[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]oday Tamil Nadu, like in most of states, is undergoing serious crises. Communal flare-ups by the government and Hindutva parties is worst problem the nation is facing now.
Tamil Nadu is often in news for wrong reasons. Besides the rift within the ruling AIADMK sweeten the warring factions led by former CM and Jayalithaa’s Lieutenant O. Panneerselvam and jailed Sasikala represented by CM Palanisamy, there are other problems like the strong farmers’ movement for justice and the people’s movement to make the state from liquor by implementing the prohibition in total, among other strikes by state government employees with demands.
On the one hand, people of India, the land of Mahatma Gandhi who opposed liquor, seeks total prohibition and on the other the governments lift prohibition in order to get more revenues and help the rich and liquor traders make more profits to let them grow richer while the poor suffer from the ill-effects of liquor consumption against popular will and wishes.
That is violation of popular democracy.
Prohibition in India
Logically speaking entire India should be a non-liquor nation and a total prohibition should be put into practice sincerely. .
Anti-liquor campaign is not restricted to Tamil Nadu alone. Though Gujarat is popularly known as the ‘dry state of India’, Nagaland and Lakshadweep too have implemented total prohibition.
Bihar banned sale and consumption of liquor from April 1.Manipur, which was under total prohibition until 2014, lifted curbs in select areas. Kerala is in the process of phasing out liquor. It was the only other State, where a government-owned corporation sold liquor. Haryana tried its luck in bringing total prohibition in 1996. The move affected the government revenue to the tune of Rs. 1200 crore. The State suffered loss of over 20,000 jobs as breweries were closed down. The Haryana Vikas Party-led government introduced more taxes. As a result the party lost the 1998 parliamentary elections. The same year it lifted the liquor ban.
After the first general elections for free India in 1952, the Congress came to power in Tamil Nadu. The Prohibition Act was enforced throughout the State. Tamil Nadu continued to impose prohibition, while Andhra Pradesh and Mysore (later renamed as Karnataka), which were carved out of Madras Presidency, did not have any such restrictions on alcohol. In 1971, the DMK government headed by M. Karunanidhi lifted prohibition, despite stiff opposition from many quarters, including Rajaji, who unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the then chief minister against reintroduction of liquor.
Karunanidhi’s argument was that while he was always for prohibition, since it was not enforced across the nation, the State was only incurring loss of revenue and liquor was always available to the people from the neighbouring States. He brought back prohibition in 1974. Decades later, Karunanidhi has now vowed to bring back total prohibition, if voted to power.
The AIADMK founder M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) who actively canvassed against liquor, lifted prohibition in 1981, only to close down all arrack and toddy shops early in 1987. In 1983, the MGR government established the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation for procurement and selling of alcohol in the State. Licenses to liquor-selling outlets and bars were granted through auctions. Incidentally, in 1981, the government created Tamil Nadu Spirit Corporation too and manufactured liquor until 1987, when the company was shut down.
Successive governments tweaked the policy on sale of arrack and toddy, but the policy by and large left Indian-Made Foreign Liquor untouched. Whenever prohibition was imposed, the illegal sale of toddy and arrack would peak, resulting in loss of several lives, and thus paving way for lifting the ban.
Another prominent reason given for lifting curbs on liquor sales was rampant increase consumption of methanol, an industrial solvent. In January 2002, the Tamil Nadu government under >O. Panneerselvam started selling low-cost liquor after over 100 people died the previous year due to methanol consumption. Low-cost liquor was, in fact, sold in the 1990s by the government.
People of Tamil Nadu spearhead the anti-liquor movement earnestly and continue to struggle to get all liquor outlets run by the state government. As common folk take steps to shut down the liquor vending shops, there exists a tensed situation all over the state. In many places people and police clash as they demolish the state liquor shops.
In August 2015, a dawn to dusk bandh called by some opposition parties in Tamil Nadu did not disrupt normal life even as the state witnessed a series of protests demanding total prohibition. The anti-liquor movement in Tamil Nadu appears to be growing stronger with the protestors demanding that all liquor stores be shut. Outside the Madras High Court, a group of law college students staged a protest demanding prohibition. The police were out in large numbers to prevent violence across the state after student protesters ransacked a state-run liquor store in Chennai. A protestor said, “The police is the one protecting the The Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) . We are protesting against the government in peaceful manner.”
Popular anti-liquor movement positively influenced the policies of major parties. It came as nothing short of a shock to other political parties when Jayalalithaa did a volte-face barely a month before the elections – promising phased prohibition in the state. The move virtually pulled the rug from under the opposition DMK, which wanted to make prohibition one of its main poll planks.
In April 2016, while kicking off the AIADMK’s campaign seeking a second term, the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had announced that her government will implement prohibition in a phased manner if her party is voted to power. A couple of months before the poll, minister for prohibition and excise Natham Viswanthan declared in the assembly that liquor prohibition was not on the state’s agenda – a move that was welcomed by employees in the liquor trade as well as the Tamil Nadu liquor consumers’ association.
It came as nothing short of a shock to other political parties when Jayalalithaa did a volte-face barely a month before the elections – promising phased prohibition in the state. In fact, the move virtually pulled the rug from under the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which wanted to make prohibition one of its main poll planks. Former deputy chief minister and party treasurer MK Stalin had dedicated his mass contact programme – Nammakku Naame – last year to affirming that the M Karunanidhi-led party would enforce prohibition in the state if voted to power. The DMK in its election manifesto released on Sunday promises total prohibition in the State. The P-word is likely to figure in the manifestos of all major political parties and alliances.
The AIADMK government’s eleventh-hour move – seemingly aimed at appeasing the state’s sizeable chunk of women voters – also exposed her to sharp attacks from opposition leaders. “What has she been doing for five years now?” chorused opposition leaders EVKS Elangovan of the Congress, Tamilisai Soudarrajan of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Anbumani Ramadoss of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and Captain Vijayakanth of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) – alleging that her move was inspired by politics, not public welfare.
DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi promised total prohibition in the party manifesto released on Sunday, an assurance that Jayalalithaa criticised by saying that the DMK leader did not have the moral right to assure any such thing when it was he who had lifted the ban way back in 1971.
Tamilisai Soundarrajan, president of the BJP’s Tamil Nadu unit, claimed that neither the DMK nor the AIADMK were serious about enforcing prohibition. “Jayalalithaa’s promise of phased prohibition is as unbelievable as Karunanidhi’s declaration of total prohibition,” she told mediapersons on Monday, adding that the BJP stood for prohibition in the state because it cared for the plight of the poor.
While PMK chief ministerial candidate Anbumani Ramadoss wondered why Jayalalithaa had suddenly remembered prohibition, he did not fail to notice the silver lining in the announcement. “Even so, it is a victory for us as we were the ones who first launched the campaign for total prohibition,” he said.
Alcohol Prohibition in Tamil Nadu is governed by State Prohibition and Excise department as per Tamil Nadu Prohibition Act, 1937. TASMAC, state government owned company controls the wholesale and retail vending of alcoholic beverages in the State. On 2016 may 24, After swearing-in J. Jayalalithaa has announced to close 500 liquor shops and reduce the business hours of State-run liquor shops across the State. On 20 February 2017, The first office order signed by the Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami was the closure of 500 liquor outlets owned by the public sector TASMAC. This is in addition to the 500 liquor outlets closed down by late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in May 2016.
Madras Abkari Act, 1886 was imposed and set in place a strict regulation which banned the local manufacturing of alcohol and confined it to central distilleries where excise duty was paid prior to being sold. This British tax policy favored the consumption of foreign liquors over more traditional drinks such as toddy and country liquors. One fifth of the Madras Presidency population consumed alcohol. Excise revenue from Madras Presidency accounted for as much as 38% of its total revenue. Though prohibition was relaxed on other states after independence including former Madras Presidency regions, Tamil Nadu continued to adopt total prohibition until 1971. In 1971 the DMK government led by M. Karunanidhi suspended it in 1971 and allowed the sale of arrack and toddy. But later, the same government stopped the sale of these in 1974.
In 1981, the AIADMK government headed by actor turned politician M.G. Ramachandran lifted prohibition and reintroduced the sale of arrack and toddy. Due to wide use of the methanol in industries and there were no restrictions in other States, In 1984 September methanol was removed from the purview of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition Act. In 1987, the sale of arrack and toddy was again banned. During 1975-76 and 1988–90, illicit liquor claimed many lives in Tamil Nadu. In 1990, the DMK government revived the sale of arrack and toddy. In 1991 July 16, again the sale of arrack and toddy was banned by new government led by J. Jayalalithaa. Methanol was substituted and consumed under the illegal liquor trade. In 2002, Methanol brought again under Prohibition act.
The erstwhile Madras Presidency had implemented prohibition in Salem district as early as 1937 and gradually expanded it to several other areas. In order to compensate the loss incurred, sales tax was introduced by the Congress government headed by C. Rajagopalachari aka Rajaji. The government would grant ‘permits’ to individuals, who wish to consume liquor.
On October 30, 2015, police arrested Kovan alias Sivadas, a folk singer and a member of extreme Left group Makkal Kalai Iyakkam, who was criticising government’s way of earning revenue by selling liquor. He was slapped with sedition charges claiming that his songs were anti-state and criticised Ms. Jayalalithaa. Most of the opposition parties rallied behind Kovan and sought his immediate release. Kovan is now out on bail.
Prohibition was first introduced at Salem in 1937, and then implemented in other parts of the state in phases. In 1971, the DMK government headed by M Karunanidhi withdrew prohibition in view of the state’s “bleak economic situation”.
Even at the height of the anti-liquor movement in Tamil Nadu last October, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government slapped sedition charges against folk singer S Kovan for criticising chief minister J Jayalalithaa over her reluctance to ban liquor trade in the state.
Calls for prohibition in Tamil Nadu have grown louder after activist Sasi Perumal died while demanding the closure of a liquor store in Kanyakumari on Friday. Following his death, opposition parties like the MDMK and the VCK called for a state-wide dawn to dusk bandh. But normal life remained largely unaffected with shops remaining open and buses plying across the state. Leading the protest, former MP and VCK leader Thol Thirumavalavan said, “We are protesting not to get votes, but for people’s welfare. Today the Tamil Nadu government has reached a point where they protect the TASMAC shop rather than the people of its state.”
The ruling AIADMK has however dismissed the anti-liquor protests and the bandh as a political stunt by its rivals in the run up to the 2016 Assembly elections. Considered the cash-cow for the government state-run liquor stores brought in over Rs 26,000 crore last year. CR Saraswathi, Spokesperson of the AIADMK on the eve of poll sharply reacted to the protests describing them as a mere election gimmick. She said “all these opposition party people whether MDMK or otherwise – just for election they are creating a problem. It’s not for the welfare of the people. Even Vaiko was with AIADMK and DMK alliances. They can’t face Amma on political ground. They want to create a law and order problem. People will never support them”.
But with AIADMK’s arch-rival the DMK also planning to hold protests demanding total prohibition in the days to come the question then was: will the state-wide agitation force the Jayalalithaa government to re-think its liquor policy?
The TASMAC is governed by a board of five IAS officers, including a Managing Director, and the State Minister for Excise and Prohibition. The company earns revenue not only from liquor sales but also by granting annual licences to run bars near its retail outlets. According to its website, the TASMAC has 41 depots in five regions and runs over 6,800 retail outlets across the State. It procures beer locally from three manufacturers and hard liquor from six manufacturers. Certain alcohol products are imported from other States.
The annual revenue of TASMAC stood at Rs. 26,188 crores in FY 2014-15.>According to government data, more than 70 lakh people consume liquor every day through TASMAC outlets. In January 2016, the company sold 48.23 lakh cases of liquor.
There was a time when alcohol consumption was linked to antagonists and Tamil cinema ‘heroes’ would avoid drinking on-screen. MGR the chief minister might have had a different stand on prohibition, but MGR the actor never drank on-screen.
In the Tamil movie Neenga nalla irukkanum, which deals with alcohol addiction, the then chief minister Jayalalithaa played herself. Her government would help a woman rehabilitate her alcoholic husband.
TASMAC has replaced ‘wine shops’, the slang to denote retail IMFL outlets. These days, Tamil protagonists and female leads do not shy away from drinking on-screen. It is common to have words such as ‘party’, ‘drinking’, ‘open the bottle,’ ‘ thanni’, ‘kudi’ and ‘TASMAC’ in Tamil film songs. There is even a Tamil cinema named Madhubaanakadai.
When Ms. Jayalalithaa came back to power in 2002, she not only cancelled her predecessor Panneerselvam’s order on cheap liquor, but also brought the retail sales of alcohol under government control. This move gave TASMAC monopoly over liquor sales in Tamil Nadu.
Ever since the TASMAC’s outlet was opened in 2012 near a school and a church, the residents of Unnaamalaikkadai in Kanyakumari district have been demanding its closure. Fifty nine year old Gandhian and anti-liquor activist Sasi Perumal joined their protest, which went to 1000th day on June 30, 2015. During the protest on July 31, Perumal climbed up a mobile phone tower and began losing his consciousness in the high altitude and was rescued and rushed to a government hospital, where he breathed his last. Following his death, protests erupted across the state targeting TASMAC outlets.
Prohibition has taken centre stage in the 2016 Tamil Nadu Assembly polls, after a series of protests in 2015. Parties such as the PMK and the MDMK have consistently demanded total prohibition in the State. Former Union Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, the CM candidate of the PMK, in his ‘blueprint for development’ not only mentions closure of government-run liquor shops, but also claims to have alternative revenue sources to offset revenue loss from prohibition.
Tamil Nadu was probably the first State to have a blanket ban on liquor. Today, several of the State’s welfare measures, including freebies, are funded by the revenue earned through liquor sale.
Government had to give police protection to these shops. The outlet in Unnaamalaikkadai was shut down immediately after Perumal’s death, but only to be reopened few days later.
Targeting the upmarket segment, the company opened its first premium outlet, TASMAC Elite, inside a shopping mall in Chennai in 2013. There are plans to open over 450 Elite outlets in urban and semi-urban areas in every district.
While political parties such as the PMK and the MDMK were consistent in demanding a total prohibition, they often protested against setting up new TASMAC outlets and the recent TASMAC Elite. Gandhian movements, women’s groups and civil society have voiced against more individuals, especially youths, being lured into alcohol consumption. But three recent agitations are worth mentioning in the anti-alcohol fight. In August 2015, residents of Kalingapatti, a village in Tirunelveli district, tried to lock down a TASMAC outlet functioning there. The village is the hometown on MDMK chief and coordinator of the People’s Welfare Front (PWF) Vaiko. The protest was lead by his nonagenarian mother Mariammal. When protestors tried to ransack the outlet, police resorted to lathi-charge and fired tear gas. The Kalingapatti Panchayat, earlier passed a resolution demanding closure of the liquor shop. Workers of the VCK, an ally of MDMK, too joined in later.
Liquor trade thrived whether the liquor is allowed or banned by the state as most of the liquor lobbyists and traders belong to DMK or AIADMK. . Whenever government imposed prohibition, the illegal sale of toddy and arrack along with consumption of methanol, an industrial solvent resulting in loss of several lives, Which paving way for lifting the ban. In 2001, prohibition was lifted again and TASMAC became the wholesale monopoly for alcohol. In January 2002, the Tamil Nadu government under O. Panneerselvam started selling low-cost liquor through TASMAC. In 2014-15, the annual revenue of TASMAC was Rs. 26,188 crores and the company sold 48.23 lakh cases of liquor.
However, nobody seems to be talking about how the revenue loss of up to Rs 27,000 crore per annum made through the government-monopolised liquor trade will be compensated. The Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC), which controls the liquor trade in the state, has grown steadily over the years – from Rs 139.41 crore in 1983-84 to Rs 7,335 crore in 2005-06 and now to over Rs 27,000 crore. There are about 6,800 liquor outlets in the state.
Tamil Nadu government must, in view of strong anti-liquor movement at all levels, impose total prohibition at least for full year and then v review the situation later to make remedial steps to help the poor.
The continued mass movement against liquor evils makes their life difficult as they are unable to go for daily work to earn money, make their livelihood complicated and perplexed. This in the long run would affect economy of the state. Implications are disastrous for the people and state, though the rich and liquor lobbyist continue to mint huge money.
When a government denies the rights of people and does exactly what the people do not ask for the government commits serious crimes, unless people are ultra fanatic like Hindutva minded Indians. Tamils are not demanding anything fanatically communal but only genuine needs without harming the interests of any section of the society. Tamil Nadu is committed to welfare of people and they must read and the writing on the wall and listen to their own conscience.
Instead of piling up problems, the government would do better by trying to honestly solving the people’s problems one by one. That is perhaps democracy.
India should strive for total prohibition. The Modi government should make law to declare India a liquor free nation.
Liquor should be avoided even at high parties by the government.
That is the way a government should show for the people emulate. Empty words of principles do not any sense.
Pakistan’s War with COVID-19: A Victory for Now
From rethinking health care systems to the redefining of global movement and migration, the coronavirus has undoubtedly changed the world – Pakistan being no exception. However, Pakistan, one of the highest populated countries in the world and a developing nation, somehow weathered the storm far better than most countries in the world – leaving many international experts and doctors questioning how.
A state of panic and chaos gripped Pakistan when the first two cases of the novel coronavirus were registered near the Iranian border, back in February of 2020. With flimsy healthcare infrastructure, insufficient public awareness and overcrowded urban spaces succumbing to grisly sanitation system, Pakistan was globally perceived to be a misfit for this kind of war, and also thought to be amongst the brutally hit ones. The notable trust deficit between the government and public, and the ignorance of both could make matters even worse.
The concept of social distancing, not new to the modern world, was alien to a mighty chunk of the masses. Pakistan, one of the only two countries still battling polio, was forecasted by prominent experts to fall deep into a quagmire, if timely actions were not taken. During May the cases began rising and in June, they peaked – hospitals were put on high alert and fear enveloped the populace. Pakistan’s already frail economy also struggled due to the coronavirus – specifically due to the nationwide lockdown that began in March 2020.However, soon after the country hit its peak, the plans finally started to kick off well; active cases began dropping by the end of June. Miraculously, Pakistan has accelerated its recovery rate to 96% in a matter of 6 months, which is surprising, given the current economic and demographic situation of the country.
Out of the 307,000+ active cases registered, more than 6,400 infected have fell victim to this disease so far, according to the Government of Pakistan. Pakistan’s surprising comeback from the pandemic has prompted World Health Organization (WHO) to declare Pakistan as an influential player in the fight against Covid-19.But how was Pakistan able to avert this public health crisis with a handful of resources and poor health infrastructure?
Graphical Analysis: The trend shows that the country witnessed the peak of the epidemic by mid-June as a result of direct or indirect violations of SOPs by the general public, especially during the Islamic month of Ramadan and Eid ul Fitr. However, the country observed a decline in daily cases by the end of June.
|CLOSED CASES*(Recovered/Discharged +Deaths)||298,719|
*As of 21st September Source: Worldometer
Amidst the national outcry for straining financial capacity, Pakistan’s healthcare infrastructure stood tall like a “Jenga” tower, with the government’s sensitive decision-making on one hand against the public’s negligence. The opposition politically capitalized on the public’s doubt about the government’s capability in dealing with a catastrophe of this scale initially, given the past experiences in dealing with natural disasters, like floods and earthquakes. Under such pressure and insecurity, PM Khan came up with a different solution.
After imposing a complete lockdown in March, a popular containment strategy, Pakistan pursued partial lockdown by closing down vicinities. The ruling party in consensus with other major elements also decided to keep crucial sectors of the economy, the livelihood of millions of wagers, open for economic activity. The government’s take on the countrywide lockdown seemed like a catalyst for an economic, social and political collapse, especially for a developing country like Pakistan.
Despite so many fingers raised at the government’s approach, PM Khan staunchly defended his position by explaining how it could give birth to greater problems like unemployment and eventually push the country into mass starvation. Reports about recession and market crashes from the neighboring India further emboldened the government on its anticipated approach – the smart lockdown.
While many believe that the policy was successful in slowing the spread of the disease in the country, notable health experts believe that the lockdown policy has only saved the country from an economic crisis, and not the disease itself yet. They believe other factors, like demography, have a bigger role to play in the country’s defense so far.
The major factor to consider is the demographic structure of Pakistan. Pakistan stands in the list of the countries with the highest number of independent population (youth, adults) against its dependent population (children, old-aged). In other words, Pakistan is home to a large number of youth or working age population; the number of old-aged individuals is significantly less.
Although COVID-19 can fatally affect people of all ages, analysis of the global death figures from the virus in the developed countries in light of the data of median age from the developed countries taken from Global health observatory data (WHO), specifically Italy, UK, France, suggests that the virus has caused more deaths in countries with the average age above 40. According to the above mentioned source, average age in Pakistan is 22; which means that the number of people with stronger physiological immunity is high, and the virus eventually dies down when the transmission occurs between large communities of young people. Thus, it can be said that the youth aspect of Pakistan’s demography might have a key role to play in the apparent success so far.
The Reporting Conspiracy
Pakistan’s testing capacity has also been subject to criticism, with claims that the health system is not sufficiently testing its population on a daily basis. Despite the Prime Minister’s sole credit to the government’s micro-lockdown policy, the data reveals an evident relationship between the decline in testing and reduction in new cases. The statistics released by Our World in Data indicate that Pakistan’s daily tests per thousand people, by July 16, was 0.1. The above source also shows that figure was estimated to be 0.13 back in June, the peak-month; the figures reveal a notable decline in overall testing from June to July.
Misreporting at the district level might have understated the official figures, but the notable thing is that even if we consider the fact that the country’s general testing has declined, it has still managed to show a positive rate less than 5%, according to Al Jazeera. According to the World Health Organization, any country with a positive rate less than 5% is in control of the disease outbreak.
Vulnerability to the Virus
By June, the disease spiraled out of control and started spreading at a very rapid pace. Due to religious gatherings in the month of Ramadan despite the lockdown restrictions, and the lifting of lockdown few weeks after Eid Ul Fitr, the country witnessed a boom in new cases. If we analyze the trend in the aforementioned graph, we can see that the number of cases almost tripled in a month. However, you can also see that after hitting a peak (6,825) in new cases, the rate of new infection steadily begin to decline over the next few days.
In an interview to Al-Jazeera, a health professional in Pakistan suggests that despite the highly contagious nature, the vulnerability to getting infected by the virus varies from individual to individual; a concept known as “population heterogeneity” in epidemiology.
Polio Response Force to the Rescue
With a big question mark on the healthcare’s capacity to accommodate sufficient ventilators for patients nearing respiratory breakdown, Pakistan defied all odds by deploying its polio eradication infrastructure to grapple the virus from spreading. The infrastructure, solely built to combat polio in rural and remote areas, has borne a great deal of innovation and research over the years due to immense pressure from the global health authorities to extirpate it.
Without the presence of a digital integrated health information system on a national level, Pakistan marched forward by integrating its polio eradication system with the COVID-19 monitoring system, an effort highlighted by the World Health Organization in a press conference. Highly trained health workers who were tasked to visit every door around the country for polio vaccination, were now directed to strategize exceptional practices that could effectively monitor, trace and contain the virus.
Even though the healthcare system does not have many epidemiologists in its infantry, Pakistan’s unique strategy has been able to considerably counter the virus than the countries widely accredited for their breakthroughs in the domain of disease control. Pakistan has received much deserved worldwide recognition in its unanticipated yet effective battle against the contagion.
The War Continues…
Pakistan might have pulled a narrow victory in what is considered as the first round of the pandemic, but the threat of the second wave still lurks around the corner. Health officials are continuously ringing bells for a potential disaster and advising the government to brace for it early on. They have also requested the government to pursue a total lockdown, if the country goes through a second wave, in the coming months as historical data suggests that second waves have usually taken a higher toll on the population as compared to the predecessor waves, like that of the Spanish influenza.
Curfewed Night- Book Review
Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer, Vintage by Random House India, 2009
Kashmir – A Paradise Lost?
In ‘Curfewed Night’, Basharat Peer, launches his core narrative, with the remark, that it was from a very early age that he had a “sense of the alienation and resentment that most Kashmiri Muslims felt and had against Indian rule” (p.11). It is from this vantage point that the reader is catapulted in to an evocative account of a Kashmir he knows (so intimately), in a style which seamlessly switches between nostalgic reminiscing and straightforward reportage. As he tells us, it was the absence of “books about the Kashmiri experience” (p.95) which invoked in him the desire to “write about the people and places that had haunted him for years” (p.96). Basharat spent his formative years under the watchful eyes of his grandfather enjoying the company of books introduced to him by his father. It was January 1990, when he was 13 years of age that his war of adolescence began and events were set in motion which were to change Kashmir forever.
In this intensely personal account of Kashmir, Basharat, goes on to describe the transformation of Kashmir from a land of immense natural beauty, into one where “armoured cars and soldiers” (p.229) were now casting an ominous shadow on the once idyllic landscape. According to him, the night of January 20,1990 marked a watershed in the Kashmiri demand for freedom, from an oppressive central government. On that night the paramilitary had come down heavily to crush what was seen to be an “incipient rebellion” (p.14) and the infamous Gawkadal Bridge massacre was to follow just a day later(Haq, 2019). Starting with the consequent spurt in growth of home grown militancy under the aegis of the pro-independence JKLF, he in the course of the book then traces the changing complexion and complexity of militancy as it moved to one which endorsed a pro-Pakistan stand as advocated by Hizbul Mujahideen and later the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. As a concomitant we are exposed to his references to the growing presence of the Indian Armed Forces and the consequent, at times unspeakable atrocities.
While still in school, Basharat Peer, could have said to have been lucky when he heeds the words of his grandfather, who tells him that “you don’t live long, in a war son”(p.28). This takes place when he aspires to join the militants in a moment of boyish hero worship, only to be thwarted in his attempt through active intervention by his family. The irony lies in the fact that in the same time frame, Tariq, his cousin meets a violent end after having embraced militancy. This inevitability of a violent end, in case of militancy, is later underlined by Basharat when he mentions that, “even Yusuf had not gotten out alive” (p.221). Yusuf was his childhood acquaintance who had various dalliances with the law, militancy and politics before being gunned down. It is indeed thought provoking and sad to find that the graves of those killed in the conflict were mostly those of the young, really young.
With this early brush with militancy, it is not long before, Basharat is sent away to study at the Aligarh Muslim University followed by enrolment at a university in Delhi. This leads him to a job as a reporter and a mellowing phase in his personal development when he discovers, the “various Indias that existed” (p. 69). All along visiting and keeping in touch with the valley it is a militant attack on his parents which unnerves him and prompts his return to the valley after having resigned from his job as a reporter. Wanting to write an intimate account of Kashmir, he now spends his time tracking down events and people with “militants and soldiers” becoming “ghost like presences”(p.206). This marks an extremely traumatic, tumultuous phase of intensely felt emotions, just as we are witness to the paralytic pain that engulfs him in his failed attempt to visit Kunanposhpora where twenty women were raped by armed forces.
There is also a sense of the tragic especially in the latter half of the narrative, when Basharat poignantly reminds us (repeatedly)of the tremendous human cost brought upon his beloved valley which gradually became a conflict zone before his very own eyes. Whether it is the reference to the ‘Association of the Parents of the Disappeared’ (p.132) or his schoolmate Mubashir’s falling victim to a grenade attack as an innocent bystander, the pain is searing. Even his own grandfather’s brother Nabi suffers from “fear and paranoia” (p.77) after his brush with militants and is resigned to taking anti-depressants in order to cope with the trauma. This psychological distress does not take sides and even an army officer is quoted to say, “I was a different man before I joined the force and came to Kashmir” (p.232). It is no wonder that Basharat writes sub consciously or otherwise about the “violence of a shoe brush” and his aeroplane is seen to execute a “violent sprint on the runway” (p. 235).
All said and done, whatever one’s political orientation, ‘Curfewed Night’, is undeniably a rich tapestry of reportage, personal experiences, reminiscences while at the same time it works as a social commentary on the Kashmir of our times. Basharat Peer does not always shy away from the unpleasant, though his narrative does shy away from digging deeper in to some uncomfortable truths like the forced migration of 100,000 or more Kashmiri Pandits following the events of the night of January 19,1990 (India Today , 2016). Also brushed aside is the role played by Pakistan when it meddles in matters of the sovereign state of India through its active and complicit involvement in an ongoing state sponsored proxy war(Towle, 1981).
To end on a more positive note, looking to “return, leave, return, leave, and return again” (p.234), an emotional Basharat looks for erasure of the “lines of control” (p.239) and a return to a world where individuals are not just suspects or military targets. He does indeed sum it up so well with his heart rending expression of the hope that the war in his valley “would disappear like footsteps on winter snow”! (p.223)
Proxy War and the Line of Control in Kashmir
Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere, with its roses the brightest that earth ever gave.–Thomas Moore
Kashmir has a way of arousing strong emotions, even among those like the Irish poet Thomas Moore, who never set foot on its soil. At the time of partition of British India, Kashmir was one of the largest princely states and like the rest of the princely states, it had the option of joining either of the two dominions of India and Pakistan or else declare independence. Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir had a similar choice to make but unable to take a stand he chose to sign a Standstill Agreement with Pakistan in order to buy time. India delayed signing such an agreement. It was following this agreement, that Pakistan with an eye on taking over Kashmir, started to act up and enforced a virtual economic blockade of this landlocked state, in a bid to force the Maharaja to accede to Pakistan (Singh, 1989).
The Maharaja desperate for supplies turned to India for help and matters soon took a turn for the worse, when Pashtun Tribals funded and equipped by Pakistan, invaded Kashmir, in October 1947(Haque, 2010). Facing imminent takeover of his state, Hari Singh again turned to India for help, but the Indian Government expressed its inability to intervene militarily in the absence of an Instrument of Accession. The Maharaja had dithered for too long to his detriment, he then signed the agreement and Indian troops were airlifted to the valley, immediately. The Indian Army successfully routed the tribal force,code named ‘Operation Gulmarg’,and it was the Pakistani Army which now took up the slack and stepped in continue the battle.
With winter creeping in, fighting was resumed only in the spring of 1948. It was to be almost a year before a UN sponsored cease fire took effect in January 1949, and the cease fire line became the de facto border pending resolution of the dispute. In retrospect, the Pashtun invasion was in effect the first proxy war waged by Pakistan and the resulting cease fire line was to become the Line of Control in a later ‘avatar’. It is in the context of Kashmir that we shall examine the coming in to being of these twin concepts of ‘Line of Control’ and ‘Proxy War’ and see how they created and shaped the flow of events as they un folded, in the intervening decades. Also examined, will be the role of the two state actors in a bid to identify likely outcomes and possible course corrections.
Proxy War and Kashmir
Proxy wars cannot be understood, unless they are placed in the context of their existence and usage. For Pakistan, the benefit in this manner of engagement, lies not only in its deniability (for political reasons) but also because it minimises the chances that such a conflict could escalate into a full blown act of war (Byman, 2018).
As an added corollary, there is the added incentive of reduced financial and human costs. Contextually, of even more significance, is the fact that India has military superiority which Pakistan would find hard to counter, if it were to engage in direct combat in a bid to annex Kashmir. Moreover, from a strategic point of view, when Pakistan plays the religion card for motivation, the results exceed expectations as it radicalises Islam in a Kashmir which originally subscribed to Sufi Islam. The incentive of ‘Azaadi’ is just a metaphor for annexation.
In Kashmir, there is a chain of causality, that began when, Major General Akbar Khan, a serving Pakistani Army officer, used Pashtun Tribals to stage an armed insurrection in Kashmir in October 1947 (Haque, THE KASHMIR CONFLICT: WHY IT DEFIES SOLUTION, 2010). The tribals in this operation were the first in a long list of non -state actors used by Pakistan in the relentless proxy war being waged, across the line of control, till today. Praveen Swami chooses to call this an “informal war” and rightfully says it has had a greater impact than both the 1947 and 1965 wars, as it set the stage for a seemingly endless engagement (Talbot, 2007).
Line of Control and Kashmir
In international parlance there was no such term like the line of control, until it was coined in 1972, when the Simla Accord was signed between India and Pakistan, after the post war (1971) negotiations between the two countries. The physical origins of the line of control, date back to the first Indo-Pak war in 1947, an invasion, gone wrong. Pakistan had committed this act of aggression, covert and overt, in spite of having signed a standstill agreement with the Maharaja of Kashmir, and for no identifiable reason except to further Jinnah’s interpretation of the Two Nation Theory. In spite of speculation about the exact timing of the signing of the Instrument of Accession by the Maharaja, the fact remains that Indian troops intervened with this accession instrument in place and the UN mediated a cease fire between the two countries and the cease fire line was formalised in a Karachi agreement signed in July 1949. Approximately one third of Kashmir was now with Pakistan and India had the balance two thirds. In the following years, there were three major wars with Pakistan and out of them it was the 1971 war which metamorphosed the cease fire line in to the Line of Control (LOC), as part of a larger political settlement. This line of control was in effect ‘cordon sanitaire’ based on military realities and political exigencies. Virtually unaffected by the wars of 1965 and 1999, the 742 km LOC still traverses majorly mountainous terrain with the Siachen Glacier as its end point. It has now been fenced over much of its length to discourage infiltration from Pakistan.
Proxy War and Line of Control
Regardless of nomenclature, with the war of 1947, the matters of proxy war and the line of control, became inextricably linked to the very existence of the countries of India and Pakistan. Just like the first war of 1947, Pakistan, unsuccessfully tried the proxy route again in 1965, with ‘Operation Gibraltar’ but the infiltrators could not garner local support and ‘conventional’ war broke out. The UN then negotiated a cease fire, and the Tashkent Agreement restored the sanctity of the 1949 cease fire line. In subsequent years, the 1971 war mutated the cease fire line, in to the LOC, and this war was more to do with the liberation of East Pakistan, anyway. Finally, it was Zia, who ultimately formalised this bid to “bleed India with a thousand cuts”(Katoch, 2013). The juggernaut he set rolling in 1988, never quite stopped and the Kargil war of 1999, was to see the pattern repeated, in terms of the use of non-state actors.
In the intervening years, since, only the ‘face’ of proxy war has changed and evolved, the heavily militarized LOC is a constant. To start with, in the eighties, it was the pro-independence JKLF with indigenous recruits, which held sway, only to be replaced by a pro-Pakistan, Hizbul-Mujahideen and later the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-Mohammed. Even now, the youth of Kashmir, is being radicalised and trained in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, for ‘Jihad’, but ‘terrorism fatigue’ is setting in. Militants are losing support of the local population, more and more, just as Pakistan uses its Afghan experience to use different nationalities as cannon fodder. Peace talks make no headway in this paradigm and there are no winners in this war, social and economic development is the casualty, damaged goods abound amongst the public and the security forces, alike.
In Search of a Settlement
Taking the time of partition as a point of reference, Pakistan was convinced in its mind that given geographical contiguity, and the fact that the state was predominantly Muslim, Kashmir should be its own. Clearly this was a political issue which Pakistan turned in to a military conflict. From thereon, Pakistan’s strategies ensured that the situation was turned in to a regional conflict with international dimensions. So much so Clinton referred to the LOC as the “most dangerous place in the world”(Popham, 2000). Playing its cards well, Pakistan turned a political stalemate in to a militaristic, socio-religious and political quagmire. With no noteworthy democratic institutions to speak of, Pakistan wants to liberate Kashmir, choosing to forget that accession was the instrument of choice when the princely states decided their fate at the time of partition. How was Kashmir’s choice being invalidated if this was so.
Today, the Kashmir Valley is a land transformed. From a paradise of untold natural beauty, it is a landscape of concertina wire fences and concrete bunkers. Its residents are in a state of siege, emotionally scarred, unable to cast off the twin yokes of militancy and counter-insurgency, with the military and militants lurking at every corner (literally). Brutality abounds. Opportunistic politicians, flawed elections, corrupt bureaucrats, a protecting force which behaves like an occupation force, are faces of this brutality that have been unleashed on the people of Kashmir. This was not always so.
Clearly, somewhere along the way India lost her bearings. It failed to take in to account the aspirations of the people. Kashmirayat, was secular, but it was not taken seriously and it did not take much to ignite the flames of ‘Azaadi’ which almost engulfed the valley. The secular bond was broken with the forced migration of the Kashmiri Pundits out of the valley. Regardless of the prevailing political dispensation, over time, with the growth of militancy, repression was the dominant reaction and the ‘mailed fist’ gained precedence. Radicalised Islam began to replace Sufi Islam((RETD), 2018). Fear and suspicion ruled the psyche of the people. The youth felt disenfranchised. India had fallen in to the trap of enforcing a siege instigated by Pakistan. Kashmiris felt betrayed. Article 370 which granted unprecedented autonomy, had been diluted until it was just symbolic, when it was abrogated in 2019, by a fiercely nationalistic government which had only just snapped ties with an electoral partner perceived as soft on separatists.
Coming back to the time of independence, Dionisio Anzilotti, former President of the Permanent Court of International Justice, says that Pakistan’s invasion in 1947 was “against all canons of international law” and “a clear violation of the Charter, the Security Council’s resolution of 17 January, 1948” (Pan, 1998).Just as interesting is the fact that, the accession document is deemed to be legal under international law even if it is signed under duress(Ayoob, 1967). As for the oft touted failure to institute a plebiscite, the UNSC resolution signed by both countries, clearly calls for first off withdrawal of Pakistani troops from Kashmir, with India keeping its forces at a minimum. Pakistan will never pull back and the stalemate therefore continues.
Clearly, there is an impasse and an impossibility for either side to blink. In Pakistan, the army cannot possibly abandon a conflict through which it exercises control over the body politic that sustains its economic, political and economic interests. It is almost as if, Kashmir is the very reason for the existence of the army and for the public of Pakistan, Kashmir’s liberation and annihilation of its bête noire, India, is the only national priority. Muhammad Shaffi Qureshi, a Kashmiri politician put it well when he said, that the Pakistan Army has “been feeding the tiger for a long time” for it to just walk away(Kifner, 2001). The danger in proxy warfare being that after a time proxies begin to “act according to their own interest and impulses”(Byman, ORDER FROM CHAOS Why engage in proxy war? A state’s perspective, 2018)(ibid).Pervez Musharraf and others have realized this truth much to their chagrin.
India, too is riding its own tiger, as it is caught in a ‘low-level equilibrium trap ‘in terms of being, in a state of no war accompanied by no peace(Carciumaru, 2015). The fear being that any let up in military presence will escalate militancy. The abrogation of Article 370 and the division of the state of Jammu & Kashmir in to centrally administered divisions, has destabilized already vulnerable democratic processes, turning Kashmir in to a simmering cauldron. The current political dispensation at the centre is still going ahead andrapidly making changes in domicile laws, in a bid to alter the demographics of the region. Previous state governments had done this for different reasons when they allowed the settling of Rohingya refugees in Jammu and thereabouts, for obvious reasons. Admittedly, matters can take a serious turn from hereon, with resentment boiling over among the populace at large.
Attempting to deal with the abrogation of Article 370, Pakistan is consequently changing its strategy. A leaked policy document from the ‘Green Book 2020’,indicates that the proxy war will now move towards, a‘non kinetic domain’(Osborne, 2020).Cyber warfare and psychological warfare being used to aid and abet a native uprising, so as to be able to defend Pakistan’s position on international forums. With a defensive and weakened Pakistan, India, too must move differently and realize that it cannot have a decisive win against militancy, using brute force. With militancy, currently at an ebb, the time is in fact opportune to move towards a ‘negotiated settlement’ as the militants are politically discredited in a scenario where India has the moral high ground as it does not believe in building terror launch pads on its soil. Its people of Kashmir are decidedly at an advantage economically, when compared to their ‘compatriots’ across the LOC and they have a ‘voice’, in a country where rule of law still prevails. Aberrations like the AFSPA, can surface in any dispensation, you don’t throw the baby with the bath water.
Bashir Manzar wrote on twitter, “From Geelani to Farooq Abdullah, we have a luxury to say anything and everything against India, ridiculing it for rejecting our right of self-determination,independent Kashmir, autonomy, self-rule etc. But when Pakistan rejects all these things, we turn into non-speaking species. Are we more scared of Pakistan than India?”
Seven decades later, peace is still intractable in the Kashmir Valley.Violations across the line of control continue, by both sides and the proxy war initiated and sustained by Pakistan, has been a constant for long.Kashmir is ina ‘mutually hurting-stalemate’(Carciumaru, Beyond the ‘Low-Level Equilibrium Trap’: Getting to a ‘Principled Negotiation’ of the Kashmir Conflict, 2015) (ibid).Perhaps, the most elegant solution to this imbroglio would be acceptance of the line of control as an international border with greater autonomy for Kashmir (as suggested by Farooq Abdullah)so that the people of Kashmir couldthen move on with their lives, which in a paradoxical manner seem to be in a state of suspended animation, as long as the conflict continues to play itself out. This is not utopian, all it needs is political will and some give and take(Sharma, 2017).
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