Archive for the ‘Kashmir’ Category

Kashmiri Pandits celebrate Kheer Bhawani festival



TULMULLA (JAMMU AND KASHMIR): As thousands of migrant Kashmiri Pandits arrived to pay obeisance at the Mata Kheer Bhawani Temple here, there were emotional scenes as the pilgrims were reunited with their Muslim neighbours, prompting Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to call it the real “Kashmiriyat” which needed to be restored.

The local Muslims offered cold drinks and water to the devotees who arrived from different parts of country that they migrated to in 1990.

“We are happy to see them [Kashmiri Pandits] as we had no chance to live with them like our parents or grandparents,” said 21-year-old Khurshid Ahmad, who was among those offering drinks to them. “We are proud of this cultural ethos but unfortunately the link was broken due to militancy,” he said, adding: “Kashmir is incomplete without them.”

This was for the first time that nearly 50,000 devotees flooded the temple at Tulmulla in Ganderbal.

The Pandits met not only their Muslim neighbours but also their co-religionists after a gap of 20 years.

Sushma and Bimla, who were neighbours in South Kashmir’s Tral area, had one such reunion. They now live in different places as migrants.

“I am here after a gap of 19 years. We migrated in 1991,” said Bushan Lal, originally from Anantnag and now settled in Delhi.

“I prayed for the smooth return of Kashmiri Pandits to their homeland. I hope the Goddess will fulfil my prayer,” he said.

There are many like Mr. Lal who long to return to their homes, but some are sceptical. “I do not think it is possible for all to return,” said Shamboo Nath, adding that it was not possible to settle in clusters and without mingling with Muslims. “It is better to be where we are if we have to live separately here.”

Some blamed the then government for the exodus.

“The government at that time did not play positive role; so did the successive ones. Our plight would not have been so bad,” said another Pandit migrant.

“I was half of my age when I visited this temple last. At this juncture, I feel I am 20. I feel I am reborn.”

The arrival of Mr. Abdullah and his wife Payal added more colour to the occasion. “I am so happy to see you here. This is what is called the real ‘Kashmiriyat,’” the Chief Minister said addressing the devotees inside the temple.

Speaking to journalists later, Mr. Abdullah blamed vested interests for damaging “Kashmiriyat” and appealed to the Pandits to play a positive role in restoring it.

“Some vested interests were always on a mission to damage the ‘Kashmiriyat.’ This created a vacuum which needs to be filled, for which the Kashmiri Pandits need to play a positive role,” he said.

“A multi-pronged strategy is in place to facilitate the smooth return of Pandits settled outside the valley. They left because their security was snatched. They started feeling insecure. Now we are trying to restore the sense of security to the Kashmiri Pandits,” he added.

On the rehabilitation process, Mr. Abdullah said: “We are also thinking about their economic rehabilitation. Recently, 2,000 posts were filled under the Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Plan. More posts are being created.”


From Hizb-e-Islami camp to fighting extremism

This news piece appeared in “The Hindu:”, and covers the story of a former terrorist who has turned his gun against the terrorists in Kashmi, with help from the Indian Security Forces.


Mohammad Aslam, a former militant, dons a different mantle

NARKOTE: In these remote hilly hamlets of Jammu and Kashmir, a new tale of battle against militancy and religious extremism is being scripted by a former militant trained by the Hizb-e-Islami (HeI) outfit on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He now leads a frontal assault against his former colleagues.

Trained by HeI, Mohammad Aslam, a former Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) militant, was sent across the Line of Control to fight security forces. HeI was originally formed by Afghan national Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and it had close ties with outfits working in Jammu and Kashmir such as HuM.

The 35-year-old Aslam has employed the same skills in warfare he learnt from militants, to lead a group of 110 men with 11 groups in different areas to fight militancy.

Sets an example

Aslam’s is a classic tale of a person who was smitten by religious extremism in the 1990s but abandoned the path after realisation that his perceptions were wrong.

Aslam told The Hindu that he crossed the LoC in November 1997 through the Manjakot area of Rajouri district to enter Kotli district of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

The change of heart, according to him, took place during his training in the HeI camp. Recalling the camp days, he says, “Our training was a mix of religious discourse and military warfare. We were asked to fight out the infidels but as I closely observed the scene there, it changed my whole outlook. I saw youths below the age of 14 undergoing training which I thought was no jihad.”

Aslam came back on October 14, 1998 to work under the commandership of Hyderi, a Pakistan national heading the Pir Panjal regiment of the HuM, which was the most powerful militant group in this belt. “We were trained by Pashto-speaking as well as Punjabi-speaking trainers for a year. Taliban were in the command of the affairs in Afghanistan. I handled automatic weapons and could also explode Improvised Explosive Device,” Aslam recalls. He surrendered before the security forces on May 17, 1999.

“There was no option except to pick up guns against my former colleagues, otherwise they would have killed me,” he says.

Fighting 130 militants

The battle is not easy as he is fighting against 130 militants, including 40 non-locals operating in Reasi district and its adjoining areas.

On Thursday night in a neighbouring hamlet, militants tossed a grenade into the house of Mushtaq Ahmad, killing Ahmad’s 76-year-old father, Habibullah, and his two daughters, Nagina, 13, and Nazia, 9. Aslam himself has been attacked many times but survived.

He says: “We have to fight as otherwise militants would kill us. We can migrate but then we would die of poverty as our means of livelihood are limited.”