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.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Putting Youth Power to Work in a Constructive Manner

Riyaz forgets that Edward Saids (or Arundatti Roys) of this world also speak against the hegemony of the majority as they highlight injustices and plight of minorities. Are the youth in Kashmir getting that message?

(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.)

Catch Them Young

Historians have observed that the occupied societies don’t usually engender progressive and emancipated intellectual traditions. All what happens within such societies is that a tiny section of clever people grows out of vacuum and perches itself on a vantage point within the society (Bureaucracy, Media or politics), baiting endorsement from the rebels and favor from the power.
The histrionics of our contemporary intellectual behavior notwithstanding, the current expression, though still unrefined, of our educated Kashmiri youth not just inspires hope it also appears crowding out the raging practice of grey-area intellectualism.

From the social networking web portals (Orkut and facebook are raging across urban Kashmir) to the far off mosques in Kupwara or Kulgam, our 20-something boys and girls are getting themselves oriented to an independent thinking that emanates from their sense of powerlessness; the sense of having been denied their social, economic and political freedom; the sense of being robed of their cultural valuables.

Only time will tell if we will be able to create suitable institutions to utilize effectively this new intellectual capital. The constraint of space does not allow dilating around what is actually public and what is private. Yet our existing institutions such as Cultural Academy, Radio Kashmir, Kashmir University, and Education Department et al certainly qualify, though in a limited sense, to be our public institutions. But the social sanctity and credibility of these institutions has been so low that our new budding thinkers don’t comfortably relate to such bodies. These institutions have, in fact, been working as part of a bigger thought control program rather than forging positive and constructive intellectual traditions among a troubled society.

The grey-area intellectualism, which is being championed by most of our professors and career bureaucrats, actually stems from the temperamental dichotomy of a ‘special citizen’ who shares common cause with the power and some feelings with the beleaguered masses. But the failure of our own institutions has also contributed to the growth of this negative practice.

When you want to straddle the career ambitions, which can be guaranteed by the state alone, and the lurking nationalist desire to speak for the people, the genre of grey-area intellectualism comes into being and with this gets into motion a nuanced discourse in which one can escape the moral duty to the nation while advocating for his or her promoters.

Although some of the current voices – Dr Haseeb Drabu, Professor Riyaz Punjabi and Sidiq Wahid are fairly acclaimed for their respective acumen – are impressively prolific, they are so intricately wedded into an organic relationship with the state power that they hardly fall outside the ambit of grey-area intellectualism. Between the youngsters on the web and the influential literati, Kashmir also subsumes a feeble mass of original thinkers like P G Rasool, Abdul Rehman Mukhlis, Basharat Peer, Hilal Ahmad, Naseer A Ganai and Hassan Zainageeri but it is difficult to predict how many more upheavals we may have to brave for an Edward Said to descend on Valley as Dr Drabu had prayed during a seminar in September 2007.

In this backdrop our blooming young intellectuals appear sitting at odds with the state’s power structure. They are self-employed professionals, journalists, village boys with sharper common sense and students spread across the world. They are yet to develop a stake in the superstructure of power. This fact makes them even more vocal, may be at times unreasonably, about the developments in Kashmir. I recently saw a brief post on facebook saying, “Those bastards are voting.”

This angry mass of young intellectuals is the real challenge to the contending forces in J&K; to the government as well as to those who believe youth will keep pelting stones for ever. Both the forces may like to pocket this constituency to satisfy their own ideology yet both actions would be suicidal in the longer run.

Government and the masses in Kashmir have a strong overlap of relations. Government employees support separatist calls; individuals working with the government sound more vocal in favor of Azadi than a non-government civilian who earns his living out of his own resources; even bureaucrats in their private chats loathe the overbearing central control of Kashmiri affairs; politicians contesting election under Indian constitution shy away from advocating Kashmir’s merger with India while espousing a semi-separatist cause and to top it all the latest public discourse that voting does not mean abandoning the cause of Azadi.

The grey-area opinions apart, the fact this scenario bears out is this: In the 61-year-old tug of war between pro-India mainstream and secessionist Hurriyatism, the later has subtly sneaked into the former transforming the whole polity of J&K. The separatist camp appears too off the wall to claim a victory in this ‘battle of ideas’ and remains caged in morality of politics. They lack words to articulate a simple fact that sacrifices have delivered by way of discarding the debate around the instrument of accession. On the contrary our young boys and girls sound more competent than the celebrated leaders of Hurriyat Conference when they seem trying to appropriate the latest events with the popular sentiment. I read a post of a young girl on her blog saying, ‘the more the turnout the painful for India…people have reserved right for tomorrow’s rebellion (sic).”

Our public institutions, therefore, are faced with a crucial challenge. They should not fail to respond to the needs and aspirations of our educated and sharp-eyed youth. Let the institutions such as Kashmir University, State Institute of Education, Cultural Academy and the newly created department of culture (does it still exist?) embrace new ideas from the youth.

It is understandable, in the words of Dostoyevsky, “taking a new step, uttering a new word is what people fear most.” But there are brighter persons in these institutions that can usher in change, prove Dostoyevsky wrong, if at all they part with their sloth and material inhibitions.

Let our newspapers, institutions and other platforms of public communication shun the practice of mutual admiration. Let we start off with a new young vision. Let we listen to our youngsters. Let’s invest in our future opinion makers rather than singing paeans for the grey-area intellectuals whose extremist sense of history is corroding their understanding of the present and concern for the future. These youngsters have the potential of turning Kashmir from being an oral society into the one that has powerful art of explaining itself both to the supporters as well as to the adversaries.

In early sixties the famed US theorist, Eric Hoffer wrote in his bestselling The ordeal of change : “We are told that a great life is thought of youth wrought out in ripening years; and it is perhaps equally true that great thinking consists in the working out of insights and idea which come to us in playful moments.”

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