Indian PM calls repeal of J&K’s Article 370 ‘historic’

Indians watch Prime Minister Narendra Modi address the nation in a televised speech, in an electronics store in Jammu, India, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019. (AP)
Updated 08 August 2019

Indian PM calls repeal of J&K’s Article 370 ‘historic’

  • ‘It only bred militancy, separatism in the state,’ says Modi in address to nation

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status a “historic decision” in a special address to the nation on Thursday.

“It is a new beginning for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Article 370 of the constitution has not benefited the people. It has only bred militancy and separatism in the state,” said Modi in a 40-minute address.

“The new political initiatives will rid the state of militancy and extremism, and it will see a new era of development.”

Modi added that more than 42,000 people have lost their lives in Jammu and Kashmir over the last three decades.

However, his speech was not heard by people in the state, which was under curfew for the fifth consecutive day on Thursday. Telecommunication networks and basic telephone services remain unavailable to the 7 million people there.

Most of the mainstream political leaders are under house arrest, with media reports suggesting the detention of prominent activists and businessmen.

“People are angry and heartbroken,” said Shah Faesal, president of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement, a new political party.

“The tragedy of Kashmir is that our lives were destroyed due to false promises and assurances from both sides of the partition. Both want the land but neither wants the people,” said Faesal, who is one the few politicians from the state to speak to the outside world after the clampdown.

“This constitutional coup has made the political mainstream irrelevant in Kashmir. Those of us who sought a resolution to the conflict within the Indian constitution are left without an argument. The extremist constituency is feeling vindicated,” he added.

Concerned that recent developments might lead to wider geopolitical instability, Faesal said: “I am worried that Pakistan and China might join forces to counter the aggressive regional posturing by India. In that battle, I fear that Kashmir will suffer.”

On Thursday, New Delhi asked Islamabad to review its decision to downgrade diplomatic ties with India.

The request follows a dramatic development on Wednesday where Pakistan recalled its envoy from New Delhi and asked the Indian ambassador in Islamabad to leave the country. It also suspended all trade and canceled the cross-border Samjhauta Express train.

In a press statement, India’s Foreign Ministry said it “regrets the steps announced by Pakistan yesterday (Wednesday) and would urge that country to review them so that normal channels for diplomatic communications are preserved.”

New Delhi blamed Pakistan for presenting “an alarming picture to the world of our bilateral ties.”

The statement said that the decision to scrap the special status was “driven by a commitment to extend to Jammu and Kashmir opportunities for development that were earlier denied by a temporary provision in the constitution. Its impact would also result in the removal of gender and socio-economic discrimination. It is also expected to result in an upswing of economic activity and improvement in the livelihood prospects of all people of Jammu and Kashmir.”

New Delhi called Pakistan’s reaction an attempt to “interfere in the sovereign matter of India,” and warned Islamabad that “an alarmist vision of the region will never succeed.”

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.