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.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Kashmiri Writers Conference

Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages holds a symposium

Kashmiri Writers Conference adopts five point resolutions

Rajouri: A five point resolution was passed during concluding day proceedings of two day State Level Kashmiri Writers Conference organized by Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages held here at Dak Banglow Rajouri.

The Kashmiri writers fraternity unanimously adopted the resolutions which includes , Opening of Kashmiri Department with a Chair in the memory of Eminent Poet Rasa Javeedani at University of Jammu, Creation of posts of Lecturers for Kashmiri language in Higher Secondary schools and Degree Colleges of Poonch, Rajouri, Doda, Kishtwar and other Kashmiri speaking districts of Jammu region, Introduction of Kashmiri Language in Kashmiri speaking areas of Jammu region at School level and providing due share of "time slot" to Kashmiri language on electronic media including Radio Kashmir Jammu, AIR Poonch and Badherwah, DDK Jammu as per the population ratio.

More than 200 Kashmiri Writers , Scholars, Poets and Intellectual who participated in the event passed these resolutions with one voice. The resolutions were mooted by eminent Kashmiri Writer Prof. Marghoob Banhali, former Head of Kashmiri department, Kashmir University.

Zaffar Iqbal Khan in his address said that Academy is going to hold a two day Dogri Conference in the coming month at Jammu and Pahari and Gojri State level Conference will be held in February month of next year. He urged the writer community of the state to come forward and help the Academy in its endvour.

The second day proceedings of the conference were started with paper reading session. Prominent Writer and former head of Urdu department of Kashmir University Prof. Zaman Azourda presided over the session while Bashir Badherwahi and Manshoor Banhali readout their papers on various aspects of Kashmiri Literature.Those who participated in the discussiuon includes, Farooq Nazki, Aziz Hajni, G RHasrat Gadda,Shahnaz Rashid, Brij Halli, Payaree Hatash and others

Earlier on Saturday, 2-day Kashmiri writers conference began here today. Gyan-Peeth awardee and noted scholar of Kashmiri, Prof. Rehman Rahi presided over the inaugural session.

Addressing on the occasion, Prof. Rahi expressed optimism about the future of Kashmiri language, saying the new generation is increasingly feeling the importance and role of the language in the preservation of culture and identity of Kashmiri people. This feeling, he said has helped to produce committed young poets, literatures and artists who promise bright future in the times to come.

Prof. Rahi said that the language pioneered by great saints like Lal Ded and Sheikh-ul-Allam by their original thought and wisdom is bound to flourish in all ages and times. He said the contemporary writers are also contributing in promotion and evolution of the language. He said no language could be effective alternative in communicating feelings or propagating ideals and values to Kashmiri people other than their mother tongue.

He praised the Academy for promoting Kashmir language by organizing periodic literary programmes across the state.

In his welcome Address, Secretary Academy of Art, Culture and languages, Mr. Zafar Iqbal Manhas dwelt on the importance of organizing Kashmiri conference in Rajouri district. He said the language is highly rich in humanistic philosophy and values that need to be promoted in the interest of states composite culture, social and literary development.

Zafer called for launching a literary movement to convenience the young to be well versed in their mother tongue, which he listed as a big challenge. He said a proper system needs to be put in place for the purpose. He said creative contemporary writers in the language like Prof. Rahi would surely guide in language promotion measures.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Mumbai Tragedy

Shuhab sees ripple effects of the Mumbai tragedy affecting Kashmir and beyond

(Shuhab Hashmi, 38, was born in Baramulla, and graduated from the Degree College in Sopore, and completed his M.A. from the University of Kashmir. He is a Columnist, and in his spare time enjoys reading, discussions and traveling.)

Mumbai: Tremors may travel far and wide

India is facing a high scale threat to its security as is evident from the ongoing terror attack in Mumbai. This is for the second time that such a horrific situation is developing in India with this apparently well planned and meticulous operation which was targeted not only at the elite class in the financial nerve centre of the country but also the foreigners especially those from US, UK and Israel. It is a different and unique strike in many ways from the previous ones, either short-lived fidayeen (suicide squad) attacks or planting the high caliber explosives at train stations or crowded places. In this particular attack nearly 150 people including many foreigners have been killed and thwe number is likely to go further up.

How the developments will unfold in the coming days is not clearly known though the Government of India may be forced to think of a new anti terror mechanism, more stringent and harsh. The legal framework to counter terrorism may be scanned once more to make some fresh inclusions akin to things like POTA which was withdrawn by the present government after coming to power and the security set up may also witness some radical changes. Upgradation of security mechanism to prevent such high volt attacks is also likely. But the most significant fallout of this strike may be the relations between India and Pakistan. These relations, though always on a cliff, had witnessed some kind of positive change in the past few months, especially after the democratically elected government returned to power in Pakistan. Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari’s renewed peace overtures in the recent weeks had also added to the optimism, though caution would accompany it on both sides of the divide.

However, as the coincidence would be Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was on a visit to Delhi to boost these ties when the terror struck Mumbai. He must have been caught on a wrong foot after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his address to nation made a pointed reference towards external hand in these attacks; and the kind of context that had developed over many years behind this ‘external’ hand is all too obvious. It was further complicated when Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee directly asked Pakistan to control the instruments of terrorism as assured by it in the past. Mukherjee went on to say that prima facie it was found that some elements in Pakistan were responsible for these strikes. Indian authorities also pointed out that two merchant ships were used for carrying out the attack.

Islamabad has no doubt denied any involvement in the attack but security experts in India insist that it was not necessary that establishment would be directly involved, but involvement of some sections in its intelligence agencies cannot be ruled out. New Delhi is repeatedly pointing towards Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group operating in Kashmir, and maintaining that it was actively supported by Pakistan. This is the only link New Delhi is pointing towards to “prove Pakistan connection”, in this entire scheme of terror. But Lashkar too has, in unambiguous terms, denied its involvement in the terror attack. Interestingly this time the responsibility has been owned by Deccan Mujahideen, a hitherto unknown militant outfit. Earlier inclusion into the plethora of terror organizations, Indian Mujahideen, that surfaced in the wake of blasts, which hit some of the Indian cities, still remains unknown. Now we have Deccan Mujahideen; and the matter becoming more and more complicated. Now whichever way the investigations might go, things have received a jolt with the killing of Anti Terrorist Squad chief and two others who would have been beneficial in tracking the new links and connecting them with the previous ones.

Mehmood Qureshi’s offer to co-operate in the joint investigations is a welcome sign but is India really willing to do that at a time when it is in real shock, and thinking on taking some radical initiative to counter the terror, remains to be seen. Investigations apart, if the reports about involvement of Al Qaeda are found true then it certainly shows that this international terror network is nudging its way onto the Indian soil. And this will have far reaching and dangerous consequences for the region. The way those involved in this terror attack were looking for the US, UK and Israeli citizens and the Jewish Centre being on its map of activity, lends credence to the apprehensions of their linkage with the International network. Here it may be pertinent to mention that Pakistan too is facing the worst kind of terror, and two months back The Marriot in Islamabad, its centre point for tourism, was turned into the target of action by terrorists and scores were killed. Internal extremism allied with Taliban on Pakistan borders is eating into the very vitals of Pakistan and the country is not in a position to control them. Its assurances to India on not allowing its territory for use against India does not hold much water in view of the changing dynamics of terror politics in the region.

To what extent these guesses could turn out to be real is a separate subject, but both India and Pakistan seem to have covered a fair distance on their path to remove mistrust and suspicion. From Kashmir to other vital issues, both the governments were making a good progress. But analysts who have been discussing the aftermath of Mumbai terror are of the opinion that situation may lead to one that existed after December 13 attack on Indian parliament. Both countries were at the brink of war and only after United States’ intervention it was averted. But given the political pressure Manmohan Singh is under, within the country, to counter the terror may force India to think on the lines on which the then A B Vajpayee government did following the parliament attack. In this situation if both countries go back to the era of complete mistrust it will worsen the situation in the region. The peace process, though not moving ahead with the same pace as it was a year back, will derail with all its benefits down the drain. And apart from all other issues Kashmir will again become the victim of this decades old mistrust.

Politics by Deceit

Arjimand highlights how Naukri Politics fails to deliver everytime

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 33, is from Srinagar and matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering from Bangalore University. He is also an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany. Arjimand writes regular weekly columns for the Greater Kashmir and The Kashmir Times since 2000 on diverse issues of political economy, development, environment and social change and has over 450 published articles to his credit. His forthcoming book: "Confronting the Myths: A Critical Analysis of the Political Economy of Jammu & Kashmir" will be published soon.)

Election manifestos promise jobs. There're reasons why they can't

There is a common streak, something of hogwash, to all the election manifestoes released by various political parties in J&K - all of them sell the dreams of jobs. What is striking is that none of the manifestoes speak of employment generation with a realistic vision. Sadly, all are drafted to mislead.

National Conference has taken the same old beaten track – government jobs, mainly in police. Its leader, Omar Abdullah, has 'promised' to lower the educational eligibility in police recruitments. He also 'promised' his party would fill all vacant positions in government and create many new jobs. On the other hand, though muted, one the main electoral USPs of PDP is government employment. The ideas this party had circulated in its Youth Policy seem little lost.

Congress is talking bigger. Its local chief, Saif-ud-din Soz, while talking to media persons at Lolab on Saturday, said, if voted to power his party would usher in 'unprecedented development' and create massive jobs in the State. He further said that 'it was only the Congress Party that had the potential to make it big for the people in the State.'

Then there are smaller parties - which are basically village-based in origin – that are talking moon on jobs. One such party, Democratic Party (Nationalist) of Tangmarg, has made a meteoric promise: the party would work out a Rs 20,000 crore plan to create jobs in the State, if voted to power.

Politicians selling dreams in the run up to elections is nothing new or novel. Promises of jobs are also normal. Ironically, in J&K's context, these promises signify a deep rooted malaise – a legacy of political thinking which is narrow and lack economic logic. And this thinking is what is basically at the heart of the political troubles which this state is faced with. This malaise signifies the inability of these political parties to create a political system which could help create a direct linkage between job creation and economic well being based on self reliance rather than chronic dependency.

I casually talked to hundreds of educated youth in rural Kashmir during the last one month and asked about their vision of jobs and the reason they were voting. The answers were by and large similar: an elected political system could give them employment in government since they have no alternatives. Most of the youth today, mainly in rural Kashmir, have only one hope with the current elections: it may get them government jobs.

So where would all the new jobs come from?

The coming days will leave the new government with no option but to implement the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission. That would mean an additional financial burden of at least Rs 1000 crore annually. In other words, our annual salary bill will be around Rs 5389 crore. Those who know the state of J&K's public finances know it well that this additional burden will leave the State government with little or no elbow room to create further jobs in the government or fill up the vacant posts. Let us don't forget J&K government has made a commitment to the government of India to keep its salary bill at a certain level, which it cannot afford to raise.
When we look at the State's tax revenues, it is obvious that the targets for this year won't be achieved due to the overall economic slowdown. And let us make no mistakes about government of India's willingness to fund this additional burden of this State. India's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister, P Chidambaram, both, while downplaying the fears of a major slowdown in the country's economic growth, have said that the overall growth during this year is likely to be around 6-8 per cent. Looking at the current global situation this growth rate is not bad. What is certain, however, is that India's overall tax revenues would be far less than projected earlier. And this revenue deficit is very likely to happen both at the State and the Central levels. In other words, already hard pressed for the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations, the central government will have nothing to spare this year.

Jobs are surely handy in police and other security systems because of our booming conflict economy. That we are already an overly police state is no secret. Political parties have always used the tactic of recruiting police personnel amongst certain political pockets and minority ethnic denominations in J&K to get votes. This approach creates social tensions and breeds inter-ethnic and inter-communal divisions. Though politically correct in a narrow sense, this approach is a zero sum game.

Politicians in J&K have always relied on public expenditure to create both short and long term non productive jobs. And that is where the trap lies. Public expenditure, in turn, has been overly import-oriented, creating little jobs and tax revenues.
In situations where sub-national entities like ours have certain degree of political autonomy to influence macroeconomic policies, obviously, raising salaries has its own merits. Bigger salaries mean greater consumption, production, jobs and of course greater savings. And greater savings naturally mean lower interest rates and greater investment. This is a kind of cycle which works naturally in sovereign political entities which have considerable local demand and production. In J&K's case demand is surely there but internal production is quite low. So greater demand does not naturally translate into greater jobs.

There are no reliable figures to tell us how many unemployed and under employed people we have. But one thing is certain: rural agrarian economy is not able to provide sustained livelihoods. Rural unemployment is aggravating urban unemployment. Our education system does not help in producing marketable human resources. The prevailing political system does not have the power to influence the macroeconomics to create real, productive jobs.

This irony is exasperated by the fact that the recently created rural colleges are creating undue and wrong hopes. These colleges are dogged by a highly mediocre teaching system. They lack infrastructure and quality teaching staff. So the products of these colleges would end up taking jobs in police or other non productive government jobs, mainly for teaching.

We have now become a cynical economic system which produces teachers to produce the next generation of teachers. Economic value addition and revenue generation are both very limited. An economic system which is highly consumptive but overly import-based will always lack the capacity to create jobs and generate revenue.
he biggest irony in J&K is that the political parties here which claim to work for the wellbeing of the people that they lack a vision in creating such political conditions which could create an economic model creating productive jobs and revenue for the state. So the promises of employment in election manifestoes can't be anything but lies.

Can a Nation be Built by Citizens Lacking Character and Credibility?

Sajjad bares open the cupboard hiding Kashmiri traits

(Mr. Sajjad Bazaz, 44, was born in Srinagar. He attended the Khalsa high school and the Sri Pratap College in Srinagar. He received his bachelor's degree in Media and his master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. Mr. Bazaz has over two decades of experience in journalism (both print & electronic), and he is author of the book "Bankwatch" which is about a financial scenario with particular reference to the J&K state. He is currently incharge of corporate communications department in a leaduing financial instution in J&K. Mr. Bazaz likes to spend leisure time watching movies and enjoying company of his friends.)

Gossip mongering, exaggeration and sycophancy

Healthy voting percentage in two phases of assembly elections, so far, is nothing but an exhibition of typical Kashmiri trait. The separatist groups deserve to be in a state of shock. Their election-boycott call seems to have been receiving a tough resistance and almost overpowered by 'boycott the election-boycott' call. Interestingly, the shut down calls on election day are being more strictly ensured from the government side and very less from the separatist cadres.

Before venturing into the typical Kashmiri traits, we have some interesting figures regarding of shutdowns where Kashmir has created its own history in this aspect too. After the eruption of armed resistance movement in 1989, shutdown calls have been so frequent that the valley witnessed loss of over 1500 working days in almost two decades of turmoil. Official figures suggest that in 1991, Kashmir witnessed. However, the number of strike calls came down and was recorded as low as 18 in 2005. But the year 2008 is going to beat the previous record, as shutdowns have been very frequent at the fag end of the year.

Even the neutral observers world over have lost their art of analysis in discussing Kashmir imbroglio, when they saw the footage of Kashmiris this time thronging the polling booths in large numbers. Basically, tremendous fall out of events since the fall of Congress-PDP coalition government over Amarnath land row have left people in dilemma. It was public consciousness in India, which received a rude shock when mass demonstrations erupted first in the entire state. For a public fed with accounts of a peace process, talks with separatists and a declining trend in militancy related incidents, this return to a 1989-like situation was unexpected enough to be incomprehensible. Some political commentators pessimistically at that time had suggested India 'to let Kashmir go'.

Our state is full of special breed of people who resort to a discourse on religious and political happenings just trying to keep themselves in limelight. They breathe fire in their discourses but have different tones at different places. They speak anti-establishment and anti-India locally, but leave no stone unturned to project themselves as Indian patriots when they move out of their home territory.

In other words, Kashmiri leaders speak the same thing in three different manners. One is for the local audience where they whip Government of India for each and every ill making life of the state subjects miserable. As soon as leaders cross the Banihal Pass to enter the Jammu region, their center-bashing mood faints while in Delhi Darbar and even do not lag behind each other in praising the Government of India leaders' stand Kashmir. Precisely, whether it is the issue of freedom, secularism, autonomy or democracy, Kashmiri leaders have mastered the art of adopting different postures at different times or at different places.

True, we cannot generalize a particular community or class of people as far as the traits in their character are concerned, but Kashmiris by and large, are fond of mongering gossip, exaggeration and sycophancy. An overview of history reveals that Kashmiris have left no stone unturned to give a grand reception to Jawaharlal Nehru (architect of 'Kashmir's accession' to India), Indira Gandhi, Morarji Desai and the like. Memorable welcome given to Bulganin and Khrushchev - Soviet leaders - during their visit to Srinagar in 1955 is till fresh in the minds of the people.

Most of them continue to be skillful in speaking with two voices. They know when to act as secular and communal, democratic and dictatorial, and pro-India as well as pro-Pakistan. The underlying motivation is lust for power. They swear by the principles of Indian democracy, style of socialism and secularism when allowed by the Government of India to rule the state in their own style. But take U-turn whenever the Central government questions their authority. Then they lose no time to call the Kashmir's accession to the union of India as temporary.

It is also a hard fact that Kashmiris have reacted differently at different times and that too en-masse. Their total alienation from one leader or the other has always been periodic. There is a famous saying of Ghulam Mohammad Bakshi, which describes a common Kashmir trait. Once at a press conference in 1958, addressed by Bakshi, a foreign newsman shot a straight question, "Mr. Bakshi, how many people are with you?" Without batting an eyelid, Bakshi replied, "Forty lakhs." The newsman retorted, "But that is the total population of the State." "Yes, I know," said Bakshi. "Do you mean that the Sheikh does not have any following at all in the State?" asked the newsman. "No, I did not say so," was the cool reply from Bakshi who added, "Sheikh sahib commands a following of forty lakhs." "But how?" the newsman threw up his arms. Eruditely, Bakshi calmed the newsman down and said, "Even Sadiq sahib has a following of forty lakhs."

The newsman was at a loss to understand this jugglery of figures and his confusion was worse confounded. He was not aware of the trait in the character of the Kashmiri who does not believe in annoying anyone, particularly those who are in power or are in waiting. The same population turned against Bakshi during the Moe-i-Muqaddas crisis, which surfaced in Srinagar on December 27, 1963.

Now, the point is that Kashmiris have so grown in this state of uncertainty, that they have started to accept it as part of their lives. Today, death of a near one doesn't come as a shocking surprise to him. I remember, when it all started back in 90s', a death of a youth was mourned by all. The grief was so deep, that it could loom on for weeks together. But nothing of such sort happens now, because Kashmiris have accepted it as part of their life.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Can Endless "Chalo" Calls Constitute a Vision for the Future?

Rekha assesses reasons behind the surprising high participation in recent polling

(Prof. Rekha Chowdhary, 55, was born in Jammu and has been a university teacher for the past 30 years. She is currently the Professor of Political Science, University of Jammu. During her distinguished teaching career, she was the visiting Fellow under a Ford Foundation grant at the Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford, in 1992-1993; winner of the Commonwealth Award availed at the University of Oxford, 1997-1998; and the Fulbright Fellow availed at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at the Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, in 2005.)

The riddle of the Valley

The electoral response in the Kashmir valley during the first two phases of assembly elections has surprised many. The political environment that prevailed here during the last few months did not have much space for electoral mobilisation. The ascendancy of separatist politics during the Amarnath land agitation had given the impression that the electoral space had shrunk again to the level of early period of militancy when electoral politics was totally rejected. The reference point was the 1989 parliamentary elections, when the voter turnout of around five per cent had rendered the whole exercise farcical, or the 1996 assembly elections which due to lack of legitimate political space, had to be conducted under the shadow of the gun (not only of the security forces but also of the surrendered militants). The boycott call by the separatists this time, therefore, seemed to carry a lot of weight. Given the massive protests and the mood of people as it was reflected on the streets of the Valley during the last few months, it appeared as if not much effort was required to convince voters to boycott elections, it would be voluntary!
What is significant about the electoral response so far is not that people came out in large numbers to vote (not only in peripheral areas like Gurez where separatist politics did not have much appeal but also in areas like Bandipora, which saw massive protests during the land agitation) but the enthusiasm which they showed in their act of voting. Everywhere, it was the same sight — large queues of people braving the winter chill. There were no allegations of coercion or security presence. One could clearly see that the boycott call by the separatists had failed.

How does one explain this shifting response? The same people who endorsed the expanding space for electoral politics by attending massive rallies organised by the political parties before June this year, had gone into a different mode of azadi politics during the last four months or so; now, once again, they legitimised the electoral space through their voluntary participation.

Certainly there is a sense of discretion and prudence that is reflected in the popular response. One can read a lot in the way the common Kashmiris are responding — there is a continued sense of alienation and anger against the Indian state, and yet there is an urge to move forward. While the first response perpetuates the separatism, the latter urge leads them to clutch at any opportunity that will take them out of their stalemate. They have come a long way away from the early militancy period when they believed that azadi was around the corner. Disillusioned by armed militancy and violence, they have responded positively not only to the peace process but also to the politics of ‘governance’ — a label assigned to mainstream politics to emphasise its difference from the separatist politics aimed at “the ultimate resolution of Kashmir problem”. The parallel existence of the two kinds of politics is so commonly understood and accepted in Kashmir that one can see its reflection in the political discourse of both mainstream and separatist leaders on the one hand, and the political phraseology used by the masses on the other.

The separatists’ boycott is thus out of sync, and does not reflect the popular urge for forward movement. It was the same urge to move on that helped separatists mobilise people during the land agitation. It is a common understanding that, more than the land, it was the accumulated feeling that the fundamental issues were not being addressed and the Kashmiris were not being engaged that brought people to the streets. It is the same feeling that is making people reject the boycott. With endless ‘chalo’ calls (Muzzafarabad chalo, Lal Chowk chalo etc.), no vision for the future, and most importantly, with nothing to offer to take people out of the impasse, the separatist leadership is as much in question as the government of India is.

For the Delhi government, it is important to put the electoral response in a proper perspective and to learn from the developments that have taken place in Kashmir since June this year. The rejection of the boycott call is not a rejection of separatist sentiment, nor it is, in the least, an endorsement of the Centre’s approach vis-à-vis Kashmir. Separatism will remain intact, good electoral response notwithstanding. It is important to address basic grievances, and the bare minimum required is greater momentum in the peace process and minimum tolerance for human rights violations.

When C (for Corrupt) Governance Dominates Over E (for Electronic) Governance

Want to know why state’s departments are not on Information superhighway yet? Read this, here is the reason!

Srinagar: While the world is steadily leaping towards having a global E-parliament to harness Information Technology for progress and welfare of global public, here in this God-forsaken land, computers and related sciences and accessories simply mean a goldmine for those vested with the role of computerizing the governance.

Certainly the government’s Information Technology Unit (ITU) created in the year 1998for the purpose of computerizing the system of governance so as to lessen the bureaucratic hassles for the betterment of people in the state has got a dubious distinction of not only misusing but even surrendering unused whooping Rs 2239.16 lakhs to the Centre.

And ironically, the person responsible for this mismanagement of financial resources meant for introduction of E-governance in the state continues to enjoy field-day as the sun of unaccountability shines on the state’s power horizon.

The tragic story of state’s disastrous tryst with the E-governance begins in the year 1998 when government created ITU, which was subsequently transformed into a full-fledged government department in 2002.

With the aim of lessening the characteristic hassles of manual data processing through paper- and file-work, the government set the ball rolling by mooting the proposal of Secretariat Knowledge Information Management System (SKIMS). Several departments including the Employment Exchange, Transport, SMHS Hospital, Treasury offices, State Motor Garages, Srinagar Municipal Corporation, and Forest Protection Force were shortlisted for computerization in the first leg.

The government also managed to put forth this proposal under the National E-governance Action Plan (NeGAP) so as to mobilize cent percent funding from the Centre.

However, the department as well as its plans got the biggest jolt when an Assistant Executive Engineer, Dara Singh, of Power Development Department (PDD) was handpicked by the then ruling dispensation in January 2003 to head the ITU as Systems Executive.

Interestingly, the said officer had neither any educational nor any technical qualifications about computers or E-governance; nor had he any foresight about what he was supposed to do, sources in the department said.

The result has been that the dream of E-governance remains a pipedream even today. And worst still is that crores of rupees have been wasted on purchasing software and hardware that is either not suitable for use here or has not been used at all.

Narrating the faulty track-record of the System Executive, sources revealed that unmindful of the peculiar needs of the state’s departments, in April 2007 the IT Department entered into a deal with ‘Tata Consultancy Services Limited’ to procure “SKIMS TriplePlus” named software which had originally been created for Andra Pradesh government and was being used there.

Despite having shelled out Rs 13.15 crores for “SKIMS TriplePlus”, this software proved of no use for the state’s departments, sources revealed, adding that of the 430 programs of this software only 274 were found suitable to state’s needs. Of these too, only 18 programs were actually identified as being of some utility.

“Since the software was created for the unique needs of Andra Pradesh departments, its utility for Jammu and Kashmir was always suspect, but given that person heading the department had no knowledge of IT, the cost paid for this software simply went down the drain as hard- and software worth crores could not by utilized,” sources alleged.

They informed that the department also spent Rs 42.25 lakhs and Rs 42.38 lakhs respectively on the computerization of Regional Transport Offices and Employment Exchanges and “this money too was wasted as you can yourself see if at all any of these departments are computerized…”

They said even the Accountant General in its audit report pointed out the failures of the department in implementing the E-governance plan of the government, and questioned why ‘Tata Consultancy Services Limited’ was paid for a software that was of no use for the state.

As if this was not enough, the department embarked on another project – State-wide Area Network (SWAN) - and actually paid another Rs 21.26 lakhs to a consultancy firm from New Delhi. However, till date, nothing has been done on ground vis-à-vis implementation of SWAN, sources revealed.

Between the years 2005-2007 only, the department got a funding of Rs 13.84 crores from the Centre of which only Rs 1.53 crores were utilized while Rs 12.17 crores had to be returned to the Centre as the department failed to utilize this money. So far since 2003 to 2008, a whooping amount of Rs 2239.16 lakhs has been returned to the Centre for this money could not be utilized for the purpose it was meant for.

“Even though huge funds have been wasted so far in the state in the name of implementing E-governance and those at the helm of state’s affair are aware of it, the government has adopted a meaningful silence over this brazen misuse,” sources in the secretariat alleged.

They revealed that all these financial irregularities in the department were brought forth in March 2008 when the then Commissioner Secretary Information Technology, Ashok Kumar Parmar, conducted a detailed inquiry to unravel the mysterious and scandalous deals.

In July 2008, Commissioner Secretary, Ashok Kumar Parmar also issued a notice to the Systems Executive Dara Singh seeking explanation of the financial irregularities and mismanagement he had discovered. However, not getting any reply from Singh, Parmar issued an order 21-IT of 2008, dated July 29, 2008 with recommendations for action against the erring official to General Administration Department (GAD). Attached with the order was the detailed inquiry report that Commissioner Secretary had conducted in the department.

“Even though the report was sufficient to nail the Systems Executive and Commissioner Secretary had even written to the state Chief Secretary and Commissioner Secretary GAD and furnished them the copy of inquiry report, no action was taken against Dara Singh,” sources informed.

Instead, Parmar only was removed as the Commissioner Secretary and Dara Singh again vested the responsibility of Systems Executive in the IT Department.
Corruption and nepotism being major contributing factors to the perennial backwardness of the state is a known fact but what is the worst of all ills plaguing the overall governance here is lack of accountability that rules the roost.

And irony is that even when the proverbial black sheep and their dubious roles are exposed, there is not only marked lack of political and administrative will to nail them, but instead those at the helm don’t mind bending and breaking rules to shield the culprits.

God, save this forsaken land!

(Kashmir Images)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Urban-Rural Divide

Ashraf wonders if he should call Kashmiris unpredictable, when it is clear that rural folks are finally challenging the "whine and dine" system perfected by urbanites

(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 Française 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.)

One wonders what really lies in the heart of a Kashmiri

Millions of people chanting slogans for “Azadi” marching towards Eidgah, and UN Military Observer Group Headquarter on one hand and on the other thousands lining up before polling booths to cast their votes in an election held under Indian auspices. Two irreconcilable extremes. How does one explain this dichotomy? Simply as a common Kashmiri’s strategy for survival! Having been let down by their leadership and facing powers beyond their capacity to take head on, they have worked out a methodology whereby they can switch between “Azadi” and the day to day living. They have not abandoned their ultimate and cherished goal of achieving total and complete emancipation but in the meantime the life has to continue and they have to survive. There are two distinct aspects which a common man has to consider.

The day to day governance and the ultimate “Azadi”. On the governance side which is being propagated by the so called “mainstream” leaders, the people are facing miserable conditions. These mainstream leaders have made hay while the sun was shining and have filled their own coffers. Peoples’ welfare has been their least priority. Power famine in the difficult and severe winter conditions. Missing drainage. Pot-holed roads. Collapsing bridges. Undependable and rudimentary health care. Total collapse of the basic infrastructure in spite of its half century long development funded by the Central Government by pumping in hundreds of thousands of crores.

People would not have reconciled to this loot of resources committed by so called mainstream leaders but they have no choice. Kashmiris temporarily reconcile to the circumstances when they feel their very survival is being threatened but whenever they get an opportunity to show their true urges, they burst out like a flood thereby confusing all the Kashmir watchers! The first let down has been by their so called “popular” leadership that has failed to substantiate the meaning of “Azadi”. What does “Azadi” mean to a common Kashmiri? How does he achieve it? The leaders themselves are not sure about it. How will they explain the same to the people? “Azadi” may be a beautiful dream. An abstract fascinating and mystifying idea which all of us dream about. But what does it mean in real and practical terms and how does one achieve it? Most of the leaders have failed to give the idea of “Azadi”a concrete shape. None has been able to give a blueprint and the road map to achieve it.

The only talk one hears is the “leaders” issuing sermons to the common people from posh residences for giving sacrifices. Whenever the people have felt that an opportunity exists to show to the world their true urges, they have forced the leaders to lead them! And when the leaders fail to make use of such opportunities, the people once again switch to the normal mode of living which gives an erroneous impression that they have given up!

The second let down has been by Pakistanis. Kashmiris had taken them to be their saviours and mentors but they have belied this position. They have only used Kashmiris as canon fodder to settle their scores with India. Pakistanis have used Kashmiris as guinea pigs to test their two nation theory. At one time Kashmiris would swear by Pakistan but not now. There has been a dramatic change. Pakistan is being now used by a Kashmiri only as a stick to beat the Indians. He knows that pro-Pak sentiment and its open manifestation annoy Indians and he freely uses these to derive pleasure of sweet revenge!

Indians too have used Kashmiris for testing their theory of secularism. Neither of the two has been sincere in caring for the people. It is the territory and its strategic advantages which have mattered for the both. The entire story of last 60 years or so has been a story of conflict management rather than conflict resolution. The same is being repeated now. Kashmiris do not reconcile to the circumstances but put their struggle on a temporary hold till the next opportunity presents itself. This has been a story of last 60 years or so and would have continued to be like that but for a change brought about during last couple of decades. A new generation has come of age during the years of conflict and turmoil which totally refuses to reconcile. There is a clear and visible cleavage.

Most of the elders have over the years learnt to compromise temporarily and live with the times but not the new generation. The only thing they have continuously seen during their formative years is brutal suppression. They refuse to put up with any kind of force and are resisting it. Fortunately so far there is a saving grace. They seem to believe that the armed conflict is not going to solve their problems. There is a paradigm shift which the authorities have failed to recognise and gracefully accept. The youth seem to be so far convinced that non-violent protest is better than mindless violence. They have become violent only when the authorities have refused to allow them to take out peaceful protests. Instead of the authorities recognising and respecting the aspirations of the youth, they are being pushed to the wall. When all channels of peaceful expression are blocked, the movement goes underground and results in senseless violence with disastrous consequences. We have yet to fully come out of the first wave of violence and the authorities are preparing grounds for a second wave which may be more violent and destructive. In the first wave, the driving force was the sentiments and emotions but the second wave is being generated by frustration and desperation. What does a common Kashmiri want? A peaceful life of dignity and honour. He wants an end to daily humiliation and harassment. At the same time he wants basic necessities of life. He wants both the good governance and “Azadi”.

However, none of the leaders from both the sides have been able to provide these to him. He has neither got the good governance nor the “Azadi”. Thus, he is facing a dilemma. A difficult predicament. However, he is trying to make the best of both. It is a battle of wits which he has been winning so far. His survival through centuries of external suppression is the proof of this ingenuity and intelligence. In fact, Sir Walter Lawrence and Canon Tyndale Biscoe have testified to this in their writings. Those who think that the massive turn out for voting means Kashmiris are fed up and have reconciled to their circumstances are sadly mistaken. They may be in for a shock sometime in future. Similarly, those who believe that a Kashmiri will honour every sermon for “Azadi” issued from posh residences are also sadly mistaken. Both need to know that a Kashmiri is the most unpredictable character in the entire history of this sub-continent. Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs, and Dogras came and ruled with majesty and glory over Kashmiris. All have gone into oblivion and are only on the pages of history but the Kashmiri is still there and would continue to be there for generations to come. Only because he is totally unpredictable!

Does Good Governance Matter for a Society Embellished in Rhetoric?

Good Governance is a 24/7 activity. In Kashmir it becomes a passing issue every 6 years. Sajjad looks at possibilities following the latest elections

(Mr. Sajjad Bazaz, 44, was born in Srinagar. He attended the Khalsa high school and the Sri Pratap College in Srinagar. He received his bachelor's degree in Media and his master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. Mr. Bazaz has over two decades of experience in journalism (both print & electronic), and he is author of the book "Bankwatch" which is about a financial scenario with particular reference to the J&K state. He is currently incharge of corporate communications department in a leaduing financial instution in J&K. Mr. Bazaz likes to spend leisure time watching movies and enjoying company of his friends.)

Will the new government eradicate corruption from the system?

The second phase of elections is underway today, giving way to yet another round of dingdong battle between the state government and separatists. Whatever the outcome of these elections, the new government, apart from political challenges, has a big challenge of providing quality governance with a difference. A governance which can explore the economic potential of the state to the maximum extant and also brings down the rating of the state as far as corrupt practices are concerned. In all regimes, J&K state has continued to confront the challenges of governance as the conflict itself and the civil strife have been disrupting normal life.

In other words, it is the bad governance coupled with rampant corruption, weakened management systems leading to low growth, unemployment menace and poverty etc., which have been burning issues here since decades. Almost all sectors of economy are in bad shape, resulting in failure to tap the potential. One of the drawbacks has been inability to use the natural resources to the fullest extent.

The economic health of a region is gauged through its strong industries sector. Especially small and medium industries sector plays a great role in the economic development of a region. But on this front J&K state is one of the weakest states. Even as we have small scale and cottage industries, most of them are sick due to various reasons. Large and heavy industries are almost non-existent. Recent economic blockade is enough to substantiate the fact that how much our state is heavily dependent on other states for most of its requirements of consumer and capital goods. The absence of a strong industries sector in the state has resulted in one of the most complex development challenges of creating employment opportunities. There may be an argument that agriculture and horticulture are the dominant sectors of economy of the state, but the fact remains that its promise on the employment front has been limited. And for this, adverse ratio of agriculture land to the total geographical area is responsible.

In order to tap the potential of the state in various sectors of economy, experts have been stressing on expanding skill sets, knowledge base, New Delhi’s support, protection of economy till it grows to an extent where it can compete with other states, incentives and financial support and finally assistance in marketing of its indigenous products. The translation of this prescription into action is a huge challenge and it is the good governance, which can only ensure the plans of these experts executed into workable programmes. So, on economic front, the biggest challenge for the new government is the quality of governance, where only good governance practices can ensure to carve out full benefits of the various policy interventions. They need ideas and capacity to turn these ideas into policies and programmes, as ideas, policies and execution form the musical tones of good governance.

The new government irrespective of their alliance, should not turn a blind eye to the fact that in the past majority of the plans and programmes framed by the experts for transforming the ravaged economy of the state into a normal economic process have fallen victim to poor quality of governance. And they should also remember that the failure to execute these plans, which ultimately can lead to the comfort of a common man, has been instrumental in blocking the peace in the State.

However, before setting in motion of any economic development programme, the state’s vulnerable political environment is to be taken into account. For the past few years, ideas of having Special Industrial Zones, luring private sector investment in reshaping the state’s economy etc. made several rounds, but what this conflict zone desperately needs a think tank which can carve out a track where there is peace and prosperity for all. Unfortunately, we have seen that recommendations of the Prime Minister’s high-powered task force on the development of J&K, commonly known as Rangarajan Committee, submitted in November 2006, became victims of bad governance and they never saw light of the day. Under these circumstances there is need for the state to reposition its economy and secure benefits of globalization and the increasingly global trading environment.

Another most important thing is the level of corruption prevailing in the state. The “Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International” has depicted J&K state as “2nd corrupt state in the India. We have to understand that the extent of corruption amongst politicians and government officials depends on monopoly of power and the discretionary power they exercise in discharging their duties. Basically, the causes of corruption are generally rooted in the practices of governance observed in the past.

Corruption and nepotism have been the main reasons behind the fall of many empires like Roman empire, etc., Our politicians whosoever assume power have to take any lesson from these pages of history.

Will corruption continue to remain the characteristic feature of the new government in 2009? At least, they should not give an opportunity to the people here to look regretfully back to the old regimes of comparative justice, as well as efficient, and more or less honest administration.

So to combat corruption, it is very essential to have a strong political will and commitment, good government and good governance, administrative accountability, simplification of procedures, and public participation through watchdog ship approach of public audit committees. These public audit committees can go a long way to check the menace. Precisely, the corruption practices need to be dealt very seriously and severely. For this, there is need to do away with the slow and tardy legal system, so that the culprits are booked quickly under law of the land.

A Tragedy Called Srinagar - Part 2

Afshana thinks Srinagar is becoming more like Mumbai. The irony is that most outsiders drawn to the city see it as their local Dubai

(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.)

And here is another unreal city of Eliot

Unreal City,
under the brown fog
of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed
over London Bridge,
so many,
I had not thought
death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent,
were exhaled,
And each man
fixed his eyes
before his feet.

A drive back home every evening makes me think edgily. The congestion and conundrum around is maddening. The jostling crowd and jammed roads winds one up.

Why this pandemonium? Is this a city or a chaos? The Srinagar of yore is fading out in the smog. The miasma of pollution, of both soul and substance, seems to have afflicted the city.

There is no denying the fact that the unrestrained migration of a segment of population has robbed the city of its sheen. The permanent settlements, over a period of time, have sparked off a phenomenon that is influencing each and every aspect of life in the city. The native Srinagararians are witness to the declining series of the city's grand ethos.

Starting from a migration that ensues for the search of work, and also for tagging along different quotas and categories, which is due because of the size of population, the transition from rural to urban setting occurs in a way that spoils the core of both of the lifestyles. From the simplicity of the village to the complexity of the city, the minds, meanings and morals undergo a change. The exposure gets addictive to the extent of forgetting the countryside, managing to get a productive employment and a permanent shelter in the city. As far as the quotas and categories, they become an ancient history, only to be revived when the progeny reaches to the point of chipping in the competition. And the cycle continues.

The migration that starts with a single individual ends up rooting in all kith and kin in the city. The influx continues. The job is secured, the land is seized, the house is sized, and the dynasty is here to stay. Srinagar becomes their Mumbai.

The cost of living in the city has amplified. The real estate prices are shooting up. The congestion is choking. The pollution is petrifying.

Most importantly, the social trends emerging because of this migration have not been beneficial. The mishmash of rustic and city culture has mugged the exotic nature of Srinagar life. The hybrid culture is not compatible with the composure of Srinagar. From language to dress to plain daily habits, the inner-city traditions and customs have lost their uniqueness. There is a break-down of an historical, social and cultural order battered by certain forces that are operating under the name of modernity. A stroll in the Habba Kadal area today presents the bucolic face with numerous families renting in the locality.

There is no point of harbouring malice against a population that swarms itself into the city due to various difficult forces. However, when the intrusion gets uncontainable and unmanageable, combing out the quintessence of the 'invaded' place, any sensitive soul in the city has a genuine right to grouse a grudge.

And, there is also no gain saying that the corruption in the public life in Srinagar owes its genesis to the majority population working out here. The story is no different for an immigrant politician, to Minister to any MLA, or for that matter any official head in administration or academics. Even the sad saga of various Kashmiri historical U-turns has a close connection with the country people, who have a distinction of equally participating in pro-freedom as well as pro-election rallies.

The issue of 'development', which in rural parlance means availability of good roads, drinking water, power transformers, govt. employment, schools and colleges, is an overriding demand for them. And, if all these things and comforts come to them, their crawling influence on city can stop somewhere, possibly.

However, the irony is that it won't. The lost love for their roots, the spirit to serve their impoverished people in far-flung areas, and the mounting desire for life of ease and coziness will continue to plague the bloated Srinagar.

As a Srinagararian, one is at a loss to understand as to what it can be that makes a certain section of population to disclaim and deny their identity with their roots. If it is so easy, why don't the Srinagararians display same traits? The answer tells us about what cannot be negated, come what may: It's the innate ethos, the influence of the place you belong to.

Of course, in this era of sham and superficiality, no body is a sacrosanct. But then, what matters is the kind and level of degradation that a group of people or an individual can stoop to. Further, this discourse has a definite cultural dimension. What we think of Bihari people swamping over in Kashmir, can provide an analogy to the cultural/social backgrounds within, besides.

Those who argue on the existence of melting-pot societies in the world, too admit of differences and divergences between the groups of people. Nonetheless, the corollary of such population mergers has a substantial reason(s) to be critical and disapproving.

And the way the universal problem of urbanization is being sniped and sneered all over the world, Srinagar appearing Mumbai to a group of population is but justified. Moreover, the downslide of serenity of Srinagar into an "Unreal City", a noisy and jarring metropolitan, nearer ala Mumbai, is becoming an uncomplimentary reality.
Like it or lick it, the fact remains so.

The Smallest Room in a Kashmiri Home was Always Special

Zahid shares his childhood memories of a tiny space called "Kotheur"

(Mr. Z. G. Mohammad, 59, was born and raised in Srinagar. He earned his Master's degree in English literature from the Kashmir University and has completed a course in Mass Communication from Indian Institute of Mass Communication. He is a writer and a journalist who has written for many newspapers, including the Statesman, the Sunday, and the Kashmir Times. He currently works for the Greater Kashmir.)


Kotheur: how can I forget that small room of my childhood

Barak Obama reminded me of Kotheur- the seven feet by five feet room in our three storied house. On one of the walls of this small room- I had pasted a sharp black and white picture of John F Kennedy. I had cut this picture from beautifully brought out magazine The Life. It was a period when I and my brother bought the Filmfare and the Picture Post and pasted pictures of matinee idols Ashok Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Madhu Bala, Meena Kumari and not Raj Kapoor behind the door of the Kotheur. I don’t know why I had pasted picture of American President in my room. His image - good image had perhaps from the discourses at home and in the Mohalla gone into my psyche. Those days unwittingly children in my birth burg admired America and abhorred Russia- and called it Dauda Roos.

Kotheur: The word had perhaps been derived from kouth (room) as poetaster has originated from the word poet. The Kotheur is no more in fashion in the new houses but the poetasters are in great demand. They are called the great literati. They are the neo-poet laureates. Listening to them many times reminds me of the Sazandar’s singing in the mandi (Timber depot) of Ramzan Khan from the window of the Kotheur.

There was hardly any house that did not have this small room. The Kashmir Pandit called it ‘Thakur Kotheur’ as it used them for housing idols of gods and goddesses preferably Shiva and Parvati and used it for worship. The ‘Thakur Kotheur’ of my teacher Kashi Nath for being forbidden to us always aroused my curiosity. I often tried to peep into this small room filled with aroma of burning ‘dhoop’. On many occasions I watched him praying in this small room with a burning small brass lamp in his hand but dared not to enter into it. It was his daughter who I think was reading in class three when I was in class four who made me conscious that I cannot enter the room as I was a Muslim.

Our three stories house also had a ‘Kotheur’. This small room was our workplace- reading room of me and my brothers. It had a history. It had been reading room of my father. My uncle had studied in the same room. Many of peers of my father had remained awake for nights together in this tiny room preparing for their examinations. Many times during our examination when father used to peep into this room from the half-shut door he would turn nostalgic. He remembered his examinations days. He would narrate his experiences of preparing for the matriculation examination that were then conducted by the Punjab University, Lahore. He remembered his friends- somewhere in the state administration and held high offices and some had been exiled in 1947 by the first Muslim Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. He neither admired Sheikh nor abhorred him. He was unlike his brother- my uncle’s heart was brimful with hate for the first PM for his having taken wrong decision at the right moment. He called him the proverbial owl whose hoots bring misfortune to generations to come. My father would turn poignantly emotional the moment he remembered his exiled friends. He had not any information about many of them but knew about some who had succeeded in earning a place of distinction in the newly born country seen as homeland for the Muslims of South Asia. Some had found a place in diplomatic service, some in engineering and some in administration. I think none of his friends ever returned to their native land and are buried without chiseled limestone tomb with beautifully inscribed verses thematically reading like:

Fugitive is man fugitive is dust;
Of these two ephemerals which is best;
Not man but dust.

The Kotheur: we had nicknamed it as the coop- the great coop. Like chicks after the dusk, the mother would shrill us to go inside this small room for finishing our home work. Those days there was no television – the only voice that entered our room after the sunset was from a megaphone fitted in the middle of flagpole on which faded red flag with plough remained hosted permanently. It had a mat as its flooring. There were no cushions or bolsters in our reading room. The only adornment was a beautiful kerosene lamp and our reading desks with drawers. Those days’ bolsters were a rarity that only affluent could afford. The imprints of back on the clay daubed walls of the kotehur were recognized as testimony of reading for long hours. I remember many times I deliberately brushed my back against the wall to prove that I was more studious than my brothers.

The kotehur had three windows. One of the windows faced the road- that in my childhood was the national highway that connected Kashmir to Ladakh and beyond. This window was witness to an era of ordeals, distresses and agonies. It had seen cavalcade of the merciless marauders lashing and beating people. It had seen turbaned soldiers with yellow flags top long arrows touching roof tops swaggering on the roads, it had seen cavalries with tridents flying yellow flags with red strips galloping across the road. My father many times remembered the day when martyrs of the 13 July were carried in a procession for burial in the martyrs’ graveyard at Khawaja Bazar. He often portrayed a graphic picture of the people who carried bodies of the martyrs to the graveyard. Many times I conjured scenes of thirty one in imagination: people dressed in tattered clothes, with huge turbans, with sunken eyes, bony faces and half-famished looks moving in hordes. When I heard my father narrating tales of thirties and forties to us little did I know that I will also have to watch reenactment macabre after macabre from same window. I remember the day when I first saw men in uniforms aiming their three-not-three rifles from a crossing towards a crowd. The crowd was raising the same old slogans that have become part of Kashmir- that they mutter even in dreams without fear of being caught. I remember the first shot the Sepoy fired hit a telegraphs pole outside our home- it was next shot that send shivers down my spine- it hit the vegetable seller who was carrying willow vat filled to capacity with hak on his shoulder- I first saw the willow vat falling down- then he fell off. I have no count- how many people were hit by bullets in our locality during my childhood- I have crossed the middle age and I am faster knocking at old age- the window my Kotheur continues to be a mute witness.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Can Obama Really Affect Kashmir's Future?

Shuhab puts a well deserved damper on unrealistic expectations

(Shuhab Hashmi, 38, was born in Baramulla, and graduated from the Degree College in Sopore, and completed his M.A. from the University of Kashmir. He is a Columnist, and in his spare time enjoys reading, discussions and traveling.)

Global Great Game and Kashmir

Amid the boycott of elections and brisk polling in first phase, Kashmir is euphoric over the possible role of United States of America in resolving the taxing dispute between India and Pakistan. It was generated by one odd statement by President-elect Barrack Obama who, besides expressing his concern over Kashmir, also hinted at appointing one of his predecessors, Bill Clinton, as the point on Kashmir. There is no doubt that new Democratic regime in Washington would work towards mending the fences with Muslim world which feels bruised at the hands of Bush administration, especially after September 11 attacks. Barrack Obama has indicated that he would set in motion the US troops rollback from Iraq which is not only costing it much on military front but has led to a widening wedge between US and the Muslims.

Democrats in any case would not follow the radical line adopted by Republicans but apparently it is not possible to change the foreign policy overnight to appease the Muslims at the time US continues to feel threatened from the forces of the likes of Osama Bin Laden. The immediate change in Washington's policy may not be imminent and it is difficult to see US ignoring the allies like Israel and completely befriending Palestine. The impression that Obama comes from a Muslim background and can be radically pro Muslim is also a misplaced idea. His task will be to maintain a fine balance between the two faiths, that are otherwise on a warpath at one level.
In the backdrop of consistent changes the global politics has witnessed after 9/11, the priorities for American administration have altogether taken a different shape. So the statements from Obama about Kashmir needed to be viewed in that context rather than a knee jerk response which could lead to a false impression that the solution was imminent. The US policy in South Asia is largely focused on Afghanistan, Taliban, Al Qaeda and most importantly Pakistan which is the nerve centre of the so called "War on Terror". This situation has to been seen in the context of India's leap in its diplomatic journey in the shape of all important US-India nuclear deal where in New Delhi could manage NSG waiver amid stiff resistance from some countries.

It is true that Kashmir was on the agenda of Clinton administration and the concerns expressed by the administration through the then Secretary of State Madeline Albright were of immense important to the region and seen as indicators of seriousness on part of Washington to see Kashmir dispute settled. India was always poles apart from US especially in the cold war period thus making enough space for Pakistan to be close to it, notwithstanding China's influence over the country. It was a compulsion for US to ally with Pakistan in presence of another world power called USSR. But sooner the equations started changing in the region, with New Delhi emerging as a leader in South Asia - thus covertly dictating to its small neighbours. However, Pakistan managed to steer through pressure and even competed India in nuclear tests and at the same time continued troubling India in Kashmir which even led to low intensity war Kargil, in 1999.

India's viewpoint that terrorism was a scourge was not taken so seriously by the West, especially US and its allies, until the hell broke loose on the country in the shape of 9/11. Many analysts believe that it was a watershed development which pushed ahead a new political alignment. India managed to convince the American policy makers that the terrorism was hitting it in a similar way and also gave an understanding that Pakistan was the "breeding centre" of this phenomenon of terror. Though US immediately allied with Pakistan on the war on terror but its suspicion about Islamabad's involvement in the overall game never allowed it to think on positive lines vis-à-vis Islamabad.

Now that Pakistan is embroiled in this war, alongside US, the primary concern for Washington is to come to terms with the actors in Afghanistan. Whether it will fall in line with Taliban or take repressive measures to curb them, remains to be seen. But Obama has made it clear that his administration will not be soft on Al Qaeda and its supporters. In that great game Pakistan is in a peculiar situation, where it cannot dictate to US. The trans-border attacks on Pakistani soil are also continuing despite the strong opposition from Yusuf Raza Gillani's government. Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, during his visit to UN has assured Americans that he will support them in much effective manner than his predecessor Parvez Musharraf, and to be after the Taliban and Al Qaeda members is on top of that agenda for which Pakistani soil is in use since 2003. But this situation is all set to further weaken Pakistan both internally and externally. While the extremist forces within Pakistan, who are essentially against US have potential to upset the Islamabad-Washington relation and push the country into further economic and political instability, externally the country is bound to be alienated as its image as a country of "terrorist infestation" will not easily fade away.

Obama's remarks on Kashmir can then be seen in isolation and not in the context of its relation with Pakistan. To the extent of stating that it is a dispute it will be presumably fine with new dispensation in White House, but will it withstand the growing influence and pressure of New Delhi in going out of way to dictate a third party intervention. That possibility seems to be remote in the wake of Pakistan's weaker position on the global arena. US pressure could work only in case Pakistan was strongly positioned and able to mould the other world opinion in her favour. As for now US is unlikely to part ways with India, but at the same time has to cajole Pakistan. While Afghanistan is in the priority range Pakistan is in no position to bargain with Washington on Kashmir. It is time to wait till Obama takes over in January and then the foreign policy rules will follow; most probably without much change.

A Tragedy Called Srinagar - Part 1

Yet another story of an ancient city with citizens who lack both a sense of history and a sense of civics

Srinagar: one big garbage dump

Mutaharra A W Deva (Rising Kashmir)

Environmental pollution has increased alarmingly alongside human population, urbanization, industrialization and changing agricultural practices, largely due to the arbitrary exploitation of natural resources and ignorance of the deleterious side effects. The state of J&K is no exception. It is in fact worst hit from the effects of municipal solid waste management on our cities of Srinagar and Jammu.

Solid waste is a potential nightmare across the State; largely because of growing urban population due to inadequate policy and legislative instruments and also due to the deplorable organizational and financial capacities of our municipalities and urban local bodies. Sketching briefly the waste generation, collection and disposal scenario across the Sate of J&K, there is a need to highlight the issues in institutional arrangements for solid waste management.

The condition at Achen dumping site, situated in a mohalla, is deplorable. The populace is in great distress, as the foul smell has virtually made their life impossible in the area. On one of my recent visits to this site, people complained of social boycott to the extent that their sons are mostly remaining unmarried as no one is ready to marry off his girl in a family of this locality.

What is the solution, and where the fault lies are big questions that have remained unanswered till date. However, it may be conveyed that environment and environmental planning remained a casualty in our state. The clerical hold on administration has never allowed us to develop any of our plans on scientific lines. The technocrats have no role in our planning as is prevalent in the West and in other places of tourist importance whose economy depends on tourist related projects, like in our state of J&K.

The dismal position of municipal solid waste management touches particularly on the impact of municipalities’ financial health, autonomy limitations and potentials of alternative actors, particularly the economically exploited waste collectors and vendors of non formal sector. Direct and indirect financial instruments of cost recovery and generation control are advocated taking into account their operational hurdles in capacity building of local bodies; non-formal sector be organized and that the private sector participates more widely in collection and recycling. NGO begin to train marginal workers and build awareness among the poor as to the techniques and opportunities of solid waste collection.

Solid waste can be defined as the material that no longer has any value to the person who is responsible for it and it cannot be discharged through a pipe. It does not normally include human excreta. It is generated by mainly domestic source in our state, particularly in Srinagar City, apart from commercial, industrial, healthcare, agriculture, mining and mineral extraction activities, and accumulates in streets and public places. The word garbage, trash refuses and rubbish are used to refer to some forms of solid waste.

The municipal details, as conveyed by 2005 statistics, indicate population of Srinagar city as 9.95 lac based on 2000 census. Municipality caters to 6.69 lac people as against 11.16 lac actual population, meaning thereby that only 60% is taken care of by the Municipality. Area under Srinagar Municipality is 202 Sq. Kms (actually it is now 278 sq Kms distributed in 23 Wards). Population as per municipality record is 4.7 lac people.

Population of Srinagar city has been worked out at 11.16 lac, in the year 2005, on the basis of growth rate of preceding year i.e., 2.9% per annum, as per census and population of the year 2001; it includes those areas which have been included within municipal limits in the year 2003. The quantity of solid waste generated per capita per day is calculated at 480 gms based on a NEERI study undertaken for city of Srinagar for 2004-05. Total quantity of Solid Waste generated per day is 477 MT.

Municipal Corporation is collecting solid waste to the tune of 300 MT, and about 235 MT are transported to the Achen dumping site.
At present the Waste disposal methodology is:-
Crude/open dumping : 230 MTS
Open burning by people: 20 MTS
Recycling / Rag pickers: 20 MTS

Achen land fill site is around 600 canals of area where Municipal Corporation resorts to open dumping.

The Municipal Solid Waste (management and handling) Rules 2000, published by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, GOI under the aegis of Environment Protection Act 1986 gives ample and clear ways of waste management methods and clearly shows the responsibility of Municipality and implementation of provisions of these rules and infrastructure development for collection, storage, segregation, transportation, processing and disposal of municipal solid wastes. Government’s responsibility is also defined. The PCB has to monitor the compliance of the standards. For process of land filling as one of the disposal methodologies, site selection is an important aspect due to the fact that the urban population have shown huge increase in solid waste, and the studies have shown that the per capita increase varies form 100 gms to 500 grms in larger cities. The sites so identified need to be away from habitation forest areas, reserves and national parks and othe ego-fragile areas.

Land fill should be properly hedged and to be provided with a proper gate to monitor the movement of vehicles carrying the solid waste.

Waste disposal options are many but as described sanitary land filling system is the most prevalent one in the country. The system means trenches and pits in alternate layers of 80 cm thick refuse and then covered with an earth fill of 20 cms thickness. After 2-3 years, the solid waste (SW) volume shrinks by 25-30% and the land can be used for the parks, roads or as land for the small buildings with normal compaction. A land fill site can take 500 bags and refuse per cubic meter of trench space available. While locating the site for dumping refuse, as the land should be selected for taking into account that it can be used for 25-30 years, land filling depends on the availability of land area, soil conditions, ground water table, topography, distance form the residential area and the ultimate usage of site after reclamation.

The land fill operation is a biological method of waste treatment. SW can be stabilized by dividing it into five distinct phases. In the first phase aerobic bacteria deplete the available oxygen as a result of aerobic respiration and the temperature increases. In the second phase anaerobic conditions become established and the hydrogen and carbon dioxide is evolved. In the third phase Methane is liberated and in the 4th phase methonogic activities become stabilized. In the fifth-phase the system returns to aerobic conditions within the land fill. The duration of each phase varies with the environmental conditions.

The process of Bio-methane technology is used for the production of methane from the SW. Here separation and size reduction of the solid waste is carried out. After the moisture and nutrients are added, the pH is adjusted to about 6.7 and temperature of the slurry is increased to 55-660C. The Slurry is mixed well for about 7-10 days. After this the storage of the gas is carried out.

In the composting, which is a method of aerobic decomposition of SW, many types of micro-organisms already present in the waste stabilized the SW. The organisms include bacteria, which predominates at all stages, fungi which appear after the first week and actinomycetes which assist during the final stages. Mesophillic bacteria present oxidize the orgasnised matter in the refuse to carbon dioxide and release it as heart. The temperature increases up to 450C. Thermophillic bacteria takeover and continue the decomposition. The temperature further increases to 600 and SW is turned. After 3 weeks composites are stabilized.

The process of incineration involves burning of the SW at a very high temperature. The volume of SW is reduced up to 90% and the un-burnt SW is about 25% of the original. But the ash disposal and emissions from incinerators is a matter of concern for the environmentalists.

Health impact of solid waste is manifold. The increase in SW is due to an increase in the population. As the population increases, the demand for food and other essentials also goes high, resulting in the increase in waste. In our city, it is thrown in the streets as is a usual site, it attracts insects, flies, rats, dogs etc. which result in spreading foul odour due to decomposition. Waste form agriculture and industries can also cause serious health diseases because these wastes may indicate some chemicals pesticides, metals etc. Uncollected SW may also affect water bodies and cause many water borne diseases. Plastic is also harmful and its unhygienic disposal can cause toxic diseases as it releases heavy metals like copper, lead. mercury, chorimium, cobalt, selenium and cadmium etc.

For every successful programme, and in particular the areas directly related with human day to day activity, and having such a direct impact on all who are around, needs aggressive public awareness and heath education. Public needs to be made aware about the environmental hazards by arranging awareness camps and hammering home the point that the domestic waste should not be spread on streets, roads etc.

In our city there is a strong need of formation of a pressure group which can interact with the city municipal authorities to know about their plans and actions. Full involvement of citizens is required so that the city population becomes aware of what is happening in our city. The recent episode at Achen is a case in point; this land fill site is absolutely mismanaged by the municipality.

There are many factors which are hampering the technical and scientific work of the municipality but we cannot remain mute spectators to the changing environmental management scenario the world over. We cannot always plead ignorance. Infact our plans are faulty and we don’t take required measures to save the environment, at the inception of a project.

Let us vow to work for an environmental friendly city. And then dream of a beautiful city.

Between the Devil (Hurriyat) and the Deep Sea (New Delhi)

Riyaz provides an assessment of the first polling day in the Valley

(Mr. Riyaz Masroor, 36, was born and raised in Srinagar. He is a Srinagar based journalist who writes in English, Urdu and kashmiri. Besides working in the local press, his articles have appeared on BBC Radio online, Himal Southasia and the Journal of International Federation of Journalists.)

Bandipora Verdict

On November 17, driving through the awfully deployed columns of army men, paramilitary troops and a desolate marketplace of Bandipora was enough to manifest an overwhelming mood for boycott. But that was not to be. Few paces down the street people jostled each other in long queues; some political workers exchanged blows; at some places rowdy activists resorted to rigging.

But, as compared to elections held in 1996 and 2002, the people registered a calculated response to both New Delhi and Hurriyat Conference. While a complete strike reflected their latent aspirations for Azadi an almost festive mood at polling booths showed how stale the idea of boycotting the elections had grown, especially at a time when neither the voter nor the vote-seeker was confined to the slogan of development. No body sought public support for accession to India; no body voted against Hurriyat Conference per se.

Here lies a crucial lesson for both New Delhi as well as Hurriyat.

Ever since the most flawed elections of 1952 New Delhi has been insisting that the Accession Treaty concluded between the fleeing Maharaja and the Union of India in 1947 had been “endorsed” by Kashmir assembly hence no need to hold a plebiscite as prescribed by the UN resolutions.

Although much water had flown down the Jhelum, India recently appeared stuck to the same belief when the country’s representative in UN equated Kashmir elections with right of self-determination. This stagnant and politically incorrect policy has always induced suspicion among masses about the mainstream of governance and need to strengthen democratic institutions. Sizeable voter turnout and the subsequent shutdown in Bandipora is, therefore, a popular verdict against New Delhi’s dicey approach toward Kashmir governance.

When you enforce change rather than waiting for the spadework to produce the change you are bound to end up in disaster. New Delhi was always nervy about Kashmir and it always attempted to force a change rather than creating conditions for a favorable change.

Notwithstanding an unhealthy stance the Indian representative took in the UN, J&K Governor N N Vohra sounded not just positive but also pragmatic when he responded to the voter turnout in Bandipora. His statement was interesting as well as amazing when viewed in the backdrop of India’s stance about elections in the UN. The Governor’s message did not mention the term right of self-determination or Hurriyat nor did it sound provocative against the people’s aspirations.

Lauding the people for cooperating with the state for the peaceful conduct of the polls the governor said, “The participation of people in large numbers, despite cold weather particularly in the valley and Ladakh region, reflects their deep faith in democracy. The electorate confidently sustained their commitment and trust in the power of ballot."

If judged in light of Mr Vohra’s response Hurriyat’s boycott call appears an act of stupidity. But when compared with New Delhi’s latest assertion in the UN, it seems any electoral exercise in Kashmir is ultimately used as a foreign policy chip to bog down Pakistan. Does Pakistan still matter? Is it not an opportune time to solemnize a true and unbiased relationship between J&K and New Delhi? What is New Delhi waiting for?

If the Hurriyat needs to move beyond boycott politics New Delhi requires more than that. It needs to de-link the electoral exercises in J&K from its foreign policy ambit. Let things change by themselves, let we not force change because forcing change evokes unfavorable reactions. Why do we forget the fiasco caused by erroneous judgment of Mr Vohra’s predecessor? And for that matter, has New Delhi’s sticking to the Atoot Ang policy and equating elections in J&K with plebiscite delivered any way for these past 61 years? Had it been so, Mr Obama might not have mentioned Kahsmir four times during his recent campaign and he would not have suggested a special envoy on Kashmir; European Union would not term Kashmir as a “beautiful prison” and the military observers posted in Srinagar would have long been removed.

This is the time that New Delhi made Kashmir the battle ground for true democracy. On the contrary it is giving enough moral space to separatists. When you require putting at least a dozen top leaders and scores of their supporters in jail and seal almost the entire Valley on the day of polling, however rosy the polling may look it would certainly lack the credibility. Let the dissent galore and the democracy will flourish. If New Delhi really wants a democratic consolidation in J&K it will have to dissociate Kashmir elections from its foreign policy agenda or any anti-Pakistan diplomatic offensive.

Hurriyat Conference and its affiliates such as JKLF and Peoples Conference also need some course correction. The leaders spearheading the separatism in J&K should understand the ideological import of the boycott. When the mainstream groups and their leaders, some of them having held top positions in Indian government, have de-linked the elections from their political beliefs Hurriyat has no sound reason to hold on to the belief that if people vote India will gain. Had they ever employed even a shred of common sense they would understand the finer fact of democracy. The fact is that even if 1% electorate turns out to vote the elections are considered valid. Given that conceptual strength coupled with a tighter grip over the ground, would it be ever difficult for Delhi to conduct polls?

Does Voting by Minorities Matter?

In the electoral battle among elephants, Mahesh raises an interesting question about rights and aspirations of minorities

(Mr. Mahesh Kaul, 29, was born in Ghat Jogi Lankar, Rainawari, Srinagar. He completed his Master's degree in Tourism Management (MTM) and is now pursuing Ph.D. degree at the Centre for Hospitality and Tourism Management (CHTM) of the University of Jammu. His doctoral dissertation topic is, "Marketing Strategies for Promoting Heritage Tourism in Jammu Region." He is a member of PATH-Preserve Art Treasure and Heritage.)

On Behalf of the Displaced

The state of Jammu and Kashmir is a state of contradictions. Contradictions in terms of politics, culture and society. Politically the ground in the state is not leveled. It can be witnessed from the arrival of the electoral process in which the so called mainstream political parties are too eager to participate. These mainstream parties want the solution of the Kashmir issue in terms of autonomy and self rule but at the same time say that the election is meant for the administration purpose not the permanent solution of the political dilemma that has engulfed this state in terms of sovereignty since 1947 when the subcontinent was divided on the basis of the two nation theory.

No political dispensation wants to address the J&K issue straightway; everyone wants to beat about the bush. This has resulted in complicating this issue. The more the straightforward approach has been delayed the more has the problem aggravated, as it has led to the emergence of more dimensions related to the Kashmir issue.

Uncertainty in terms of political climate when the majority community of the valley denies the loyalty towards the Indian constitution and the minority community of the Kashmiri Pandits shows open and clear allegiance to the Indian constitution has led to the identity crisis. This has resulted in the atmosphere of distrust and fear psychosis. It has not only led to the political conflict but also the social conflict that ultimately led to the displacement of the Kashmiri Pandits from their homeland. Whether the political players and separatists accept it or not the displacement of the Pandits from the valley has weakened the case of the majority community in terms of the right to self determination. Since it has led to the demographic change of the Kashmir valley in particular and the J&K state in general.

It has established the fact that the state is in the grip of two nation theory. No doubt this suffered the jolt when Bangladesh was created in 1971, but the concept of the Islamic homeland conceptualized by Sir Mohammad Iqbal and taken to its logical conclusion by Mohammad Ali Jinnah has divided the Kashmiri society in terms of religion and its ground result was the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir valley.

Until and unless we are not ready to accept the religious and political dimensions of the Kashmir issue outside the pseudo secularism propagated by the Indian political establishment and the Indian state, the solution of the Kashmir issue is not going to come out in the foreseeable future. Pakistan needs to understand too that the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990 from their ancestral homeland has changed the dynamics of the Kashmiri issue. It is no longer a case of the aspirations of the Muslim majority of the Kashmir who want secession from Indian nation but also the case of the aspirations of the internally displaced Kashmiri Pandits, who want the free flow of Indian democracy in the state.

Political powers and players in both India and Pakistan need to realize that Kashmir is not only a strategic region but also a region where conflict has created a refugee problem that projects it as a case of the human rights violations.

For the Kashmiri Pandits the election process has no political significance as it cannot change their status of being refugees or internally displaced people. The policy makers who want to create the concept of constituencies in exile are just creating an illusion. One needs to question the absurdity of the policy makers who feel that the Kashmiri Pandits should vote from outside their homeland. This raises the question mark, whether it is an act to safeguard the human rights of the Kashmiri Pandits or it is a deliberate act to hide their plight from the eyes of the international community.

Jammu and Kashmir issue cannot be solved till the state is governed by the special status of the Indian constitution and the part of the state that is under the Pakistani control is not taken into consideration as Indian state is bound by the Resolution of the Indian parliament, the government of India is answerable to the nation as to what it thinks of the part of the princely state that was also the geographic and cultural entity of the J&K? What about the refugees of 1947 who have been discriminated against till this day and not granted the state subject rights despite being the state subjects of the erstwhile princely state?

Keeping these facts in view one feels that the elections have no sanctity when lakhs of Kashmiri Pandit refugees and 1947 refugees are living in exile.

Even the School Meal Program is Mired in Corruption

On one hand the school staff claim the meal assistance is trivial and on the other hand they are caught making money for personal gain

The drama called mid day meal scheme

Manohar Lalgami (Daily Etalaat)

Srinagar: Like many other schemes in fore in Jammu Kashmir , the mid day meals scheme in Primary and Middle Schools is running on proxy figures and no one in the department has bothered to relate the scheme with its purpose i.e. to decrease the drop out rate.

As the money for the scheme comes from union HRD ministry the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has observed that the state of J&K has not submitted the actual attendance data to the concerned authorities and has once again sought the devolution of funds on average attendance basis.

Like some other states in the Indian union Jammu & Kashmir state’s education department too has cooked up the attendance of school going children regarding mid day meal scheme.

Official sources told this news daily that cooked up attendance is a face saver for the department; as there is not much number present in government schools, especially in urban areas. The data available does not reflect the view of the department that mid day meals has increased the student attendance and drop out rates have come down.

An official of the department on the basis of anonymity told Etalaat that the department was in no way serious about the monitoring as that would expose the realities behind the ‘drama called mid day meal scheme’.

Recently Comptroller and Auditor General of India in a bid to tighten internal controls has observed that a dozen states including Jammu & Kashmir have not submitted the actual figures to Ministry of Human Resource Development viz number of school going children.

Insiders say that the scheme has not much bearing in the urban and sub urban areas as neither the teachers nor the students show much interest in the mid day meals provided in the school.

A teacher once associated with the mid day meal scheme told this news daily that the money provided for mid day meals is so meager that the scheme cannot be implemented honestly as the market prices are much higher than the estimates of HRD babus. ‘Money provided per student for providing ‘nutritious meals’ is not even worth the price of a candy of their children’, he said.

Interestingly the smallest chocolate available in the market costs not less than five Rupees.

Director Education Shugufta Parveen when contacted told this newspaper that she was not aware of any query regarding mid day meals from CAG, but confessed that she has been receiving complaints regarding mid day meal scheme and concerned district offices have been asked to keep a check on its implementation. However she was not able to say any thing about data regarding average and actual attendance provided to Human Resources Development Ministry.

Recently two School teachers were caught selling the rice meant for midday meals in J&K.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Uniquely Kashmiri

Kangri is an old and trusted heat source especially when electric power is intermittant


Farzana Syed (Kashmir Images)

Kashmiris have their own way of fighting the bitter cold of winter. It is a traditional fire pot called Kangri. In absence of up-to-the-mark electric supply and in the lack of comfortable supply of kereosene oil and LPG, the people here are forced to go back to Kangri that may be hazardous to their health but is the only way to protect them from the bitting winter cold.The valley of Kashmir is famous in theworld not only for its picturesque beauty but also for its rich traditions and culture.

Kangri (firepot) is one such name that forms an important part of Kashmiri culture and is a unique cultural identity of the valley. Kangri is the easiest and cheapest way to keep warm in the chilling cold of Kashmir. As the winter season has knocked at the doors, huge stocks of Kangri's can be seen in the markets and busy streets these days. In earlier period's Kangri used to be the only alternative available for the people to protect themselves from the chilling winters of Kashmir.

With the onset of winters the Kangri sellers have displayed their stocks in the markets and shops as this is the main season that fetches them bucks for earning livelihood and the people can be seen purchasing Kangris. "We are in the profession of making Kangris for decades. My grandfather used to make and sell Kangris and now the tradition has passed on to me" says a Kangri seller Nazir. Kangri is made from the dried twigs of willow trees and a round earthen pot inside which fire is put. The willow twigs are skillfully twisted around the round shaped earthen pot in such a way that it gives the appearance of a woven thing.

Kangris are also available in different varieties & designs and their price is fixed accordingly. The small, beautifully designed Kangris are also used as decorative items not only in Kashmir but also in other states and countries. "Types of Kangris also vary as per their strength and durability viz charari kangri, bandipuri kangri .These are some famous types and are always in demand," says Khursheed, a Kangri seller in Shehre Khas. "It is not every body's cup of tea to weave a special designed and strong Kangri, it takes a lot of skill and hardwork. We make specially designed Kangris on orders from our customers. These are specially used during marriages" he adds.

With the advent of other sophisticated alternatives like gas heaters, blowers etc the use of Kangri has reduced to some extent which indeed has affected its sales. "Nowadays there are many other alternatives available to keep warm in winters and these are preferred more than Kangris. This has definitely had a negative impact on our business" says Nazir. "But for a poor man like me Kangri is the only option" he says. Despite the availability of many other alternatives Kangri remains a favorite in all Kashmiri homes and has still maintained its own presence.

"I think it is not possible for a common Kashmiri to spend winters without even thinking of Kangri. It is a sort of feed for winters and it has its own charm" says Shameema, a local woman. Though there are many alternatives to survive from this chilling season enjoying the snowfall with Kangri inside the pheran holding a mug of hot tea in the hands has an incomparable charm.