they flee from baton charges, teargas and gunfire.Exasperated by the deteriorating situation in Kashmir, India’s Interior Minister P. Chidambaram has alleged that Pakistan may have instigated these protests. This is the first time New Delhi has linked Pakistan to the recent spate of violence in the Kashmir Valley that began on June 11. Earlier, India had said Pakistan-based militants were inciting trouble in the region. “Pakistan appears to have altered its strategy in influencing events in Jammu and Kashmir,” Chidambaram told the Indian Parliament during a debate on the protests. India, however, remains confident that it can foil Pakistan’s “evil designs” if it is able to win the hearts and minds of the people.

Bashir Bhat condemned the killing of youth in Kashmir

Srinagar: Vice Chairman Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front(JKLF) Advocate Bashir Ahmad Bhat has strongly condemned the killing of youth at the hands of Indian Armed forces who are on killing spree and these trigger happy forces have unleashed reign of terror in all the fours of Kashmir and has expressed concern over the stepped up Human Rights violations , as a state policy Indian armed forces in Kashmir are on the budge of genocide , therefore JKLF urges world HR bodies especially ICRC, Asia Watch, Amnesty International ,Human Rights Watch especially United Nation`s Human Rights Commission to take the cognizance of recent cases – a sort of savagery demonstrated by Indian forces at the askance of India and its sleuths, Bhat said .He expressed grief and sorrow over the loss of precious lives in Leh after flash floods hit the Leh town and its adjoining regions where 200 are feared and more than 500 hundred are still missing JKLF expresses sympathies with the bereaved families . Vice Chairman JKLF has said that in 1947 India and Pakistan became two dominions but Kashmir was a separate state with recorded and rich history of 5000 years,after 1947 due to continued conflict Ladakh, including Aksai Chin and Gilgit-Baltistan became regions of geo-political importance and after 1962 Sino-Indo war whole of the Kargil region was converted into a military cantonment and afterwards a strategically important for India, Pakistan and China now the highest battle field in the world .