Is Kashmir Not Even That Big?

In my last post I explained how Kashmir is a small area of J&K, holding the whole state and region to ransom. I explained that Kashmir valley is about 6,000 square miles in area. It is indisputable that Muslims are a majority in J&K, but the separatist Muslims are concentrated in a fraction of the state — the Kashmir valley. The figure of 7% area was calculated based on the following information obtained from the Jammu and Kashmir page on Wikipedia:

The main Kashmir valley is 100 km (62 mi) wide and 15,520.3 km2 (5,992.4 sq mi) in area.

I realized that the Wikipedia page does not give the length of the valley. However, using the above mentioned area, it seems the Wikipedia user who wrote the above assumed a length of about 100 miles. I generally trust the information on Wikipedia, but in this case it seems someone got too enthusiastic, unless the following data given on the BBC News page on Kashmir’s “future” is incorrect. The BBC News site discusses various scenarios of Kashmir’s future on its page, and its Scenario Six matches what I was talking about on my last post. The site says:

With an approximate land mass of 1,800 square miles (80 miles long, 20 to 25 miles wide) it is much larger than Monaco and Liechtenstein – but only one-tenth of the size of Bhutan.

There must be something wrong with the figures on BBC site, which makes the area of the valley only 2.1% of the state’s total area of 86,000 square miles. Tell me about a storm in a teacup!
Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating Kashmir’s secession from India. I just want to tell the separatists that such a small size of land would be untenable as a country. With some Kashmiri leaders already talking about accession to Pakistan, and Pakistan waiting in the wings, you could be out of the frying pan into the fire. Also read the UNHCR report on Pakistan’s Human Rights Violations in so-called “Azad Kashmir”. A quote:

In the first seventy-two hours after the earthquake, thousands of Pakistani troops stationed in Azad Kashmir prioritized the evacuation of their own personnel over providing relief to desperate civilians. The international media began converging on Muzaffarabad within twenty-four hours of the earthquake and fanned out to other towns in Azad Kashmir shortly thereafter. They filmed Pakistani troops standing by and refusing to help because they had “no orders” to do so as locals attempted to dig out those still alive, sending a chilling message of indifference from Islamabad. Having filmed the refusal, journalists switched off their cameras and joined the rescue effort themselves; in one instance they shamed the soldiers into helping. But unlike the death and destruction, the media were not everywhere. The death toll continued to mount.

Now, this is UNHCR, not some Indian propaganda. Ready for some “azadi”, guys?

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Kashmir Is Too Small For Azadi

[हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए यहाँ क्लिक करें]
Headline on CNN about Leh floods: Death toll from Kashmir flooding rises to 112
Correction: Leh is not in Kashmir. There was no flooding in Kashmir.
A Vaishno Devi Pilgrim: I just returned from Kashmir. Things are peaceful there.
Correction: Jammu is not in Kashmir. There is no jehad in Jammu.
A University of Texas Website Article: refers to the 1999 war in Kargil, Kashmir
Correction: Kargil is not in Kashmir. It is in Ladakh province.
One of the frequent gripes that Kashmiris have about people from mainland India is that they don’t understand Kashmir and Kashmiris. That is true to a large extent. One of the myths that needs to be broken is that “Kashmir is J&K”, because it is actually only a small part of it – 6.98% to be exact. Even the saying that “From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, India is one” is not correctly worded because Kashmir is not the Northernmost part of India; Ladakh is. And if you believe in the official Indian map, then Gilgit and Aksai Chin are the Northernmost parts, none of these being part of Kashmir. Kashmir is well South of the Northern tip of India, so it is geographically a natural part of India. Even Azad Kashmir or PoK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) is not Kashmir. In this blog post I will explain why this discussion is important, considering the existing imbroglio going on in the Kashmir valley.

It has served some of the players in the game well to confuse the issue of Kashmir’s location and boundaries as much as possible. Most people, when asked about where Kashmir is on a map, will point to the “head” shape on the top of an Indian map and say “here it is!” (see the black arrow in the map below). They could not be farther from the truth. Look at the following map and see for yourself where Kashmir actually is.


Arguing About Kashmir

Even though Kashmir is lost to our community (the Kashmiri Hindu community), it is impossible for people of our generation not to get riled up when the issue of Kashmir comes up. A detailed post on Kashmir has been on my mind for a long time, but numerous resolutions for this blog’s upkeep have resulted in a naught (edit: it’s there now!). That has not kept me from waxing eloquent on the comment sections of other blogs, particularly if the bloggers or other commenters have perspectives contrary to my point of view. This post is an attempt to document some of the comments I made on those blogs.


Dr. Shah Faesal from Kupwara tops Indian Civil Service Exam

Dr. Shah FaesalGot this news from Twitter. @FreeKashmir reported that Dr. Shah Faesal from Kashmir topped the IAS, and was complaining that “the news didn’t make it to the Indian media”. It would indeed have been surprising and disgusting if Indian media had ignored this, so I immediately googled the topic, and there it was — on Times of India, Hindustan Times, Indian Express, The Hindu — in each case prominently on first page. Well, this particular blogger likes to complain a lot, so this tweet was not much of a surprise either. We celebrate our heroes, sir, irrespective of what region and religion they come from. Yes, at times Twitter may be faster than conventional websites and newsprint.


Kashmir's War with Plastic Bags

While reading the e-paper edition of Greater Kashmir (a daily newspaper published from Srinagar, Kashmir) today, I saw an interesting front page advertizement from Srinagar Municipal Corporation.

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Farah Pandith, the Kashmir Connection

News! Now US State Department has an office of Special Representative to Muslim Communities (SRMC), and Hillary Clinton has appointed Farah Pandith as its head. So, who is Farah Pandith?
According to the State Department press release,

Pandith, a Muslim, immigrated to the United States with her parents from Srinagar, India. She has said that she sees her personal experience as an illustration of how Muslim immigrants to the US can successfully integrate themselves into American society. She grew up in Massachusetts with a diversity of faiths, ethnicities and perspectives.

Farah PandithSo, Pandith is of Indian Kashmiri origin, coming from the same region as this blogger.


Led Zeppelin's mis-titled Kashmir

Robert Plant/Led Zeppelin/“Kashmir” is one of the words I google quite frequently for news and other information, since this refers to my lost motherland. Everytime I google it, one or two links to English rock band Led Zeppelin’s song titled Kashmir always appear on the first page. Since I am not a great connoisseur of Western music and had never heard the song, I assumed the song must have something to do with my Kashmir, its beauty, or the conflict there. So, I set out to research the topic a little bit. Turns out the song has really nothing to do with Kashmir, unless you dig deep into the meaning and try to find a far-fetched link. The word “Kashmir” is mentioned only once in the song, that too in passing.


Pheran, another Blanket with Sleeves

Everytime I watch the infomercial about the Snuggie, a “blanket with sleeves”, it reminds me of the pheran, which was the basic garment and an essential part of my life growing up in Kashmir (North India). Nobody in Kashmir can live without a pheran, and it must have existed there for centuries, if not millenia. And here in the US, I see several companies claiming the blanket with sleeves was their idea. So who thought of it first —
Snuggie, Slanket or Freedom blanket? Did any of them know about the Kashmiri pheran? To me it seems they are reinventing the wheel. While I have seen infomercials only from Snuggie, I saw this interesting post about it, followed by an equally interesting discussion in its comments, and that is how I found out about the other brands – the Slanket and the Freedom Blanket, and the apparent tussle for originality of the idea.
Kashmiri politician Omar Abdullah wearing a pheran. Courtesy Salman Nizami's Flickr photostreamWell, the Kashmiri pheran () is also actually a blanket with sleeves. It can be made out of fleece, wool, or any fabric that keeps you warm. Every Kashmiri person living in Kashmir has to have a pheran. The difference between the blanket with sleeves being marketed in the West, and the pheran is this – while the snuggie appears to be open on the back, the pheran is not. It is closed, and you put it on like you would put on a sweater. Except, it is really long (below knees) and very loose (like a large blanket). In fact it has to be loose enough to create your own heated space around you, which you heat up using a kangri (or kanger, as it is called in Kashmiri).
More on the kanger in a little bit — actually that merits a post of its own. First a little bit about Kashmir’s weather. When you think of India, you think of searing hot weather. But there are pockets of cold weather in Today's weather in Srinagar and New York from iGoogle Weather gadgetIndia along the foothills of Himalayas – Himachal, Uttarakhand, the North East, and Kashmir. The weather in the beautiful valley of Kashmir can be compared to that of New York. Look at the screenshot of today’s weather in Srinagar (the capital city of Kashmir) and New York. The difference is, hardly anyone in Kashmir can afford to have a centrally heated home. That is where the pheran and the kanger come in. The pheran is your personal space that you sit with or move around with, and the kanger is your personal heater with which you heat that space.
The Kangri. Courtesy Farooq Wani's Flickr photostreamThe kanger () is basically an earthenware pot, around which a wickerwork jacket is woven to insulate it and to provide you with a handle. You fill the earthenware pot with wood charcoal, and put some burning embers on top. The heat works through the layers of charcoal, giving you nearly a daylong supply of heat. A good kanger-ful does not need a refill all day long, but most do. It all depends on the quality of charcoal you use, and the way you keep the heat outflow controlled (with a layer of ash forming on top). You keep the kanger within the pheran and heat up the space within. You sit with the pheran and the kangri, traditionally on the floor, which, needless to say, has to be well covered or carpeted. You go out and walk with the pheran, holding your own kanger within.
Obviously, the essential, practical, traditional pheran has also given birth to the fashionable pheran, and that is what has become popular as a feminine apparel in other parts of North India, which has colder winters than the South, but not as cold as those in Kashmir. The fashion pheran is generally embroidered, is not as loose as the essential pheran, and mostly you can’t put your hands in. So, well, it is not much of a pheran.

Indian politician Sonia Gandhi wearing a fashionable pheran. Courtesy Salman Nizami's Flickr photostream
Indian politician Sonia Gandhi wearing a fashionable pheran
A Western tourist wearing a pheran. Courtesy Batschmidt's Flickr photostream
A Western tourist wearing a pheran
Working with the pheran on. Courtesy Mubee's Flickr photostream
Working with the pheran on

With the real pheran, people can go to work, shop, drive, and mostly do everything in a day’s work. During the winter, the pheran does not come off unless you go to sleep, or are going for a job that demands more formal wear. A pheran also generally comes with a potsh (), i.e., a pheran lookalike that is made of plain white cotton cloth and is used as the inner layer for the pheran. The potsh has multiple functions — it increases the amount of insulation given by the pheran, prevents the body’s dirt and odor to get to the pheran (you don’t wash the pheran that often), and gets washed and replaced more often than the pheran does — kind of a pheran liner.
Do you see any similarity between the ‘blanket with sleeves’ and the pheran? One thing is for sure – I vouch for the idea of a blanket with sleeves, and since I cannot buy a pheran in the US, I am going to settle for the blanket with sleeves. And who knows with energy prices going the way they are, one day we may have to rely on the kanger too. Any inventors out there looking for ideas?


Will the next Indian Idol be a Kashmiri?

BBC News: Indian Idol creates stirToday, an enthusiastic member of my community sent a link to this BBC news item around: Indian Idol creates Kashmir stir. Her accompanying message said, “This is great news!”. It made me happy too. Hundreds of Kashmiri kids had lined up for a chance to be the next Indian Idol. They had flocked to the Srinagar auditions of Sony TV’s music talent show, in spite of terrorist threats. Obviously Indian forces must have been standing guard.
Why did this news make us happy? Why does it make us Indians happy when Kashmiris want to be Indian idol?
Why does it irritate the separatist Kashmiri bloggers when Indians call Kashmiris their atoot ang (inalienable part)? They want India out of the valley. Due to the special status the state enjoys, and due to the movement of terror run by the militants, it is hard for outsiders, and some sons of the soil, to more than temporarily visit the valley. They cannot work, live and own property there, while Kashmiri Muslims can live, work, study and own property anywhere in India. Rightfully so, as Indian citizens they study in the best institutes of the country, hold coveted jobs in the central government, trade in Delhi, Kerala and Mumbai, and have winter homes in Jammu and Delhi. And they are the ones complaining. I read references to the word “hypocrisy” in most of these blogs. It seems it works only one way.
The BBC report by Kashmiri journalist Altaf Hussain also talks about militant threats against such programs, enforcing dress codes, etc. I wonder why these blogs don’t talk about independence from these threats.
Qazi TouqeerOn another talent hunt show, Fame Gurukul, a Srinagar kid Qazi Touqeer was voted by the Indian public to be the winner. I hope they find some good talent this time too. I grew up with a close KM friend singing melodious Kishore Kumar and Mohammad Rafi songs. He was so good, I wish we had such talent shows those days. Now he teaches in a higher secondary school in South Kashmir. Last weekend he called to tell me the good news that he has purchased land in Jammu for his winter home. Congratulations.


Democracy, not a "daemon-cracy"

Being a Kashmiri is a very important part of my identity, besides being an Indian, a Hindu (of the atheist kind), and a self-styled rationalist. Still, none of the posts so far on my blog has been addressed to the Kashmiri aspect of my identity. I would very much like to keep this blog not Kashmir-centric, because opinions about Kashmir are as varied as the people concerned with it. The definition of the problem, and its solution, depends on who you ask – even among Kashmiris. So it is really hard to be objective in one’s opinion.
Then, couple of weeks ago, when my last post was featured on Blogbharti, I followed links to this blog-post on Kashmir, and then I discovered a whole world of Kashmir blogs out there, that have all mushroomed since I checked last, not very long ago. My two-post-long Kashmiri language blog still remains the only Kashmiri blog till date, though I discovered a Kashmiri language online newspaper, which was a pleasant surprise (can’t locate the link at this time). I plan to change the script on my Kashmiri blog to Roman so that it will have a wider reach, and give me incentive to add more posts to it. I can use the Urdu script, but somehow I find Unicode Urdu very hard to read.
Well, a lot of venom is being spat out there, a lot of wailing and rona-dhona. Lots of myths and untruths are being propagated – some of them rubbing salt into my own wounds. So I thought I should do my share of rona-dhona too, and try to break some myths – in my opinion. Hence this post, and perhaps a few more to follow. To give an idea of my locus standi on the issue, I was born and raised in a north Kashmir village, completed my education in my village and in Srinagar, left to work in Delhi in mid-80’s, and kept returning to my family in Kashmir until early 1990, when all of us had to give Kashmir up for ever. After that I have visited a few times, but have missed and followed my homeland everyday.
For now, back to this post about India being a “daemon-cracy”, instead of a democracy. The blogger called “~K~” writes:

India might claim to be the largest democracy of the world, an economic super power on its way to become the next super power of the world but for Kashmir and Kashmiris it is a state that rewards killing of innocent Kashmiris with money, more power and commendations. The fact that India does indeed reward its forces for killing innocents was reflected in an earlier post and now we have official endorsement that indeed innocent Kashmiris are being killed for rewards.

Then the blogger conveniently gives no reference or proof of “official endorsement” of the allegation. If there were official endorsement, then the culprits of encounter killings would not have been arrested. The Human Rights Watch report that ~K~ quotes in his latest post also quotes the official statement:

According to Jammu and Kashmir State Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, police official Farooq Ahmad and a constable have been arrested for the murder of Abdul Rahman and the killings are still being investigated. “Any security person found guilty of killing any innocent for personal reasons like promotion, rewards or appeasement to bosses would not be spared,” Azad said, adding that “nobody is above the law.”

The blog is full of such wild allegations and wailing. No, ~K~, India does not award its forces for killing innocent people. There may be cases of inefficiency, criminal attitude or nepotism but no there is no official endorsement or encouragement for such crimes. It is really unfortunate and wrong, but it is no different from what can happen anywhere else in the subcontinent – from Karachi to Mumbai to Dhaka.
India may be inefficient, poor, corrupt, call it all the names you want, but it is not a “daemon-cracy”. India may not be the next superpower, it may not even be a regional superpower, but it is definitely the largest and one of the best and most vibrant democracies of the world, warts and all. Yes, better in some ways than even the richest democracy of the world. And that includes its attitude towards Kashmir. In fact, it is a bit too democratic towards Kashmir, thanks to the blackmail Kashmiri separatists have subjected India to, over the years. It is definitely better than the other alternatives Kashmiris have, and they know it.
A lot of what I have to say has been covered in much detail by A soul in exile, including describing the events that led to my community’s migration from Kashmir in 1989-90, debunking the myth propagated by separatists that the then governor Jagmohan orchestrated the exodus.
I don’t deny the human rights violations that happen in my country – they happen everywhere in and outside Kashmir, in and outside India, and must be deplored and fought together. But calling it India’s plan against Kashmiris or Muslims is absolutely wrong. So many problems and sicknesses afflict my country, and some of them are due to the Muslim fundamentalism which is at the root of Kashmir problem too.
Here are a few points by way of a comparison that shows why India is better than most democracies in the world, and why ~K~ should stop calling it a daemon-cracy, and stop complaining.
1. In US, questions are still asked as to if a black, a woman, a muslim, a mormon, an athiest, a non-catholic, a non-church-going person can become the president. And all polls suggest that the answer to each of the questions is a NO. So far, in a few centuries of independent America, it has not happened. Chances of a black or a woman becoming a president in 2008 have increased, and we will know soon if American public is ready in the twenty-first century. On the other hand, when independent India was in its infancy in the middle of the last century, the first prime minister was an avowed athiest. The second longest serving prime minister was a woman, one who had married a muslim-turned-parsi. After her second term, she was followed by a person who was hindu-muslim-parsi and had married a christian. In between, there were farmers, so-called “backward class”, prime ministers, and now we have a Sikh at the helm. Is anybody complaining, based on their race or religion? No.
2. More Muslims live in India than in any country of the world, save Indonesia. Voices of protest are heard about their treatment and voilence against them, and an equal number of voices are heard about their appeasement, and the violence they initiate. But what is important is that they are represented completely in all facets of Indian life. Present president of the country is a Muslim. Before this we have had two Muslim presidents. At state level, many states have had governers and chief ministers who were Muslim – states other than J&K which are not Muslim majority. Can you think of a Hindu getting elected as the chief minister of J&K? Look at the film industry, beaurocracy, sports arena, they are widely and rightly represented everywhere. Even the fact that I am talking about it seems unnatural, so natural does this sound.
3. Multi-party democracy has its perils, but it is definitely more democratic. That is how parties like the PDP come to power. In America people have to choose between the Republicans and the Democrats, even if they don’t agree with either of them.
Well, given the multiplicity of races, religions, languages in the country, and so many countering forces, I think India maintaining its integrity and democratic structure is no mean achievement.
The separatist blogs keep talking about independence from India, and they will say they have nothing to do with India, democracy or otherwise. I will talk more about the so called “azaadi” demanded by the separatists in future posts.