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My Gangabal Travelogue-2014

It was probably August or September 1989..I along with my friend had gone to Gulab bagh, to meet his relatives. Their house was situated just below the Mountain. My friends cousin-who at that time was working with JK Police-was a raconteur. He narrated his experiences of the journeys up in the mountains and I was glued to his narration and eloquence of story-telling. It was at that time, from him, when I first heard of Gangabal.

 

He told us about the mythical-creature-Krim, that lives in the Lake called Gangabal. “Krim pulls down any man who attempts to swim in the lake and then eats them alive”, he gesticulated and his tone reflecting sincerity. When he was speaking about the “Krim”, a picture of a water creature such as an Octopus or a squid came in front of my eyes. “Where is Gangabal?”, I asked him out of curiosity. He pointed his finger towards the Mountain situated just above his house and replied, “Beyond these Mountains”. At that very moment, I had made up my mind to visit Gangabal next year in 1990.

 

But 1990 had its own plan. It took me another 24 years before I could realize my dream. Thanks to team APMCC for doing a yeoman’s job by organizing the Yatra after a gap of more than 100 years.

 

I landed in Srinagar Airport on 31st August along with my friend Manish Zijoo. It was a bright sunny day. My friend Ravinder Koul was already there waiting for us. He drove us to Zeethyear Shrine. Vinod Pandit of APMCC had organized the stay of yatris for the night at the Dharamsala in Zeathyaer.

 

Next day, on sep.1, amidst heavy rains, 95 pilgrims, including I and my 3 friends started our journey from the shrine. We were supposed to leave by 7.00 a.m, but rains played a spoilsport, and we got delayed by 2 hours. APMCC/HGT had arranged two buses for transporting the pilgrims from Srinagar to Naranag-the base camp. The weather had cleared up by the time we reached Naranaag. The Indian Army Battalion, Rashtriya Rifles, had organized the breakfast for all the pilgrims. After having the breakfast, and the ceremonial pooja, our ascend towards Gangabal Started. The option of ascending by a horse/ pony-ride was also available. All the Horsemen and Ponywallas are the indigenous Muslim-Gurjars. They were charging 900 rupees/person.

 

Vinod Pandit had in fact advised us to hire a horse/pony up to the Lake as the climb was very steep. We hired two horses for the journey for two of my friends . The starting climb-known as Buthsher- was indeed very steep. After a few hundred meters of climb, I looked down towards the valley below. A lone cloud was running through the valley below as if in a hurry to meet its beloved, A stream ran through the cleavage of the lush green valley below, Its zig-zag course getting lost out of sight somewhere in between the tortuous valley below. The ruins of the Narannag temple was no longer visible. The imprint of the hooves of the horses on the soil kept on changing, so did the staccato made by the hooves striking the rocks.

 

I had decided to ascend the journey by foot. My friends who had started the journey with me were left behind somewhere. For most of the time during the ascend, Manish and Ashok kumar koulji remained with me as my companions. While Manish and I were going for the first time, It was second consecutive trip for Ashokji. “Mahra, when will this steep climb end? When will we reach the pinnacle?”, we pestered Ashokji, many a times. “We are almost there”, he would assure us each time.

 

The steep climb-Buthsher-is an strenuous 4 hour jouney. The path is dotted by the tall Deodar tress. The winding rocky path occasionally threw open the beautiful vistas, worth to be captured by the memory. En-route, a vast stretch of Burnt Deodar was intriguing. The nip in the air had increased and many pilgrims opted to wear extra woolens.

 

The climb ended at the only refreshment-point cum Dhaba- “Hotel Khedmat”. At this point, we ate the yellow-rice known as “Tehar”. This Tehar was provided to us by the organizers of the journey at the Zeethyaer shrine. After that, most of the pilgrims sipped the hot tea at the Dhaba. After a few hundred meters ahead of the Dhaba, the mist engulfed us, and the chill factor intensified.

 

The journey from the Dhaba to Gangbal Lake is rather gentle as compared to Buthsher . After an hour or so, a lush meadow revealed itself to us. This meadow also serves as a camp to Rashtriya Rifles. In their traditional hospitable style, they offered the pilgrim snacks and tea. After an hour or so, as we were reaching close to our destination Gangabal, another lake-Nundkul passed by us.

 

I reached the camp at around 7.30 p.m. I checked-in a camp along with Manish. I was shivering with cold. By 8.30 PM, most of the yatris had reached the camp except two groups-Who reached the camp by 11.30 p.m. At 9 p.m or so we had our dinner and immediately, we nestled under the thick Quilt to keep us warm .In our tent, There were total six quilts and six mattresses for six persons. The tent where I stayed put for two nights was shared by my three KP friends and two Non-KP’s from Ghaziabad. we all bonded well during our stay at Gangbal.

 

In the late evening, I could hear the sound of Rain. The cold was so intense, that we all opted to combine two mattresses and two quilts per two persons. One mattress was layered above the other and one quilt layered above another quilt. We snuggled under the thick quilts, thus getting some respite from the Cold and all slept like a baby.

 

Next day , 2nd September,I woke up at 6 a.m, I opened the zip of my tent and peeped outside. The mighty redoubtable Harmukh was standing in front of me.I decided to have a clear look and came out of my tent, hanging a DSLR in my neck. The Harmukh mountain was besieged by a thick blanket of perennial Glacier . A sight to behold.

 

As I was watching the Mountain, I could not forget that, It was probably, during the reign of Mir Shamas-ud-din iraqi, when, in 1519 AD,10,000 KP’s were killed during pilgrimage to Harmukh Ganga as they had gone there to immerse the ashes of 800 Kashmiri Pandits, who were massacred during Ashura, a year ago.

 

I ambled towards the lake. The sun had not yet risen. The first looks of the turquoise waters mesmerized me. Nestled in between Mountains, Its aura was reflecting beauty par excellence. Once I reached close, I could see the limpid waters. The pebbles at the base of the lake were quite visible. And the waters quite-Icy!

 

Before coming to Gangabal, I had read a bit about the lake. It was written in an article, that KP’s used to come here and do the Obligatory “Shraddh”(prayers offered to ancestors) and immerse the ashes of those who had died. Before, immersing the ashes into the lake, they used to stock the water for drinking and cooking, as immediately after immersing the ashes, the colour of the waters would change to Red, (because of some micro-organisms), thus making the waters unfit to drink or cook food in.

At around 9.00 a.m, in the freezing cold, I along with my friends Vishal, Ravi, Manish and Ashokji had a dip in the icy-cold waters of the Gangabal. A group of pilgrims later on performed the “Sharadh” of their ancestors by the bank of the Holy Lake. I meandered around the camp site and climbed down a bit to have a close look of the lake “Nand-kul”. A rivulet joins the Lake Gangabal,-which is some feet higher- to Lake Nand-kul. Both the lakes are situated at the base of the Harmukh-Mountain.

The lake is situated at around 13000 feet above sea level, thus making even an easy activity like walking somewhat difficult. It was raining intermittently from morning till afternoon. After our lunch, the rains felt incessantly till we left the Kashmir valley. Mind you, It was at that time when Kashmir valley faced its worst floods in recent times.

With the advent of the incessant rains, the activity of all the pilgrims was limited to their tents. I and my tent-mates spent most of our time discussing a wide spectrum of topics from religion to politics to caste system, Kashmir, History etc. Occasionally, one among my companions would narrate a joke and the rest would Guffaw, thus making us forget about the Rains outside.

.
The intensity of the rains ebbed somewhere in the evening-when we got some time to click Group photos-The short respite was soon overtaken by the heavy downpour all night. It was raining cats and dogs. The tents where we stayed-in, were erected on the least slanting surface available of  the Small-meadow ,near the banks of  the small stream, that connected Gangabal lake to Nandkul Lake.

 

The  Rain-proof tents proved to be of no match to the heavy incessant downpour, the water was trickling into our tent throughout the night. The water had also seeped in into our tent through the ground. The mattresses on which we were sleeping was soaked in rain-water at many places. It was rather a difficult night for all of us. We were all waiting for the Dawn.

 

Next morning 3rd Sep., It was still raining. A group of pilgrims decided to descend as they thought, it to be useless to stay put at the Gangbal. After some deliberations with other pilgrims, It was unanimously decided to climb down the Mountain ASAP. The descend of the group started somewhere around 9-10 a.m. The rain had made the journey precarious, The paths had become slippery. Tracing each other’s footsteps, all pilgrims queued towards the destination.

 

When I reached back at the only Dhaba-Hotel Khedmat- it was already over crowded. I sipped a couple of hot tea with some biscuits. The Dhaba-Owner had also prepared lentil-rice. I saw Some policemen relishing the same. The descend of the “Buthsher” started from this point. Because of the very heavy rains, The soil was being washed down the track, that lead towards Naranaag.

 

The Muddy track made the descend on this track very difficult. I lost my balance, and fell down, a couple of times, on this track, but I did not stop. I was drenched in rain, though I had worn a Raincoat. As we neared our destination, the puddles of muddy-water had transformed into an ankle-deep rivulet. The volume, roar and speed of stream below our feet increased with each turn.

 

Finally, I reached back to Naranaag at around 2.30 p.m. I had driven from “Zeethyaer” shrine to “Naranaag” by a car and I had kept some pressed- clothes in the trunk of the car. The dry-clothes gave me a lot of respite from the cold. There is a Hotel-cum-restaurant at Naranaag, just at the starting point of the journey. I and RavI ordered a cake, which we gulped along with a couple of  piping hot Kehwa.

 

By 4.30 p.m, most of the pilgrims had reached safely back to the base camp at Naranaag. The restaurant was thronged by the pilgrims and each one satiated their thirst and Hunger. It was still raining. Our journey towards the “Zeethyar” shrine started at around dusk.

 

I left Kashmir Valley on 5th sep. It was still raining incessantly.

 

The journey of Gangabal remains one of the most adventurous pilgrimage to me till date. The trek is mesmerizing. The Harmukh mountain is transfixing. And the Harmukh ganga also known as Gangabal is surreal, beautiful, mystifying and its waters ooze out spirituality.
The mythical creature “Krim” was not seen by me in the lake, but,  when I had heard about it for the first time, it had bewildered me and stirred my imagination. I still wonder whether it ever lived in the lake or not.

I missed many things last time because of the inclement weather. Therefore, I am looking forward, yet again, one more time, to undertake this yatra……

 

 

 

 

 

for pics..check the link:

https://kashmirblogs.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/gangabal-yatra-2014kashmir-some-photos/

Random Pictures(Kashmir)

A man rowing a Boat in Dal Lake

A man rowing a Boat in Dal Lake

A distant view of Hari Parbhat

A distant view of Hari Parbhat

Two vegetable vendors rowing in the back waters of Dal Lake.

Two vegetable vendors rowing in the back waters of Dal Lake.

The famed clock tower of Srinagar.

The famed clock tower of Srinagar.

SPS Musuem

SPS Musuem

Confluence of a brook into a Bigger Stream.

Confluence of a brook into a Bigger Stream.

The Ordeal-Tale of a Kashmir flood Survivor

Last evening, I called on my friend Charanjeet. After a few rings, I heard his voice on the other side as he said, “Hello!” I quickly asked him , “Where are you Friend?”, He answered loudly, “ I am at the stream by my village .I have come here along with my family members, with the 8 bales of clothes, that I managed to get from my rubbled- house at Jawahar Nagar, a couple of days back. I will talk to you in the evening.” and he cut the Mobile.

He is one of the victims of the Floods, that submerged almost whole of Srinagar. Charanjeet singh hails from village Tral in Kashmir valley and was putting up at Jawahar Nagar on rent along with his wife and two Kids.

Before retiring for the bed; I could not forget what he had told me just a few days back. His experience of going through the worst floods of Kashmir is/was still engraved on his psyche. He was narrating his poignant ordeal. And I was all ears.

He bagan like this:

6th sep 2014(Sat), time 10.00a.m, Mehjoor Nagar.I had come to meet a relative of mine, as well as pay my obeisance at the Gurdwara. To my surprise, Half of the Gurdwara was under the flooded waters of river Doodhganga-that flows nearby. When I enquired about the reasons for such a large volume of water, a local shopkeeper told me, that the waters are coming from Kandgam.

Mehjoor Nagar was slowly and gradually sinking under the waters. I ran away towards my house in Jawahar Nagar for the safety. While I was rushing towards my house, a friend called me on my Mobile and informed that Padshahi bagh too is under the flood-waters.

Whole day, I was anxious and phoned several friends and relatives about their welfare as well as ,to know ,the latest status of the floods. By 7.00p.m, My relative from Mehjoor nagar, whom I had visited in the morning, came to my house for shelter as his house had come under the waters.

I was apprehensive that may be Jawahar Nagar will too get submerged.I discussed with my wife about the possibilities of leaving for “Zeethyar” as that place was at a higher level.My wife rejected my suggestion out rightly as she said, “How much water will come! May a foot or two! If we have to leave, we will leave tomorrow morning.”The logic behind the decision was acceptable as we had never heard that Jawahar Nagar has been flooded ever. Also, I have two young children, and it would have been cruel on our part to drag them with us in the late evening.

By 10.00 p.m, we all retired to our beds. I was awakened by shrilled voices in the middle of the night.I checked on my mobile. It was 12.30 a.m.I rushed towards the street. Many young men were running haphazardly in the night and were knocking at the doors of the houses in the neighborhood. I confronted one of the youngster and asked him, “what is the matter?”. In a gushed tone, he answered stentorianly, “We have been told that the flood-waters may come from the Hotel Hatrick. Be alert.” And he ran away, Screaming aloud, “jaggo, Hoshiyar(be alert)”.

I was worried. I awakened my family-members from the slumber and told them what transpired .At 1.30 a.m, I strolled towards the main road. A couple was running towards me .As they approached nearer,The man held my hand and said shockingly, “The waters have come in the town-square. There is a breach in the embankments of Jhelum. Run for your life. Alert others too.” Without wasting a second, I ran towards my double- storied-house. I knew the inevitable is going to happen now. I didn’t want to take any risk. Once upon reaching my house, I took some of our essential belongings with me and shifted along my family to the first floor.

By sunday, 6.00 a.m, waters had started entering the front yard of my house. The level remained the same till 8.00a.m. After that, the waters started to rise sharply. I shifted my family and some of the belongings to the top storey of the house.

At around 9.00a.m, one storey was completely submerged under water. The waters were coming from Rajbagh and Kursu Rajbagh. The waters were gushing and swallowing everything that came in its way. The rising waters forced me to shift to my neighbor-Abid’s house. He helped me to shift my family to his house. We entered his house through the windows .His house was a 3-storied one and mine was only 2 storied.

We were 13 people in all(4 ladies,5 gents and 4 children).Between 11.00 a.m and 12.00 noon,5 houses fell down in front of my eyes. In one of the crumbling houses, I could see at least 10 people falling down and getting Buried under the Debris. I could hear their screams but I could do nothing. Their voices were silenced forever by the might of nature. My wife and children screamed each time, they saw or heard, the houses collapsing all around us. Dr. Sushil Razdan’s house too crumbled down and at least 3 people went down with that house..

Some civil boats came and rescued their relatives. We cried and screamed for help. We were assured by them ,that they will come back for our rescue. But nobody came the whole day. As the day passed by, we could hear the sounds of the crumbling houses all around us. All the children and women were visibly terrified. The men, though were equally terrified, but they acted like bravados.

The noises, screams and sounds of falling houses finally stopped by Sunday night. We did not eat anything that Sunday. My children were hungry and thirsty. By Sunday night, the family of Dr.Tickoo-who live 20 feet away from the house where I was marooned along with my family-threw 4 chapptis towards us. I fed those rotis to my Children. The adults did not eat anything at all.

I could not sleep that night out of anxiety and fear.

On Monday morning, when others woke up, they were all visibly happy. Happy, because we had survived the night. As the day progressed, we could see some Army,NDRF and civil boats. Each time we saw a boat, we cried for Help. But It seemed as if we are nobody and nobody’s responsibility.

In the meanwhile, the family members of Dr. Tickoo sent 30-40 chapptis to us both in the morning and the evening. A rope was thrown from their house to ours. A polythene bag, filled with “rotis” , was slided across the rope, directed towards us.

Monday night too passed, though I did not wink even for a second that night, But I do remember looking up to the skies and saying these words, “God, I know Death is inevitable. But don’t kill us this way.” I was praying to God for our safety.

Tuesday morning, I was thinking that the house, where we are putting up, might also collapse. The fear of death was keeping us on our toes both physically and mentally. The frequency of boats had increased that day. I knew the boats are giving preference to the sick, old and children. I hit upon an idea .I started crying aloud as I screamed, “Help me, my daughter is sick. kindly help me.” . I had lied(God forgive me) that my elder daughter, aged 9 years is sick. But the trick worked .A civil boat came to my rescue. It was around 11.00a.m. I wanted to go with my daughter, arrange a boat and come back to the rescue of others. By my Neighbor Abid opined that he should go, as he has more connections than me, since he has lived in srinager throughout his life and I was sort of an outsider as I am from village tral.

Finally, I gave in to his pestering and logic and he went away in the Boat along with my elder daughter. He promised that he will come back by 3-4p.m. We waited and waited for his return till 10.00p.m. But he did not come.

I and my wife were apprehensive that something bad might have happened. It came to my mind that, may be, the boat has capsized. My wife was inconsolable and she fainted. It was a very tough situation for me. After lots of efforts, I revived the consciousness of my wife.

How could I sleep that night! I was aghast with fear and my helplessness. At around 12.30 a.m, the wife of Abid started screaming . She was yelling loudly , “This house is going to fall. Help me Allah!” It took some time for all of us to control and console her.

By 1.00 a.m, Finally Abid came with a Boat. And we all had a sigh of relief. I enquired about my Daughter. He told us that she is safe at her Maternal uncles’s place, who stays near the embankments of the River at Mehjoor nagar. The news was relieving for us too. The boat that Abid had brought along with him could house nearly 20 people. The boat was arranged from Rainawari. The Boatman told us that the Gurudwara at Chatti-Padshahi is safe and that we should go there for our safety. The Boat dropped us at lal-Mandi near the banks of Jhelum river.

We were told by a passerby to go to the Hotel of the politician Altaf Bukhari(PDP) across the river. we crossed over the foot-bridge(near SPS muesuem)and reached his hotel. It was jam-packed as 1500 people had already taken shelter there. Many of the people were visibly sick and needed medical attention. Childen were crying.Anyways, We slept there for some hours.

Next morning (Wed)8.00 a.m, we left that place and decided to take shelter at Zeethyar. We walked through the Bundh(embankment) and reached Jaan Bakery via Zero Bridge. We took the hilly path to reach Durganaag Mandir. Enroute, I met few acquaintances. They told me that many sikh families had taken shelter at Woodland House school and that Zeethyar is jam-packed with 3000 people. We decided to take shelter at Woodland House school as I knew some local families there.

While, we were walking towards the School, The scenes reminded me of the 1947 partition as I saw many people walking or wading with their belongings on their heads. Finally, I reached Woodland School. It too was overcrowded. Later that day, the traditional Kashmiri- “Tehar”. Was served to all. We stayed there for the Night.
woodland
Next Morning(thrusday), I set on foot for Mehjoor Nagar, to get my daughter Back. The gory scenes all around the route was horrifying and heart-wrenching. Somehow, I reached Kursu Rambagh. At least 3-4 thousand people were still stranded in that area. The river waters had cut the road connection between Kursu Rajbagh and Mehjoor Nagar. Some of the local volunteers had cut the poplar tress and made a temporary bridge between the two areas. I too crossed the newly-made poplar bridge to reach Mehjoor Nagar and soon I was at my relatives House. My relative told me that my Daughter was with her Aunt(Massi) at chanapura, and that she was healthy and safe. I was relieved. I decided to get my daughter Back once the water level recedes and returned back to the Woodland School.

I stayed that night and Friday night with a friend of mine, who has a house near Woodland School.

On Saturday morning, I and my family were given a lift by an army truck. We had to reach our village in Tral. The truck dropped us at Habbakhatun. From there we walked 3 kms and reached Panthachowk. 5-6 thousand people were waiting there or were stranded. We walked further until we got a lift from a Truck Driver from Jammu. We alighted from the Truck at Awantipura . I managed to get a taxi from Awantipura and reached my Home at Tral.

It was only after 4-5 days stay at Tral, I could manage to get back my Daughter from her Massi’s(Aunt’s) house.

I had gone to my House at Jawahar Nagar, day before yesterday. It is still filled with a lot of Mud and silt. Everything has been destroyed by the waters. Somehow, I could bundle some of the clothes for washing . The place is still far for any immediate inhabitation. But I will go back, clean up the mess and try to return to a normal life, as I used to live there, before the Deluge.

During those tough 6 days, I witnessed the fury of Nature. The “thud” and “splash” of the crumbling houses. Thrist. Hunger .Anger. The fear of losing near and dear ones, and above all, the power of Humanity. I am thankful to all those, who helped me and my family to Survive. And I thank God, who gave me the courage to start afresh with optimism and Empathy. I have learnt, Nothings matters except being Humane and Kind.

Re-settlement of Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir

With- Narendra bhai Modi-becoming the Prime Minister of India, suddenly Kashmiri Pandit’s hopes to re-claim their Homeland has risen sharply. The optimism shown by the BJP’s leadership to rehabilitate KP’s in the valley with full honor and dignity, has opened a new chapter for the exiled community. The possible return to their land looks realistic for the first time. KP’s unanimously welcome this decision. After almost 25 years, suddenly the smell of their land has intensified their urge to go back to their roots. The tall Mountains of the valley, it seems are beckoning the KP’s to come back. The echoes of their vibrant past are still resonating in the womb of the valley. So are the memories of the gory incidents that made way for their forced-exodus.

Kashmiri Pandits did not left the valley because of better future viz-a-viz professional career or better Business opportunities, but out of the fear of Death that came in the form of the bullets from the guns of Terrorists. They left the valley to safeguard the honor and dignity of their women-folk. They left because the then Chief-Minister of J&k- Mr.Farooq Abdullah abdicated his duties and gave a free hand to the Pakistani-backed Militants. And most of the KP’s who left in early 1990 had never thought that they won’t be able to come back even after 24 years!

It has been a total failure on the part of congress(i), National conference and PDP to rehabilitate KP’s back to the land of their ancestors. Because KP’s don’t form a substantial vote-bank does not mean that the Kashmir-centric political parties keep on exploiting KP’s just to keep their vote bank happy.

It is an irony that in spite of a population of more than 4 lakh(estimate population of KP’s is between 4-7lakh) their vote-power can not assure even a single Legislative assembly seat. Such is the deliberate design of the assembly and lok sabha constituencies in J&K. The population of the Ladakh region is less than the population of KP’s but still one M.P(Member of parliament) seat is assured from that area.

Few days back , a news appeared in some newspapers that the GOI is mulling of settling KP’s in three townships (in Anantnag, Srinagar and baramullah). The intended tri-colonies will only trifurcate the community. The infamous 7 exoduses of Kashmir should be taken into consideration before any decision on the return and rehabilitation is considered. The leaders of the community should be heard. The leaders who have any affiliation to the valley-centric political parties should be ignored as they will only push the agenda of their respective parties. Even the leaders affiliated to congress(i) should be given a cold-shoulder as none of the kashmiri pundits support them, and a majority of the KP’s feel cheated by this party.

If the news of the return is true, then May I ask with all the humility that Why should KP’s be settled in 3 townships instead of a single concentrated township. The strength and confidence of KP’s will increase tremendously if they are re-settled in a single township, instead of three. Only those who oppose covertly  the return of KP’s into the valley are suggesting with the quixotic plans, and using flowery phrases like Kashmiriyat.

With the so-called-kashmiriyat becoming a cliché, a bedizen, KP no longer believe in this adjective/synonym for secularism. The demagogues of Kashmir know it too well that the actions of 1990 by terrorists and an eerie silence by the majority at that time, will not let KP’s return and live in the valley, as they once used to. Hence the trite Kashmiriyat is repeated by the politicians of Kashmir just to discourage the pundits to re-claim their lost lands and usurp their lands and properties. To counter this, Again, there is one solution. Rehabilitate all KP’s in one area.

Time has proved that the valley based political parties have used “Religion” as a tool to polarize the Kashmiri-Society. With Muslims forming the majority of the population, they will repeat the time-tested policy of marginalizing the pundits in every possible way. This invidious distinction between the two communities have been executed by the Political parties/Monarchs of Kashmir both tacitly as well as blatantly, depending upon the time since last 8-9 hundred years. The 7 exoduses of the kashmiri pundits are the result of such policies that were followed by the ruling class of Kashmir, as KP’s were bereft of any political power. Political empowerment of KP’s is the solution to arrest such happenings in future.

The last exodus(1990-till date) should hopefully be the last one for the KP’s. Just to be sure, that history of their exodus is not repeated, they need to be re-settled at one place and given political power as well. Let GOI too follow an old adage – “united we stand, divided we fall”. Let them make KP’s united forever in the land of their ancestors-Kashmir. Instead of dividing KP’s, Let GOI give our community a collective voice. And a secured future.

Lal Chowk: Tiranga betrayed

Nancy Kaul
27 January 2010

The non-hoisting of the national tricolour at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk, the failure of the Security Forces to hold their own traditional celebrations there with the unfurling of the flag, singing of the anthem, followed by distribution of sweets, will surely be the enduring memory of Republic Day 2010.

Leading the national celebrations down Rajpath, the Supreme Commander of the Indian Armed Forces, President Pratibha Devi Singh Patil, took the salute presented by the Defence and Security forces of the country. It was a day to commemorate the Indian Republic with somber remembrance of the bravest of the brave soldiers at the Amar Jawan Jyoti, followed by an exultant flag hoisting and salute – in respect of the Nation, its Forces, its unity and integrity, its sovereignty.

The Flag : the tricolour, the ‘Tiranga’, symbol of the nation, representative of the pride of the country and the valour of our Security Forces who are ready to shed their blood for the dignity, defence, and sovereignty of this very Nation under this very Flag.

Even as India and we Indians take pride in singing, “Vijaye Vishwa tiranga Payara, Jhanda Ooncha rahe hamara,” it was with shock, sorrow, and anger that we learnt that the hoisting of the National Flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar was not done or rather, was not allowed, this year. For the last twenty years, after the eruption of the most deadly terrorism in the State, every year, Security Forces in the vicinity of Lal Chowk have unfurled the tricolour with the respect it deserves.

Yet this year, inexplicably, and without a word of explanation, there was no Republic Day celebration in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk by the security forces; nor was the tricolour hoisted atop the clock tower there, which has been customary over the last 20 years of militancy. Instead, this bustling business hub was in a state of uneasy calm as people all over the Kashmir Valley remained indoors due to a shutdown call by separatists and the heavy presence of security forces.

Till the time of writing, there was no official word on why the celebration was not held Tuesday. Who withheld it?

As Lal Chowk, which recently witnessed a long terror siege of nearly 23 hours, wore a deserted look, the gun-toting men in uniform were alert and in battle-ready mode. Would it not have boosted their morale to hoist the most visible symbol of the Republic on Republic Day?

Security forces used to have their own Republic Day celebration in Lal Chowk, and would distribute sweets and sing the national anthem, which would be followed by the hoisting of the Tiranga over the clock tower situated right in the centre of the market, a wire service from Srinagar noted. But this year was unfathomably different.

To suggest that the 23-hour-long fidayeen attack at Lal Chowk was a reason not to hold the function is frivolous, smacks of a hidden agenda, and puts a question mark on the preparedness of the security forces. In reality, Lal Chowk has seen far more testing times in the last twenty years; many more fidayeens have gone on for more than 24 hours. The security forces have neutralized many deadly fidayeen attacks and grenades in the vicinity of the Lal Chowk clock tower, where the national flag would flutter with the same honour, even as terrorists would be killed.

The recent repeated declarations of Defence Minister AK Antony and Jammu & Kashmir State DG Police Kuldeep Khuda led the country to believe that violence in the Kashmir Valley had declined and that the situation was moving towards normalcy. So why were security forces withdrawn from Kashmir if the threat loomed to such an extent that Security Forces could not even unfurl the Indian Flag on Indian soil in Jammu & Kashmir?

The deadpan silence and offering of lame excuses raises a question mark over the Government of Jammu & Kashmir. The whole exercise seems to be a pre-calibrated move to appease certain elements, and reeks of deeper dangers on the ground.

At whose behest was this done, and why? The question is of prime importance and is interrelated to the country, the security apparatus, the citizens, and the country’s sovereignty.

It is also pertinent that though the BSF and the CRPF have been unfurling the flag on Republic Day and Independence Day, one never sees officials of Jammu & Kashmir Police, not even the closest police station SHO, attend it? True, the official Government function takes place in Bakshi Stadium, but that does not mean that hoisting the flag at the Lal Chowk Clock Tower is unconstitutional or not within the parameters of Indian democracy.

This abject negation of a ceremony so pregnant with the symbolism of the Republic cannot be without an ulterior motive. Behind the façade of untruth are murmurs that point a finger at the corridors of power. Indeed, the courage of men involved in counter terror operations is unquestionable, but the conduct and aspirations of certain politicians and top level officials is debatable.

During the unrest created by the PDP and Hurriyat and other politicians in the Kashmir Valley over the making of makeshift Yatri tents in Baltal to provide better facilities to Amarnath pilgrims, the National Flag was torn down and spitted upon.

“De ragda, de ragda, Hindustan (after vehemently beating their shoes on the flag and ground), jive jive Pakistan,” was followed by a mad frenzy of slogans and hoisting of the Pakistani flag. The CRPF was asked to be a mute spectator to disrespect of such magnitude, and State DG allowed it to flutter at Lal Chowk for hours, atop the very same clock tower!

Interestingly, it was the son-of-the-soil inclination of the PDP-NC combine that allowed the coronation of Kuldeep Khuda as State Police Chief, though better, more competent officers were available. He also enjoys an enviable proximity to certain Central leaders (the Home Minister attended the marriage of his daughter in Jammu).

Today there are whispers that he suggested that the act of unfurling the flag was resented by the local population and the CRPF should not unfurl it, though they had been maintaining this tradition for two decades.

The present Chief Minister, then a Member of Parliament, in his by now famous speech had asserted that he was a Muslim and he was an Indian. He had said that not even an inch of land would be given.

Is this a pointer to an emerging pattern, where the Union Home Minister favours secret parleys with secessionist and separatist forces? Was this disregard done to please these very elements? What is the Government up to? Is it another symbolic tactic to distance Kashmir from India?

Or is Ghanta Ghar (clock tower) Lal Chowk not India at all; has it been handed over to Pakistan and Islamic terrorists?

All along, the separatists and other terror-supporting forces have been against the Indian flag flying from this clock tower, and at the peak of terrorism the Pakistani flag would often be hoisted over it. The then BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi hoisted the flag at very clock tower on 26 Jan 1992, amidst rocket attacks at the venue, for this very same reason.

But today even the BJP is mum at this national sacrilege. Is this silence in acceptance of the separatists’ demands or self-rule and the erosion of Indian sovereignty in Jammu & Kashmir? Recently, BJP think tank Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation invited a supporter of PDP’s demand for self-rule at a function to observe Exodus Day on Jan. 19!

The signals emanating are clear and an alarm bell for the country to recognize another conspiracy.

The author is convener, Daughters of Vitasta

Source: http://www.vijayvaani.com/FrmPublicDisplayArticle.aspx?id=1063

Assembly poll elections announced in J&k(17 nov-24dec2008)

NEW DELHI, Oct 19: Overcoming differences within, the Election Commission today announced an unprecedented seven-phase Assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir beginning November 17, saying it has taken a “risk” against the backdrop of boycott calls in the Valley.

The three-member Election Commission which was divided on holding polls gave the go ahead thereby signalling an end to the nearly six months of Governor’s rule imposed after the Amarnath land row in July this year.

Announcing the poll schedule, Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami said the exercise was being undertaken at a “risk” in view of the stand of certain political parties and outfits.

On whether political parties are ready for polls now, he said “it looks like. First you need to ask if political parties are ready. We are not conducting elections in a vacuum.

“See there were two noes and one in the no/yes category, what I call PO (positive) category. Yes, no and PO and afterward, one no became one yes and so now, we have one PO, one no and one yes. So we have taken a risk.”

 

This was in apparent reference to political parties in Kashmir like PDP which said no to polls at this junction and another major player, National Conference (NC), which gave its nod after having voiced initial reservation.

Keeping harsh winter months in mind, the EC announced polls for Leh and Kargil of Ladakh division alongwith snowbound areas of Gurez, Bandipora and Sonawari in North Kashmir on November 17.

The seven-phase elections will be held on November 17, 23, 30 and December seven, 13, 17 and 24. The counting of votes would take place on December 28 and the election process for the 87-member Assembly has to be completed by December 31 this year, Gopalaswami said.

The Assembly seats of Jammu and Srinagar cities would be going to polls in the last phase to be held on Dec 24.

The notification for the first phase covering ten Assembly constituencies would be issued on October 24 and the last date for filing nominations would be October 31. The scrutiny will take place on November 1 and the last date for withdrawal would be November 3.

The second phase would cover six Assembly segments and the notification would be issued on October 29. The last date for filing nominations would be on November 5 and the scrutiny will take place the following day. The last date for withdrawal would be on November 8.

For the third phase which would cover five constituencies, notification would be issued on November 4, Last date for filing nominations would be November 11 and the scrutiny the following day. The last date for withdrawal would be on November 14.

In the fourth phase in which 18 constituencies would be covered, notification would be issued on November 10. Last date for filing nominations would be on November 17 and scrutiny the following day. Last date for withdrawal would be on November 20.

 

The fifth phase would take care of 11 constituencies. Notification would be issued on November 17. Last date for filing nominations would be November 24 and the scrutiny the following day. The last date for withdrawal would be November 27.

The sixth phase would cover 16 constituencies. Notification would be issued on November 22. Last date for filing nominations would be on November 29 and the scrutiny would be on December 1. Nominations can be withdrawn till December 3.

For the seventh phase in which elections would be held for 21 constituencies, notification would be issued on November 26. Last date for filing nominations would be on December 3 and scrutiny the following day. Last date for withdrawal would be December 6.

Both Congress and BJP welcomed the announcement while the regional parties like NC were guarded in their response.

To a question whether the Commission was apprehensive of low turnout or boycott, Gopalaswami said “we have never said to anybody giving a call for boycott. The EC has never prevented anybody giving a call of his own liking.”

“What we have depended upon is political parties mobilising their voters and ensuring that the election goes on,” he said.

In an apparent reference to a likely poll boycott call to be given by separatists including Hurriyat Conference, the CEC said “…I don’t think anybody can enforce a boycott. They can call a boycott but they cannot enforce a boycott.”

Asked about difference of opinion within three-member Commission, the CEC said “as various issues need to be considered, so each person can take a stand on a particular issue and in a different manner…There are three Election Commissioners and at least there may be three opinions”.

As soon as the EC announced its decision, Congress spokesperson Shakil Ahmed said “the party is fully prepared for the elections and appeals to the people to vote without any fear.”

BJP spokesperson Prakash Jawdekar said “we welcome the decision and this has cleared many apprehensions. We are sure that the decision would prove to be a milestone in democratic history of the country and the State of Jammu and Kashmir in specific.”

Reacting to the EC decision, National Conference Chief Omar Abdullah gave a cautious reaction saying fear was that the polls may see a less turnout but nevertheless the State will see an elected Government. “The present dispensation was not able to address people’s problems,” Omar said.

Another regional party, PDP, herded its leaders into the house of its patron Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and were busy to formulate the party view.

The reason for an unprecedented seven-phase polls was attributed to availability of Central forces. “…Because we are also having elections elsewhere. So, that is the reason why you would have seen that unlike the last time where there were four phases, this time it is seven,” the CEC said.

Asked about the Commission’s concern about low turnout, Gopalaswami said “you see the turnout was a consideration only with the relevance to the political parties willingness. If political parties are not ready, then nobody is going to canvass.”

Observing that the Commission has prepared contingency plans to supplement the State machinery for conducting the polls, Gopalaswami said about 3,500 Government employees from outside could supplement the State machinery.

“Provided it is necessary, even in 2002, the State staff was supplemented by staff from outside. So as a supplementary measure, we had decided this,” he said.

The State, which has 65,38,111 electors, is currently under the Governor’s rule.

The State Assembly was dissolved following political instability after the PDP withdrew its support to the Congress-led Government in the wake of Amarnath land row. The span of Governor’s rule was to end on January 10, next year.

The CEC said that in view of the recent developments in the State, the Commission had a series of meetings with political parties, Union Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta and senior civil and police officers.

The Centre has assured the Commission that adequate number of contingents of Central police forces would be made available to ensure the safety, security and free movement of electors, candidates, leaders of political parties, polling personnel and guarding of polling materials and polling stations, he said.

The Election Commission has stated that it expects all officials engaged in the conduct of polls to discharge their duties in an impartial manner without any fear and favour, adding further that they shall be deemed to be on deputation to the Commission and shall be subject to its control, supervision and discipline. The officials will be under constant scrutiny of the Commission and strict action will be taken against those who are found wanting on any account.

There are a total of 8,109 polling stations in the State and for facilitating physically-challenged persons, instructions have been issued to ensure that all polling stations are located preferably at ground floor and ramps are also provided. Facilitation shall also be provided for locating the elector’s name against a polling station or a group of polling stations through help-lines and facilitation centres.

Based on the assessment of the ground situation, forces drawn from other States will be deployed during the forthcoming elections. These security personnel will be generally used for safeguarding the polling stations and for providing security to the electors and polling personnel at the polling stations on the polling day. Besides, these forces will be used for securing the strong rooms where the EVMs are stored and at the counting centres.

Pertinent to recall that the poll schedule for J&K was announced following the meeting of the Commission with the representatives of recognized National and State parties on 8th September at New Delhi. Thereafter, the Commission held parleys with State Chief Secretary and Director General of Police as well as the Union Home Secretary to assess the poll preparedness and security situation in the State on 10th September. Earlier this month, another round of meetings was held with the Advisors to the Governor on 7th October which was followed by a meeting of the Commission with the State Chief Secretary and the DGP.

The polls in the State will be conducted at all polling stations using EVMs for which the Commission has already made arrangements to ensure availability for smooth conduct of elections. A two-staged randomization of EVMs will be made. In the first stage, all the EVMs stored in the District Storage Centre will be randomized for allocation Assembly constituency wise. After the EVMs in a constituency are prepared for the poll by the Returning Officer and the ballot units are fitted with the ballot papers, then the EVMs will again be randomized to decide the actual polling stations in which they will be ultimately used. Both the randomization processes will be done in the presence of Observers and Candidates of their election agents.

Besides, the Election Commission has already given instructions that no election-related official or police officer of the rank of Sub Inspector and above shall be allowed to continue in his home district. Besides, instructions have also been issued that all the election-related officials including the police officials, who have completed three years in a district during last four years should be transferred out of the district.

The Election Commission has also instructed the State Government not to associate any officer with the electoral process against whom charges have been framed in a court of law in any case.

For the protection of SC/ST electors, as per Section 3(1) (vii) of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, whoever, not being a member of a Scheduled caste or Scheduled Tribe, forces or intimidates a member of SC or ST not to vote or to vote to a particular candidate or to vote in a manner than that provided by law shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to five years and with fine. The Commission has asked the State Government to bring these provisions to the notice of all concerned for prompt action.

The Election Commission has further stated that the poll schedule has been prepared after taking into account all relevant aspects like the climatic conditions, academic schedules, festivals, prevailing law and order situation and availability of Central Police Forces, besides assessment of other ground realities. (Agencies)

Polling schedule

Following is the list of ten Assembly constituencies going to polls in Phase-1.

Assembly Constituency District Region.

1. Gurez Bandipora Kashmir 2. Bandipora Bandipora Kashmir 3. Sonawari Bandipora Kashmir

4. Nobra Leh Ladakh5. Leh Leh Ladakh 6. Kargil Kargil Ladakh 7. Zanskar Kargil Ladakh

8. Surankote Poonch Jammu 9. Mendhar Poonch Jammu 10. Poonch-Haveli Poonch Jammu

Following is the list of six Assembly constituencies going to polls in Phase-2.

Assembly Constituency District Region.

1. Kangan Ganderbal Kashmir2. Ganderbal Ganderbal Kashmir 3. Nowshera Rajouri Jammu

4. Darhal Rajouri Jammu 5. Rajouri Rajouri Jammu 6. Kalakote Rajouri Jammu

Following is the list of five Assembly constituencies going to polls in Phase-3.

Assembly Constituency District Region.

1. Karnah Kupwara Kashmir 2. Kupwara Kupwara Kashmir 3. Lolab Kupwara Kashmir

4. Handwara Kupwara Kashmir 5. Langate Kupwara Kashmir

Following is the list of eighteen Assembly constituencies going to polls in Phase-4.

Assembly Constituency District Region.

1. Uri Baramulla Kashmir 2. Rafiabad Baramulla Kashmir 3. Sopore Baramulla Kashmir

4. Sangrama Baramulla Kashmir 5. Baramulla Baramulla Kashmir 6. Gulmarg Baramulla Kashmir

7. Pattan Baramulla Kashmir 8. Chadoora Budgam Kashmir 9. Budgam Budgam Kashmir

10. Beerwah Budgam Kashmir 11. Khansahib Budgam Kashmir 12. Chrar-i-Sharief Budgam Kashmir

13. Gulabgarh Reasi Jammu 14. Reasi Reasi Jammu 15. Gool Arnas Reasi Jammu

16. Udhampur Udhampur Jammu 17. Chenani Udhampur Jammu 18. Ramnagar Udhampur Jammu

Following is the list of eleven Assembly constituencies going to polls in Phase-5.

Assembly Constituency District Region.

1. Tral Pulwama Kashmir 2. Pampore Pulwama Kashmir 3. Pulwama Pulwama Kashmir

4. Rajpora Pulwama Kashmir 5. Wachi Shopian Kashmir 6. Shopian Shopian Kashmir

7. Bani Kathua Jammu 8. Basohli Kathua Jammu 9. Kathua Kathua Jammu

10. Billawar Kathua Jammu 11. Hiranagar Kathua Jammu

Following is the list of sixteen Assembly constituencies going to polls in Phase-6.

Assembly Constituency District Region.

1. Noorabad Kulgam Kashmir 2. Kulgam Kulgam Kashmir 3. Home-shalibugh Kulgam Kashmir

4. Anantnag Anantnag Kashmir 5. Devsar Kulgam Kashmir 6. Dooru Anantnag Kashmir

7. Kokernag Anantnag Kashmir 8. Shangus Anantnag Kashmir 9. Bijbehara Anantnag Kashmir

10. Pahalgam Anantnag Kashmir 11. Kishtwar Kishtwar Jammu 12. Inderwal Kishtwar Jammu

13. Doda Doda Jammu 14. Bhaderwah Doda Jammu 15. Ramban Ramban Jammu

16. Banihal Ramban Jammu

Following is the list of twenty-one Assembly constituencies going to polls in Phase-7.

Assembly Constituency District Region.

1. Hazratbal Srinagar Kashmir 2. Zadibal Srinagar Kashmir 3. Idgah Srinagar Kashmir

4. Khanyar Srinagar Kashmir 5. Habbakadal Srinagar Kashmir 6. Amirakadal Srinagar Kashmir

7. Sonawar Srinagar Kashmir 8. Batamaloo Srinagar Kashmir 9. Samba Samba Jammu

10. Vijaypur Samba Jammu 11. Nagrota Jammu Jammu 12. Gandhinagar Jammu Jammu

13. Jammu East Jammu Jammu 14. Jammu West Jammu Jammu 15. Bishnah Jammu Jammu

16. R S Pura Jammu Jammu 17. Suchetgarh Jammu Jammu 18. Marh Jammu Jammu

19. Raipur Domana Jammu Jammu 20. Akhnoor Jammu Jammu 21. Chhamb Jammu Jammu (PTI)