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Unmasking Kashmir: An outsider’s revenge

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A memoir by a former IAS officer normally has fewer reasons to be contentious. But there is every reason for it to be so if the bureaucrat happens to have been posted in Kashmir and the memoir touches upon a range of sensitive
issues which also have fraught political overtones. ‘Unmasking Kashmir’ by retired IAS officer Sonali Kumar is one such memoir.

The 256 page book is a top “outsider” bureaucrat’s account of Kashmir, the first of its nature. Another first to its credit is that Kumar is a woman and she has something to say about alleged gender discrimination in the state too.
But her general sounding revelations about harassment of women pale in comparison to her account of how the state treats its bureaucrats from other parts of India. This has become a subject of bitter debate in the state.

Though the account talks about the unique problems faced by ‘outsider’ IAS officers, it invariably runs up against the fraught political and historical questions which make the state so extraordinarily troubled in the first place.

Kumar laments that IAS officers from outside the state “can’t buy property, can’t educate her children in any technical — medical or engineering college, can’t get her spouse or children to find employment with the State Government, can neither vote in nor stand for any state-level elections even after retirement, can’t even get her son married to a local girl because that will immediately extinguish that girl’s state-subject status,” and so on.

She blames the law passed by the Maharaja of J&K in 1927 for this. But in the state this law is directly connected to Article 35A, the constitutional provision extended to the state by the President of India in 1954 which enables the state government to define state subjects and forbid outsiders from settling in the state. This law currently faces a tough challenge in the Supreme Court.

“The law (in 1927) was enacted by Maharaja’s Hindu advisors primarily to keep other Hindus of India out of J&K,’ writes Kumar. “And the same law is now coming in handy for Kashmiri Muslims to keep everyone else out!”.

But in Kashmir Kumar’s grouse hits a raw nerve. It is seen less as a former IAS officer’s account of her personal experience or that of her tribe and more as yet another voice in support of the perceived effort to dilute the state’s special constitutional position guaranteed under Article 370. In popular perception such a dilution is understood as a thinly-veiled design to alter the state’s demography.

In Kumar’s narration, however, there are hardly any nods to this inherent complicacy of the situation. On the contrary, she chooses to foreground an outsider IAS officer’s predicament in the state, to the point of either trivializing the overarching political issues facing the state or treating them as secondary to
her plight.

The book shows Kumar invariably bitter about her thirty-six-and-a-half years of service in Kashmir. But it is the ‘us-versus-them’ trope underpinning her telling that is deeply troubling; it is simplistic in that it evacuates the situation in the state of its political and historical context. Kumar gratuitously sets herself up as a defender of India’s integrity against anti-national Kashmiris. This approach ironically brackets even those who are part of the establishment with the separatists, one of them a former Chief Secretary of the state who is said to have been hosting Hurriyat leaders at his home and as a result forced to resign.

She largely sees the struggle in Kashmir aroused by the hate against New Delhi, pure and simple, and not necessarily deriving from any historical wrongs. Her narrative on the state doesn’t even distantly acknowledge the possible case of a genuine grievance in Kashmir, a serious omission that makes the memoir a witting or unwitting part of the vilification campaign launched against the state by sections of national media, particularly by some television channels. The omission also makes the book a part of the dominant ideological narrative on the state in India today.

“What I represented, which in my Sari and Bindi attire meant “Indianness,” she writes. And this ‘Indianness’, she facilely concludes, makes her an “outsider” in J&K. In fact, the theme of an outsider runs through the narrative.
“But what about the curses of that “outsider” to J&K? Are you sure the present problems are only communal, i.e. how can the Muslims in J&K live with a Hindu India? Or instigated by Pakistan? Or because of the Kashmiri’s genuine desire to separate from India?,” Kumar questions.

She continues at another place: “My heart sank when I heard the word outsider for the first time. How could I be an outsider in my own country? I was an Indian first and then anything else. Little did I realise then that the entire Kashmir problem was because of the apartheid regime that existed. That regime which divided humanity into two: insiders and outsiders”.

Observations like these have elicited hostile reactions in Kashmir. The reviews in local newspapers and comments in social media have been trenchantly critical of Kumar. “Apparently, the idea is to add to the narrative that rightwing parties have developed in last few years within and outside the courtrooms. It is demography in question and the quest for larger integration that is talked about,” writes noted Kashmiri journalist and editor Masood Hussain in his review of the book.

Another review written by one Shama Jahangir was titled ‘Unmasking Kashmir unmasks Sonali’. Similarly, former bureaucrat Irfan Yasin in his Facebook post recalls Kumar as “an arrogant and self-centred person with a false sense of superiority”.

“She never tried to identify with the state or its problems and has been part of these insider outsider presumed sentiments to the extent of being stupid,” Yasin writes.

One of the interesting anecdotes that Kumar reveals in her book and which has earned it attention in media is about her removal from the post of principal resident commissioner J&K House, New Delhi, for allegedly not serving biryani to a visiting delegation. That might be so but biryani is not the food of Muslims of Kashmir as Kumar seems to suggest and gain sympathy as a consequence. Kashmiri Muslim’s favourite dish is rather Wazwan.
Nor is Secretariat two kilometres from Batamaloo. Or the Secretariat four kilometres from Nedous hotel. This is the distance she claims to have been walking (“yes walking”, to borrow her phrase) during her early days of posting to the state. Both distances are less than half a kilometre.

There are many other details which are factually incorrect: For example, one of the Chief Ministers of Kashmir, according to her, was Ghulam Shah when it was Ghulam Mohammad Shah. Or when she writes that bureaucrat B R Kundal resigned as Chief Secretary and became a minister which is also incorrect. At a time when associating biryani with people whose traditional food is not biryani can gain you easy media attention and some public praise to boot, you can afford to be careless with even basic details about the state where you have spent 37 years of your career.

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Soldier killed in Pak sniping

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Pakistani troops last night sniped a soldier along the Line of Control (LoC) in Tanghdar sector of North Kashmir’s Kupwara district while militants abducted and killed a man in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district and police today arrested two Over Ground Workers (OGWs) of militants involved in rifle snatching.
Pakistani troops last night sniped a soldier of 20-Jat Regiment deployed on Sangar post on the LoC in Tanghdar sector. Sepoy Pushpinder (320658L) was critically injured in the sniping and later succumbed to his injuries.
Sources said that Pakistan troops from Mujahid post opposite to Sangar post shot at the soldier during the night. The Army also fired back but there were no reports of loss on Pakistani side.
And militants last night abducted and killed a man in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district while two Over Ground Workers of militants involved in rifle snatching were arrested today.
The gunmen barged into the house of Gulzar Ahmad Bhat son of Abdul Gani Bhat, resident of Murran, Pulwama and abducted him. His bullet riddled body was recovered in the morning. He was running an eye clinic at Bijbehara.
A police spokesman said here:”Terrorists in Murran Pulwama yesterday night barged inside the house of Gulzar Ahmad Bhat son of Abdul Gani Bhat, resident of Murran, Pulwama and abducted him.”
“Later, police recovered the bullet riddled dead body of Gulzar from the nearby fields of Murran, Pulwama. Police has registered a case and initiated investigation. Initial investigation in the matter suggested that in this incident Zahoor Thokar and Showkat Dar led group of proscribed terror outfit HM are involved in this killing”, the spokesman added.
In the meantime, police said that they arrested two OGWs of militants in connection with rifle snatching incident in Khrew, Pampore.
Police said that on August 10, two persons barged inside Jammu and Kashmir Bank Branch Khrew and attacked Bank guard Mumtaz Ahmad with pepper spray and sharp edged weapon in an attempt to snatch his 12 bore rifle. “But the security guard bravely resisted the attempts made to snatch his rifle thereby successfully foiling the rifle snatching bid,” police said.
The guard Mumtaz sustained injuries and was evacuated to Khrew hospital for medical treatment while the accused persons fled away from the spot.
“Consequent upon this, case FIR No. 57/2018 under relevant Sections of law was registered at police station Khrew and the investigation in the matter was initiated,” police said adding “during the course of investigation it came across that two OGWs namely Yasir Ahmad Wani son of Bashir Ahmad resident of Babapora and Yawar Sultan son of Mohammad Sultan resident of Shar Shali, Khrew were involved in commission of crime and were subsequently arrested”, police said

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Yatra suspended for 3 days

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Holy Amarnath yatra was suspended from Jammu to Srinagar for three consecutive days from today for security reasons and no pilgrim was allowed to leave for holy cave from here.
The yatra will also remain suspended on August 14 and 15 from Jammu to twin base camps of Baltal in Ganderbal district of Central Kashmir and Nunwan -Pahalgam in South Kashmir district of Anantnag due to security reasons, official sources said.
However, the yatra from Baltal plied normally today and 657 pilgrims paid obeisance holy cave of Swami Amarnath Ji on 47th day of darshan today, an Officer on yatra duty said.
He said till date 2,79,535 pilgrims performed darshan in the holy cave since the two month long yatra started on June 28.
The officer said no yatri was allowed to leave for holy cave from traditional Chandanwari track and yatra remained suspended from Nunwan Base camp also today.
He said, however, 153 pilgrims from Baltal base camp left for holy cave early this morning for darshan while 81 left by chopper during the day.
He said the traffic from both the base camps to Jammu will remain suspended  tomorrow and day after tomorrow due to security reasons and no pilgrim will be allowed to leave for Jammu during these two days.
Meanwhile, in connection with annual pilgrimage of Chhari-Mubarak, Swami Amarnathji, ‘Chhari-Sthapana’ ceremony was performed with chanting of Vedic hymn at Shri Amareshwar Temple, Akhara Building, Budshah Chowk, Srinagar this morning by a group of Sadhus led by Mahant Deependra Giri Ji, the sole custodian of the holy mace and the head of True Trust formed by him in 2004. It took more than two hours completing the rituals.
Chhari-Mubarak (holy mace), one depicting Lord Shiva and another Goddess Parvati shall be kept in the temple at Akhara building Srinagar for ‘darshan’ till it leaves for main course of pilgrimage on August 20.
Pilgrims and public in general have the privilege to have ‘darshan’ of holy mace kept in Shri Amareshwar Temple, Dashnami Akhara Srinagar during these days.
Traditional ‘Chhari-Pujan’ will be performed on August 15 on the occasion of ‘Nag-Panchami’ (Shravan Shukla Paksha Panchami) at Dashnami Akhara, Srinagar.
‘The True Trust’, founded by Mahant Deependra Giri Ji has made all the necessary arrangements like yester years for Sadhus and needy from the general public coming from across the country to join Chhari-Mubarak of Swami Amarnath Ji Yatra for their food, accommodation and transportation during the annual pilgrimage.
Then Charri Mubarak which will leave Dashnami Akhara on August 20 will reach Pahalgam on the dame day after performing puja enroute at Durga Nag temple lying in the foothills of Shankracharya hill lock in Srinagar, Shiv temple of Pampore, Awantipora, Bijbehara, Anantnag, Sun temple of Mattan, Ganeshbal before reaching Pahalgam. After having two days halt at Pahalgam, the holy mace will leave for cave shrine situated at an altitude of 3880 meters in deep Himlayas on August 22 to reach there in the wee hours of Shravan Purnima coinciding with Raksha bandhan festival on August 26.
After performing the puja for the whole day in the holy cave the Chhari Mubarak will leave for Panchtarni in the evening same day. After a night halt at Panchtarni it will leave for Pahalgam next day where with the performance of immersion ceremonies and other rituals on the bank of river Lidder in a traditional way, the holy mace will return to its abode Dashnami Akhara, Srinagar marking the end of two month long annual Amarnath yatra.

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Wanah Organic launched

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JAMMU: Wanah Organic Food Products (P) Limited was launched today in a grand function at Hotel Ramada, KC City Centre Jammu.
The launch was done by the reputed dignitaries including former Minister and MLA Inderwal, GM Saroori, DCC president, Kishtwar, Mohinder Parihar, noted entrepreneur, Tahir Rufayee, State president, NSUI Raqeeq Khan,Dr.Mubashar Mir and founder and CEO of the Company, Thakur Randeep Bhandari.
On the occasion, e-commerce website of Wanahorganic.com was also launched. Speaking on the launching ceremony, MLA Inderwal, it is high time for youth to start something productive which can benefit the society.
While speaking on the occasion, CEO of the Company told the gathering that it was his dream project and after working hard for 2 years he has become able to launch the company and its e-commerce website. He said that Wanah Organic will be selling the organic products which are specially found in J&K through their e-commerce website.

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