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Fifth column

April 28, 2018
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Musings on Kashmir

Opinion

April 28, 2018

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New ban on students: More than two months after her rape and murder, Asifa’s ordeal finally registered on India’s conscience when the international media took up the story following open support from extremist Hindu lawyers for the perpetrators of this crime.

In her death, the eight-year-old girl seems to have provoked and united saner elements within India as we witnessed massive support and solidarity marches across the country, with active participation from students.

In contrast, students in Kashmir are denied the luxury of articulating any kind of support for the girl. Last week, the police attacked several peaceful student marches across the valley, injuring dozens with pellet-firing hunting shotguns. Jammu and Kashmir’s Minister for Education Altaf Bukhari issued a stern warning to the students against “rowdy behaviour” and threatened action. He has now ordered a three-month ban on student coaching centres to stem any organised movement against Asifa’s rapists and murderers.

Earlier, the Mehbooba Mufti-led government allowed dozens of pro-rape rallies from Hindu extremists in Jammu who wanted the police to release the culprits. Ironically, as compared to the peaceful Kashmiri demonstrations, the Hindutva demonstrators also included people brandishing weapons. But the police chose to watch them helplessly and without any interference.

Modi Ji in London: Narendra Modi’s latest visit to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting attracted thousands who opposed his visit, mainly from India’s minorities – Muslims, Sikhs and Kashmiris. There was also a small group that welcomed the Indian prime minister. Among them was a woman who introduced herself to journalists as Sharada, representing Kashmiri Pandits.

When asked to comment on the brutal rape and murder of Asifa Bano, Sharada dismissed the query with a sinister grin, saying that she was only representing the Pandits. Oddly, Sharada is another name for Saraswati, the Hindu goddess for knowledge. Another gentleman, who claimed to be a lawyer, maintained that Asifa was never raped and that it was all propaganda advanced by the Pakistani media.

The denial of Asifa’s rape is being popularised by Hindutva groups and associated social media networks. Now, the print media has also jumped on the bandwagon. A few days back, ‘Dainik Jagran’, one of the largest circulated Hindi dailies, ran a lead story that claimed that Asifa was not raped. The story was endlessly shared and commented upon in the parallel universe run by Hindutva hate-mongers and trolls. Two weeks back, Nandkumar Singh Chauhan, a senior BJP leader and the party’s head in Madhya Pradesh, claimed a “Pakistani hand” was behind the gruesome crime.

New rape scandal: A new rape scandal involving a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) legislator has come to the fore. For quite some time, there were rumours doing the rounds about some PDP members being involved in forcing innocent girls into sex work and trading them with high officials in Jammu and Delhi to earn favours. Now, a respectable Indian website called newslaundry.com has revealed that Abdul Majid Paddar, one of the PDP legislators and a former minister, is involved in a major sex racket.

As the story broke, Paddar claimed innocence on the basis that “he is also a parent”. As the news broke, the police hurriedly filed a charge sheet after a hiatus of more than two months. But it does not mention Paddar’s name because the minor did not include his name in her statement. However, according to the minor, she was directed by the police not to name the legislator “as it would cause too much uproar”.

So far, there has been no word on this from either Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti or her party worker Nayeema Mehjoor, who heads the Jammu and Kashmir State Commission for women. Mehjoor is a former BBC broadcaster who joined the PDP after she was made redundant by the British government mouthpiece.

While she usually laps up every opportunity to generate publicity for herself, she has avoided pursuing cases of violence against women who are either politically motivated or could have the potential to inflame her boss.

Omar Abdullah at Berkeley: Former chief minister and president of the National Conference (NC) Omar Abdullah had to abandon his public talk at Berkeley University after a strong and forceful protest by Kashmiri students. As he was entering the venue, Huma Dar, a Kashmiri writer and academic, told him: “I will take you to International Court. You are a war criminal. You, your father [and] your grandfather”.

Another Kashmiri, Latif Bazaz, asked him tough questions as Abdullah looked visibly shaken. Interestingly, Bazaz – whom I know personally as my senior at the University of Kashmir – comes from a strong pro-National Conference background. Abdullah’s sinister role in supporting the murder of hundreds of Kashmiri civilians in the public rebellions between 2008 and 2010 and the 2009 Shopian twin rape and murder of women, is profoundly remembered in Kashmir and continues to earn scorn for the NC and its leaders.

Displaying his blatant insularity towards Kashmiri sufferings, Abdullah later tweeted that it was a successful event as only four people out of a 150 audience heckled at him. In another tweet, he belittled the emotions of the protesters, saying that: “at least no one threw eggs or a shaving foam pie at me”. Earlier, an online campaign against the Berkeley invitation to Omar Abdullah was signed by scores of Kashmiris and their supporters across the world. I was also one of the signatories to the petition.

A condolence meeting: Two days after Omar Abdullah’s failed Berkeley event, I found myself attending a function organised by his party in Anantnag. It was the third death anniversary of Abdul Ghani Shah Veeri, a NC leader and former minister of Hajj and Auqaf. His son, Bashir Veeri – a medical doctor by profession – is also a leading NC leader and former legislator.

Apart from being loosely related through my grandfather, we have been friends since our school days despite the vast differences in our political outlook. Ironic as it may seem, I was asked to address the gathering that eventually became more of a political rally than a condolence meet. This was the first time that I had attended a political rally from a pro-India party, let alone addressed one.

Before paying tributes to senior Veeri, I introduced myself as a committed opponent of the party and furnished a brief catalogue of reasons for that. I wanted to speak more about it, but was ‘subtly reminded’ to keep myself in check by another senior NC leader who started to pinch my legs – a classic Kashmiri tactic to overwhelm your ‘enemies’. This left me with no choice but to hurriedly wind up with a fateha for the departed soul.

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli

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