A Counter Response

Prem Shankar Jha responds to Sheikh Saaliq's dissection of his piece on Tosa Maidan.

ByPrem Shankar Jha
A Counter Response
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The following article is in response to this article.

There are many things that bother me about this article – its tone, its invective, the author’s casual assumption of my venality and its assumption of moral rectitude. But let that be. Sheikh Saaliq is entitled to his opinion of me.

Let me just answer a few of his insinuations and ask a few questions of my own. It is for readers to decide what they wish to believe.

First, I did go up to Tosa Maidan with someone from the army. My purpose was to see where the firing range was located and why the people were so upset by its presence now when they had not been for 52 years. What had changed? I didn’t see how I could go up and start asking a local army officer questions without some form of introduction.

I concluded that there had been two changes. First that the people of the Drang belt were seeing development in both Gulmarg and Yussamarg, and suddenly and correctly realised that they were being left out. They concluded, rightly, that the presence of an army firing range would push development elsewhere.

The second change was that Tosa Maidan was no longer a local issue. It had been taken up by the RTI activists and others to force the army out of first there and then elsewhere in Kashmir. Once that happened the fabrication of legends and myths began.

To me the similarities between the way Tosa Maidan was being converted into a symbolic attack on the Indian army and Indian state, and the way the Babri Masjid was converted into a national struggle of Hindus versus Muslims were too many to ignore. I had been, and remain, totally opposed to the second. I could not acquiesce in the first.

As for the rest, I reject everything that Saalih has written. I have reported each and everything I saw during my visit to Drang and Tosa Maidan firing range accurately. In fact I have understated the ugliness of the threat that developed against us “outsiders”. I did not describe the terror in the voices of villagers from neighbouring villages who were being called spies and informers. I knew, did not write, that our two Sumos crawled through the three deserted villages below Drang because the drivers were on the lookout for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). All of this happened because I had refused to accept whatever the Tosa Maidan Bachao Front (TBF) activists said as gospel, and dared to point out the impossibility of some of their claims. No one likes being shown up as a liar, but the reaction of these activists went way beyond any reasonable reaction to the very edge of violence.

I also have a few questions about Saalih’s pictures of the explosion site. I see gouges in the cement of the steps, but no blackening of any part of the steps and the wall. How could that have happened. I also see no signs of blood, although if he went up there two days after the explosion, these may have been washed away. But the blackening characteristic of an explosion should have remained and it is not there. This needs to be explained.

For contrast, I am attaching the photograph that the army sent me. You will see clearly the black hole at the base of the wall where the explosion occurred, huge patches of blackened flooring, the untouched quilt and the large patch of blood  on it which is still visibly red because it has not fully dried.

Let me also make it clear that the army did not send me these pictures on its own. I specifically asked for someone to go up to the home of the bereaved and find out everything he could about how the explosion took place. Till I did so it had not occurred to Srinagar to do this on its own.

I cannot tell for certain whether the explosion in the attached photo took place inside or outside the house. I believed my army contact because he had nothing to gain from placing the explosion inside, instead of on the steps of the house. Someone would have had to bring the explosive to the place where it exploded. It could not have been brought there by the Suresh Nalla.

But the common feature of both (or the same) explosion is that they/it was small. Look at the wall beside the steps. It too is completely undamaged, completely un-blackened.  What the army is firing at Tosa Maidan are not rifle grenades or mortar shells. It is firing artillery whose shells are designed to devastate tanks and bunkers. Do either of these explosions look as if it was made by a shell that is capable of destroying a tank. As for Farouq, I would ask him the same question that I asked the young man at Drang who had lost his arm. If you picked up a grenade or a mortar shell and it exploded how are you alive today?

I have been coming to Kashmir and writing about its tragedy for 25 years. In these years I have lost two jobs and been virtually banned from programmes on Kashmir by our intelligence agencies because I say things they do not want to hear. I want everything for Kashmir that Kashmiris want. I do not presume to tell them what they ought to want, or will be forced to accept. But I do not want innocent people to be used as cannon fodder in a war they neither want nor fully understand. That was the fear that prompted me to visit Tosa Maidan and describe what I experienced there.

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