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A home away from home; Kashmiri Pandits and the question of Homeland

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By Ishan Kukreti

In the game of Indian politics, the issue of Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) is like a football being kicked around. BJP bet its money on the Pandits to win elections in Jammu and Kashmir. The call for ‘Homeland’ is raised every now and then to induce a pan national sympathy wave in the country. Those who have ‘migrated’ live a life filled with bitter-sweet memories, cradling a faint hope of someday walking the streets again that they used to roam as kids.

 

The curtain rises

Kashmir, a region that had so boldly refused Jinnah and his two nation theory, had a school of Islam, Sufism, followed by the radicalization of both Hindus and Muslims post USSR break up. However, the real reason, which turned Kashmir into a field of open graves, remains buried in that time and place.

The events that followed the elections of 1987 and the entry of Pakistani and Afghan militants into the scene in its aftermath are not new stories to tell. It all ended with the exodus of a community from their land, their home.

‘The Kashmiri Pandit had to leave when his neighbor told him that he could not protect him anymore.’ Rahul Jalali, a journalist and a KP himself told NewsGram. Rahul was reporting Kashmir in ’91 but had to escape after an attempt on his life. Two years later his house was bombed. Nothing remains of his childhood there, all the memories are just in his head and they only get as tangible as dreams.

Many who left, like him managed to survive by the skin of their teeth. Many, like Lassa Kaul, the director of Doordarshan in Srinagar, were not so lucky.

 

A bag full of stones

Meanwhile the game continues. The talks of creating ‘composite townships’ have been shot down by CM Mufti on the grounds of diversity. Separatist leader Yasin Malik has appealed to KPs to come back. In the match between Rajnath Singh, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and Yasin Malik and the like, the Kashmiri Pandit is standing on the sideline, burdened with promises.

‘ Our houses were taken. There were brokers who sold them at nominal rates. Why didn’t Yasin Malik tell them then to not sell our houses, tell them that we have to come back? Can they give me my home back? Can I go back and say that this is my land, please give it back to me? I think that is not possible.’ a highly agitated Bihari Kak, once the owner of famous Kak Opticals in Srinagar said over the phone.

He says he wants to go back to his motherland. But even if he is given his land back, he can’t just go there and live. Employment opportunity and a means to earn a living are things conspicuous by their absence in Kashmir and Kak Opticals do not exist anymore.

 

A fire and some lost bangles

Moreover, fear of a resurgence of militancy can’t be denied. Having lived in terror, those who have somehow managed to start a new life in other places don’t want their children to live the same way.

‘ There is no fear. But at the same time there is a doubt, what if it happens again? You see the stone pelting is happening again. That’s how it was then, throw a stone and kill them. If there was a match, somebody was killed. Match lost, kill them, match won, kill them. That was the attitude. We dont want our children to live in this kind of atmosphere.’ Kak’s loss is overwhelming. The day their house was burnt, his 11 year old daughter cried the whole night for the bangles she had lost in the fire.

 

So, where do we go from here?

‘The only way to solve the issue of Kashmiri Pandits is a reconciliation along the lines of South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Without taking into account the basic human relations, no amount of governmental, political or any other kind of resolution can solve this problem.’ says Rahul Jalali.

A purge of all the negative emotions from the people is required to mend the damage. Till the time aggressor and the aggrieved don’t agree mutually to put this behind them and move on, not much can be achieved on the rehabilitation and ‘Homeland’ front.

 

Postscript

Rahul recounts an incident on a Jammu matador bus that gives the ground reality in the state.

‘ A Kashmiri Muslim family and Pandit were sitting together on the seat behind me. Given the size of these mini buses I could overhear them talking. And what they were talking about wasn’t the things said on Prime Time. They were recounting tales of personal loss. The Pandit had to leave his house and stay in camps and the Muslim had lost his father to the bullets of security forces. The two communities divided in history had found reconciliation in a little bus of Jammu.’

The story of Kashmir is one where people on both sides have lost and are no better than the other, one is destroyed by leaving Kashmir and the other by staying.

 

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Diesel Exhaust Converted Into Ink by Indian Innovators To Battle Air Pollution

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

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Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

In a cabin, young engineers pore over drawings and hunch over computers as they explore more applications of the technology that they hope will aid progress in cleaning up the Indian capital’s toxic air – among the world’s dirtiest.

While the millions of cars that ply Delhi’s streets are usually blamed for the city’s deadly air pollution, another big culprit is the massive diesel generators used by industries and buildings to light up homes and offices during outages when power from the grid switches off – a frequent occurrence in summer. Installed in backyards and basements, they stay away from the public eye.

“Although vehicular emissions are the show stoppers, they are the ones which get the media attention, the silent polluters are the diesel generators,” says Arpit Dhupar, one of the three engineers who co-founded the start up.

The idea that this polluting smoke needs attention struck Dhupar three years ago as he sipped a glass of sugarcane juice at a roadside vendor and saw a wall blackened with the fumes of a diesel generator he was using.

It jolted him into joining with two others who co-founded the start-up to find a solution. Dhupar had experienced first hand the deadly impact of this pollution as he developed respiratory problems growing up in Delhi.

An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.
An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.

A new business

As the city’s dirty air becomes a serious health hazard for many citizens, it has turned into both a calling and a business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking at ways to improve air quality.

According to estimates, vehicles contribute 22 percent of the deadly PM 2.5 emissions in Delhi, while the share of diesel generators is about 15 percent. These emissions settle deep into the lungs, causing a host of respiratory problems.

After over two years of research and development, Chakr has begun selling devices to tap the diesel exhaust. They have been installed in 50 places, include public sector and private companies.

The technology involves cooling the exhaust in a “heat exchanger” where the tiny soot particles come together. These are then funneled into another chamber that captures 70 to 90 percent of the particulate matter. The carbon is isolated and converted into ink.

Among their first clients was one of the city’s top law firms, Jyoti Sagar Associates, which is housed in a building in Delhi’s business hub Gurgaon.

Making a contribution to minimizing the carbon footprint is a subject that is close to Sagar’s heart – his 32-year-old daughter has long suffered from the harmful effects of Delhi’s toxic air.

Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.
Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.

“This appealed to us straightaway, the technology is very impactful but is beautifully simple,” says Sagar. Since it could be retrofitted, it did not disrupt the day-to-day activities at the buzzing office. “Let’s be responsible. Let’s at least not leave behind a larger footprint of carbon. And if we can afford to control it, why not, it’s good for all,” he says.

At Chakr Innovation, cups, diaries and paper bags printed with the ink made from the exhaust serve as constant reminders of the amount of carbon emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere.

There has been a lot of focus on improving Delhi’s air by reducing vehicular pollution and making more stringent norms for manufacturers, but the same has not happened for diesel generators. Although there are efforts to penalize businesses that dirty the atmosphere, this often prompts them to find ways to get around the norms.

Also Read: Exposure to Traffic-Related Pollution Poses Threat of Asthma in Kids

Tushar Mathur who joined the start up after working for ten years in the corporate sector feels converting smoke into ink is a viable solution. “Here is a technology which is completely sustainable, a win-win between businesses and environment,” says Mathur. (VOA)