AFSPA & Kashmir

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Kashmir is in the news again for wrong reasons. Political leaders and parties are engaged in questioning each other’s intentions regarding their stand on Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The issue gained importance when J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah voiced his intention to revoke AFSPA from certain parts of AFSPA. It did not take long for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and right-winged groups associated with saffron brigade to strongly oppose this stand of Abdullah. Congress has also expressed its reservations on Abdullah’s views. Considering that Abdullah heads the J&K government with support of Congress, it has been expressed that before taking any decision on this issue, he needs to hold discussions and take opinion of Congress also. Subsequently, Abdullah indicated that the issue will be taken up by his cabinet after November 7, when the J&K government shifts to its winter capital, which is Jammu.

Clearly, Abdullah has not yet given the impression of having backtracked from his stand on withdrawing AFSPA from certain parts of J&K. At the same time, the political furore raised over the issue also suggests that he probably expressed his own personal opinion on AFSPA without consulting others in his government. There is also the possibility of his having deliberately expressed his stand on AFSPA only to gain an idea of various political opinions regarding the same. Considering that Abdullah is well-aware that withdrawal of AFSPA from any one or more parts of J&K is not in his hands alone, he probably deliberately voiced his intention primarily for some publicity and win over Kashmiris’ support on emotional lines. In other words, withdrawal of AFSPA actually from certain parts of J&K is not his immediate agenda. This point is proved by his decision to take up the issue at the state cabinet meeting after Eid-ul-Zuha. If the issue is taken up, it shall be followed by meetings, discussions, countering opposition and consultations with the central government, which are least likely to be completed in a short period. 

Against this backdrop, it is pertinent to analyze the AFSPA from another angle. Why has it been assumed that Kashmiris are against it? Basically, AFSPA is not confined to J&K alone. In fact, before J&K was covered by it, the armed forces were conferred special powers, as per AFSPA, in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. The AFSPA was brought in force in these states soon after the act was passed by the Indian Parliament on September 11, 1958. It was extended to J&K in July 1990. 

Legally, in areas proclaimed as “disturbed,” an officer of armed forces has powers to “fire upon,” “use force, even to the causing of death,” against any person “acting in contravention of any law,” “assembly of five or more persons” and/or “possession of deadly weapons.” The act also allows arrest without a warrant, with use of force against any person who has committed a certain offence or is suspected of the same. The act authorizes the officers to enter and search any premise to make arrests.

The AFSPA also gives army officers legal immunity for their actions. The legal immunity, however, prevails for actions taken as per the AFPSA. This also implies that if army officers falsely justify their acts as per the power granted to them by AFPSA, they can be subject to prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding. Against this backdrop, it is relevant to probe a little into how AFSPA has been understood, rather misunderstood, where J&K is concerned. It may be noted, situations in J&K have usually escalated to stage of crisis due to a confrontation between unarmed civilians and the police. In recent past, the involvement of forces and the militants has not been responsible for any major disturbance in the region. The affected Kashmiris have not yet recovered fully from last year’s tension between the civilians and the state-police. More than 100 people, including school children, fell victim to state-controlled bullets last year. Among the first to fall victim was a student Tufail Ahmad Mattoo. He was hit by a teargas shell fired by the police on June 11, 2010. The police was chasing a crowd of stone pelters at Rajouri Kadal. Mattoo was not a part of the crowd. To this day, his family members are waiting for justice. As per AFSPA or any other law, neither the army nor the state police can “legitimize” use of force that led to death of Mattoo. Not surprisingly, Mattoo’s death triggered protests throughout J&K. It is the death of Mattoo and other innocent civilians, who are targeted by state-controlled bullets that raises the question as to why has strict action not been taken against those responsible for these killings.

The army and police, it may be pointed out, fall under two different departments. Understandably, though AFSPA grants armed forces certain special powers in disturbed areas, it does not grant the same to the police. Also, as mentioned earlier, even soldiers are not granted legal immunity if their actions are not as per the norms laid out by AFSPA.

It may take months, even years before AFSPA is lifted from certain areas of J&K. The issue may remain confined to debates and discussions. In this context, rather than indulge only in deliberations and debates on whether AFSPA should be lifted or not, it is imperative to examine carefully whether the act is being strictly adhered to by the army officers and whether police too are taking shelter under AFSPA for their crimes. Omar Abdullah should ensure that strict action is taken against those accused of violating/abusing AFSPA.

13-45

Reservation & Indian Muslims

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: How serious are the politicians and other leaders who have recently started voicing their concern about the need of reservation for Indian Muslims? Describing Muslims as socially and economically backward, they are demanding reservation to help them progress. Though some importance is being given to these demands, prospects of their being implemented remain fairly dim. This demands an analysis of the Reservation-issue for Muslims from several angles. What has prompted several leaders to start talking about it now in louder than before tones? Why are chances of it being implemented bleak? What has prompted “concerned” politicians to assure aggrieved sections that the issue is being considered?

Seriously speaking, greater importance is being accorded to making political noise about reservation for Muslims than actually assuring that their socio-economic grievances are dealt with constructively. With Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections scheduled for next year and the national parliamentary elections in 2014, electoral preparations are gaining political heat. The Congress is hopeful that by assuring Muslims a reservation quota in government jobs and education, it is likely to win their support in UP assembly elections. The UP assembly polls are also viewed as a “dress rehearsal” to national elections. Political victory in UP is expected to play a crucial role in helping Congress consolidate prospects of electoral gains in the subsequent parliamentary polls.

Against this backdrop, the timing is just perfect for Muslim leaders and various organizations to gain some political mileage by voicing their concern on the reservation-issue. This is one side of the political-hype made over reservation for Indian Muslims.

India is home to second largest population of Muslims in the world. Muslims constitute the largest minority in India. Twenty-five percent of UP’s population are Muslims. Statistically, thus, the Congress cannot afford to ignore the electoral importance of the Muslim vote-bank in UP as well as the whole country.

Not surprisingly, Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said recently that the home ministry is expected to submit a “concrete proposal” for minority reservation soon. With the necessary formalities, including consultations, having been completed, he said: “The home ministry will now take it forward. There is a sense of urgency.”

The Congress-led coalition government is likely to push for a proposal on lines of the model adopted by the southern states, which have provided reservation for Muslims – out of the existing OBC (Other Backward Classes) quota. Suggesting this, Khurshid said: “We believe the OBC element of affirmative action must be rationalised and fine- tuned in the manner in which it is being done in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.”

But this is not an easy job. Questions have already begun being asked on the sudden sympathy being displayed by Congress to a commitment it made in 2004. The 2004-Congress-election manifesto said: “The Congress is committed to adopting this policy for socially and educationally backward sections among Muslims and other religious minorities on a national scale.”

Besides, while several leaders are not opposed to reservation for Muslims, they are against it being offered out of the OBC-quota. They fear that this political-card will create divisions in their OBC vote-bank. Janata Dal-United leader, Sharad Yadav, who is also a activist of OBC, said: “The government is trying to create divisions in the backward society.” Criticizing the government for not implementing the current OBC quota, he asked: “The rate at which the government fills the existing OBC quota is just two to three percent. The backlog is huge. With nothing on your plate, what will you offer the Muslims?”

“There should be a separate provision for Muslims if we are seriously interested in uplifting the backward sections of the community. It would be ideal, in my opinion, if a separate component of reservation is made for the Muslims to bring them on par with other sections of society,” according to Ram Kripal Yadav (Rashtriya Janata Dal Legislator in Upper House).

It maybe noted, the Ranganath Mishra commission recommended reservation for Muslims and Christians from within the 15 per cent quota for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the 27 per cent OBC quota. Set up in 2005, the commission submitted its report in 2007. The commission pointed out that caste system was prevalent among Muslims too. The commission recommended that Muslim Dalit groups, whose counterparts exist among Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, should also be included in the central or state SC lists.

Several years have passed since reservation for Muslims was recommended by the Mishra commission and since the Congress committed itself to do so. The Indian Muslims have yet to benefit from the reservation-proposal. The manner in which the Congress has raised the issue at this juncture suggests that it is trying to play two cards at one go. The party is optimistic that this issue will help Congress win support from Muslims, particularly in UP. The Congress is also hopeful that the divisions created in OBC-vote bank will help it politically. Against this backdrop, politicking is more strongly linked with noise being made over reservation for Muslims than concern for their actual socio-economic progress!

13-29

UPSC Topper Faesal Creates History For Kashmir

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI:  Kashmir is in news again, with its resident Dr. Shah Faesal (27) having topped the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Examination. With Faesal being the first Kashmiri to have topped the all-India elite services examination, the state is delighted – celebrating his success as their own. Enthusiastic Kashmiris burst crackers, beat drums and shouted slogans welcoming Faesal when he returned to Srinagar on Friday (May 7), a day after the results were declared. “Kashmir ka sitara, Faesal hamara (Kashmir’s star, our Faisal),” hailed the delighted Kashmiris. Faesal ranks first among the 875 candidates declared successful in the civil services examination. He reached the top in his maiden attempt, putting behind him around 409,110 candidates who had applied for the examination in 2009.

Crediting his success to God and his family’s support, Faesal said: “I am humbled. I had faith in my hard work, Allah’s grace and the blessings of my family. My mother, brother and sister equally share the honor as they supported me like a rock when I decided to sit for the most coveted exams in the country.”

Faesal’s father Ghulam Rasool Shah was killed by militants in 2002. But rather than be cowed down or feel defeated, Faesal and his family moved on to face the challenges lying ahead. Within days of his father’s murder, the first test that Faesal appeared for was the professional entrance examination for MBBS. He cleared it. But he was not satisfied by being just a medical doctor and decided to take the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) examination. “I saw patients who had no money to purchase medicines, a large number of them. I wanted to make differences for them. I thought IAS will help me to contribute in a different way,” he said.

Crediting his late father, a respected schoolteacher, for his success, Faesal said: “Many things that my father taught me for my class XI helped me in the exams.” If only his father were also around to share his joy, as Faesal said: “I am missing him today.”

Faesal hails from a remote village in frontier Kupwara district, more than 90 km from Srinagar. Soon after his father’s death, sense of insecurity gripped his family. “Such was the level of fear that I had not visited my home for eight years,” Faesal said. His mother Mubeena Begum migrated to Srinagar with her three children. She worked here as a schoolteacher to help her children live a better life. For her, Faesal’s success is “like a new birth.”

Though he has always been an achiever, his mother and Faesal himself had not imagined his being a topper. Faesal had expected to be in the first 50. Jubilant at being the topper, Faesal said: “There was nothing in my background that would make anybody think that I can achieve this. But I did it. So can thousands of other students with similar difficult backgrounds.” Faesal feels that his “success” is not just his “own.” “I feel I have broken the jinx that Kashmiri students cannot reach the top. I am the first from Jammu and Kashmir to top this examination and I am sure my story will become a model for our students who fear to dream big. I am an orphan with a scarred childhood. There was a tragedy in my family, my father was killed. I was raised by my mother who is a schoolteacher. I belong to a far-flung village and I studied in a government school.”

Faesal prepared for the examinations “normally.” “I did not find it difficult. I studied normally and passed my prelims without coaching. It was after qualifying for the mains that I decided to go for coaching,” Faesal said. The three-phase examination requires passing the preliminary test. Those who clear the prelims have to appear for the main written examinations, after passing which they face the final stage – the interview. Faesal selected Public Administration and Urdu Literature for the mains. He opted for Urdu as he is “emotionally attached to the language.” He received coaching at the Jamia Hamdard Study Center, New Delhi. Among the first to congratulate him in Delhi on his success were senior officers, including the Jamia Chancellor and many students.

Endless streams of people continued streaming in at his residence in Srinagar and the phone there did not stop ringing. J&K Governor N.N. Vohra congratulated Faesal and invited him and his mother to Raj Bhawan for felicitation. Among others, who congratulated Faesal were J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and leader of opposition in State Assembly, Mehbooba Mufti.

Back home, his villagers burst crackers and began preparations to celebrate Faesal’s success. Describing it as a great event for the entire Kashmir Valley, Mir Fayaz, a lecturer said: “We are proud of his success. He will be a role model for the youngsters and a source of inspiration too.”

Faesal’s success proves that Kashmiri talent was “unmatched,” according to Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. “Wherever Kashmiris have worked, they have excelled. I am proud of Faesal, who hails from a remote village. He has worked so hard and made us real proud,” he said.

Faesal is confident that his success will “change the mindset of ordinary Kashmiris.” If they work hard enough, “nothing is impossible,” Faesal said. Though he is ready to be posted anywhere, Faesal is keen to serve his community. “I want to contribute in my small way to peace of Kashmir,” he said. “If Kashmiris need anything – it is peace, since the people have lot of expectations from the government as an agent of change and guarantor of peace, and myself being a part of the government, I’ll definitely be trying my bit on that regard,” he said.

The Right to Information (RTI) Act is another area that is extremely close to Faesal’s heart. He has been an RTI activist since his college days. In his opinion: “The RTI act is a harbinger of change. We can make a difference if we know how to use it.”

Two other Kashmiris have succeeded in civil services examination. They are Rayees Mohammad Bhat (rank 124) and Showkat Ahmad Parray (256). Faesal, Bhat and Parray are three of the 20 Muslims who have passed this competitive examination. Headlines are focused on Kashmir for a change on news that has nothing to do with conflict. Faesal has created history by bringing Kashmir in limelight by being the UPSC topper! 

12-20

BJP Leader Battles for Life

April 27, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

BJP Leader Battles For Life
By Nilofar Suhrawardy,
Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
MUMBAI—Sadly, though at the face of it, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Pramod Mahajan (57) being shot at by his own younger brother Pravin Mahajan (45) requires almost no investigation, the incident demands deliberation on quite a few issues. This Saturday April 22nd, Pravin shot point blank at Pramod’s residence and later surrendered himself and the weapon to the police. Though repentant of his action, Pravin told the police that he had been angry at Pramod as he was “ill treating” and “ignoring” him. “I have been seeking appointment of Pramod for the last 15 days but in vain—I therefore, decided to visit him early in the morning to accost him for his behavior,” Pravin said in a statement recorded by Worli Police Station, where he surrendered.
“I shot at my brother intentionally. Yes, I wanted to kill him, because he was of no use to me… I went to my brother’s place early in the morning. I wanted him to support me in getting some contracts. He is politically well connected, but he did not help me. I had lost a few big contracts due to Pramod’s non-cooperation,” Pravin stated. During interrogation, Pravin revealed that he had decided to kill Pramod three weeks ago, senior police officials said. Pravin had been tracking Pramod’s whereabouts for fifteen days.
The two brothers were apparently alone in a room for a while when the shots were fired. Before Pramod’s wife could react, Pravin walked down the stairs from the 15th floor flat and drove to the police station.
Seriously injured, Pramod was rushed to Hinduja hospital by his brother-in-law and BJP Legislative Party leader Gopinath Munde, who is also his neighbor. With the bullets having perforated Pramod’s liver, pancreas and intestines, having caused a lot of blood loss, he was admitted into an intensive care unit in critical condition. Pramod’s case was viewed as complicated on account of his being diabetic. Leaving nothing to chance, while liver and pancreas expert Dr Mohammed Rela was invited from London, ortho trauma specialist Dr Steven Dean was rushed from Australia. Besides, among others, the hospital authorities consulted army doctors also. By Monday evening, Mahajan had undergone two surgeries as his vital parameters had become unstable. Due to poor functioning of his kidneys, Pramod was put on dialysis.
As the media kept the nation abreast about Pramod’s condition, the hospital was thronged by celebrities pouring in to display their wishes and sympathy for him and his family members. While at one level this was reflective of the Indian tendency, cutting across political, social and religious barriers to display their support for Pramod and his family members, on another, critics viewed it as a strain on the hospital staff and on Pramod’s security officers. Pramod’s family members include his wife Rekha and children, Poonam and Rahul.
Among the dignitaries who visited the hospital were former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and BJP leaders- including L.K. Advani, Rajnath Singh, Jaswant Singh and Arun Jaitley. Bollywood personalities Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi, Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Dharmendra and Poonam Dhillon were also there.
Expressing anguish and shock at the incident, President A.P.J Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wished Pramod a quick recovery and offered moral support to his family members. Congress President Sonia Gandhi wished the same in a letter addressed to Pramod’s wife Rekha Mahajan.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to apparently save Pravin, his lawyer and his wife Sarangi said that of late he had seemed to be mentally “disturbed.” According to his lawyer, Nandkumar Rajukar, Pravin had been suffering from “some mental disorder” in recent months. However, as per the medical report of J.J. Hospital, Pravin is mentally stable.
Whatever reasons may have provoked Pravin to shoot at his own brother, several factors cannot be ignored. Whether a person is mentally sound or not, greater attention needs to be paid at his possession of a weapon. Sibling rivalry is not uncommon but perhaps if Pravin did not possess the gun, he might not have even planned the incident. After securing the gun license in 1996, Pravin apparently bought the Belgian-made .32-bore Browning pistol at a throwaway price through family contacts. Pravin was able to get the gun license also with the help of his brother-in-law Munde, who was Maharashtra Home Minister in 1996.
Speculations are also being raised at the apparently weak security infrastructure maintained at Pramod’s Worli residence, Poornima Apartments. While it is understood, that Pravin being a brother would not have been refused entry, it is astonishing that he reached Pramod’s flat without passing through any security check. That armed men can easily enter even posh residential areas does ring an alarm bell. The only saving grace is that rather than splitting the nation along religious, regional or political lines, the incident has prompted one and all to hope and pray for Pramod’s recovery. This Monday evening, thanking the doctors for doing an “excellent” job, his son Rahul told reporters: “At this testing time, only prayers come to one’s help.”