From Harrow to Jammu…. by Lakshmi Kaul

faith-schools
In the streets of Jammu

It is a privilege to work with someone who really wants to learn about world cultures. Having been a long standing friend of India, especially Jammu & Kashmir, I was surprised that Bob Blackman MP had never visited India. I took it upon myself as a task to get Bob Blackman, MP for Harrow East and his wife, former councillor Nicola Blackman to experience the life in Jammu & Kashmir and understand the ground reality facing the region.

So why would this be a concern to a British MP? Britain has over a million Non-Resident Indians living in the UK which makes them the largest ethnic population. They have a tremendous impact on the socio-economic and political life of Britain. More poignant for Mr Blackman, his constituency in Harrow East has one of the largest Hindu & Indian Population in London. For him, such a visit helps him to understand the ethnic origin of most members of his own constituency better and the therefore facilitates his understanding of the various issues that impact them. The visit also became an opportunity for him to raise some concerns and interact in detail with the senior Ministers and Bureaucrats in India.
 

Arriving in New Delhi, Mr Blackman first travelled to Srinagar where he was hosted and accompanied by the regional politician BJP MLC, Surinder Ambardar. He then visited the revered Hindu temple of Goddess Ragyna, Kheerbhawani that is constructed over a sacred spring and is managed and run by the Dharmarth Trust. The Kheerbhawani Puja is universal among the Hindus of Kashmir. The temple is situated at a distance of 14 miles east of Srinagar near the village of Tul Mul.

 

With a hectic schedule, a whole host of meetings were arranged. Mr Blackman met members across regions and religions, representing the civil society, young lawyers, non-displaced Kashmiri Pandits, recently re-settled Kashmiri Pandits who returned to the valley on the Prime Minister’s resettlement package, young politicians, traders and members of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce.

 
“I am struck by the sheer beauty of Srinagar and the vast potential the state has for future. It was heartening to see the common aspiration for development and progress in the state among all those I met and interacted with,” said Mr Blackman.

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Meeting members of Legislative Assembly

In Jammu, Mr Blackman received a rapturous welcome by local community. He visited the Raghunath temple and the archives run by the Trust in the temple premises.
 

“I am impressed by the collection of the archives in the temple library and happy to note that the work to digitise the ancient scriptures is being carried out. I am pleased to note that the support from the British Library is being sought to undertake this useful exercise as also set up a museum to display the key artefacts and scriptures for public viewing”, added Mr Blackman.

 

In a traditional programme organised by the J&K Ex-Services League and Dogra Sadar Sabha, Mr Blackman was welcomed along with Manu Khajuria, Founder of Voice of Dogras and myself as the ‘Daughters of the Soil’ for their contribution to raising the voice of the region in the UK. This for me personally was very humbling.

 

In a programme organised by the Department of History at University of Jammu, Mr Blackman had the opportunity to address the students. He urged them to engage in greater research with British universities highlighting the various aspects of the history and cultural heritage of the J&K region.

 

He further met with the key public officials. This included the founder of PDP, Muzaffar Hussain Baigh to gain an insight into the party’s founding and history; the former Deputy Chief Minister, Nirmal Singh; Indian diplomat and author, G Parthasarthy and retired Vice Air Marshal Kapil Kak.In Delhi he had a very useful meeting and discussion with Dr. Jitendra Singh, Minister of State (independent charge) at the Prime Minister’s Office along with the MP from Laddakh, Thhupstan Chhewang that gave him an opportunity to understand the issues pertaining to the residents of Leh-Laddakh.

 

He met with displaced Sikh community representatives from the PoJK region as well as representatives of the Kashmiri Pandit community who are in the process of resettling in Srinagar.

 
Whatever the impressions of Kashmir in the UK psyche, it has to be said that the image of self-determination is not aspiration of the majority population of Jammu & Kashmir. It is evident from the interactions, there is a strong feeling of Nationalism among all the various residents of the region and most of them want to flourish like other states in the country.

 

Lakshmi Kaul is a political aid to Bob Blackman MP and founder of Kashmiri Pandits Cultural Society UK.