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

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kashmiri Genius at Work Helping Local Industry and Jobs

Afsana describes an indigenous innovation that could revolutionize the walnut industry

(Ms. Afsana Rasheed, 29, was born and raised in Srinagar and attended the Minto Circle High School. She graduated from the Government College for Women with a Bachelor's degree in science, and completed her post-graduation degree from the University of Kashmir, obtaining her Master's Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism. She has received numerous world-wide recognition and awards for covering economic depravation and gender sensitive issues in Kashmiri journals, which include Sanjoy Ghose Humanitarian Award, Bhorukha Trust Media Award 2007, and the 2006-07 UNFPA-Ladli Media Award. Her work on "Impact of conflict on subsistence livelihood of marginalised communities in Kashmir and Alternatives", was recognized by Action Aid India in 2005-06. She has travelled abroad attending a workshop on "conflict Reporting" by Thomson Foundation, Cardiff, UK, and a seminar for women in conflict areas by IKV Pax Christi, Netherlands. In February 2008, she compiled a book, "Waiting for Justice: Widows and Half-widows.")


Innovation Tipped to Revive Valley's Walnut Industry

Srinagar: The innovation is expected to revive the walnut industry of Valley. Designed by a Kashmiri, the walnut cracker will replace the traditional cumbersome manual process involved before its marketing. Powered by electricity, the walnut cracker devised by Mushtaq Ahmad Dar has a throughput capacity of 250-300 walnuts per minute.“

Its throughput can however be increased. Dar’s walnut cracker was crude and used two wooden drums. Our team along with Dar used iron drums with appropriate structures to enhance the efficiency of the machine and increase its throughput,” said G M Bhat, Director University Science Instrumentation Centre (USIC) and Advisor Entrepreneurship Development Cell (EDC), University of Kashmir.“

It would require many employees still the throughput would be less. Such walnut cracker is not available even in China, where walnut industry flourishes. Presently, it is a rough model but it can be modified at the latter stage. However, it is in the working condition now,” he added.

Hailing from Dooru, Kreeri-Baramulla, Dar belongs to economically weak section of the society. Once the idea of walnut cracker struck him, Dar started looking for various agencies as he himself had no resources to give a practical shape to his idea. “We met Dar in a workshop at Ahmedabad where he approached us. We found the idea good and invited him to Kashmir University. We offered workshop facility at the campus. Later we spoke to one of the funding agencies, Grassroot Innovation Augmentation Network (GAIN), sister organization of NFI and they offered Rs 35,000 as assistance. Later the model was created and we offered honorarium to Dar,” Bhat said. Dar’s patent (certificate of security from Government of India to protect right of innovator for making and selling the machine) is under process.

Stating that the future of walnut cracker is bright, director USIC said, “Many people from Uttranchal have approached us. Besides, there may be many countries interested in the innovation.”

“Once the innovation would be in the market, its cost would vary between Rs 5000 to Rs 6000, even below that,” he added. Stressing the need for investment to put the innovation in the market, Director USIC said, “the cracker needs investment, but Dar can not afford it himself. We need investors who will put the innovation in market and will pay royalty to the inventor,” he added. When asked about its advantage, Bhat said that it can increase throughput and rejuvenate walnut industry.“

Although some apprehend it can enhance unemployment, but that is not a valid argument,” he added. When asked if the absence of electricity will render the machine lame, he said, “So far the idea did not click us but then we can modify it. Paddles can be introduced at the lower side of machine. Basically, if there is any such unit, government provides subsidy for generators and that would cater to the absence of electricity.”

When asked what assistance University offers to Dar besides providing workshop facility, Bhat said a proposal titled “Technology Incubation Cell” has been sent to the University authorities, which is under consideration. “We will develop the hidden talent of people with innovative ideas and pay them honorarium as well,” he said.

“Besides, GAIN cell Jammu and Kashmir will be established here to promote such activities and many problems will be automatically sorted out,” he added. Welcoming the persons with innovative ideas, Director USIC said, “Anyone who has good and workable idea can approach the department and we can offer him/her the workshop facility. The idea should simply be commercial.”

Playing Politics With Education: Will the KU Vice Chancellor keep his job by being honest?

Professor Riyaz Punjabi opens a can of worms to let out an open secret

Opening of new colleges political gimmick: KU V-C

Abid Gani Wani (Daily Etalaat)

Srinagar, April 28 : Expressing concern over establishing new degree colleges by the government without providing the basic infrastructure, the vice-chancellor of Kashmir University Professor Riyaz Punjabi on Monday termed the upgradation of the schools a “political gimmick.”

Speaking to Etalaat on the sidelines of a function in the campus, Prof Punjabi said that the establishment of the colleges and the upgradation of the schools were done “to gain a political mileage” and “the ministers have done it at the cost of quality education.”"It has deeply affected the quality of education and played with the career of students,” he said. “I personally visited the newly-established colleges and noticed that one person was discharging the duties of a principal, teaching faculty as well as a clerk. How can he do justice with the profession and deliver his duties?” Prof Punjabi said.

He said the policy of establishing new colleges would degrade the higher education and “result in intellectual bankruptcy of the students.”

“I have publicly told the Minister for higher education that the plan to establish the colleges is vague and is no way helping the students to provide them the quality education,” he said.

He said that if the government would improve the basic infrastructure to the already establish colleges and introduce job-oriented courses “it would be a real achievement rather than establishing the colleges for the sake of publicity.”“It is pathetic that the students who are enrolled in the newly-established colleges are studying in tents and a single room is the college for them,” Prof Punjabi said.

He said that in the technological era, “our colleges are still used to teach the conventional subject which makes the students dependent on the government sector after passing their degree.”

“If the new and job-oriented courses would be introduced for the students, they can generate the employment not only for themselves but to others as well.”

He said that the university is going to submit a report to the state government in which different suggestions and recommendations by the experts is sought to ameliorate the debilitating conditions of the education sector in the Valley.

Life is a Cascade of Transitions which you may or may not like

Monisa finds life is a wonderful journey so long as you do not forget that it is also a learning experience

(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.)

LIFE

Transitions are too normal! Life is ever-changing. The journey continues from one stage to next, thus proving only one thing-‘permanence of change itself’. It is interesting to see how one adapts to these different set-ups, which initially seem so unfamiliarly strange. Perhaps it is more natural than a deliberate effort by a person to understand and behave according to the required definitions and protocol. But, time holds with it, its beautiful key. This happens and is surely expected to happen in such a way. This happens with everyone; you and of-course ‘me’. Till recently, my concerns were purely academic, my goals- pretty unclear, my career’s vision still to emerge clearly, but now, as they say, ‘everything is official about it’. The path is visibly there and I can visualize it- I presume!

There were times when I learnt for seeking knowledge, for clearing exams, for self-appraisal and at times even for fun, but now I learn to earn. Not that one ceases to be a student any longer, and starts thinking like a logical automaton, or feels it beyond his privilege to have tempting liberties in life. But things get somewhat defined and decided. As a professional, my job is assigned; I have a specific role to play, which always has to fall in line with the interests of either me or my organization, as the two are synonymous, at least to me.

Career is one of the biggest concerns in a human life and is destined to bring-in changes that are high in intensity and wide in impact. It is a changeover from the life of ‘perceived’ freedom and self-dependence to the world of responsibilities and proper sense of belonging with some set-up. Suddenly, one sees a shift from the casual classroom humor to the serious and professional outlook. A person enters into a horizon where he is supposed to apply what he or she once incurred or was bestowed with or may be at times thrust upon him or her.

The set of feelings you had while asking for your monthly allowance no longer bother you; nor do the thoughts of being a dependent parasite haunt you any more. The confusion about tomorrow becomes pretty subtle. However, interestingly, the paradoxical reality is that your best friends are no longer around to tickle your emotions and there are no pranks that can enthrall you and you can still get away with them. Moreover, now it is not only about you, but there is more and life beyond ‘I’, ‘me and ‘myself’…

When a 14-year old from Kokarnag comes up with a new gadget it is time for the Kashmir University to develop enterpreneurs

Two related stories of Cheer and Hope

14-year-old comes up with an idea of cheap ‘solar sprayer’

S F Ahmad (Kashmir Images)

Soafshali, Kokernag: If you are a fruit growers and buying spray pumps burns a hole in you pocket, here is some good news as you may soon own a “solar sprayer” to relieve you of the burden of shelling out big bucks. And the credit for creating such an innovative sprayer will go to a 14-year-old boy of Soafshali, Kokernag, some 40 kilometres from the main township of Anantnag.

Pir Showkat Ahmed, a class 8th student of Boys High School Sagam, has come up with the idea of what could be called “solar sprayer”, and the experts at the Kashmir University’s Science Instrumentation Centre (USIC) term his idea a “big idea for invention”.

Director USIC, Prof G M Bhat says that Showkat’s idea is of great importance from the technological point-of-view. ”After some testing at USIC, the efficiency of this sprayer will be tested, only then this will be in the market,” says Prof. Bhat. “Yes I know Pir Showkat,” said Prof. Bhat, adding “when I saw him at Sagam with this idea, I was very much impressed. Now this idea needs to be converted into a product which we will do provided he approaches us.” Prof. Bhat further says the need for such a product in the market is very high and “I am of the opinion that this product would serve the purpose of thousands of the farmers because it will be very cheap in the market."

Pir Showkat was also discovered last December when National Innovation Foundation (NIF) Ahmadabad, in collaboration with USIC Kashmir University, organised a two-day workshop titled “Gross-root Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development" at Sagam. Pir Showkat is not only getting appreciation from Kashmir University’s USIC but his Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Form has also been forwarded to NIF Ahmedabad.

When ‘Kashmir Images’ contacted Pir Showkat, he said, "I am very happy because I cannot believe that people you like want to project me! I am grateful to NIF for having brought me in focus.” And believe it, the little boy wishes to “invent a train engine which could run on water".

Entrepreneurship: It can only develop when there is necessary support system

In all vibrant economies world over the contribution of entrepreneurship has been central. It is a known fact the economy of any people gets strengthened if people participate in it. Entrepreneurship is in essence a better way of participating in economy. People in Kashmir usually tend to benefit from economy, rather than contribute to it. This has resulted in the shrinking of economy and there by reducing the opportunities of earning livelihood.

It is the demand of times that youth in Kashmir change the mindset of becoming parasites. The workshop started in Kashmir University by the Entrepreneurship Development Cell (EDC) in collaboration with Co-ordination Federation, an NGO, to provide an opportunity to the unemployed youth of state is a much needed step. As stated by the G.M. Bhat, the Director University Science Instrumentation Centre (USIC), Kashmir has a fertile soil for growing medicinal plants and with only 1000 out of 4000 varieties known to the experts the field can accommodate a large number of people. Furthermore, if systematic cultivation of these plants can be done it can constitute a promising rural industry.

If such programmes can really make our youth understand the importance of developing industrial units that can process different medicinal plants, it can revolutionize our economy. In all this government is under an obligation to provide the necessary support system. It may include providing land for establishing the units, making the necessary formalities easier and speedier, providing financial assistance and regular inputs of knowledge and information.

In Kashmir it has been observed that those who are inclined towards establishing their own industrial units get discouraged by the kind of difficulties they encounter from getting the necessary projects reports prepared to availing the financial assistance from different financial institutions. Government must take initiatives to clear the blocks in the way of entrepreneurs. Otherwise in presence of such dampers the talk of developing industry in Kashmir will always remains hollow.

(Reported in Rising Kashmir)

Packages of Deceit - They do not help economy, they reinforce dependency

Arjimand looks at the latest pre-election "bonanza" from New Delhi and recalls similar gimmicks from the past

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 33, is from Srinagar and matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering from Bangalore University. He is also an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany. Arjimand writes regular weekly columns for the Greater Kashmir and The Kashmir Times since 2000 on diverse issues of political economy, development, environment and social change and has over 450 published articles to his credit. Arjimand is currently working as Project Manager for Action Aid International (India) in the Kashmir region and is a member of its International Emergencies and Conflict Team (IECT). His forthcoming books: " Kashmir: Towards a New Political Economy", and "Water: Spark for another Indo-Pak War?" are scheduled for release in 2008.)


When India’s former Prime Minister - A. B. Vajpayee – announced a Rs. 6,165 crore “package” (Sic.) for J&K in 2002, there were angry voices all around India’s press saying that there was no need to “swell Kashmir with money.” When the current Premier, Manmohan Singh, unveiled a Rs. 24,000 crore “package” for J&K in 2004, again there was hullabaloo all over India. From independent analysts to opposition politicians the point of bewilderment was the same – “it was too much of money for Kashmiris who don’t pay taxes, were thriving at Indian tax payers’ money and were ever-complaining.”

This week when Kashmir’s premier trade and commerce bodies – FCIK and KCCI – came out publicly to decree these “packages” as eye wash and of little help to J&K’s economy, I think it was little late. Although four years is a long time to call spade a spade but nevertheless the fact that Kashmir’s civil society has read through the finer print of such gimmicks is reassuring.

At the time of announcement of Rs. 24,000 crore “package” by Manmohan Singh I remember this column had termed the “package” deceitful and misleading (Algebra of Kashmir Packages, Greater Kashmir, Nov. 2004) and had analyzed its components as of little economic consequence. Four years down the line, I think we are in the same situation. Let us take a look.

Today both common Kashmiris and pro-Indian politicians are asking the question what has these so-called “packages” given to J&K? Have they enhanced the State’s capacity to mobilize greater resources? Have they provided jobs? Have they provided a fillip to the economy to initiate a cycle of growth, jobs and revenue generation?

Prior to the announcement of Mr. Singh’s “package”, J&K government had made a fervent plea to New Delhi to include hand-over of the Salal Hydro Power Project to the State and construction of an alternate Srinagar-Jammu highway. Both were turned down. Although Mr. Singh announced “lifting of ban” on government recruitment the fact is that no new jobs were being created. It is simply that the vacant jobs were being filled up. Let us do not forget that the commitments made by J&K government in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Government of India remain in place even today.

Between 1998 and 2004, about 21,000 job vacancies have been created in the government sector because of retirements. During 2002-03 alone, 4199 government employees retired from service. Official figures reveal that the number of vacant posts stood at 14233 during 2001-02, which saw a reduction of Rs 6773.10 lakhs in the salary bill. During 2002-03 the number of vacant posts stood at 14525 with a corresponding decrease of Rs 11668.40 lakh in salary bill. So what was new in Mr. Singh’s offer?

The 2004 “package” also envisaged creation of 24,000 new jobs. So what were they? They were 14000 caretaker jobs of Anganwadi (ICDS) centres, 5000 jobs in CRPF and 5000 in India Reserve Battalion (IRB). Let us do not forget that the “package” provided for financial assistance for only one year for these jobs and from the second year it was the State government that has been paying for all these jobs.

When it comes to the money part of it, economics is very simple. A huge chunk of the Rs 24,000 crore - totaling Rs 18000 crore - was actually meant to be spent by the Government of India through National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) to “improve transmission and distribution (T&D) systems in the State. Out of the Rs 18000 crore a big chunk was spent on the construction of Uri II and Kishenganga Power Projects – both in the central sector. Since the existing transmission network was not sufficient to effectively network this new system with India’s Northern Grid, most of the money is actually being spent on upgradation of the transmission system of the Northern Grid. So what did J&K State get?

Let us now have a look at the Rs. 6165 crore “package” announced by India’s former Prime Minister – Mr. Vajpayee. His “package” included the 287-km Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramullah rail line at a cost of Rs 3500 crore. It also included the Nimu Zangal-Padam-Darcha Road linking to Manali-Sarchu Road at a cost of Rs.195 crore. Remember the project was to be executed by the Border Roads Organisation (Ministry of Defence) and Ministry of Surface Transport for defence purposes.

The basic problem with these packages is that they do not help create a decent industrial and services base in J&K which could raise jobs and also government’s tax revenues. Some people in India generally talk of the illusion of enhanced purchasing power in J&K. Purchasing power and average incomes taken as sole indicators of State Domestic Product (SDP) are misleading. Greater purchasing power in J&K is fundamentally because of horticulture, agriculture and our handicrafts exports.

Severe shortage of electricity has crumbled all the potential growth engines of the State.

When we talk of these two packages, it is possible that they would have circulated some fraction of money locally for a certain period of time. But let us do not forget that J&K is today almost a 95 per cent import-based economy which pumps back whatever money is pumped in here. Some people had earlier argued that more capital purchases under these projects would help the State government enhance its revenues. But this is again misleading. Since contracts for any such ventures mostly go to firms and individuals outside the State, our State tax net falls short. The refusal of payment of toll tax by Government of India undertakings and other civilian and military establishments on all taxable goods to J&K government on entry into the State is generally not considered. Let us keep in mind that these Government of India entities do not recognize J&K Sales Tax Act, 1960. J&K State makes losses of over Rs 3000 crore every year on account of toll aversion by the central undertakings.

The reason that these packages do not help sustainable development is that they do not address our basics – power, other basic infrastructure, road connectivity with outside markets, local industrial base and tax raising through greater jobs and local production. The infrastructure that is being built mainly serves to reinforce defense and geo-strategic purposes.

Historically, a growth-oriented economic development model has never been seriously encouraged in Jammu & Kashmir. While J&K’s economy was dependent on New Delhi’s financial resources to the extent of 47 % in 1973-74, the dependence has increased to 86 % in 2001-02. It is basically an economic system of regression.

As Peace Slowly Returns to the Valley, Prosperity Begins to Take Toll on Public Mental Health

Srinagar's lone mental hospital reports increasing psychological disorders traced to increasing competition and industrial activity

Kashmir on a Psychological Precipice - Where is the Civil Society?

The solitary government-run hospital for psychiatric diseases in Srinagar is recording the arrival of 12 fresh cases of patients every day, if a recent report were to be believed. Even as experts would have us believe it was a “global phenomenon,” the prevailing conditions and unending political uncertainty in the valley have combined to take a heavy toll on the mental health of its people. Hospital sources would tell us “post traumatic stress disorders and depression” most patients admitted there suffer from.

At present, around 150 patients suffering from various psychological ailments are admitted in the hospital every day, and their count is increasing by the day. Lately, a new category of patients are reporting at the hospital whose psychological disorders are traced to increasing competition and industrial activity. “A few years back, psychological disorder was attributed only to present conflict but, at present, there are multiple reasons behind the increasing numbers of psychological problems. Majority of them are related to environmental stress and over-burden of work,” doctors would tell us. Such patients, they assert, need extra care and prolonged treatment.

Incidentally, women constitute the vast majority of patients suffering from psychological disorders. It goes without saying that the valley has been through a virtual hell for several years past with thousands of women losing their husbands in the on-going turmoil. While most such widows are living in abject misery and penury, thousands of women have been traumatized following the enforced disappearance of their husbands after being picked up randomly by police or security forces. Described as “half widows” their plight is far more poignant as they assemble in or around the city centre at Srinagar every month to demand the whereabouts of their missing husbands from the callous government.

Lately, there has also been a sharply upward trend in suicides, with teenagers or youth being the victims in most cases. Reports suggest no less than 19 persons had taken the extreme steps in just 20 days during recent times. The alarming tendency is traced to several factors, including the increasing pressure of studies. Rampant unemployment among the educated youth has led to a highly explosive situation marked by growing frustration. Thousands of the desperate youth are believed to have become drug addicts as a result.

Going by reports, most people In the valley and the hill regions of Jammu suffer from psychological disorders, generally complaining of anxiety, depression, hysperia or post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). It is an open secret that every one is a victim of the conflict in one or other way.

Sadly, the state government, which is never tired of churning out lofty promises of moons and stars to the people, is brazenly unconcerned about this disturbing situation. In spite of claiming an investment of hundreds of crores of rupees on the improvement of healthcare infrastructure it has failed to provide for an effective and matching response to the mental health problems facing more than 90 per cent of the state population.

With the number of patients swelling by the day, the valley’s only Psychiatric Diseases hospital in downtown Srinagar, having outlived its age, is pathetically ill-equipped to cater to their needs. Going by reports, there is just one psychiatric doctor for every one lakh patients.

During his stint as the chief minister of the PDP-led coalition government, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, had emphasized the urgency of setting up of a “sophisticated” mental hospital in the valley, in view of the fast increasing incidence of mental disorders here. Inaugurating a 200-bedded hospital in the city’s cantonment area, he had also stressed the need for more trauma units and psychiatry clinics in hospitals. According to official reports, the Mufti had told health minister and senior officials of the ministry present on the occasion that they should think seriously over the construction of a sophisticated mental hospital. “During last few years, mental health of the people has got severely affected which has created this need,” he was quoted as having said. One wouldn’t know whether he had made these observations at the spur of the moment or it reflected a genuine, albeit belated, realization on the part of state government to fulfill the long felt urgency.

Apparently, no follow up steps appear to have been taken, even by his more talkative successor. Instead of getting its priorities right, the coalition government and its ministers and top functionaries continue to fritter away scant and borrowed resources on cosmetic and trivial activities and, in the process, the pressing needs of the people like education, healthcare, social services and civic infrastructure, are put on the back burner.

Incidentally, the absence of civil society players in the key mental health area has aptly aggravated the grim scenario, particularly in the valley. Indeed some reputed non-governmental organizations have been carrying out some activity, albeit on a modest scale, to create a cadre of dedicated para-counselors or to supplement government activities in the field of child guidance and counseling. However, given the magnitude of the problem, these feeble efforts can hardly make any discernible impact on the situation. It is time the government got its priorities right and initiated comprehensive measures for addressing the grave problem in the right earnest.

(as reported in the Kashmir Observer)

It is disturbing when children commit crimes, but to punish them as adults is an even bigger tragedy

Incredible but true - Kashmir lacks a Juvenile Justice System


Passed 11 yrs back, Juvenile Act awaits implementation

Wasim Khalid (Rising Kashmir)

Srinagar: Passed in 1997 in Jammu and Kashmir, the Juvenile Justice Act is yet to be implemented here. The State Government has not implemented the Juvenile Justice Act although it was promulgated in India in 1987 and introduced in Kashmir in 1997.

However, the act has got entangled in “official intricacies”. Social activists here said that it is unfortunate that the State has not implemented the Juvenile Justice Care and Protection Act even after 11 years. “There is no Juvenile Court to hear the cases of the children,” said Rouf-ul-Mohiudin, a founder member of Jammu and Kashmir Yateem Foundation. “After 10 years of propagation, the act still has not been implemented,” Mohiudin said who runs a resource centre on social issues, ‘Koshish’. “The recommendations of the act demand that State should form rules for juvenile courts to become functional.”

He said as no rules have been formulated for the last decade, the same adult laws apply to children.“After arresting the delinquent children, police treats them as adults. They are kept in with other prisoners and forced to undergo the same court procedure as other criminals. So they are weird completely after undergoing such an experience,” said Mohi-ud-Din. “They are ruined in jails.”

Social activist, Shaiq Nazir said if juveniles are not taken care of, it would embolden criminal tendencies among the children. “This would ruin the new generation.” Nazir said: “In conflict region like ours, the troopers are not authorised to arrest a child while spotting uniform. During questioning of a juvenile, a lady constable should accompany the child.” Nazir said that last year three children were detained in Central Jail Srinagar and informed that they were kept with desperadoes.

Another social activist Nighat Shafi Pandit said, “If established, Juvenile Courts could give proper hearing to the children who commit crime. Otherwise if they are kept with criminals, they would inherit the same traits and ape them.” Pandit said that the juvenile courts would also strive for rehabilitation of such children. “They are taken special care so that their thinking changes.”

Legal expert said the accused up to 16 year of age are sent to juvenile court for trial.“But in the State, their cases are heard by the Chief Judicial Magistrate. It is because the Government has framed no rules for the Juvenile Courts,” said CJM Srinagar Advocate Irshad Ahmad Masoom.

He said that the purpose of the legislation was to protect children from exposure to the criminal culture and to rehabilitate them. “There is scope of rehabilitation of children under this Act. If children commit crime, they are taken to juvenile centres. Their needs are fulfilled and their criminal tendencies minimised,” said Masoom. He said unemployment and modern lifestyle have led to increase in the crime rates among the children. “It is unfortunate that the act is not implemented,” Masoom said. “During the past 18 years children have been victimised and used as a resource by militants and military.”

Director Social Welfare department, M Abbas said that the department has taken up the case with the government on this issue.He said establishing the Juvenile Courts is the first preference of the department. “Due to non-availability of funds, we could not proceed further. We have no funds to build juvenile homes,” Abbas said.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Point to Ponder on the World Book Day: Intellectualism is kindled by literary curiosity and unfortunately Kashmir's civil society is not getting it

We may be celebrating the day but the passion for books is long dead, writes Ajaz Ahmad

Library culture in Kashmir: An obituary!

It is pathetic the way our authorities make a lot of fanfare when it comes to form but wholly ignore the spirit behind any venture. Lately it has become a trend of sorts to hold seminars and functions and celebrations at the drop of a hat. Unfortunately this tends to be more of an exercise of projecting things in a much magnified manner, though usually the ground reality is quite different. Since some years now the ‘World Book Day’ has also been added to the calendar of official happenings in our part of the world.

Every year the World Book Day is globally celebrated on the 23rd of April. There is a quaint history attached to this day and how it evolved as a day of celebrating man’s romance with the written word. It is said to have originated with the booksellers of Catalonia, Spain who selected this particular day to celebrate the memory of the legendary Spanish writer Miguel de la Cervantes who is supposed to have died on this date. The day already happened to be a day of celebration of some ancient festival wherein every lover would gift roses to his lady love. The booksellers modified this celebration by adding the custom of the lady folk responding to this overture of their lovers by gifting them books in return for the roses symbolizing ‘a rose for love and a book for ever’. Expectedly there is a leap in the sale of books on and around this day but it is by no means just about profits in the book trade.

It is more about celebrating the world of books with publishers putting out special editions of books at throwaway prices. The day happened to have yet another association which resulted in its being readily accepted by the English speaking world as well as being an ideal date for the ‘World Book Day’. It is claimed to be the date on which that greatest of writers of the English language William Shakespeare was born as well as the date on which he died. The date was internationally designated the ‘World Book Day’ by UNESCO at its general conference in 1995 with an avowed mission of encouraging people to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity of having a book of their own.

This is a fact that the reading habit has seen a steady decline over the years this being more or less a global phenomenon largely due to the invasion of the electronic media, the coup de grace being delivered by the idiot box. In the not so remote past, reading used to be a part of education as well as entertainment. Story telling and relating of yarns may have started with the wandering minstrels and troubadours, but it was the written word that established these as one of the greatest pastimes discovered by man and ‘the only addiction that pays rich dividends’. The television with its predigested and pre-processed fare, which substituted images and technical wizardry for the unique faculty of mind that is imagination, dealt a fatal blow to the reading habit. A need to nurture the reading habit, to revive man’s fascination for the written word was badly felt by intellectuals the world over.

In keeping with the tradition of keeping up with the Joneses, our authorities have also jumped into the fray of celebrating the ‘World Book Day’. The usual self-laudatory noises are made over the state-run electronic media which gives more than adequate coverage to these exercises. Special activities are organized chiefly in the form of a few desultory processions being taken out and the ubiquitous seminars etc.

The reality however stands out in stark contrast to the projection in the form of the flagship of our libraries department – the SPS Library. Housed in an old decrepit albeit heritage (decrepitude and heritage often being synonymous in our context!), it presents a dismal picture and could very well serve as the symbol of the decline of the reading habit. The once beautiful and lofty papier mache false ceiling instead of being renovated has been hidden away beneath ugly plywood sheets. The library thus fails on both the fronts – it has failed to live up to its ‘heritage’ status and miserably fails at being ‘up-to-date’ as well. The library houses a crowded array of books the very appearance of which brings out the fact of their being a vintage collection, a good thing but for the fact that most of the books on science and other topics also tend to be ‘vintage’ rather than contemporary. This library, the legacy of an autocratic Maharajah has ironically been consistently ignored by the subsequent democratic set-ups. Indeed this library could and should have been on par with other heritage libraries like say the Khuda Baksh library of Patna or the Rampur Reza library. Instead it has been reduced to a state of decadence and stands today as a grim reminder of official apathy.

Coming back to our version of the World Book Day brouhaha one would think that an exercise aimed at promoting the reading habit would target the young but as usual the children seem to be a low priority sector in this part of the world. This is also illustrated by the fact that at one point of time this ‘flaghip’ SPS library used to have an attached children’s library which seems to have disappeared without a trace or perhaps it has grown up and joined the adult’s wing of the library!

Our libraries tend to be calm oases in these turbulent times, the calm rarely ever disturbed considering the fact that reading seems to have become a prehistoric pastime. What goes further to maintain this somnolent calm in our libraries is the fact that like any other government department these stay open during the official hours of 10 to 4. This effectively saves them a visit from most of the children who are busy in pursuing ‘mainstream’ education in their schools and colleges during this time as also the official class who tend to remain in their offices or the immediate vicinity during these hours. Sundays remain the off-day of course. It may be mentioned in the passing that in the past the library used to remain open for half-day on Sundays as well.

So much so for promoting the reading habit!

Tapping Kashmir's Unique Resources for its Economic Revitalization

Afsana discusses the outcome from a conference at the University of Kashmir which promoted the development of medicinal herbs and aromatic plants that are abundant in the valley

(Ms. Afsana Rasheed, 29, was born and raised in Srinagar and attended the Minto Circle High School. She graduated from the Government College for Women with a Bachelor's degree in science, and completed her post-graduation degree from the University of Kashmir, obtaining her Master's Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism. She has received numerous world-wide recognition and awards for covering economic depravation and gender sensitive issues in Kashmiri journals, which include Sanjoy Ghose Humanitarian Award, Bhorukha Trust Media Award 2007, and the 2006-07 UNFPA-Ladli Media Award. Her work on "Impact of conflict on subsistence livelihood of marginalised communities in Kashmir and Alternatives", was recognized by Action Aid India in 2005-06. She has travelled abroad attending a workshop on "conflict Reporting" by Thomson Foundation, Cardiff, UK, and a seminar for women in conflict areas by IKV Pax Christi, Netherlands. In February 2008, she compiled a book, "Waiting for Justice: Widows and Half-widows.")


Valley medicinal plants hold employment potential

Afsana Rashid

Srinagar, April 22: Going by the figures of the state 80 percent medicinal plants grow in the Kashmir valley, but due to the absence of proper marketing not much enthusiasm is seen among the youth to pursue the same as means of employment. These were some of the observations shared by experts during the inaugural session of 10 days Technology based Entrepreneurship Development Programme (TEDP), “Medicinal plant cultivation, processing and marketing” organized jointly by Entrepreneurship Development Cell (EDC), NGO’s Coordination Federation, Jammu and Kashmir at the University of Kashmir.

During their observations, the experts said that despite having immense employment potential, medicinal herbs and aromatic plants in the valley have been left unexplored. These people viewed that geographical conditions of the Kashmir favour the growth of medicinal plants and that this sector has a great future after horticulture.

“Out of 5000 medicinal plants, 4000 grow in the valley. Most of them grow wild in forests, here and there,” said Prof. G.M.Bhat, Director University Science Instrumentation Centre (USIC), University of Kashmir.

Referring to the problems faced during cultivation of medicinal plants he referred to need for expertise, developing basic infrastructure, generating awareness and developing commercial processing plant. “People ought to be encouraged to take up the cultivation of medicinal herbs. We are basically starting from zero and there is a long way to traverse,” says Bhat.

The Director opines that medicinal herbs have huge employment potential, but as the field has been left unattended very little progress has been made in this respect. “Since market is available worldwide there is a huge scope for employment,” he added.

Touching upon the aims and objectives of the workshop, Bhat says that same has been held so as to awareness about the entrepreneur activity in this field. He believes that there is need of organizing more and more such workshops with the focus being on rural areas.

“Youth in the valley are mostly inclined towards the government jobs, but for the overall development of the nation it is imperative that a strong entrepreneur culture is built,” said the Director.

Dr. Younis Munshi, Regional Research Institute of Medical Science (RRIUM), Srinagar says that local market for the medicinal plants is high. Citing example, he says that the yearly turn over of Hamdard is 90 lakh. He suggested that the people should grow medicinal herbs as inter-crop.

Citing examples, he says that Prenulla vulgaris (kal wot), Artimisia (tathwan), Neputa can be grown along the rice fields and used as inter-crop. Artimisia, he says, can be used as the best pesticide. “Major thing is marketing and at the same time there is a need for collaboration,” added Dr. Younis.

Predicting a great future for floriculture in the Kashmir valley, Prof. Mohammad Abu Bakar Sidique, HOD Floriculture, SK University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST-K) said that more and more people are talking about the importance of medicinal plants. He attributed the same to a global phenomenon and said that the medicinal plants should be grown in the plain areas.

Touching upon the aspect of under-valuation of the medicinal plants Prof. Sidique said one kilogram of Lavender fetches Rs. 300 in the local market, whereas the same can fetch Rs. 60,000 to 70,000 in the European market. He added that this under-valuation is leading to a death of the medicinal plants.

“Our approach should not be to bring them from the forests. There are so many institutions working on the medicinal plants, any entrepreneur who wants to cultivate these plants can avail facilities of these institutions,” said the HOD Floriculture.Providing the health benefits of these medicinal plants Prof. Sidique said that in US 42 per cent prescriptions are based on plant and animal based products. He added that there is a growing demand for the medicinal herbs.“When Government of India (GOI) realized the importance of medicinal plants, a separate body was created. Thereafter, GOI established a state Medicinal Plant Board. Even we have it here and it looks after the promotion of the medicinal plants,” he said.

Prof. Abdul Aziz, Dean Academic Affairs, University of Kashmir says it is high time to get research utilized in this field.“Let us come out of laboratories and go to doorsteps of public. State in general and the valley in particular has huge potential of the medicinal plants. As per records available the state has 2, 22, 236 sq. kms mostly occupied by the forest area,” said Dean Academic Affairs.

The Sorry State of the Oldest Industry in Kashmir

Yasar describes the rise and fall of the majestic Sericulture industry in Kashmir

(Mr. Yasar Mohammad Baba, 33, was born and raised in Srinagar. He completed his degree in Marine Engineering Communication and is presently an employee of the J&K government. His personal pursuits are reading and writing.)


Sericulture Sector - Industry in Shambles

Sericulture is the oldest industry of Kashmir and has played an important role in improving the socio-economic condition of the people. Although until now nothing definite is known about its origin in the valley of Kashmir, but references in historical records and other dependable evidences strongly support the belief that Sericulture existed in Kashmir from the very olden times.

The Knowledge of Sericulture in the Jammu and Kashmir State dates back to ancient time which is evident from the reference available in the magnificent works of a number of travelers who visited this State in the past. The first attempt to improve it was made only during the reign of Maharaja Ranbir Singh. The industry was organized in 1897 in the Kashmir Valley with the cooperation of Sir Thomos Warde, President Silk Association of Great Britain, who was largely impressed by the immense potential possessed by the State for the Sericulture industry. Thereafter, it was also extended to the Jammu Province during 1907.

The Valley of Kashmir has the distinction of having been favoured by the nature with a climate and altitude highly favorable for Mulberry-culture as such suited for the development of Sericulture. These are the factors which further strengthen the belief that Kashmiris has the knowledge of rearing reeling and weaving of silk much earlier than the Chinese and Tibetans knew it. The world is still left to believe the age-old traditions and stories which say that China was the first country to know about the marvelous insect, its domestication and finally rearing reeling of silk from its cocoons.

There are definite indications in ancient historical records and works of eminent Sericulturist which show that China was not the first country in the world to have discovered the Silk-worm and developed the art of rearing of cocoons and reeling of silk from cocoons. There are evidences that Indians knew the marvelous insect, the Silk-worm and the art of producing silk fabrics before the Chinese. Shri. N. G. Mukerji, a writer, in one of his report on this subject has long back claimed that the ancient literature of the Sanskrit language affords the valuable historical arguments in support of the thesis that China should not have been the first country in the world to have discovered the Silk-worm.

There are references in Mahabharta and Ramayana about silk and Silk-worm. “In Mahabharta there is a passage describing how Rishi Uttanka beheld two women over a loom weaving cloth with a fine shuttle using black and white threads. “In Ramayana there occurs a verse which states: - Silk is produced by an insect from that beautiful silk cloth is prepared.” “An Indian King is said to have sent to a king a Prussia silk fabrics as a present as far back as 3870. B.C.” Kashmir was an independent Himalayan kingdom but it had very strong cultural, religious and trade links with India. There is strong historical evidence in favour of the fact that Kashmiri traders used to visit famous Indian cities with their merchandise consisting of mainly local products even during pre-historic days. Climatically this beautiful Valley was suitable for the growth of mulberry-food for Silk-worm. Due to this climatic suitability this tree was growing as a wild tree in abundance. Even today our forests, grazing grounds and plains are full of such wild growth.

This industry witnessed a crisis in the past also and the State started importing Silk-worm hybrid eggs from European countries and cocoons were raised for rearing purposes. It was only after the outbreak of Second World War that serious endeavors were made to commence Silk-worm seed production activities. It was during this time that a grainage was set up at Banihal, giving birth to the seed production organization in Jammu Province.

The upheaval of 1947 was the biggest shock the industry had ever received. In the Jammu Province besides ruthlessly cutting of mulberry trees, the most productive areas for cocoons viz. Tehsil Kotli and Bhimber came under the occupation of Pakistan. The post Independence era saw the rebirth of Sericulture in the Province. The then Government enacted law to prohibit the cutting of mulberry trees and started running the Sericulture industry on monopolistic basis. New areas in Doda, Bhaderwah, Rajbagh and Gulabgarh were tapped for propagation of mulberry trees and Silk-worm rearing.

In order to stimulate the inert Sericulture industry of Pre-Independence era, it was divided into four units. The working of its three branches (mulberry culture, seed production, silk-worm rearing) were being managed by the State Department of Sericulture Development and the fourth one (reeling and marketing of raw silk) was run by the J&K Industries Limited. Each province has a Director and an advisor to the Government for Sericulture. Similarly, the functioning of seed production units was also on two tire-systems. The Basic Seed Station, Mirgund (Kashmir), was feeding parent races of improved varieties of silk-worm to all centres.

As Jammu province has varying climate pockets at the height ranging from 1,000 to 6,000 feet, the silk-worm rearing was being conducted in two phases. In the hotter tract of Jammu, Kathua, Bosohli, Sunderbani, Nowshera, Ram Nagar, Romkote, Udhampur and Katra, the rearing Starts in February-March, while in colder Zone of Gool Gulabgar, Doda, Kishtwar, Rajbagh, Ramban and Banihal circle it starts late. Early budding varieties of mulberry, obtained from Sujanpur (Punjab) and Behrampur (West Bengal) were being extensively propagated in the hotter zones which used to ensure earlier rearing so that the damage done during Seriporting of larval, caused by shooting up of temperature in plains, could be avoided.

The central silk-worm station Pampore used to supply parent races of silk-worm to all univoltine Sericulture States of India where multiplication and hybridization was conducted. This step was taken by the Central Silk Board of India as a part of an exchange, being spent on the import of these seeds. Out of 20,300 ounces of seed reared some 30 years ago, only 2,500 ounces were imported from Japan and South Korea. Moreover, the average yield per ounce of local seed reared was also increased to 30 kilograms. Besides, it brought about steady and stable improvement in the utility of seed (eggs) produced locally.

Sericulture industry has played a vital role and has a great scope for the State. There is great scope for large scale introduction of bivoltine hybrid race in Kashmir State, particularly in the irrigated areas and therefore maximum advantage could be taken to enter in a new era of silk production. Experiments done in the past have shown that even dry garden leaves, if properly raised and properly used for bivoltine race of rearing, can give successful crops of bivoltine cocoons and therefore even the dry areas can take to bivoltine crops during suitable seasons.

As a part of programme of research study done in the past for improving productivity, improved techniques were developed for both mulberry cultivation as well as silk-worm rearing, besides introduction of highly productive silk-worm races. These studies have enabled us to produce good quality leaves in the case of irrigated gardens. If there was improvement in quality of the silk in the State, the export of quality fabric would have picked up and that could have increased the present level of the fabric exports. Bulk production of bivoltine grade silk and its sustained export would have a stabilizing effect on the internal prices of cocoons and raw silk as well, besides completely eliminating the raw silk imports into the country, thus saving valuable foreign exchange.

Strenuous efforts on the part of the Government in the past resulted in the production of superior and fine quality of silk, fetching leading position on the map of Sericulture in India. But unfortunately efforts to develop this industry were left midway, results of which are clearly visible today. Sericulture industry, besides being an oldest industry of Kashmir, is in shambles today.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Why does it get so hot in Srinagar? Look around you and that is why.

Srinagar feels the heat of rapid and disorganized urbanization, says Ozair

(Ozair Nissar, 25, was born in Srinagar and received his school education from the New Era School and the Tyndale Bisoce Memorial School. He received his Bachelor's degree from the Sri Pratap College, and his Master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. He completed a training course in video production from the University of Pune and directed a documentary titled, "Kamwashika," at the same university. Currently, he is working as a senior correspondent for the Daily Etalaat, having worked previously for other local dailies. He enjoys listening to music, reading and writing.)

5 lakh souls squeezed in 11.4 sq km

Ozair Nissar

Srinagar: As the authorities are lobbying for a metropolitan status for the twin capitals of the state, Srinagar, summer capital of Jammu Kashmir, presents a dismal picture on ground.

Besides lacking basic infrastructure, the city does not conform to the requirements of a metro city and is too congested to get a metro status, for it houses more than 450 persons per hectare which is double than normal standard for metro cities.

“Due to the rapid urbanization, about five lakh souls of Srinagar city live on just 11.4 sq km area with a population density of about 450 persons per hectare against a normal standard of 175 persons (maximum) for metro cities,” according to an official document released here during a two-day workshop on Community Participation in Rain Water Harvesting and Water Conservation.

The document maintains that problem of rapid urbanization, uncontrolled extraction of sand and other river bed material is playing havoc with all water bodies in Kashmir which has drastically changed the total hydrology and morphology of these water bodies thereby accelerating the siltation.

“Due to scarce land availability, people have indiscriminately resorted to encroaching on water bodies and rapidly converting them into residential colonies and other commercial establishments by filling earth excavated from the karewa lands,” reveals the document.This on one hand reduces the wetland areas and on the other causes tremendous ecological disaster due to vandalizing of the karewas.

The document suggests vertical development of the colonies and residential houses to stop encroachment on water bodies and vanishing karewas.

“Due to the social set up in Kashmir people only go for horizontal development and all dwelling units are constructed individually. There is a need for major change in the state’s housing policy, and we should go for vertical expansion to stop encroachment on water bodies and vanishing of karewa lands.”

Besides mentioning the status of water bodies in and around Srinagar the document explains the high levels of degradation and siltation of water bodies in other districts of the Valley, which has drastically reduced the water retention efficiency of these channels leading to untimely floods and droughts.

“In the districts of Baramulla and Kupwara, the main Pohru basin is having highly degraded catchment and causes tremendous siltation en-route. Out of its total catchment of 1.89 lakh hectares about 0.64 lakh hectare is highly degraded and just 0.28 lakh hectare (43.75 percent) has been treated leaving thereby 0.36 lakh hectare (56.25 percent) which is still required to be treated,” the document says.

It says that due to reduction in forest cover, the penetration rate of rain water has reduced drastically which has caused tremendous reduction in time of concentration and “it is mainly because of this reason that we often face sporadic flood like situation even with a slight precipitation.”

“If the deforestation and this extraction of river bed material and filling of water bodies goes unabated, a major ecological disaster in the Valley is imminent,” maintains the document.

Reservation Policy - Does it cater to vote bank politics or levels playing field for economically disadvantaged?

According to the author, Reservation policy is inadequate and does not yield the desired results

Reservations about Reservations!

Ajaz Ahmad (Rising Kashmir)

There is a very poignant story I once read that aptly sums up the irony of the reservation policy.

Eklavya is a character in the Mahabharata – a young man very zealous about learning the art of archery from Dronacharya the guru of the Pandavas and the Kauravas. There is only one hitch though; Eklavya belongs to a low caste. Accordingly as he approaches the guru Dronacharya and asks to be his pupil, the guru refuses saying that it can’t be so because of Eklavya’s low birth. Now this Eklavya turns out to be a mighty determined character and goes on to teach himself to wield the bow to the extent that he achieves mastery in the art of archery.

One day somehow his prowess comes to be noticed by Guru Dronacharya who enquires from him as to who has been his teacher. Eklavya maintains that in fact Dronacharya is his guru and shows him a statue of himself saying that he would always practice in front of this statue of Dronacharya that he has built as a virtual guru for himself. Dronacharya is impressed but worried at the same time by the fact that his pupil-by-proxy looks all set to outshine his royal students. To offset this ‘crisis’ he asks for Eklavya’s thumb as his due as a guru (guru dakhshina) thereby rendering the low born wretch incapable of ever handling a bow and arrow.

This is the story so far as the epic Mahabharata is concerned and a touching story indeed but our story does not end there. The writer of the modern version of this story – a satire – goes on to add that Eklavya went through the cycles of birth, death and rebirth working hard to gain merit in each life cycle so much so that ultimately he is reborn in the present age and finally achieves the highest possible state of existence– that of being born as a high caste Brahmin. He seeks out Dronacharya, who in this age happens to be the principal of a professional college.

Eklavya approaches the great teacher and asks to be admitted under his tutelage now that he has managed a high caste birth. The principal shakes his head sadly and tells him that he could have got into his institution were he from a low caste, his high caste birth in itself being a factor against him!

Indeed this story serves to highlight the restrictions that one’s birth in a particular caste, low or high, puts on his future prospects. The recent controversy about the OBC quota in educational institutes and jobs including the prestigious IIMs has again brought this issue into the limelight at the national level.

Even locally, here in our state, the issue will soon be a topic for bitter debate once again as the results of entrance examinations for various professional colleges will be declared and merit will once again become a casualty of the quotas.

Has reservation policy really fulfilled the objectives that it sought to attain? Does reservation really lead to the uplift of the underprivileged classes? Is reservation about social justice or injustice?

The caste system was not supposed to be rigid to begin with. It was later on that this segregation of people into various classes merely on the basis of the vocations they pursued degenerated into an inflexible categorization of people based on birth. A person whom destiny chose to place in a particular class remained in that class no matter how much he strived to overcome it.

Unfortunately the same rigidity afflicts the reservation policy. A person belonging by virtue of his birth to an unprivileged class might be presently considerably better off than a person from a supposedly privileged class in terms of socioeconomic conditions and education but he continues to milk the disadvantage-converted-to-advantage that his birth has conferred upon him. Thus a policy aimed at providing social justice ended up fostering injustice. Merit became hostage to the accident of being born in a particular class or community.

That the lot of the underprivileged classes remains unchanged even today is itself a pointer towards the failure of the reservation policy. It is because ultimately this policy also favours the privileged, the privileged lot among the unprivileged that is.

A great majority of the people belonging to these classes do not have access to basics like food, medical care and primary education making the provision of job reservations and quotas in higher education irrelevant for them. Reservations are meant for individuals and select families rather than being an equitably distributed advantage for the masses. It ends up creating more classes, a subclass of a privileged few within an unprivileged whole.

That reservations promote inefficiency is evident in itself. Rather than ‘elevating’ an underprivileged person by granting him concessions in the level of efficiency required for a particular position wouldn’t it be more pragmatic to ensure that he is brought up to the level of efficiency required? Now that would be uplift in the real sense! Rather than pull up an individual the present system of quotas and reservations aims at pulling down the system.

What is more, ultimately it is the underprivileged lot which suffers more because of this rigid policy. A person who is born in a family several generations of which have enjoyed the privileges of reservation naturally gets to study in the best of schools and enjoys the best possible facilities in terms of housing, healthcare and education. Now when this same person sets claim to the ‘reserved quota’ another person who belongs to the same underprivileged class or say a backward area and is still underprivileged definitely stands at a disadvantage when pitted against this person.

Thus again this system ended up catering to the elite. It is a fact that most of those who benefit from the reservation policy are the ones who no longer need it!

Half a century of reservations has not changed the glaring fact of a considerable number of people in this country still having to forage for food in the filth of dustbins, or of parents selling their daughters at a price less than that of a cow or that a failed crop means that a farmer has to commit suicide.

This is because the reservation policy is mere patchwork and not a concerted effort at long-term uplift and welfare. Such a policy will however continue to flourish, in spite of its flawed nature, so long as politicians use it as a sop to establish and maintain potential vote banks and of course the privileged few that benefit from it will ensure that it does flourish.

Home to birds, useful for locals, this wetland is under threat due to flawed decisions

Syed Basharat describes how knee-jerk decisions by the State Government are about to destroy the only breeding habitat for Mallard ducks in Kashmir

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

SRINAGAR: As the department of Irrigation and flood control division of Anantnag has started digging and widening the drainage canal across the 70 hectare Marhama-Panchpora wetland, the only breeding habitat for Mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos) in India is under threat. Mallard-a duck with green head and yellow bill is listed under schedule 4, of wild life protection Act 1972 and Jammu and Kashmir wild life protection amendment Act 2002.

"Department of flood control has almost started desiccation of this wetland which will not only affect Mallard duck and other 25 species of birds but it will create a lot of problem for the human population as well," said a famous Zoologist of valley Dr Aijaz Masli who has presented various research papers in ornithology (study of birds).

Giving the socio-economic and ecological importance of this wetland, a section of ecologists and wild life biologists in valley have appealed to the chief minister and minister of environment and forest to take necessary steps for its restoration and maintenance. "If the deterioration of this wetland continued like it is undergoing, it will affect the entire population as this wetland would act as a sink for pesticides thus filtering water which a huger population of this area make use of," said another expert pleading anonymity.

The work executed by the department of flood control is actually being done on the dictates of some politicians who want to keep the vote bank in good humour, reliable sources said.

"This wetland is spread over 20,000 Kanals of land and once this wetland is dried up it will be utilised in various ways," sources added.This wetland with an area of about 70 hectares and a depth of about 1.5 meters is a permanent fresh water wetland which was originally a common pastureland, extending from Sangam Bridge up to Kaichuchkoot area. Besides Mallaard, few other waterfowl species like coot, dabchick and Moorhen breed in this wetland. Among summer migrants great Reed warbler whiskered terns, little bittern, and Northern Rudy crake utilize this wetland as nesting habitat.

"Twenty five species of birds utilise the resources of this wetland. Similarly forty species of Hydrophytes are found in this wetland. People from adjacent villages-Marhome, Panchpora, Halmulla, Sethar, used to harvest hydrophytes (vegetation within the fresh water) of this wetland regularly for at least five months worth 1.30 crore rupees annually," Dr Aijaz added.

He further observed that since this wetland is located amidst terraced paddy fields, it acts as a sink for fertilizers drained with run off water from nearby paddy fields. The nutrients and other chemicals from these waste waters used to be eliminated through growth of hydrophytes vegetation within the fresh water, Dr Aijaz added.

Since the wetland is being encroached upon, all these toxic chemicals will make their way into river Jehlum thereby endangering the lives of millions of people who utilize the water of river for domestic purposes. And since the wetland has now been fully drained the existence of a fairly large number of birds and plants is at stake, experts opine.

Mallards use to breed in Kashmir in late 1800 but it was not ascertained till in 1997 when reports about its breeding came into forefront. This beautiful duck migrates from Siberia, central Asia (Palaearctic region) in August-September along with many duck species. These migratory birds use Kashmir as a transit point where they take some rest.

It is a dabbling duck which breeds throughout the temperate and sub-tropical areas of North America, Europe, Asia, New Zealand (where it is currently the most common duck species), and Australia.

At a time when people talk about conservation of heritage and natural resources, some people at the behest of some politicians are utilising the state machinery for violating rules and regulations, said a local of Marhama pleading anonymity.

Recently, an estimated quarter of a million birds were spotted at Hokersar Wetland and if the situation persists like the one at the Marhama wetland, these birds will stop visiting wetlands in Kashmir in the near future, Dr Aijaz observed.

Saving Rich Heritage of Kashmir

Yusuf Jameel hopes the apathy shown by the State and the public will be a thing of the past

(Mr. Yusuf Jameel, 50, was born and raised in Srinagar. He completed his B.A. (Humanities) from the Kashmir University and went on to complete a Master's degree in Political Science from the same University in 1980. He served as an Assistant Editor of the Urdu daily, Aftab, during his student days, and afterwards did some freelancing before joining the Daily Telegraph in 1983. Since 1993, he is a special correspondent with the Asian Age and its sister publication, the Deccan Chronicle. He has been a frequent contributor to the BBC, the New York Times, the Voice of America, the Agency France Presse (AFP) and a number of other national and international news agencies. He received the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in New York in 1996, and the SAFMA Best Reporter Award in 2005. Mr. Jameel is noted for his fearless reporting that has earned him the ire of both authorities and militants, but takes his leasure time in stride with photography, fishing and trekking.)

AFTER years of apathy and lack of commitment towards the state’s rich heritage, the people of Jammu & Kashmir are waking up to its widespread impairment. A concerted effort at the community level is under way to protect whatever is left of the splendour they have been proud of and preserve it for future generations.

Apart from the intelligentsia, the students’ community is at the forefront of the campaign. Last week, capital Srinagar saw a series of awareness runs and rallies staged by the students in their 'crusade' to stand up against the decay. Kashmir University Students’ Union filed an application before the chief justice of the state high court, seeking judicial intervention towards conserving the neglected heritage sites and reclaiming the rare artefacts stolen from official museums or shifted outside the Valley.

Jammu & Kashmir’s distinctiveness also lies in its heritage and environment. Its summer capital Srinagar in itself is a city of great antiquity.

As much as its natural and scenic beauty, Srinagar is famed for its monuments and shrines: architectural wonders that hold the key to the City’s spiritual and historical past. It has been a melting pot of cultural and religious influences and has assimilated some exclusive arts and crafts. Srinagar is also justly known for its Mughal gardens - vast acres of hillside, terraced with water bodies and rimmed with flowering shrubs and trees - laid in formal quadrangles by the Mughal emperors whose love for the Vale of Kashmir is legendary.

But over the years, Kashmir and in particular Srinagar could not reconcile the requirements of modern development with its scenic splendour and historical and cultural heritage. “The result is that it is fighting a battle to retain whatever is left of this old glory,” admitted M. Saleem Beg, secretary of Centre for Heritage and Environment of Kashmir (CHEK), while explaining the effort put by him and his colleagues towards cultural resource mapping and restoration of its treasured possessions.

According to him, it is not the question of preserving the Valley’s masterpieces or retrieving those it has been divested of alone. "Among other afflictions, particularly suffered by Srinagar at the hands of successive governments, the loss of open spaces is perhaps the most glaring of all," he says. “This state-sponsored urban ‘vandalism’ has reduced the one time Venice of East into the most unplanned urban concrete jungle and a slum,”

Some of the city’s landmarks including world famous Dal Lake and other water bodies are threatened with extinction. Apart from increasing requirement of the residents, the greed of some of them, official apathy precisely the corruption, nepotism and political partiality, besides lingering instability, added to the woes of the place.

It was at the instance of CHEK that the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), New Delhi had, sometime ago, prepared a draft identification of heritage zones of Srinagar. The CHEK did a detailed cultural resource mapping and proposed a draft heritage legislation of the city as it believed that without legislation or regulation there can be no preservation. “It is exciting to find a heritage site restored. However, restoration preserves only a few sites whereas regulations or legislations preserve thousands of sites,” CHEK chairman Mohammad Shaffi Pandit asserted.

The state government has so far, failed to acknowledge the necessity.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Breeding Ground for Yes-men in a Paradise that has become the Sycophantic Swamp

Syeda Afshana suggests that while others call them "chamchaas", are home grown breed are "Chonchaas"

(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.)


Y for the Yes-man!

Y for the Yes-man
who longs to say “no”;
Alas and alack,
in his job it’s prohibited.
Original thought
Is not what he’s here for,
So let’s give a cheer for
The Yes-man who really
would like to say “no”,
but does not.
The job is a hard one,
as Yes-men all know:
His private opinions
may not be exhibited.
His job is to say
what his bosses will pay for,
So let’s say hooray for
The Yes-man who’d
rather say “no”,
but says “yes” anyway.
(Henricus Albertus)

He is known by several tags. Flunkey. Patsy. Stooge. Puppet. But the common one is Yes-man. Literally, ‘a person of unquestioning obedience’. An agreeable person, always. The one who tells people what they want to hear. Pleasing all and sundry, especially his superior/boss because of the fear of reprisal for showing any dissent.

Yes-man reminds one of the popular television programme of 80’s called Yes Minister, a classic comical satire of British politics. The characters Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey made an interesting and entertaining combination of a gutless minister and his shrewd secretary. The subsequent series was later named Yes Prime Minster.

Yes-man, is also the name of a best-seller book authored by Danny Wallace, a British writer working as a BBC Radio producer, besides being the leader of a cult Karma Army.

The book is based on the principle of saying ‘yes’ to all things, from humdrum affairs to the knotty ones in daily life. The author narrates a momentous anecdote of his random travel in a late-night bus where he falls into a conversation with a co-passenger. A mystery man, he casually tells him-“Say Yes more”. For the next few months, this mantra is embraced by the author, leading to a bizarre change in his attitude.

From poking a Buddhist monk on television to Internet and mail SPAM, and meetings for people who believed that aliens built Egypt ’s pyramids, the yes-man is steered on a trail of unforeseen comedic escapades. Becoming a globe-trotter, he journeys to various parts of Europe , incredibly wins 45,000 dollars, astonishingly attains a nursing degree, staggeringly stumbles upon a hypnotic dog, and wonderfully comes across his love. Though marshalling an upbeat effect in his daily life, the new mantra eventually scuffs him.

A forthcoming American comedy movie Yes-man produced by Potter fame David Heyman for Warner Bros. is based on this comedic memoir of Danny Wallace. Starring Jim Carrey, the plot of the movie follows a troubled man who decides to change his life by saying yes to everything life throws at him.

Yes-man as a character is very instrumental in getting things done as per his own designs and plans, because ultimately he wants to see himself happy. And for yes-man, happiness is elusive and atypical. He can locate his happiness even in misleading people and misinterpreting events.

See our politicians. They are flanked by a category of yes-man who paints the things as per their predilections and preferences. Consequently, politicians are living in a false world of surmises and speculations.

A comic flyer posted in inbox showed a boss saying—‘Don’t bother me with facts. Tell me what I want to hear.’

Same is with most of our high executives and officers. Relying on the briefings by their yes-man, they are led into wrong decisions that whip up controversies and clamour. At times, high officials have flawed assessment or knowledge of the matters, and this is easily exploited by the yes-man who calculatingly never corrects them. Reason is obvious: To grind his own axe, and gain unwarranted benefit and unmerited recognition.

Most of our organizations and offices are infested with cunning yes-men. Lobbies of scheming are watered by them. They make things happen just by the knack of their sycophancy. They butter up to manipulate things. Sweet and smooth talk is their hallmark.

In Urdu dialect, yes-men are known as Chamchaas. In Kashmiri, they ought to be called as Chonchaas to qualify for the superlative degree of yes-manship that they possess.

Generally, such yes-men are mediocre persons who hold soft-soaps as their only qualification. Magnifying the miniature, the grand things are vague and unfathomable to them. They endlessly praise their small attainments. Self-aggrandizement is their manna; in fact they carry out the Satan’s task...

Khud Satai Payshay Shaitaan Boud

Looking busy but doing nothing worthwhile, they bring foundations of institutions crumbling down. Some of the yes-men are ‘loyal of the loyalists.’ They bluff on behalf of their bosses even when not required. And ludicrously, they forget the lies they dish out…

Droog Go Ra Hafiz Na Bashad

Playing second fiddle, yes-men have no individuality. They lose it to their high-ups who, in the long course, treat them as ‘disposables’. Use and throw. And Yes-men land in a garbage basket. Of worthlessness. And ignominious obscurity.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Relating Paradise to Kashmir's Historical Gardens

Saleem Beg, an advocate for preservation of Kashmir's culture and heritage, discusses historical significance of our fabled gardens

(Mr. Mohammad Saleem Beg, 57, was born and raised in Srinagar. He was educated at the S.P. College and the Gandhi Memorial College, receiving his Bachelor's degree from the latter. He was awarded a EEC fellowship in 1998 which allowed him to attend study courses at Universities of Luven, Belgium, and Trinity College, Dublin. Mr. Beg entered the State government service in 1975 and retired in 2006 as the Director General of Tourism. In the 31 years of public service (which included two deputation assignments in New Delhi), Mr. Beg promoted local arts and crafts, and raised public awareness of Kashmir's rich heritage and architecture. He was a leading figure in getting Srinagar listed as one of the 100 most threatened heritage cities by the World Monument Fund in 2008. Mr. Beg has traveled extensively and has attended numerous conferences, including the 1997 UN Special Session on Environment in New York, and the 1997 Kyoto Convention on Climate Change in Japan. His articles and essays have been published in various publications. Since retirement, he has remained active as the Convener of the J&K Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage - INTACH.)


Historical Gardens of Kashmir, an Idea of Paradise

Recently Srinagar was gifted with two well laid out parks at Waris Khan ’chah and at the foothills of Zabarwan. Among many afflictions this city has suffered at the hand of successive regimes, the loss of open spaces is perhaps the most glaring of all. This State sponsored urban vandalism has reduced the one time Venice of East into the most unplanned urban concrete jungle and a slum.

In such a state of affairs setting up of parks deserves a big hand and would in the normal course be applauded. Not withstanding the fact that there is lack of symmetry or a landscape discipline, the Parks have been provided with fixtures required in a public park.

Though the Tulip garden at the foothills of Zabarwan is more a plantation than a proper garden, there is nothing wrong with converting large stretches of land into tulip plantations. Tulip plantations, like in Holland or elsewhere, look great here as well. However the tall talk and slyness that has become part of the social transaction of our society, was witnessed in abundant measure when these parks were thrown open to the public. In excitement of the moment, name of the Mughals was invoked and a comparison was made with the Mughal gardens, the most treasured representation of Islamic heritage. Such comparisons only depict faulty understanding of the historical architecture combined with lack of awareness about our cultural heritage. There is therefore a need to place the Mughal gardens in proper historical perspective. This write up will trace the origin and cultural relevance of these gardens.

The idea of paradise as a garden is one of the man’s oldest ideals. The historic gardens throughout the orient have been compared to the paradise Garden. Historians have often found that the societies which had nothing in common shared the concept of paradise as the ideal garden. This idea has persisted while many of the civilizations which adhered to it have perished.

The English word ‘paradis’ or paradise is a transliteration of the classic Persian word, pairdaeza, referring to the walled garden. The great Persian kings would lay out walled gardens in the territories they ruled. The early references to the gardens also known as paradis have been traced to Cyrus, the 4th century BC Persian king. The gardens of Cyrus with their regular layout shows a remarkable resemblance to the description of a garden depicted in a 2000 BC old bowl depicting four beds with a tree in each bed. The basic principle and the design grid of Persian gardens, the char Bagh traces its origin to this Persian tradition.

The central Asian art and architecture has been a part of the Persian cultural landscape. Mughals, the most prominent of the Central Asian tribes carried the Persian influence to their conquered territories. It may also be noted that the word Bagh was, perhaps for the first time used by Seljuks, the Turkish dynasty in 11th century. Seljuks also came from the Central Asian steppes. Mughal gardens of Kashmir belong to this universal stream of Islamic architecture, and therefore due care and caution should be exercised while drawing comparisons.

The idea of paradise has transcended all cultures and civilizations. Though the notion of paradise predates Islam, yet the association of a heavenly garden created on earth finds a universal appeal in the Islamic world. Interestingly Quran describes paradise as consisting of four gardens (char bagh) intersected by two perpendicularly arranged water channels. In Quran paradise has been described as the abiding mansion, watered by rivers, with abundant shade and fountains. This paradise, a series of walled gardens, is Allah’s reward to God fearing men and women, the humble and the forgiving and those who have suffered for God’s sake.

When Muslims conquered Persia, they found the Persian gardens were largely following the pattern and style that they had known about the promised paradise. Early Muslim rulers accepted the cultural influences of Iran and as has been witnessed through out the Muslim rule all over the Islamic world, also attested to the indispensability of Persians. Iranians provided the intellectual and creative capital to the rulers. The Iranian influence, now adopted and integrated into broad Islamic culture is manifest in tangible and intangible heritage of Muslim rulers of Hindustan and more so in the Mughal period.

Mughal have bequeathed to the south Asia a wealth of outstanding monuments in the shape of gardens, buildings including the mosques. Their rule has been the most creative and the richest period of the history. As a new dynasty which felt the need to assert its status among the people of different creed and culture, Mughal were aware of the potential of architecture as a means of self representation. Akbar’s historian Qandhari writes “a good name for the kings is achieved by means of lofty buildings and spaces and their high-mindedness is estimated by the state of their houses”.

Mughal architecture created a supremely confident style by synthesizing the most heterogeneous elements, central Asian, Indian, and Persian. The Mughals remained flexible towards regional conditions and building traditions. The historical gardens of the East have been a representation of the idea of paradise, the ultimate bliss that has held the imagination of man since the dawn of civilization.

Like other architectural marvels of the Mughal era, the gardens also carry visible Iranian inspiration and imprint on the landscape and architecture of the gardens. ‘The distinguishing feature of a Mughal garden is the water which flows from terrace to terrace, slithering down the marble inclines gouged with scallops to make it sprat, carving over a ledge like a sheet of ice, plunging into the ground to gush from fountains below or resting in a deeper pool on its way round a pavilion reached only by low stone bridges which look like floating on its surface’ This design and layout is what an authentic Mughal garden has to be.

The garden historians as also the specialists dealing with historical architecture have defined and described the Mughal gardens of Kashmir as true and authentic representations of a classic Mughal garden. There is therefore a need to bring to fore the essential features of these gardens and restore their historical stature and status. The recent effort by the state Government to create and convert open spaces into gardens has now been mired into avoidable controversies from the names given to the gardens to bringing in Mughal architecture in a vastly humbler and a typical departmental enterprise.

Drawing comparisons with tulip plantations or public parks at Zabarwan or Badamwari only betrays bankruptcy of knowledge and brings out lack of aware ness about the historical architecture among the people at the helm.

A Civil Society That Fritters its Passion Obsessively on Politics is Hardly in a Position to Safeguard Cultural and Social Assets

To quote the author: "Not disconnecting the international politics of Kashmir from local politics is our greatest blunder. If our human and natural resources are being abused it is not about the faults in our political and administrative set up as it is about the powerlessness of our civil society"

An all out plunder of a people

Mehmood-ur-Rashid (Rising Kashmir)

If power does not belong to people it becomes their direct enemy. The structure of this power –turned-enemy-politics is such that it can not stand people’s expression in any way. This is the long and short of, what is usually known as occupational politics.

From last some weeks we have been receiving the news of artefacts from Kashmir being smuggled out into international market. Those who are supposed to take care of this aspect of Kashmir’s history have simply expressed their helplessness in safeguarding this collective wealth of the people Kashmir.

Latest in the same line of loot is the Kashmir Students Union moving the court as they have learnt that numerous relics and artefacts of medieval Kashmir are being misappropriated. This group of students from Kashmir University want intervention from judiciary to ensure the preservation of unattended heritage sites and retrieve the rare artefacts stolen from the official museum or shifted outside Kashmir.

On the face of it all this looks so remotely connected with the people of Kashmir who are besieged by life threatening problems. Even some might argue that giving too much importance to such ‘trivial’ issues is likely to take the attention off more severe and immediate problems. An impromptu response can make us yield to the argument, but a calm pondering over the issue sets the disturbance in. It is not a just a material object that we are being deprived of. These material objects actually are the symbols of our history. It may in no way affect out economy but it will render the presentation of our collective self poor.

History, in any form, is considered to be the collective possession of any people. The reason that conscious people attach value to whatever represents their history is to make history real and easily available to the future generations. Archives are preserved to connect the future with past and save the people from getting detached from any part of their collective heritage.

Like any other people, we too have a history. This too gets reflected in heritage sites, sculpture, archaeological sites, and coins of the past periods, a rare manuscript and many such artefacts. Although our resources, the level of consciousness towards preserving history and above all the fact that our life is besieged by political uncertainty does not permit that too much progress be expected in this regard, but still it can not be completely ignored. This way the initiative taken by the students is in no way wrong, to say the least.

The issue of how people are plundered of their wealth demands great insight. It needs an in depth research into the topic to make it commonly understandable as to how alien state power weakens people by attacking their tangible and intangible assets.

If we just look at some of the recent happenings in Kashmir we add tangibility to the concern and thus make it look real and gettable for an empirical grip.

Not long back we were hit by a shameful expose. The organised moral pillage conducted by the nexus of various parts of the power structure in this state made it abundantly clear that how vulnerable our society is. There was a great cry in the wake of that expose, but then every thing returned back to ‘normal’. This one was the plunder of the most precious possession any people. We were systematically robbed off it and more tragic is the fact that we ultimately proved so helpless before the power that did it to us.

Come next. Remember Kundal Report. It is the loot of our natural resources. Although the impact of the report, and the political ripples that it generated, has died down, but keeping in mind that the elections are only some months away, it is going to appear again on the scene in the battlefield. On both sides of the battle lines the girdles must be tightened up. Who punches down whom and in the process how many trees in the political forest fall with a great crash remains to be seen. No surprises if the ‘battle’ ends up without even damaging a leaf, not to speak of a tree. Because in this political paradise everybody is guilty of having tasted the forbidden fruit. All this may see the mainstream politics full of atmosphere in the days of elections but it will conclude with no good coming out of it.

For the people of this state, whose wealth is being squandered away by the people in power, there is no reason to feel elated on the appearance of this report. It is not the first of its kind and the kind of politics that is being allowed to flourish in our state ensures that many more surfaces up in the coming times. It is naïve to expect that such probes and enquiries will deter the powerful from abusing our social and physical wealth. The process of plundering our assets, both human and material, will go on unhindered till the time people attain the necessary power to confront the political and administrative structure that is in place.

Just recently the name of Siraj Bagh was changed to Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden. This one is another backhander aimed at us as a people. All this is happening and we just watch it happen.

If our forests are being looted it is not for the political parties to fight it out between themselves. If our society in being inflicted fatally, it is not an inter-party affair. If our economy is being emaciated, we need to question authorities. If our history is being stolen from us, it is not for some one else to look into the matter. Here the rot gets bigger and the crises deepen. In a vibrant society political parties can not afford taking people for a ride. They are answerable to them.

But here people and political power make two different entities with no meaningful connect. This has ensured that people remain powerless and politicians in power continue exploiting them. All this was made abundantly clear by the exposure of the scandal that caught many faces in the hall of shame. The scandal of organised moral corruption shook the entire valley. Public anger was visibly present in the streets. Did all that yield any results? The accused are back to their seats and quite flow the Jehlum.

The conscious minds of the state need to do a rethinking on how the civil society can be empowered to safeguard the social and physical assets? How the political and administrative power can be made accountable to the people? Actually how the international politics of Kashmir can be differentiated from the local politics, if not disconnected altogether? Not doing so is committing a great blunder.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Introducing the Concept of Organic Farming

A Kashmiri scientist explores the potential for community-supported agriculture based on organic farming

(Rafia Tafazul, 28, was born and raised in Kashmir. Rafia attended St. Joseph's School and received the post graduate degree from the Aligarh Muslim University. Rafia is a nutritionist who has also worked as a dietition and conducts research at the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST), Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) in Kupwara.)

Concept of Organic Farming

BY RAFIA TAFAZUL

Modern agriculture, utilizing large amounts of artificial chemical inputs, monocultures, and intensive farming methods, is a recent phenomenon. Indeed, it is obvious that almost the entire history of agriculture consists of what would be now termed “organic farming”, as in previous centuries there was no technology or will to modify natural food by chemical pesticides, genetic manipulation, etc. There is a need of awareness regarding the production, sale and consumption of organic foods both as a concern for the environment and a concern for human health. Furthermore it reflects an interest in strengthening communities and the relationships within them.

The organic movement will further help to reflect a return to values of handmade quality, accountability, and a refined holistic aesthetic. Due to increased consumer awareness and health consciousness and rapidgrowth of organic food markets nationwide, a concept of organic farming is to be developed in our state too. Our agriculture industry is blooming these days and has to compete with the rest of the nation. And this type of concept will not only result in the popularity of farmer’s markets but will also highlight the value about the use of fresh organic local foods.

Organic foods are produced according to certain production standards. For crops, it means they were grown without the use of conventional pesticides, artificial fertilizers, human waste, or sewage sludge, and that they were processed without ionizing radiation or food additives. For animals, it means they were reared without the routine use of antibiotics and without the use of growth hormones. In most countries, organic produce must not be genetically modified. Historically, organic farms have been relatively small family-run farms— which is why organic food was once only available in small stores or farmers’ markets. However, since the early 1990s organic food has had growth rates of around 20% a year, far ahead of the rest of the food industry, in both developed and developing nations. As of today organic food accounts for 1-2% of food sales worldwide. In the future, growth is expected to range from 10-50% annually depending on the country. At first, organic food consisted mainly of fresh vegetables. Early consumers interested in organic food would look for chemical-free, fresh or minimally processed food. They mostly had to buy directly from growers: “Know your farmer, know your food” was the motto. Personal definitions of what constituted “organic” were developed through firsthand experience: by talking to farmers, seeing farm conditions, and farming activities. Small farms grew vegetables (and raised livestock) using organic farming practices, with or without certification, and the individual consumer monitored.

Several surveys and studies have attempted to examine and compare conventional and organic systems of farming. The general consensus across these surveys is that organic farming is less damaging for the following reasons:

- Organic farms do not consume or release synthetic pesticides into the environment — some of which have the potential to harm soil, water and local terrestrial and aquatic wildlife.

- Organic farms are better than conventional farms at sustaining diverse ecosystems, i.e., populations of plants and insects, as well as animals.l When calculated either per unit area or per unit of yield, organic farms use less energy and produce less waste, e.g., waste such as packaging materials for chemicals.

A 2001 study by researchers at Washington State University concluded, under judgment by a panel of tasters, that organic apples were sweeter. Along with taste and sweetness, the textures as well as firmness of the apples were also rated higher than those grownconventionally. These differences are attributed to the greater soil quality resulting from organic farming techniques compared to those of conventional farming. Some studies have shown higher nutrient levels in organic fruit and vegetables compared with conventionally grown products.

However there arises a big problem regarding the certification of the organically grown foods, for this formulation of Government regulations and third-party inspectors need to be looked in for assurance. A “certified organic” label is usually the only way for consumers to know that a food product is “organic”. To be certified organic, products must be grown and manufactured in a manner that adheres to standards set by the country they are sold in. There is also implementation of new approaches for defining and buyingfood. Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is one such approach that cuts out all the middlemen by having consumers partner with local farmers. CSA members pre-purchase “shares” in a season’s harvest, and pick up their weekly portions from distribution sites. Thus, consumers provide direct financing for farms, participate in the risks and rewards of annual growing conditions, and participate with farmers in distribution networks.

CSA is one example of “buying locally,” which is often valued by both the organic food consumer and the producer. Generally speaking, locally-grown seasonal food can be brought to market more quickly than food that has to be transported long distances, and therefore can be better tasting and to some degree more nutritious by virtue of its freshness. Additionally, the act of buying foods that are locally-grown benefits local farmers and other employers. This local food approach is seen as a direct investment in one’s own community and a way to reduce economic dependence. Organic food is also often linked with the fair trade movement, based on the principle that social and environmental sustainability are inextricably interdependent.