Monday, August 30, 2010
Stone pelters from Beijing
The media and people have proverbial short memories. So they forget what had earlier happened on New Delhi’s public circuit when China raked up claims on Arunachal, protested over our hospitality to the Dalai Lama and even expressed ‘concerns’ at our defence cooperation with the US and Japan. All this has become part of ‘mutually acceptable’ exercises in cooperation. Neither New Delhi nor Beijing allows such incidents to overshadow an otherwise smoothly running track of cooperation in various areas, including defence and trade.
The bilateral cooperation in defence has been growing happily with hardly any hiccups. It had begun after an MoU was signed between India’s defence minister, Pranab Mukherjee, and his Chinese counterpart, General Cao Gangchuan, in Beijing on May 29, 2006. This was a first-of-its-kind agreement, which sought to ensure a framework for:
1. Frequent exchanges between the leaders and high-level functionaries of the defence ministries and armed forces of India and China;
2. An annual defence dialogue at a mutually agreed level to be hosted alternately by the two sides;
3. Joint military exercises and/or training programmes in the fields of search and rescue, anti-piracy, counter-terrorism, and other areas of mutual interest, including facilitating the exchange of military observers to witness designated military exercises; and a mechanism for the exchange of military officers and relevant civilian officials for study tours, seminars, and extended studies at their counterpart military academies.
Apart from this, usual exchanges in the area of defence had been moving smoothly at their own pace. A ministry of external affairs communiqué describes the high-level exchanges in these happy words: “During Shri Sharad Pawar's visit to Beijing in July 1992, the first ever by an Indian Defence Minister, it was agreed to develop academic, military, scientific and technological exchanges. A senior-level Chinese military delegation aimed at fostering CBMs between the defence forces of the two countries made a six-day goodwill visit to India in December 1993. The visit was reciprocated by Indian Army chief Gen BC Joshi's visit to China in July 1994. Since then regular exchanges have been taking place at various levels. Peace and tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the border areas is being largely maintained by both sides in accordance with the agreements of 1993 and 1996. The then Defence Minister, Mr George Fernandes,visited China in Apr 2003.
The visit came after a gap of more than one decade and also helped ease the post Pokhran tensions. This was followed by a return visit by Chinese Defence Minister Gen Cao Gangchuan in Mar 2004. In Dec 2004, Gen NC Vij, the then COAS visited China, the first by an Indian COAS in a decade, and both the countries agreed to deepen defence cooperation. In May 2005, the Chinese CGS visited India, a further sign of warming relations between the two countries. The Indian Defence Minister visited India in May 2006 and signed the first ever MoU on Defence Exchanges between the Armed Forces of India and China. In May 2007 Gen JJ Singh, Chairman COSC and COAS visited China. This was the first time that Chairman COSC visited China and was hosted by the CGS of the PLA. In Nov 2008, the Chief of Air Staff of the IAF paid on official visit to China from 02-06 Nov 2008. Simultaneously, the Commander PLA Navy paid a visit to India from 02 to 05 Nov 2008. Chairman COSC and CNS, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, PVSM, AVSM, ADC visited China and participated in the International Fleet Review to mark the 60th Anniversary Celebrations of PLA Navy from 19-25 Apr 2009.”
So what’s the fuss about?
It’s the Indian attitude which bewilders all. Do we have any concrete China policy and if there is a road map we have devised for ourselves for the next decade? Our reactions are haphazard, of late, quite pusilLaminous and defensive. With Chinese missiles targeting Indian cities, positioned in Tibet, and increasingly its anti-India belligerance becoming more vocal and irritating, what purpose do these bilateral exchanges serve? They were meant to help resolve unsetteld issues through face-to-face interactions and not to further aggravate tensions.
China is quite transparently clear about its expansionist ideas on India -- it has Aksai Chin under its thumb, received a ‘gift’ of 5000 sq km of Indian land from Pakistan, which had illegally occupied it. It claims Arunachal and hasn’t quite clearly accepted Sikkim as an Indian territory. To ‘contain’ India, its encirclement policy is well known and it continues helping Pakistan in a way that Indian interests are affected. It has received separatist leaders from Kashmir and discussed internal matters of India with them. Its nuclear and military help to Pakistan has created serious problems for India. The biggest problem of violence India is facing internally today, in the words of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has a China thread to it as those Maoists who have killed more than 10,000 Indians to realize a ‘revolutionary’ idea, germinated in China hero-worship Chinese leaders. They have fashioned their movement after Mao and so have the 13 other terrorist organizations active in the northeast and banned by the home ministry. One of them is named People's Liberation Army (PLA), operating in Manipur.
China still perceives India as a threat, evident from various surveys, though diplomatically it maintains a different stance. India so far has maintained a studied silence on Chinese arrogance and even tried to cover up its incursions in Ladakh, Uttarakhand and Arunachal sector, often muffling its protests yet declaring the continuance of friendly exchanges. The present incident of refusing to receive Lt Gen Jaswal is being interpreted as aimed at helping Pakistan and the separatists in Srinagar. It’s like stone pelting -- at random and yet targeted. Lt Gen JJ Singh was welcomed in spite of having the northeast, which includes Arunachal, under his command, but Gen Jaswal was snubbed. It’s for us to decide how much such insults can be taken in sheepishly before the final outburst appears.
Friday, August 27, 2010
11, Ashok Road, New Delhi – 110001
Tel. No. : 23305700; Fax : 23005787
Date : August 27, 2010
Statement of Shri Tarun Vijay, BJP National Spokesperson on China’s refusal to receive Gen. Jaswal and documentary proof of Chinese intrusion in Ladakh
Indian response to Chinese arrogance Inadequate : Tarun Vijay
Commenting on the Chinese refusal to receive Lt. Gen. B.S.Jaswal, Shri Tarun Vijay, national spokesperson of the BJP and MP (Rajya Sabha) said the response of the Indian Government should have been more stringent and adequate. He said an abrasive attitude towards Indian sensitivities and helping India’s enemies has become a hall mark of China’s India policy while carrying on trade and commerce activities which are heavily in its favour.
At a time when Kashmir is on a boil, supported and guided by Pakistan, China has shown its Pro-Pakistan attitude by refusing to welcome Lt. Gen Jaswal thus boosting the morale of anti-Indian separatists. The defence exchanges do serve a purpose under an appropriate atmosphere and such exchanges occur between the two institutions, in the present incident, between members of Indian Armed Forces and Peoples’ Liberation Army. If such exchanges are influenced by factors of the ‘location’ of such members, the purpose gets defeated. Afterall the exchanges are meant to ensure resolving issues through face to face interactions and finding solutions and not to aggravate the unresolved issues. China has done exactly the opposite of what was expected of such visits. The response of Indian govt. to Chinese arrogance is sheepishly low key and inadequate to say the least. We must ask Beijing what will be its response if the issues of Tibet’s freedom and Xinxiang’s disputed merger with mainland land China, against which a strong movement is building up amongst the Uyghur people is opened by India?
It’s not Lt. Gen. Jaswal who has been snubbed but the sovereignty of the Tricolour has been hurt. Of late under UPA dispensation the honour of Tricolour has been shrinking. Those who wear tricolor, the Indian citizens, are not only refused visa, if they are residents of Kashmir and Arunachal, but the protectors of the Tricolour, army commanders, too are embarrassed bringing down India’s prestige in global quarters.
Of late India has also been playing down the Chinese intrusions in Indian Territory. I am attaching scanned copies of two documents which prove how India stopped work under NREGA in Leh last year under pressure from Chinese PLA and Indian government didn’t provide any protection to the Indian citizens to carry on the legitimate road building work in villages situated within Indian Territory near China border. It exposes the govt. lies about-merely cover-ups-on Chinese intrusions and raises serious issues about India’s surprising low key, defensive response to Chinese intrusions.
India must answer befittingly to the Chinese arrogance and make it feel the economic punch. Merely cancelling two low level delegations to China carry no conviction of the Indian govt to protect the honour of its citizens and the protectors of India’s sovereignty- the Forces.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Kashmir's 'Azadi' with the tricolour
Concluding part of "An unprecedented dialogue on Kashmir":
Now the leader of the opposition explained in a motherly way that they were all like her children. She said: "So, son, first decide what you want. Some want to remain independent, some want Gilgit and Baltistan, some want to go with Pakistan. No one is clear. You already have Jammu and Ladakh; enjoy an autonomy which is not available to any other Indian state. Gilgit and Baltistan you can't have without getting into a scuffle and that may lead to a war. The best 'azadi' that all of you enjoy is with the tricolour. The Indian Constitution provides everything that a citizen can aspire for. It has space for all the shades and opinions within its framework. Look at the educational and technological advances other Indian states are making and see the number of Kashmiri youths coming out of the valley to take advantage of it — in Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi. That's the freedom of development and reaching the sky for lifetime achivements." She brillinatly punctured the 'azadi' fumblings and made Manjoor Yusuf, a braveheart student from Srinagar, to come to the dais and declare: "It's wrong to say that all Kashmiri Muslims want 'azadi'. We want our future with India. It's a great country and in the last election 61% of the citizens of Kashmir cast their votes. India, not Pakistan, is our destiny." The atmosphere changed in a second. A small section of "azadi" seekers couldn't say anything except jeering at the Indian voice from Kashmir. He later complained that some of the students threatened him, "but I am not scared, sir". He was firm.
Smriti Irani, actor (Tulsi) and national president of the BJP's women's wing, charmingly disarmed the separatism advocates. "Azadi — What for and how? By making innocent kids and young people leave their homes and pelt stones on soldiers who are guarding the nation under their constitutional duty? Why should you not be concentrating on making the education system better and responsive? All the separatist leaders including Gilani and Andrabi send their children to various Indian cities and abroad to get the best education and settle down as progressive persons, but make the valley youth cannon fodder for their nefarious games, played and funded by Pakistan. Why don't you see the game?"
"Your 'Azad Kashmir' remains a small, marginalized cry of a section of stone pelters in the valley alone," said Aditya Kaul. Utpal Kaul — born, brought up and educated in Srinagar — reminisced about his student days, about his Muslim teachers and the tradition of "Dal Cross" and "Wooler Cross" by girl students too who had pretty good hockey and tennis teams. "Where has all that vanished? Why do you want to be just confined to a small area of the valley? Give leadership to the Indian Muslims. Where is the space of Indian Muslims on your radar?" Prof Fouzia too became emotional and said: "We always had the tradition of mosques and temples existing side by side." To this, Aditya wanted to know, where have all the temples gone now? Thousands of them have been demolished and graffiti in foul language written against Hindus on their half-burnt walls. Why none of them ever protested against such happenings?
Editors' interaction with the students hinged on how political aspirations are taking a turn in the valley. Chandan Mitra of the Pioneer, Rajesh Kalra of the Times Group and Shoma Chaudhry from Tehelka tried to understand and put forth their viewpoints about Kashmir's problems and their solutions. Shoma spoke about the new wave of political demands in the valley and termed stone pelting too as an expression of anger. Chandan predictably took the nationalist line and tried to explain how the Indian democracy is the best framework. "Be part of a larger Indian milieu and everything can be sorted out," he emphasized. Large sections of Muslim students, apart from those who came from Islamic University nodded in affirmation. Rajesh Kalra asked students about their academic pursuits and their dreams. He said that unless they joined the mainstream of a struggle within the Indian framework how could they think they could excel in their lives.
The thrilling part was the arrival of the seven young turk membes of Parliament belonging to various political parties.
Harsimrat Kaur Badal was at her eloquent best. She narrated emotionally the trauma Punjab had gone through during the Khalistan movement. How every Sikh was a suspect, how young Sikhs were killed as suspects by the security forces and the massacre of 1984. "But gradually we all felt separatism was not an answer, it gave nothing but blankness, a black hole. Today Punjab youths are in the grip of drugs and all sorts of negative traits, a direct fallout of the insurgency. Punjab lost its vibrant, dynamic youth in a movement that was self-defeating." "And listen," she turned a tigress, "I am not from the Congress or the BJP, but I am an Indian and as an Indian I must clearly tell you that till the last Indian is alive, no one will ever allow Kashmir to secede from us. It's an integral part of us, of India." The conference room rose to hail her with roaring claps. The voices of "azadi'' had no answer. Neeraj Shekhar asked: "How many of you have voted in the last elections?" Islamic University students said in unison: "No one." "Why?" asked Neeraj. They said: "Because the elections are always rigged, so we have no faith in them." This was contested again by Manzoor Yusuf, who said 61% of Kashmiris voted in the elections. "That means you do not represent the majority." Aditya pointed out: "A known separatist leader, Bilal Lone, contested the election and lost his deposit. It means the majority of Kashmiris do not like separatists."
Priya Dutt said in her inimitable style: "Why on earth you declare first that you are not an Indian and then ask for more? How can one come on a dialogue table with a baggage of preconceived notions and then begin with riders? We are with you, we understand your pains and sorrows, we share your grief and demands for justice, but that can be met only under an Indian constitutional framework. And no one, no party or ideology or shade of belief, can ever give you 'azadi'. Take it today as firmly as possible."
Anurag Thakur, the young turk from Himachal who is also the president of Himachal Cricket Association and national president of the BJP's youth wing, spoke from the heart: "We are with you on every issue that creates pain or anguish, but as Indians. Nothing can ever be discussed beyond the parameters of our Indianness. We are talking to you not because you are different but because you have always been a part of us, an inalienable story of a larger Indian epic." Madhu Yashki narrated his own story from Andhra Pradesh, where he too was witness to the demand of a Telangana state. "It never pays to be an extremist, trust me. Our destinies and dreams are best protected under the umbrella of our Indianness."
Jayant Chaudhary was candid. "You want peace, right?" And everyone nodded. So friends, peace as I read somewhere, is like lovemaking. You have to keep your eyes shut and let the process take its course. Coming on a dialogue table with preconditions spoils the game. Then he said: "Tell me why some of you want ‘azadi’." The students, voicing separatist threads, fumbled, "Pandit Nehru had promised a plebiscite." "But that was to be held without any demographic changes. The valley has gone tremendous change in its population contours, with Hindus ousted and people from across the border rehabilitated post-1947," retorted Radhika Kaul.
None could explain why they want "azadi"; none could reply why Ladakh and Jammu remained absent from their worldview. Students who wanted "separation" were not keen to listen to the voices of Indianness from their own Muslim brothers and sisters from Srinagar. They said that even the 2002 and 2008 elections — universally hailed as free and fair, including by UN observers — were rigged.
"We have a lost generation in the valley, fed from their early childhood that they are different, hence they have, a separate flag, a separate constitutional provision and they do not belong to India as Bihar and Assam do. Some of the students claimed Kashmiris were a different race and a different "kaum" unlike Indians. I said: "Read at least Sheikh Abdullah’s biography, 'Atishe Chinar', in which he traces his roots, two generations back, to Kaul Hindus. There are Rainas, Kauls and Bhatts this side, exiled from their homes, and Rainas, Kauls and Bhatts on the other side. Why the divide just because one has a different way of worship?"
Ram Madhav, national executive member of the RSS, shared his views and took difficult questions with aplomb, asserting the age-old unity of Jammu & Kashmir with India. "We can never think to have Kashmir separated from India at any cost," he asserted. "We would like every person in J&K to prosper and have a government of his choice within the framework of the Indian Constitution."
This dialogue could happen because Prof Siddiq Wahid and Prof Fouzia Kazi were among the believers in resolving issues through talks. I wish I were a student of Dr Fouzia, who was so articulate and spoke with great maturity and élan. The same goes for Prof Wahid. The students were brilliant, and put forth their views assertively and decently. The dialogue has convinced us that there are people in the valley who believe in sharing the views rather than stone pelting and killing. No bullet can ever find a solution to a complex problem and building bridges in spite of all hurdles and challenges remains the course of a civil society. That has to be supported from both sides, though. The vice chancellor, Prof Wahid, invited us to continue the dialogue in Srinagar, in his Islamic University of Science and Technology. We have accepted the invitation. Friends are made. Sinead Kachroo of Aman Satya Kachroo Trust shared the feelings of Kashmiri students by offering to wear a black band to mourn the deaths of innocent people in the valley; it deeply touched the hearts of everybody.
Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee gave his life in Srinagar for the complete integration of Kashmir with the rest of India. That a thinktank named after him would carry forward the dialogue in Srinagar and in Delhi with those who have a different opinion is a landmark event. That was what Bal Apte, the President of the organization, said, asserting the ancient threads of unity that bind Jammu & Kashmir inseparably with Bharat Vasrha. "We never imagined an India without Kashmir and will never do so." Kashmir se Kanya Kumari tak Bharat ek hai.
Reaching out and continuing talks can only be a better way out.
Nitin Gadkari: Friendly yet firm
Sushma Swaraj: "Bolo beta"
At a meeting with home minister Chidambaram: VC, Islamic University, Siddiq Wahid, and Prof Fouzia Kazi with students are seen on the right while the author, Bal Apte, DUSU president Manoj Chaudhry, are on the left.
"Five hundred years hence, it will matter little to humanity whether a few Indians, more or less, have held official posts in India, or a few million bales of cloth been manufactured in Bombay, or Lancashire factories; but it will matter much whether the great ideals of Indian culture have been carried forward or allowed to die. It is with these that Indian Nationalism is essentially concerned, and upon these that the fate of India as a nation depends".
Ananda Coomaraswamy (Essays in National Idealism, 1909)
Saturday, August 21, 2010
An unprecedented dialogue on Kashmir
They spoke as much as they wanted to, met Nitin Gadkari in a two-hour thrilling Q&A, chatted across the board with the president of Delhi University Students' Union, Manoj Chaudhry, and a group of senior students from JNU, had discussions with Balbir Punj, MP, questioned P Chidambaram, the ubiquitous home minister, and capped the day with a visit to Akshardham temple, enjoying the boat ride exhibition depicting the great achievements of India and had "prasadam", and ended the day's "roza" there. Earlier they were taken to Hazrat Nizamuddin Chishti dargah to offer namaz and obeisance.
The programme began with floral tributes to Bharat Mata and Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee. A minute's silence was observed in memory of all the innocent people, including the security personnel, killed in Kashmir, and then a free flow of view began. If Kashmiri Muslim students spoke about what they termed political repression of Delhi, atrocities of the forces, the Kashmiri Hindu students — Radhika Kaul, Aditya and Suneida Kachroo — challenged the other side's view, stone pelting, pain and anguish of the Hindus exiled, violence and Pakistan's sponsorship of the separatist agitations. Gadkari displayed amazing patience and resilience to listen. Prof Wahid had said earlier that "all that we want is to be heard. We are often given sermons and everybody wants us to listen, but we too want to have a say."
The professor and his students were not disappointed. Everybody was in a mood to listen. And then, before leaving, Gadkari said: "We want you to make progress as proud Indian citizens. All the problems and grievances can be understood and addressed within an Indian constitutional framework. There is a plethora of complaints from Indians residing in various states. No one can ever be satisfied in a democracy. So is true of Jammu & Kashmir. The integration of Kashmir with India is final and non-negotiable, from this point of a devotional faith to our nation, all other issues can be discussed. Education, economic development, better governance and a happier social milieu are what we wish for Kashmir and all our states."
So was the view of P Chidambaram, who spoke to students like a wisdom tree. He listened to the students patiently, in spite of his urgent engagements in Parliament and said: "Be part of the Indian story. The rest will follow naturally. Shun violence and aspire for development. I will immediately withdraw the security forces and send them back to barracks."
He said: "Can you expect a soldier, crowded by a dozen stone pelters and feeling helpless, just about to be lynched, not to open fire to save his life? You pelt stones, make security personnel targets, burn government property and expect us to remain silent and do nothing?"
Everyone lamented the killing of innocent people in the valley, and felt that violence must come to an end. Manoj Chaudhry was at his best to put the scenario in perspective. He said: "You think such incidents happens only in the valley? What about the killings of Gujjars in Rajasthan and the brutalities of Naxals in Chattisgarh and Bengal?"
Tejinder Singh, a student leader, said: "Four thousand Sikhs were massacred in Delhi and elsewhere in 1984. Should that mean they demand separation from India? Why do Sikhs remain loyal to India and democracy, but Kashmiri Muslims demand azadi?"
Prof Jahangir Tantri of Kashmir University spoke about the pains of Kashmiri Hindus and said Muslims wanted them back. "They were the happiness and raunaq of Kashmir. We feel deeply anguished not to see them in Rainawari and other places of the valley."
Rakhshanda, Lubna, Afsana, Nazeer, and their "just returned from a 20-year stint in the US" professor, Fouzia, were at their strongest putting across a different view, a view which Delhi won't agree to. The spoke for azadi and an end to "repression of Delhi". "All governments are puppets controlled by Delhi," they said.
What about the Mufti government, which was an outcome of a universally hailed free and objective election? I asked. Balbir Punj said: "You hate a government that you elect. Always, the valley leaders have ruled J&K, which includes Jammu and Ladakh, but you never care or agitate for their woes and pains and complain against Delhi and not against your own valley leaders?"
Yatindra Jit Singh, who belongs to Kashmir, said: "Burning of the tricolour is as unacceptable and provoking to me as burning of the Quran is to any Muslim. You burn our national flag, stone-pelt soldiers, demand a quivered azadi, and still want to enjoy the fruits of Indian democracy and the freedom the Constitution provides. Why don’t you protest against the separatists who are spoiling the future of a common Kashmiri and sending their children to abroad for better careers?"
Shehla Masood, president of Muslim Women’s Progressive Society, challenged the separatist viewpoint and asked: "Where are the issues of women's empowerment and unshackling them from the clutches of the Taliban and mullas? Why are the separatists silent on the educational and economic development of the society? Their agenda seems to be guided by factors other than the real welfare of Muslims."
The beauty is that the dialogue continues. Sharing and engaging in decent, logical exchange of views is certainly an Indian trait, a universally acceptable way to find solutions. (To be continued.)
Walking the valley of death
I just returned from Leh and thought I should share with you what I saw there.
t was the Indus valley we used to go to almost every year since 1996 when the festival of the Indus, the Sindhu Darshan, was conceived. It was the same valley we entered this year with sadness and disbelief writ large on our faces. Looked as if we were going to enter a valley of death and misery.
I was in Dehradun organizing the opening of my parliamentary office that the news of the Leh tragedy struck me. Sindhu made Leh my second home with a friend almost in every home and gompa. It was impossible not to visit the place but tickets were not available.
Somehow, Anuj, founding member of Sindhu Darshan and a long-time friend, managed and almost direct from Delhi's Nizamuddin station I reached the airport to catch a morning IC flight, praying it won't be cancelled on account of bad weather or something else. The plane was full of Army jawans and members of the media.
We spoke nothing. There was hardly anything that could have engaged us in a discussion. The silence was the only support. Silence born out of the fear of the unknown. Silence borne out of the fear of losing the known and the unknown. At 30,000 feet my mind was engrossed in Choglumsar, where in a guesthouse with Mr LK Advani we had first seen the Indus and the seed of a festival was sown that would change the economy of the area in coming years.
Choglumsar was the village worst hit -- almost everything got washed away, and houses were buried under the silt and the huge boulders the flash flood had brought with the speed of light.
Leh, at 11,500 feet and a rarefied oxygen level, requires visitors to take rest at least for the first 12 hours and a lot of liquid intake. That is a prescription for normal times. We just sped to the city, to see deputy commissioner Angchuk. He was a picture of anarchic disorder -- surrounded by people, taking calls from Delhi and Srinagar, giving hopes and notes of a positive situation. "Everything is under control, sir." He knew he didn't know what he was saying but what else could he have said to the armchair secretaries and politicians calling him ad nauseam?
I contacted Brigadier Kanitkar and Lt Gen SK Singh of the 14 Corps and then Brigadier Ajay Kumar, deputy general officer commanding of 3 Div, Trishul. They were all engrossed in relief work. It's another war, said Gen Singh. I agreed. The war against the inhuman fury of nature and the war to provide succor to the distressed. The Army appeared as a new god to the traumatized Ladakhis, whose memory failed to recollect if ever this kind of havoc had befallen them.
The first people to reach a dumbstruck Choglumsar, were Army jawans and RSS workers; the RSS was holding an annual camp nearby, so all the campers rushed to the site rescuing wailing and crying people. They organized help, informed Delhi's leaders, started a langar the next day and set up a fund -- Ladakh Disaster Relief Fund. But they were not alone. Almost everyone who was anyone began working without delay. The Ladakh Buddhist Association was a pioneer with Sikh, Christian and Muslim associations and Ladakh Mothers' Association.
The road to Choglumsar looked like a pathway to the valley of death and destruction. The bus station, Sonam Narboo Memorial Hospital, shops and houses near the ITBP headquarters, Kendriya Vidyalaya, State Bank's branch, everything was mangled as if a giant dinosaur had descended as an Extra-Terrestrial and chewed away in its jaws all that it saw. The road was hardly visible. Just the bulldozers and small trucks loaded with household things, some trunks, clothes dumped, gas cylinders, mattresses and kids clinging to their lucky-to-have-survived parents sitting on top of it.
The village was buried underneath. We walked up to the Army relief camp, where Brig Ajay was directing his men with digging instruments, medicines and food plates for the victims. At every step, we felt we are walking on the dead. The earth sank at each step; there was a home under us, a kitchen or a baithak, where people were in deep sleep when the flood flashed. Many of them couldn't get a second to run out. Silt came gushing in with huge boulders from the hill top which turned like deadly balls crushing houses and humans. The area is a tourist spot known the world over as Moon Land. Barren magical mountains reflecting a vibgyor spectrum, blue, black, violet, orange, brown, steel grey and dark chocolate. It's a land of rocks, mighty boulders, sand dunes and lyrical streams dotted with romantic lakes with the moon in a clear transparent sky as if it's a next-door neighbour.
Everything was dead now. The macabre dance of death was unimaginable. Lamas were joining the digging work, with foreigners who had come here as tourists from Italy, Germany, Japan, Korea and Israel, but offered to be volunteers in the rescue operations. Doctors from Delhi, Mumbai and Vadodara offered help and operated on patients in the 153 Army Hospital, said Colonel (Dr) Anurag Khanna, commanding officer of the hospital. Houses in Saboo and Choglumsar were either invisibly buried under earth or half-buried in silt, with household things, utensils on the rack, pictures hanging on the walls, thankas on the walls and the Dalai Lama's portraits clearly visible from broken window panes. Two women walked down to us like souls possessed. "Have you seen this?" they said, showing us pictures of their relatives. Sisters were searching brothers and mothers wailed for their lost children.
The entire area stank intolerably. The stink of the dead bodies buried under our feet. New channels of water had created fresh havoc with skeleton bridges made of wooden doors and poplar branches coming up where there had been homes a couple of hours back. Inside the half-buried houses or those which had their foundations washed away with just the upper part standing like a toy house hanging on a tree, had silt filled inside the rooms up to seven or eight feet. It will turn into stones soon, said Ajay, making it almost impossible to find the bodies buried in the moulds. It was a whole city turned into a burial ground.
Thupstan Chhewang, the firebrand youth leader of the eighties, who led the locals against a historic revolt against the communal oppression of Srinagar, looked a broken man. Nothing is working here, he said. "The J&K government doesn't treat us as equal citizens of the state. Our hospital doesn't have an x-ray machine, not even a morgue. The unidentified bodies are lying in the open, decomposing and spreading the stink in the city. Even when all was normal, postmortems were conducted in a garage. The government didn't give us even a CT-scan machine, which we managed from Tata Trust."
Dorjey, the chief executive officer of the Ladakh Hill Development Council, the local administrative unit, said: "We had applied for a Rs 83 crore flood relief scheme, offered by the Centre three years back, to the J&K government, as it needed to reach Delhi through their recommendation. The minister in charge in Srinagar laughed it away saying, "Floods??? In Ladakh?? What do you need this money for?"
The Ladakhis had applied to the government for upgradation of their local hospital to a 200-bed one, under the government's National Health Mission scheme. The application is yet to be approved. An area of 48 thousand sq km, with a border with China and Pakistan stretching from Skardu and Baltistan (illegally occupied by Pakistan) to Aksai Chin (under illegal occupation of China), Ladakh has borne the first brunt of war since the 1950s, winning Mahavir Chakras and many more war-time decorations. The planners ignore all its demands to progress and infrastructure, looking at its population, a little more than 200,000.
But they don't understand that the area of this one "district" is more than Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana. One revenue district often spreads out to an 80 sq km area with a road needed to join two localities (modhas or mohallas) as long as 45 kms! And because they do not pelt stones on Army jawans, stand in respect for the tricolour, and sing the national anthem in every school with pride and cries of "Bharat Mata ki Jai", they get political boots from the "secularists" in Delhi. Money is spent like water to divide the Buddhist society and political ravines created to weaken their voices. "They want us to become like Hurriyat and demand independence, and only then our basic demands will be met," said one local leader with bitterness.
It may take a year before Leh returns to some kind of a bruised normalcy. Memory of the missing people is bringing a sense of fear enveloped in trauma. Come October and winter will bring more misery; tents won't suffice. New houses can is built only next year when summer begins in March-April. Wrecked families and unfound bodies of the dear ones will be an emotional disaster.
Ladakh today needs warmth of belongingness and affinity more than anything else.
Life is like that ... just the mortal being
Saving a woman and her sweet, little baby
And the soil embraced its elements
Bodies kept for identification
The last remains
The pain is writ large on the face
A journey of some sort
Clearing the debris
A war of nerves
Distribution of sleeping bags by jawans
Finding a new desitination
Waiting rudderless at a chhorten (prayer wheel)
ITBP free langar
Muslim women hurrying up to reach a relief camp
Jawans helping a last journey
Helping hands in olive
This time it's a belcha fauz, without rifles
Once this was a home
Sil, and the silence
A bagful of memories
A trunk of history
With five feet of silt filling the room, utensils in
the shelf look untouched, may be someone is buried there
Petrol pump in a shambles
Thupstan Chhewang receiving a little medical help from Tarun Vijay
Brig Ajay Kumar of 3 Div (Trishul) supervising rescue work
Famous Sindhu Ghats remained untouched by nature's fury
Relief camps in the foothills and a makeshift hospital
Casualty section of SNM Hospital turned into a casualty itself;
22 people died in this hospital
Unidentified decomposing bodies in the garage of hospital
as Leh doesn't have a morgue
Requesting tourists to register as volunteers,
members of Ladakh Buddhist Association
The man who directed helping hands of God,
Lt Gen SK Singh, corps commander, 14th Corps
Maj Chitra Mukherjee and Brig Datta explaining the condition of a
traumatized Ladakhi woman to the author.
Col Anurag Khanna is the chief of this Army hospital, which
proved a life saver for the victims
Pictures of admitted patients are flashed on computer
screen in Army hospital to help searching relatives
Finding the names of their dead on the list pasted by
authorities on the walls of hospital
A woman labourer from Chhattisgarh
Dorjey, the chief of local government, Ladakh autonomous Hill
Development Council, telling the bitter truth
about Srinagar's discrimination with Ladakh
Unidentified bodies are kept in the open for identification
Silt and boulders buried homes underneath.
It seemed we might be walking over buried dead bodies
Dr Anil, who led the RSS rescue team at Choglumsar
Chaos at airport: no credit cards, fewer flights and exorbitant fares
A car stuck in the upper floor of a building
little girl cuddling her teddy bear
in an Army relief camp at Choglumsar
Going for food with mother
A relief-fund raiser at
Leh's Jamia mosque
Vehicles flew in with flood
and got stuck like this