Introduction to KashmirForum.org Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.
www.kashmirforum.org

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 Fran├žaise in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.)

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!

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