Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Mangla Dam and Barbari Masjid

Mangla Dam and Barbari Masjid
Speech of Dr Shabir Choudhry, Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs at a Seminar arranged by CIRAC (NGO with Special Consultative Status with the UN (ECOSOC), during 24th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council  on Wednesday 11th of March  2013 in Room XXI 21, Palais des Nations, Geneva.

Mr Chairman
Despite great efforts of the UN Human Rights Council and efforts of hundreds of other human rights organisations, human rights violations around the world are getting worse, especially in the conflict zones, be it forcibly divided State of Jammu and Kashmir, Syria, Afghanistan, Egypt just to name the few.

It is unfortunate to note that many human rights organisations are selective on the issue of human rights. At times, because of economic, political and strategic interests some states decide to remain quiet and turn a blind eye to the plight of the suffering people in certain regions.

Oppressed people of State of Jammu and Kashmir also face similar predicament. They are forcibly divided, oppressed and denied their fundamental rights, including unfettered right of self determination yet majority of the countries find it expedient to remain quiet.

Mr Chairman
I want to draw your attention to the plight of people of Mirpur in the Pakistani Administered Kashmir. But before that I want to give an example of the Babari Masjid that was destroyed by extremists in India. Pakistani establishment and media exploited this act of extremists and dispensed so much fuel on the communal fire that sentiments of Hindus and Muslims were blazed and subsequent communal riots killed hundreds of people and destroyed millions of pounds worth property. India was presented as a villain even though it was not an official policy of the government. In retaliation to the Babari Masjid destruction, many Hindu temples were also destroyed in Pakistan.

What extremists did was condemned by many, and I condemn it too, however, fact remains that the Babari Masjid was closed for many years due to controversy related to Ram Temple. There were no religious activities going on- no five times prayers, no Juma and no religious teaching, yet the action was condemned. During Musharraf era, six masjids were destroyed in Islamabad which were used for all religious activities. Not many people complained against destructions of these masjids because it was a decision of the government of Islamic Republic of Pakistan; and those who complained and demanded rebuilding of those masjids and implementation of Islamic laws were later on rounded up and killed in Lal Masjid and Jamia Hifsa. This incident not only killed hundreds of innocent men, women and children but also burnt and destroyed thousands of Qura’ns and other Islamic books.

Pakistan illegally and forcefully built Mangla Dam in 1967 to provide water to Pakistani land owners and electricity to the Pakistani industrialists. People of Mirpur lost their city, history, masjids, shrines, graveyards and fertile land. In total 485 Villages, 65000 Acres of fertile land submerged in the water. The dam uprooted more than 20,000 families, and people were forced to leave their homes and livelihood.

Generally each village has a masjid and there would be many shrines and graveyards in the area. So one can see how many masjids, shrines and graveyards went under the Mangla Dam water. But not many people protested against this injustice and oppression. No one in Pakistan complained or criticised the Government action which resulted in drowning of masjids and shrines where people prayed 5 times and where children learnt Quran and attended religious functions.

Unlike now, India had a proactive policy on Jammu and Kashmir and challenged the Pakistani designs in Mirpur and wrote to the UN Security Council about this. Since the Simla Agreement of 1972, both India and Pakistan have decided to settle for what they have and regard the Cease Fire Line as the de-facto border. This is a big change in the respective claims of the two countries.

Anyhow, those affected from the Mangla Dam were not appropriately compensated and rehabilitated. According to WAPDA records 7707 families were not compensated. Other promises made to the people of Mirpur were also not honoured. Some of the things promised to them were as follows:
  1. Alternative residential plots
  2. Compensation for loss of business
  3. Alternative allotments for loss of irrigational land
  4. Free electricity
  5. Free Water supply
  6. A railway station and a railway line connecting Mirpur with national
    rail network of Pakistan
  7.  50% quota for employment
  8. Royalty for the dam to be paid to Azad Kashmir government
 Most of the above promises were just promises, but despite this betrayal, injustice and oppression, and exploitation of our resources, Pakistan once again, and without consent of the local people decided to upraise the Mangla Dam. Once again people of Mirpur became victims of the Pakistani greed and imperialist designs.

The Dam upraising created new problems for the people of Mirpur district. The Dam height is increased from 1210 feet to 1270 feet. The water level in the last weeks has gone up to 1240 feet resulting in devastation and uprooting of thousands of local people who were not paid compensation and rehabilitated.

Most of the uprooted people have not been compensated. All they have is a piece of paper telling them where their land plot is. Irony is that plots in the area are not demarcated; and the so called new settlements are not ready for habitation, as there is no infrastructure, sewerage, water, gas connections etc. Those people who managed to get some compensation is not even half of the market price.

For example, if a house was built for the sum of 40 Lakh Rupees ten years ago; and the owner receives 15 Lakh Rupees for that house. First problem is he has no place to build a new house. Secondly, to build a same size house he needs at least 80 Lakh Rupees because of the inflation and devaluation of the Pakistani Rupee; not to mention the trouble he will have to endure to build a house.

Apart from that, in that past few weeks more than 20 Masjids, 6 shrines and many graveyards have submerged in the Mangla Dam Lake. These masjids were daily used for religious activities, but those who occupy us do not care about sentiments of the local people because to them economic considerations were more important.

A sad thing in this ordeal is that apart from some people of Mirpur, and Pakistani Administered Kashmir no one has raised voice in support of suffering people of Mirpur. Not a single voice from the Valley to express solidarity or to criticise Pakistani injustice and oppression; yet all the time they expect us to raise our voice in their support. Many times we have had demonstrations and observed hunger strikes to support the struggle of the people of Jammu and Kashmir under India; and opposed human rights abuses there

However, they refuse to give people of Jammu and Kashmir living under Pakistani control the same right to protest against the country which denies them of fundamental rights. They never talk about problems of Gilgit Baltistan, or even care to visit these areas because they know Islamabad and their agencies won’t like it.

In case of the Barbari Masjid there was a determined state to propagate the issue and exploit the situation to make India defensive. However, on the issue of the Mangla Dam there is no one to support the helpless people; not even the puppet government of so called Azad Kashmir which claims to rule in our name. The fact is that the ruling elite in so called Azad Kashmir is there to look after the interests of Islamabad; and keep control over these people that interests of their political masters are not endangered.

Mr Chairman

The entire State of Jammu and Kashmir is disputed. People could not remain divided, oppressed and subjugated for ever. I hope that the world community and the UN Human Rights Council will pay some attention to the plight of citizens of this divided former Princely State.

I thank you for your patience.

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