AFSPA removal - Why Tripura and J and K are very different

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My  travels made me realise how different the ground situation and  people's mindsets in the two states are. People seemed happy and  secure in Tripura whilst there was only complaining and suspicion in  J&K, says Sanjeev Nayyar.

Last  week, 18 years after the Armed Forces Special Powers Act was enforced  in Tripura, the state government decided to withdraw the act. Under  pressure Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said  thereafter that 'his government will achieve its objectives regarding  revocation of AFSPA in J&K’.

I  visited Tripura and Jammu region in late 2014 and like to share some  observations of ground situation and people interactions. 

From  Silchar, Assam took a 6 am bus to Dharmanagar, Tripura to see  bas-relief sculptures of Unakoti. On entering Tripura could sense the  difference. Roads smooth, forests/farms on either side and  importantly helpful people who welcomed me to their state.  

Unakoti  is in forests, is very well maintained and has marvellous rock cut  carvings of Shiva, Ganesha, Shri Ram and Lakshman. To see pictures of  Unakoti Click Here

Dharmanagar  to Agartala took about eight hours by bus. We drove through  villages/towns and forests. Houses were well laid-out and clean,  markets active, people smiling and students in bus spoke about desire  to progress.

In  contrast entrance to the Martand Surya Mandir in Anantnag was blocked  by apple boxes. The board which gives history of the place was rusted  and difficult to read. Enroute saw burnt down homes of Kashmiri  Pandits that brought back memories of the 1990s. To see pics of  Martand Surya Mandir  Click Here

Reached  Agartala at 8.30 pm. It was an hour's drive by auto to the outskirts  of Agartala where I was staying. Felt unsafe for starters but the  auto driver put me at ease. 

It  was about 6.15 pm in Anantnag and I was advised to leave immediately.  During the drive to Verinag we got lost. Every time we stopped and  asked for directions here is how the conversation went. Car stops,  local first looks at car number to know where the car is from (JK01  is Srinagar, JK02 is Jammu, JK03 is Anantnag, JK10 is Ladakh etc),  peeps in to know if you are Hindu or Muslim, tries to know which part  of the country you are from and then came the advice.

Drove  to Mahamuni Pagoda i.e. about 140 kms from Agartala. All through the  journey in the hinterland felt very secure because everyone we spoke  to was so helpful. Met children at the Dhamma Dipa School who were  interested in knowing what Mumbai is like. The tribal homes I went to  had dish antennas and wanted to discuss India's cricket performance.  All seemed content with no anti-India sentiment. To see pics of  Mahamuni Pagoda  Click here

Conversely,  the 240 kms drive from Jammu to Poonch via Rajouri was stressful. We  drove  at night only after the driver virtually absolved himself  of any responsibility for our safety. Inspite of the presence of the  armed forces one never knew what could happen when.

In  the Valley people are suspicious too. Here is the gist of a  conversation in Verinag (river Jhelum rises from a kund in Verinag). During an early morning walk asked a local how a small  stream caused so much damage in Srinagar. He said the stream was  joined by smaller rivers but avoided referring to the construction  over water outlet channels in Srinagar. In an aggressive tone he  asked, why all this quizzing, are you a journalist? I said ‘improving  general knowledge’. He smiled and told me that what is the source  of Jhelum was a question by Amitabh Bachhan in the television show  Kaun Banega Crorepati. 

Since  I stayed on the outskirts of Agartala, I used a share-auto to reach  town. Nearly every time I shared an auto with college going girls or  homemakers. In Delhi/Mumbai one usually sees who is in the auto but  not in Agartala. I asked a girl how come she was so cool? She said  women felt very secure. 

Do  women in Jammu & Kashmir feel so secure? Unlikely! Seeing the way  women avoided my path in Poonch/Anantnag never felt it appropriate to  speak to them!

I  walked through the markets of Agartala till as late as 8.30 pm. The  area was buzzing with activity. It did not seem like security or  AFSPA was an issue with them. The few people I spoke to said violence  is history.

A  key difference between the two states is good administration provided  by the state government of Tripura.

At  a government office, I tried to provoke a tribal officer about  differences with Bengali culture. He said that Tripura culture is an  amalgamation of tribal and Bengali identities and added that in local  kok-borok dialect Lord Shiva is called Subrai Raja, worshipped by  local tribes.

He  stumped me by saying that famous music director Rahul Dev Barman  belonged to the Tripuri tribal community, that once ruled Tripura.  The officer tried hard to conceal his irritation at my attempt to  create a rift between the two communities.

Conversely  all through the 1,900 kms drive in the Jammu region I heard people  complaining of discrimination by the Valley-controlled state  government.

In  the Valley even ordinary people made political statements. During  early morning walks, locals in Verinag and Kishtwar asked whether I  had visited Srinagar. When I said no, they seemed aghast. Now such a  question tells you how Valley-centric the state has become, a  complaint often made by people of the Jammu and Ladakh regions.

Just  as I was driving to Jammu Airport saw a spirited protest by Pakistan  Occupied Kashmir displaced persons in 1945, 1965 and 1971. They want  an immediate, comprehensive and permanent settlement package. To see  pics of Refugee Homes  Click here

The  travels made me realise how different the ground situation and  people's mindsets in the two states are. People seemed happy and  secure in Tripura whilst there was only complaining and suspicion in  J&K.

Can  removal of AFSPA be linked to fall in violence alone? If mindsets  continue the way they are, even a small trigger can lead to violence.

n  the Valley people are suspicious too. Here is the gist of a  conversation in Verinag (river Jhelum rises from a kund in Verinag). During an early morning walk asked a local how a small  stream caused so much damage in Srinagar. He said the stream was  joined by smaller rivers but avoided referring to the construction  over water outlet channels in Srinagar. In an aggressive tone he  asked, why all this quizzing, are you a journalist? I said ‘improving  general knowledge’. He smiled and told me that what is the source  of Jhelum was a question by Amitabh Bachhan in the television show  Kaun Banega Crorepati. 

Since  I stayed on the outskirts of Agartala, I used a share-auto to reach  town. Nearly every time I shared an auto with college going girls or  homemakers. In Delhi/Mumbai one usually sees who is in the auto but  not in Agartala. I asked a girl how come she was so cool? She said  women felt very secure. 

Do  women in Jammu & Kashmir feel so secure? Unlikely! Seeing the way  women avoided my path in Poonch/Anantnag never felt it appropriate to  speak to them!

I  walked through the markets of Agartala till as late as 8.30 pm. The  area was buzzing with activity. It did not seem like security or  AFSPA was an issue with them. The few people I spoke to said violence  is history.

A  key difference between the two states is good administration provided  by the state government of Tripura.

At  a government office, I tried to provoke a tribal officer about  differences with Bengali culture. He said that Tripura culture is an  amalgamation of tribal and Bengali identities and added that in local  kok-borok dialect Lord Shiva is called Subrai Raja, worshipped by  local tribes.

He  stumped me by saying that famous music director Rahul Dev Barman  belonged to the Tripuri tribal community, that once ruled Tripura.  The officer tried hard to conceal his irritation at my attempt to  create a rift between the two communities.

Conversely  all through the 1,900 kms drive in the Jammu region I heard people  complaining of discrimination by the Valley-controlled state  government.

In  the Valley even ordinary people made political statements. During  early morning walks, locals in Verinag and Kishtwar asked whether I  had visited Srinagar. When I said no, they seemed aghast. Now such a  question tells you how Valley-centric the state has become, a  complaint often made by people of the Jammu and Ladakh regions.

Just  as I was driving to Jammu Airport saw a spirited protest by Pakistan  Occupied Kashmir displaced persons in 1945, 1965 and 1971. They want  an immediate, comprehensive and permanent settlement package.

The  travels made me realise how different the ground situation and  people's mindsets in the two states are. People seemed happy and  secure in Tripura whilst there was only complaining and suspicion in  J&K.

Can  removal of AFSPA be linked to fall in violence alone? If mindsets  continue the way they are, even a small trigger can lead to violence.

The  author is a travel photojournalist and founder www.esamskriti.com.

First  published Click here to view