Kashmiris say identity under attack after ‘pheran’ crackdown

Kashmiris say identity under attack after ‘pheran’ crackdown
A civilian removes his traditional dress or pheran as part of latest security measures in Lal Chowk, Srinagar, Kashmir. (Photo by Umer Asif/The Kashmir Walla)
Short Url
Updated 02 March 2021

Kashmiris say identity under attack after ‘pheran’ crackdown

Kashmiris say identity under attack after ‘pheran’ crackdown
  • The pheran is worn by Kashmiris as an extra layer of protective clothing during the harsh winter month

NEW DELHI: There is no crackdown on a traditional Kashmiri robe, officials told Arab News on Monday, amid claims that people wearing it are being rounded up and frisked in response to two policemen being killed by someone alleged to have hidden a gun under his robe.

The pheran is worn by Kashmiris as an extra layer of protective clothing during the harsh winter months, and residents of the valley have said that security forces are discouraging them from wearing the garment.

The unarmed officers were killed in a busy market in Srinagar on Feb. 19, and the attack came two days after the owner of a popular eatery was murdered in the city. The assailant in this incident was also wearing a pheran.

Police and paramilitary troops have been carrying out checks in the market, with similar exercises reported from other parts of the valley.

However, Divisional Commissioner Pandurang K. Pole denied there was a crackdown or ban on Kashmiri item of clothing.

“There is no written order from any government authorities to ban the pheran,” he told Arab News. “See the markets and tourist places. They are full of the public, and there is no crackdown as such. What crackdown are you referring to?” 

But residents said security forces were asking people to “keep the pheran in hand.”

“The pheran is our traditional dress, and it protects us from winter,” Srinagar-based businessman Aijaz Ahmad told Arab News. “By asking people not to wear the pheran and keep it in hand, the government expresses distrust toward people. How can you expect to normalize the region by constantly attacking people’s sensitivities?”

Everything came to a standstill and people got stuck for hours when security forces launched a crackdown, said Khurshid Ahmed Shah, who is president of the Maharaj Market Association of Srinagar.

“Market is already down, and such moves further drive people away from the market,” he told Arab News. “They hesitate to come out. You understand how hurt people feel when you ask them not to carry pheran, or you suspect pheran-wearing people. It’s like we are going back to the old days of the 1990s, when such crackdowns and disapproval for wearing the pheran were pervasive.”

People’s worries about an anti-pheran campaign have increased since a right-wing group associated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called on the government to ban the garment.

“The militants have carried out most of the attacks in Kashmir while wearing phiran, which should be banned in public places and government functions,” Rakesh Bajrangi, a leader of the Bajrang Dal group in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, said on Feb. 21.

Bajrangi did not deny his statement when contacted by Arab News, but refused to elaborate on the topic.

However Srinagar-based BJP spokesperson Manzoor Bhat justified the security response. “Who invited the crackdown?” he told Arab News. “Who killed the policemen? If you don’t allow the situation to stabilize, then the crackdown is bound to happen to bring peace in the region.” 

He said that Kashmiri police were trained and kept people’s sensitivities in mind but, when someone was frisked, security personnel would also check pherans.

Student activist Nasir Khuehani was last week travelling from Bandipora district to Sopore town in the valley when he was stopped at eight places in the 40-kilometer long journey.

He was asked to step out of the car, remove his pheran and walk a distance at each stop.

“I had all the identity cards,” he told Arab News. “I have good contacts in the region. Still, I was frisked this way. Imagine what would have been happening to local people.”

The valley’s top security officials were unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News.

The situation in Kashmir has been volatile since Aug. 5 2019, when New Delhi scrapped the region’s constitutional autonomy and withdrew exclusive territorial rights for Kashmiris.

Despite the lifting of the lockdown that followed for several months and the restoration of internet services in the region, the area remains heavily militarized. Daily activities are curtailed due to security restrictions.

“Post-August 5, there has been a massive crackdown on life as a whole,” a spokesperson for the valley-based pro-India People’s Democratic Party, Syed Suhail Bukhari, told Arab News. “The recent crackdown in the valley goes back to the old days of the 1990s, when such a crackdown was normal in the name of curbing militancy. The larger question is not about the pheran, but the pervasive sense of distrust that Kashmiris have developed toward the government. The distrust keeps on multiplying with each order of the government. People see that they are being disempowered every day.”

Srinagar-based political analyst Zareef Ahmad Zareef said the government was not making “any efforts” to win people’s trust. “You cannot have peace unless you reach out to the people,” he added.

Community groups rally in support of Palestinians outside US State Department

Community groups rally in support of Palestinians outside US State Department
Updated 3 min 25 sec ago

Community groups rally in support of Palestinians outside US State Department

Community groups rally in support of Palestinians outside US State Department
  • Diverse coalition included Arab, African, Hispanic, Muslim, Jewish and Christian Americans
  • US aid ‘enables Israel to violate Palestinian human rights and sustain its occupation of Palestine,’ activist tells Arab News

ATLANTA: A coalition of US civil rights and community groups held a rally on Tuesday outside the State Department to protest Israeli aggression against the Palestinians, and to press Secretary of State Antony Blinken to pressure Tel Aviv to end its ongoing airstrikes against Gaza and its efforts to evict Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

The coalition leadership delivered a petition signed online by more than 200,000 people and organizations demanding that the US government hold Israel accountable for its actions against the Palestinians in Jerusalem and Gaza.

“What we’re witnessing in Sheikh Jarrah is Israel’s attempt to erase the Palestinian presence from our native city in real time,” said Mohammed El-Kurd, whose family is among those set to be forcefully evicted in May.

“This fate of dispossession looms over much of my neighborhood. Our lives are consumed by the anxiety of living on the brink of homelessness.”

Israeli courts had ruled in favor of Jewish settlers giving four Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah until the end of May to leave their homes that they have lived in for several decades.

And in Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood, 21 families are facing home demolitions to make way for an Israeli tourist site.

Israeli airstrikes against Gaza have killed at least 30 people, including nine children, wounded scores more and destroyed several large apartment buildings, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza.

The US rally was organized by a broad group of organizations representing different political, religious and ethnic groups.

They included Arab-American, African-American, Hispanic, Muslim, Jewish and Christian groups.

At the rally, Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana spoke about the need to continue to support the Palestinians.

Tlaib spoke about her own experience as a Palestinian woman supporting the struggle of her people to achieve their freedom and statehood.

Carson urged the protesters to continue to come out in support of the Palestinians, and said it is important for people and members of Congress to show solidarity.

Jinan Shbat, national organizer for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), told Arab News that the rally showed how different communities in the US can come together and link the struggle of Palestinians with their own.

She said the US government’s massive financial and military aid to Israel enables it “to violate Palestinian human rights and sustain its occupation of Palestine.”

Representing ADC at the rally, Shbat spoke about the impact of such rallies and community activism in terms of forcing the US government to recognize their demands.

“As a result of pressure from communities across the US, the State Department changed its language to recognize the killing of Palestinian children by Israeli strikes, when the day before it refused to do so,” she said.

While recognizing that such change is “incremental,” Shbat urged the Arab-American community and others across the US to press their representatives in Congress to acknowledge the right of Palestinians to have their own freedom.

Dr. Osama Abuirshaid, executive director of American Muslims for Palestine (MPAC), one of the organizers of the rally, told Arab News that the goal of the protest is not just to have the US stop Israel from escalating its aggression, but also to urge Washington to take a firm policy stand against such behavior.

Abuirshaid, who spoke at the rally, said President Joe Biden’s administration has resorted to “blaming the victims, the Palestinians, while exonerating the criminals, Israel.”

He added that the Biden administration speaks about including human rights values in its foreign policy yet goes on to “equate Palestinian victims with Israeli criminals.”

Lara Kiswani, executive director of the California-based Arab Resource and Organizing Center, which participated in the rally, told Arab News: “Despite ongoing US support for apartheid Israel, we’re witnessing mass grassroots resistance — from the US and across the international community — to Israeli colonial violence in Jerusalem and Gaza today.”

Large protests held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world

Large protests held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world
Updated 12 May 2021

Large protests held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world

Large protests held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world
  • The tensions in Jerusalem have threatened to reverberate throughout the region

LONDON: Large protests were held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world, including in London, as well as in Muslim-majority countries including Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey.
Protesters gathered outside Downing Street, the residence of Prime Minister Boris Johnson against an Israeli court ruling to evict Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem.
Israel’s Supreme Court postponed a key ruling Monday that could have forced dozens of Palestinians from their homes, citing the “circumstances.”

The recent round of violence began when Israel blocked off a popular spot where Muslims traditionally gather each night during Ramadan at the end of their daylong fast. Israel later removed the restrictions, but clashes quickly resumed amid tensions over the planned eviction of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah.
The tensions in Jerusalem have threatened to reverberate throughout the region. 
In Jordan, protesters gathered outside the Israeli embassy, burning Israeli flags and chanting “Shame, shame the embassy is still there” and “Death to Israel!“

Pro-Palestinian protesters march past parliament as they participate in a demonstration against Israeli attacks on Palestinians after at least 28 people were killed following clashes over the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, in central London on May 11, 2021. (AFP)

Palestinians scuffled again with Israeli officers in riot gear on Tuesday evening, although less intensely than on previous nights.
Palestinian man Siraj, 24, said he had suffered a spleen injury from a rubber bullet fired by the police.
“They shot everyone, young and old people,” he said.
Amnesty International has accused Israel of using “abusive and wanton force against largely peaceful Palestinian protesters.”
(With AFP and AP)


Pakistan refuses air bases for US after Afghan pullout

Pakistan refuses air bases for US after Afghan pullout
Updated 12 May 2021

Pakistan refuses air bases for US after Afghan pullout

Pakistan refuses air bases for US after Afghan pullout
  • Islamabad’s role is to be ‘a partner in peace,’ says foreign minister

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said on Tuesday it will not provide air bases to the US after the troop withdrawal from neighboring Afghanistan, vowing to protect the nation’s interests and support the Afghan peace process.

“No. We don’t intend to allow boots on the ground here, and Pakistan isn’t transferring any base (to the US),” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a press conference in the capital Islamabad.

Last month, US President Joe Biden said that the remaining 2,500 foreign troops will leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11, more than four months after the initial deadline of May 1 set by the Taliban and Washington as part of a historic accord signed in Doha more than a year ago.

He warned the Taliban that the US could defend itself and its partners from attacks as it draws down its forces, and that Washington would “reorganize its counterterrorism capabilities and assets in the region” to prevent the emergence of another terrorist threat.

The removal of the remaining US troops coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, which spurred America’s entry into lengthy wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Qureshi said that his government had formulated an “explicit policy” regarding partnership with the US for peace in Afghanistan.

“We will be partners in peace, and this will be our role — the role of a facilitator,” he said.

In his congressional testimony last month, Gen. Kenneth Frank McKenzie, commander of the US Central Command, said that Washington is engaged in “a significant” diplomatic effort to determine where it will base a counterterrorism force in the region to deter terrorist groups after all American troops leave the country.”

He added: “No such understanding, however, currently exists with any of Afghanistan’s neighbors for housing the proposed anti-terrorism forces.”

Qureshi denied there had been pressure on Pakistan from the US to provide air bases, saying: “There is no pressure. Pakistan will protect its interests.”

He said that Islamabad hoped to see peace and stability in Afghanistan.

“It’s our need, and we want it to happen this way,” he said, vowing to continue support for the US-led Afghan peace process.

Afghans will have to take ownership of the peace process to make it a success, he said.

“The basic responsibility for peace lies with the Afghans, and we are praying for their success.” 

Qureshi also welcomed the Taliban’s announcement of a three-day cease-fire during the Eid holidays in Afghanistan on Monday.

“This is a positive development. The reduction in violence will help provide a conducive environment for negotiations,” he said.

Pakistan’s military bases and land routes played a crucial role in facilitating and sustaining the US-led military invasion of landlocked Afghanistan.

Islamabad has long retaken control of its bases from the US forces, and defense analysts said it would not be in the country’s interest to hand these over to Washington once again.

“The US wants to maintain its surveillance of Afghanistan after the troops’ withdrawal, and that is why it is looking for options in the region to house aircraft, drones and maintenance systems,” Lt. Gen. (retd) Amjad Shoaib, a defense analyst, told Arab News.

He added that Washington “may maintain its presence in India” with which it has already signed a logistics support agreement, but “even then they would need Pakistan’s permission to use the air corridor for any drone or jet flight to Afghanistan.”

“We have already suffered a lot due to America’s war in Afghanistan and cannot sustain it further by providing military bases,” he added.


Horror as 71 bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims found along Ganges river

Horror as 71 bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims found along Ganges river
Updated 12 May 2021

Horror as 71 bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims found along Ganges river

Horror as 71 bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims found along Ganges river
  • Discovery of half-burnt, decomposed bodies sends shock waves among locals in the Buxar district of Bihar

NEW DELHI: Local authorities in the Buxar district of India’s eastern state of Bihar on Tuesday confirmed the discovery of 71 dead bodies, suspected to be of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) victims, after they washed ashore along the banks of the river Ganges. 

The discovery sent shock waves and panic among locals in the Chausa town of the Buxar district on Monday after they found the half-burnt, decomposed bodies along the river, confirming media reports that the pandemic had spread to rural areas of India, the global epicenter of the pandemic. 

“We have conducted the postmortem of 71 bodies on Monday and preserved their DNA for future investigation,” Kanhaiya Kumar, the district’s public relations officer, told Arab News. 

He added that the “bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition and had floated in from the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh.”

Bihar’s Buxar district shares its border with the Ghazipur area of the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh. The River Ganges, which starts from the Himalayas, crisscrosses through Uttar Pradesh before entering Bihar, flowing into Bengal and eventually merging with the Bay of Bengal. 

Locals, however, dispute the district administration’s claims that the bodies came from the neighboring state. 

“The fact remains that the water in the river Ganges is shallow these days, and at many places between Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the river is dry. How  can the bodies come from the other state?” Kapindra Kishore, a Buxar-based journalist, told Arab News. 

“The villagers are claiming over 100 bodies were floating, and they say that many deaths are taking place in the rural areas that are not being reported,” he added. 

On Tuesday, India registered more than 330,000 cases and 3,700 deaths, slightly lower than Monday. 

Out of the total tally, Bihar reported over 10,000 cases and 75 deaths. 

Some, however, allege that the data is being underreported. 

“There is a community transfer of the virus this time, and many are dying in villages without adequate medical supply. You will never get the actual data because people are dying at home without going to the hospital,” Ajit Kumar Singh, a local legislator from the Dumraon area of the Buxar district, told Arab News. 

“If earlier 15 to 20 bodies were being cremated per day in the district crematorium, now at least 100 are being burnt every day,” he explained, adding that many locals cannot afford the expensive wood necessary for the funeral pyres. 

“Just like COVID-19 medicines are being sold in the black market these days, so too the wood for cremation is being supplied at a higher rate,” he said. 

“Poor people who can’t afford wood at higher rates throw the dead bodies into the river in a half-burnt state. This is the reality today,” he added. 

According to official data, the Buxar district has registered 78 deaths so far in the second wave of COVID-19. 

Doctors say the number is much higher than reported. 

“The situation is really grim in Buxar and adjoining areas, and the discovery of the bodies at Chausa shows how bad we are placed,” Dr. Mahendra Prasad, a Buxar-based doctor and district president of the Indian Medical Association, told Arab News. 

“Not even cities are prepared to handle the crisis, much less villages. People are dying in rural areas in large numbers, which are not reflected in the official data,” he added. 

There are about 100 beds in hospitals across Buxar, which has a population of more than 1.7 million. 

“The administration was not ready to handle the situation. Now they are working on it, but whether it will be adequate is difficult to say. We are dependent on God’s mercy,” Prasad said. 

One of the worst-affected villages in the district is Dharahara, which reported 15 deaths in the past week. 

“In every village, there are more than 20 people who are COVID-19-positive, and in my village itself, in just over one week, some 15 people have lost their lives,” Rama Shankar, a Dharhara-based student activist, told Arab News. 

“The government has failed us completely. People are dying due to a shortage of oxygen, a lack of beds in hospitals and the complete negligence of the health sector,” Shankar said, adding that “essential medicine like Remdesivir, which should normally be available for no more than $50, costs $500 in the black market.” 

He said that “the virus has spread into the community, but the government is not doing mass testing to break the chain of infection. We are suffering because the government has failed us.”

India buys 300,000 doses of Remdesivir from Egypt

India buys 300,000 doses of Remdesivir from Egypt
Updated 11 May 2021

India buys 300,000 doses of Remdesivir from Egypt

India buys 300,000 doses of Remdesivir from Egypt
  • The shipments came as part of Egypt’s support and solidarity with friendly countries

CAIRO: India has bought 300,000 doses of the Remdesivir drug from Egypt’s Eva Pharma company as it grapples with a coronavirus crisis.

The Indian Embassy in Cairo on Monday signed an agreement to procure 300,000 doses of the drug that is used to treat coronavirus infections.

The signing ceremony was attended by Indian envoy Ajit Gupte and Riad Armanious, CEO of Eva Pharma.

It was held at the embassy of India in Cairo, with the embassy acting on behalf of India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Gupte thanked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly for directing relevant Egyptian authorities to cooperate with India in the medical emergency.

He expressed confidence in Remdesivir to effectively heal of tens of thousands of coronavirus patients.

Gupte praised the keenness of the Egyptian state and Egyptian national institutions to support India.

He said that the sale of the drug will play a “crucial” role in India’s fight against coronavirus. The country is expected to receive doses quickly over the next few days, according to the Middle East News Agency.

Armanious affirmed his confidence in Remdesivir speeding up the recovery of Indian coronavirus patients.

He said that the drug prevents the virus from reproducing inside the cells of the human body and stops its spread, which will reduce death rates in India.

Armanious added that the drug has achieved “great success” across several continents after it was exported to a large number of countries.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Egypt’s Ministry of Health and Population sent three military aircraft to India loaded with large quantities of medical aid.

The shipments came as part of Egypt’s support and solidarity with friendly countries, and implements the directives of El-Sisi, an official statement said.

India is experiencing a second wave of COVID-19, with high rates of infections and deaths amid an acute shortage of medicine, medical supplies, and prevention and protection tools.