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.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lack of Civics, Public Apathy and Official Indifference Aggravate a Growing Social Phenomenon

The valley, it seems, has been taken over by beggers ranging from those seeking alms to those building personal fortunes

Valley plagued by beggars

Akram Sidiqui (Rising Kashmir)

Srinagar: "Khuda kay nam pay Kuch dedo, baba"; For God's Sake, give me something. These are the heartfelt cries one comes across while going across the lanes and by-lanes, busy roads and other places of public activity, in Kashmir. Leaving aside the hoards of beggars who flock valley in thousands around the year, an army of local beggars has swarmed the length and breadth of the whole valley pointing towards the sickening of our society. There is a large number of beggars that have made our valley as their market , doting every street, corner, road and market and their number swells with each passing day.

Begging women, children and disabled men and women of all ages can be seen at busy intersections, outside mosques and markets from early morning till late night, seeking alms from the passers-by. The activity of begging gains momentum during the holy month of Ramazan and continues throughout the year. Long queues of beggars outside every mosque after prayers, especially after Friday prayers, have become a common sight. Beggars can be found running from one mosque to another for more alms. They even chase people at mosques, markets and bazaars and seek alms by showering heaps of prayers on them; well-being, long age, wealth, and what not. Veiled women with their kids can be seen begging asking for medicines for their ailing family members; also there are beggars who seek food and grains from households. Every beggar has a different story to tell, so that he/she could get more alms. A variety of beggars are either young children in rags or mothers with children in their arms, an old man or a woman or someone with fractured limb or some other disability.

During religious celebrations they flood the valley like anything. It looks as if this is the valley of beggars. Although the situation is not that bad in normal days, yet there has not been shortage of beggars at any public place in the city throughout the year. The number of beggars increases rapidly at commercial places as the shopping spree for any festivity gains momentum. The rising number of children, women and elderly people as beggars has raised serious concerns among citizens.

Begging is a crime against humanity and society by all definitions and religious perspectives. Unfortunately, it continues without any check on part of authorities concerned. It shows the apathy of the government towards the grave issue, the role of NGOs has also been deplorable, which is contrary to their claims of protecting human rights, especially of women and children.

However, begging is an art, as a good beggar has to be an excellent actor. His face should invoke pity to make people part with their cash and his voice should have a pathetic tone to pull the strings of hearts. Beggars have started using new tactics to earn money. There are couples on the roads who beg for fares. Wearing fine clothes, they ask people for help, saying that they have lost money and needed financial support to reach their home, usually far from the city. They keep on begging even if someone gives them sufficient money to buy tickets. There are beggars who ask for medicines for an ailing family member. In many cases, they keep a prescription from a hospital with them. Many beggars can also be seen begging in almost all commercial areas and entertainment spots in the city. In buses, they appear at any time to beg by reciting some lyrical lines, mostly comprising hymns loudly.

"I started begging at the age of seven when my parents, who also happen to be baggers taught me the basics of begging," said Abid, from border dristrict kupwara. He also said that they had to face 'dirty stares' on the roads and had to bear the cruelty of society to earn a living. Another class of beggars ask money for marriages of their daughters. Generally, beggars of this class wear dirty clothes and claim they are very poor and have four to six young daughters.

There is another class of people who ask for financial support while pleading that their business has been ruined. Many others beg, saying that their health does not allow them to work. Beggars have their own 'constituencies' and they guard their begging areas forcefully. A fight is common among beggars over their territorial rights.

While most of the beggars are professional, there must be some genuine cases. The mafia is so strong that, according to a report, there are around 150 'contractors' in the city. They have their own network and reportedly operate in connivance with the local police.

The situation is challenging. For a common man it is not possible to differentiate between genuine cases and professional beggars. Police and authorities concerned should take effective steps to eliminate this curse plaguing our society.

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