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.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Challenge to the Reason: Between Rumors and Rebuttals, a Seasoned Journalist Plays the Communal Card

Arjimand Hussain fears of Kashmir turning into another Middle East while minorities wonder if Kashmiriyat is just a convenient facade for Islamic hegmony in Kashmir.

The two sides of the "Amarnath" story - one from Mr. Hussain and the other from the SASB are noted below

(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. His forthcoming books: " Kashmir: Towards a New Political Economy", and "Water: Spark for another Indo-Pak War?" are scheduled for release in 2008.)


Srinagar, 11ay 2008: The show-down witnessed between the Raj Bhawan and the Mufti Muhammad Syed-led government on the issue of Amarnath Yatra is history. So is the occasional bravado of the “civilian” governments in J&K that they would not let the Governor’s Office undermine whatever little authority civilian governments enjoy here.

As the current Congress-led government is now all set to make the conduct of the Amarnath Yatra an exclusive business of the Raj Bhawan-run Amarnath Shrine Board (ASB), the brains behind the ASB are said to be preparing the drawings of a city around the cave, which is likely to be named as ‘Amarnath Nagar’.

According to reliable sources in the cabinet, the Congress-led government is likely to hand over the State land around Sonamarg and Pahalgam to ASB in the coming months, which is part of the plan of ‘Amarnath Nagar’. A few people in the cabinet, who are not comfortable with this diabolic plan, are being gently told that their opposition would be bull dozed, just as Mufti Syed was silenced by New Delhi when he had chosen to take on the Raj Bhawan on the issue.

So the plan goes like this: more land under ASB control would mean freedom to it to raise infrastructure which would directly facilitate the yatra matters. Once the infrastructure is in place, the ASB would be replaced by an Authority, which would decide on construction of roads, raising buildings and anything else required for making the yatra at least a seven-month affair. The logic being promoted is that if a road through Zojila Pass could be cleared of snow as early as April, why can’t a journey by road to Amarnath cave be made possible. The target is for over 2 million yatris to visit the cave once the train services start in Kashmir.

There have been a few voices that are said to have expressed their disquiet over the idea on the argument that it would melt the ice formation in the cave, being revered as a Shiv Lingum by Hindu devotees. But ASB is said to have a plan: it has hired the services of a big refrigeration company and an engineering institute, which are currently preparing a blue-print to create such conditions inside the cave which would ensure a stable and longer life of the natural ice formation in the cave.

There are people who say that by-passing Pahalgam town from the plan is by intention. In the actual plan for ‘Amarnath Nagar’ it is the Nunwan and Sonamarg which would become sort of reception centres for the pilgrims to be taken forward to Chandanwari and Baltal areas, where big hotels, helicopter pads, commercial centres and even cable cars would be established. The premise is that if cable cars are possible to run to more than 10,000 feet height in Gulmarg, why can’t such cars be possible to Amarnath cave?

It is common sense that if this plan goes ahead, it would mean an environmental catastrophe for Kashmir’s Himalayas. One of the Himalayas’ best fresh water sources, glaciers, eco-systems, trees and wild life would perish. Contamination of the fresh water streams flowing from these areas, mainly in Lidder and Sindh rivers, would result in water-borne diseases to more than 5 million people in the valley who draw their drinking water from them. What would such a human surge mean to the environment to Kashmir’s Himalayas? What would this new urban fantasy mean to our climate? Questions galore.

Beyond the environmental concerns, there is a serious political and demographic dimension to this issue as well. Kashmiri Muslims have long cherished their culture of peaceful co-existence and brotherhood with other religious communities. If pushed to the wall, and subjected to demographic engineering meant to reduce Muslim population in the State, would Kashmiri Muslims still remain tolerant and cherish their culture of peaceful co-existence? Would they still be expected to be lectured about the Sufi tradition of tolerance and patience?

As all this goes on, the connivance of the Congress-led government and its support to the idea of extension for the tenure of the existing Governor raises some serious questions. Would Congress Party continue to be a part of this plan and destroy Kashmir’s environment, long-held secular ethos and Srinagar’s residual political authority?

Devoid of power and writ that could fledge beyond the capital, Kabul, Afghanistan’s President, Hamid Karzai, is often jokingly referred to as Kabul’s Mayor in Western media. I think it is not being hyperbolic if one would call the executive head of J&K State – under the current facade of democracy - as the Mayor of a government which is little more than a Grand Municipal Corporation.

J&K’s political sovereignty and authority is under the constant process of dilution. Over the years several states have cropped up within this ‘State’ – which is being projected in a facade of a democracy. We have the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) – which is a state of its own. We have the Army – which is an ultra State of its own – that does not recognise and accept the writ of the State, thanks to the battery of powers that New Delhi has empowered it with.

Then there is the evolution of another state – ASB - which has formed at the confluence of the Amarnath cave and the Raj Bhawan. The way the Raj Bhawan through the ASB is promoting the Amarnath Yatra – which used to be a very solemn ritual involving a few hundred Hindu sadhas a few years ago – points to a design of demographic change in Kashmir. And that is where the danger lies.

It is a historical fact that Amarnath cave has not had any religious background until it was discovered by a Muslim shepherded by accident in the recent past. Still, Kashmiri Muslims have always facilitated the logistical needs of those who came to see a religious sanctity to it.

At one point of time, there is a need to make distinction between peaceful co-existence and religious domination and environmental vandalism. Islam is a reality in Kashmir, which was chosen here by the people to liberate themselves from the highly oppressive social, economic and religious order established by the Brahminical system. To set the clock back and seek to re-create Kashmir’s Hindu history would be a monumental folly. Though big political, military, economic power and a subdued population today do offer a big temptation to the powers that be to create a system which sets the clock back in Kashmir, it is time for self restraint.

The world is today lamenting the folly of history and the conditions created in the Middle East based on injustice and religious jingoism. Nobody – even those who created those uneven conditions in the Middle East in the first place - is today able to undo those historical wrongs. Similarly, nobody would be able to perhaps undo what is being done today through a cake walk to the Amarnath Cave.


Srinagar, May11- Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) today described as totally baseless a report appearing in a section of the Press that it was planning to build a road from Baltal to the Himalayan Cave Shrine of Shri Amarnathji.

'It is neither practicable nor has it ever been planned', Director Public Relations (DPR) of the Board said and termed it as a figment of imagination to mislead the people. He wished that a clarification from the Board had been sought before publishing such false report.

Reacting to yet another canard reported in the Press that the Board is trying to put up a township at the Holy Cave called Amarnathnagar and the Board is also trying to change the demography of the Valley by bringing millions of pilgrims, the DPR said that the absurdity of the report about putting up a township at the Holy Cave is so obvious that it hardly calls for contradiction.

As for changing the demography of the Valley, neither normal tourism nor pilgrim tourism can do so. They can only give a boost to the economy of the Valley, he added.

The DPR, however, said that the Board is contemplating to black top the existing road from Baltal to Domail where from the pilgrims undertake the trek to the Cave Shrine. This road exists since a long time and blacktopping it would be more environmental friendly as there will be no scope for dust due to movement of vehicular traffic, he said.

Referring to the observation that trekking the mountains for pilgrimage had more sanctity, the DPR said that with the change of times the mode of journey has also changed. He recalled that centuries ago the pilgrims from South India used to foot the distance upto the Cave Shrine but with changing times this practice stopped and the devotees have now been using all modes of surface and air transport. This is also true about other pilgrimages around the world; he said and cited the example of Haj pilgrimage where in the old days the pilgrims from India would embark on hazardous journey in ships. 'Now direct flights take off from Srinagar itself', he said adding that "we have to move with the times". He maintained that whosoever wishes to trek the mountains is welcome to do so. "In fact over 90 per cent pilgrims trek from both the routes of Baltal and Pahalgam up to the Cave Shrine", he added.

The DPR reiterated the resolve of the Board to preserve the fragile ecology of yatra areas and said several environmental friendly measures like pre-fab modern toilets and shelter huts have been raised all along the route and the base camps. Similarly, use of polythene has been banned. Raking up of environmental concerns seems to be the handiwork of the people with vested interest to mislead public opinion and to vitiate the atmosphere before the start of the yatra', he regretted.

As regards the 'restricted' influx of pilgrims to Gomukh, the DPR said that the pilgrimage of Gomukh cannot be compared with Shri Amarnathji yatra. Gomukh is a glacier and restrictions there seem to have been taken due to global warming to prevent Bagirathi River from drying up. On the contrary, there is no glacier at Shri Amarnathji and there is no threat of this pilgrimage contributing to global warming.

He said that increase in the number of people paying obeisance at religious places is related to increase in population. Thus their number to Kumbh at Allahabad, Ajmer Sharief and in our case Mata Vaishno Devi and Shri Amarnathji or Chrar-eSharief and Hazratbal, has been increasing. The issue of environmental degradation is raised only in the case of Amarnath for ulterior reasons. With improved facilities being provided by the Shrine Board for pilgrimage to Shri Amarnath, there has been a change in the type of pilgrims now going there. Middle and upper class people have started visiting the Cave in very large numbers. They have better paying capacity and when they come for pilgrimage, they spend a few days holidaying in the Valley.

Thus this pilgrimage now not only provides a boost to the economy of the local region but to the Valley as a whole. It is strange that those who welcome and try to promote increase in tourist arrivals in the Valley without any concern for pollution of Dal Lake or other tourist spots, are the ones who are strident in raising controversies over the pilgrimage to Shri Amarnath.

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