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.

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.

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