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Saturday, January 1, 2011

800-year-old Sharda Devi idol surfaces in Handwara

Muslims preserved the antique, passed it on to Pandits through Magistrate

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jan 01: One of the Kashmiri Pandits’ most revered deity Sharda Devi’s over 800-year-old idol has surfaced during excavation at a Muslim’s house at Gonipora, near Handwara, in north Kashmir. It has been temporarily preserved at a Shankar temple in Handwara after Muslims passed it on to representatives of the minority community through an executive magistrate.

Forty-five days ago, it was exactly on the day of Eid-ul-azha that an antique idol surfaced during an excavation in the premises of one Ghulam Qadir Khuroo at Gonipora, 2 miles from Handwara, in Kupwara district. Members of the majority community lost no time in establishing contact with President of Sanathan Dhram Sabha, advocate Bhushan Lal Pandita, who has been practicing in Jammu after displacement in 1990 but frequently visiting Handwara. Pandita has already created huge assets at the Shankar Temple in Handwara and has been taking care of several temples in his home district.

Concerned about legal hassles, Muslims of Gonipora preserved the idol for several days in safe custody and later handed it over to Pandita and other members of the minority community through Tehsildar of Handwara on Friday. With full reverence, it was later temporarily installed at Shankar Temple in Handwara as neither the Muslims nor the Pandits were sure whether it was that of Mata Sharda Devi or some other deity. While Sharda Devi idols are essentially installed and preserved at Sharda Temples, idols of only Lord Shankar are supposed to be worshipped at Shankar Temples.

In Kashmir valley, there are three Sharda Devi temples at Guchhipora (Kupwara), Ichhikote (Budgam) and Kaloosa (Bandipore). Interestingly, after the displacement in 1989-90, Kashmiri Pandits have created replicas of all the three temples in Jammu where special sessions of worship are performed on particular auspicious days and all related rituals are performed. Replicas of the temples of Guchhi and Ichhikote have been created at Ponichak and that of Kaloosa at Bantalab, in outskirts of the capital city of Jammu.

Advocate Pandita told Early Times that a partly broken idol of Sharda Devi had been recovered from an excavation at Zachaldara, capital township in Rajwarh belt of Handwara in around 1988. That too stands preserved at the Shankar Temple of Handwara. He said that devout Hindus can not worship the broken idols and explained that these however have to be preserved with full reverence. He said that Pandits organized a special session of prayers for Sharda Devi yesterday as the newly recovered idol is neither deformed nor obliterated, cracked or broken. He said that a large number of Muslims were present on the occasion.

“It’s the greatness of our Muslim brethren that they not only preserved the idol with respect but also informed us about it so that it was properly preserved, installed at a temple and worshipped”, Pandita said. He said that he and his associates would soon contact experts to ascertain whether the idol was really of Mata Sharda. He said that about 30 inch long monolithic stone was sculpted cleanly on its facade while as its back and remaining four surface sides were all rough. It was believed to be at least 800 year old as the last Hindu king had ruled the Valley over 800 years back.

That the idol is centuries old, was further clear from the fact that for hundreds of years there was no evidence of Pandit habitation in Gonipora. “Had it been recovered from other Pandit population villages like Anantpora (Handwara), Machhipora, Panditpora or Badarhair, there would have been a possibility of its sculpture during the Muslim rule and its succeeding Sikh or Dogra regime”, Pandita said. “However”, he added “the final opinion would come only from the subject experts and archeologists”.

Set up in Muzaffarabad-Neelam belt across river Kishen Ganga in the area now under the control of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Sharda Devi university was one of the most famous centers of learning in the world for hundreds of years in the pre-Muslim era in Kashmir. It had been named after Mata Sharda Devi. Mata Khirbhawani and Mata Badarkali are other most revered deities of the Pandits. Their temples in Tulmulla village of Ganderbal and villages in Handwara area are regularly visited by thousands of devotees every year.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Services cripple under moderate snowfall in Valley
Surface traffic, air links snapped; Schools shut, KU exams postponed

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Dec 30:  Season’s first snowfall in the Valley plains is not threatening to be intense but it has, nevertheless, crippled essential services as Kashmir remained cut off from rest of the country and the world today. Surface as well as air communication links to the Valley have been snapped and the continuing snowfall, that began last evening, has badly affected supply of electricity and drinking water in all 10 districts in Kashmir province.

Much awaited snowfall began after two hours of moderate rain in entire Kashmir valley last evening. It continued intermittently for 30 hours till midnight today. Reports suggested moderate to heavy snowfall in the high altitude areas. Officials told Early Times late tonight that accumulation of 15 inches had been recorded in Shopian hilly terrain while as it was 16 inches at Jawahar Tunnel, on Srinagar-Jammu national highway, 20 inches at Gulmarg and 14 inches at Sonmarg.

The plains, however, enjoyed a moderate to low snowfall. Authoritative sources maintained that ranging between 2 inches to 8 inches, average accumulation till late tonight was 4 inches in the plains. Officials said that 4 inch snow accumulation had been recorded in Srinagar, Budgam and Pulwama belt. They said it was relatively lower at 3 inches in Baramulla and Tral. Reports from most of the areas late tonight said that the snowfall had subsided but officials at Meteorology Department and Disaster Management cell insisted that combination of rain and snow was likely to continue with uneven breaks for the next 24 hours.

Due to the snowfall, all air and surface transport services from Delhi and Jammu to Srinagar have been suspended. While as Srinagar-Kargil-Leh, Shopian-Rajouri (Mughal Road), Daksum-Kishtwar, Kupwara-Karnah, Kupwara-Machhil and Bandipore-Gurez roads had been closed for vehicular traffic last evening itself, Srinagar-Jammu national highway was closed due to a major disruption in Banihal-Tunnel-Qazigund area today.

Officials said that 75 vehicles got stranded in the 3 Km long tunnel, 50 more outside besides 25 at Lower Munda (Qazigund). They said that passengers of all the buses and medium vehicles had been evacuated to safer places and efforts were underway to push all the stranded vehicles towards their Srinagar and Jammu destinations. They said that more than snowfall, it were the intense slippery road conditions that had forced the authorities to stop incoming and outgoing traffic at Banihal and Qazigund respectively.

Passengers and drivers, however, spoke to this newspaper over telephone and alleged that nobody was coming to their rescue on either side of the tunnel in Qazigund-Banihal area. They lamented that they had been left to fend for themselves.

With two Ministers, namely Mian Altaf Ahmed and Nasir Aslam Wani, touring parts of their snow-bound constituencies in Kangan and Amirakadal respectively, Divisional Commissioner Asgar Hassan Samoon took a meeting with the divisional heads of different government departments and field organizations in the afternoon. On the basis of inputs delivered in the review meeting, Divisional Commissioner claimed that there was no major problem anywhere in the Valley. He maintained that adequate number of JCB machines and snow-cutters had fanned out on all surface communication arteries across the Valley for snow clearance. He claimed that 95% of the supplies and services had been made functional in the capital city till this evening.

Contrary to counterclaims from residents in Srinagar and other districts, SE Muzaffar Matoo claimed that power supply had been restored in 95% of the areas today itself. Consumers dismissed the official claim as “baseless” and complained that over 70% of the areas were in total darkness at any given point of time during the day.

An official spokesman claimed that the power supply had increased from a total of 268 MWs at 1300 hours to a satisfactory 364 MWs at 1500 hours. He claimed that at 1500 hours today, 100 MWs of HT power was flowing to Srinagar from Jammu through Kishenpur-Pampore transmission line and 195 MWs through Kishenpur-Wagora line. Availability was officially 46 MW from the prestigious 480 MW Uri hydroelectric project, 10 MW from 105 MW capacity LJHP besides 13 MW from 105 MW Upper Sindh Hydel Project.

However, consumers in all parts of the Capital city insisted that there was extremely poor and erratic power supply in Srinagar. Supply was badly affected in the metered areas of Jawahar Nagar, Bemina and Civil Lines. Voltage was also reported in the poor range of 50 to 100 v. Drainage and drinking water supply services were consequently affected in almost all parts of the capital city.

Situation was reportedly worse in all nine of the rural districts in the Valley. Residents complained that electricity supply was continuously shut in over 70 percent of the rural areas. It was reported erratic at the district headquarters. Reports said that medical services were also affected though SKIMS and all other hospitals in Srinagar were still functional. Attendance was thin in government services and large number of shops and business establishments remained closed as skeletal passenger services operated in Srinagar and other major towns.

Telecommunication services, particularly those of BSNL, remained badly hit. Informed sources said that private custodians had been regularly collecting fuel for diesel generating sets at their towers but thousands of sites remained completely dead as the fuel was being openly disposed off to tipper drivers. Consumers asserted that for most of the time since yesterday their mobile phones were indicating “Searching” and “No Signal”. They said that even if a call matured, it would snip in just 30 to 40 seconds.

With the help of scores of snow cutting machines and specially hired JCBs and tractors, authorities succeeded in clearing a number of major arteries, particularly Qazigund-Uri, Srinagar-Gulmarg, Srinagar-Kupwara, Srinagar-Bandipore and Srinagar-Tral roads. Roads in interior localities, particularly in upper Budgam, Chrar Sharief and Shopian-Kulgam belt were still covered under snow and not open for vehicular traffic.

Authorities have immediately announced indefinite closure of all high and higher secondary schools that had been kept functional for studies this year. University of Kashmir also announced postponement of all of its examination scheduled for Dec 31, Jan 1 and Jan 2.

Till late tonight, there were no reports of any loss of life. An official spokesman said that in all five residential houses had suffered damage---two at Sallar and one each at Pahalgam, Guree (Bijbehara) and Guchan Sheikhpora (Dooru).


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

SSRB changes criteria to favour non-Forestry candidates

Forestry grads being sidelined in recruitment of Foresters, FPF Inspectors

Early Times Report

SRINAGAR, Dec 28: Jammu & Kashmir Government Services Selection Board’s act of changing criteria in favour of non-Forestry candidates has drawn flak from around 500 unemployed Forestry graduates and post-graduates who have threatened to go on fast-unto-death if justice and transparency were compromised in the current process of recruitment of Foresters and Forest Protection Inspectors.

Subordinate Services Recruitment Board has on Monday notified 279 vacancies of Foresters and Inspectors in the state Forest Department and Forest Protection Force (FPF) respectively. In the previous process of recruitment in 2004, SSRB had fixed 40 points for 10+2 and 25 points for B Sc Forestry for the purpose of shortlisting of candidates.  In the Notification No: 08 of 2010 Dated 24-12-2010, Board has reduced weightage of the professional qualification, B Sc Forestry, from 25 to just 10 points. It has surprisingly added these 15 points to the ordinary qualification of 10+2, taking it to 55 from 40.

Without any plausible reason and logic, Board has fixed just 5 points for M Sc Forestry but tilted the balance in favour of non-Forestry ordinary science graduates with addition of 2 points to ordinary B Sc and 3 points to ordinary M Sc. Twenty points have been fixed for viva voce.

“This is clearly a brazen attempt of recruiting non-Forestry under-graduates and graduates against the professionally technical posts of Foresters and FPF Inspectors”, lamented a delegation of over 50 Forestry graduates and post-graduates who knocked at the doors of newspaper offices at Press Enclave here to seek justice. “It means that if you are simply 12th pass or an ordinary B Sc in medical or non-medical streams, and you have the privilege of being a favourite of influential politicians and bureaucrats, you will be selected and those having B Sc or M Sc in Forestry would be dropped”, simplified one Nisar Ahmed who has been unsuccessfully looking for an ordinary job in the relevant field after completing his M Sc Forestry five years back.

Farooq Ahmed, who has been unemployed after completing his B Sc Forestry in 1998, said: “It’s unfortunate that Forest Minister Altaf Saheb, who is known for his honesty and integrity, has not deviated from the path of his much flayed predecessors---Sofi Mohiuddin, Tariq Hameed Qarra, Qazi Afzal---and disappointed 500 unemployed Forestry graduates and post- graduates”. He said that SSRB and Forest Department at Civil Secretariat had been passing the buck to each other and both were part of a conspiracy to get non-Forestry candidates appointed as Foresters and FPF Inspectors. He complained that State Public Service Commission had already done “great injustice” to the professionally qualified candidates in the current process of recruitment of Assistant Conservators of Forest (ACF) as all ordinary graduates and post-graduates had been declared eligible for the posts being filled up first time in last 27 years.

The delegation pointed out that one Dr Tariq, who had Ph D in Forestry, had been working against a temporary vacancy of Casual Labour since 1998 in State Forest Research Institute (SFRI) for Rs 4,000 a month. Few others having doctorate in Forestry had not been engaged even as daily wagers.

“Why does the Government and its SKUAST increase seats of B Sc Forestry and M Sc Forestry from 6 to 20 but does not allow the professionally trained candidates to become even Foresters? Why does the Government not issue a public interest notification to declare it publicly that B Sc, M Sc or Ph D in Forestry and related subjects was simply wastage of poor man’s money, time and energy?”, asked the delegation of men and women heading towards their age-bar of 37 years.

Yet another Forestry graduate, Tanvir, explained how SSRB officials had been manipulating the shortlisting process by entertaining fake marks certificates of favoured candidates. “They have a sinister system of verifying certificates from BOSE and Universities. They simply seek verification of certificates at a later stage without asking the Boards and Universities to furnish attested copies of full awards of the candidates”, he added. According to him, it was so simple to produce a fake marks certificate of 10+2 with high marks at the shortlisting stage. “Once you are selected and appointed, you produce your original certificates. At that stage officials simply seek confirmation of whether a certificate is fake or genuine. Nobody checks the marks and compares it to those mentioned in fake marks sheets at the shortlisting stage.

While nobody in SSRB responded to phone calls, Minister of Forest, Mian Altaf Ahmed, said that he would take up the matter with Chairman of Services Selection Board to ensure that there was no injustice to the professionally qualified and trained candidates.


World doesn’t understand the language of stone pelting: Dr Gilani

‘J&K CM is constitutionally bound to facilitate cross-LoC visit of interlocutors’

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Dec 28: London-based Kashmiri human rights activist and constitutional expert, Dr Syed Nazir Gilani, today advised Kashmiri separatist leaders to shun their rigidity and negotiate on the Kashmir problem with the Indian Parliamentarians. He said that the civilized world had not, and would never, under the language of stone pelting that, according to him, had exclusively become the mark of identification of Muslims from Kashmir to Palestine.

Addressing a news conference in the midst of his exhaustive visit to his home state after several years, Secretary General of Jammu & Kashmir Council for Human Rights (JKCHR), Dr Gilani, asserted that violent and anarchic expression of a “genuine cause” had done a disservice to the people of the state. According to him, it was strange and surprising that the Valley’s separatist leaders had been regularly interacting with officials of the Government of India but they had invariably decided not to meet the Indian Parliamentarians and other representatives of this country’s people.

Any rigidity, according to Gilani, would just perpetuate the status qua that was ‘selectively detrimental to the cause and interests of the people of Jammu and Kashmir’. “India is not going to lose anything. New Delhi would conveniently convince the world that it had made a sincere initiative to reach out to the constituency of dissent in Kashmir but the separatist leaders were not amenable to reason, logic and reconciliation”, he added.

Gilani argued that the Indian forces were in J&K according to a mandate given to them in follow up to the “provisional” Instrument of Accession for the purpose of protecting life, honour and property of each citizen while assisting the state Police. He refused to endorse that the Indian troops in J&K were “occupational forces” but asserted that every state subject, living in any territory of the state from Kathua to Kupwara and Gilgit, had the right and responsibility of questioning the size, location and behaviour of the soldiers. He said it was being highlighted from a many quarters that only Muslims were indulging in the anarchic form of stone pelting. “Isn’t it a fact that no Hindu and no Sikh is involved in stone pelting?”, Gilani asked.

Gilani declined to accept that J&K was an integral part of India and emphasized that every single state subject would have a vote in determining the status of this state. He said it was unfortunate that the Valley’s separatist leaders had never presented a non-paper (document of roadmap) and forced the Indian political and intellectual leadership to discuss it across the table.

Dr Gilani said that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was “constitutionally bound” to facilitate the visit of the Indian interlocutors to all areas of ‘Azad Jammu & Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan’.

“Our understanding of the habitat and the people of the state is at variance to the understanding of many others and we have a considered view that bulk of the understanding of the Kashmir case is unreliable and far remote from the jurisprudence of Kashmir case”, he said. “The political opinions that exist in all the three administrations of Jammu & Kashmir, the Government of J&K, the Government of AJK and the Government of Gilgit and Baltistan, have failed  in honouring the trust that these Governments owe to the State Subjects living within the territories defined in article 4 of the J&K Constitution”, Gilani added.

“Hurriyat leadership and other political parties that have spearheaded the agenda….to seek the right of self-determination, need to revisit the wisdom of their 20 year politics and consider seriously their understanding of the Kashmir case”, Gilani asserted.

Founded in 1984, Gilani’s JKCHR is a London and Srinagar-based non-profit organisation that has the distinction of being J&K’s only NGO in special consultative status with the UNO’s Economic and Social Forum. A resident of Naranthal village in Baramulla district, Gilani had crossed the LoC in early 1970s. He later worked as Deputy Direction of Information in ‘Government of Azad Jammu & Kashmir’ before becoming a victim of Gen Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime that forced him to leave Pakistan and live in exile in the UK.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Sopore Police unearths nexus between militants, stone pelters, Govt employees

‘Militants raise funds in apple town, pay Rs 400/day to each stone pelter on Friday’

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Dec 27: Police in North Kashmir today claimed to have unearthed yet another module of militants, stone pelters and government employees which allegedly played key role in this year’s street clashes and demonstrations in Sopore. Activists detained by Police have revealed how militants of Lashkar-e-Toiba had been raising funds from local traders and making cash payment to the stone pelters at the rate of Rs 400 per day.

Contrary to the belief of a many politicians from New Delhi to Srinagar, including Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, DIG North Kashmir, Munir Khan, today claimed that there was a working nexus between militants and stone pelters in Sopore area of Kashmir valley. While addressing a news conference, alongwith SP Sopore Altaf Khan, and Commanding Officer of CRPF 179 Bn, V K Singh, DIG Munir Khan said that in his area of operations as many as 26 militants, including five local cadres, had been killed by Police and security forces during current year. He said that 12 more militants, including a foreigner, had been arrested.

DIG said that one Maruti car and a motorcycle, used in a militant attack on MLA Sopore Haji Mohammad Ashraf Ganai’s house at Dangarpora Dooru, had been seized. Arms and ammunition recovered in different operations this year and put at an exhibition on the occasion included 29 AK rifles and eight pistols. He said that a number of detained militants and operatives had been detained under Public Safety Act and other laws.

According to DIG Khan, there was an active network of 21 militants and militant operatives with equal number of women activists that had organized mass demonstrations and street attacks on Police and security forces earlier this year. He said that during investigation, Police learned that some government employees, and even the Imam of a Jamia Masjid at Amargarh, had been associated with the network.

DIG Khan claimed that Police achieved a breakthrough in the arrest of one Firdaus Ahmed Sheikh of Jalalabad, Sopore, who turned out to be the kingpin of the gang of stone pelters. He said that during sustained questioning, Firdaus disclosed that he had liaison with two Pakistani militants, namely Abdullah Uni of Lashkar-e-Toiba and Kaleemullah of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. Later Police arrested two more guerrilla members of the network, namely Qayoom Bajad and Munshi Khan, who revealed that they had been tasked with providing safe passage of militants from Sopore to Rajouri.

DIG said that during sustained questioning of the detained operatives, Police learned that some Hurriyat activists and a number of government employees were also in the loop. He said that Police subsequently conducted a raid one the house of one Mohammad Amin Dar at Badami Bagh, Sopore, and recovered one Pistol, two Thuraya Satellite Phones, one grenade, one Tata Indicom cellphone set, one AK 47 rifle, two combat uniforms, one composer, three pouches, 11 UBGL shells and one UBGL.

During investigation, one Abdul Lateef Lone R/O Radbugh, Kupwara, working as Imam of Jamia Masjid Amargarh, Sopore was arrested and subjected to prosecution. Lone was claimed to have revealed that militants through local Hurriyat (G) cadres used to collect donations by way of extortion from fruit dealers and sawmill owners and later paid Rs 400/day to stone pelters on every Friday.  

Hurriyat cadres allegedly collecting money for stone pelters were identified as Ghulam Mohammad Tantray R/o Behrampora, currently detained under PSA, Ghulam Hassan Mir @ Chotta Geelani R/o Duroo, currently absconding, Mohammad Rustum R/o Amargarh, Sopore detained under PSA, Gani Guroo R/o Chankhan (Absconding), Ashraf Malik R/o Batpora  (Government Employee of Education Department) currently in custody  and Bashir Ahmad Tali R/o Chankhan, Sopore, (employee of CAPD, currently absconding).

DIG said that some members of the network, including the most wanted Ghulam Hassan Mir of Dooru alias ‘Chhotta Geelani”, were still at large but Police were conducting raids and operations to effect their arrest. He, however, did not reveal if Drawing and Disbursing Officers (DDOs) of the government employees involved in stone pelting had been asked to initiate any action or withhold their monthly salaries.

Khan said that a woman, namely Raja Begum, whose house had perished in a recent gunbattle in Sopore, was among a group of 21 females who had been actively working for the network of militants and stone pelters. He claimed that with the arrest of a number of militants and stone pelters, besides their facility providers, Police and security forces had pre-empted plans of a Fidayeen strike in Sopore.