Introduction to 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.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

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.

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