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, July 17, 2008

Missing Pieces of the Puzzle: We Cannot Have a Credible Civil Society Until There is no Transparency of Funds in NGO's

Suhail explains why little knowledge is a dangerous thing when it comes to the performance of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Kashmir

(Mr. Sushail Masoodi, 26, was born in Kupwara in North Kashmir. He attended Government Higher Secondary School in Kupwara and the Amar Singh College in Srinagar. He completed his Master's degree in History from the University of Kashmir. He has taken courses in Conflict Management, Leadership Development and Project management. For the last 6 years he has worked in the NGO sector in the valley, with emphasis on civil society and youth development issues. He is also a leadership development trainer to school and college students in different parts of Jammu and Kashmir. He is passionate about helping poor and vulnerable sections of the society and hopes for a peaceful positive change in the ongoing conflict in Kashmir.)

Please Do No Harm

Some time back I attended a seminar organized by "KOSHISH" a local NGO on community care or institutional care for orphans. As a student of this sector I was expecting to learn new things on this important topic from the esteemed speakers, but alas that didn't happen.

While listening to many speakers on the topic I understood we have to do a lot of home work before we engage with it seriously. It has been rightly said "little knowledge is a dangerous thing". A superficial knowledge about things will not help us achieve the mission of helping orphans. One may be the jack of all trades but surely one cannot be the master of all. We can speak for hours and hours on a topic, but without any proper expertise one cannot do justice to it.

In the American medical system there is a term called "Do no harm", which means if you do not have expertise on a particular subject, you can sometimes do harm unconsciously. We in Kashmir mostly do harm without having an understanding of the concerns which we seek to address. Here I am not going to talk about our medical system, but our NGO system, where we call ourselves, professional social workers, development experts, child rights experts, human rights experts or what not, without having any proper training in these fields.

In any intervention lack of proper expertise often leads to more harm than good. The manifest example of this kind could be found during 2005 earthquake, where we created begging culture in the earthquake affected areas by making people habitual of taking relief. I remember a day in the aftermath of the earthquake when I was coming down from Kamalkote Uri, a girl hardly 7 or 8 waved at me. I asked my driver to stop the car. No sooner had we stopped, she forwarded her hand for relief (relief melay ga). I was shocked to see a little girl turn to begging in the wake of relief efforts carried out by Kashmiri civil society. Later I was to encounter many a young beggar in the same area. A new and young breed of beggars had cropped up after the quake affected areas had been swarmed by troupes of NGOs to undertake relief operations.

Back to the earlier point of community care or institutional care, I heard speakers arguing whether we needed to support orphans in their respective homes or in orphanages. Most of the speaker supported community care and argued that they (orphans) should be kept in their homes where their needs could be taken care of.

I find myself in agreement with the same argument, but the question that arises is, do we have resources to support an orphan at his/her home? Is our society capable of catering to the needs of orphans?

Technically, if a child has lost only one of his or her parents, he or she is not an orphan. Only if he/she has lost both of his or her parents then only he/she is called an orphan. Since ours is a patriarchal society, the male being the head of the family, if some body lose his/her father he/she is called an orphan. If the same kid has lost his or her mother, he or she would not be considered an orphan. So to define it more clearly it is a matter of economics and social system.

The classification may be seen to hinge more on economics than on any other criterion since most of the orphans come from poor family backgrounds and their mothers tend to be usually house wives and illiterate. So only financial assistance to these kids will not solve their problem. We need to take a family as unit and support the whole family rather than an orphan in the family. Because supporting only an orphan in a family will not help us reach our goal. Moreover, we need to build a community based system, where educated people from the adjacent localities will make regular visits to these families to check the progress of the kids.

It has been observed those orphans who are being supported in their homes usually lack the literary culture as the families are not educated. So members of our society can fill this gap by making regular visits. Some people argue that there is more number of orphans in many other conflict-hit areas than Kashmir. Why then orphanages were not created in these places? The answer is simple; such conflict-hit countries are much ahead of us in literacy, economic development and community care. Their average literacy and average house hold income is much higher than ours. So they didn't have to negotiate huge problems regarding handling these kids. In such countries a mother is largely able to provide all sort of necessary assistance to a child, be it in terms of education or in any other critical realm but same couldn't hold true for mothers of Kashmiri orphans. As we have seen in our orphanages most of the kids are from very poor households. The ones who have better economic conditions live in their homes.

One of the biggest draw backs of our NGO system is: while making strategies for projects and programs we look at symptoms and not at the problems. We want quick fix solutions to every major problem. We are not able to develop goal and time bound strategies for our projects. We don't look at projects critically. Besides our own drawbacks, NGOs accept whatever project comes from their donor agencies, irrespective of whether the program can be fruitful at the ground level or not. Most of the times projects and strategies are formed in Delhi, Europe or the U.S; devised for their own local settings and implemented in toto in Kashmir. Usually organizations should have a bottom-up approach, but in Kashmir we tend to take a top-down approach. Projects should be formed and implemented at the grassroots level. It is the people on the ground who understand the needs and problems of the locals in a better way than somebody located thousands of miles away and largely unaware of the socio-economic dimensions of a far away region. Most of our NGOs fail to develop a sustainable program strategy, proper exit strategy, good planning, and clear cut field domain of work.

There is no transparency of funds in NGO sector in Kashmir. Hardly any NGO makes their monthly and yearly expenses public. No doubt NGO's are answerable to their donors, but they are answerable to the target group community as well. Target group here does not mean if an NGO is working in Uri, they are answerable to the people of Uri only, but they are answerable to the whole Kashmiri community. In spite of their drawbacks there are agencies like Vigilance, Crime Branch and other organizations to monitor the functioning of government departments, but we do not have any such independent organization to monitor the functioning of NGOs. Be it local, Indian or an international NGO.

We need to build a system where functioning of all organizations can be checked to ensure transparency and accountability. We have seen surveys done by some Indian and international NGOs in Kashmir which are totally distorting. Things like Conflict and Peace-building are being sold to gain personal interests. For example, according to a survey done by an International NGO, 50% of youth in district Anantnag are drug addicts. What is the authenticity of the survey? On the basis of samples collected in few villages one cannot make sweeping generalizations about one of the most populous districts of the Valley. Surveys are being done to fetch more and more money from donors. Some believe there are one lakh orphans, some contend that there are fifty thousand orphans in Kashmir and some claim the number of orphans to be around 2 lakh. We don't know the authenticity of these reports.

There are thousands of NGOs in Kashmir, majority of them have been created by government or government run agencies. These so called NGOs supposedly fetch money for the development of Kashmir. Where does this money go? Nobody seems to know? Most of the times money is donated for the Kashmir region as it is the worst hit conflict area as compared to Jammu and Ladakh regions. But unfortunately people running these NGOs invest this money for the development of Jammu and Ladakh regions. Problems don't end here. Some NGOs even go further, spending hefty amounts of money on various research and development projects which don't yield any effective results. The position of many orphanages in Kashmir is somewhat similar. They too are not ready to share their expenditures. Moreover, if you are a Kashmiri you are not allowed to meet orphans in the most of the orphanages in Kashmir. However, people visiting from foreign countries are welcomed in these orphanages by their managers.

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