Friday, June 26, 2009

Tales of the living dead

A leaf through the pages of Love, Longing and Death reminds me of Mammo – a film by Shyam Benegal. Mammo, alias Mehmooda Begum, is one of the many of Muslims who left for Pakistan after Partition.

Many years after her husband’s death in Pakistan, she comes to live with her widowed sister in Mumbai on a temporary visa. Childless Mammo grows fond of the sister’s 13-year-old grandson Riyaz and wishes to stay on forever, but is deported back to Pakistan by the authorities.

Political priorities clearly defeat humanitarian concerns, which is also the underlying theme of eminent Sindhi writer Amar Jaleel's book. Set against the backdrop of India, Pakistan partition, the stories in Love, Longing and Death takes one through the author's journey via the 60 catastrophic years in the history from 1947 to 2008.

Born in 1936 in undivided India, Jaleel, a first hand witness to the partition, has vehemently opposed the partition of India calling it unfortunate, sad and futile. "I was flabbergasted ...surprised that how could a mother be bifurcated. There are certain things that cannot be divided and subdivided," Jaleel was quoted as saying in Dawn.

The feeling has been source material for many of the stories in the book – A Cry in Wilderness, Train to Karachi etc. The writings display a rare ability to communicate the anger, irony and compassion of a sensitive human being moved by the miseries, disappointments of people around him.

The style of writing is satirical. Jaleel leaves no stone unturned in attacking the two-faced society, its subjects and leaders through stories like The Satanic Thoughts of Gulu Googly. Young Gulu is termed a Shaitan (satan), a Murtad (a person who leaves the religion and conspires against it) for asking his teacher a simple question: "Why do Muslims offer prayers while facing Mecca when God is everywhere? If a Muslim astronaut goes into space, how would he offer prayers as there is no sunrise and sunset in space?"

Raising questions and reasoning -- even in a democracy -- is termed blasphemous, just because the so-called mullahs don't have an answer to Gulu’s query.
In Children of Tomorrow, he rues the fact that the present day kids spend half of their lives on the internet and they are encouraged too by global organisations.

Young Danishwar is awarded in Washington for his "Chatpata chit-chat" on the Internet and back home, a so-called global 'ghapla' organisation honours him as a child genius on Children's Universal Day. The same organisation -- which says it stands up for the wretched children of the world -- kicks out impoverished Khanakharab calling him a suicide bomber!

The narration is so lucid that one almost feels the agony, pain experienced by the characters. It is as if being an integral part of the narrative. Each story leaves the reader shuddered shoving him to sit back and think… think hard. It is not something that has to be read once and enjoyed over an evening snack! The book is a harbinger of silent revolution.

The author for sure seems disgruntled with Hukumat-e-Pakistan. In the very first chapter, Cry in Wilderness, he says: "Even after sixty years, the rulers have failed to find a viable form of political system to run the affairs of Pakistan…Muslims have not lived in peace amongst themselves, in their specially carved out home, Pakistan. They have killed and ruined each other with utmost impunity…and have retrogressed badly in every field, except warfare."

In The Plea for Naveen Kumar, he shows how helpless even God is when it comes to dealing with the Government of Pakistan and in Civilised and Uncivilised Worlds, his character Safa Adeshi says: '…Pakistan should give up justifying what is hard to justify, the partition of India in 1947'.

Unfortunately, most of the stories have a heartrending end – The Chair, The Evil Spell, Narrative of the Dead, Father and Son to name a few. It only gives an impression that all the goodness has been wiped out from the society, as if there is nothing to look forward tomorrow. Take heart Jaleel saab, all is not lost yet!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The uncovered face of J&K militancy

That militancy in Jammu is an offshoot of terror in Kashmir, is a major misconception that most of us suffer from. Militancy in Jammu -- from its inception -- was a mix of religious extremism ethnic antagonism and at times, criminalization.

Militancy started in Kashmir after the massive rigging of the March 1987 elections. People, who were fraudulently declared defeated, in sheer frustration started a violent liberation movement in the state.

In sharp contrast to the Kashmir valley, militancy in Jammu was pioneered by pro-Pakistani militants and Islamic groups like Harkat-ul-Ansar, Hizbul Mujahideen and Muslim Janbaaz. “The ideological diet of Kashmiriyat, which sustained militancy in the Valley could not hold true for a diverse district like Doda,” says Luv Puri’s book, Militancy in Jammu and Kashmir: The uncovered face.

The causes of the origin and the various stages of the growth of militancy in Jammu were different from those in Kashmir. It started much later in Jammu. The distinctive character of militancy in the two regions is a result of special features such as geography, ethno religious composition and socio-political situation.

Thus, as long as militancy comprised of the youth from the Kashmir Valley and was inspired by the ideology of Kashmiri nationalism, it did not have much appeal in the ethnically different region of Jammu. But when the youth from the Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir and the province of Punjab in Pakistan joined the movement, it changed from a Kashmiri to a militant movement.

The response to it in Kashmir was a decline in appeal but in Jammu, which was ethnically closer to the new militants, the appeal increased, explains the book.

Most of the works undertaken on Jammu and Kashmir till date have spoken only of the problems in Kashmir valley. But Puri’s book is different in the sense that it talks about the nature and causes of militancy South of the Pir Panjal, where the violence was far more complex and brutal than in the Valley, in several respects.

The study throws up some interesting results for sure, which reinforce the point that war against terrorism cannot be treated as a military problem but has to involve an understanding of the political and societal landscape of a society in turmoil.

There are certain areas where the author could have gone into detail. For example, why were the Kashmiris annoyed when Farooq Abdullah patched up with the Congress in 1986? What exactly happened in 1984 that led to the dismissal of the Abdullah government?

The book, of course would be of immense interest to scholars and journalists, but its language, smooth narrative and clarity makes it interesting for a lay reader too. It is well researched and provides a lot of additional information via footnotes.

Unfortunately, the time covered in this book is from mid 1990s to 2003. The author could have incorporated a chapter on the recent developments in the region, the new leaders like Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah, Sajjad Lone and their plans for the region.

The book calls for a chapter on Pakistan too, since any work or study on Jammu and Kashmir without considering the Islamabad side remains incomplete.

Also taken in: The Human Rights Journal of Jammu and Kashmir