Monday, January 24, 2011

Kashmir Valley troubled once more

The beautiful valley of Kashmir had been calm for a few months. However it is in the grip of trouble once more. The BJP has announced plans to unfurl the national flag at Lal Chowk. It brings one to the question as to what repercussions such a move might have. This action has divided the nation to two parts. A large section of the population believes that it is the right of every Indian to unfurl the national flag; in any place of their choice. On the other hand a minute section of the population believes that the whole issue needs a more guarded and calmer response.

As the media goes about in its usual frenzy of organising debates and “face-offs” we must understand the internal dynamics of the situation. In the spring of 2010 many Kashmiris had believed that 2008 was the worst violence that the valley had seen and now the road lay in reconciliation. There were buoyant hopes, talk about a brighter future and a better Kashmir tomorrow. Happiness was in the air for the average Kashmiri the tourist season looked bright and everywhere there was a sense of renewed hope. It was one of those fine days; that an untoward incident happened and dark days descended upon the valley again. Soon the people of India in general and Kashmir in particular realized that the ghost of 2008 was anything but over. Young people once more took to the streets protesting against the establishment. The ghost of 1989 returned to haunts the valley once more as chances emerged of another generation getting radicalized. So in light of such a delicate and troubled phase; a move which is seen as a deliberate display of power may destabilize the valley once more.

Opponents to the above theory argue why shouldn’t the national flag be displayed? It is the moral right of every Indian to respect the national flag. This brings us to the perpetual question of the concept of “India”. The concept of India lies not in its geographical boundaries but the hearts of its people. Nations do not make people, it is the people who make a nation. Nation is not merely a geographical entity but a feeling of togetherness that binds people together. Surendranath Banerjee had once famously quoted that “India is a nation in making”. It is still true. If anything but the experience in North East has shown that the national feeling did not grow exactly as the clock struck 12; on 15 august 1947. It has taken time to evolve to grow integrating people on its way. In the North East at one point of time people had refused to identify themselves as Indians. However as time progressed there was a general feeling among the people to accommodate their unique identity as well accept and integrate themselves in the national milieu. This was also one of the primary reasons why secessionist forces lost the ground in North East. The people of Kashmir have a long and troubled history. There has been a loss of trust between the people of Kashmir and the successive governments in Delhi. Most of the times the people of Kashmir have felt betrayed by their own leaders those who are sitting in Srinagar. All this warrants for a new kind of approach while dealing with the Kashmir scenario.

As the debate over the flag hoisting issue rages on; the self appointed chest-thumpers of nationalism indulge in a brazen display of their own brand of patriotism. In doing so; they completely ignore the “Azadi” sentiments that are prevalent among the Kashmiri people; especially the youth. Such postures would hardly go in demystifying grievances of the Kashmir people against the Indian establishment. So often people blame the Centre for the crisis it has out Kashmir in but the people are equally responsible. The people in other parts of India rarely concern themselves with news about the valley. They act as if the is the usual dose of violence available on television every night. There is no effort to understand the problems of the average Kashmiris. Topics like Maoism, corruption, farmer’s suicide are widely discussed and debated on various national platforms. While I don’t deny the importance of these topics yet what restrains us from discussing the problems of the average Kashmiri. The people of Kashmir are as much important in the national milieu as the farmers of Vidarbha are. Yet the only issues that are discussed about Kashmir are the security concerns and fallout of the “K” word during visits of foreign dignitaries. In this theatre of power politics there is no scope for discussion of the sociological problems plaguing the Kashmiris people the Kashmiri society. There is no effort to understand the social dynamics of the Kashmiri society. There were innumerable stone pelters during the Kashmir protest however in those same areas large number of youths turned up when the police organised police recruitment rallies. In schools and colleges across Kashmir there are talks that “Azadi” will be achieved at the end of this year. And yet the Indian population chooses to ignore and debate on these issues and instead chose to display their own brand of patriotism which is entirely meaningless in the present context. The road to reconciliation is a painstakingly long process one which requires deft handling of that matter. We cannot evaluate one's nationalism on the basis of hoisting a flag. However if we do it, then it will seem like a desperate move to push nationalism and unity up their throat. This will result in adverse reactions and will give further plank for the separatists to forward their cause.

So what lies in the road to salvation? There are always talks of Track 2 diplomacy among nations. Why isn’t there a Track 2 dialogue with the Kashmiri people? A yearly expedition to Kashmir in Class 9 and vice versa does not solve the fault lines that run across the valley. A more cohesive and pragmatic approach is required while dealing with the Kashmir problem. Industry captains, cultural resource persons and people from various walks of civil society must engage the general public of Kashmir. For example the industry captains can choose to train entrepreneurs of the valley which will offer them a chance to better the economy of their own region. Efforts must be made to engage the cultural section of the valley and offer them help and support in their efforts to take their cultural legacy to the nation and the rest of the world. There must be efforts to enhance the capabilities of the various NGO’s that are working in the Kashmir valley. Sportspersons from the valley must be encouraged to take part in national sports events. Organisation like SAI must be encouraged to establish their academies in the valley. The people must be educated about their own rights and capabilities that the constitution has to offer. The Kashmir people have never felt a part of this nation and that is the truth. It is time they are given a shot at understanding not at what the nation has to offer but as to how they can contribute to the nation. All this is challenging given the current security scenario in Kashmir, however one has to think beyond the obvious questions and answers. At the end let the Kashmiri people be the judge of what they actually want and give them what they deserve instead of their two minutes shame on prime time television where they are brazenly accused of being anything but anti-national; as if their entire life is defined by what is anti-Indian.

So often the talks of “Azadi” centre on the concept of Kashmiriyat one which binds each Kashmir to the ground. Efforts must be made by the civil society to understand the meaning of the term Kashmiriyat and offer the Kashmiri help and support to enhance their own capabilities and bring forward the Kashmiri sentiments in the hope that it can integrate in the national arena in its own timeframe. Wikipedia defines Kashmiriyat as the ethno-national and social consciousness and cultural values of the Kashmiri people. Emerging approximately around the 16th century, it is characterized by religious and cultural harmony, patriotism and pride for their mountainous homeland of Kashmir. It is time the nation integrates the feeling of Kashmiriyat in the national arena. There have been instances when such thoughts have run parallel to nationalistic feelings. We must give the Kashmiri people a chance to explore these options as well. There must be untiring efforts to understand the nature of Kashmir and stop perceiving it the way we do it today.

If the BJP had wanted it could have indulged itself in some other activity like organising an ethnic food festival in Kashmir or holding a traditional song and dance competition among the school kids. It could have gone and visited the orphans and offered them sweets without any talks of patriotism or some song and dance of 26 January. Such little gestures would have gone a long way in earning goodwill of the people. But as politicians are and will be, there are always efforts to think in terms of short term election oriented goals. The onus is on the civil society now to behave in a manner which will actually testify the greatness of this nation one-one whose core belief is in its ideology of tolerance and compassion.

Saturday, January 8, 2011



I still remember it was summer 2005,I had just cleared my 12th and life was not exactly on a high .I was at the crossroads not being able to decide what to do next since I had miscalculated a few career moves. It was then someone told me about SHILLONG ENGINEERING AND MANAGEMENT COLLEGE at Jorabat. The moment I heard the name Jorabat my enthusiasm went for a ride as I thought who studied in a college in Jorabat? Still my parents persisted me and we came along checking for the college. The first two things that hit me was the uphill path and then on top of that nested on the hill, a tall sturdy building. I wouldn’t say it took my breath away but yes I was amazed at the people who gave this building in the top of the hill. It was quite shocking .We went inside and soon my parents went all gaga over the fact that I was going to be an IT engineer.

My reaction was much more measured because once the initial amazement was over I had to weigh my options correctly. After all it was my life. A night’s thought and the next day I decided to go with it. After all what’s the harm in studying in a institute which few knew it would solve my purpose of being anonymous –which was my sole concern those days. So I turned up all ready for the orientation of the college we were in IT 12 people at that time immediately I made friends with Niraj, Kaushal, Ronal, Dobhal and Hemen.It wasn’t like instant super bonding but yes they were nice and I thought atleast there are good people whom I can relate to.Dobhal was funny, Kaushal was TALL, Ronal pretty plain like me and lest of all Niraj whom I still consider one of the most flamboyant alpha males to have walked the college halls. With Hemen I shared the same dialect which was a pretty strong bond and the rest were nice the people in the other departments.

Then it was the turn of those months which changed our lives forever. The classes fell in line I still remember the first question Reena Mam asked the moment she entered our class “What was a computer?” Infact for the rest of the week every subject teacher started with the same question apart from just Krishna Mam who taught us network theory. And the whole week we struggled to come up with a perfect answer since for most of us me atleast -A computer was a device in which you played Delta Force until your hands pained! July gave away to August and then September and then slowly the months started giving away until our first semester exams were scheduled. And in the midst of all this the first traits of college life began to appear. Friendships were built and broken, crushes were happening all around and in the middle of all this gossip mongers had a field day .All these burdened with studies was really what college life was all about. After all we were all adults now ready to take on the world.

Days went by and so did months and at the by 2006 June we all had ended our first year in college. The new session started in 2006 and we were all excited now because now we would be going in as seniors .We used to discuss it for hours and hours how we will talk to the juniors. Infact as the new admissions day came near there was a palable excitement everywhere .And soon it happened a new batch arrived and we went to get introduced to them the first chance we got! It was termed ragging I don’t know whether its correct or not but at that point it was all right I felt as long as we didn’t cross the line .After all college life was all about unity and friendship and whose side who was on as we had seen in the past few months. There was a new buzzword LOYALTY groups were forming everywhere it was no longer college now it was us against them it was all about whose side you are on.

Everyday there was a sense of excitement as we all entered the college daily now we were people now with our own band of groups .College was all about politics now of who did what and what not. And soon serious differences began to occur among the boys. Girls were as usual neutral after all that’s what girls are known for! Over the next year and a half this stance took serious shape as we all endured the pain of exams and results of disbelief of tension and most of all, all these together which shaped our college life. Exams came and went and by the time we reached third year we had started getting serious about what we all wanted to do. People started taking up tuitions, coaching’s and every sort of opportunity as the end was near now. The old groupism too started fading away as people became just friends again and it was all a happy tale. And finally we arrived at these crossroads where in a few months time we will walk out of these corridors for the last time as students. There is a touch of sadness as we all know we will be leaving and when the end is near we all feel sad .This college life would be no more but then memories will linger on.

There were a few who ridiculed me when I joined this institute in the beginning most of the rebuke coming from my own family! Others thought we wouldn’t make it neither me nor this college .Still others thought all this was a farce a big lie. But then today I stand back and look at them with a touch of happiness in my eyes. I grew with this college so much so that today am proud to be a member of this institute. It gives me immense pleasure when I stand to speak in inters college events and I spell out my college name. And then every time I walk out, my friends walk out winners we know we have just etched the four letters SEMC in their hearts one more time. In this I would like thank my juniors my seniors and most of all the teachers without whom this journey would have had never been fruitful. I don’t think I will ever need to mention my friends we all had our ups and downs our own struggles and what not; but what makes me happy is that after these 4 years we are still together. It is fun when you are favorite to win a race but it is better when you win the race as a underdog and this college taught us what we SEMCins did the best – won as underdogs. I am an engineer to the guy next street because of this college.

People ask me why you love SEMC and I answer –

“Sometimes when the going gets tough and everything is on line that’s when you don’t hear the crowd and the noise .That’s when it’s just you against just some other individual to see who is the better one .That’s what I like about being in this college because here at this moment you are your friend you are your enemy!”

Dedicated to all my friends, seniors, juniors teachers

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Brave New World of Wikileaks

It has been the season for disclosures, in India and in the west. Secrets which lie concealed in official papers and conversations are now suddenly exposed to the harsh sunlight of public examination. And it appears that under the heat of all this exposure, even the mightiest empire on earth is wilting. Wikileaks started in 2006 as an online repository for holding and publishing secret documents by whistle-blowers and journalists. As the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, himself has said, it was primarily meant for whistle-blowers from China, west Asia, Africa and the former Soviet bloc countries. The idea was that those in the possession of confidential documents of public interest, which their governments or institutions wanted to hide from public scrutiny, would be able to upload them anonymously on the website for worldwide circulation and publicity.

Starting with the release of secret Chinese government documents, in the first three years of its work Wikileaks largely stayed with this mandate which did seem to have a somewhat patronising attitude of the liberal west helping the oppressed people of the authoritarian countries fight their dictators. During this period, the website was also lauded by the western establishment for its work.

In 2008, it received an award from the Economist, while in 2009 it was Amnesty International’s turn to praise its work for exposing human rights violations in Kenya

However, as the site started collecting documents from western governments and institutions, it came under attack. The first serious challenge to Wikileaks was in 2008 when the Swiss private bank, Julius Baer, initiated legal measures against the website and its administrators for publishing internal documents that showed illegal money transfers via its branch in the Cayman Islands. Wikileaks was taken off servers based in the United States, but internet activists quickly “mirrored” this site in other servers and the documents remained public, while the bank was eventually forced to withdraw its legal proceedings. Since then, and perhaps because of this incident, Wikileaks has become well known in the west and has become a magnet for those who want to expose the wrongdoings of their governments and institutions. It has published Guantanamo Bay prison procedures, private emails of US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin showing her to be avoiding public disclosure norms, the membership list of the racist British National Party, emails of climate scientists which indicated a possible exaggeration of climate change claims, reports of an accident at a nuclear site in Iran and the report of a toxic dumping “incident” off Ivory Coast by the multinational corporation Trafigura. This is just a small representative list of the documents that Wikileaks has hosted and published. All this earned for Wikileaks the reputation of being an irritant, but it was a different matter when the website published a video taken from a US helicopter over Baghdad, showing the cold-blooded killing of unarmed civilians, including two Reuters journalists, by machine gun fire and the shooting of those who came to rescue them. This caused an uproar, as for the first time, official Pentagon videos had shown a snippet of an event during an invasion and subsequent occupation by the US in which up to 1.4 million civilians are believed to have been killed.

Typically, the US authorities went about hunting for the person who had leaked this video, rather than taking action against those who had killed civilians. Other similar videos emerged from Afghanistan and were followed by the release of 92,000 documents from the US and allied armies in Afghanistan. This was an unprecedented act and it was after this that Wikileaks became the target of concerted attack by the US, Britain, Australia and other countries. Since then it has published the Iraq war logs and has now been releasing cables sent by US diplomats from various embassies, including New Delhi. The total number of cables with Wikileaks is in excess of 2,50,000, though they have only released about 1,000 through five designated newspapers – New York Times, Guardian, Le Monde, El PaĆ­s and Der Spiegel. The manner in which the leading “democracies” of Europe and North America have responded to these revelations has been acutely revelatory about these regimes themselves.

Despite there being not a single criminal case against Wikileaks it has had its website shut down, its payment gateways with Paypal have been closed, Visa and Mastercard have refused to transfer funds, its bank accounts have been frozen (including the one meant for its Julian Assange’s legal defence) and, worst of all, elected representatives have called for the murder of Assange. And there is no certainty that he will not meet an untimely end as various people have, whenever they have crossed Uncle Sam’s path. Unfortunately for the US and its allies, this is a war they cannot win.

The nature of the internet is such that it will be impossible to suppress the information which is already out. Wikileaks has been a “proof of concept” and it is merely a matter of time before a hundred similar leaks perforate the plumbing of the global axis of power. As Bradley Manning, the junior US intelligence officer who is the likely source of these leaks said when asked why he had not handed over this data to Russia or China for large sums of money, “... because it is public data... [and] because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public”. For decades globalisation has meant the seamless flow of capital and commodities, strengthening the axis of the powerful. Now it appears that, for the first time, globalisation of information has struck its first blow and the powerful and corrupt do not know “whence”!