Introduction to KashmirForum.org 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.
www.kashmirforum.org

Sunday, August 3, 2008

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!

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