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, August 30, 2008

Creating a new career opportunity in Energy Auditing

Dr. Seemin Rubab has an excellent suggestion for today's young generation looking for careers of tomorrow

ENERGY AUDIT – ensuring efficient use of energy

Energy audit is the most important tool of managing energy effectively. The energy audit can be considered as the first step towards understanding how energy is being used in a given facility. It indicates the ways in which thermal/electrical energy is being used and quantifies energy use according to discrete functions. Energy cost is a significant factor in economic activity.

The imperatives of energy shortage call for energy conservation measures, which essentially mean using less primary energy for the same level of activity. Improving energy efficiency is a global mission. Energy audit attempts to balance the total energy inputs with its use and serves to identify all the energy streams in the system and quantifies energy usage according to its discrete function or end use. Energy audit also helps in energy cost optimization, green house gas mitigation, safety aspects and suggests the method to improve the operation and maintenance practices of the system. The energy audit is instrumental in coping with the situation of variation in energy cost availability, reliability of energy supply, decision on appropriate energy mix, decision on using improved energy conservation equipments, instrumentation and technology. It provides necessary information base for overall energy conservation programmes and is a vital link in the entire management chain.

Energy management in turn can be constructed as the process of guiding and controlling energy users so as to yield maximum possible output per unit of energy input. Energy Conservation Act -2001 provides for efficient use of energy and its conservation. Under the Act, it is mandatory for all designated consumers to get energy audit conducted by an accredited energy auditor. Power intensive sectors like cement industry, aluminium industry, steel industry, Electricity transmission and distribution companies, Transport sector, Commercial buildings or establishment etc. are categorized as designated consumers. The conduct of energy audit and implementation of its recommendation on cost-benefit basis through accredited energy auditors is expected to help the designated energy consumers to achieve significant reduction in energy consumption levels.

According to National Productivity Council (NPC), India needs up to 10,000 Energy Auditors and up to 50,000 Energy Managers. Under the provisions of Energy conservation Act, Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) has been established from March 2002 under the Ministry of Power. The Bureau is responsible for spearheading the improvement of energy efficiency through various regulatory and promotional instruments.

To make available the services of qualified professionals to designated consumers, Bureau of Energy Efficiency, has introduced National Certification Examination for Energy Managers and Energy Auditors. A national level certification examination establishes a uniform criterion for the certification of the energy managers/energy auditors and will also ensure that services of qualified persons, having the requisite knowledge are available to the industry. Any post graduate, graduate or diploma engineer and post graduate in science with requisite experience can sit for National Certification Examination being conducted annually for Energy Manager by National Productivity Council under the aegis of Bureau of Energy Efficiency. The minimum qualification for appearing in Energy Auditor examination is a graduate or post graduate degree in engineering.

NPC is a pioneer in energy auditing and is among the sixty two BEE accredited energy auditing agencies. BEE has also appointed NPC as the main agency for conducting National Certification Examinations for energy auditors and managers. For Energy manager’s exam there are three papers viz., General aspect of Energy management and Energy Audit, Energy Efficiency in Thermal Utilities and Energy Efficiency in Electrical Utilities. These three papers are common to Energy Auditors exam as well, besides an open book exam on ‘Energy Performance Assessment for Equipment and Utility Systems’. A candidate qualifying as Certified Energy Auditor automatically qualifies for Certified Energy Manager as well. Energy Managers may appear in and qualify the fourth paper and can be upgraded to Energy Auditor. Accreditation is valid for a period of five years and can be renewed after appearing in some sort of refresher course.

Till date six National Certification Examinations have been conducted since 2004. The exam is conducted throughout India at several centres. There is a provision of online registration. The examination fee for sponsored candidates is Rs. 20,000 and for self sponsored candidates it is Rs. 10,000 only. Guide books are provided to all registered candidates. These books may be downloaded from Bureau’s website by Energy Conservation enthusiasts. Model question papers and previous years question papers can be downloaded from BEE’s website. Moreover, Petroleum Conservation Research Association (PCRA) organizes a five day preparatory course for candidates appearing in national certification examination.

Any body wanting to have an insight on Energy auditing and conservation must consult ‘Energy Auditing Made Simple’ by P. Balasubramanian an accredited Energy Auditor. This book has a very interesting chapter ‘In the wonderful world of Energy Auditors’.

Needless to mention that we do not have any accredited Energy Manager or Energy Auditor in Kashmir valley. This may be one of the reasons for poor management of our Electrical Utility Company. State PDD should motivate and sponsor their employees for writing National Certification Examination.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Clear Case of Disinformation by the Kashmir Watch Published From Islamabad, Pakistan

Two stories - a week apart - published by the Kashmir Watch from Islamabad, Pakistan, clearly show how dis-information campaign by enemies of Kashmiri people has become both vicious and personal

Kashmir Watch, August 17

Javed Iqbal Bhat, Srinagar

There is anger in Kashmir against the Kashmiri Pandit attacks and their propaganda they have unleashed at various places. Pandit groups through their various website, blogs and web forums have been justifying the mass murder by the Indian paramilitary forces in Kashmir – calling the Kashmiri population 'anti-national', 'separatist' and therefore worthy of wanton bullets. Now a Kashmiri Pandit based in the US – Vijay Sazawal who formerly headed notorious anti-Kashmiri Indo-American Kashmir Forum has been spreading lies that Kashmiri mass movement is being run by terrorists and therefore tacitly supporting the Indian brutality. massacre.

Kashmir Watch, August 23

Junaid Ahsan, Srinagar

Similar statements have emanated RAW contact in the US – Dr. Vijay Sazawal who formerly ran rabid anti-Muslim organisation Indo-Kashmir American Forum. Sazawal recently accused that Kashmiris were Islamists and sought to ridicule the massive public demonstrations.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

There are People on the Street and Then There are People who Make the Street

RTI has the potential to plough through bureucratic red tape to actually help real people in real need

Govt silent about RTI Act despite amendment in January

Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2004 was amended in January this year but till date people are unaware about it and negating the Act's clause 12-B, the previous government made no effort to disseminate this information.

The previous government led by former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad used to make tall claims about his government's performance but these fall flat when one comes to know that the people were deliberately not informed about the amendments.

Ironically in a seminar held in Institute of Management and Public Administration (IMPA) in the last week of June, which was presided over by Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Government of India, Wajahat Habibullah the speakers expressed concern over "the inordinate delay" in pushing through these amendments which had gone to Governor for his ascent.

The news appeared in all the newspapers the other day and subsequently discussions on the topic are on in both print and electronic media. However, the State's Law Ministry never bothered to clarify that the amendments passed by the State Legislature last year have been approved and have come in the form of an extraordinary gazette of the State. This was important given the significance of the Act considered to be a revolutionary step worldwide though some NGOs have serious reservations over this law even after these amendments. They want to bring this Law at par with GOI's RTI Act of 2005.

It was only after a discussion on a local television channel recently where panelists "blasted" the government for not pursuing the issue and also castigated the former Governor S K Sinha for not giving his ascent, the State Vigilance Commissioner Ashok Bhan told Rising Kashmir that the Act had since been reframed with the amendments so that people know about it. Dr Bhan has otherwise been prompt in updating SVO's website on such vital issues. But the Law department which is supposed to make such issues public is still in deep slumber.

The Act named as “The Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information (Amendment) Act 2008" has been published in the extraordinary edition of The Jammu and Kashmir Government Gazette on January 5, 2008 and all the amendments made by the legislature have been approved. According to the amended Act, now the Controlling Officer and In charge of Office will be replaced by Controlling Information Officer and Departmental Information Officer respectively. Clause "g" in the original Act will be substituted with the "right to information” means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any office of government or public body. This includes right to "inspection of work, documents, records, taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records, taking certified samples of material and obtaining information in form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, videos cassettes or any other form". Under the amended Act the information can be sought regarding the cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the council of ministers provided that those matters, which come under exemptions specified in the relevant section will not be disclosed.

The major change in the Act is that the State will have an Information Commission with State Information Commissioner as its head and shall have two state information commissioners as the members of the Commission. The State Information Commissioner and other Commissioners shall be appointed by the Governor on the recommendations of a committee consisting of Chief Minister (who will be chairperson), leader of the opposition in Assembly and Chief Secretary of the state.

The Commission has been vested with full powers to act on the complaints filed after the complainant has been refused information and other related issues. The Commission has authority to impose a penalty of Rs 50 per day on the Departmental Information Officer who has been found guilty of not furnishing information. The penalty shall not exceed Rs 5000.The Commission will also monitor the performance and prepare a report on implementation of provisions of the Act. By virtue of the amended Act, the government is bound to develop and organizational programmes to advance the understanding of the public, in particular disadvantaged communities as to how to exercise the rights contemplated in the Act, encourage public bodies to participate in the development and organizations of the programmes, promote time and effective dissemination of accurate information by public bodies about their activities and that it shall within 12 months of the commencement of this Act compile in its official language a guide containing such information in an easily comprehensible form and manner, as may reasonably be required by a person who wishes to exercise any right specified in the Act.

However, seven months have elapsed but the government is yet to prepare such a public document negating its own Act.

Lousy Health Policy

An editorial in the Kashmir Images says it all

Lousy health policy

Everyone seems to be taking advantage of the ignorance, innocence and unawareness of the masses in Jammu and Kashmir. Exploitative elements have a free run in this land of unaccountability. And people in general too have given up the fervor of resistance to meekly compromise with the circumstances that are ubiquitous. With the greedy and unscrupulous elements making the best of everything by preying upon the general masses, and those at the helm having perfected their own style of being the silent spectators, people have been left at the mercy of their own fate.

The herds of quacks scattered all around with their medical and drug stores used as practicing places have deteriorated the general well-being of the inhabitants of the state so much so that not a single bed in any of the hospitals can be seen vacant. Almost 70 percent of the population is on medication here, which has not only tortured them physically and mentally, but their economic condition too is dipping with each passing day.

Needless to say that life for entire family becomes living hell when its members have to consume expensive drugs to keep themselves moving. Some people are seen selling the hard-earned assets to procure drugs once they find themselves lodged with a disease that could have been easily avoided had there been timely and proper checkup from a trained doctor. But what is very common here is that for warding off pain, people consult quacks which at times may give them temporary relief but suppression of symptoms with the help of drugs by untrained practitioners often worsens the problem. And by the time a person comes to know about the disease, it has taken hold of him/her and the result is sorrowful sobs.

No other state consumes more medicines as does the state of Jammu and Kashmir because the medical policy here seems to have shunned its rules and regulations.

Anyone who works as medical assistant opens his medical shop and starts treating the sick. There can hardly be any village in the entire Jammu and Kashmir which is without a medical shop. Now question can be raised as to who allows such crass proliferation of medical shops and drug stores? And now when there has already been so much mushrooming of medical shops, mostly run by quacks, why is the government acting as a mute spectator?

When government officials, who draw hefty sums in salary to check the illegal medical practices by non-professionals, exhibit a lack of commitment towards a healthy generation, it only points towards an unhealthy nexus between quacks and officials? By allowing medical practice by untrained people, government is tacitly tempting and facilitating masses to fall in their lap wherefrom they leave with incurable diseases.

This sick policy needs to be replaced with a strict regulation of a healthy one. The quality of drugs also needs immediate attention. The quacks are more concerned about commission rather than the benefit of patients. They resort to sub-standard drugs where they get 100-400 percent profit. Without bothering about the ill-effects of spurious and sub-standard medicines, it is a common practice for the doctors here to prescribe same to the people for want of hefty commission and other perks from their makers. Action needs to be taken against such doctors as well.

Why J&K State Will Never Prosper: Commercial Business Losses Until mid-August Amounted to About 5,000 Crores

Since Mid-August the numbers must have gone up significantly since the valley is up in arms again

Agitation Costs Kashmir Industry Rs 1,500 Cr Losses

Srinagar: Economic activity in Jammu and Kashmir has been severely impacted due to the ongoing agitation in the region, resulting in a loss of Rs 1,500 crore to the state's industry in the past couple of weeks, Assocham said.Among the sectors worst hit by the agitation and state-wide protests are tourism, silk, hosiery, carpets, handicrafts, fruits, tourism, forest-based and herbal products, the chamber said.

"If the agitation continues, Jammu and Kashmir's economy will suffer a major jolt as investors that have committed over Rs 5,000 crore worth of investment for 2008-09 would venture into neighbouring states of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh," Assocham President Sajjan Jindal said.

The region has witnessed several violent protests during the last few days over the Amarnath land transfer row.

The industries have also not been able to fulfil their respective export commitments. Exports from the region have declined by about 30 per cent in view of the ongoing agitation, due to which movement of goods, particularly fruit and other items has come to a standstill, he said.

In an appeal to political parties, Jindal said efforts should be made to arrive at an amicable solution for restoring normalcy in the state. With law and order improving in the state in the past few years, investment proposals by companies had grown 10-fold from around 200 million dollar in 2001 to more than 2,300 million dollar in 2007.

While this investment could multiply manifold, such agitations discourage investors and threaten the peace in the region. According to recent study by the chamber, fresh investments of Rs 28,000 crore were expected to flow in Jammu and Kashmir by 2012, creating employment opportunities for 25 lakh people.

Bandh hits industry hard, losses mount to Rs 3,200 crore

Jammu: The Jammu industry is going through one of its worst phases these days.
First it was withdrawal of excise concessions. The trouble coupled when it was hit by a severe power crisis. Then it was the turmoil over the Amarnath land row.

Over the last about 50 days, as per the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI), the losses have mounted to Rs 3,200 crore.

The Association of Small-scale Industries president Rajesh Jain said the industry in Jammu was suffering a production loss of Rs 300 crore per day.

“Our factories have been shut for the past many days. The banking operations have come to a grinding halt. We don’t have the raw material and our labourers have also fled to their native places. The scenario could not have been worse for the industry in Jammu,” he lamented.
The migrant labourers who fled the state, could not cope up with the continuous shutdown, curfew, and skyrocketing prices of essential commodities.

Prior to the shutdown over the land row, he said, the breakdown in Gladini Power Grid had forced them to run their factories merely in a single shift.

“We were not even getting adequate power to run the sole shift properly. There were many disruptions in the eight-hour power supply that was promised to us,” he said.

Referring to the Centre’s “indifferent approach”, he said, “We have always been meted out step-motherly treatment. While the Centre has announced compensation for Kashmiri fruit growers whose fruit is yet to ripe, it should also consider our genuine losses.” Kuldeep Jamwal, an industrialist from Samba, said not only their factories but their offices too were shut since July 25.

He said 60 per cent of their labourers have fled the state till now. In the wake of the current situation, he apprehended that the big firms, which have set up their industry in Jammu, might not proceed on their expansion plans and instead consider shifting to some other state.
He said though they have requested the Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti to allow them to resume their operations, even if they are given a go ahead it will take them another 15 days to bring the operations back on the track.

CCI president Ram Sahai termed it the worst period for the economy of Jammu. He allayed the fears that the multinational companies may shift their operations to some other state due to the ongoing turmoil.

“They have suspended their expansion plans as of now, but none of them have made their mind to withdraw it totally,” he said.

Huge losses to trade and industry notwithstanding, Sahai said being a member of the samiti, the CCI would extend full support to the agitation and would not rest till the land is restored to the Amarnath Shrine Board.

An Example of Narcissism so Intense That Only the Chosen can Decide if Others Deserve Sympathy or Spite

Afshana attempts to look at the world through a window framed by a mirror

(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.)

Kashmir offers an example

’Strange friend,’ I said,
‘here is no cause to mourn.’
‘None,’ said that other,
‘save the undone years,
The hopelessness.
Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also;
…I am the enemy
you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark:
for so you frowned
Yesterday through me
as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands
were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now…’
(Wilfred Owen)

Are people of Kashmir scoffed at the current situation? Troubled at the ceaseless chaos? Disturbed over the unjustified edicts? Concerned about those getting targeted? Empathized for the victims? Politically annoyed?

Maybe yes. That’s why they protest!

However, before venturing out for that, there is a big question: how?

We have examples of protests that turned into historical events. Where the power of people proved paramount. Their forceful voice faltered empires and kingdoms. After all, what shook Berlin Wall or swamped Tiananmen Square was nothing but the cogent wave of people who knew what to ask and how to demand.

To have the voice of voiceless heard, ‘protest’ is considered as a kind of direct political action, aimed at mobilizing public opinion against a particular policy. Designed for filtering down the ideas and viewpoints to popular levels, it is also linked with ‘political resistance’ to suggest a diversity of planned out agitation. And therefore, it remains to be the only political action that power usually does not succeed to crush.

Of course, westerners have devised various forms of protest from human-chain, vigil, stunts to sit-ins. However, comparing the same with our situation seems irrelevant, given the huge gulf in systems of governance and socio-political set up.

With the advent of Television News Channels, the protest and the form of protest has assumed much importance. The visual impact and coverage has a multiplier effect in mobilizing public opinion and creating awareness. Hence, the responsibility of media, especially these channels, in such reportage has increased manifold.

It may not be mistaken as an attempt to control the mass media but certain self-regulatory mechanisms are in place in developed nations, and this is the bare minimum that can be asked for to have some sort of accountability from such organizations while handling burning issues that have a direct bearing on the life of common man.

In fact, commoners are the ones who alone have to pay the price of protest. They are the ones who shout and suffer, dare and die. Baffled by the complex and invisible forces, they fall to their designs. Such is the enigmatic appeal of messages and interpretations, that they ignite passion and raise the tempo of even those who would ordinarily take time to form an opinion.

In this age of Information Explosion, it’s really hard to form an informed, balanced and objective opinion about public issues, where sources of information are numerous, and the stake-holders (in addition to those who are apparent) are ever busy maneuvering events the way it suits them. As such, it is equally vital to give credence to sources that are somewhat impeccable, trying to sort out the actual from the chaff.

People of Kashmir are not new to such situations where the public anger over an issue that appears to be genuine has been presented in a manner that would brand the protestors as a bunch of zealots nursing grouse against a community being intolerant and blah blah. The coverage given by Indian TV Channels is a reminder of their long-drawn sick partiality towards reporting Kashmir, no matter how much “liberal” their image may be.

Further, there are certain groups working all the time to gain mileage from mass protests and public outcry to garner whatever for the fulfillment of their ultimate desire viz usurping of power and its perpetuation. Their inferences about such instances are ludicrous and blatantly far-fetched. The way Jammu is burning is a case in point. The media projection has been disgustingly lopsided, exacerbating the situation by blowing it out of proportion.

The reality is that getting together to yell slogans, pelt stones or smash vehicles including medical ambulances, sporadic rioting does not qualify as a protest. It erupts out disorderly, just to be identified and recalled as a sheer blurring of historical memory. The events in Jammu may succeed in pressurizing people at the helm of affairs, but the ugly face of rioters there can trigger a turning point in the annals of the State.

As far Kashmir, street has been the most gripping battleground. There is a sad history of peaceful marches and demos drawing a blank, and contrarily being muzzled ruthlessly. As such, protest compulsively became synonymous to a raucous rally or a group of outraged people kicking up a row. Nonetheless, this time around protests in Valley came up with a substantial programme that was explicit, besides being organized purely to achieve its objective. A planned way of registering disapproval was highly accepted by the masses than getting self-destructively rowdy. It was seemingly essential to guard against elements who tried to hijack this protest and colorize it the wrong way.

At the same time, the protest of this kind was not to be allowed to degenerate into any kind of communal rioting which would have been simply playing in to the hands of those who were out to malign the majority populace of Kashmir. Fortunately, it has not happened, so far. The protestors in Kashmir have set an exemplary tenor.

However, there was a need to realize that while the protests are necessary, there is, as well, more to improving civil society than mere noisy political activism. This could not happen. There was no serious effort to encourage inter-dialogue within conflicting communities. Kashmir missed out on this to be ammo that would strike at the intellectual lassitude of its society. And perhaps, it might have averted the communal forces to target Jammu and there were perceptible chances of forestalling the prevailing situation out there. The protests in Kashmir are seen as an unexpected spontaneity. The same cannot be held true for Jammu where things have crossed the confines of civilized resentment.

Scenario as of now suggests that the State of Jammu and Kashmir is sliding into a mysterious cauldron. All is not well. A baggage of hopelessness, despair and hatred is deepening. No denying that there is a cause to mourn. A reason to remonstrate. A position to register protest. But all with good sense and judgment!

Lost in the Shuffle: An Appeal to Restore Peace and Harmony

Memories are Short - We have gone through such mayhem before without any impact other than more pain and suffering!

Eminent citizens of the country have appealed for restoration of harmony in Jammu and Kashmir. The following is their statement:—

“We are deeply pained by the tragic turn of events in Jammu and Kashmir that has led to the killings of several citizens in the Kashmir Valley and Jammu division. The authorities must intervene effectively to ensure there is no recurrence and also address substantive issues.
“We view with grave concern the threat that is now perceptible to secular traditions of both Kashmir and Jammu divisions. The deepening alienation of people from each other and from the government requires immediate address. This is the moment for civil society and concerned citizens from all walks of life to assert itself and restore the social harmony, which has hitherto characterised the state.

“We appeal to residents of both Jammu and Kashmir to work together towards reconciliation and areas of common good which are many and which all well-wishers of J&K crave. We appeal to the authorities to give every support to the many in Jammu and Kashmir who are striving for reconciliation and a more hopeful future. And we ask the Indian public to realize the gravity of what is happening in J & K and support all those working for a wise way forward.”

— Rajmohan Gandhi, Syeda Hameed, B.G. Deshmukh, Sushobha Barve, Salman Haidar, Tara Bhattacharya Gandhi, Kapil Kak, B.G. Verghese, Wajahat Habibullah, M.K. Raina, Kuldip Nayyar, Shanker Ghose, Amit Singh Chadha, Suresh Vazirani, Teesta Setalvad, Shabana Azami, Javed Akhtar, Javed Anand, Rahul Bose, Anil Dharkar, Arvind Krishnaswamy, Sajid Rashid

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A "Must Read" Story of Love, Dedication and Promise Across the LOC

Tanveer has a personal story to tell that holds a promise for the future that all Kashmiris can share

(Mr. Tanveer Ahmad, 36, was born in Gurutta, Tehsil Sensa, in the Kotli district of Azad Kashmir. He received his school education in Luton, Bedfordshire, U.K., and completed his college education from Dunstable College and the Thames Valley University, where he received his B.A. Honors in Economics. He has done various professional courses relating to financial markets and IT. His personal interest are diverse covering sports, reading, music, travel, adventure and food.)

Stifling the spirit: my naani and 61 years of anguish

I am a 36-year-old British Mirpuri. Three years and three months ago, I came to Pakistan with the sole intention of taking my naani, my maternal grandmother, across the Line of Control to meet her family on the other side of Kashmir.

She was born into a Hindu-Brahman-Saasan family in the early 1930’s, on the Pakistani-administered side of Kashmir, not far from what is described as the Line of Control (LoC). The communal frenzy and folly that was August 1947 in the Punjab was replicated in Kashmir by October 1947. My naani’s life changed for ever.

Misplaced from her fleeing family, destitution was quickly evident, dishonour imminent and death almost certain. What transpired as a rescue mission by my naana, maternal grandfather, led to her having to convert from the faith of her forefathers, marry a stranger in a strange environment, bear children, rear grand-children, even great-grand-children and engage in almost 61 years of constant extemporisation to combat the persistent estrangement she endured. Her background was literally a closed chapter, sealed and suppressed. Not too unlike the border that has un-naturally divided Kashmir.

My naani had probably accepted her predicament as fate as soon as she had entered my naana’s house, way back in October 1947. I, however, have increasingly felt otherwise. I’ve always considered this to be part of a perverse political drama. Lack of imagination by the rulers accompanied denial of creative expression for the ruled. Improvising a constructive alternative has been my self-imposed mission for the past three years and three months.

I had learnt of her story in 1988, while I was visiting my grandparents in Mirpur. News had filtered through the 70 kilometres or so of mountainous terrain that her mother had passed away. We listened to a cassette recording of her kid brother’s forlorn attempt at getting a Pakistani visa a few years earlier.

A year later, after my GCSEs, I took a year off to explore my “origins.” I visited my naani’s family in Rajouri, in Indian-administered Kashmir in December 1989. Three days was all I got with them — my father had accompanied me to India and being a staunch, orthodox Muslim, couldn’t prolong the prospect of spending too much time with non-Muslims. The emotions of my naani’s siblings and their offspring etched a permanent impression on my impressionable mind. I promised them that I would reunite them with their sister.

Travelling from India to Pakistan and relaying my adventure to all and sundry had a mildly sensational effect on the local population. Forty-two years of jingoism was momentarily set aside and human emotion was purposefully reflected on. This cut little ice with my naana though. He remained rigid and paranoid over the idea of my naani visiting her siblings, fearing she may never return.

The 1990’s raced past, conflict in the region easily overshadowing all else. Nevertheless, I made an attempt in 1993 when I tried to insist on my naani accompanying me to India. Eventually, after a month of unsuccessful insistence, I crossed the Wagah-Attari border by myself. The lonesome figure that I was, instead of venturing north to visit her family, I decided to ride my sorrow and angst by proceeding south to Bombay and Goa. The mere idea of meeting them without naani was unbearable.

Life carried on but the emotional baggage increased. Naani’s kid brother’s death in February 2004 proved to be the final shock that I was willing to passively endure. It wasn’t until March 2005 that we were informed of this tragedy. A subsequent emotional verbal exchange between me and my naana secured his long-sought acquiescence for my naani to visit her family.

18th April 2005: I arrive in Pakistan. The three of us apply together for an Indian visa at Islamabad. That was the advice the Indian visa officer in London gave me after getting over his disbelief that I could be related to both a Muslim and a Hindu family. We waited in vain. The Indian High Commission told us they were waiting for a No Objection Certificate to my visa application from the High Commission in London. The Indian visa delay prompted my naana to revert back to his original stance of not allowing my naani to travel. In effect, the Indian government had inadvertently done him a favour as he wasn’t overly keen in the first place.

October 2005: In the wake of the earthquake, I apply by myself for a cross-LoC permit under the impression that people would be allowed to travel in a matter of weeks if not days.

February 2008: My cross-LoC permit has finally come through! I visit my naani’s family and there is mutual elation. I witness the fourth death anniversary of my naani’s kid brother, Master Sita Ram Sharma. He, along with his parents had lived in constant anxiety over their sister and daughter respectively. They all died in vain.

Anyway, meeting my naani’s remaining two siblings after 19 years evoked a sense of mutual revival of hope. I explain my naana’s intransigence and they eventually manage to convince him to apply for a cross-LoC permit so that he and my naani can visit them. My naani’s heart condition has become such that travelling via Wagah-Attari or Lahore-Delhi would be almost impossible.

March 2008: I return to this side of Kashmir and promptly make applications for cross-LoC permits for myself and my naani and naana. Four months later, the applications are still being processed … on this side.

Before 2005, my naana was the main obstacle between my naani and her family. Now it’s the merry relationship between India and Pakistan. My naani is 78 years old. Please help me reunite her with her family, separated for over 60 years by a distance not much more than 60 kilometres.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kashmir has its Share of Declining Societal Values in a Changing World

An editorial on social evils and a commentary on marriages bring home some of the issues that affect our society

Look Inwards (Kashmir Images)

Talking about social evils has, of late, become a fashion in Kashmir. Organizations are being launched to fight against these evils and every Tom, Dick and Harry is trying to steal some media space by debating the issue.

And the interesting part of the whole exercise is that none amongst those who talk about the evils is ready to look inwards instead everyone is trying to point fingers towards others. It is easy to accuse others but it needs courage to say – yes, we are the culprits. No one can deny the fact that Kashmir society is getting criminalized with every passing day and is coming under the influence of evil practices. But is making accusations the only way to come out of this mess?

Social evils can’t be dealt with by launching forums which are more interested in politics than the betterment of the society. It is a full fledged war that is to be fought primarily from the basic units of the society – families. Parents have to decide what they want their kids to be like. By gifting a cell phone to a kid of 14 years, parents are doing no good to their children. Parents have to inculcate a sense of responsibility amongst them. Besides local Masjids and schools have to play a major role in fighting against such evils. While teachers have to introduce the concepts of morality to their taught, Imams of the Masjids too have to educate people. Besides elders in villages and mohallas have a responsibility to have an eye on their respective localities.

Aren’t there hundreds of examples where poor parents are in no position to get their daughters married and daughters are left with the responsibility of earning money for their dowry? When, as citizens, we care not about such families, what right we have to talk morality when such girls take wrong path to earning?

Family is the basic unit of the society and the people have become irresponsible in family structures. We need to give freedom to our children but that freedom needs to have some limit. If a father sees her daughter wearing clothes which exceed the pocket money he has been giving her and doesn’t question her, who is responsible for the girl’s going astray? Do we, as parents, really know in which kind of company our kids are roaming around? Do we, blindly in the materialistic race, spare some moments to sit with our kids; listen to their frustrations; and share our experiences with them?

We will have to agree that in most of our families there is very little or no communication between parents and children and the result is that children start behaving the way they want and most of the times fall in wrong hands. Communication between parents and children; adults and young is a must. Parents have to treat their children as friends to a level where the children would not hesitate sharing any wild thoughts with them. Problem is that in today’s busy world parents don’t have time to give their children company and then complain of their bad habits. Need is to be more communicative with children and help them come out of traumas they may be suffering due to the obnoxiously competitive times.

Women getting harassed for dowry are a collective shame for any society

Shazia Khan (Rising Kashmir)

In Indian Sub-continent a high rate of dowry-deaths is observed, where women get killed because of insufficient dowry that they bring to their marital homes. In Kashmir though dowry demands can be a factor in only a very few deaths but these demands are more frequently linked with domestic violence.

Disputes over inadequate dowry, usually split couples and spoil their marital relationship. When a woman is unable to fulfill the dowry demands, she very often gets smacked by her husband that leads to putting the relation under strain. Same happened with Sakina Mir (name changed) who finds it maddening to get caught in such a situation.

On August, 14, 2007 Sakina, was married off to Shabir Ahmad (name changed) who was working as a businessman in Srinagar. Like many other women in our society, Sakina also dreamt about beautiful marital life but not knowing that her dreams would shatter only after nine months of her marriage. Instead of finding happiness she found herself being beaten and harassed for not bringing enough dowry. Finally she was thrown out from her in-laws’ home forever.

Sakina's father, who runs a fabric shop at Zaina Kadal, said that it was an arranged marriage in which all the formalities were taken due care of. But only after a month the dowry was considered unsatisfactory," said Abdul Majeed. "Life was going on smoothly, until one day my mother-in-law started speaking about my gold jewelry", says Sakina." She compelled me to keep all my jewelry with her but I refused to oblige and soon she started harassing me. It was very strange; I was insulted day in day out."Initially Sakina had no idea how to tackle the situation." I tried to remain silent but later when it became unbearable I resisted. It irked my husband and often he turned violent", says Sakina. I started facing violent treatment from my husband and mother-in-law. They beat me up and left me many times without food."

Finally Sakina explained to her parents that she was being tormented. "However they advised me to stay with my husband and in laws hoping that the things would soon get better", says Sakina. It is observed in societies like Kashmir, that parents consider it a disgrace and a social stigma if a girl stays with them after marriage. So even if problems are faced by the girl in the in-laws’ house they feel compelled to stay back there. This way Sakina's decision helped relax her parents for a few months.

In the mean time Sakina developed some health problems and was not able to stand and work properly. "For about a month I was confined to bed but my husband never bothered to take me to any hospital or consult a doctor", said Sakina. Finally she went to her parents’ home. "I was pained to see my daughter in that condition. We took her to a doctor and she went through several medical checkups that confirmed she was anemic," says Sakina's mother.

After a month's long stay, Sakeena was taken back to her in-laws’ home. She noticed many changes in her husband’s behavior and it made her believe that he cared for her the way he used to. Life was slowly leaning back to normal. It looked that happy times are back again. A month later she found her husband a bit perturbed. On enquiring she was told that he had suffered a great loss in business and required hefty sum to save the business. "At the same time he asked for the mehar (dower money). Without giving it a second thought I gave him all the money", says Sakina.

Immediately afterwards her husband declared in front of everybody that he is not going to stay with her any more. Sakina was divorced. ‘I was stunned and could not utter a single word. Earlier I couldn't sense his intensions but now everything was clear. He married me only for money. As he might have thought that he can not squeeze any more money from me, he opted for divorce,” added Sakina."I had been through hell all those months. I thought to go to Police and Court but didn’t want to bring disgrace to my family"

It is not the only story of domestic violence and harassment in Kashmir. Sakina's is one among the 1400 cases that are registered in State Commission for Women. Officials of commission observe 3-5 cases of domestic violence everyday and they have estimated that approximately 75% of these cases are related to dowry only.

The member secretary of State Commission for women Hafiza Muzaffar believes that people are becoming more materialistic here and dowry seems an easy way for them to fulfill their materialistic needs.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Blockade or Whatever .... the Indomitable Spirit Lives!

Ajaz proves that we Kashmiris can hold on to our humor as well as Russians to their vodka ...

Invitation Cancelled!

Dr. Ajaz A. Baba

Wait! No need to get alarmed, all you with bared teeth and barely restrained salivary glands! This is not yet another wedding invitation that has been cancelled. I know the last few weeks have been pretty disappointing for all of us…No indeed!

That is putting it too mildly! The last few weeks have been a torture if ever there was one what with all our fantasies, which were aroused by all those fancy invitation cards, dashed to ground by the cancellation notices in various newspapers.

Can it be mere coincidence that the cancellation notices feature invariably on the pages usually reserved for obituaries! Pretty appropriate place that if you ask me, for what can be more mourned than a platterful of mouthwatering Wazwaan! Talk of national tragedy, zoom in the cameras and there it is, the Wazwaan that isn’t, couldn’t be because of the embargo! Those rowdies out there really ‘kicked us in the belly’ (to translate a popular colloquialism!)!

Ah! All those invitation cards bombing like bad cheques! What a catastrophe! Everyday I scan the ‘obituary’ pages to see if any of the weddings (or rather the accompanying feasts!) that I have been invited to have been cancelled. Honestly a guy wouldn’t scan these pages with more trepidation if he were expecting his own obituary out there!

We might have forgotten many a slight of the past, many an oppression and injustice, why even recently we were in the process of soothing our wounds (real as well as imaginary!) by applying neat little strips of plaster named, no not Johnson and Johnson or Band-aid or whatever, but Sentiment and Reality! But this time things have gone too far! An embargo! That too in the season of weddings (read Wazwaan!)! They say ‘discontent of the belly is the most serious of discontents’ (another popular colloquialism translated to express the strongly felt local sentiment!). This time the oppression and injustice will not be taken lightly. It will not be forgotten either but remembered for long! Forget about placards, future demonstrations will see us holding these invitation cards (announcing the subsequently cancelled feasts!).

It is not that we as a nation lack fortitude. Trust me it is not that. We can withstand any embargo mind you. Ask any common man, you won’t so much as hear a whisper of a complaint about the scarcity of say petrol (Big deal! We will just call for a never-ending hartal and nobody will need any petrol anyway!). No it is not even about the lack of life-saving drugs. In any case there wasn’t ever a life-saving drug patented (or even invented for that matter!) that can stop a bullet or lighten the blow of a policeman’s well aimed blow when a stick comes crashing onto a bare head! Life-saving drugs aren’t much of a protection against that deadly stone either that comes flying out of that alley over there and reduces your eye to gooey pulp! We can hold out…I tell you forever if need be! But stopping those truckfuls of sheep, all that mutton! Now that is criminal!

In fact, one can smell a conspiracy in all this provided one sniffs long enough and at the same time firmly puts aside the memory of the delicious smells of Wazwaan! Meat eating, and its most vivid manifestation, Wazwaan, is a part of our national ethos. This embargo on meat is an attack on our national identity! Did somebody talk about the revival of the turbulent nineties?! Well yes there it is! That time you had these very pages full of small time politicians declaring their non-alignment with all and any sort of political parties, some even claiming that they had actually never been members of any political party and that it was just a rumour and somebody trying to defame them and all that. This time the bugle may very well be sounded by these ‘invitation cancelled’ notices!

Meanwhile we might do well to remember that in our religion weddings were supposed to be rather austere affairs. After all what is religion if not a great comforter in times of adversity and all that? Why with no meat to sell even the president of some meat dealers association has turned an ad-hoc preacher! The fellow made history (as well as to the pages of most newspapers!) by exhorting people that in view of the embargo we should celebrate our weddings with simplicity in accordance with the Divine law. Readers are however requested not to miss the ‘in view of the embargo’ part, for no adversity lasts for ever. This embargo won’t too. Happier, meatier days will be back again. Meanwhile let us recall the forgotten divine injunctions (at least for the time being!).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

An Architect sees beauty of the past where others see an eye-sore of today

An architect wonders why our government does not care about protecting historical buildings, but in reality nothing is possible without public interest

( Syed Ather Qayoom Rufai, 26, was born in Srinagar, and received his initial schooling from the Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School, Srinagar, and Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi. He graduated as an Architect from the Rizvi College of Architecture, Mumbai. He is currently a partner in an architect and real estate development company in Srinagar. His personal interests are reading, writing and surfing the internet.)

Vandalism of heritage buildings

Srinagar city is fast losing its traditional architectural grandeur. Almost every day there is a news report about the depleting condition of downtown or old city, more popularly known as shehr-i-khas. Be it electricity, water supply, drainage, roads, market, buildings, name anything, its graph is nose-diving. Many a times I wonder whether the word khas should be used anyway. What is so khas left there now? I started to really observe the area and imagined the grandeur of the buildings and felt that there is something really special about sher-i-khas.

Looking at some of the old pictures of the then main city, I wonder where is our building heritage heading towards? Many of the old buildings have been converted into go-downs, and many are being dismantled now and replaced with modern concrete structures. It is very surprising to know that many of the old buildings which are worth much more than today’s modern structures are being occupied by outside laborers, mainly scrap sellers. Srinagar city still possesses much of its heritage structures which most of the capital cities around the world have already lost due to the so called modernization. And looking at the present trend, sooner or later, our Srinagar city would be one among them.

Once known as Venice of the East, only East remains now and Venice we have lost. Anchar Lake has vanished, and Dal and Wular lakes are fast catching up with Anchar. Everyone knows about the state of our forests. And for all this I would not blame people so much as the government. After all what is the use of a heritage building for a common man when he has a dwindling economy. He would instead tie-up with an investor or sell it off which is worth in crores. Vandalism can be seen at its best in almost all the old buildings in Lal Chowk, Maharaja Bazaar, Hari Singh High Street and all over the downtown or shehr-i-khas. This kind of scenario is not seen everywhere.

In fact heritage buildings or in many cases heritage areas (like maharaja bazaar or Hari Singh high street in Srinagar) in some parts of India have been restored in such a manner that they still serve the purpose. The best example is undoubtedly Mumbai. All the heritage buildings and mostly that of British era have been well preserved. The street elevation has been maintained all along the old Mumbai, keeping in mind the heritage value of the area. The main reason for their preservation is that all of them are functional and there is an initiative taken from the government side too. Be it Victoria Terminus railway station, Mumbai high court, Mumbai central library, Fountain, Taj hotel, and many more, they are all functional and once functional then well maintained.

Same initiative is required here in Srinagar city too. An effort on these lines can be seen in the recently restored J&K Arts Emporium on the banks of river Jehlum. Similarly restoration of Ali Masjid in Eidgah area is a positive step taken by the government. The building housing HDFC bank on the banks of river Jehlum is prime example of how a heritage building can be maintained and well preserved if kept functional.

One of the essential requirements for the restoration of these heritage buildings is the need for specialists. At present the government lacks such technical experts. A project done by JKPCC for the restoration of Hari Parbat fort or Kohi-maran fort should be a disgrace for everyone in the state authority and for everyone related to heritage work. A clear cut comparison can be seen in the restoration work of the fort and Ali Masjid where the authority seeks the expert advice of the INTACH, an NGO dealing with heritage buildings. In accordance with the norms for restoration of heritage buildings, original building materials have been used wherever applicable in Ali Masjid and the original fabric of the building has been maintained. In contrast almost everything done in the fort has been done on modern lines using concrete everywhere and no thought has been given to the original fabric of the fort building. After all the restoration work would have been for the army in the fort, rather than for the restoration of the fort.

It will be almost impossible to impose such ideas on the common masses regarding the value of a heritage building. Instead a general awareness is needed to make people understand the need for the preservation of our heritage, be it living heritage or building heritage. The most tragic part with these awareness programs is that they all happen indoors in places like SKICC, hotels like Broadway or Mumtaz with high ranking officials and other prominent personalities exchanging ideas amongst themselves. The need is to reach out to the people.

Last year world heritage day was held on top of Hari Parbat fort attended by some prominent tourism officials. Such events should be held in public places where people would understand the importance of heritage. As a result of lack of knowledge regarding the value of heritage buildings, what we are witnessing right now is a very dangerous trend of so called modernization. Buildings like Residency Hotel are coming up in prominent places in place of old heritage buildings that do not reflect in the most remote way the heritage or traditional character of a typical Kashmiri architecture.

Even the poor old wooden horse which had become the identity of the old Pastonji building could not be accommodated in the new Residency Hotel building. Buildings like these are universal buildings. They have no character of there own nor any regional identity. Same type of buildings can be found in Delhi, Chandigarh, Mumbai or anywhere else. What is the difference then?

The initiative taken by the state government to setup a new museum building deserves appreciation. It will provide the much required space for the number of artifacts which could not find any display space in the present building. But there are still two things which the government did not do or at least should be looking to do. Firstly is the whereabouts of the artifacts which have gone missing from the museum over the years. After all, all of the items are the property of the people as it is our history and past which these artifacts reflect. Secondly, the old museum building should be restored which is itself a heritage structure. Over the years the building has been altered so much so that it has almost lost its original building fabric. Unless and until we do not wake up to this ignorance towards our heritage buildings, which are so important in preserving our identity, we would one day find ourselves surrounded by Delhi, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Mumbai. And then it would be too late to act for all of us.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Teacher Affects Eternity

Afshana talks about the profession of teaching before it became just another job

(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.)

The Best Classroom

One hundred years from now,
it will not matter what kind of car I drove,
what kind of house I lived in,
how much money
I had in the bank,
nor what my clothes
looked like.
One hundred years
from now,
it will not matter
what kind of
school I attended,
what kind of
typewriter I used,
but the world may
be a little better,
I was important
in the life of a child.

For most of us, perhaps the best place of learning has been the classroom. The one where teachers dissected everything to brasstacks and made us imbibe unknown and invisible truths. The glory of classroom revolved around the teacher who shoved the whole class into new realms of knowledge and wisdom. The person whose insight unraveled the best lessons of life to his pupils. Henry Adams wrote, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Incredibly true! However, the once decisive element in the classroom has now got reduced to irrelevance.

Times have changed. They say so. How much and whence—it’s an arduous question. The pace of life has accelerated, leaving out many things behind. Fastness has crept into every sphere. Fast results, fast bucks and fast success: the mantra of Fast Age has generally eroded the value-concepts and rendered them anachronistic.

One of the particular causes for relegating the role of a teacher to triviality is the introduction of new methods of teaching which are self-instructive and self-explanatory. The use of innovative technology like Internet and other electronic sources has also contributed in minimizing the importance of classroom. To some extent, the deluge of information available (a kind of Information Explosion ) has robbed the status of a teacher as a ‘knowledge bank’.

And then, the vast exposure to real life experiences brings the finest lessons home. Learners are more receptive to practical happenings than the pedagogic credo. It holds more water in present times than the good olden days when life was less restless and consequently, experiences were usually humanizing and not sharply penetrating.

In a way, it can be supposed that the best classroom today is the World. Maybe that’s why Cummings remarked that the ‘hardest battle is to be nobody but yourself in a world that is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else.’ In a world that conspires every moment to kill your individuality and tease you to hell, the serious lessons dawn gradually. The brutal cut-throat competition and the dogged survival of the fittest makes every minute a tutoring moment. The selfish associations and sham relations mature you to rationality. Harsh face of life and ugly side of affairs make the learning an “effortless” effort! Pupils go past their teacher in terms of practicalities of training. All that is bookish and quite “ideal” seems simmering down to matter-of-fact routine realities.

In a changed scenario, teacher can at best make his pupil aware that they are the actual agents of change, and have the capability to make a difference in the society that they live in. The times have come to go beyond ‘ preach/teach style’ of pedagogy. Inspiring self-distrust, a ‘true teacher has to even defend his pupils against his own personal influence…he will have no disciple.’ Of course, none is ready to be a ‘disciple’ and none around qualifies as ‘disciple-able.’ The best classroom, the World, has also brought the rawness of minds in bulk. The little knowledge and misplaced self-opinion has wreaked havoc with the learning spirit. Everybody is self-taught, goes the buzz!

Moreover, teachers too have lost the real zing. They are there just by the stroke of chance. Lack of dedication and solemn sense of commitment is a thing of yore, remotely belonging to them. They have badly treated the aura of teaching and the honour of being a teacher. Rare exceptions apart, a whole lot of present teachers hardly deserve to be called as teachers….

“The mediocre teacher tells.
The good teacher explains.
The superior teacher demonstrates.
The great teacher inspires.”
(William Arthur)

With no sound understanding of their job, they criminally play with the future of the nation: their pupil. More into getting fat salaries and other privileges, they don’t update themselves in tune with the changing trends of teaching methods.

The honesty of purpose is at the root of this malaise inflicting teachers. Perhaps they reflect the general malady of the society they belong to. They cannot be expected to work wonders, after all.

Given this repulsive dynamic, the World remains the best place to self-learn and self-explore the authenticity of life and its living. Signing off with the treasured words of Socrates…. “ I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.” Let teachers try out on it. At least.

Exhibitionism or Extravagance: Sadly it is a Common Denominator Among Pillars of our Society

Firdous speaks of feasts for beasts that Kashmiri societies relish whether in the valley or outside

(Mr. Firdous Syed, 42, was born in Bhaderwah, Doda, and had his schooling in Jammu. He is currently the Chairman of the "Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Development Studies," and associated with the J&K National Conference. Between 1989 and 1991, he led the Moslem Janbaaz Force, a militant group, and was jailed from 1991 through 1994. In 1996, he publicly renounced the gun culture, and has since joined mainstream politics and is an active member of the Kashmir civil society.)

Marriage extravagance or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Every year with the onset of marriage season, news papers abound with the column and write-ups, debating penchant for excessive spending and social evils related with the marriages here. And after each year passing by, with great horror we witness the menace of dowry and extravagance growing unabated.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq as an influential religious head is duty bound to make us aware— “thousands of corers are spent on the marriages here.” The figure quoted by him might be a bit inflated, but message is well conveyed. As the entire society has gone crazy, some one has to bell the cat and take initiative against the social evils. But mere sermonizing will not help; only a proactive approach will do.

Mirwaiz as a religious head enjoys a sizeable area of influence, if he takes his responsibility as a social reformer more seriously things on ground are for sure to improve. How many marriages he solemnizes (Nikahkhawani) and also attends as a guest of honor, during a marriage season? May be in dozens if not in hundreds. If he just makes it a point not to solemnize a marriage or attend as a guest, wherein the limits of modesty have been ruthlessly transgressed, people will take his tirades seriously. Every social evil has to be deprived social sanctity first, before effectively getting rid of the evil itself.

This is not an exaggeration but a hard fact; our marriages have turned out to be more than an evil, they have become a devilish affair. A simple criticism will not be able to arrest the wicked phenomenon. It requires a strong shock therapy; people who really believe that enough is enough will have to muster courage to call a spade a spade. Time has come for the people with some sense of social responsibility to publicly not only censure but also actively disassociate with the wicked behavior. Participation of the people with some standing in the evil affairs only provides the evil a social sanctity.

A blustering speech from the pulpit against the evil during the day and relishing wazwan in the very evening, only gives an inkling of hypocritical behavior. Even if people of high-standing does not personally eat a little morsel, but gracing the occasion any way provides social legitimacy to a sinful act. We may criticize the magnitude of the wazwan but the moment it is served we relish the sumptuous meal with great flavor.

Even madness has a method, but the kind of idiotic behavior we display during our marriages defies all logic of common sense. By and large society has been gripped by a mania of slavish imitation. Obsession for reckless copycat act is an infectious disease; “there is no disease (so destructive) as lust; no enemy like infatuation, (Chankya).” Pomp and show mania drives, otherwise a reasonable person wild. We not only have gone crazy but have lost the limits of all civilized behavior. We have almost lost sense of proportion.

In a feast four people around a Trami are served what normally can be consumed only in couple of days. On a heap of rice is served 4/5 kg meats, along with beverages salad, chutnies, pulaw, curd etc. Fifteen to twenty servings with other add-ons makes the meal more than ten-twelve kg affair. How can one savor so much at a one go? For beasts it might be possible for ordinary mortals to eat so much at a stretch is next to impossible. Does the host who serves mound of food expect the guests to eat all what is served to them? Certainly not! Then why so much of the food is served, seventy per cent of which we all know even before serving will go waste. How can one describe such a lunatic behavior? Is it simple habit of overdoing hospitality, peer group pressure or some thing else? Societal pressure to imitate has turned us into big squanderers, irrespective of the fact whether our legitimate means allow us to do so or not. Whether humans consume the food or canines the day after, Kashmiri will sell his honor and self-respect to be able to prepare and serve what is normally beyond his means. Spendthrift is brother of Satan as goes the Qur’an.

Judging by the strange behavior we exhibit, while conducting and celebrating marriages and at other social occasions, can we say that we as society on the whole are diseased by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OSD)? According to American Academy of Family Physicians, “OSD is an illness that causes people to have unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and to repeat certain behaviors (compulsions) over and over again…most people with OCD know that their obsessions and compulsions make no sense, but they can’t ignore or stop them.” The OSD is malfunctioning of individual human psychology; broader conclusions cannot be drawn about societal disorders on the basis of individual traits. But the kind of obsessions and compulsions we undergo during our marriages should be a cue for social scientists and clinical-psychologists to study this social disorder also as psychological disorder.

Regrettably, the way we manage our social and family obligations, simple issues have been turned into complex, cumbersome and costly affairs. This kind of exuberance cannot be sustained for long and society is almost at the brink of disaster. We may not agree but our spendthrift behavior has impacted all aspects of our life. It is but natural for corruption both moral and materiel to get ingrained in the collective psyche of the society, if we have become habitual to live beyond our legitimate means. The lines between moral and immoral, lawful and unlawful stands completely blurred, there is no distinction left between evil and good.

Wayward behaviors have increased social tensions; consequently, crime rate in the society is on the rise. Had we heard kidnapping of children, rape of adolescent girls, and murder of young women in Kashmir even few years before. Who would have imagined just a decade ago—Son killing his father for lure of money— brother (first-cousin) driven by lust robbing the chastity of his eight year old sister, afterwards also killing the innocent child in most horrendous way with a brick to hide the dastardly act. Furthermore, do we have time and inclination to mull-over, where we are headed as a society? Hasn’t numbness and collusion with the crime, made us oblivious to any sense of loss? Collusion with crime? Yes, remaining mute spectator to crime is as bad as complicity with the crime itself.

Not to speak of agony, even a cursory sense of loss is entirely missing in the society; otherwise without any further delay, we would have set into motion corrective and remedial measures. Busy in merry making, we are completely unaware of the disasters looming large. For this situation only Iqbal has said Vaay! Nakami Mataye Karwan Jata Raha; Karwan Key Dil Sey Ahsahs-E-Zian Jata Raha. Absence of sense of loss is a greater tragedy than the loss itself.

Are we waiting for a messiah, for an awakening? Or else can some body don the mantle of a true reformer amongst the vast pool of self-styled leaders. Free nations have learned the lesson hard way— true revolution without renaissance is hard to come—”The Renaissance did trigger the French Revolution”. Seeking revolution? We will have to undertake a movement of reform first. Sooner we learn our lessons right, closer we will be to our cherished Goal. Alas, there is no other way out.

Turning a new Leaf: 30,000 Books Sold in Five Days

Sahitya Akademi book exhibition generates good response. Kudos to Ajim Hajini, the convenor of the event

Umi Salma Reshi (Rising Kashmir)

Srinagar: The five day book exhibition cum sale organised by Sahitya Akademi in collaboration with Meezan Publishers at State Institute of Education came to conclusion amid huge response from book lovers.“We have sold nearly 3000 books from the whole lot,” Stall owner Meezan publishers, Shabir Ahmad said. He said that a good number of books were sold during the exhibition where he had kept more then 5000 books available for sale “Seeing the response we offered 20 percent discount on the printed price of the books,” he said, adding, “the books were priced between Rs 10- 350 with an intention to make it affordable for all.”

The books put on sale mostly included English, Hindi, Urdu, Kashmiri, Punjabi and Dogri titles. The stall owners said that, besides Urdu and Kashmiri books, some people also purchased Hindi books. “Most of the visitors demanded that such exhibitions should be conducted at district levels too”, Ahmad further added.

Meanwhile the organisers said that the books saw a huge sale testifying that book reading culture still exists in the valley despite internet facilities available at the door steps.“Almost 30,000 books were sold. We saw a thumping sale. Not only have the locals but outsiders too thronged the exhibition,” the convenor of the event, Azim Hajini said. He said the rush of the visitors in the exhibition has inspired them for sending proposal to the government to organise mobile sale units of the books especially to cover the educational institutions which will ultimately attract and benefit students. “This testifies that the book reading culture still persists in the valley despite other facilities available,” he added.

Even buyers of these books say that the exhibition has been a tremendous experience for them since they have bought books of all tastes and varieties at reasonable rates.“Every one is coming here. This gives me immense pleasure to witness such activities being organised and attended by all,” Muhammad Shafi Mir, a retired government employee said. He said the collection of Hindi books available in the exhibition has allured him for purchase. “I have purchased more then 10 books in other languages, because they are not available in the market,” he added.

Not only locals, Non Resident Kashmiri (NRK) also found the event of immense benefit and were excited to have landed up here in the exhibition.“I have bought Kashmiri books with the intention of taking them to London,” Muzaffar Ahmad, an NRK settled in United Kingdom said.He said buying in this exhibition would help him refresh and disseminate the importance of Kashmiri language among the Kashmiri community along with his children there.

Valley Carpet and Shawl Industry is in Deep Trouble

Carpet, Shawl Industry In Deep Slump

Srinagar: The carpet and shawl weaving industries, which have the status of being the backbone of Kashmir handicrafts, are on a sharp decline, throwing thousands of artisans and craftsmen and their families into acute financial and economic distress.

The gravity of the slump can be judged from the fact that carpets, which used to sell at around Rs 900 per square foot just a few years ago during the tenure of Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, are today going a-begging at Rs 450, and that too despite credit. The shawl-making craft too is going through a similar crisis. The elaborate government department of handicrafts has failed to arrest the fall and has been able to do nothing except dash off documentary missiles.

A recent survey says that in the Budgan and Baramulla districts, where forty per cent of the population subsists on carpet and shawl weaving, the artisans have been totally idle for the past four months, and there are no buyers for the products they have in stock.

Many craftsmen said that if they manage to sell their products somehow, traders withhold payments for months together, forcing them to think about giving up this vocation. “We have been associated with this trade for decades, and considered it as a gift from Hazrat Shah Hamadan (RA) to Kashmiris,” they say.

A carpet weaver in Mattan, Ghulam Qadir, said that the trade was totally down for the past four months and craftsmen were absolutely idle. Holding the government responsible for the situation, Qadir said that after Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, neither Ghulam Nabi Azad nor the governor had shown any interest in promoting the carpet craft.

A shawl weaver from Budgam, Abdul Rasheed, expressed similar views, saying that around 90 per cent of the people in his area were dependent on shawls and carpets, but both trades were running on a loss for the past three months. “In 2005, an artisan used to earn Rs 100 to 150 per day, but today instead of increasing, this rate has drastically declined,” he said. “One barely manages Rs 60 to 70 a day today,” he said.

A trader, Nazeer Ahmad, said that huge losses in carpets and shawls had put him into dire straits financially and many people had given up their ancestral vocation, taking up alternative professions. A Tangmarg resident, Abdul Rahman said that he had been associated with the carpet trade for the past 35 years, but now there was no fun in the business. “This craft was a gift from Hazrat Ameer-e-Kabeer (RA), but the government’s indifference has sounded its death knell,” he said.

Salamuddin from Chadoora said that on the one hand the government talked of promoting self-employment schemes and urged youth to stand on their own feet, but on the other was destroying traditional and ancestral industries. “If the government continues with this approach, it will have horrific consequences,” he said.

(Kashmir Observer)

Living in Srinagar's Green Zone, Kashmiri Aristrocats Enjoy Life by Harnessing Misery of a Common Man

Ashraf talks about recent exploiters in the garb of Indian loyalists and global collection agencies masquerading as Resistance that have ruined Kashmir

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 65, was born and raised in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. High School and the S.P College before joining the Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Civil Engineering. However, he changed his career to adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing, completing his training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and Gulmarg. He also completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Fran├žaise in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.)

Aristocrats and Maharajas enjoy, aam admi suffers

During its chequered history of thousands of years Kashmir has been ruled by Kings, Emperors, and Maharajas. Most of the ancient chronicles of Greek, Chinese, and Arabic origin mention Kashmir as a Kingdom famous for the beauty of its land as well as its people. Kashmiris according to these chronicles were also known to have been good foot-walkers. Aristocracy was a part of the ruling elite of Kashmir from the ancient times. Kalhana mentions Damaras as the powerful semi-independent feudal lords who controlled the Royalty of ancient Kashmir. Damaras were land-owners or barons. They mostly lived in the fertile cultivated portions of the valley and their seats formed strong-holds capable of defence. These territorial lords were the true king makers. These aristocrats or nobles of the Hindu period continued to be an influential element even under the Sultans of Kashmir. The advent of Islam in the valley introduced a new element. These were the Sayyids who had accompanied Shah-I-Hamadan from Iran. They considered themselves to be superior to the local converts to Islam.

Their progeny started a new class of aristocracy. Mughals patronised some of these aristocrats who had sided with them during the capture of Kashmir. However, the rule of Afghans and Sikhs was so harsh that nothing of aristocracy or sophistication survived. They were uncouth and ruthless rulers. Dogras created new land barons by importing Rajputs from Jammu as also patronised the erstwhile Damaras. However, in 1947 Sheikh Abdullah reduced almost the entire aristocracy to penury by his revolutionary land reforms. His land to the tiller policy deprived all the landlords of their massive land holdings and the poor tillers got the land without even spending a penny. One would have expected a complete wipe out of all the land barons as well as the traditional Maharajas. This did happen temporarily. The Maharaja was exiled never to return and he died in Mumbai. The landlords also disappeared and Kashmir’s ancient aristocracy slowly faded out.

However, last sixty years gave rise to a new breed of aristocracy and a new line of Maharajas. These sixty years have been years of turmoil. Kashmir got entangled in a conflict which refuses to go away and has rather engulfed the entire sub-continent. In fact, it has become a nuclear flash point for the entire South Asia. While as the common people have suffered miserably over these years, certain elements have abnormally grown by reaping the benefits of the situation of conflict.

These are the people that have sided with India against the popular sentiment on one hand and on the other are those that have exploited the popular sentiment to their own personal advantage by making collections from all over the world. These are both the “Beneficiaries of Conflict”. The leaders professing to represent the popular sentiment are also of two types. On one hand are the genuine ones who have faced tremendous suffering. A large number have been liquidated and thousands have disappeared without a trace. These are the buds that have been cut in the prime of life. Others have been incarcerated in different prisons without any trial for decades. On the other hand are those who have made global collections in the name of Kashmiri freedom fighters and pocketed these. Some of these can also be included in the new breed of “Aristocrats”! As regards the pro-establishment elements professing loyalty to India, they are the real beneficiaries.

From the mainstream side, the Indian government could never get the upright and the honest people to support their view point and had to depend upon those who would sell their conscience for a price! This gave rise to the most corrupt political system which fattened on the funds provided for the development and upliftment of the common masses. Massive amounts of money made available by the Central Government for the development of the state was siphoned off to a great extent. The overall growth of Kashmir’s economy was not only stunted but became negative thereby rendering the state economically dependent on outside assistance. The situation came to such a pass that even the pay of an unwieldy establishment could not be met out of the state resources.

Major chunk of the plan funds would be utilised to meet the salary bill of a huge army of government employees. The trend of creating more and more government jobs continues ceaselessly. The job which should normally be accomplished by a couple of hands has more than ten trying to do it and that too in a totally messy manner. We have more parasites than the real workers everywhere! Corruption both in the government and the private sector in all spheres of the society has created a new breed of “aristocrats” with plenty of easy money. These are the new “Damaras” who in the tradition of ancient Kashmir continue to act as the King makers. The “New Kings or Maharajas” come from a few select families some of whom have a multi-national origin and who keep on swapping places off and on! Some of these new “Royal” families are also linked to each other by marriage. They have a lavish life style and move about in true royal fashion. The perks and facilities enjoyed by them would be the envy of the heads of state of some of the smaller countries of the world.

There are special planes, and helicopters for the travel of the rulers. The motorcade of the ruler has a couple of dozen vehicles with escorts, remote jammers, ambulance, and bullet-proof spare cars. Even after demitting the office, they get similar treatment of escorts, jammers, and so on. Their official residences are virtual palaces and in some case the actual palaces of the erstwhile Maharajas! During last few years millions of rupees have been spent on renovating, remodelling, refurbishing, and securing these residences. In fact, the Gupkar Road can be termed as the Maharaja’s Road as the residences of the erstwhile Maharajas and the present rulers are situated on it. The budget of the department of hospitality and protocol which looks after the day to day living of the “New Maharajas” runs into millions of rupees. While our “New Maharajas” and the “New Aristocrats” enjoy a lavish life style, the common man (Aam Aadmi) suffers and faces the brunt of all calamities both natural and man made. In spite of a so called popular and democratic set up we have to suffer these “New Maharajas”.

One is reminded of the observations of Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution. The Royal Palace had been surrounded by thousands of revolutionaries who were raising slogans. On hearing the noise, the French Queen asked the courtiers what the people were shouting about. On being told that they had no bread, she said, “Why don’t they eat cakes?” On being told that they had no water, she said, “Why don’t they drink Champagne?” However, when the revolutionaries imprisoned the Queen in Bastille, her hair turned all white in a single night! One hopes our “New Maharajas” also do not suffer the same fate and attend to the genuine grievances of the common folk by descending out of their Palaces before it is too late!