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Plight of Kashmiri Pandits

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By Shriya Katoch 

The story of Kashmiri Pandits is not an unheard one. Every few years the issue is paid lip service until it faces reclusion once again, but with 80% reduction in militancy in the last 5 years, the question arises as to whether the situation in Kashmir has improved?

The Kashmiri Pandits were dislocated from their millennia-old home .

It all began in 1988 when the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front began demanding independence of Kashmir from India. Many Islamic radicals among the party wanted to exterminate Kashmiri Pandits and make Kashmir an all Muslim state.

Benazir Bhutto who was at the time the Prime Minister of Pakistan delivered an instigating speech stating that the blood of Muslim’s runs through the veins of Kashmir. She said that the Kashmiri have the blood of Mujahideen. This speech ignited passion in Kashmir ,against India. In fact, The Pakistani central government supported, trained and armed the insurgency in Kashmir.

Their first act of violence was when they killed Pandit Tika Lal Tapoo ,who was a prominent leader in Jammu and Kashmir.Following months lead to massive assassinations of various public figures in the state, who were the pillars of the Kashmiri Pandit community. This created a wave of panic among the Kashmiri Pandits. On Jan 04, 1990,
a local Urdu newspaper, Aftab, published a press release asking all Pandits to leave the Valley immediately or they would be killed.

Al Safa, another local daily repeated the warning.These warnings were followed by masked Jihadis carrying out military-type marches openly.

They began a killing spree. Bomb explosions and sporadic firing by militants became a daily occurrence. Explosive and inflammatory speeches were being broadcasted.

This evoked a complete state of anarchy.Chaos took over and preyed on the innocent. Lawlessness flooded the valley and a mob with slogans and guns started roaming.

Reports of violent acts against Hindus were heard. The holy war spared no one. Men, women and children were killed alike. Kashmiri pandits were killed, their corpses mutilated beyond extent and left on the street. Women were raped, hanged naked, some even burned. Eyes were gauged out and their tongues cut with scissors. Youngsters were strangled with steel wires.

According to the Indian Government 219 Kashmiri Pandits were killed from 1989 to 2004 (different sources quote varying numbers, ranging up to 700) and 350,000 were dislocated due to the insurgency.

Radical Islamists wanted to eliminate all Kashmiri Pandits making Kashmir an all Muslim state. They held a deluded vision of Islam being in danger, also, the Kashmiri Pandits did not support their separatist view. Hence, this genocide occurred and earned the term ethnic cleansing. Due to this turmoil, the Kashmiri Pandits were forced to dislocate to other areas.

It has been 26 years and the Kashmiri Pandits continue to live as refugees in their own country. Facing neglect, deprivation and despair in refugee camps. They live in inhuman conditions. These camps are not even armed with basic amenities such as water. People are cramped into small spaces .

They are victims of fanaticism,robbed of their life. However, they did not answer violence with violence, insanity with insanity. And how are they paid, discarded off, forgotten, left to fender for themselves?

When will their screams be heard? The population of Kashmiri Pandits is dwindling and they face the threat of extinction.

Attempts are being made to return the Kashmiri Pandits back to their home.Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to dissolve the controversial Article 370.

As of 2016, only 1800 Kashmiri Pandit youths have returned to their state .

However, a high percentage of Kashmiri Pandits are still not sure whether the
divide has been bridged .

What happened in Kashmir in 1990 was a major violation of human rights,
efforts need to be made by the government to ensure that the Kashmiri Pandits
feel secure enough to return back to their homeland. They need to be returned to their rightful home .

Shriya Katoch multitasks as an Engineering student,an avid reader,a guitar player and a death note fan. Twitter: @katochshriya538

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Across Asia’s Borders, Survivors Of Human Trafficking, Dial in for Justice

The trial has been ongoing since 2013

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Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India.
Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India. VOA

When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.

The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.

“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”

“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.

Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women

and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.

Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.

“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”

But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.

“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.

Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.

Students Combat Human Trafficking
Students Combat Human Trafficking, flickr

‘Unpardonable’

Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.

“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.

“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”

The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.

“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.

India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.

“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.

“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”

Silencing Victims
Silencing Victims, pixabay

The future

Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.

“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”

The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.

Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.

Also read: Imagining Panun Kashmir: Dissent And Detente in South Asia

“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.” (VOA)