Minister wants to talk Kashmir but not at cost of BJP agenda

Indian Union Home Minister Amit Shah (C) leaves after visiting family members of a slain police officer Arshad Khan, who was killed during attack by militants in Anantnag in south of Srinagar, in Srinagar on June 27, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 02 July 2019

Minister wants to talk Kashmir but not at cost of BJP agenda

  • Shah said: “Kashmir is an integral part of India”

NEW DELHI: Indian Home Minister Amit Shah said on Monday that the government in New Delhi would make all possible efforts to preserve control over Kashmir.

Addressing Parliament, Shah said: “Kashmir is an integral part of India.” 

The province has been under the direct rule of New Delhi since June 2018.

On Friday Shah told Parliament that Article 370 of the constitution, giving special status to Kashmir, had been meant as a “temporary provision” and that it should be updated. He blamed the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, for the “mistake.” 

Shah’s comments received a sharp reaction across the region.

The leader of the Congress Party in Kashmir, Saifuddin Soz said: “The people of Kashmir have time and again made it clear that unless the dispute over Kashmir is resolved, the constitution guarantees internal autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir. It can, therefore, neither be abrogated nor amended against the will of the people.”

For the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), abrogation of Article 370 from the constitution has been a political goal for some time. 

In the recent general elections, the BJP returned an almost two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament and inched toward securing the majority needed in the upper chamber to begin the process.

Shah’s controversial statement comes within a week of his party offering talks to separatist leaders in Kashmir.

Responding to the first conciliatory gesture by the Indian government in five years, Kashmir separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said last week that he was ready for dialogue with New Delhi.

“As the most affected party with daily killings of our young, we would naturally like to resolve the issue,” Farooq, chairman of the Hurriyat movement, said.

Indian-administered Kashmir is the country’s only Muslim-majority state, at the heart of the major dispute between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan for more than seven decades.

In February, the countries came close to war when a Pakistan-based militant group claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on a convoy of paramilitary vehicles in southern Kashmir, claiming more than 50 lives. 

India retaliated by attacking what it claimed was a militant training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot area, while Islamabad flew sorties into Indian airspace, resulting in the downing of an Indian jet.

All this played a major role in the thumping general election victory of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On Saturday, the governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Satya Pal Malik, told journalists in Srinagar that the Hurriyat was willing to talk with the government.

“I feel happy that the temperature has gone down,” said Malik, who was made head of the state in August last year. 

“Hurriyat has always been in favor of talks as the means of resolution. Dialogue among stakeholders is the best and most peaceful means of resolution for the Kashmir issue, not force. We have engaged with both India and Pakistan in the past,” added Farooq.

“Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan’s offer of dialogue between India and Pakistan, including on the issue of Kashmir, should also be seriously considered as the way forward.” 

BJP leaders in Kashmir also welcomed the prospect of new talks.

“This is not a bad thing. When the temperature is low and when the separatist leaders have understood the importance of dialogue, this is a positive development,” said Dr. Hina Bhat, a Srinagar-based BJP leader.

“We have never said no to dialogue with Pakistan. We have reached out to them in the past. I expect that the new prime minister will not repeat the mistakes of history.”


A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 22 January 2020

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.