Introduction to KashmirForum.org Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.
www.kashmirforum.org

Monday, December 29, 2008

Preserving State's Wetlands

Basharat describes a new initiative from the Department of Wildlife

(Mr. Syed Basharat, 28, was born in Kreeri, Baramulla, and did his schooling in Kreeri, and later in Uri and Sopore. He graduated from the Degree College in Baramulla and completed his Master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the Kashmir University in 2005. He has been a reporter for Kashmir Images, a Srinagar based daily, London based website Gaashonline.Com, and a Srinagar based journal, Globe. Currently, he is working as a special correspondent with Jammu based daily newspaper, The Kashmir Times.)

Wildlife deptt designing multi-crore project for J&K wetlands

Srinagar: Department of Wildlife has designed a multi-crore developmental programme for State Wetland Reserves, which despite being in shambles; attract thousands of migratory birds from various parts of the globe during winter.

The department may include the world famous wetland reserve Gharana which is situated at the Indo-Pakistan international border in Ranbirsingh Pura sector in Jammu. Plagued by massive silting and encroachment, this worldfamous Gharana wetland reserve, is dying a slow death.

Besides being a temporary home to a large number of migratory birds it attracts thousands of bird lovers and tourists who visit this place to witness the chirping of birds during the winters. Over 50,000 birds flock to the Gharana bird sanctuary during the period from October to March every year.

Unchecked encroachment by the local farmers coupled with excessive mining of the area by the army has reduced the size of wetland to almost half its official size of 0.75 sq kilometers. Most of the birds like Grey Key Goose, Shoverler, Marclands, Poachards, Teals and Gadwal are from Central Asia and northern Europe come to Gharana bird sanctuary to escape the harsh winters, said an officer of the wild life department.

According to a survey 50-67 species of birds, including some rare and endangered species like Siberian hens, Keel, Buck, Common Coot, Grey Heron and Little Grebe from New Zealand, America, Australia and Pakistan fly to Gharana wetland every year. Now for proper management of this reserve, the wildlife department has planned a comprehensive ‘programme to develop the wetland reserve. A wildlife official wishing not be named said that his department has planned a comprehensive management programme of 6.6 crore rupees and it has been sent to ministry of environment and forests which has a special scheme for the development of
wetlands.

Wetlands are among the most important life support systems for a large species of birds, yet two-thirds of these wetlands in Kashmir have been reportedly destroyed since 1950s. The surviving wetlands are among the threatened natural \areas and are in need of serious protection and preservation. The migratory birds fly in groups over continents in search of food.They travel long distances to inhabit amenable environments on seasonal basis.

During their six-month long stay in India, many of the birds lay eggs and bring up the chicks till they are capable to unde rtake journey back home. Environmentalists too warn that wetlands in the state are rapidly shrinking due to official apathy and rampant encroachment, endangering thousand of animals and migratory birds.

The state boasts of 16 wetlands, seven of them are in Jammu regions, experts predict that these will vanish in around three to four years if the authorities continue to neglect them.

Gharana hosted 20,000 migratory birds coming from different countries last year, but wildlife experts warn that the number of winged visitors is slowly declining.

Looking to a Bright Future

Sajjad speaks with optimism but neglects to address responsibilies - of people who want an end to misery while keeping anarchy alive, and of neighbors who refuse to shut down terrorist infrastructure

(Mr. Sajjad Bazaz, 44, was born in Srinagar. He attended the Khalsa high school and the Sri Pratap College in Srinagar. He received his bachelor's degree in Media and his master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. Mr. Bazaz has over two decades of experience in journalism (both print & electronic), and he is author of the book "Bankwatch" which is about a financial scenario with particular reference to the J&K state. He is currently incharge of corporate communications department in a leaduing financial instution in J&K. Mr. Bazaz likes to spend leisure time watching movies and enjoying company of his friends.)

What next?

Even as a short-lived renewed mass uprising against Indian rule in August –September this year jolted one and all, the record-breaking turnout of voters in all the 7 phases of the assembly elections, except in Srinagar constituencies, was also equally surprising. We all know that amid all conditions, elections have been held in Kashmir and New Delhi has crafted a long history of political mismanagement to hurt the Kashmiri psyche.

However, there are a few major things, which surfaced during the course of Elections 2008. Even as Kashmiris feel like a battered and brutalized society, the percentage of voter turnout has left developmental challenges for those assuming power. There is no doubt that the economic factor has played a great role in pulling people out of their homes to vote for development of roads, eradication of unemployment, better schools and sufficient health infrastructure.

Before going into the details of developmental challenges put forth by the voters for the next government, handholding of the situation by the governor N. N. Vohra cannot be overlooked. He has proved himself as an effective change agent for New Delhi. When there was a consensus among the Indian think tank to defer the assembly elections in the state, he went against the wind and successfully ensured the conclusion of elections with minimum possible violence. So, one should not deny that the credit for holding elections amid all odds goes to the governor.
In this context, recently, P. Chidambram, Indian Defence Minister, at function in New Delhi called the election process in the state as a journey of change. "Holding elections in a peaceful manner is no small achievement. It tells a story which deserves to be retold and which perhaps not many have quite acknowledged or noticed" – are a few remarks which reflects the excitement of New Delhi vis-à-vis just concluded election 2008. The defence minister was all praise for Vohra. While describing him a change agent he said that in Governor Vohra New Delhi has found a man who has risen to the challenges of the situation.

Vohra's experience in political dealings, especially with Kashmir affairs proved a shot in the arm of Indian interests in Kashmir. He is considered as a perfect man to be knowing everything about Kashmir, as he is very well introduced among the separatist cadres in Kashmir. He has once again succeeded to add weight to the Indian stand on Kashmir and who can forget that he, as a mediator, had earlier succeeded in persuading the separatists to hold talks with New Delhi.

Vohra is considered to be a credible person who has studied the case of Kashmiris and understands the issue. He, definitely, should be knowing how to address the issue and restore dignity of the people. Holding of elections have won him laurels all over the country and can even win him some prestigious national award, but for the people of the state, Vohra will be a man to be watched.

Meanwhile, at developmental front, almost all voters dished out that in order to see an end to the problems like poor roads, inadequate health infrastructure, unemployment, power shortage etc. forced them to participate in the polls. Here it has to be understood that the Kashmir issue has its political and social aspects, economic intervention has to take a lead for the imbroglio to be solved. Economic intervention will have to take a lead and a development policy is needed that ensures peace, prosperity and economic returns.

Notably, C. Rangarajan, who was Chairman of the working group for economic development of Jammu and Kashmir, has listed six guiding objectives and goals to meet the developmental challenges of J-K: reconstruction and maintenance of existing physical assets, investment in physical and social infrastructure, conducive environment for private investment, balanced regional development and comprehensive fiscal adjustment.

Here it is important to note that whosoever assumes power in the state, should prioritize bringing an end to the miseries of common people, otherwise they will have the same fate as their predecessors met. In the context of core Kashmir issue, these groups should force the Government of India to do something tangible on the ground.

So, a lot depends on how these people adjust themselves to the emerging situation. Let us hope that things move from bad to good, if not the best. At the same time, they should remember that forming a government in the conflict zone like Kashmir is not the only solution of the vexed problem. Let them not be complacent that the sentiment of secession in Kashmir has died down. The recent mass uprising should remain a constant reminder to the groups which assume power in the state that the secessionist movement is still there and waiting for its turn. Will that turn come or not? Only time will tell.

Voters have not mixed the election process with separatist movement. They called it two different tracks. Basically we have witnessed many ups and downs during the conflict period and such situations still continue. Events like division of separatist organisations, formation of Hurriyat Conference, surrender of some prominent separatists, human rights violations, Indo-Pak relations and peace process have kept the Kashmir issue boiling, with one common factor that a common Kashmiri has been the victim and caught between the devil and deep sea. Most of the time we have a situation where false optimism loomed large.

Meanwhile, all groups, whether separatists or pro-India, have a responsibility to ensure that Kashmir does not remain as the battleground between India and Pakistan. At their own levels that have to stop playing double game with double talk. Let them work to take benefit of global village, as globalization gives the opportunity to break the barriers, unite the people and move forward towards socio-economic development by freedom, democracy and modernism supported by reforms so as to achieve social justice and security in the world. And above all, violence should end. Let us hope that the year 2009 does not bring a sense of terror and persecution in the Kashmiri psyche.

Cannot do With it and Cannot do Without it

Mehmood rationalizes why separatists should keep doing what they are good at

(Mr. Mehmood-ur-Rashid, mid-30's, lives and works in Srinagar. His commentary is published by the Rising Kashmir.)

Glib generalisation, daunting detail

Boycott-camp turned very uneasy when people cast votes in good numbers, absolutely against the expectations. They couldn’t believe their ears and eyes. Rather than accepting the debacle mentally and sitting down to understand what had happened, they wanted to do away with the bafflement in their peculiar way. At the core of this attitude is their unwillingness to accept failure and their inability to come out of the alcove of denial. They wanted to beat the force of tide that so menacingly rose to decimate their castles of imagination, by issuing statements, completely blank on sense and stuffed with emotional and moral appeals.

Rather than questioning themselves they again questioned people. This pulpit-syndrome once again blinded them to the source of failure. It was like an ocean in rage and a ‘saintly’ naivety (stupidity!) imploring before gods while being mindless of what was going to sweep it over soon. More ridiculous was the attempt to put a bold face and go ‘whole hog’ to congratulate people (congratulate!); God knows who Geelani Sahib wants to deceive and who he wants to prove wrong. Fact of the matter is that this has been a endemic defect in Resistance politics right from its inception up to this minute. They love to make themselves a laughing stock.

All in all there have been three kinds of responses from Resistance camp that flowed into the local media. Loosely one can categorise them under these heading: Emotional, Ethical, and Rational.

Ethical response started surfacing up immediately after the first phase of elections was over. Rising Kashmir newsroom received a press release from one of the women organisations, known for its radical and firebrand approach and its irrational treatment of themes like Resistance and Islam. It appealed to people of Kashmir to refrain from voting. It reprimanded them. It pronounced certain harsh things. It exactly equated voting with an acting of apostasy. Now who can buy this stuff! Not even God, in whose name they avowedly do it. For this section of Resistance camp, voting implied denial of God’s sovereignty. A Poor soul of a border district, whose only concern is to save his skin from the Army camp in the backyard, or to secure some days of work in a government department, or to keep a candidate of his locality in god humour, or may be even to deliberately participate in the process of elections, knowing fully well that who it goes in favour of; how do you expect him to know what this bombshell Sovereignty means! Maududi didn’t use the concept in this cheap way!

Benign version of this ethics was Geelani’s statement that people should repent for having cast their vote. At the most once can explain to Kashmiri people that casting a vote is an incorrect decision keeping in view the situation in which it is cast and the effect it leads to. Even while doing so one may, per chance, hit at the fact that he was to correct himself only. How can this matter be fit into the paradigm of sin and virtue. There is nothing like transgressing a divine commandment. Are we to pass a papal edict or deal with a situation that drives men in different directions?

Another stream of response was Emotional. Taking recourse to the memory of martyrs people were appealed to desist from becoming a part of election process. Without having slightest intention of undermining the value of martyrdom, it applies to all the Muslim lands that the institution-of-memory that has been raised on the grounds martyrdom and suffering is the cruellest thing that has happened to them. Now there is no harm in being emotional about certain things as long as they pertain to one’s individual life. In the collective sphere emotions are rarely helpful.

A mix of emotional and ethical response was found in the article by Maulana Showkat of jamiat e Ahle Hadith. The article appeared in Kashmir Uzma on Dec 27th. Upshot of the article was that we should not feel disappointed at what happened in the elections. Although it was a pleasant surprise to find the head of an organisation that is considered very astringent and radical in its assessment of people’s conduct trying to defend Kashmiris and allude towards the predicament of situation. But what doesn’t gel with reality is the element of exhortation. Bringing the oft repeated Quaranic verse that disappointment borders disbelief and people should remain steadfast in their commitment towards the cause of Freedom may have a salutary effect on the reader’s mind, but it is all transitory. This kind of an approach always keeps Resistance movement from engaging with the details of the situation. Such generalisations blind them to facts that actually lay in details.

This emotional and ethical response is the fall out of Resistance movement’s lack of knowing the outer world, and how it operates. Since the majority of such people originally belong to Islamic movement, they carry with them the inadequacies of the discourse that was weaved around the concept of Revival and bringing Politics and Religion together. Such approach needs a serious revisit.

In all this ‘sacred; talk there was a lone voice that sounded this-worldly. Sajad Lone’s idea of framing a concept paper on why people didn’t support boycott call, and his vociferous and unambiguous rejection of Hartal and stone-pelting as methods of Resistance, is a rational departure from what Resistance has been doing here for all these years. Sajad has made a nice beginning, but to save it from abortion he has to subject himself to a change of political behaviour. The way he burst on two occasions and proved incapable of holding back his anger, speaks of a serious inadequacy in his political behaviour. As an individual it was all understandable, but politics is primarily going beyond ones individual. If Sajad Lone has shown his proclivity towards going into the details of things he should not forget that Geelani is the most important and a dominant detail of this Resistance Movement. Undoubtedly, Sajad’s idea to introspect is timely but the key to change lies with Geelani. While contemplating on embarking on a qualitatively different political thought, Sajad Lone has to improve his political behaviour and accept that Islamic movement has provided strength to Resistance movement.

To move ahead of generalisations and grapple with detail, both need to go together. The details are daunting, and can be ignored only at the peril of Kashmir.

Tailpiece: Once Jinnah and Gandhi were scheduled to meet at Bombay. For some reasons Gandhi could not make it to the meeting place. A journalist met Gandhi and asked about his future plans. Gandhi replied, “My inner light will guide me”. He later met Jinnah and sought his comment on Gandhi’s answer. “To hell with his inner light; will he ever behave like a practical politician”, pat came the reply.

Friday, December 26, 2008

"Kashmiris are Gods because only God can be Unpredictable"

Riyaz brings a reality check to the election process and finds Kashmiris are no closer to being masters of their destiny now than they were in the past

(Mr. Riyaz Masroor, 36, was born and raised in Srinagar. He is a Srinagar based journalist who writes in English, Urdu and kashmiri. Besides working in the local press, his articles have appeared on BBC Radio online, Himal Southasia and the Journal of International Federation of Journalists.)

Winners: India, Pakistan

How did New Delhi manage a ‘successful’ election in Kashmir? Efforts to answer this question have lead astray many a student of Kashmir conflict. Much of the newspaper space and transmission chunks in TV channels have been consumed to answer why the voters did not honor the boycott call from separatist forces? But we are yet to hear the answer to the question how New Delhi managed a ‘successful’ election in an unfavorable backdrop. The reason is simple. The question was never asked! This is a feeble attempt to point toward some possible answers, if not a perfect reply.

We the people

Amidst this loud ‘expert talk’, we had edicts served against our ‘social character’; we earned the funny epithets such as Soda Water and Ragda nation; the queues outside polling booths left most of us fuming, frustrated. However we tried to comfort ourselves by ascribing the failure to Hurriyat Conference leadership; we also tried to hide behind thin veneers of compulsion for Roti, Kapda, Makaan; we shouted at the top of our lungs that the voter was as good an advocate of Azadi as the one who pelted stones. A whole discourse was tossed up and we heard voices explaining the distinction between the movement for Azadi and the needs for local governance. But then some of us grew even more upset to know these elections had made Caliban out of a common Kashmiri – appearing in half-fish-half-human form, Caliban is one of the wildest and most abstracted of all Shakespeare’s characters in his famous play, The Tempest. We fought between ourselves over interpretations of our newly evolved ‘character’. Now we thought, “we are human”, now we thought, “NO”, “we are actually fish”. Over further examination, the observers were found lost, caught in shock and awe.

A journalist friend recently said he had a call from Karan Thapar, India’s Television celebrity, who had been anticipating humiliation to New Delhi in the elections considering a massive peaceful movement against the Indian presence in J&K. “Kashmiris are Gods because only God can be unpredictable,” Thapar had told him.

Poor Kashmiri! In 1947 he was pitted against the raiders and coerced to shout Humla Awar Hoshiyar, hum Kashmiri hai tayaar; in 1965 he was tortured for harboring the same Humla aawar and in 1989 that Humla aawar had turned his supporter but not without a cost: All Kashmiris began to be perceived as Humla aawars against India.
Then followed another phase of social engineering in which Kashmiris were segregated in ‘good’ and ‘bad’ columns. Kuka Parray represented the ‘good Kashmiri’ and Syed Salahuddin represented the ‘bad Kashmiri’. As the militancy waned a different phase followed with the nerve-wracking terrorist strike against US on September 11, 2001. The most clichéd 9/11 syndrome ensued in separatist politics here. In this phase ‘moderate’ replaced the ‘good’ and ‘hardliner’ replaced the ‘bad’ of yesteryears. At the turn of the millennium , the lines blurred between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, between ‘moderate’ and ‘hardliner’ and interestingly between the ‘pro-India’ and ‘anti-India’ camps. Indo-Pak tension eased and Kashmir question sneaked into pro-India camp, coloring its manifesto with lofty promise of Kashmir resolution. Espousers of India’s National Security Agenda were heard mourning over human rights violation with loudmouthed protests over the ‘exploitation of our natural resources by India and Pakistan’.

The Ragda-voting mix

According to ‘conflict scientists’ (We will soon hear this term) conflicts, especially with ethnic or religious background, are never resolved, they get transformed. We too have been undergoing various phases of ‘conflict transformation’. From November 17 to December 24, 2008, brisk polling, supposedly in favor of Indian rule in Kashmir, was witnessed close on the heels of a most vibrant yet non-violent revolt against Indian rule. Does the conflict transform so quickly? No.

Street campaigns in July-August 2008 were, actually, the manifestation of the uncured problem while as the voter-participation was culmination of the latest phase of a gradual conflict transformation that had taken root way back in 2001. We are surprised because Mirwaiz-Sajjad-Malik trio failed to discern the change, or refused to own it. Instead they competed with each other to replace Geelani.

When seen in the confined context of the recent Chalo movement, the voter-turnout in these elections would entail wrong conclusions of which the ones against the popular character sound painful and bespeak our ineptitude for understanding even our own situation. Why did we forget thousands of people attending funeral of a militant commander in Pulwama days after they had turned out for voting in throes.

External factors

The question how New Delhi managed a successful election is much more important than why Kashmiris voted on the sidelines of a resurrected separatist campaign with completely non-violent characteristics. And an accurate answer lies in the external dimension that comprises Pakistan and the Pakistan-backed militant groups. Militants remained conspicuously indifferent to the polling process in Kashmir. Compared to an estimated 850 killings including 75 political workers during the elections in 2002 the exercise in 2008 witnessed almost zero-reaction from militants with no political killings though the number of candidates in these elections was almost threefold.
Going by New Delhi’s assertions that Pakistan had been sponsoring militancy in Kashmir, the militant indifference toward polls appears more of an Indo-Pak deal and less of a coincidence. After all why was Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh cocksure that the situation for holding elections was conducive even as the row over the shrine land and the subsequent freedom movement was far from being over.

If anything, the Indo-Pak peace process that started on January 6, 2004 with Vajpayee-Musharraf pact has transformed the pro-India politics in Kashmir. The pact triggered a massive process that was aimed at facilitating the consolidation of ‘unipolar’ politics in Kashmir. The former home minister of India and a devout Indian, Mufti Muhammad Syed emerged as the stronger voice of nationalism. Pakistan opened up its political space for both National Conference and Mufti’s PDP. Omar Abdullah visited Pakistan twice, broke bread with Musharraf. Mahbooba Mufti too crossed the line; she enjoyed the state protocol in the form of a joint press conference with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. During Musharraf regime even second and middle-rung politicians including Abdul Rahim Rather, Moulana Iftikhar Ansari, Nizamudin Bhat, M Y Tarigami and a whole lot of ‘peace activists’ from India visited Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore. Mufti was so much emboldened by the Pakistani gesture that he erected the posters of Parvez Musharraf alongside Manmohan Singh in Srinagar.

All this was happening at a time when the American war in Afghanistan was going awry, and Pakistan was getting entangled with its own set of ‘cross-border’ incursions via Kabul. Militancy in Kashmir was increasingly getting ‘orphaned’ as Musharraf chose to close tap on the ‘bleed India’ policy of Bhutto’s making. Combined together, these developments created a latent mindset amongst the population. This mindset was further strengthened, or laid bare, by the top militant leader Syed Salahuddin’s surprising assertion in which he had almost approved the process of voting.

The campaign for the polls had begun well before the fall of 2008 and the politicians including Omar Abdullah and Mahbooba Mufti tried hard to sell their ‘made-in-Pakistan’ image in public rallies while referring to Salahuddin’s statement.

Had the terrorists not staged carnage in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, soon after two phases of polls in J&K, observers would have been busy envisaging India’s response to Pakistan’s ‘greatest CBM’ in the form of its tacit facilitation of the election process in the state. Now that the Mumbai tragedy has created hostility this CBM, which was presumably finalized between the national security advisors of both countries just before the elections were announced, is being responded with war talk.

Whatever the verdict, moot point in Kashmir context is the elections have concluded ‘successfully’, the people were just a trapped herd. And, this success has two fathers: India and Pakistan. No more malice against the people, for God’s sake!

Pointing Fingers the Wrong Way

An Editorial in the Greater Kashmir laments about the vanishing beauty of Srinagar, but conveniently forgets its own role in nurturing misplaced priorities within Kashmir's Civil Society

Venice of Asia

During the campaigning for the recent elections, the leaders of different mainstream parties have been virtually promising moon to the common people of Kashmir. Starting from improvement in infrastructure consisting of roads, power, water-supply, schools, colleges, to the most sought after jobs. People have voted for development and development of virtually utopian standards has been promised by various leaders.

However, no one has pointed out that the very same people who have been ruling Kashmir in one or the other combination for last 60 years have failed to deliver what they are promising now. One of the leaders has promised that he will make Srinagar the Venice of Asia. In almost all travelogues of the past few centuries Kashmir has been described as the “Venice of the East”. Till early fifties it had continued to be like the famous Italian city with a network of canals and waterways. The foreigners who visited Kashmir in forties also spoke about the beauty of Srinagar and praised its water channels which criss-crossed the city.

However, it needs to be pointed out that the Venetian quality of Srinagar was destroyed by none other than the predecessors of these very leaders who are now talking about making it the Venice of Asia. The single act of filling up the famous waterway in the heart of Srinagar not only removed the Venetian quality of Srinagar but strangulated and choked the main attraction of the city, the Dal Lake. The capital city of Kashmir which was once called the Eden of the East and Switzerland of Asia has become probably the dirtiest city in the world.

Apart from the loss of the living heritage, the city has become a large garbage dump. There is absolutely no control over anything that can be termed civic in this once famous city which is almost 2,000 years old. The Srinagar Master Plan has been given a go by. None of the fundamentals of planning are observed in any part of the city. Huge Shopping Complexes have come up in the heart of residential areas. In some of the posh colonies almost every house owner has constructed shops on the boundary walls of his house to earn some money irrespective of the fact whether it is permitted or not. Most of the shopping complexes are without parking spaces for the potential clients.

There must be almost a million vehicles moving on the roads which have hardly been expanded and supplemented. Traffic is in a mess. Roads are full of pot holes with drains being dug over every month or so. Sometimes these dug out drains continue like that for months and even years. Municipality is unable to cope with the tonnes of garbage produced in the city every day because of their obsolete and archaic methods of disposal. Power lines in the city are so fragile and jumbled up that the electricity is to be switched off with every storm hitting the city. In fact, during a heavy snowfall the lines are out for days on end. We have not been able to make any modern improvement in power distribution system and have probably by all standards a “heritage system” of power distribution! There are umpteen other ills ailing the city of Srinagar.

All the city dwellers will welcome any initiative by any of the politicians regardless of their ideology to put the city of Srinagar back on rails as it used to be in the past. Making it again the Venice of Asia may be a tall order but if we are only able to bring it out of the present chaos and clean it up, we would have achieved a cherished goal of its harassed and belaboured inhabitants. Let us not think of Venice and keep its ancient name of the “City of the Sun” but let us make it deserve even that name honestly and truly!

Creating Prosperity While Beating Drums of Anarchy

Ashraf has some good advice for Kashmir's political leadership. But by ignoring the role of the civil society in shaping Kashmir's prosperity, he is missing the big picture

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 65, was born and raised in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. High School and the S.P College before joining the Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Civil Engineering. However, he changed his career to adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing, completing his training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and Gulmarg. He also completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Française in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.)

After Elections, What?

The recent elections held in the State threw up many surprises. Firstly, against all calculations and assessments, there was appreciable voluntary participation by the people. The call for boycott had very few takers. No doubt the Hurriyat and other leaders who had given the call for boycott were detained, placed under house arrest, and physically prevented from canvassing for the boycott through countless declared and undeclared curfews, yet the turn out of voters demonstrated that the people had made their own decisions in regard to participation in these elections. They had a very strange argument. The elections were for good governance and “Azadi” was a separate issue. They wanted both, good governance and “Azadi”.

Several theories are being advanced for this npredictable behaviour of Kashmiris. The behaviour has been classified as two extremes, a revolution seeking salvation on one hand to a mass suicide on the other! Some say Kashmiris have always been unreliable, cheats, liars, selfish, timid, cowardly, and so on. Many foreign authors, explorers, and travellers are quoted for these unhealthy attributes of a Kashmiri. Moorcroft, Sir Walter Lawrence, Tyndale Biscoe, and others are supposed to have pointed out this behaviour in the writings about Kashmir. However, these writings have been quoted out of context. No one has pointed out that these authors have also stated that this behaviour of Kashmiris is because of their urge for survival drilled into their psyche after centuries of external subjugation. People have been pinning for “Azadi” for centuries, and “Azadi” for a common Kashmiri means complete and total emancipation. Even the present struggle is more than half a century old! The failure of the boycott leaders can be attributed to their inability to convince people about the blueprint for “Azadi” projected by them. In fact, they have neither a clear definition of “Azadi” nor a blue print to achieve it.

Everything is abstract and vague. Kashmir’s greatest misfortune has been the vague and wavering leadership. One cannot preach “Azadi” sitting in posh bungalows, riding luxury four wheel drive vehicles, and enjoying all the goodies of life to a people facing all the hardships of day to day living. It is true everywhere. The Mumbai attacks can be taken as a parallel. As long as the common people in India faced various terrorist attacks, the intellectuals, the elite, the media controlled by the elite did not bother too much. It was only when the elite itself received a direct hit that all hell broke out for the top intellectuals, policy makers, and the media stalwarts (controlled by the elite). But the common man continued to remain more or less unaffected. In fact, they may be drawing sadistic pleasure from the discomfiture of the upper classes. Right from 1931, Kashmir’s leadership has ditched the common masses at the most crucial periods in their struggle for total emancipation. No one has really bothered to give a practical and a realistic goal of “Azadi”.

Mainstream, downstream, upstream, and the separatist or any other type of leadership has always kept its own short term goals in view. They have never tried to ascertain the true aspirations and needs of the people. They have mostly advanced their own aspirations. Recently greater Kashmir carried a story about the day to day living of some of the leaders of the popular movement for “Azadi” who have been confined to their homes for last few months. Any common Kashmiri would envy their life style in the present difficult conditions. No doubt there are dozens of other freedom lovers incarcerated in various prisons throughout India but as the proverb goes, out of sight is out of mind! The visible leaders do not seem to impress the common masses with their route maps to “Azadi”. Moreover, the ego clashes coming into open must also be a discouraging factor. If the leadership cannot forge unity among themselves on such an important issue how can they lead others? Kashmir must be the only place in history where more than 30 different parties and organisations are trying to lead people to one and the same goal.

Normally all such freedom movements in history have had a single leader and a single party to guide and lead it to the final goal. It is only after the goal is attained that political parties mushroom to take over the governance. Here, we have a political struggle for leadership going on even before reaching the goal! This must have made “Azadi” look like a very distant goal for the common people. So much for the “Freedom” camp. As regards the “loyalists” and the “developers”, they have been in the business of “development” for over half a century. Instead of projecting peoples’ aspirations, they have been looking after their own aspirations. They have always had a one point programme. How to make hay while the sun shines? In the process of developing people, they have fully developed themselves. There has been no limit to the funds for development made available by the Central Government. So far over a couple of hundred thousand crores must have been pumped into Kashmir.

This does not include the funds pumped in by various agencies on both sides of the divide. If all this money had truly gone into development and for the upliftment of the poor, Kashmir should have by now been the best welfare state in the whole sub-continent. It would have truly become the Switzerland of Asia or the Eden of the East! A Kashmiri has been continuously facing a dilemma. He has been trying to get the both, the good governance and the illusive “Azadi” and in the process he has got neither! His recent behaviour regarding both the massive upsurge for “Azadi” and the unprecedented turn out for voting is simply a revolt against the entire leadership whether for ultimate freedom or for development. This has confused all.

The political pundits and the forecasters, the pro-freedom sympathisers and the mainstream advocates. Let us forget all confusing situations and insoluble puzzles. There has been an election and a government would soon be in the saddle but the question is what will happen then? Will the government which takes over the reins of power be able to deliver the good governance the people have voted for? Will they be able to fulfil the promises they have made to the people? They have been promising more than the moon! The infrastructure, the employment, and above all the cessation of harassment and humiliation. Keeping in view the past experience it is not difficult to hazard a guess. The broth will not be any different when the cooks are unchanged! We may give them new names, new clothes, and even new implements but they will do the same cooking they have been doing for decades unless they get a new innovative Chef who means business. If this does not happen, the people who had been coming forward in hordes upon hordes to cast their votes will again get disillusioned and the leaders propagating “Azadi” will try to be back in business.

However, this time they may have stiff competitors. The youth brought up by the conflict of last two decades will challenge them. They are capable of even leading the traditional leaders as was demonstrated during the last upsurge. They are tough, hardened, dedicated, and unrelenting. If they go into the mode of “Azadi”, it will be a difficult situation for all. For peace to prevail something dramatic must visibly happen and that too very soon. Otherwise we may be in for a “hot” summer next year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Political Dichotomy: Mature Public Led by Immature Leadership

Shafi addresses intricacies of the Kashmir elections while questioning the maturity and wisdom of so-called leaders who have closed their eyes and ears to events taking place in their neighborhood and beyond

(Mr. Shafi A Athar, 54, was born in Khrew and completed his high school education at the Government High School in Khrew. He graduated from the Sri Pratap College Srinagar, and received a Post Graduate Diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). He was formerly the editor of the Urdu News Magazine, "Takbeer", and a columnist for the Greater Kashmir. He currently writes for the Rising Kashmir daily newspaper. He enjoys developing scripts for radio and TV programs.)

We, the People - Who first cry for azadi and then rush to vote

The polling has been done in most parts of the state and the complete turn around by the electorate should serve as an eye opener. The same people who thronged the streets in hundreds of thousands and were instrumental to take out separatist leaders from their hibernation cells braved the inclement weather to exercise their franchise. Be it Amar Nath shrine controversy or the LoC march, people forced the napping leadership to lead them their way. But same people have not given them a heed in respect of a proposed boycott of the elections to show the world, in their own words, that Kashmir is a vibrant dispute and needed an immediate solution.

The turnout in the elections threw a surprise to the mainstream politicians and a chance to separatists to go for introspection. Introspection on the issue whether Kashmiris are unpredictable and need not be believed for their outbursts here and there. They may throw their lot behind one group on one day and the other on other day. But what is more intriguing is the way they don't understand the essence of such issues or the repercussions attached to such things.

The million dollar question is whether leadership that asked its people to boycott elections has not understood the psyche of its own people. And whether they are the people about whom former Prime Minister G M Bakshi was candid enough to say that they rally behind every leader or more conveniently support the powerful. Abdullah, Bakshi, National Conference, MUF, Militant, Ikhwani, Coordination Committee and now the Government of India, all have got support when they wielded power. Or the issues that are correlated may not be glued to each other in any way and the leadership itself has committed a mistake by keeping the issues on one side of the table. State run television Doordarshan (DD) , whose news division spends all its energies to give a brighter picture of all decisions government takes, has repeatedly tried to expose separatists. This time around DD is in a better position to ask us "Zara Socheiey To"(Let us think over).

Kashmir, as a dispute, has been accepted number of times both by India, Pakistan, UN and the various other international fora. Then how could an election undermine its authenticity. There are number of communications between governments in India and Pakistan when the elections have been confirmed as a means of local administration and not the step towards resolution of Kashmir imbroglio. Elections in the past have not resolved the issue till date and neither undermined its importance. Barring, of course, the political outbursts by some Indian leaders or the Coffee House intellectuals that Kahmiris have thrown their lot with India, as shown by their participation in the elections from time to time, there aren’t many who believe that participation in elections undermines the importance of Kashmir problem for Kashmiri people. Additionally, political minnows like Peerzada Sayeed have repeatedly asked Hurriyat to prove its representative character by participating in the elections.

Out of this exercise two important questions arise. One, whether people are fed up with the separatist leadership who have in the common opinion failed to evolve a workable approach to the issue. (They don't want to follow their programmes like Hartals and the like, for which they have constantly come under severe criticism.) Two, whether people have reconciled with the futility of pursuing the issue which seems making no headway.

If India is ignoring the separatist leadership on the one hand, Pakistani leadership has made the dent in the shrapnel. The man who made to the top slot by chance, first asked the Kashmir issue be sidelined for the time being and then threw a bomb shell to declare 'freedom fighters' in Kashmir as terrorists. With such outbursts by the Pakistan President the light at the end of the tunnel in the form of Pakistan support dwindled.

Kashmiris, I believe, can't be brushed aside as naïve who don't understand the intricacies of their own problem. They take cognizance of Indian strength and Pakistan's weaknesses. They have understood that India can't be made to vacate through force of the gun and weak Pakistan President's remarks have made them even weaker in their resolve. Pakistan itself is on a sticky wicket with world pressure mounting, post Mumbai terror strike. The world opinion is all rallied behind and international pressure is gaining strength in favour of India.

Kashmiris have voted in large numbers and only Srinagar city is yet to vote. Srinagar is expected to support separatist call for poll boycott and Lal Chowk Chalo. In such circumstances will it be presumed that separatists have a say in Srinagar city alone, or Srinagarites ignore appeals for development in support to call for resolution of Kashmir issue. Separatists shall have to devise a strategy to continue calling the shots on the resolution of Kashmir issue whatever the outcome of the Kashmir elections. They have to differentiate between an election for local administration and a mandate for permanent resolution of Kashmir issue.

An analysis needs to be done. Tomorrow when time comes Kashmiris will again forget the people sitting as MLAs and come out in hundreds of thousands to demonstrate their resolve for a permanent solution to the Kashmir issue but then again separatist leadership shall have to think whether elections and Kashmir issue can be glued together. And more importantly whether Dhamal to the tune of Ragda Ragda Hindustan and Hartals can win freedom.

Where There is Easy Money, There is Easy Exploitation

Musavirr describes challenges in a state with the highest private schooling per capita, and yet very few students from the valley have been selected for IIT, IIM admissions

(Mr. Musavirr Wani, 27, was born in Srinagar and attened the Burn Hall School. He graduated from the Meerut University and joined the Kashmir Times as a reporter. Loves driving his car and surfing internet to seek out workshops and fellowships so that he can travel and present the true picture of Kashmir.)

Tuition centres flourish in Valley with no accountability

Srinagar: With schools closed for winter vacations, private tuition centres have already taken over. Students can be seen flocking to these centres and parents too are eager to send their wards to these centres atleast for the long winter break.

Earlier, students who were weak in their studies used to go to these centres but now it has become "mandatory" for every parent to see that their children get enrolled in any of these centres. A "status mark" or a "necessity", these centres are functioning almost in every nook and corner of the valley and parents feel "privileged" to enroll their wards there.

Though it signifies that parents have to spend additional bucks on the studies of their children but it appears that they do not mind much or they think that they have no other alternative but to oblige. Already they have to "oblige" school authorities in number of ways and have to bear the educational expenses of their children in one or other form that includes tuition fee, library fee, and likewise.

Despite various efforts to introduce common fee structure in these tuition centres nothing desirable has so far come on the forefront. "Situation in this regard is becoming worse day by day. There has been mushrooming growth of tuitions centres in the valley and the same is speeding up. No one is there to maintain a check over it and the civil society as a whole too is silent over the issue. This has, however, become another way of minting money. Parents are gladly sending their wards to these centres and spending huge amount on such an exercise," commented Farooq Ahmad, a local resident.

He was of the opinion that a mechanism should be devised wherein efforts should be made to see that students cover each and every aspect of their syllabi in schools andÿ those students who are educationally weak and are in genuine need should seek the assistance of these centres.

Undoubtedly, some parents consider it necessary to send their wards to these centres whereas others do it simply because they want to follow what others are doing. "It is not always the tuition that may help the students, simple guidance at home can do but the general feeling here is that a child should be enrolled in these centres so that he/she can make best use of the time available. Even young children are enrolled in these centres and they can be seen attending them early in the morning and that too in such a chilly weather," said Muneer Ahmad, another local.

Compared to the tuition fee in these centres the facilities offered in these centres are not so appreciable. "It is just the same traditional method of teaching (chalk and talk) that is adopted at these places. No innovative ways are introduced that could be pleaded for their justification. It is just a social menace and needs to be tackled at the earliest," believed Mehnaz, a local. She too considers these centres more as a source of amassing wealth and less in the interest of the students.

Leave aside banners on the roadsides and advertisement in newspapers, there is an advertisement of these coaching centers after every five seconds on almost all local channels.

While talking to The Kashmir Times, Sajad Ahmed a lecturer by profession said, "The mushrooming growth of these institutions has simply degraded the value of education. students do not pay interest in schools and remain totally dependent on these centers. The number of students per class is 100 times more than a classroom in school or college. This is the best way to earn money without any efforts".

Monday, December 22, 2008

Saving the Wullar

Iftikar pleads a case for saving the Wullar Lake which has shrunk from 20,000 hectares to just 2400 hectares in less than 60 years

(Mr. Iftikar Rashid Wani, 29, was born in Bandipora and received his primary and undergraduate education in the Bandipora district. He completed his M.Sc. degree in Environmental Studies from Guru Ghasidas University in Chhattisgarh, and subsequently received M.Ed. degree from the University of Kashmir. He has also completed a one year Diploma from the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCUPL). He is a teacher in the Department of Education, in Bandipora and has participated in a number of science related conferences and has organized a number of sports activities, quizzes, debates and seminars till date. His hobbies are reading, writing and playing chess. Mr. Wani is a regular Contributor to Greater Kashmir, Rising Kashmir to highlight Environmental related problems.)

Wular is Calling!

While traveling through the towering mountains of the beautiful valley of Gurez, during his migration to other part of Kashmir, one local poet Ali Muhammad Bulbul wrote a famous couplet about Wular, comparing this fresh water body with that of the Nile of Egypt. Perhaps he was right because the year was 1947. The crystal clear waters of Kashmir were enough to impress the great poets and instigate their poetic instincts.

There was a time when famous lake of Asia –Wular- was so beautiful that every one would find himself bewitched by its beauty. One was stunned to see its beauty and remained motionless while casting a panoptic view on the entire stretch of lake. Its charming and serene environs were enough to motivate an individual to enjoy his leisure in the lap of Wular. Zainalank added to its attraction not only for local tourists but was the main source of attraction for foreigners also. Indeed Zainalank after the name of Zainul Abidin (locally known as Badshah) and the Wular are complimentary to each other.

The Wular is closely linked with the economic and social changes that take place in the valley. What is happing to this lake in the present times is a story of absolute gloom. Twentieth century turned out to be the killer century for Wular. The process of death and decay still continues. Once adding to the beauty of our valley, this aquatic body is fast disappearing, thanks to our own criminal negligence.

While casting a look at this water-body now, one hardly believes in what has been recorded about this lake. Instead of a huge, awe-inspiring and majestic beauty, there are some paddy fields, some nursery plots occupied by the Forest Department besides some playfields, moors and other such things here and there. Where is the lake! Wular!

Every conscious member of the society is crying for help, his heart bleeding; but no body cares. Although the impending dangers to the very existence of Wular have forced the State government to wake up in order to save whatever is left, and restore Wular from its present state of decay. Fearing possible extinction of Lake, the State government decided to constitute Wular and Mansbal Developing Authority. Crores have been allotted to revitalize the freshness of Wular and also to regain the natural beauty and grandeur of these lakes, but this effort from Government has suffered due to the prevailing conditions on the one hand, and by the callous attitude of those who are at the helm of affairs, on the other. The illegal and indiscrete encroachments, increased agricultural activities, wild growth of weeds, land reclamation, massive construction in and around the lake continue besides unmanaged layers of silt from Madhumati and Arin Nallas of Bandipora, together with the deteriorated water quality due to the polluted and contaminated inflow in to the Wular, is playing havoc with this famous Lake. However, the single largest contributing factor remains the decomposition of effluents from Municipal Authorities, irregular sanitation system and diversion of drainage system in to the lake. The result is not unexpected and in less than 60 years of time the Lake has shrunk from 20,000 hectares to just 2400 hectares only.

We have mutilated Nature, butchered it; and the consequences are in front of us all. In a recent report the production of Nadroo has drastically dwindled, thereby, effecting more than 30,000 people economically. Decrease in the production of fish and Singaras during the present season are glaring examples of the economic disaster caused due to environmental breakdown in the Lake

No matter we have a huge number of research projects undertaken and degrees awarded, suggesting the ways and means to restore the pristine glory of the Lake, Wular of yesteryears remains a distinct dream till date. During the recently concluded J&K Science Congress, one of the so-called Research Scholar from made some real ‘funny’ remarks. According to him Wular Lake abounds in clear waters, fabulous surroundings devoid of pollution. Such fascinating but misleading facts shall lead us no where. Isn’t it time for the scientists and policy makers to stop disseminating wrong information about Wular! They should rather underline the real picture of this lake. A picture that makes one yell with pain.

After all that has happened to this lake, let’s stick to the belief that it is not the end of story for Wular. It can be recovered into a healthy water body; but for that we should have will power.

Our concern for the Wular should transform into our topmost priority. If the paucity of funds is a problem, let the Government appeal to international bodies and seek help from them. In fact to some of my previous articles about Wular, published in local dailies, I received a number of mails from the Non Resident Kashmiris to help any body who is serious enough to work for the restoration of the lake. On the Governmental level serious steps need to be taken in this direction. The relocation of the villages like Zoorimanz, Kulhama and Zalwan on the one hand and stopping the inflow of sewage from the Bandipora, Spore and other areas can certainly help Wular to restore its freshness. Let’s take a pledge to work for the safety of Wular in every way. Teachers and students have a great role to play. We the people of Kashmir in general and residents of Bandipora, Sopore and Baramulla in particular have to reiterate the pledge for the conservation of Wular Lake and to make the beauty of it a reality again, otherwise future generations will know about Asia’s largest Lake from the history books only. We have a choice; either to continue with the current approach that will only ensure the annihilation of this water body or choose the path to undo the damage inflicted on Wular Lake. It is the need of the hour to strengthen the will and develop a new society that is conscious regarding the importance of lakes otherwise whole nation of Kashmir may have to hang its head in shame and guilt before the Creator of this lake, and the generation who had a share in this creation.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Life in the City

Monisa has some sobering thoughts on hassles of the city life in a State coping with violence and anarchy

(Ms. Monisa Qadri, 23, was born and raised in Srinagar. She has been a Mallinson Girl and studied bio-chemistry at the Women's College, Srinagar. She has studied mass communications and journalism from Kashmir University, and works in the Corporate Communications and Public Relations Department of the J&K Bank. She writes as a freelancer.)

PARADISE LOST

I just heard about a baby, who could not live for long. Not only because the Creator sent him with fewer breaths, but we gave him lesser glimpses of life. She was in need of something manmade - a ventilator. And since this part of the world is deprived of things; she was deprived of life. Our hospitals have few, but all occupied. Only the ‘lucky blessed souls’ get a chance to breathe. She could not. Perhaps, she was luckier to fly away from here into the heavens, when angels soothe and caress her with the purest of love and warmth.

We may reach anywhere, but a small reality somewhere, somehow makes us realize who and what we basically are - Kashmiris. Survival becomes so difficult despite being alive, when you only exist as another piece of non-living entity, deprived of life. Living may be a pipedream, but perishing is not. Our life so cheap that we simply have to encounter petty options to die? Die and go on dying. It appears that we have mastered the art of finding unique ways and means of helping this world get rid of us. We will never have a bigger reason to live, to contribute and to mark our presence on this stage of life?

After all, born on the streets, on the ‘Curfewed nights’ and days, deprived of the genuine water to quench our thirst for sustenance, we are. All our lives we try and struggle to walk on the decayed streets and roads, leading to nowhere. Each grain of rice has us begging outside the doors. Each drop of oil sees our lamps die a thousand times before it moistens its wink. Our life continues. We exist, we go on existing.

The darkness of the preparation nights engulfs even the brightest of the minds, who even lose the spark of their eyes and minds to the struggle with the bulb to see it lit sometime, someday by some divine blessing. And still our poor souls shall travel together, not towards eternity but to some worldly destination, in a sick container moving on some holy wheels. It goes on getting filled until we choke, until our spirits suffocate. We ride rather we are taken for a ride, for which we even pay. Do we deserve it all? Or do we think we deserve it all?

Every day we have to prove to some stranger who we are. Our identity has to be identified. It seems, perhaps, we don’t even know it ourselves. Had it been, we wouldn’t be carrying a tag on our foreheads on this soil, where we were born and we wouldn’t be ‘labeled’ outside, where we were not. We continue to instill enthusiasm into our work, but there is no one there, in front of us, hiring the hands and minds, offering a single opportunity. There is nothing like an ‘Opportunity’, it is only a mirage for our degrees. The youth, who have been thinking of, ‘Miles to go before I sleep’, are thrown into the dungeon of despair and depression forever, until they find a way to die.

We can’t breathe in the air, which flows from the windows of the heaven into our lands, over the face of Dal and Lidder. We can’t eat the fruits on the branches of the trees, which bow down to us, offering their bloom with the greatest affection. I presume, the fruits are not; the life is forbidden. We can’t drink in the streams, coming from the lap of the sky, flowing down the shoulders of the mighty mountains and into the heart of the earth. We cannot. We cannot. We simply cannot.

But we will of course do something. We will die! Die, in the shadow of books which taught us the letters but not the livelihood, in the hands of our ‘saviours’; of the trauma that we faced after someone close was buried in some unidentified grave somewhere, for one stone, under the burden of our own dreams and hopes.

Politics by Deception

Firdous says that public participation in the State elections negates the politics of Hurriyat

(Mr. Firdous Syed, 42, was born in Bhaderwah, Doda, and had his schooling in Jammu. He is currently the Chairman of the "Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Development Studies," and associated with the J&K National Conference. Between 1989 and 1991, he led the Moslem Janbaaz Force, a militant group, and was jailed from 1991 through 1994. In 1996, he publicly renounced the gun culture, and has since joined mainstream politics and is an active member of the Kashmir civil society.)

Sheer deception: Are they running with the hare and hunting with the hound?

It is always difficult to confess error of judgment. But it is better to confess, than to lose credibility with readers for the good. To predict outcome/conduct of an election is usually a tough and complex job. It takes expertise, spread over several years for the qualified people whom we all know as psephologists to foresee the shape of things to come. Even then as witnessed lately, these well-trained professionals are by and large found to be off the mark. In case of Kashmir, a highly unstable and unpredictable place, to make predictions is full of professional hazards. Here to forecast people’s behavior, is equivalent to dig one’s own grave of credibility. Anyhow, one learns from own mistakes.

On 22nd of August, people from all corners of Kashmir converged at Eid-gah Srinagar. Looking at the show of a million strong rally, vociferously chanting Azadi slogans, who could have anticipated, apparently determined Ragra crying crowd would come out in droves to vote, hardly after two months. Not only people waited in serpentine queues for hours, but also endured biting cold, to cast their vote. Contrary to conventional wisdom, still feeling the heat of August, though two months later, in 25th of October column, I stick my neck out—“Whether election will be as bad as 89, or as marginally better in 96 is any body’s guess but it is foregone conclusion that they will not be as good as held in 2002.” But turnout in 2008, to everybody’s utter surprise has surpassed the participation of 2002 elections.

Is it not perplexing? Just weeks apart not months and years Kashmiri made a spectacle, of two divergently opposite and extreme emotions. In August entire Kashmir was seething with anger; defying curfews, braving bullets. Dozens died and thousands are still nursing their injuries, few lost limbs and some, vital organs. And thousands bid tearful adieu to young martyrs. Important business, mundane chores; every thing came to standstill. Task of day-to-day life got suspended in pursuit of higher goal. How come the same flock, now standing in never ending lines, justified their vote, for water, electricity, roads and good employment avenues? What is factual and to be believed? Raw passions or cold calculations!

Is this massive participation, vote for Indian democracy? Yes, if one believes thesis Mr. Soz puts forward—“Such a high percentage of polling and overwhelming response by the people especially in Kashmir, rejecting negative politics and poll boycott calls from certain quarters, indicates that people of J&K voted for Indian democracy.” No doubt Kashmiri [unconsciously] voting en masse will strengthen Indian hold on Kashmir, but to call the high percentage of voter turn out, an affirmation of Indian democracy, is simply hyperbole and self-appeasing idea. Did any body vote say, he voted for Indian democracy and thus rejected the idea of Azadi. Right from the go, except some sycophants, everybody contesting the elections took pains to elaborate; this is not the vote for rejection or resolution. Voting was meant for electing a government for governance alone.

Prof Soz is not alone to credit Indian democracy for such a dramatic turn of events. For that matter, New Delhi all along has held a belief; elections will ultimately help to ease out conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. But history invalidates this idea. New Delhi has repeatedly tried, and has always failed. This is not the first election; Jammu and Kashmir has been made to undergo such exercises for umpteenth times. Since the eruption of militancy in 1989, this is the third straight Assembly Election; other two were held in 1996 and 2002. From New Delhi’s point-of-view elections in 2002 were thought to be fair and most participatory, yet these elections too failed to resolve the complex problem of Kashmir. Democracy without elections is unconceivable. And perhaps not many can dare to undermine the virtues of democracy as being the only viable and available governing system in 21st century. However, a pertinent question here is: what comes first – elections (i.e. democracy) or conflict resolution?

Contrary to all calculations and projections, it is fact that people voted in huge number this time. After the Amarnath land row, an unprecedented mass mobilization gripped entire Kashmir. Political commentators of all hues and colors were in great rush to call it upsurge or popular uprising. More enthusiasts (including this writer) concluded that this is the revival of mass movement of 89--- even birth of peaceful resistance.

July/August agitation is (more or less) just hundred days old, soil over martyrs grave is yet loose and smells fresh. Wounds have not turned scars, newly picked injuries still ooze blood. Tombstones are not erected and poet still struggle with words to pen down suitable obituaries. Perhaps, people’s mobilization had a potential to become a movement, why that strong undercurrent of people’s emotions was allowed to die down, prematurely. Who is responsible for the miscarriage and on whose hands we search the blood of the fallen. Who collaborated with the tyranny, unwittingly and wittingly also?

No doubt, all-powerful and pervasive state machinery was on full grind. It muzzled freedom of expression and did not allow mobilization of masses. Government of the day suppressed with very heavy hands any dissenting voice. Rumor mill was working overtime, busy in spreading canards and creating divisions within the ranks of Hurrayat. State with massive resources at its back and call was able to outwit the separatist fold. But this should not be surprise for any body. This is what a powerful state apparatus does to quell people’s movement. They did what they were suppose to do, and did their job well.

If any body failed to live up to the expectations, it was the Hurriyat leadership. Separatists true to their old habits faltered miserably this time again. It not only lacked sense of purpose and commitment, but innovative ideas also. The fresh addition to milieu of overcrowded organizations, Coordination committee has become butt of jokes. Other than here Chalo to there Chalo, it could not offer any substantial or meaningful program of action. Fifty plus paper tiger organizations of Hurriyat amalgam cannot match the block level organizational capacity of a new party like PDP. People necessarily does not heed to the call merely through press notes, it needs active canvassing on the ground also. Particularly when the credibility of the leadership is at the lowest ebb and opponents are firing on all the cylinders to carry the day.

Besides the lackadaisical approach, it seems that the boycott call was a fixed match in favor of the government. The manner, in which Huriryat dealt with the entire boycott campaign, clearly indicates that an influential section of Huriryat was hand in glove with New Delhi. If not actively collaborating personally, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s uninspiring leadership provided ample indications that he is clearly in a double mind. Is this the case of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds? Furthermore battered nation could have expected a spirited and all encompassing leadership from veteran Syed Ali Geelani, but he has proved an absolute disappointment. He is ever busy with petty squabbles. He resembles a bad master busy fighting with his tools.

In the column mentioned above, I had written, “if more than 50% of the electorate cast their vote (willfully) in a constituency, people for boycott should genuinely accept it as negation of their kind of politics.” People have voted it is time to accept defeat gracefully. Huriryat leadership needs to pack-up and go home. Only grace in defeat is that people have rejected the leadership and politicking in the name of Azadi but not Azadi sentiment.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Price of Obsession

An editorial in the Rising Kashmir highlights a continuing problem in Kashmir where an overdozed civil society is unable to wean away from politics to address remaining 90% of daily issues confronting the society

Under-Mining

Over-obsessed with politics Kashmir continues to be oblivious of the natural wealth that the valley is endowed with, thereby missing remorseful politics

Kashmir has always been full of politics and Kashmiri stand besieged by the political talk. Some of this talk may be fabulous but mostly it’s fatuity that we engage ourselves with. The immediate adverse fall out of this over obsession with politics has been the neglect of other important areas of collective interest. Our politicians, both Unionist and Resistance, never take their minds off the crude political talk and think of what could be a major issue for the people of Kashmir to rally around. It’s the resources of Kashmir.

Although in the recent times, the talk of resources and economy surfaced up and much politics was done around that issue, but there is still a general apathy towards talking meaningfully about the resources of Kashmir. The recent talk, in a way, was all motivated and driven by politics; for example the Kundal Committee report on how the green gold was plundered in Kashmir or how the water resources of Kashmir are being exploited by various agencies in India to benefit the people living in other states ignoring the Kashmiris, the owners of the wealth.

Rising Kashmir Business Desk has carried a report about how the gypsum reserves remain extremely underutilized in Kashmir. According to the news story there are more than 100 million tones of gypsum reserves in the valley, and from such huge quantity only a miniscule amount of 24, 000 metric tones have been extracted from different mines during the fiscal year of 2007-08.

Misfortune has struck valley in the way that our political and social activism is so narrowly focused on certain hackneyed slogans that all else escapes our sight. The unexplained reluctance on part of our political leadership, social activists, and an upcoming brigade of opinion makers is allowing the unscrupulous elements to lay their hands at our recourses. We only come to know about it when somebody else plundered it. This attitude needs to be changed.

The poverty and the overall suffocation at social level can be fought if we stretch the band of our concerns. It will not only yield economic dividends but will alter the socio-political landscape of our valley. An alert political leadership and a watchful society can engage with this concern in ways that can make the collective struggle of Kashmiri full of content; it will also make it look real. Instead of imagined aspirations a concrete aim can be discovered for this people to strive collectively. The way people have behaved during these elections and the manner in which they have dropped a particular message, makes it all the more necessary that the real life issues are discovered, understood and meaningfully engaged with. Attending the map of resources in Kashmir is one way of making the discourse on Kashmir look more real and connected to life

Dealing With Kashmiri (Literary?) Snobs

Riyaz has some advice for pseudo-snobs who are jealous of a budding author

(Mr. Riyaz Masroor, 36, was born and raised in Srinagar. He is a Srinagar based journalist who writes in English, Urdu and kashmiri. Besides working in the local press, his articles have appeared on BBC Radio online, Himal Southasia and the Journal of International Federation of Journalists.)

For those upset over Curfewed Night

“The facts,” says the famous Twentieth century British Historian Edward Hallett Carr in What is History (Macmillan 1961), “are available to the historian in documents, inscriptions and so on, like fishmonger’s slab.” The historian, according to Carr, collects them, takes them home and cooks and serves them in whatever style appeals to him.

Steering clear of fact-cooking, Basharat Peer in his debut work, Curfewed Night (Random House India), has wanted facts served plain and caused nausea to some of our ‘writers’ who are almost always for a culinary treatment to the facts.

They tend to subject Peer’s work to the canons of literary merit. It would be as clumsy as comparing a precocious child’s rant with a stoic Sufi’s forecast. It’s silly, also, to expect the ‘revolutionary stimulant’ such as Ye Kis Ka Laho ye Koun Mara of 1990s at a time when people have displayed the art of diplomacy (look at their balancing act during elections), and at a time when the army and police dread the stone-pelting mobs more than the gun wielding militants of yesteryears.

But, curiously, some ‘experts’ are also upset over the economics of Peer’s work, for which he had sweated his eyebrows for more than three years. In the somewhat contorted intro of a review published in a local daily, Professor Muhammad Aslam who teaches English at the University of Kashmir writes: “Kashmir Turbulence and turbulent Kashmir have provided opportunities to many otherwise non-writers to become writers and reap the harvest in plenty.”

Earlier in this newspaper, a young observer had chosen to ‘review’ the book under a pseudonym, Syed M I Rehman. Ironically his review clumsily started off with a sweeping conclusion: “There was nothing unique; nothing memorable, and nothing banal as well. His descriptive narration doesn't hold attention for long. Unlike David Devadas whose 'Kashmir: in search of truth', was gripping and laced with lurid narrative, Peer's book has no such ingredients. In trying to follow a non linear narration Peer often stumbles.”

Sadly, such crackpot responses are emanating from our celebrated institutions such as the University of Kashmir. Indeed Basharat’s book has got bagful of reviews and hardly anything remains unsaid about the widely commended work. The book does not need any promotional exercise by our self-obsessed writers because Random House is a corporate concern, knowing well where to invest and why. A Kashmiri response to an indigenous work like Basharat’s was expected to be patriotic rather than envious. If some self-praising academic could not produce a meaningful work over decades he or she better retire off humbly rather than condemning a fair work with fallacious and stupid arguments.

The loose reviews that appeared in the vernacular press have only proven how thin our intellectual exterior actually is. That is, primarily, why the supposedly intellectual section of our society overlooked the starker facets of this new work. For example, if Basharat writes for Random House at 31 may be in future our youngsters write for even bigger banners at the age of 28! And, in this evolutionary process, if the greenhorns outgrow their senior thinkers the elders should betray maturity; they should weigh their words before acting on their fickle impulses.

What concerns you as a conscious reader is that a young Muslim Kashmiri comes out with a book at 31; the book is published by an MNC, Random House; is reviewed widely in the periodicals of global note; many other publishers sign the author for newer works. In response to such an admirable effort the author’s countrymen exhaust their keyboards only to find faults in the book. Prejudice! what else?

In terms of a native response, all what the Curfewed Night evoked in Kashmir was from the aforementioned Professor’s problem with issues of money to Mr Rehman’s perceived standards of a ‘lurid narrative’, which as per his own confession have bewitched him in David Devdas’s recent twist to the Kashmir story.

Why did not we understand the purpose of the work? Peer has, in fact, tried to tell a very circumscribed story to the global readership.

Books about life in oppressed societies generally evoke debates within the same societies. But the debates elsewhere are at least worth unlike ours in which we have laid bare our brittle egos and couched insecurities. A quick look at the Afghan response to Khaled Husseini’s second novel, A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS, which deals with contemporary Afghanistan, would substantiate this point. The success or failure of such works including Curfewed Night depends on how effectively they shock the inexperienced reader (in Indian metros or in UK and US) into a response. Basharat’s prose may have enough vignettes and the portrayal may appear very vivid yet we shall have to wait how quickly it evokes the response from the target audiences.

By the time that comes through, Basharat’s effort deserves loud acknowledgement as he has appreciably set the mood for Kashmir story in the western or may be within India’s burgeoning book market. In their shallow and poorly written reviews of the book Professor Aslam, who is nervy over the works of ‘non-writers’, and others whose tinted glass of pseudonym has been shredded, have, actually, given out their jealousy instead of a calibrated response.

Curfewed Night should not, therefore, be tested against the accepted critical standards of Great Literature nor should it be subjected to the moralistic confines of Tehreeki (pro-resistance) and Non-Tehreeki (anti-resistance) stuff. It is a symbolic encouragement to Kashmiri youth that the outside world is ready to listen to them if they can articulate in the contemporary idiom without sounding melodramatic but at the same time appearing as an eye-opener for those who might be listening to the Kashmir story for the first time.

Being woefully under-read I spare myself the hazard of technically reviewing Curfewed Night in which Basharat has moderately tried to blend a tragic narrative with a lively described frame of cultural mores and civilizational milieu. Nevertheless for a freelance reader the book gives out that Basharat seriously needs to build further upon his blending style and fact collection. That is not about the statistics or dates. In the words of Housman accuracy is a duty, not a virtue. For a serious reader it hardly matters if British India got divided on Aug 15 or Aug 14 or Aug 17; what matters most is the fact that the partition saw a worst humanitarian crisis.

Basharat, and all of us whom he has inspired with his accomplishment, will have to understand that a dispassionate Kashmiri storyteller requires not just the innovative, honest approach to history but also the sense of national responsibility. If the stories we choose to tell are purely indigenous the underlying discourse too should be reverberatingly indigenous, not the one punctuated with the clichéd ‘official version’.

Let’s walk past the instructive debates about whether Basharat has written a good or bad book; a neutral, one-sided or a balanced book. What needs be examined is what Basharat wants to do through this. Shock the Western reader into a sharper response? Take the Indian reader away from the media-induced image of Kashmir? Or enrich the already discredited palace discourse with moving stories? Let’s not beat our chests, let’s wait for the second edition.

And if someone’s stomach is still twirling over “the same old tale now told in a new fashion” he better pull up sleeves and produce a work that, according to his weird wish, would contain ‘new tale with a new fashion’. Upstarts like Basharat will not mind!

A Tale of Two Books

Zahid provides his perspective of two recent publications dealing with Kashmir

(Mr. Z. G. Mohammad, 59, was born and raised in Srinagar. He earned his Master's degree in English literature from the Kashmir University and has completed a course in Mass Communication from Indian Institute of Mass Communication. He is a writer and a journalist who has written for many newspapers, including the Statesman, the Sunday, and the Kashmir Times. He currently works for the Greater Kashmir.)


My Kashmir and Curfewed Night: “Darkest Sides of Luminous Façade”

Hope and despair - yes optimism and despondency have lived with Kashmiris like two sides of the same coin ever since Kashmir tumbled into basket of global disputes. It fell in the basket of international disputes on 1 January 1948. It was none other the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who decided to put it in the UN basket. Ever since that day a tug of war has been going on between hope and despair for the resolution of this dispute. Sometimes hopes for the resolution brightened and sometimes despondency overwhelmed.

And ever since the day it was put in the UN basket, it has been a hot subject for journalists, scholars and historians. Hardly a year passes when about a dozen of new titles are not added to already bulging bibliography on the Kashmir dispute. It in fact is difficult both to keep track and pace with the number of books written on Kashmir problem and its allied dimensions. This year 1.e. in 2008, two important titles that caught my attention have been ‘My Kashmir- Conflict And the Prospects of Enduring Peace by Wajahat Habibullah published by United States Institute of Peace Press and Another has been ‘the Curfewed Night’ by Basharat Peer Published by Random House. The two books are different from many other published from New Delhi as they have been written by people who have experienced living through the conflict that has consumed tens of thousands of people during past sixty one years. The Curfew Night is odyssey of a young man who has grown up under bayonets like thousands of Kashmiris in his age group.

My Kashmir is different book. It not just an eyewitness’s reportage of happenings in Kashmir but it is an insider account of the Kashmir situation. It not only provides a slit to peep into the mind of establishment but exposes many behind the scene hideous decisions taken at the highest level to subvert democracy in the state, to deny fundamental rights to the people and it also exposes the ugly role by the state bureaucracy in subjugating people. The book as very aptly writes Teresita C. Shaffer, in her forward ‘has combined several approaches in this thoughtful and incisive book that is part memoir, part history and part prescription.’ The memoirs of the authors unveil many behind the scene happenings. One may not agree with the prescriptions offered by the author for resolution of the problem but they do provide an insight into the thinking in highest echelons of power at New Delhi.

The author in his introduction to the book raises a pertinent question that if Kashmir situation was simply a Hindu-Muslim problem as seen by many Indian intellectuals. The author has shied away from debating over this question, which has simplest answer in the history of the dispute. He very frankly admits that he has been looking at Kashmir as a member of Indian Administrative Service ‘committed to India’. Despite his deep commitment to Indian State the author in his book has brought out certain hard realities with courage of conviction about New Delhi’s handling of Kashmir. Compared to 1990s when Kashmir was poorly understood, he writes that there is growing awareness of Kashmir sensibilities in India and abroad. ‘The employment of Kashmiris as journalists as newspaper correspondents have made a striking contribution to this awareness.’ The 1990’s undoubtedly saw birth of a whole crop of journalist some highly talented and committed to objectivity.

He briefly touches history of Kashmir and birth of Kashmir problem. In dealing with question of accession of the state the author has avoided joining the controversy about its date and fact. But he very boldly writes that “neither India’s nor Pakistan’s case rested on justification by the will of the Kashmiri people. But here lies a paradox: India’s Congress Party, which led it into freedom, had traditionally argued for decisions in case of problematic accession by reference to people, whereas the Muslim League had argued for decision in case of problematic accession by reference to people, whereas the Muslim League had argued in favor of decision made by the princes. In the case of Jammu and Kashmir these positions were reversed”.

In the series of blunders made by Indian government in Kashmir the author calls 1953 when Sheikh Abdullah was arrested as the first from ‘the standpoint of relations’ with this state. The author’s knowledge of 1953 happenings is scant and faulty. Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest in 1953 was not provoked for his attending the Afro Asian Conference in Algiers and meeting with China’s Prime Minister Chou en Lai. Sheikh met Cho en Lai in 1965 and not in 1953. There were more than one reasons for Sheikh’s deposition in 1953, major one was his abolishing of big landed estate and land to tiller reforms. The author has put at rest the theory of Sheikh having entered into conspiracy for an independent Kashmir with the United States through Adlai Stevenson. ‘Nehru did not buy this theory.’ Had the author delved deeper into the subject it would have been revealed that the theory was not only invented to ‘alienate India’s left until then supportive of Sheikh but to placate the Hindu chauvinists that were agitating against state’s autonomy including having a separate constitution, flag and head of state being designated as Prime Minister. The after events have fully authenticated that the whole exercise of 1953 was undertaken to fully integrate the state with India as was demanded by the communal organization.

So far memoirs of the author are concerned they take lid from many an incidents that had hitherto remained shrouded in mysteries. He shares his rare experience as SDM Sopore about the mysterious fires that had swept across Baramulla in early June 1970. He laments his helplessness as a civil service officer before army and police not in nineties but in seventies. Police would not bother to take civil administrators into confidence about any action even during the rule which in general terms is pronounced as period of ‘liberalization’. Quoting an instance author writes, “I was presumably the highest authority within the sub-division, but I did not know even Damoo’s arrest, let alone its reasons. Of course I pretended to know, nodding sagely and smiling enigmatically.’

The fort of the book is author’s memoirs as Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Deputy Commissioner of border district of Poonch, highly politically volatile district of Srinagar and Divisional Commissioner Kashmir. And for his proximity with Nehru-Gandhi family the book drops many hints that provide scope for in-depth studies for understanding New Delhi’s Kashmir policy. The author has also attempted at identifying the ‘deepening mistrust’ between Kashmir and Indian Government. The author exposes that how sham elections in the state were facilitated by the state bureaucracy. He narrates awful story as how he was instructed by his superiors to rig the 1977 elections. To see the Janata Party triumphant in the elections the government had passed instructions to all Deputy Commissioners to arrest National Conference cadres under Preventive Detention Act. He writes that the then Chief Secretary Pushkar Nath Kaul had called an explanation for being slow in issuing detention orders against the National Conference workers. The 1987 elections were ‘sullied’ so believes the author. It was in fact Morarji Desai, the then Prime Minister who upset the apple cart of both sleuths and bureaucrats who had drafted plans for rigging the 1977 elections.

The book is an important addition to the great list of studies and books for understanding the post 1990 development. It in fact gives a candid analysis of post 1990 developments in the state. One may not agree with the conclusions drawn by the author but the book is essential read for all scholars and academicians engaged in Kashmir studies.

Racing Towards Oblivion

It appears that the Kashmiri indifference towards its surroundings has the same affect on its people (vanishing Pandits) as on its beauty (vanishing lakes)

Illegal constructions devour Nigeen Lake; LAWDA In Slumber

Arif Shafi Wani (Greater Kashmir)

Srinagar: While the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority is making tall claims of measures to conserve water bodies, massive illegal constructions are going on in the Nigeen Lake.

Though the State High Court has banned any sort of construction within 200 meters of the water bodies, constructions are talking place on the banks of the lake.

Environmentalists believe that these constructions are taking place in connivance of some LAWDA officials.

A visit by this reporter to Nigeen Lake revealed that a boat shed was being constructed reportedly by a government department at Mirza Bagh just on fringes of the lake. The labourers have already cast a concrete mating and laid iron bars on plinth of the boat shed.

Few hundred meters away, three concrete houses are being constructed from the Nigeen’s Saderbal side. “This is sheer violation of High Court orders. Illegal constructions and restoration of Nigeen Lake can’t go simultaneously. Everybody is equal before law. But the LAWDA officials relax rules for influential and rich and don’t allow the poor people residing in the lake even carry out repairs of their hutments and houseboats,” the locals said.

A newly constructed Masjid overlooking Nigeen has come up from Lal Bazar side. “People are also equally responsible for Nigeen’s deterioration. They bribe the concerned officials to undertake illegal constructions, including a Masjid. The accused officials and offenders should be severely punished,” a local said.

Illegal constructions are also going on in Saida Kadal and its adjoining areas.

An official of LAWDA wishing anonymity blamed the candidates participating from constituencies comprising Dal and Nigeen lakes for the spurt in illegal constrictions.

“The candidates of various parties ask the lake dwellers to undertake the illegal constructions and promise to legalize them if voted to power. When we try to demolish the structures, the candidates threaten action against us,” the official said.

Pertinently, last year the authorities had launched a demolition drive in the Nigeen Lake and Pokhribal. But due to “political pressure’ the drive was suspended. “I vividly remember that a few decades ago there was no structure on the Ashai Bagh side of the lake. Now monstrous structures like the Nigeen Police Station are like a blot on the face of Nigeen,” a houseboat owner said.

Owing to its serene environment, Nigeen lake few decades ago was a favorite destination of tourists, particularly British for holidaying and water skating. With the passage of time, human greed and official apathy just reduced the lake to a cesspool.

It is said that waters of Nigeen was so pure and possessed healing properties that the Hakims used to advise people to drink it. But aged people of the lake give credit to Hari Singh, the then ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, for maintaining Nigeen lake. They said Maharaja had made such strict laws for the offenders that nobody would dare to even throw garbage into the lake not to talk of encroaching it.

“Maharaja had kept Chowkidars at nook and corner of the lake and given them so much power, which even the legislators don’t have. There was so much accountability and transparency that Chowkidars’ work was monitored by Numberdars. But now the lake is being encroached at will and whim of greedy people,” said chairman of Valley Citizens Council, Zareef Ahmad Zareef.

When contacted, the vice-chairman of LAWDA, Irfan Yaseen, said he will soon initiate demolition drive in Nigeen. “We have been frequently undertaking demolition drives in Nigeen. If constructions are still going on in the lake, we will immediately launch a demolition drive to check the menace,” Yaseen said.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Sad State of Cooperative Societies

Musavirr exposes yet another racket in Kashmir

(Mr. Musavirr Wani, 27, was born in Srinagar and attened the Burn Hall School. He graduated from the Meerut University and joined the Kashmir Times as a reporter. Loves driving his car and surfing internet to seek out workshops and fellowships so that he can travel and present the true picture of Kashmir.)

Cooperative societies in J&K bogged down by malpractices, bunglings

SRINAGAR: The cooperative movement was supposed to be a backbone in a country like India and it was supposed to reach the people living in far off areas of the country, but when talking of the state it seems that such an assumption was just a myth and nothing else.

Cooperative societies were set up in all the districts of the state and people were expected to get essential items of daily use from such societies, but with passage of time, these societies turned defunct. Malpractices, bunglings and scams hogged the functioning of these societies and within no time this venture faded out from the scene.

"I remember the days when we used to buy items like wheat flour, kerosene and sugar from the cooperative societies, but with the passage of time all this vanished in the thin air. We even used to get cloth on subsidized rates at these societies, but somehow this arrangement did not last long with the result people were left high and dry", said Mohammad Subhan, a resident of Budgam.

Cooperative societies were supposed to provide items of daily use in villages and far flung areas, but due to some reasons this venture did not click for much time. This led to problems as well as hardships for the people living in the villages as well as far off areas.

"In the other parts of the country the cooperative movement is progressing by leaps and bounds, but in the Kashmir valley its condition is deteriorating with every passing day. The cooperative societies had come up in the Kashmir valley in a good number, but they could not withstand the market pressure and lost out in the competition", said Ghulam Mohi-ud-din, a resident of Jawahar Nagar.

It would be in place to mention here that a cooperative milk federation was operational in Cheshmashahi in Srinagar and it was doing very well in its initial years during 1980s. But some years later the quality of the milk being supplied from this federation was not good and it had to be closed down.

"Sincerity was expected from the people running the cooperative societies, but due to one reason or the other it was lacking. This became the reason for the closure of the cooperative milk society at Cheshmashahi and it was only in 2004 that the same was restarted. But once again the key factors are fairness and sincerity and it is expected to be followed by the concerned people", said Ghulam Qadir, a resident of Pulwama.

There is a section of people who believe that there is a tremendous potential for setting up cooperative milk societies in districts like Pulwama and Anantnag. These people argue that the societies should be set up in villages in these districts and there is no need for the people to run from one place to another in this regard.

"This is good that the Cheshmashahi milk society has been started once again with the collaboration of Gujarat Cooperative Consumers Milk Federation, but it would have been better if such societies where the milk is available in plenty. The milk producers have to reach Srinagar with milk and here the milk is processed and it consumes a lot of time", said Mohammad Ahsan, a resident of Anantnag.

A good chunk of people are of the opinion that soft loans should be provided to those people who want to set up their own milk cooperative societies. These people should be able to process the milk in these societies and once this is done it would fetch them a good amount for their hard work and they would be able to send the milk packets to other states.

The Quality of Leadership - Is it the Case of Getting What we Deserve?

An article in the Kashmir Times exposes the "imperfect side" of the Kashmiri character

I am a Kashmiri

Humans can be, and are enigmatic, individually and collectively, anywhere in the world. But one wonders whether we Kashmiris would have many equals in this particular peculiarity of human character.

This question has been coming up often in the minds of many people here and elsewhere, especially in the context of some recent developments, like the wave of 'chalos', marches and 'bandhs', closely followed by the Assembly elections, with all the accompanying buzz and bustle.

The culture of marches and 'chalos' was chiefly initiated and introduced in the muddle and bewildering politics of Kashmir by the hard-line, separatist and pro-Pakistan leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The other separatist leaders toed the line after watching the enthusiastic response that Mr. Geelani received from the people. In fact at one stage Mr. Geelani was so thrilled by the grounds well of public support to his initiative that he started seeing himself, through momentarily, as the sole leader of the 'liberation' movement.

When I read about the "sea of humanity", as we often say in journalistic, jargon, in front of Mr. Geelani at the TRC grounds in Srinagar, that fleetingly swept him into the fantasy of 'sole leadership", I was reminded of many such multitudinous "seas of humanity", that the people of Kashmir had been witnessing over the past six decades. The difference, however, is that the leaders, their political ideologies, their orations and their political goals, were diametrically opposed to those of Mr. Geelani.

The "seas of humanity", of course, consisted of us Kashmiris, and the vehemence of our response in either case was the same.

When the slogans, like "Hum Pakistani hain, pakistan harara hai", at Mr. Geelani's gathering, rent through the air, one's mind travelled back to the epoch-making times of 1947. The memory of a particular historic day came racing back when a "sea of humanity" at Lal Chowk, comprising us Kashmiris had ecstatically applauded as the unchallenged leader of us Kashmiris, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, shook the hand of the Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, and recited a line or two in Persian language, appropriate to the spirit and purpose of Kashmir's association, and accession with India. "Man tu shudam, Tu man shudi; Man tanshudam, Tu jaan shudi", were the opening lines of what great Sheikh recited.

The marches of here 'chalo' and their 'chalo', bring back the memories of the numberless processions of 1947, when the Marauding tribals from Waziristan, incited, organised and backed by the newly-born Pakistan, were rampaging their way to Srinagar to "conquer" Kashmir for the new country. Every other road, a big or small, would be crowded, with processionists raising slogans like, "Hamla awar khabardar, Hum Kashmiri hain tayyar", "Sher-i-Kashmir ka kya irshad, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh itehad," and so on. The marches, 'chalos' and processions have remained unchanged, the participation of us Kashmiris remains unchanged too. Only the generation has changed, and so also, the leaders who mesmerise the crowds, and slogans that send the crowds into raptures.

In 1975, when Indira Abdullah Accord was signed in Delhi, paying the way for Sheikh Abdullah's return to mainstream politics and political power, a call was given by Islamabad for a protest strike against the accord. The response was simply astounding, life in Kashmir came to a dead stop and nothing seemed to move.

Less than a week later, Skeikh Abdullah returned from Delhi, to a tumultuous welcome, the likes of which are rarely seen, and not at all these days. From Pantachok, at the outskirts of Srinagar, Sheikh Abdullah proceeded to Lal Chowk, at the head of an uproarious procession, that took more than two hours to reach the venue of the public meeting he later addressed. The gathering was so huge that one got the impression that whole city was out their at the Lal Chowk.

In his speech, Sheikh Abdullah gave the reasons that had made him to sign the Accord to "save the boat of Kashmir, which had been caught in a whirlpool, from sinking". In response he received constant chants of "Long live, Abdullah".

One recalls that a foreign journalist who had only three or four days earlier sent a report to his principals about the total success of the Islamabad strike call, now sent another report about the grand reception to Sheikh Abdullah and the massive public meeting he addressed to get the approval of the people for the accord. Pat came the rejoinder, "Have you gone nuts? Aren't you contradicting yourself?" Actually he had neither gone nuts, now was he contradicting himself. It was we Kashmiris who were doing it.

Sheikh Abdullah died in 1982. The entire valley plunged into grief, transforming the city of Srinagar and the rest of Kashmir into a doleful spectacle, with every man and woman stricken by gloom. Later in his funeral cortege, the tail end could be seen at Nawapora-Khanyar, while the head of the cortage was already at Hazratbal, where the great leader was given a ceremonial burial, amidst loud wailing by the people he had left behind.

That day, even the bitterest critics of Sheikh Abdullah had to confesss that the great Sheikh was in true sense the darling of Kashmiris, that every word of his was gospel to them, and his loss an unrectifiable loss of Kashmir.

Less than a decade later, when the alien cult of militancy made it violent and threatening appearance in Kashmir, the resting place of Sheikh Abdullah on the banks of Dal lake at Hazratbal had to be protected against turned into iconoclasts of the leader whom they had mythlogised in his life, and on whose death, only ten years earlier, they had shed inconsolable and scalding tears.

For a month and a half now, Jammu and Kashmir has been, so to say, completely taken over by election fervour. The unusually high voter turnout in the face of vociferous boycott calls by the separatist leaders has come as a stunning surprise to all. It is indeed an exasperating dismay, a mystifying picture for the boycott zealots, but a thrilling spectacle for the lovers of democracy and democratic processes in action.

It was amusing to go through some newspaper reports from Srinagar saying that many people who pelted stones on election rallies, or joined anti-election demonstrations, were also standing in long queues, waiting for their turn to cast their vote.

A friend from Sonawari constituency, when contacted after the completion of the first phase of elections, said that he had observed boycott on the polling day. However, he added, "I did so after casting my vote the first thing early in the morning." That indeed is like us Kashmiris.

It is not that we Kashmiris are not aware of this enigmatic peculiarity and idiosyncrasy of ours. We certainly are. We often gossip about it, laughts over ourselves and over it, hear and enjoy jokes at our cost, feel funnily intrigued about it, but yet cannot and do not come out of it. It seems we enjoy doing contraries and incompatibles with equal gusto. It is a natural trait with us and we seem to subconsciouly thrive on it.

Foreign travellers and writers who have been visiting Kashmir frequently down the ages have written profusely on the nature and character of Kashmiris, through many have been uncharitable in their appraisals.

William Moorcroft calls us 'selfish, superstitious, ignorant, supple, intriguing, dishonest, false." Perhaps he then ran out of derogatives. Fredric Drew found us "falsetongued, ready with a lie and given to various forms of deceit." Even the Mughals, our rulers for centuries, saw us "crafty and wicked."

Baron Charles Hugel wrote, Kashmirian is trained in art of concealment which naturally leads to falsehood on every occasion." Francis Younghusband says, Kashmiris "set such value on the truth that they seldom use it."

These last two comments provoke some thoughts when viewed in present day conditions. Are we truly "trained in the art of concealment", and hence do not speak out our mind, as often becomes evident in our actions, reactions and responses to varying issues and situations?

Tale of tailpiece. An anecdote heard in Kashmir. It is a practice in Kashmir that a few days before Eid-ul-Zuha every year traders in sheep and goats put on display small flocks for sale to customers.

A Khwaja Saheb went to buy a ram at Budshah Chowk. He started examining each animal, but his way of doing so was queer and it intrigued the seller. The Khwaja lifted the tale of each animal and examined its hunkers closely, and finally made his choice.
The seller told the Khwaja that he had indeed selected the best ram from the flock, and then asked him," Please tell me how you did it." The Khwaja declined to oblige saying that it was a "secret" which he could not reveal. "In that case," said the curious seller, downing his baggy trousers, "Please have a look at my hunkers also and tell me whether I, a simple Kashmiri, am a Hindustani, a Pakistani, or an Azadi fellow."