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Kashmir’s laugh doctor: He wants to bring mirth back to Kashmir’s depressed lives

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By Sheikh Qayoom

Srinagar, Feb 18 (IANS) Long before it was infected by violence and its streets reverberated with sounds of slogans and gunfire, Kashmir was a place where one could hear laughter in every household in the evenings when Nazir Josh, Kashmir’s very own “Charlie Chaplin”, used to come on Doordarshan (DD), the national broadcaster, with his facial expressions of total bewilderment, the street impressions of a joker and strong Chaplinesque elements in his walking style.

In this conflict-ridden region where young people have grown up witnessing violence erupting in their public spaces on a regular basis, the 67-year-old comedy king of Kashmir says that revival of humour is the only way to bring back smiles and laughter to the stoic faces of Kashmiris deprived of a normal existence.

A local poet, script writer, director and actor, Josh is known to every household here just as “Jum German”, “Ahead Raza” and half a dozen other names based on the lead roles he has played in TV serials.

He ran regular comedy serials on the local DD which were very well received by every Kashmiri. But it was all brought to a halt when separatist violence broke out in Kashmir in the late 1990s. While he was never directly at the receiving end of the violence, in the grim, strife-torn Valley there was little space left for humour and satire, and he was left without any sponsors.

Josh believes that Kashmiris are facing many social and psychological problems which cannot be addressed by medication alone.

“People here need to unwind, and for that, humour and satire are the best avenues,” Josh told IANS.

He recalled how a local family had come to thank him for helping cure their mother of depression.

“The son of the lady being treated for depression told me his mother had laughed after a long time when she saw an episode of my comedy serial ‘Hazaar Dastaan’.

“The boy said when the family told the psychiatrist about his mother’s laughter, which came after long months of depression, the psychiatrist advised them to show her more episodes of the comedy serial. It completely cured the lady.”

Josh feels that in a place where curfews, shutdowns and street violence are a norm rather than an aberration, there is a genuine need for some laughter in people’s lives to sustain their sanity.

But as violence took centrestage in the Valley, Nazir Josh and his TV serials, which were based on social and political satire, had to take backstage.

The last TV serial based on social satire produced by him was “Jum German” in 1989. But it could not go beyond 25 episodes as the situation took a violent turn in Kashmir, Josh said, as he fixed his gaze at the clouds outside his central Kashmir Badgam district home.

A feeble winter sun was trying to make its way through the heavy clouds that preventing its rays from reaching the earth.
“This is the present situation. Heavy and dark clouds of gloom everywhere you go. Seventy per cent patients who visit various hospitals in the Valley are suffering from depression.

“There is no source of entertainment in Kashmir. Cinema halls have been closed. There is no local film industry as many other Indian states have.

“There is only one TV station in Kashmir and that too has not been doing anything to revive entertainment so that people are able to laugh tensions out of their lives,” Josh said.

He still remembers the good old days when Kashmiris would eagerly wait for humorous weekly TV dramas.

“I know of some local homes where womenfolk sold ornaments to buy TV sets so that they could watch my serial titled ‘Hazaar Dastaan’ which ran 52 episodes on the local DD channel between 1985 and 1987.

“The serial was a political satire on people in power in the state — their callous and casual approach to people’s problems was depicted through the serial.

“Some local politicians were disturbed by the popularity of the serial. They went to Delhi and complained to the central leadership that their position was becoming awkward because of this serial.

“After that complaint, each episode was first taken for a preview in Delhi with a Kashmiri translator. The preview committee said it was genuine political and social satire that needed to be encouraged,” Josh recalled.

Josh had started his career in the local theatre. In the beginning, we would stage plays at the village and district levels. In 1968, he staged a play at the Tagore Hall in Srinagar where a drama festival was organised by the state cultural academy.

He then wrote a play in 1973 for the television titled ‘Haier Kkr’. Its success encouraged him to write humorous serials regularly till 1989 — when violence brought down the curtains on entertainment and laughter in Kashmir.

He is not completely discouraged and says humour and satire can still be revived in Kashmir, provided the state and central governments support his work.

“We need at least production cost so that the past glory is regained. I am hopeful that, in the near future, better sense will prevail so I am again able to make Kashmiris laugh away their daily tensions through my TV serials,” Josh said.

He believes there is immense talent among local youth. “These young boys and girls need to be rigorously trained in acting and directing productions to ensure that theatre and TV serials do not die an unsung death here,” he said hopefully.

And he wants to re-create the past rather than merely become a wistful memory of the halcyon days of Kashmir.

(The weekly feature series is part of a positive-journalism project of IANS and the Frank Islam Foundation. Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at sheikhqayoom@gmail.com )

(This story has not been edited by JKR News and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Trafficked Bonded Labourers Rescued From Srinagar

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SUHAIL RATHER

Srinagar: A team of National Campaign Committee for Eradication of Bonded Labour (NCCEBL) has rescued bonded Labourers, from Srinagar district of Jammu and Kashmir.

NCCEBL, in colloboration with RaSTAFdn, New Dehli and in coordination with the district authorities of Srinagar, raided many construction sites in Nowgam and Hyderpora areas and rescued 11 illegally trafficked bonded labourers namely Sunil Kumar (18), Lale Sar Dharkar (50), Sital Dharkar (25), Jitender Dharkar (26), Munna Dharkar (20), Vakil Kumar Dharkar (23), Chandan Dharkar, Durga Kumar, Sonu (name changed) (13 Minor), Deepak Kumar, Monu (name changed) (17)Minor, Domi Kumar, Murliganj Bihar (20), said a statement.

“These bonded labourers were trafficked from Bihar by agents, Sanjay and Mohammad Amjad, both residents of Aradiya district of Bihar, who promised them work and later made them do forced work for contractors, operating buildings in Srinagar District of Jammu & Kashmir,” it said.

The statement said that these labourers were made to do work for 17 hours altogether without proper meals and any wages.
“Even minors were not spared and were forced to do work at construction sites at Nowgam and Hyderpora areas in Srinagar district and some of them contracted diseases due to lack of any basic amenity,” it said.
“Condition of minors was beyond pathetic. They had got reduced to mere skeletons when they should have been in school in a democratic country, which speaks high of free education and access to food,” added the statement further.

The labourers, it said, were beaten to pulp by the goons of the agent. They used to lock them up after gruelling hard work of hours and they were released in morning only, to face bondage again.

It added that their rehabilitation is a challenge due to lack of proper mechanism in India to provide rehabilitation to rescued bonded laboureres.

“Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 does assure same but implementation remains a tough challenge,” it said.

NCCEBL led by its Dehli team of Nirmal Gorana and Pulkeet Mehra was joined by its team in Kashmir comprising of its team members Advocate Faesal Qadri, Miss Shayesta Nazir, Afshan Nazir and Suhail Rather.

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First-ever UN human rights report on Kashmir calls for international inquiry into multiple violations

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GENEVA (14 June 2018) – There is an urgent need to address past and ongoing human rights violations and abuses and deliver justice for all people in Kashmir, who for seven decades have suffered a conflict that has claimed or ruined numerous lives, a report by the UN Human Rights Office published on Thursday says.
The 49-page report – the first ever issued by the UN on the human rights situation in Indian-Administered and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir – details human rights violations and abuses on both sides of the Line of Control, and highlights a situation of chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces.
“The political dimensions of the dispute between India and Pakistan have long been centre-stage, but this is not a conflict frozen in time. It is a conflict that has robbed millions of their basic human rights, and continues to this day to inflict untold suffering,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
“This is why any resolution of the political situation in Kashmir must entail a commitment to end the cycles of violence and ensure accountability for past and current violations and abuses by all parties, and provide redress for victims,” he said.
“It is also why I will be urging the UN Human Rights Council to consider establishing a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir,” said Zeid.
Noting the continuing serious tensions in recent weeks, including those stemming from a series of incidents in Srinagar, he called on Indian security forces to exercise maximum restraint, and strictly abide by international standards governing the use of force when dealing with future protests, including ones that could well occur this coming weekend.
“It is essential the Indian authorities take immediate and effective steps to avoid a repetition of the numerous examples of excessive use of force by security forces in Kashmir,” Zeid said.
The UN Human Rights Office – which, despite repeated requests to both India and Pakistan over the past two years, has not been given unconditional access to either side of the Line of Control – undertook remote monitoring to produce the report, which covers both Indian-Administered Kashmir and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir.
The main focus of the report is the human rights situation in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir from July 2016 – when large and unprecedented demonstrations erupted after Indian security forces killed the leader of an armed group – to April 2018.
Indian security forces used excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries, the report says, citing civil society estimates that up to 145 civilians were killed by the security forces between mid-July 2016 and the end of March 2018, with up to 20 other civilians killed by armed groups in the same period.
One of the most dangerous weapons used against protesters in 2016 – and which is still being employed by security forces – was the pellet-firing shotgun. According to official figures, 17 people were killed by shotgun pellets between July 2016 and August 2017, and 6,221 people were injured by the metal pellets between 2016 and March 2017. Civil society organizations believe that many of them have been partially or completely blinded.
“Impunity for human rights violations and lack of access to justice are key human rights challenges in the state of Jammu and Kashmir,” the report says, noting that the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990 (AFSPA) and the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act 1978 (PSA) have “created structures that obstruct the normal course of law, impede accountability and jeopardize the right to remedy for victims of human rights violations.”
The AFSPA prohibits prosecution of security forces personnel unless the Indian Government grants prior permission to prosecute. “This gives security forces virtual immunity against prosecution for any human rights violation. In the nearly 28 years that the law has been in force in Jammu and Kashmir there has not been a single prosecution of armed forces personnel granted by the central government,” the report says.
There is also almost total impunity for enforced or involuntary disappearances, with little movement towards credibly investigating complaints, including into alleged sites of mass graves in the Kashmir Valley and Jammu region.
Chronic impunity for sexual violence also remains a key concern in Kashmir.  An emblematic case is the Kunan-Poshpora mass rape 27 years ago when, according to survivors, soldiers gang-raped 23 women. “Attempts to seek justice have been denied and blocked over the years at different levels,” the report says.
The report also points to evidence that the armed groups that have operated in Jammu and Kashmir since the late 1980s have committed a wide range of human rights abuses, including kidnappings and killings of civilians and sexual violence. Despite the Government of Pakistan’s denial of any support for these groups, the report notes that a number of experts have concluded that Pakistan’s military continues to support their operations across the Line of Control.
The report also examines a range of human rights violations in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir which, according to the report, are of a different calibre or magnitude and of a more structural nature. In addition, the report says, restrictions on freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and in Gilgit-Baltistan have limited the ability to obtain information about the situation.
Among the issues highlighted in the report is the constitutional relationship of these two “distinct territories” with Pakistan. AJK has effectively been controlled by Pakistan throughout its entire history. Pakistan’s federal authorities also have full control over all government operations in Gilgit-Baltistan, and federal intelligence agencies are reportedly deployed across both regions.
The impact of Pakistani counter-terrorism operations on human rights is detailed in the report, which notes the concerns of the UN Human Rights Committee at the “very broad definition of terrorism laid down in the Anti-Terrorism Act.” The report quotes a respected national NGO that found hundreds of people had been imprisoned under the Act in Gilgit-Baltistan, and that it was being used to target locals who were raising issues related to people’s human rights.
Among its recommendations, the report calls on India and Pakistan to fully respect their international human rights law obligations in Indian-Administered and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir respectively.
India should urgently repeal the AFSPA; establish independent, impartial and credible investigations to probe all civilian killings since July 2016 and all abuses committed by armed groups; and provide reparations and rehabilitation to all injured individuals and to the families of those killed in the context of security operations. Similarly, the PSA should be amended to ensure its compliance with international human rights law, and all those held under administrative detention should either be charged or immediately released.
The report urges Pakistan to end the misuse of anti-terror legislation to persecute those engaging in peaceful political and civil activities and those who express dissent. The sections of the AJK interim constitution that limit the rights to freedoms of expression and opinion, and peaceful assembly and association should be amended. Any political activists, journalists and others convicted for peacefully expressing their opinions should be immediately released. The constitutions of AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan should also be amended to end the criminalization of Ahmadiyya Muslims.   

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ReT Teachers held Sit in protest to demand release of salary in Ban

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SUHAIL RATHER
Bandipora, 13 June: Scores of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) teachers held a sit-in protest demonstration on Wednesday in Bandipora district against their pending salaries and other irregularities.The teachers assembled at main chowk and raised slogabd against PDP BJP government for failing to streamline the salaries.
The teachers, under the banner of J&K Teachers Forum and J&K ReT Teachers Forum assembled near Gulshan chowk Bandipora and raised slogans against the government.They said the government had not released their salaries for the past five months, causing immense hardships to them.Shouting slogans in support of their demands, they appealed the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to personally intervene into the matter and issue a necessary order for the immediate release of their pending salary besides streamlining the same by delinking the salary budget from the source of funding.While addressing the protest demonstration, Shareef Ud Din shah, President of the Teachers forum Bandipora demanded the immediate release of pending salaries. He said on one hand, government speaks about improving standards of education while on the other hand they are doing injustice with the teachers by denying them their salaries.He urged the Education Minister to fulfill their demand for delinking of SSA teachers salary from central source of funding and release of same from the State budget.The protesting teachers urged the government to delink and release their pending salaries. “We want our salaries to be streamlined and benefits of 7th pay commission,” said Hamid, a SSA teacher. “Our salaries are released in parts. We don’t want to come on the streets but the government has left us with no other option.”“We are being humiliated by the government. We won’t take this anymore. If our problems are not solved, we will launch a state-wide agitation after Eid,” said another protesting teacher.District President ReT forum, khalid Rafiq said that despite assurances from the education and finance ministers in the recent past, nothing substantial has been done so far. Khalid said that the teachers are performing their duties in far flung areas and facing many problems since their salaries are withheld. “The government has been resorting to dillydallying tactics with regards to our salaries and other demands including delinking of salaries and benefits of 7th pay commission and today we are forced to come on the streets at a time when we should be teaching in the schools,” said Khalid.Pertinently, the SSA teachers and the state government are at loggerheads over the government’s denial to grant the benefits of 7th pay commission to the SSA teachers.The agitating teachers demanded immediate release and streamlining of their salaries. “We and our families are facing hardships due to cruel policies of government and we are being mentally tortured every now and then”, said Arsalan Habib a teacher from Middle School Aragam.They threatened to stage state-wide protests if the government fails to release their salary till Eid.District President J&K ReT Teachers Forum , Khalid Rafiq also addressed the protesting teachers. He also demanded streamlining of their salaries and appealed the chief Ministet to personally intervene in the matter to resolvenit once for all. He also presented a charter of demands before the gathering which was endorced by the teachers.The protest demonstration was also addressed by Sheikh Showkat Hussain President JKTF Zone Quilmuqam, Arsalan Habib Bhat and others.

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