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

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Broken Homes, Broken Bonds: Lamenting the Loss of Traditional Family Values in a Contemporary Society

Syeda Afshana talks about a filial generation as she mourns the death of a family anchor

(Ms. Syeda Afshana, 34, was born in Srinagar. She attended the Vishwa Bharti High School in Rainawari, Srinagar, and the Government Women's College in Srinagar where she received a B.Sc. degree. She completed her Master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the Kashmir University in 1999 and was the Gold Medallist (first position holder) in her graduating class. She is currently a Lecturer in the Media Education Research Centre (MERC) of the Kashmir University and pursuing her doctorate on the role of internet after 9/11. )

Broken homes, Broken bonds

A flower swallowed by bud,
A nest
marauded by dwellers,
A garden
withered by leaves
Can thee imagine?
Incoherence of minds
malaise of hearts
false affection
selfish sympathy
in conjunction,
under one sky
Can thee imagine?
Eyes nonchalant
towards sight.
Entangled in cocoons
bonds of love
displaying apathy,
Blood turning thin
Can thee imagine?
Self and Self
I and I,
Give and take
Interest and loss
Trade of relations,
Diminishing sincerity
Can thee imagine?
Yea, here!
Where apple of eye
becomes
an eyesore.
Narrow outlets,
narrow inlets.
Chocked sentiments
estranged affinities---
all galore,
all gamble.

A journalist once visited the biggest old age home in one of the cities in Kerala and wrote: “I saw one old man gazing at a single beautiful bright flower amidst many on the ground. He was so engrossed with its beauty that he would smile at it and shake his head. I wanted to pat his back or rather peep in his heart to read the message of the flower, but I just opted silence and stood just beside him. After few minutes I saw a tear rolling down his cheek. I was perplexed—was he happy or sad? What was the message from the flower that made him sink so deep in his thought? What did it remind him? Was he gazing at the flower or his own life? I looked at his eye they were burning red with agony and pain. He had just realized that his life is just like this bright flower. Many would come and glorify the new bloomed flower in the dawn, but after a day or two when its colours had withered to darkness and it cannot stand firm with its head held high, the same people would walk unnoticed without even heeding its cry.”

Back home, there is a story to narrate about him... The wrinkled face parched and frail like a fallen Chinar leaf in autumn, that once looked green and glorious. Behind the old visage, there was more of him to see. Struggling between past and future, verve and sloth, triumphs and letdowns, warmth and seclusion—he was coldly looking at the bank draft received just now. The looking glass in the room was reflecting a somber image of things. Life was no longer so as he knew; it was now ending in lonesome misery.

The fond memories of his only son were distressing him inwardly. The son after getting married had left old parents and settled abroad. The monthly packet of cash from him was wounding the aged father’s affection and pride. The walk down the memory lane flashed a beautiful, radiant sight before him: Those little soft fingers that he used to hold and the blossoming innocent smiles he used to crave for; the every moment of love and care that he had showered on his darling son. The mistakes he had overlooked generously and the time he had given away abundantly. The whole life had gone in making his son what he was today. The tender devotion was simply unconditional and all-embracing but its memories were turning heartrending now…

Dil Chu Pranain Kathan Sanaan Bazeh
Seeni Manz Naar-i- Kol Khanaan Bazeh
(Prof.Rehman Rahi)

The sick wife was just speechless. She had gone into dementia, forgetting where his son is and why he had deserted his parents so desolately. Both husband and wife had sacrificed and slogged all through their life for him, with a hope that a day would come when they will rejoice their old age with his support and caress, and all else will naturally appear cheerful.

However, it wasn’t so as anticipated. The blood had gone thinner and fast life had brought meanness in the relation. It was agonizingly unimaginable to see the son not sparing even a few moments for his lonely parents just because he was too engrossed in his wedded world, taking pleasure in the company of his ‘modern-thinking’ soul mate. The young couple was getting self-centered, craving for a separate space for themselves. Values and principles of family were alien to his spouse. She had flaunted her tantrums around, pushing the henpecked hubby to the wall gradually.

Living under one roof, the family was torn down emotionally. Sincerity in sharing and contributing for the home was vanishing as thought of building a ‘mini world’ took strong roots with each passing day. The gap was widening and mutual co-existence was getting unbearable.
Parents were surprised and shaken to see the upsetting behavioural changes in their son. He wasn’t like this before. They had taught him the best lessons of life. But then, the ‘new ideals’ had transformed his outlook. Priorities had undergone alteration. Obedience of parents, come what may, was now an impossible sermon for him. He wasn’t ready to ignore and wink at the attitudinal flaws of his aged parents, forgetting how they forgave his every wrong since childhood. He had harshly forgotten how they endured his imperfections, grooming him into a young man.

Eventually, there was a break-up. With an alibi of ‘looking for greener pastures’, he left his loving parents and sweet home for good. A monthly meager sum of money was the only link he had sustained with them for unknown reasons.

The parents were getting by and managing with nobody there for them until few months when the ailing mother passed away. The son was informed but didn’t turn up, just condoled his father over the phone. The tight schedule and stringent rules at his work place overseas were the cause of his absence over his mother’s funeral.

The lonesome father was now buried amidst books and newspapers, spending his twilight years in oblivion. There was no old age home here to shelter him and his solitude. The hypocrisy of our society in acknowledging the social challenge he and his ilk are facing is brushed away casually. Sons here don’t drop their parents at old age homes; they desert them in their own hearths by their lackadaisical attitude and criminal apathy. They almost become unwanted and a burden for them. Time is a precious lifeline that they are holding back to them, and the same Time is running out of their hands as well. It’s all just a matter of time!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Word is out: Drug Abuse is on the Rise in Kashmir

Drug cartels using JK as transit point

Syed Salman

Jammu, March 28: Drug abuse has acquired serious dimensions in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the recent times. The number of drug addicts has increased alarmingly, with drug cartel operating from other countries using Jammu and Kashmir as a transit point making contrabands easily available.

According to unofficial source in Jammu and Kashmir charas and poppy is cultivated in the far off areas, and the destruction of the cultivation is extremely difficult for the authorities on account of law and order problems in the areas.

However, official sources said that the cultivation of poppy crop is strictly banned in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the persons found involved in the trade are booked by Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) as the cultivation of crop needs a licensees issued from the NCB. According to facts and figures provided by NCB Jammu, sixty persons indulged in the trade have been booked under NDPS Act during the year 2007 and 44 cases have been registered in this connection.

In different parts of state approximately 677.000 kgs of Poppy Straw, 118.000 kgs of chars, 139 corex bottles, 398 capsules and other substances of drugs like Heroin, bung dust, and canbus powder were seized by the police and NCB till the end of 2007.

Official sources said that Jammu and Kashmir is geographically located between the countries having largest poppy growing areas and the Heroin is smuggled through the state and trafficked to major consumer markets in the world.

A Timely Editorial in a Kashmir Daily Advising Youth to Look Beyond Government Jobs

The Rising Kashmir advises protesting youth seeking government jobs to look for other opportunities


Opportunities galore

It needs a will to look beyond Government jobs

The energies, and of late some of the innovative methods, that go into the protests of unemployed youth can be used otherwise too. It can be used to explore alternative fields of employment and entrepreneurship. Notwithstanding the fact that Government of the day is under an obligation to provide avenues and opportunities for the unemployed educated youth, the protesting groups need to think of alternatives.

It indicates a psyche of dependence when we find, every now and then, various groups of students with good educational degrees to their credit, protesting against Government for not being provided employment. Carrying banners and placards and shouting slogans against Government has become a common scene in Srinagar. Hardly any day passes without witnessing protest of one kind or the other by unemployed youth. In order to be listened by the relevant quarters new methods and means are adopted; some tried to sell clothes on the roadside, some polished shoes on the pavements and some demonstrated by staging sit-ins on the road, blocking traffic while others went on hunger strikes for weeks together.

One can not ignore the plight that these unemployed youth are facing but one can not either help ask a question to them, even if it irks. Did all these protests help in any way? Every one of them knows that it didn’t. Besides wasting their precious time they are also wasting opportunities which are so abundantly available in the present day world of business and enterprise. It also indicates lack of confidence and will to look beyond Government jobs. While Government can not be exonerated of its failure to provide jobs to the young educated talent, the protesting youth can not be appreciated for what they are doing. Even if we place our sympathies on their side it will be unjust to pamper them and encourage them to continue with such useless exercise. They should shake themselves up and break the shackles of sloth and step into the larger world where people are on a hunt for talent.

All these young protesters need to do is to explore the greater world of opportunities and prove their worth. Today if they are facing the problem of unemployment, tomorrow they will have to make a choice between good and better offer, for there won’t be just one agency that will like to employee them. The problems of scarcity will suddenly change into problem of plenty.
___________________________________________________

Jammu and Kashmir, however, does not have a business climate that encourages investment by Indian or foreign multi-national companies because of archaic laws that foster corruption and government intervention in every detail of public life ("worst of the worst" License Raj), as well as poor transparency and governance in the functioning of the State government. For more details, please open the following link:

http://www.kashmirforum.org/economic-pathways-to-normalization-in-kashmir.htm

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hoping Against Hope: Why is J&K Government Denying Minority Status to Kashmiri Pandits?

The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) has pleaded on behalf of the Pandit minority since 1999 with little results

Minority panel constitution awaits CM’s nod

GK NEWS SERVICE

Srinagar, Mar 23: There is good news for minorities in Jammu and Kashmir. Now, the minorities are set to reap the benefits available to their counterparts elsewhere in India.

Jammu and Kashmir is only state that does not have a minority commission till now. But the process has begun for constitution of one.

“We have submitted proposal to the chief minister for approval to the setting up of a minority commission in Jammu and Kashmir. The law department has already given consent in this direction”, highly placed sources in the Social Welfare department told Greater Kashmir today. “We hope to get the approval soon. Only after that, we will constitute the commission so that the benefits reaped by the minorities across the country become available here too,” they added.

The Social Welfare Department set into motion the process of constitution of the minority commission after the Union Minority Affairs ministry asked the state government to set up one as per the recommendations of the Sachar Commission on minorities.

Sachar Commission had recommended that all the states should set up minority commissions under which several benefits including pre-and post-matric scholarships, reservation in professional colleges and institutions besides government jobs should be given to minorities.

Jammu and Kashmir is only Muslim majority state of India. While the community is getting benefits under such commissions in other states, only in J&K, Sikhs, Kashmiri Pandits, Jains, Bhuddists and Christians fall under this category.

With a view to addressing the problems of minorities in the state, the proposed minority commission will focus on mitigation of their political grievances and overall development The commission will be set under the Social Welfare department and will also hear the complaints of denial of various rights to minorities. The state minority commission will be headed by a chairman, preferably a retired high court judge, and its members will be nominated by the government.

The Social Welfare department have already taken a consent on its legal aspects from the law department to decide whether the commission will have the power of a civil court to summon people, call for records and receive evidence on affidavits. It will also suggest minority development programmes to the government.

The National Minority Commission (NMC) had in a special report issued in April 1999 recommended to the Union Home Minister to accord State level minority status to the Hindus in Jammu & Kashmir and some other States.

In a meeting held on 9th March, 2006, the Commission considered this matter and resolved that (i) the Kashmiri Pandits should be declared a minority community at the national level and a formal notification for this purpose should be issued by the Central Government and (ii) the territorial jurisdiction of the NCM Act, 1992 should be extended to Jammu and Kashmir. This recommendation was conveyed to the Union Government on 1st May, 2006.

Member, National Commission for Minorities, A M Sethna, visited Chennai (Tamil Nadu) on 16-17th July last and had meetings with the Vice Chairman and Member Secretary of the state Minorities Commission, Regional Census Commissioner. After deliberations, he recommended that the state government of Tamil Nadu should include Parsis in the list of the State Minority Communities. Parsis and Kashmiri Pandits were listed as ‘others’ in the Census Form. These communities should be counted separately, the Commission said which also recommended that the Central / State Government should initiate immediate action for return of Kashmiri Pandits living in camps at Jammu and other places and for their rehabilitation, the government should create ‘Security Zones’ in selected places of Kashmir, both in urban and rural areas.

The Commissioner further said that the general impression amongst the migrants that financial aid given for the purpose was not utilized fully for their benefit needed to be dispelled by ensuring total transparency and involvement of the camp migrants in their management.

It also said the State / Central Government should prepare a directory of all the immovable properties left by Kashmiri pandits in the valley and should constitute a supervisory body to look after these with a view to ensuring that revenue earned from them reached the rightful owners.

Further, the leave salary being paid to Kashmiri Pandits should be gradually discontinued ensuring that they are assigned suitable jobs in the Valley, Jammu or even in the officers of the Central Government. They should be paid full salary instead of remaining without work and getting leave salary.

The Commission said the State / Central Govt. should ensure greater involvement of Sikhs and Kashmiri Pandits in political institutions. The appropriate representation of Sikhs in the state employment and services should be ensured over a period of time.

It said the state/ central governments should evolve a consistent policy of rehabilitation of the families of those who are killed due to militancy and immediate payment of compensation @ Rs 2.5 lakh for those killed and employment to one of the family members of the deceased should be ensured.

A Wise Elder Reflects on Sinking Moral Values of the Kashmiri Society

"We have nothing to offer except hartals"


Poorest people with lots of money

Mohammad Muneer Bhat

Long ago our part of the world had the distinction of being home to people who took pride in calling it peer waer and resh waer. The abode of legendary saints, seers, ascetics and great religious personasthat our land was, is witnessing a socio-cultural metamorphosis.

One falls short of words to express the meanest depths that we have sunk in. The brazen faced mockery we make of almost every activity social or public, speaks of the abyss of moral bankruptcy that we fell down to. Naked-materialism, sustentation, superficialities and a comfortable indifference to everything apart from ones' self has become our hallmark. The macabre history of past twenty years has failed to wake us from the deep slumber.

Perhaps the greatest lesson of history is that people rarely learn from history. Our intellectuals falling prey to petty interests, our leaders changing stances to suit their personal agendas and our academics getting reduced to courtiers of elite gentry is commonplace.Bereft of ideals, national heroes and men of credible public image ultimately inculcated in our masses a sense of being second-raters and camp followers; the ones unlikely to succeed in any indigenous mass endeavour. We wait for proverbial Godots, saviours and liberators thinking we are Gods' special creation while being neck deep in quagmire of misconduct in all our dealings. Calamities warn us and divine wrath falls on us but we seem to be too engrossed with our flimsy pursuits.

The sordid state of our society has made each one among us ready to die every moment for securing the so-called future. We are ready to gulp toxin of humiliation, suffer coup-de-grace and put to stakeour honour, image and all that is held lofty andprecious by peoples worth their salt.

We can sell ourselves to send our sons and daughters for professional training. We beg, borrow and steal to host gala parties over marriages, spend lavishly on building mansions that bring to fore our hubris much more than our aesthetic sense; we take pride in changing our cars and mobile phones to display arrogance. We feel elated at the shocking 'dress-sense' and fast mutating-demeanour of our women,that brings forth their paradox, trying to emulate and simulate the best and worst of East and West.

We have the dubious capability of buying all and anybody by selling our conscience. We have lost the Sense of Loss. Our politicians of left, right, and center have slogans and pranks to offer all the time. Offer them sops they start parroting HMV and withdraw them the manna to see the symptoms. Great years of effort will become Awara-gardi and sacrifices be termed as Saer – o –Tafrih in their parlance without any remorse. They would be better off as tricksters for they have miles to go before they learn leading the people.

Adventurism and experimentation cannot be termed as leadership. Perhaps we may revive our political struggle but what we are losing now is irretrievable. We are producing zombies, yuppies, drones and human clones, those who think of world as a virtual Xanadu for their hedonistic hang-ups. For them religion is 'doing good' and 'enjoying' life to the full by getting unlimited economic uplift by whatever means.

The sad irony is that our youth are stealthily being pushed towards a widening idea-logical chasm that blurs and confuses true religion with man-made 'isms' and hypotheses. All this is very comfortably presided and seen over by those who think their grandiloquent Friday sermons are making waves. What their poorly conceived sermons have sprouted is a class of people having their own obscure interpretations and explanations for forwarding a message of being different for the heck of it. In the process they polarize further the already charged up atmosphere, which projects religion to commoners as an extremist and uncompromising phenomenon, something that needs tremendous effort to practise, whilst it is quite the opposite. Our ancestors had no substantial riches but plenty of happiness for they possessed contentment, quitecontrary to us.

Down the ages, we gradually fell in to the habit of spoiling almost all the great traditions, arts, crafts and our culture and values that used to be our Unique-Selling-Point to the outside world. We as a nation were remembered as being hospitable, courteous, charactered and trustworthy. Our land abounded in kindness, forbearance and tolerance. We were the harbingers of exquisite creativity by our arts and crafts like paper-machie, namdas ,gabbas, carpets, wood carving, willow work, embroidery and shawls-that attracted people across Continents. The indigenous crafts were endless, for imagination and creativity of honest craftsman knew no limits. Our Saffron had the best brand rating while Apples grown here were termed the best.

Unabated greed, ruthless profiteering, covert public consent to corruption, contempt and humiliation for rectitude in public life, social sanction for materialism and endemic political uncertainty marred and besmirched our reputation. We began to pass off second-rated under the tag of 'Kashmir-brand'. The results are as expected. We encouraged 'parallel-trade' trampling whatsoever that could promote fairness and competition. So blurred we have become that our people cannot think of any fair-trade; in fact fairness is the first causality in all our commercial activities. Second rated-ness is likeable and preferable for us probably because we have been fed with everything second rate, from electricity to bus commuting to politics.

Things have come to such a pass where our credibility is at its lowest ebb and nobody seems to take us seriously.Those of us who happen to don any important position think of themselves as embodiment of all virtue and are too engrossed with their idiosyncrasies. Narcissistic, brash and supercilious our public figures of whatsoever standing have kept themselves alive by gimmicks, rhetoric and downright mendacity. They have the knack of winning instant applause from crowd by hitting soft-targets, shooting sitting ducks and kicking dust over things that are practically of no consequence. De-emphasizing the core problems by underplaying them and simultaneously making common man’s life virtual-hell by propping up superfluous issues is their time-tested mantra. They take pride in offering 'Tughlakian-novelties' to people to get branded as great show-managers. Lack of vision ontheir part plays havoc with everything they undertake and yet they claim to be indispensable in the scheme of things. When would they take lessons in pragmatism and fathom the untold pangs and miseries of common man? We have no plans for thousands of orphans, widows and the serious societal problems that are sprouting because of them.

Our so-called leaders are silent spectators to the deepest depths of moral depravity our youth and destitute are being led-in the name of jobs and succor by known and unknown agencies. Our land has become a virtual hunting ground that abounds in cannon fodder for almost all types of voyeurisms. We have nothing but hartals to offer. Not many of us know that chicken and meat sellers in addition to rickshaw and sumo drivers make record sales on hartal days. Whom are we trying to befool by rushing to excursion spots to register our protest on hartal-days.

Unfortunate and poignant, generation after generation we are only taught to sell our Hereafter to make good our world and that of our progeny. We are taught to fall in line or else we would be in the line of fire. We are taught to fit ourselves in the larger scheme of things or we may be called misfits. We are taught to be austere but ostentation is likeable, to be just but favoritism is adorable, to be honest but meticulous dishonesty is an act of genius, to be sincere but hypocrisy is an art we must practice everywhere. We are taught to be religious but befooling Man and God is our best pastime. We take pride in sermonizing all the time but being bereft of any conviction and commitment is quite normal.

The list of our contradictions is like a malignant growth, one leading to other and so on . . . and yet we claim to be holier than the holiest creation of God. Alas! we may succeed in building our World, but at what price? Yes, this is our one line national emblem "We are the poorest people with lots of money".

We are taught to fall in line or else we would be in the line of fire. We are taught to fit ourselves in the larger scheme of things or we may be called misfits. We are taught to be austere but ostentation is likeable, to be just but favoritism is adorable, to be honest but meticulous dishonesty is an act of genius.

The Beauty and the Beast: When the Official Forest Conservator Turns out to be its Destroyer

Timber Smugglers set Khrew forests on fire

Locals Allege Nexus With Officials, Police

ARIF SHAFI WANI

Khrew (Pulwama), Mar 26: A major fire has engulfed the forests of the Khrew Wildlife Conservation Reserve during the past three days here destroying many trees and affecting the wildlife. However the locals blame the timber smugglers for putting the forests on fire to camouflage the illicit felling of trees. The wildlife authorities have ordered an inquiry into the matter and recommended transfer of the concerned forester.

The locals said the fire started in forests at Betdalav and Khudalav on Saturday and gradually destroyed countless Kail trees there. Thick bellows of smoke emanating from the forests has engulfed the entire saffron town and its adjoining areas.

“The fire in the forests is the handiwork of notorious timber smugglers and some unscrupulous forest officials. They burn stumps of the trees to wipe out evidence against them. Ironically, the authorities act as mute spectator to vandalization of the forests,” the locals told Greater Kashmir.

The locals warned this reporter and the accompanying photojournalist not to wander alone in the forests as it was “full of dangerous smugglers,” and volunteered to accompany us. “The irony is that a few decades ago we used to fear the wild animals, and now the smugglers. The smugglers have no mercy for the trees and we don’t expect them to respect humans,” a local youth said.

On way to the forests at Betdalav, the smugglers have marked many trees for felling. Before felling a tree, the locals said the smugglers cut its bark so that its sap gets leaked. Gradually, the tree becomes dry and is easy to cut.

The locals said the felled trees are ferried into the villagers during night. “There is an organised group of timber smugglers active in the area. They bribe some forest officials and openly fell the trees. However, we wonder how the smugglers enjoy free movement during the nights when troops are on high alert. They recently shot dead a bear when it was moving in the forests. It seems the smugglers have nexus with the troops and policemen,” they said.

An aged man wishing anonymity said the vandalization of the forest started after 1995. “The forest was stronghold of militants and nobody dared to go there. After they were killed, the forests turned into a safe haven for smugglers. If the government was serious, let it stop further felling of the trees for our future generations at least,” he said.

The forest officials have their own tale: “We are helpless to act against the smugglers in absence of any security. The smugglers threatened us of dire consequences if we don’t allow them to fell the trees,” a lower rung forest official, wishing anonymity, said.

The locals fear that fire in the Khrew Wildlife Conservation Reserve can spread to the adjoining the Dachigam National Park. “The fire had affected movement of the Kashmiri Stag from Dachigam to the Reserve. Before the fire we spotted many stags in the forests. However they have vanished now,” the locals said.

The wildlife warden central, Rashid Naqash told Greater Kashmir that an inquiry has been ordered in the matter. “We want to know the cause of the frequent fires in the forest range and will take action against the officials if their involvement was ascertained. Meanwhile, I have recommended suspension of the concerned forester and withheld the salary of his staff, till the inquiry was completed.” “We had almost controlled the fire in the Khrew range, however due to strong winds from Tral it has again started. Our men are on the spot to douse the fire,” Naquash said.

(UPDATE - THE FIRE WAS BROUGHT UNDER CONTROL AFTER FOUR DAYS.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Dream Come True: Srinagar Basks in the Glory of Tulips and Almond Blossoms

Srinagar is mending environmental damage by reclaiming past glory and creating new vistas

Badam Wa’er blooms again

Srinagar, Mar 25: Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad today presented a matchless gift to the people of Srinagar when he dedicated to them a redeveloped Badam Wa’er (almond alcove), the principal springtime leisure spot at the foot of the Hari Parbat hillock in the old city.

The re-creation of the Badam Wa’er revived pleasant memories of people, especially of the older generation, who knew the place as an explicit statement about the end of a long, harsh and suffocating winter in Kashmir.

For centuries, the almond blossoms here had been the focal point of recreation for the local people. Families with samovars of boiling salt tea and eatables would flock the place with the onset of the annual bloom while vendors made good earning from a stream of visitors. In the olden days, a visit to Badam Wa’er was the only major recreation available to the city dwellers after the snows had melted and temperature warmed up in the Valley. The tradition passed on to the succeeding generations.

However, as the garden suffered neglect and dilapidation and Badam Wa’er festival started fading out of the people’s memory, the present Government decided to revive its glory and restore to the people their rich cultural heritage.

The J&K Bank was assigned the task to recreate the magnificence of the Badam Wa’er. The Bank, under its heritage preservation initiative, restored the old Bagh-i-Waris Khan and re-established the lost aura of the Badam Wa’er.

The guiding force behind the pleasant changeover, the Chief Minister, at a colourful function this evening, unveiled the plaque to announce the inauguration of the fabulous garden. The function was also attended by Shamim Azad, Deputy Chief Minister, Muzaffar Hussain Baig, Chairman, J&K Bank, Dr. Haseeb Drabu and a large number of people from a cross section of the society.
Later, Mr. Azad and other guests walked around the Badam Wa’er to have a feel of the bewitching environs. A cultural programme, comprising musical concert by local artistes and a humorous skit, was also organised.

The restoration work was taken up in December 2006 and completed in a record time of 15 months. The garden is spread over an area of 300 kanals. Elements of traditional Kashmiri landscaping and architecture have been retained with the façade of the garden replicating the historical gate, Kathi Darwaza, of the Nagar wall raised by Mughal ruler, Akbar, around the hillock including the Badam Wa’er. Seven flower enclosures have been developed in the garden to let the Badam Wa’er bloom throughout the year.

As an added attraction, 1 km long joggers’ track has also been built on the peripheries of the garden.

Speaking on the occasion, the Chief Minister said that the Badam Wa’er was a strong symbol of rich heritage of Kashmir and stressed on its upkeep and asked people to take advantage of the revived facility.

Tulip Garden to be opened for public in first week of April

Srinagar, Mar 23: The Asia's largest tulip garden at the foot of the Zabarwan Hills, overlooking the famous Dal Lake here, is all set to be thrown open for public in the first week of April. A workforce of about 400 labourers and gardeners is working round the clock in three shifts to give final touches to the garden before opening its beautifully built gate plaza for visitors.

Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who conceived and closely monitored the laying of the garden, inspected the ongoing work today. He was accompanied by Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Mehboob Iqbal and Director Floriculture, Kashmir, Dr. Sarwar Naqash.

Mr Azad expressed satisfaction over an infinitely beautiful spot coming up in the shape of the tulip garden in Srinagar and said that it would emerge as a major tourist attraction in Kashmir. He said the ambience and the setting of the garden would entice visitors to come here over and over again.

The Tulip Garden, emerging as a flori-marvel, is spread over a vast expanse of 100 kanals of land where 12 lakh tulip plants will be in bloom in the next few days. It is going to be a splendid view. In all, 60 varieties of early, mid, late and very late blooming tulips will spread a rainbow of red, orange, purple, white, pink, parrot and yellow colours on the garden. The garden has been given the name of Siraj Bagh.

"As many as 400 labourers including 150 gardeners are working in three shifts to complete the job by Tuesday", Dr. Naqash said when asked how soon the work on the garden would complete. He said majority of the labourers and gardeners have been engaged through contractors. A total number of 40 departmental gardeners are currently working in the tulip garden.

The unfinished works currently in the final stages include four fountains, gate plaza, cemented paths, landscaping and a guest house. These are all scheduled to complete by March 25, said Dr. Naqash.

The entry to the garden will be through tickets of Rs. 50 for adults and Rs. 20 for children. "The tickets will be beautifully printed which could be retained by visitors as souvenirs," adds Director Floriculture.

(Both stories from the Daily Excelsior, published in Jammu.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Valley Pandits have Unique Funeral Rites, but a Helping Hand From a Neighbour is Always Welcome

Muzaffar Raina discusses how Kashmiri neigbours look after each other even when one is no more, and about a dying profession that is bringing out the best among Kashmiris

Muslim takes care of Kashmir’s dead Hindus

Srinagar, March 24: In a burning ground in the Valley, Hindus have to pass through a Muslim’s caring hands to leave this world.Mohammad Yasin Dar considers it his “religious” duty to ensure that the dead are not defiled—even if it means sitting by a body deep into the night amid hungry, prowling stray dogs.

“It’s a God-ordained mission for me,” says the 56-year-old, sitting under a lofty chinar. Dar is the caretaker of the lone functional Kashmiri Pandit crematorium in the Valley.

Over the past 10 years, Dar has supervised the last rites of dozens of Hindus, sometimes staying by a half-burnt body till it had turned to ash.Dar took up the job in 1998, and it was a conscious decision.

Most Pandit families had left the Valley after militancy broke out in the late eighties and the crematoriums were without a caretaker, or Kawij, as they are locally called.For the 5,000-odd Pandits who chose to stay back, it meant cremations were a hasty affair, done by people with little or no experience.Pyres were lit crudely and stray dogs sometimes devoured the half-burnt bodies. A local Pandit leader took up the job for some time, but it was only after Dar stepped in that the dead started getting a decent send-off.

“It was not a simple decision because I am a Muslim and I didn’t know how others would react. But thank God, things went smoothly,” Dar says, sitting inside the crematorium at Batmaloo.

Dar was a labourer before he took up the job. He gets a monthly salary of Rs 3,000—but money alone doesn’t keep him going. “I ensure that the bodies are not defiled. It is my religious duty to help others in need,” he insists.“I arrange the logs, make a mound of them and, after the bodies are set on fire, I stay here for hours, at times till late into the night, to ensure they are properly burnt. I have a tough time keeping dogs away, particularly in the dead of night.”

Dar also takes credit for renovating a damaged Shiva temple that adjoins the crematorium.“I persuaded the management to do it, and they did it,” he says. Sanjay Tikoo, who heads the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, a body that represents Pandits who have not left the Valley, says his folks are “happy” with Dar’s work.

Unlike those outside the Valley, the Pandits here can say they follow all their customs and rituals while cremating their dead. “When a person dies, we put fried fish and pieces of meat in cooked rice and keep half of it beneath the funeral pyre. The other half is left for the birds,” Tikoo says.“We can do it here because the crematorium is under our control. Pandits outside the Valley can’t do it.”

But something worries Dar—the future of his children.Many gravediggers, his counterparts among Muslims, dissuade their children from taking up the job because it could come in the way of finding a good groom or bride.“God knows whether it will prove a hurdle in getting alliances for my children,’’ says Dar, a father of three.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Jammu Province Scores With World Class Smart Girls; Valley Parents and Students, Please Take Notice!

Shivani Sud and Naqsh Haider show what it means to be "world class" in intellect and dedication. Both have roots in the Jammu Province

Junior Nobel for Jammu girl, Shivani Sud in US

A girl of Indian origin created history after she won the prestigious talent contest in US, for her project on cancer titled ‘Junior Nobel’. She developed a model to identify stage ll colon cancer patients and the most effective drug for treatment.

AN INDIAN-American high school student went on winning the top prize at a prestigious science talent search contest, beating 1,600 students, for her project on cancer entitled ‘Junior Nobel’ in US.

Shivani Sud, a 17-year-old girl from Jammu and the daughter of Dr. Anu Aggarwal, was declared the grand prizewinner of 2008, for developing a model to identify stage II colon cancer patients who are at a higher risk for recurrence. She will also get $100.000 scholarship.

Past winners of the competition have received over 100 of the world’s most coveted science and math honors including six Nobel prizes. According to the organisers of the annual Intel Science Talent Search, the model created by Sud, a senior at Jordan High School in Durham, North Carolina also focused on identifying what may be the most effective drug for treatment for those with a high risk of recurring tumors.

Such a system would allow doctors to save the most aggressive or toxic therapy for those who need it the most, said Dr. Andrew. M. Yeager, Chairman of the judging panel and a professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

Sud said that she was partly motivated by personal experience “One of my immediate family member had a benign brain tumor. It left a big emotional imprint on me”, said the daughter if Ish and Anu Sud. Among the 40 finalists were seven Indian-American students including four girls.

Along with her research work, Sud represents students at school board meetings and serves as a Durham Rescue Mission volunteer. She also performs classical and modern Indian dance. She said she wants to have a career in research and hopes to attend Princeton University or Harvard University someday, but for now she has more immediate matters to attend, “I have a lot of homework to catch up on”.

Muzaffarabad girl wins international contest

TARIQ NAQASH

Muzaffarabad, Mar 20: A young Kashmiri girl from the earthquake affected capital of Pakistan administered Kashmir has clinched the top position in an international drawing competition held last year under the aegis of a UK-based charity.

Naqsh Haider, an 8th grade student of a semi-government school here, will be travelling to the United Kingdom in the third week of April on the invitation of ‘Save the Children’ to represent Pakistan at an impressive ceremony, her family said here on Thursday.

Save the Children, which is rendering appreciable services in the quake affected areas of Pakistani Kashmir, had organized the international drawing competition based on ‘What I like best about my school’ in collaboration with Campaign for Drawing in Sept 2007.

The event was participated by around 2000 children from Pakistan and three West African countries - Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and the Sierra Leon. Judging of the Big Draw Event 2007 was conducted on Jan 24 whereby Naqsh Haider (14) from Pakistan came out on top, followed by Kore Rokia (13) from Côte d’Ivoire and Richard Sallee Tellewoyan (17) from Liberia.

The winners were invited, along with an accompanying adult, to participate in a one-day workshop with famous British artist Ben Johnson in his West London studio on April 22, according to Mubashar Nabi, a senior official of the charity in Muzaffarabad. The event, he said, would bring together children and young people from his organisation’s programmes in the four countries as well as the UK to share their experiences through art and learn from each other as well as the artist.

Apart from attending the workshop, the participants were most likely to visit a school and attend supporting advocacy on the theme of education and peace which, he said, was the Save the Children Rewrite the Future Alliance campaign for 2008.

Another focus of this tour, Nabi said, was to understand the issues affecting children’s right to education in conflict ridden countries and raise awareness of these at his organisation’s head office.

When contacted by Greater Kashmir, Naqsh said she felt great for securing the top position among hundreds of competitors from different regions. “Equally, I feel proud for being able to glorify my city, my state and my country (Pakistan) at an international event,” added the euphoric teenager. She said she would benefit herself from the workshop and interaction with children from different cultures.

Naqsh is born to renowned cardiologist Dr Waqar Haider and PaK finance department’s additional secretary Dr Shehla Waqar who said they were elated by the achievement of their daughter. The family has its roots in the other Kashmir. Dr Haider’s father belonged to the Kishtwar area in Jammu province. He was serving as a judge in Mirpur when the Himalayan region in 1947.


Libraries in Kashmir are a Disgrace

Srinagar city’s central library lacks basic facilities

Umi Salma Reshi

The City’s Central library at Karan Nagar, considered to be an intellectual power house, is lacking basic facilities.

There are no proper seating arrangements in the library and the people visiting the library leave dejected as they cannot read their favourite books and magazines.

Arshid, a student, said, “When I visited library I felt suffocated because of the insufficient space available inside.” He further said that the library seems more a make shift arrangement than an established library. “It has a single room, which is utilized as a reference, circulation and reading room,” added Arshid.

The selection of site for the library is being termed a ‘terrible’ mistake by majority of people visiting it. It is situated in an area where traffic jams are frequent. “A perfect library is one which provides serene atmosphere for reading,” they said.

A visitor to library, Abu Turab said, “It is funny to see a chart in library reading “maintain silence.” On occasions, the noise around the library crosses the acceptable decibels. In such a situation one cannot expect to concentrate on browsing through books of choice”.

Umar, a computer professional said that the library ought to have the internet connectivity. “It would have helped in updating the knowledge of the people in general and younger generation in particular,” he said.

People visiting library asserted that its time for authorities to ponder seriously over ‘this missing link’ and initiate relevant measures to upgrade it.

Sakib, a student said, “The chief minister does not loose opportunity to review facilities available in Golf courses but never calls for upgradation of facilities in libraries”.

According to UNESCO’s manifesto, the public library must offer to adults and children the opportunity to keep in touch with their times, to educate themselves continuously and keep abreast of progress in the science and arts. “The public library should be well maintained wholly from public fund,” it adds.

When contacted Director Libraries and Research, Kashmir, Ghulam Hassan Khan said, “The department is working on the project to upgrade the facilities libraries.”
A project would be launched soon to ensure better space and equipments in the libraries. “The project will be completed within two or three years,” he added.

God Save my Land!

Kashmir has many challenges - here are two on eradicating corruption and preserving heritage

God save my land!

Imtiyaz Ahmad (Rising Kashmir)

Kashmir may be known throughout the world as paradise on earth but the question is how it turned to a wasteland: a land devoid of all its fertility, growth and power of regeneration. The uncomfortable truth is that it has really turned into a wasteland. “The wasteland” is a long poem written by eminent poet cum critic of twentieth century T.S.Eliot. The poem talks about human bareness and spiritual sterility.

All along we have been known for our rich spiritual values but now we are suffering from the spiritual sterility. It is a disease symptomatic of complete breakdown of contact between man and his creator. It expresses itself in the form of immorality, wickedness and of course betrayal. The man suffering from this disease knows nothing, sees nothing and also remembers nothing. He is not aware even of even his own life. Corruption in its literal sense as well as in metaphorical sense creeps into the whole existence of human life.

There is hardly any part of human existence which has not been infected by this deadly disease. The corruption of human mind or human soul results in the corruption in all those spheres where humans display their physical and intellectual capabilities. It may be education, public services, health care; all the departments of human engagement are eaten up by the disease of corruption. There is hardly any department left which remains immune to this menace.

Keeping these things in view, when we look at the contemporary situation of Kashmir it won’t be wrong to call this city “unreal”; a city which is slowly falling down from the pristine spiritual standards. We have of late seen our social order fracturing in the face of those embarrassing sex scandals. Our moral sensibilities are on sale. No doubt this is happening and has led our society to blind commercialisation and degradation of our society and human values.

My land has a sacred identity. It has been identified with peace and piety. But now, the present Kashmir differs completely from its past. The present is devoid of good human beings not to talk of Sufis. It is now a land that shelters immorality and corruption, a land where human life has got no value, a land completely taken over by those who don’t bother wasting this land. In this situation a person gets confused for he has no ready made answers to the question that what he shall do? Should he ignore all this and live a life of his own? Should he silence his conscience by being oblivious of what happens without?

In this condition a person neither stands nor sits because he who was living is now dead. We, who where living, are now dying; our prayers are no longer answered.

Shall I not, at least, set my land in order? But we are so much gotten ourselves used to the chaos that the question haunts me that if we really need order! God save my land.


PRESERVING HERITAGE

Every conscious nation displays a very serious attitude toward preserving its past. Any threats to the continuity of national ethos have dangerous fall outs on the future of the nation. Kashmir, like other nations around the world has its heritage sites and symbols. Notwithstanding the fact that overemphasis on past makes one lose the sight of future, saving the heritage sites is a collective responsibility.

In Srinagar city one of the popular outing spot was once known as Badamwari, Almond Grove. Our elders regale us with the stories of the lovely springs of their times when the families of Srinagar would visit Badamwari and enjoy the colourful nature. The fragrance of the memories still seems to be fresh. With the passage of time this wonderful outing spot lost its charm and people only lived with the memories of olden days. For the new generation of Kashmir, especially Srinagar, Badamwari was a fairy tale of by gone era. No spring, no bloom and no almonds; just the stories of it that every household would recount with a sense of loss and nostalgia as well.

But now past is ready to bounce back to life. Badamwari will bloom again this spring. People will flock the spot that once their elders did. It is quite heartening that the efforts of J&K Bank to preserve the heritage sites of Kashmir are coming to fruition. This organisation deserves public appreciation for reviving the heritage of Kashmir under its Heritage Preservation Programme. It has actually set a trend in this direction and others should also join them to contribute towards this collective cause. In fact the movement has started gaining momentum. It may be pertinent to mention here that the Department of Tourism J&K, in collaboration with Intac, J&K chapter has taken up the task of reviving Aali Masjid. This is a mosque, located adjacent to Eidgah, Srinagar and was believed to be haunted by ghosts. If symbolism is in anyway important, then a mosque and a grove can be taken as the representative of spiritual and temporal dimensions of our heritage. It augers well if both the sites are thrown open to people in the same time period.

All said and done the task of reviving the forgotten and abandoned sites is Herculean. Just an organisation or two can not do the job that is actually meant to be done by all. Little efforts from all the segments of society can result in a huge outcome.

Brave Rizwan, Bellicose Rizwan, Betrayed Rizwan

Whose blood is this and who died? Syeda Afshana tries to make sense out of tragedies that abound in Kashmir


(Syeda Afshana, 34, was born in Srinagar. She attended the Vishwa Bharti High School in Rainawari, Srinagar, and the Government Women's College in Srinagar where she received a B.Sc. degree. She completed her Master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the Kashmir University in 1999 and was the Gold Medallist (first position holder) in her graduating class. She is currently a Lecturer in the Media Education Research Centre (MERC) of the Kashmir University and pursuing her doctorate on the role of internet after 9/11. )


...Yeh Kis Ka Lahoo! Kaun Mara!

FREEZE FRAME BY SYEDA AFSHANA


Adieu my mother, adieu!
Tear not your hair.
Dead I am not.
Around your lap,
Always will I be
Invisible, listening to
Those sweet songs
Which you had
Knit for my knot!
Adieu my father, adieu!
Though on last journey
I am
But first passenger
I am not.
O, father of martyr
Don’t stagger
Alive I am,
Alive I will be!
Adieu my sisters, adieu!
Don’t recall me
In hisses and sobs,
Back will I be
In your dreams
In your thoughts
To see you
In bridal apparel
With henna hands!
Adieu my friends, adieu!
Wipe out scalding tears,
Miss you can’t me
For memories of
Shared moments
Will bind me
Close to you
To your hearts
Always!
Adieus and Adieus forever!
The novel renovation in the vicinity of his graveyard made no difference. The playing pack of boys nearby barely altered the poise of his resting place. The environs weren’t that salubrious and breezy as the din of honking vehicles and clamor of walking pedestrians agitated the air. However, he was there, buried under the soil of his nation, listening to the voices all around.
Since so many days, her mother hadn’t visited him. There were no fresh flowers on his grave. No soft fingers cuddled his epitaph. The melody of lullabies was missing. The touch of caressing hand was not there. So many painful memories raked up his soul. He had told her to bury him beneath her hearth when he dies; and cry for him whenever his dreams pooled in her eyes. Now, he guessed, mom might be busy in temporal affairs, trying to reconcile his irreparable loss with secret sobbing and sighing. She had, perhaps, gulped down the poisonous cup of awful pain …
“The blood dappled
apparel of bridegrooms
Is washed at the river
by the mothers…
The milky mothers pine
And quiet
flows the Vitasta.”
(Farooq Nazki ‘Nar Hutun Kazil Wanus’)
He thought of his aged father. The dash of annoyance on his face was still haunting him. Father had never wanted his sole son to desert him in old age. Grief-stricken and forlorn, his support had crumbled down and he was shattered. He was struggling to prop up his family and carry along the spiky path of survival. Nonetheless, he was silently lamenting the death of his brave son. He knew the son had engraved his name in the annals of the history. His was a death—a death for a noble cause.
Sisters too were down in the dumps. Melancholic and mournful, they crave to hear him again and play pranks with them. Whenever the front door of corridor creaks, they feel he is in, calling each of them by jovial nicknames. The bike in the garage was at a standstill and had gathered a thick cover of dust. For so long, none among them had a ride on it. The exams were near but he wasn’t there to drop them at the exam centre in time.
Even his room was locked as mother had directed not to open it. All his belongings were intact and untouched. Sisters many a time tried to barge in, but a strange fear of facing the harsh and heartless reality stopped their steps. The dearest brother had disappeared somewhere into an obscure and enigmatic world.
Sudden sullenness sprouted in him. He was reminded of his affable friends, the ones who would even plow through his dreams and make him happy all the time. The mutual faith and fidelity had trussed them resiliently.
He had valiantly wrestled death with daring spirit and profound passion, losing the precious blossoms of his life. So many years have flitted away fretfully and frantically since then…
“You must have heard Rizwan was killed.
Guardian of the gates of Paradise.
Only eighteen years old…
From windows we hear grieving mothers,
and snow begins to fall on us, like ash.
Black on edges of flames,
it cannot extinguish the neighbourhoods,
The homes set ablaze by the midnight soldiers.
Kashmir is burning”…
(Agha Shahid Ali ‘A Country Without a Post Office’)
He lost his life those days when the fervor for right to dignity, that was vowed, made his countrymen hoist their voices audaciously. Everything was just spontaneous. Earnestly struggling for the liberty of their beloved homeland, which was never an integral part of any formidable occupational force, the passion had dominated the mob psyche. The fervent populace had hailed everything blindly. The ‘all-inclusive espousal’ was demanding and rebellious.
But then, the things fainted and fizzled down, gradually. The fears grew dark and deep. The fear of endings; the fear of beginnings. The fear to die; the fear to live. Everyone failed to salvage the wings of the Spirit called Freedom. Everyone was tossed by fearful anguish and everyone missed the spirit. The sun bled the sky and gobbled it away ruthlessly. Forgetfulness swept all. The occupation had played its subtle artifice!
If only he knew! The scalding tears and shocking pain prick his soul. Lasting woe rip opens the scenes of betrayal before him. He shrieks bitterly, trying to come out of his grave and grab all by neck…
Flowing through the hearts
Eroding the barriers
Sliding into every mind,
The storm of Lethe
overtook all.
Eighty thousand souls
bulk of blood
pathetic cries
innocent tears,
It washed away,
washed abruptly!...
Nothing has happened,
nothing will happen.
Which Sacrifice?!
Whose Death?!...
Inconstant moods
Inscrutably unpredictable,
Infirm memory—
Unfold not tantrums
But
Indelible traits…
Swim with the Lethe,
Sell down the Vitasta.
Follow waves,
Forget graves
forget evermore!

Monday, March 17, 2008

CBM at its Best: When Cross-Border Trade Replaces Cross-Border Terrorism

A. A. Fayyaz reports on a news of extreme importance to the peoples living on both sides of the Line of Control

(Mr. Ahmed Ali Fayyaz, 47, was born in Bodina, Budgam, and received his primary and secondary education in Budgam and later at Amar Singh College, Srinagar. He completed his Master's degree in Kashmiri language and literature from the University of Kashmir in 1987. He is the Srinagar bureau chief of Jammu & Kashmir's largest-circulated newspaper, Daily Excelsior. He is also a filmmaker and currently making a film on Kashmir's top pilgrim tourism destination of Chrar-e-Sharief, and about Sheikh-ul-Alam Sheikh Noor-ud-din Noorani, also known as Nund Rishi.)

Foreign investment in PDC’s 20,000 mw power projects soon
Jairam hopeful of cross-LoC trade in 90 days
____________________________________

SRINAGAR, Mar 17: Union Minister of State for Commerce, Jairam Ramesh, today said that the cross-LoC trade between India and Pakistan through the divided state of Jammu & Kashmir was likely to start in the next 90 days as its entire groundwork had been completed. He said that in tandem with the state government, Government of India was introducing and facilitating a slew of revolutionary measures---including declaring the strife-torn state as an SEZ in Education sector and seeking Foreign Institutional Investment for power projects---for socio-economic transformation of Jammu & Kashmir.

Addressing a press conference between laying the foundation stone of an ambitious International Trade Centre (ITC) at Pampore and a scheduled meeting with Srinagar-based businessmen at SKICC, Jairam Ramesh revealed that the entire groundwork for the proposed cross-LoC trade between India and Pakistan through Jammu & Kashmir had been completed. He said that after an exercise with the government in Srinagar and Jammu, his Ministry had proposed cross-LoC trade of 14 items. Islamabad cleared nine items for import through J&K, which, according to the Minister, constituted for 90 percent of what the state government and the business community had proposed.

“As soon as the new Government takes over in Islamabad, we will execute an agreement with Pakistan. I am pretty hopeful that the (cross-LoC) trade would start in the next 90 days”, Jairam Ramesh said. He said that he had strong apprehensions of a negative response from the Pakistani officials and politicians. “But, ironically, we found them all positive and enthusiastic to our proposals”, he said and revealed that Pakistan would mainly import handicrafts through Jammu & Kashmir.

Jairam said that handloom and handicrafts were the mainstay of J&K’s economy, alongside horticulture and tourism, and both, the state and the central governments, were making substantial efforts to boost the trade in this sector. He said that India had last year beaten Iran and become the largest exporter of carpets, earning foreign currency worth Rs 4,000 Cr. He was proud to declare that J&K alone exported hand-knotted carpets worth Rs 1,000 Cr. He said that with an amount of Rs 85 Cr, all the 40,000 carpet weaving looms in J&K state were being replaced with the modern looms developed by Indian Institute of Carpet Technology at the rate of 8000 per year in the next five years. While the state and the central governments would pay 75 percent of each loom, costing Rs 22,000, the beneficiary artisan would have to contribute just 25 percent of the amount.

Holding his second press conference at the same venue in five months, Jairam Ramesh said that Government of India was also raising Rs 9-Cr Craft Development Centre in Srinagar in addition to Rs 116-Cr ITC at Pampore. He said that the Union Ministry of Commerce had sanctioned Rs 30 Cr for phase-I of the ITC which would cost Rs 49 Cr. No more than Rs 15 Cr had been provided to such ITCs established at Chennai, Gowahati, Bangalore and Kolkata. He said that the ITC at Pampore would attract businessmen from all over the world and the trading, which would continue round-the-clock and round-the-year, would start in two years. Horticulture and handicrafts would be the main items of sale.

Making a significant announcement, Jairam Ramesh revealed that the typical Kashmiri Kani shawl would be protected with Geographical Indication (GI) “in the next few days” even as the process would be extended to the exquisite Kashmiri Pashmina and Kashmiri Sozni shawls immediately thereafter.

Jairam said that with a special outlay of Rs 630 Cr, Government of India had just sanctioned a special outlay of Rs 630 Cr for a countrywide project of cultivation and preservation of medicinal plants. With an amount of Rs 160 Cr, five medicinal plant processing zones were currently being established in the country. He revealed that one of such zones, involving expenditure of Rs 32 Cr, would be established by National Medicinal Plants Board in Jammu where 100 acres of land were being procured for this purpose with the help of Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. He disclosed that two private companies---Himalayan Drug Company Bangalore and Sami Labs---were already studying the prospects of business in Jammu.

Flanked by Chairman of J&K Bank Ltd and Economic Advisor to J&K Government, Haseeb Drabu, Jairam Ramesh said that the Centre, in collaboration with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Ltd, would soon start yearly selection, training and placement---mainly in BPO---of over 4,000 Science and Engineering graduates in the Information Technology (IT) sector in J&K. He said that TCS would send a team, led by a CEO, to kickstart this project in J&K and National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) would finalise an agreement with the process partner, J&K Bank.

Expressing his disappointment that J&K did not figure on India’s IT map, which had been dominated by Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune etc, Jairam said that he had also interacted with the WIPRO chief Azim Premji who, according to the Minister, had shown keen interest in developing J&K as an IT hub. The insurgency riddled Northeast had been already pushing 7,000 incumbents a year in the IT stream for which NASSCOM had been holding tests and job fairs, he informed.

Minister of Commerce expressed dissatisfaction over J&K Bank’s Credit Deposit Ratio which, he said, was just 40% as compared to over 80% in Southern states and around 50% in the Eastern states. He advised J&K Bank to simplify and speed up the process of lending notwithstanding the fact that it had reached a stupendous 8,000 Cr in 2007-08 as against 2,500 Cr three years ago. Drabu claimed that J&K Bank’s CDR had now touched 47% and the volume of its local crediting was more than 50%.

Jairam and Drabu revealed that a delegation of high-flying foreign investors had just visited Srinagar and an enormous capitalization was being generated through Foreign Institutional Investment for the Special Purpose Vehicles of J&K Power Development Corporation---a number of hydro-electric generation projects in two river basins in Jammu region. They said that J&K had a hydro-electric potential of 20,000 mw and the foreign investors were going to make huge investments in these power projects as also in small and medium enterprises in the state. Drabu said that 40% of his bank’s market capitalisation was already from FIIs.

Srinagar or Jammu: It is clear that no lessons were learnt after deadly earthquake in 2005

How many disasters will it take to end haphazard construction in our two main cities?

No lessons learnt after deadly ’05 quake

Jammu, March 16The state government apparently has not learnt any lessons from October 2005 earthquake, which wreaked havoc in Jammu and Kashmir. Unplanned constructions without any quake resistant technology continue to mushroom in twin capital cities of Jammu and Srinagar.

Ever since killer quake flattened structures in 2005, the state government framed a disaster management committee and a senior official measures the state’s progress at 8 on 10 level to meet any contingency. But despite all these preventive steps, high rise buildings minus requisite technology continue to come up.

“The state falls under seismic zone categories 4 and 5 where seismic activity happens every five days and even this morning a temblor measuring 3.5 on the Richter scale struck south Kashmir,” said Project Coordinator Disaster Management, Amir Ali.

He, however, claimed that state government has made big strides forward ever since October 8, 2005 saying, “The state as of today has sufficient seismographs with V-satellite connection and two to three Global Positioning Systems (GPS) so as to help geologists and experts in their research.”

Official sources said, “Situated on the faulty lines, the state today needs micro-zonation study and space-based remote sensing research so as to predict major tremblers in future.”
It may be recalled here that 1,400 people in Jammu and Kashmir and over 70,000 in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir were killed on the fateful morning of October 8, 2005.

The state government in collaboration with the Unesco recently conducted a workshop in Srinagar forwarding its recommendations to the housing and urban development department.

“However, we cannot implement the recommendations unless and until a techno-legal regime including by-laws are put in place,” said an official of the Housing and Urban Department.

“Leave aside financial implications, a legal framework is required to ensure every new structure is constructed with quake resistant technology,” he said, adding, “It is possible only after state legislature makes necessary amendments in Jammu and Kashmir Municipal Corporation Act.”

He said that ‘lifeline’ buildings like hospitals, civil secretariat, schools, colleges and other multi-storied structures in the state shouldn’t crumble during quakes. “The matter has been taken up with the government,” he said.

Responding to a query, he expressed apprehensions that high-rise buildings in Jammu and Srinagar may not endure another seven plus temblor. The 2005 quake had a magnitude of 7.6 on the Richter scale.

When contacted, an official of the Jammu Municipal Corporation said, “Undoubtedly unplanned constructions have been going on in the winter capital and the old city faces a major threat because fault lines are passing beneath Gujjar Nagar and Tawi River.”

“Leave aside unplanned and illegal constructions in the city, a danger constantly lurks over old and ageing Town Hall housing JMC office,” he said.

The unplanned Jammu city, particularly western part, has several localities where not even an ambulance can enter in the wake of any unforeseen event and to aggravate the problem people after hobnobbing with the JMC officials have been managing illegal constructions.

(Tribune News Service, Chandigarh.)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Turning the LOC into a "Line of Commerce" would bring peace and prosperity to the region

If good governance takes hold in Kashmir, the possibilities are endless. Bilal Hussain examines the future where the LoC is transformed into a Line of Commerce that brings strength and stability to the State.

(Mr. Bilal Hussain, 28, was born and raised in Srinagar. He went to the CASET Experimental High School, and the S.P. College, Srinagar. He has a Master's degree in Finance and Control (MFC) from the Kashmir University. He worked as a financial writer and analyst for a telecom start-up company before joining Greater Kashmir staff as a writer/sub-editor in 2007. His personal interests are reading, writing, and internet surfing.)

Economic Unification will fetch Rs 12000 Crores

Separatists demand JK's inclusion in SAARC, duty-free access to Indo-Pak markets

Srinagar, March 15: The debate on economic unification of the divided parts of Jammu and Kashmir is gaining momentum with the separatists seeking inclusion of the 'united J&K' in the seven-member South Asian economic bloc, SAARC. There are also voices favoring the conversion of LoC into a 'line of commerce' through an open market formula in which two parts of Kashmir will have a duty-free access to both Indian as well as Pakistani markets.

Experts here believe the perpetual blockade of the traditional routes across the Line of Control (LoC), which divides J&K between India and Pakistan, has an estimated annual trade potential of whopping Rs 12000 Crore.

Islamic Students League leader Shakeel Bakhshi believes that this huge loss could be made good if the 'J&K Union' was included in SAARC. "The economic union would bring fruits only if J&K would get the SAARC membership of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). By this we would be able to get patents for our indigenous products," Bakhshi told Rising Kashmir.The economic unification, he added, is the extension of South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) leading towards a customs union, common market and economic union.

Kashmir University's noted Dean of Social sciences, Professor Nisar Ali, said the economic union of the divided parts of Jammu and Kashmir humanitarian, social and economic dimensions."The line of control besides being a physical blockade has proved to be the economic barrier between two parts of J&K," added Professor Ali who has also carried out a research regarding the economic prospects of throwing the LoC open for trade and communications. "Economic unification would mean duty free movement of goods, labor and services across LoC. A variety of products including handicrafts could be traded across LoC," he said adding that the blockade of trade routes has not allowed the fullest exploitation of economic resources on either side of the dividing line.

Peoples Conference Chairman Sajjad Lone who had drawn flak from BJP for his 'Muslim Kashmir' demand, which he aired past year, told Rising Kashmir that carving out a single economic union out of two separate sub-entities, which have distinct political and geographical status, was possible. According to him a single economic entity would mean free flow of capital, trade, services and labor. Economic operations across the LoC and the removal of barriers to movement are perhaps the most profound visible indicators of change psychological unification.

Citing his economic model that he has included in his Achievable Nationhood Sajjad said, "Goods of J&K economic union would have duty-free access into India and Pakistan. This means that the J & K economic union would be able to service both the Indian and the Pakistani markets. Apart from that compared to the existing situation two parts of J&K would be able to service each other's markets. The synergistic size of the market is 1+1=4. The base union of two parts of J&K would be able to service four markets India, Pakistan, J&K (India) and J&K (Pakistan)."

International Business expert, department of commerce Kashmir University, Mohammad Shafi said, "The J&K would become economic hub for both countries. This will usher in an era of economic progress."According to him the trade across LoC would mean exchange of goods and services. "Forwarding agents, exporters, transporters, growers in short every body would get financially benefited," he added. Trade can take place between two parties when comparative advantage of goods and services are there then only we can exchange them. "We have comparative advantage in handicrafts likewise they would have advantage in some other sectors which we can trade," he said adding that the proximity of market was an added advantage that should be utilized.

But Sajjad Lone feels that such trade cooperation had been a norm between contiguous markets but was abandoned post World War II. "General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT) was seen as an instrument of promoting world peace. This helped to bring countries like Germany back to the world economic system," he pointed out.

Sajjad quoted the example of the European Union where, he believes, centuries old political rivalries could not deter the nations to exploit the benefits of economics. "This,", he says, " facilitated the moves that brought these states together in pursuit of economic objectives with spill over effects spreading to other sectors at a very fast pace."

Does Anybody Care? (Because you should.) Today is the Chinar Day

Today is a token remembrance of a Kashmiri icon that is on the verge of slow extinction.

While Jahangir Bukhari laments on the dying flames of Chinar, it may be that the government and general public are doing too little, too late.

Today (March 15) is Chinar Day

The floriculture department has decided to celebrate March 15 as Chinar Day here to emphasize the urgent need to save this majestic tree.

According to officials of floriculture department, the objective of assigning a separate day for the tree is to uphold the historical identity of this majestic tree in Kashmir. “We want to make the public aware how important this tree has been to our heritage,” said Dr G. Sarwar Naqash, Director Floriculture. He added, “The Chinar day will help us in apprise people about the benefits of this tree.”

According to sources, there are presently 17,620 Chinars in valley. The number has declined to more than 50 percent over the past 35 years. In the past, various departments have planted trees on March 21st, which also marks Word Forestry and Plantation Day. The chinar day, according to the department, will help in devoting more time for plantation of the tree. “The start of the drive will help us to span the plantation over a longer period of period,” said Naqash.

The department has also taken a strong note of the felling of green Chinars from various areas. “It is unfortunate that people are so callous towards this tree. We are seeing to it that no permission is granted to fell any green Chinar tree. The revenue department also has to play a vital role in saving this majestic tree,” added Naqash.

The dying flames of the chinar(S.Jahangir Bukhari)

Chinar trees or bouins, gracing the paths and gardens of exotic Kashmir, are now on the verge of depletion because of human apathy and the administration's indifference. The chinars, once abundant, are increasingly becoming a rare sight.

GODS OF nature have always taken mercy on Kashmir. If there is a heat wave there is rain immediately after. If there is drought there has been snow too, but despite this mercy Kashmir continues to suffer. That is because the cruel human hands continue to destroy what nature has given in abundance.

Cruelty with nature and human interference galore is eating up the vitals of the paradise. Take for example the environment; immense damage is done to it undermining the nature's benevolence. The natural environment is getting decayed due to rapacious interference by human beings. All its facets like rivers, jungles, pastures, gardens are on the verge of destruction. Nothing has been spared, not even its unique feature, the majestic Chinar tree. Due to the apathy of administration and lack of self-discipline of the people, this 'king of trees' is under the axe of smugglers and their mentors among the officialdom. Visit any corner of the valley, including the protected Naseem Bagh on the shores of Dal Lake, one gets the impression that the gracious chinar tree, which has added to the picturesque beauty of Kashmir for centuries is close to extinction. Every year, the number of chinars is decreasing.

The chinar trees, which flourished everywhere in the valley, is increasingly becoming a rare sight even though there is a lot of clamour about the rule of law, economic prosperity and environmental awareness. The chinar was considered to be a wealth, because it contributed not only to the beauty of Kashmir but also to its resources. Chinar wood is as good for furniture, as for making 'papier machie' items like wall hangings. It has also been one of the main sources of firewood for the rural lot whose firepots (Kangris) are filled by charcoal of red chinar leaves in winter.

Gone are the days when one would come across gigantic chinar trees. These have been and are still being cut down ruthlessly. Revenue, forest or police agencies either do nothing or connive actively. The laws are flouted. It is unfortunate that there is no government agency, which would use government land, parks or gardens or even highways for the conservation of this majestic tree. Both the state as well as citizens seem to be totally apathetic to this great loss. People shun its growth to save land. It is also normally planted in kitchen gardens for ornamental purposes. Chinar leaves engraved on Kashmiri traditional pots like 'Samavar' (tea pot) etc and other decorative items are used to adorn drawing rooms.

The chinar tree is grown in Greece, Macedonia, Armenia and Northern Persia, besides Kashmir and western Himalayan region. Chinar or oriental tree (botanical name - Platinus orientalis) popularly known as 'bouin' in Kashmir is a large, graceful deciduous tree, which is closely associated with the culture and folklore of Kashmir. It is considered to be the manifestation of nature's bounty that the valley is blessed with.

There are frequent references to the grandeur of chinar in Kashmiri literature. The famous mystic poetess Lal Ded, also known as Lal Ishwari (1320-1390 AD) made the reference to this tree in an epigram containing: "Virtuous and loving wife to the cool and refreshing shade of bouin (chinar) on a hot summer day." In the Akbarnama written by Abul Fazal, it is mentioned, "The emperor took 34 persons inside the hollow trunk of an aged chinar tree."

Similarly, emperor Jahangir, in his memoirs has made mention of a huge plain tree, in the hollow of which he and his seven companions could be comfortably accommodated. These and other references were used as a source to try and establish the date when the Chinar was introduced in Kashmir, which usually has been ascribed to the Mughal emperor Jahangir (1605-1627 AD) and Shah Jahan (1627-1658 AD) who brought it from central Asia. But history was rewritten some years ago when an investigation on charcoal remains from archeological site at Simthen in South Kashmir revealed that this tree was in existence centuries before. The history of the tree has been traced back to 500 AD and the importance of the majestic tree has increased in archaeological context. But no one has awakened to the danger to its actual existence, neither the people nor the government.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Friendly Note to Houseboat Owners: Charity Begins at Home

Aleem Akhtar to concerned houseboat owners: Doctor, Heal Thyself.

(Aleem Ibne Akhtar, 23, was born and brought up in Srinagar. He did his schooling at the Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School and his B.A. (Economics) from Fergusson College, Pune. He went for higher studies in U.K., completing his Master's degree in Economics from the University of Essex last September, and is currently enrolled at the same University for a doctorate in Development Economics. His interests are minority empowerment in India, and everything to do with Kashmir.)

This is in response to the ‘awareness’ rally carried out by the House Boat Owners Association regarding the preservation of the Dal Lake. To raise awareness amongst the masses, highlighting the poignant condition of the lake, is a noble cause but seems somewhat ironic for the House Boat owners to protest against the Government and other polluters of the lake. It is indeed the sewage of the House Boats that has been and still is the major factor responsible for the lake’s rotten condition. If anyone at all needs to be educated about the conservation of the lake, it is the house Boat owners! Not only because of being primary contributors to the Lake’s pollution but also because they are the only living beneficiaries of the Lake!

House Boats in Kashmir gained prominence as a result of a ban imposed by the Maharaja which prohibited the ownership of land in Kashmir by non state subjects. In the wake of this, House Boats became a prominent haven for the visiting British tourists, offering luxury five star abodes to them. House Boats became mascots of Kashmir tourism and gained a world wide acclaim.

However the British during their time had ensured two things. One, the House Boats would not permanently stay on the Dal. They would move to Jehlum in the lean season. Second, scavengers would clean the toilets and take night soil away from the lake. This ensured that the Dal water remained as pure with the tourists as it was without them.

However after 1975, the House Boats monopolized the Dal waters and now they are not allowing the authorities even to re adjust their mooring in accordance with the High Court order. And about the human waste disposal, less said the better. All the toilets open directly into the lake, making its water not just shitty but a breading ground for all kinds of weed and disease. The open drains from the city of course compliment the contribution of the House Boats in making Dal world’s most beautiful latrine.

Average cost of a House Boat is in no case less than one crore these days. But, ask any house boat owner to use a green toilet which should not cost more that Rupees two lacs and they would demand subsidies and raise a banner of revolt against any such suggestion.

I hope at least one well meaning House Boat owner takes the initiative of going Green and installing a Green Toilet as has been promised by Laloo Yadav in his latest budget for the Indian Railways. This is a very cost effective and easy solution to neutralize the impact of houseboats which otherwise would be increasingly seen as the chief destroyers of Dal lake. In fact others living on the water body itself could take a queue from this and save their habitat. That small initiative would be worth a million shouts on the Boulevard.

Observe keenly and you will be surprised to find how much there is to see

Monisa watches the morning grind with a sharp eye and finds lessons of life all around her.

(Ms. Monisa Qadri, 23, was born and raised in Srinagar. She matriculated from Mallinson School for Girls and studied bio-chemistry at the Women's College, Srinagar. She is presently a mass communications student at the Kashmir University, and also works in the Corporate Communications and Public Relations Department of the J&K Bank. She writes as a freelancer and hopes to be a journalist some day. Her interests are public relations and film making.)


Two incidents, one lesson

EXPERIENCE

...And then she broke the silence, narrates Monisa Qadri

Just like any other day, this day too started casually. My day was ready to takeoff. The picture around was enigmatically beautiful; hazy the firmament; sun playing hide and seek with them, cool breezes caressing my eyelashes, whistling leaves that had long fallen from the wings of their mothers, trees. Everyone around wore a smile or at least tried to. Perhaps an attempt to keep warm on this chilly morning. The journey and the scene was developing in the bus, heading towards the ‘heart of Srinagar’. The sunlight, with great compassion, was filtering through the foggy air and then shone through the murky panes of the bus, which the rain had trickled some time back. This passage was not at all smooth.

I could see faces turned white due to the snowy breeze, the tips of their nose appearing red, their fingers set stiff. One by one they stole a look at their wristwatches and their cell phones, every now and then. Like me they had to reach somewhere, in time. After all, you know busy mornings! This assembly of co-travelers, who are brought together by destiny, is nothing more than a transition in time and in space. It is simply a stopover in their journey to a destined terminal. People, belonging to a varied set of connections, come and go. The variance prevailing is true to all beings, through realities and rituals, devotions and dedication, beliefs, attitudes and approaches, emotions and expressions. But still, they are doomed to be together till they reach ‘somewhere’. ‘Hurry’ is what was common between them and me.

My seat was at a place from where I could stare deep into her eyes. Those hazel eyes, sparkling with thoughts, made me take a look at them ‘one more time’. I asked myself, ‘Aren’t they beautiful?’ There was something about them; and her! Something really concealed. She had secrets. This involvement was not a one-sided show. She was aware of my glances. It was an encounter. She might have thought, ‘may be she would ask?’, and I kept hesitating…In the meantime, the crowd grew and so did my eagerness to reach where I wanted to. For a moment she vanished from my view; and my mind too. Nothing remains the way it is. And so, there is a shift in the shades of everything. Nature transforms, expressions change, moods swing; ideologies oscillate and almost definitely the humans, too. Like seasons change without letting you know; without whispering into your ears about their intensions, similar was the case with those eyes. The thoughts got converted into water, pretty salty. Soon enough, her expressions had changed, much like the ‘weather of February in Kashmir’. Woodrow Wilson once said, ‘If you want to make enemies, try to change something’. However, this one would barely make anyone into a foe. At that point; I could feel the burden of being a ‘mere stranger’. I could not help. I could not ask; although I wanted to!

The only thing I could manage was— simply wonder, ‘what made those eyes wet?’ They say, “Eyes that do not cry, do not see”, but there are times that are different. At a place where every other pair of eyes is on you, how could she afford to let go her emotions? May be she was sad, may be blue but it was hard to see her down in the dumps. It was the mystery of a woman, in her early thirties. The glum that was clasping her, held me too.

“Won’t there be more tears she would have shed, when alone?” Though she was a stranger to me, but belonged to the land I too am a part of. Only she knows the painful reasons for this public outburst better kept deep inside. That day, it was she; next time it could be someone else. The mystery that was, still holds true, “What could have happened?”

She was in a position where she could not speak out. Someone else, somewhere at some point of time might just yell out. Suffering remains more or less the same, but the way it is taken and faced, speaks all about the results. The uniqueness of human beings is always something to watch for; the way one behaves may be different from others. Coincidently, I got a chance of seeing it later that day. May be the two have no connection.

One practice, that shows the lowest level of human sophistication and demeanour, is so common that geographically specific names have been assigned to it. They call it eve teasing, groping, street gender-violence or harassment besides many more names, but what is important is that it is unfair. We know of the gadgets that are used to undertake this crime. The ‘mission’ gets accomplished through cameras, mobile phones, recorders; the media-convergence really has come to their rescue. When the ‘ends’ are evil, means hardly matter. This lady must have been in her fifties. Her nature was visibly that of a ‘retaliator’, who would not go on taking things on her shoulders. The routine setting of the bus was challenged by her. She had the guts. An elderly son of the land was caught cheating his native culture of civility. Missing the traditional symbol of Pheran seemed nothing less than a murder. This cultural identity, which otherwise one feels for in this era of newer lifestyle invasion from outside, appeared more or less like some bluffing garb. And then the security agencies suspect the one wearing it, the reasons better known to all. It is of more use than we may probably consider. Interestingly, fighting the chill comes out as one of the functions. Like other aspects of life, our style and attitudes are in a flux, at all times. Possibly so because our desires keep on changing and so does our satisfaction. This human longing for ‘bigger and better’ ends up craving for more and more. In the process, he explores ways and means to satiate himself.

It was retaliation on part of that lady, who refused the conspiracy of silence and questioned the intentions of a man, in the open. She reacted just opposite to what I had seen in the morning. It left the man with no other option but to shy away. I could see the smiles emerging from the faces of the women around, perhaps it arose a sense of pride in them.

Only adapting to conditions as soon as possible may help resolve issues sooner. Simply carrying the courage with oneself does wonders at times. You may not always need to display it. Being in mere possession of the basic raw material, which could be converted at any point of time into confidence, to say and express, is not a bad idea at all. It is better to have it already rather than give birth to one at the eleventh hour, when one is about to get choked for its want. I saw it written somewhere, “We cannot adopt the way of living that was satisfactory a hundred years ago. The world in which we live has changed, and we must change with it”.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Story of Hope and Inspiration: A Woman Named Sara

Sara shows the resilience of proud Kashmiri culture. There is beauty in her spirit.

A woman called Sara

(Even an ordinary person can teach important lessons of the life, Syed Sibghat Geelani, encounters one such woman, who taught her some basic things.)

Clad in a traditional Kashmiri dress, with kanwajis (long earrings) in ears, Kasab on head and with kangri protruding underneath her tattered Pheran, she presents a glum picture. Sitting on the busy Amira Kadal Bridge with a basketful of fishes, she aspires to sell them all by her selling abilities. Meet Sara, the fisherwoman.

The weather is vacillating and I can see she is wearing an old pair of torn slippers. Her feet are swollen, she doesn’t seem to bother. Even though she appears to be very strong and convinced but her eyes are narrating a different tale; a saga of uncertainties, miseries and poverty. I am observing her quite a while now and she thinks I have to buy fish from her. Her eyes lighten up when I ask her; why is she so sad? Within a span of few moments, she reveals her life, responsibilities, ordeals and struggle.

Every morning the suns rays fall upon the shimmering blue waters of Dal making the waves ripple beneath the doonga Sara lives in. It is the time when Sara leaves for work along with other fisherwomen. Her husband Altaf has already collected the days catch and now Sara has to sell them. Her husband is a fisherman and Sara has no option but to sell the fish to make their ends meet.

Her day is the beginning of a long and tiring work and she is not sure whether she will be able to sell the whole stock or not. Sara has been married for two years now and is the proud mother of a seven-month-old baby. Before venturing out to sell fish she keeps her child with her mother in another part of the lake. Then, begins her usual struggle for the day. Her days are hard and depressing. She dreams of a miracle to take her away from this sordid life. Everyday her destination ends at Amira Kadal Bridge that is where she gets a due sale. If she cannot sell the fish on the bridge then she goes door to door to sell fish. During the winter season, it gets even worse. At times it becomes difficult for her to sit on the bridge in cold with damp feet. However with all the hardships and ordeal in day- to-day life; at the end of the day she is a satisfied lady as her husband and son get their stomachs filled. It gives her pride.

I leave but her resilience and confidence gives me courage. Why is it that we get disheartened when we don’t get what we aim? This simple women taught me what exactly struggle is and at the end how striving for success yields results. I need to learn that there are no easy and readymade things for success, success has to be achieved.

Is the Media in Kashmir Objective, Fair and Balanced? Check out What Parts of the U.S. Human Rights Report the Kashmiri Press Ignored.

The U.S. State Department Report on Human Rights Practices (2007) highlights excesses of the state and insurgents, and describes the plight of victims. However, the Press in Kashmir covered only a part of the story. The rest is at the very bottom of this Press clip.

Abused Kashmir on US radar State Deptt: Custodial deaths serious problem, lack of accountability creates impunity

Showkat A Motta (The Daily Etalaat)

Srinagar, March 12 : The US State Department has said that human rights abuses by troops continue in Kashmir with a “lack of accountability creating an atmosphere of impunity.”

In its ‘Country Reports on Human Rights Practices -2007’ released on Tuesday, the State Department has highlighted in detail how the troops indulge in fake encounter killings, custodial disappearances, rapes and other rights abuses across the conflict-ridden state.

Lack of accountability
The (Indian) government “generally respected” the rights of its citizens, it said, adding “However, numerous serious problems remained.” “Major problems included extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and torture and rape by police and other security forces.” “A lack of accountability permeated the government and security forces throughout the country, creating an atmosphere of impunity,” says the report. Quoting human rights groups, it says the troops targeted suspected militants and their supporters. “But,” it added, “There was no widely accepted data on the magnitude of extrajudicial killings, which included encounter killings and custodial deaths.”

“For example, according to the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, 18 cases of custodial killings and extrajudicial killings took place during the year. Of those, six cases were under investigation by the local government at year's end. In March, Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad claimed that only five custodial deaths occurred during his eighteen-month tenure and that the overall situation improved considerably with a 95 percent reduction in custodial deaths over the last two years.” Referring to the infamous Pathribal incident of April 2000 when troops and the Special Operations Group of police killed five civilians in cold-blood, the State Department said that at the end of 2005, CBI investigation of four army officers, including Senior Superintendent of Police Farooq Khan, was still pending.

The report said the state government did not take action in the February 2006 killings of four children by Army at Bangargund village of Kupwara district. While the NHRC had asked the Jammu and Kashmir government to provide a detailed report of the killing, the government had not done so by year's end, it said.

Custodial deaths
“Custodial deaths, often made to appear as encounter deaths, remained a serious problem, and authorities often delayed prosecutions,” the report said. Chief Minister Azad announced that no custodial disappearances occurred in Kashmir during the year. “(However) there were no developments in the May 2006 case of Ghulam Nabi Mir, who disappeared in Pulwama after Rashtriya Rifle (RR) officers allegedly raided his home,” says the State Department report.

Torture
In the chapter “Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” the report says in Kashmir torture victims or their relatives reportedly had difficulty filing complaints, as local police allegedly were instructed not to open a case without permission from higher authorities. During 2006 the screening committees released 140 persons detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA). During the year, the government did not release any additional detainees, the report says.

In addition, under the (Jammu and Kashmir) Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) of 1990, no "prosecution, suit, or other legal proceeding shall be instituted against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers of the act," without the approval of the central government.

Pattern of rape
“There was a pattern of rape by paramilitary personnel in Jammu and Kashmir as a means of instilling fear among noncombatants in insurgency-affected areas, but these incidents were not included in NHRC statistics, as the NHRC does not have direct investigative authority over the military,” says the report.

Arbitrary arrest
In April a Working Group on Kashmir appointed by the prime minister also recommended that the act be revoked. The government had not acted on these recommendations by year's end, the report said.
The AFSPA and the Disturbed Areas Act (DAA) remained in effect in the Jammu and Kashmir districts of Kathua, Udhampur, Poonch, Rajouri, Doda, Srinagar, Budgam, Anantnag (Islamabad), Pulwama, Baramulla, and Kupwara.

Disappearances
According to the State Department, there was “virtually no information” about the fate of individuals who disappeared since the beginning of anti-India insurgency in Kashmir.

“There were no reliable figures for disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir during the year. According to Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and other NGOs such as ACHR and SAHRDC, the number of newly reported disappearances decreased compared with the early years of the conflict,” it said.

Passport delay
“Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of the government using the issuance of passports or travel documents to restrict travel of separatist leaders in Jammu and Kashmir, says the report.

“However, citizens from Jammu and Kashmir continued to face extended delays, often up to two years, before the Ministry of External Affairs would issue or renew their passports. Government officials also regularly demanded bribes before issuing passports from Jammu and Kashmir that required special clearances,” it said.

The State Department report also mentioned in detail the sex scandal that rocked Kashmir in 2006. It also blamed militants for “serious abuses, including killing armed forces personnel, police, government officials and civilians.”
________________________________________________________

ACTUALLY THE U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT REPORT ALSO ADDRESS OTHER TOPICS RELATED TO J&K, PROVING ONCE AGAIN THAT THE PRESS IN KASHMIR LACKS OBJECTIVITY AND PASSION FOR OBJECTIVE REPORTING. THE U.S. REPORT ALSO MENTIONS, AS AN EXAMPLE, THE FOLLOWING TEXT (VERBATIM):

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, regional conflicts in Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, and the northeast displaced at least 650,000 persons. Approximately 300,000 Kashmiri Pandits forced to flee the Kashmir Valley in the early 1990s after the outbreak of separatist violence remained in IDP camps in Jammu and New Delhi. They were unable to return to their homes in Jammu and Kashmir because of safety concerns, including the ongoing killings of Hindus in the state.

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs' Annual Report for 2006-2007, there were 55,950 Kashmiri Pandit migrant families, of which 34,562 resided in Jammu, 19,338 in Delhi, and 2,050 in other states. There were 230 migrant families living in 14 camps in Delhi and 5,778 families in 16 camps in Jammu.

Terrorists and insurgents operating in Rajouri, Poonch, Udhampur, and Doda areas of Jammu and Kashmir repeatedly targeted the minority Pandit (Hindu Brahmin) community, killing entire families in several incidents throughout the year.

Killings of security force members by insurgents and terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir declined to 330 during 2005, according to home ministry statistics. As of August 2005, the Jammu and Kashmir police claimed fighting in Kashmir had resulted in the deaths of 167 security forces, 359 civilians, and 622 insurgents. According to the Jammu and Kashmir police, militants killed 385 civilians, security forces killed 554 terrorists, and insurgents killed 177 members of the security forces. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at year's end, 164 civilians, 121 security force personnel, and 492 terrorists had been killed as a result of terrorist violence.

Separatist guerrillas and terrorists in Kashmir, the northeast, and the Naxalite belt committed numerous serious abuses, including killing armed forces personnel, police, government officials, judges, and civilians. Insurgents also engaged in widespread torture, rape, beheadings, kidnapping, and extortion.

As in previous years, tension along the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir was minimal. The Home Ministry reported no cases of artillery shelling, mortar, or small arms fire across the LOC or on the Siachen glacier.