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.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Overhauling the Pathetic Education System in Kashmir

Sajjad suggests the obvious

(Mr. Sajjad Bazaz, 45, 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.)

Revamp education system

When compared to other states, J&K State is considered as educationally backward in reference to the established indices - literacy rate, teacher pupil ratio, dropout rate and the absorption pattern of the educated persons. The most disturbing features are low literacy rate, higher drop-out rate, mismatch between education and employment. In our state education is avowedly free up to the university level. But this is partially true mainly in the autonomous institutions and establishments of the State Government.

When we talk of literacy rate, J&K state emerges as a disappointment on this front when compared with other states of India. However, merely being literate does not mean education by it self. Education necessitates a number of other things also such as vocabulary; perception; information; efficiency in using modern tools of information technology; set standards of excellence in acquiring knowledge and proficiency in dissemination of information. It also demands impartial and highest standards of examination; global and common standards of syllabi at every level of education; regular periodic exchange of ideas and activities through multiple levels of mutual collaboration among educational institutions, people and community and effective involvement of educators, researchers and students in policy making and implementation etc. But in our education system, we don’t find any regard to these requirements.

In this perspective, not even one per cent of our population is educated at all! That is why in the J&K education system, competence, merit, efficiency, talent, qualifications and expertise are of little consequence in the State. There is a parallel system of underground degree, diploma and certificate acquisition system having a price tag.

Our state is making all out attempt to rush headlong toward economic success and modernization. Unfortunately, it is the weak higher education sector which constitutes the Achilles' Heel. In higher education in recent years, we have neither produced world-class research nor very many highly trained scholars, scientists or managers. It is because we have failed to provide access to students at the bottom of the academic system. At the same time we don’t have research-based universities or educational institutions that are able to compete with the world's best institutions. Thus we lack the abilities to position ourselves for leadership in the knowledge-based economies of the coming era.

In the 21st century knowledge race, we have some significant advantages, like a large higher education sector, use of English as a primary language of higher education and research and a long academic tradition. We have a small number of high quality institutions, departments, and centres that can form the basis of quality sector in higher education. The fact that the state government exercises major responsibility for higher education creates a rather cumbersome structure, but the system allows for a variety of policies and approaches. Yet the weaknesses far outweigh the strengths.

We have a system where accountability lacks, which means that teaching and research performance is seldom measured. Hardly we find a system, which provides incentives to performers. Nonetheless, with an impression of normality, the system makes the faculty to provide teaching, conduct examinations and award degrees.

We don’t have field of higher education research. Our academic institutions and systems have become large and complex. We have survived with an increasingly average higher education system. Now as we strive to compete in a globalised economy in areas that require highly trained professionals, the quality of higher education becomes increasingly important and cannot be overlooked.

Precisely, we can attribute all this mess in our education system to the education policy, which is a disappointment. Simply, it is not a good policy. Most of our educationists and academics know this fact but are shy to accept it publicly. The government may not agree with this, but fact is always a fact. Anyways, Who is right? It needs a serious attempt to answer this question because the quality of an education policy has deep and wide-ranging implications including the ability of the state to compete for investments, generate jobs, raise productivity and create the wealth to increase the standard of living of the state subjects.

To stem the rot, there is need to redraft the education policy of the state. The government should identify a quality group constituting leading educationists even from other states which have success stories in education sector. These should include experts in teaching, research, educational planning, educational administration, educational financing, educational philosophy and primary, secondary, higher and vocational education. The experts should come from a cross-section of society and each expert identified should have a national, or better yet, an international standing in his or her field. Such standing can be confirmed by generally accepted criteria like publications, citations and membership of international societies.

Let the new policy be given to these identified experts with a summary statement of the objectives, which the government hopes to achieve through its implementation, and the resources it is willing to commit to the implementation. The government should subject the policy to an independent and objective test. In fact, given the dearth of independent policy institutes and think tanks in the State, it would be an ideal role for media here to pioneer such critical reviews and evaluations of the proposed policy prescriptions with far reaching implications for the welfare of whole nation.

Redrafting of the education policy and blending it with the current scenario is a must because J&K while competing in a global scenario and is progressively falling behind. We must understand that the policies on issues such as education, industry, agriculture, etc. will have a crucial impact on our competitiveness and welfare.

There is no excuse for a policy proposal to be based on poor problem analysis, have incoherent objectives and to prescribe unrealistic solutions. There should be not political interference in the educational field. However, Government priority should always be to promote the education system. It is now the time to demonstrate good intentions.

Putting Community Interests Above Personal Politics

Tanvir seems to have momentarily lost his senses to suggest even for a moment that Kashmiris can rise above petty politics

(Mr. Tanvir Sadiq, 31, was born in Srinagar and attended the Burn Hall School. He completed his Bachelor's degree in Information technology and management from Orissa University. He is the youngest Municipal Corporator of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) and was elected from Zadibal Constituency. He has contributed regularly to local newspapers like the Kashmir Times, Kashmir Images, Greater Kashmir, and Kashmir Monitor. He was associated with many programs on Disaster Management of J & K and did a couple of programs on highlighting urban poverty. He hopes to be a candidate in the upcoming State Assembly election in 2008 on the National Conference platform from Zadibal assembly constituency. His interest are writing and social work.)

Joining Hands

Many of my eloquent, well versed, and knowledgeable critics have varied opinions on some of the issues that I discuss in my opinion articles. Most readers are able to read that feedback on my blog, but sadly they are unable to read the numerous emails that I receive continually which contain excellent counter arguments to the issues that I raise in my articles. Recently, I have been writing about the ways in which we all can leave aside our petty differences and give the current government a helping hand to steer Kashmir toward the path of prosperity. Of all the great feedback that I receive, the one type of comment that stands out from the rest is where the writers feel that it has all along been India's policy to keep Kashmir underdeveloped for their own strategic reasons, and that all efforts to change our crumbling economy and unemployment are futile. I will argue here that regardless of what have been the circumstances in the past, we owe it to the newly elected government to give them a chance for the sake of our beloved Kashmir.

The reason that the new government deserves a chance is that although we may have disparate political views, I hope our motives converge on the desire to see a Kashmir with low unemployment, world-class infrastructure, and a reasonably high standard of living. It is without doubt going to be next to impossible for the government to move forward if all the people of Kashmir do not share this dream. This includes people who voted against the present government, and those who chose to stay away from the polls. Omar Abdullah in his NDTV award function said if I don’t do a job well there are people who will tell me that I have done a lousy job and hasn’t he at numerous occasions promised that lending him a helping hand to accomplish all these ambitious targets will not be a vote to shelf the Kashmir issue.

I write this knowing well that half the emails that I receive will accuse me of being an epitome of sycophancy. Accepting criticism is part of being involved in public life, and therefore I accept praises as well as brick-bats with open arms. At the same time, I promise them that no amount of negative feedback will scare me away from speaking what I believe is in the best interest of Kashmir.

Therefore, I strongly believe that it is in the best interest of Kashmir to hold back our conspiracy theories about the purported Indian policy of keeping Kashmir perpetually in the dark ages and that because of this imaginary Indian policy, Kashmiris are destined to live a life of servitude under India. I am sure these sort of statements will not stop the progress of Omar's plans, but they do distract from the main topic at hand. Instead, we should be concentrating on brainstorming all possible alternate routes in reaching our goal of bringing Kashmir back to the 21st century, and then picking the most feasible way forward. I am aware the preceding sentence seemed very hypothetical but what I mean is that I might suggest a path which involves bringing in experts from holland to teach us everything there is to know about starting greenhouses in Kashmir to jumpstart the greenhouse industry on a large scale, someone else might suggest something altogether different such as investing our time and effort in handing out loans to youth to start small scale units or any other viable idea. After debating the pros and cons of all these alternate routes that we could possibly take, we might agree on the best way forward. In all honesty I would be willing to debate these sort of issues for as long as it takes rather than debating whether a purported Indian policy exists to always keep Kashmir as a servile dependency.

I have repeatedly emphasized that the only reason I am in politics is my desire to see Kashmir at par with other great cities in the world. What defeats my understanding is that why is it that these cities seem to have many of the similar problems that Kashmir faces and yet we seem to fare much worse than them. Granted, the security scenario is a big hindrance but I have yet to find an answer as to what the security scenario has to do with modernizing our drainage system. I will not bore you all with details on how the drainage system is the vascular system of any city, including Srinagar, upon which other important issues facing Kashmir depends such as cleanliness of the Dal Lake and general hygiene of all areas. Therefore, my point is that for all these years and with thousands of crores worth of assistance from the central government why is it that our main artery of the drainage has not been completed yet. Apart from the possible answer of rampant corruption, the only other answer to this is that the common people are not involved.

In my personal experience whilst dealing with project completion, I have felt that involving people who will be affected with any particular development project in their area makes a huge difference. I accomplished this by discussing the project details with them and seeking their input about the final decision. This way people realized they had ownership of the lane, park, street-lights etc that was being built in their mohallas. The reason is that people realize they are the ultimate owners of any public property and the government is just the caretaker. Similarly, the government should involve the general public by hearing their suggestions and concerns regarding any major development project in Kashmir. In this way, the public knows the 'grand plan' and keeps the contractors and engineers on their toes if the public witnesses any laxity or deviation from the plan. In contrast, many people in Srinagar are unaware of the major development projects planned for the city.

This final statement brings me back to the original point that we should all keep our differences aside and work together for the development of Kashmir. Every one of us should be involved in the development of Kashmir. I respect all political views including those held by the separatists. But, prescribing to disparate views should not be a hindrance for all of us joining hands for the benefit of all Kashmiris. Developing our infrastructure, revitalizing our economy to help ease unemployment, and increasing everyone's standard of living - these should be the goals that we should all cooperate to achieve regardless of our political views

Uneducational Experience

Riyaz says that the education system is rotting and the rotten eggs cannot be hatched

(Mr. Riyaz Masroor, 37, 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.)

We all failed in class 10

Failure is the most disturbing outcome of human actions. But, interestingly, the societies such as ours tend to respond differently at individual and collective levels. This fact was clearly borne out during the just declared results of class 10 examinations.

Given our accepted standards 62 percent is a comforting pass ratio but we were face to face with the reality of 38 percent failures. And those failures triggered different responses. At the individual level, the tender hearted girl, Fancy, of South Kashmir’s economically downtrodden Verinag reacted by gulping down a full vial of poison that killed her instantly. At the collective level, we screamed in newspapers and slammed the government teachers. This collective response grew shriller by the silly quick fix solution of deducting salaries of the ‘erring’ teachers.

Compare these two responses – the one of Fancy and that of Director School education. Fancy’s act may seem an awkward response yet it was an honest admission of failure upon which the individual tends to deliver justice by looking inward, fixing blame upon oneself and hanging the erring self. Now look at the government, which in this case is represented by the Directorate of Education. It hurled an announcement that the teachers who did not deliver would have to face salary cut against the failure they faced. This one is sheer reaction, there is no honest admission. Fancy’s death should make the trumpeters of such theories hang their head in shame.

Indeed the private schools fared better. But, who should be held accountable for the dismal performance of our government schools, which have 79.38 percent (2007-08 figures) share in J&K’s elementary education. Teacher? Fancy? New Delhi? Or the power-drunk elite that runs the system. Our teaching community has certainly fallen pray to easygoing, sloth and Chalta hai mentality that not just stunts their personal growth but also harms the fundamental objective of imparting elementary education. However the state cannot escape its share of responsibilities. Teacher will have to be accountable and liable for failures but at elementary level, which means within the four walls of a particular school, under an administrative authority. When the Directorate of Education has to wait for the results to shock it into a clumsy response like “we will deduct their salaries” it is enough proof that something is patently wrong in the system.

There is a huge debate within management circles on whether the worker runs the system or the system makes the worker act successfully. Without falling pray to the chicken-and- egg story, one should safely conclude that in the modern public administration paradigm it’s the system as a whole that is credited for successes and, therefore, it should not shy away from taking the blame for the failures.

According to the central government data J&K has a total of 20789 schools of which 16502 are government schools and 4287 schools are run by private bodies. Though we are not too behind Kerala, India’s literacy hub, that has just 5087 private schools, Kerala’s private schools make for 58.84 percent share in state education, highest in India. J&K’s private schools contribute just 20.62 percent share in the total education profile but interestingly when it comes to pass-ratio these schools make for over 50 percent share. Calling for privatization of education would be a knee-jerk response but the need to rationalize the system is what government should think upon seriously.

Apart from the statistical plethora cranked out every year, there are other causes due to which our education system is continuously failing us. Passing the buck on to the lesser mortals such as a teacher, shows the incapacity of the system. Isn’t it a fact that little over one lakh teachers of J&K had all along been a sort of auxiliary workforce who bailout government when it comes to bigger social responsibilities such as health campaigns, elections etc? Why cannot government outsource these campaigns as is done by some other state governments? And in case of Kashmir, teaching community has been so much trivialized that it has almost lost the reputation it once enjoyed among the society. Visit any educational institute where a minister or some other VIP would be slated to speak and you will see highly qualified teachers mostly female ones arraying the crockery. Moreover, most of the energies of our teachers go waste while organizing cultural functions upon which the VIPs comment unwisely: “This is the sign of peace and normalcy.” In a state that had been hit by violence, when the education system is used as a tool to portray normalcy it is common logic that the system becomes defacto part of the counter insurgency. Should we expect miracles from such a system?

Take another example. The recruitment of teachers is so devoid of a purpose or policy that the poor unemployed youth view it as a shortcut to earn wages and the politicians treat it as a tool to ‘buy’ political support. In short, it is teacher list versus voter list!

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah may boast of “education bonanza” for Kashmir in the form of IIM and polytechnics. But the moot question is this: Even if those pending proposals are given a go ahead, has the system enough capacity to put those institutions to productive use?

Mr Omar Abdullah better think afresh on, at least, secondary and higher secondary level Education. Let there be an Education Commission comprising people who can better reassess the system and prescribe remedies. Report on Common School System Commission of Bihar can be a good example to draw inspiration from. This commission should formulate a concrete and rational policy about imparting elementary education. It would prepare a blueprint of capacity building mechanism for education; promoting B Ed colleges has become more of a mafia now though there are exceptions.

When the state has appropriate capacity building infrastructure, a fixed criteria could be set about who should apply for the post of teacher and what are the academic requirements for a teacher to ask for promotion. The commission may recommend ‘depoliticizing’ and ‘debureaucratizing’ the education system by proposing a common regulatory authority like University Grants Commission. These are faint ideas; the civil society should build upon them further. And those wanting to shout down the poor teacher should know: Fancy of Verinag alone did not fail, we all failed together; the State, the people as well as the underpaid teacher.

Srinagar in Decay

An objective report in the Kashmir Observer unfolds an inconvenient truth

Srinagar In Decay

The trouble with traveling the sanitized route from Gupkar Road to the secretariat via the Boulevard every day is that one begins to harbour notions about the rest of the city being built on the same grand scale. This comfortable, scenic journey blinds our rulers to the harsher civic realties of Srinagar, lulling them into a cozy frame of mind where everything is supposed to be ship-shape and Bristol fashion. And if you happen to be among the lucky few residing in the green zone girdling Cheshma Shahi – as many of our top bureaucrats are – nothing could be more heavenly than the state’s summer capital.

An illuminating exercise, on the other hand, would be to take a detour up the handy Shankaracharya hillock and look down across the expanse of the city stretching from the now-squalid shores of the Dal Lake. The trip is particularly recommended in winter when trees have shed their foliage, laying the city bare in its stark ugliness. The view is quiet disconcerting, to say the least, as it encompasses the grotesque results of six decades of civic development.

It is a wonder that no leader of the ruling class has ever been struck by the progressive decay gripping Srinagar for decades in the total absence of an overall blueprint and vision of how the city should develop and spread. There appears to be no code governing new construction in the already congested parts of the city – which is most of it – and unmindful residents merrily build whatever they want wherever they want regardless of its impact on the look of the city. The plethora of government departments, including the top heavy Srinagar Municipal Corporation, plays no role whatsoever in defining a philosophy of development, and guiding people in adhering to it.

In the absence of a central authority that would have defined the form and content of construction in the city, and enforced the code, Srinagar has turned into an architectural nightmare, with neither rhyme nor reason in the monstrosities that go for its buildings. Even the rare tracts that began as planned projects have gone down the decrepit lane as even the purely residential areas have turned into a commercial mess.

Successive governments in the state have totally relinquished control over the use of land for construction, resulting in the mushrooming of unplanned colonies that at best resemble squalid slums with no planned layout, narrow, winding alleyways for roads, and residential buildings that have been put up without any architectural merit. This systematic defacing of the city landscape has taken place when every building in the municipal limits requires a permission, an exercise now exclusively serving as a money-minting machine for the officials concerned.

For the years the city municipality has functioned as a corporation with a full complement of expensively elected and maintained corporators, it has not made a single mention of the awry growth of Srinagar, but only served to multiply its ills by a blind adherence to past practices, mostly harmful. It has not even made a pretense at arresting the growth of ugliness in city architecture by putting its droves of engineers to some constructive use. All it has done is to move from crisis to crisis, failing even in the basic task of disposing off garbage.

For a city that boasts of being the capital of the paradise on earth, Srinagar has turned into a veritable hell, a sprawling hovel that tourists from any part of the world would only want to enter to see a living, breathing disaster. Let us, for the moment, keep aside the horrors of the interior city and the squalor of the new residential colonies, but concentrate on the showpiece that Residency Road was meant to be. That should be sufficient to indicate the scale of the vandalism that had been wrought on the city everywhere.

Despotic, autocratic rulers appear to have a far more enlightened idea of how a city centre should look like, and in laying out the Residency Road, with its –till then – broad avenues and parks, had created an idiom for the so called democratic governments to follow. But within a span of a few years, the deliberately low-rise buildings lining the mall have been crowded out by multi-storied monstrosities crammed against each other, robbing the once scenic area of its aura of space, serenity and openness. If planners give such a misshapen interpretation of development and progress, there is no hope whatsoever for Srinagar to recover from the decades of abuse.

Amidst the Srinagar Municipal Corporation’s utterly dismal showing on the garbage disposal front come reports of yet another triumph in dereliction of duty – legally designated residential enclaves are to be declared commercial areas in abject capitulation before galloping violations of the famed Srinagar Master Plan.

The distinction between purely residential and commercial areas had already become blurred due to unregulated sprouting of business outlets in zones meant exclusively for habitation. The unchecked shopping complex syndrome which has been allowed to straddle the city indiscriminately has turned Srinagar into a vast market place with no demarcation of business and private zones. Markets are taking over even the few enclaves specifically planned as exclusive residential zones. And the commercialization of other residential areas, which do not enjoy the luxury of being designated as such, has overturned the very basic character of the once quiet and peaceful localities.

Every city worth the name has maintained clearly demarcated business districts to spare residential areas the unwelcome intrusion of commercial activity. Even in the case of New Delhi, that appeared to have lost the battle with indiscriminate commercialization, a turnaround has been witnessed with the government putting its foot down and upholding the sanctity of residential areas by a series of strict measures. Centralized and localized shopping malls, closing down of commercial spaces in residential areas and other such steps have restored a semblance of sanity to Delhi.

But how do the bright sparks of Srinagar respond to the city’s crisis? By simply caving in to the fait accompli. Sparing themselves the headache of thinking out a Srinagar-specific way out, our illustrious rulers take the shortcut of a legal artifice: let us solve the problem by one stroke of the pen and declare the mongrelized residential areas as commercial zones.

The turmoil of the past years is often cited as the reason for the many ills plaguing government functioning, but no attempt is made to explain the booming commercial sector which has put such tremendous pressure on civic infrastructure. Taking a differential element for analysis, the case of Lal Chowk could prove particularly illuminating. This commercial hub of the city had begun showing unmistakable signs of saturation over two decades ago. But civic and government agencies have responded by choosing not to act. The message from Lal Chowk was clear – the demand for commercial space was growing at an incredible pace, and what was happening in the heart of the city would definitely be replicated in other parts of Srinagar. One of the several possible ways to address the need would have been to plan a satellite commercial district, even a series of them, that could absorb the overflow from Lal Chowk and other major markets of the city. The top-heavy and ugly construction in the city’s markets and the resulting intractable congestion, not to speak of traffic flow disasters, could have been avoided by the admittedly cost-intensive, but in the long run, cheaper, alternative of developing segregated, exclusively commercial zones. The daily needs of residential areas can always be met by planned and centralized shopping arcades or malls that would leave the peace of these zones largely undisturbed.

True, city planning cannot be carried out in isolated segments, but has to be a holistic exercise including social, economic and other factors. But that is precisely what the bloated officialdom of the state is being paid for. But, instead of applying its mind to the pressing issues, the ruling class and its complicit bureaucracy is content with merely going through the motions of administration.

Kashmir has had a singular set of rulers whose frequent jaunts outside and abroad have left them totally untouched and innocent of any desire to learn or be influenced by successful civic models elsewhere. Not a single ruler has ever voiced even the feeble wish of developing Srinagar on sane, practical and environmentally-sound lines. While the city is literally gasping for survival, all it gets as treatment is inaction on the bureaucratic front in the face of runaway commercialization and civic failure, and grandiose schemes on the rulers’ front like golf courses and tulip gardens -a classic case of asking a bread-starved people to eat cake.

The Misfortune of being a Female in Kashmir

Two articles in the Rising Kashmir cover a broad canvass of emotions in describing challenges facing females in Kashmir. The third and the last article from the Kashmir Images is one of hope and exuberance

Female foeticide on rise in Valley: Report

Srinagar: Female foeticide is on rise in Kashmir, a study conducted by a lecturer of Kashmir University reveals.

Gulafroz Jan, a lecturer in the Department of Law, KU conducted a socio legal analysis on female foeticide in Kashmir surveying 15 diagnostic centres.

However only two of these centres confirmed that they conducted prenatal sex determination tests while 10 answered in negative and three preferred not to respond.
Jan in her research asked hundred expectant mothers if they had done any prenatal sex determination tests and abortions among which 10 respondents said yes.
According to the research, out of these 10 respondents, five were indulging in female foeticide for the first time while two were on anvil of aborting the female foetus for the second time.

Some of the expecting women said female child was a burden. “The girl child is subjected to sexual exploitations. It has to be protected and guarded always,” the research quoted some women as saying while others said they were aborting the female foetus as they already had two or more daughters.

The researcher said women from the upper middle class were carrying more abortions. However women from rustic and lower income groups were also found to be in the race.
Around 60 per cent of women surveyed in the study were housewives and 40 percent were working women.

In the research hundred expectant mothers were asked if they knew about sex determination. An overwhelming 70 per cent responded said yes and added that it was performed by simple sonography.

“Nearly 76 per cent of women knew about illegality of these tests,” Jan said.
The data in the research reveals that the tests were conducted in government hospitals as well as private nursing homes while others went outside the state.
Forty per cent women said their husbands and in-laws exerted force on them to abort the female foetus while 20 per cent said both the husband-wife duo were willing. Ten per cent of the respondents said it was their own choice.

However an overwhelming majority of the respondents termed the practice bad and immoral.

Khurshidul Islam, a sociologist termed the phenomenon as disturbing. “It’s an impact of other cultures. It is pity that having a girl child is considered a burden in the changing socio economic dynamics of our society,” he said. “The spurt in atrocities on women and their coverage of these issues in media is also contributing to the factor.”

Meanwhile, according to sources, the two centres conducting illegal prenatal sex determination operate in city outskirts.

The sources said these unrecognized clinics conduct nearly 20 tests a day, some on the medical advice and others at the behest of the individual couples.

Eve-teasing: a growing menace

A student of 7th standard (Sheena) name changed is followed by a middle aged man to her home from school continuously for a month. He tries to convince the girl to accompany him and when he failed, he starts to threaten the girl of dire consequences.

This frightens the innocent girl and she starts making excuses to stay at home. When the parents finally notice the trouble their daughter faces, they came to rescue and saved the girl. This is one among hundred cases of eve-teasing which is a growing social menace in our society.

Eve-teasing is used as a euphemism for molestation and harassment of women by men. However, a euphemism is not enough to lessen the severity of this crime which ranges from obscene gestures to sexually suggestive remarks. It is prevalent in almost all the societies of the World and its consequences and implications are a matter of serious concern.

In conservative societies like Kashmir, eve-teasing instills fear among females and causes mental and emotional trauma. As women here are not very vocal enough, the victim mostly suffers silently and at times develops self inhibiting behaviour. She feels guilty for a fault committed by others and tries to hide it from people around. In case of young immature girls, by the time they realize what is being done to them, they are already victimized.

In Kashmir, the situation has perpetuated over the years and women have suffered and are still suffering at the hands of such uncouth men. The undesirable attention shown by males towards females is acting as an irritant in the lives of women who leave their homes every morning to lend a helping hand in improving the overall condition of our society. It is not only School and College going teenagers or working young ladies, but even middle and old aged women don’t feel safe from this criminal act. Eve-teasers won’t spare any-one. In buses, on bus stops, around educational institutions, market places and even work places of women, these uncivilized creatures never miss a chance to harass females. The usual methods used to irk women include whistles, physical touch, physical advances, and passing comments. Some go4es to the extent of shouting at them and embarrasses the victims to their spine.

The situation is equally intense in other places in India and the women of the valley are in constant fear that some mishap might happen to them as well. Shyness and fragility made them more vulnerable to such incidents. Females here lack the confidence to retaliate if somebody approaches them.

The lack of awareness about these dastardly crimes worsens the situation. Lack of interaction with males also aggravates the problem. Girls don’t know how to react or handle men around them to judge their intentions. Women here lack basic self-defense techniques as they never get training or counseling as how to deal with under such circumstances.

The situation can be handled only if society and not women are sensitized about the whole issue. Women deserve all the respect and regard if the in the society has to function smoothly.

The biggest responsibility falls on the shoulders of parents and teachers, as they act as role models for younger generation. If a child is given proper moral teachings right from childhood, it will definitely reflect in his personality. In modern times the responsibility increases more on Parents as the means of communication and abundant growth of media has drastically affected the psyche of our young generation.

Awareness, education, moral and religious education seem the only solutions for this grave problem. Mass sensitization will awake the conscience of every individual of the society. But it needs to be accepted that eve-teasing is just an element of huge hitch that has cropped up in the structure of the society. Good and active effort on part of all conscientious people of society will help women to feel secure. Then they can lace themselves with confidence, knowledge and strength and so can have courage to self-guard themselves.

Matriculation topper says hard work is secret of her success

Baramulla: In our contemporary society although parents feel dismayed over having a girl child but girls too can prove to be better than boys.

And those who still regret having daughters should meet Anjuman Jeelani Toogo of apple town Sopore who topped the matriculation exams in Kashmir province bring pride not only her grand parents but to the whole Baramulla district.

Scripting her success story, Anjuman, 16, a student of St. Joseph School Baramulla, secured 489 marks out of 500 to bag first position in the Kashmir Valley in matriculation exams conducted by Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Education.

Anjuman believes that hard work pays off in the long run if one is dedicated and committed to do and her secret of success is hard work.

Anjuman was conferred a trophy and Academic Achievement Certificate 2008 by Minster of state for PHE and Irrigation Flood Control Taj Mohi-ud-din on Republic Day function in Baramulla.

While talking to ‘Kashmir Images’, after receiving the award, she said, "I feel very happy at this moment and this the happiest day in life till now as I was successful to turn my dream into reality."

Since her grand success in matriculation, Anajuman had very busy time with friends, relatives and media persons.

When asked whom she owes her success and the inspirations, she said, "First of all I would like to thank Almighty Allah for showering His blessings upon me. I credit my success to my grandparents, many many thanks to my uncle Sir Mujtuba and heartfelt thanks go all teachers in St. Joseph school Baramulla who taught me from last 13 years."

"From Nursery to this class my teachers always showed me the way. I always stood first in class. By bagging the first position I have made my teachers proud," said Anjuman whose father, Ghulam Jeelani Tukoo is a police inspector and mother Mehbooba Jeelani, a government teacher.

Adopted by her grandparents when she was 6-months-old baby, Anjuman said that hard work was key to success and she couldn't have make topped the exams without her grandparents support. "Even if you are intelligent you have to work hard to strive for aim. Hard work is key to success," she said.

"Since my childhood my grandparents too care of me and from six class I was guided and supported by my uncle who helped lot," added she.

She said that to study for six hours daily was a routine for her. "I used to study from 5pm to 11pm everyday. Chalking out a study schedule helped me and I didn't feel any pressure during the exam days," she added.

When asked what she wanted to be in the life, Anjuman said, ""Basically for me it was not hard to decide what you want to be. I wanted to be prominent cardiologist to serve my society."

Anjuman’s grandfather, Abdul Wahid Tugoo, a retired teacher, says, "Since we adopted her both I and my wife strived to bring her up. I used to perch her on my shoulders taking him school as there was less transport available here."

"Today my entire fatigue has vanished and we both feel proud of her," Wahid who accompanied her.

Anjuman's grandmother Fatima said, "I fed her with cow's milk as we adopted her soon after she was born. I feel as if I have performed Hajj."

Pertinent to mention here, a total of 40,145 students including 22,243 boys and 17,902 girls had appeared in the annual examination held in November-December 2008. The over all pass percentage stands at 62.30 per cent with 65.64 per cent boys and 58.39 percent girls passing the exam. Among them, 5139 passed with distinction, 10,302 with 1st division and 9567 with second division.

Refugees in Their own Country

Pervez gives human shape to Kashmiris whom the valley has long forgotten

(Mr. Pervez Majeed Lone, 32, was born in Ashpora, a hamlet located in Handwara Tehsil in the Kupwara District. His primary schooling took place in government schools in his hometown, and he finished his higher secondary education from the Government Higher Secondary School, Kupwara. He graduated from the University of Kashmir as a Continuing Education student with Sociology, Philosophy and English Literature as major subjects. In 2004, he completed his Master's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Kashmir. He has worked in various local Urdu journals (Chattan, Pukar) and the Radio Kashmir (Sheharbeen) before joining the Sahara Time, a weekly national news magazine from the Sahara Group. He is passionate about the Urdu language and poetry, and loves to listen to music, read English literature and traveling.)

Refugees in their own country (Report was published in the September 27, 2008 issue of the Sahara Time)

New Delhi: Ashok Kumar Munshi symbolizes the typical traumatic life Kashmiri pandits had to live following mass exodus of this religious minority of Jammu & Kashmir. While arranging the items of his makeshift readymade garments shop alongside a footpath at Yousuf Sarai area of south Delhi, he fondly remembers his elegant, attractive readymade garments showroom located at Nai Sarak in Srinagar. “ I was running an enviable business, my shop used to bustle with customers,” he sighs. 56-year- old Munshi remembers the horror of his migration from his motherland. “On the day of migration, we had to spend the night along with the small children under open sky in Sainik Colony Jammu.” Munshi blames nobody for his migration. “ Nobody threatened us, but the situation was uncertain, even Muslims were feeling unsafe. In fact a Muslim friend suggested me to leave home till situation improves…but that never did,” Munshi laments.

After spending sometime in Jammu, Munshi along with his six members family came to Delhi to search a livelihood. After hectic efforts, he got this NDMC structure allotted in his favour in 1991 at Yousuf Sarai. Since then he is trying to eke out a living by selling readymades. He earns by this readymade shop and also receives monthly four thousand rupees as government relief. “ Thank God, I manage to feed my family,” a contented Munshi says. After living at a rented accommodation for almost a decade, Munshi managed to buy his own flat at Patpadgunj six years ago. But owning a house in Delhi couldn’t fade the cherishable memories from his mind. “ We lived in a heveli in Aali Kadal area of Srinagar in the neighborhood of Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, but here our seven member family is confined in two small rooms,” Munshi wails.

Asked if he wanted to return to Kashmir, Munshi replies with a question. “ I do, but is there any such possibility?” Munshi explains that after the Amarnath Shrine Board land transfer controversy, the chances, if there were any, of Kashmiri pandits’ return to Kashmir, have dwindled. Munshi’s all the three children; two daughters and one son are born in Delhi. “ My children are very eager to see Kashmir…I want to take them for a visit.”

The row of NDMC makeshift shops at Yousuf Sarai alongside the busy Mehrauli Road is known as Kashmiri market, as Kashmiri migrant pandits predominantly own them. To enable the migrants earn a living, the government has provided these structures to them rent-free. P K Koul runs his hosiery shop beside Munshi’s one. Koul, a resident of Habba Kadal Srinagar, was living an affluent life in Kashmir. The forced migration ravaged his life as well as a flourishing bisiness. The shop and monthly one thousand rupees government relief is his sole income. Since their desperate arrival in Delhi in 1991, the five-member Koul family is living on rent in Green Park. Koul sees no prospectus of returning to Kashmir. “ We are trying to establish ourselves here, we can’t afford to start our lives afresh in Kashmir,” he maintains. “ Our children are born and brought up outside Kashmir, they have no idea what Kashmir is at all,” he adds. Koul cites another example to prove his point. “ My shop in Srinagar has been occupied by a local, despite my legal efforts he has not vacated it,” he said. Koul fishes out a paper. It is an order (No.459-62/05/DM/MG/179 Dated: 24-07-2003) of district magistrate Srinagar directing tehsildar and SHO concerned to vacate Koul’s shop from the illegal occupant. “ Should I go to fight with him for resuming my business at my shop,” he asks. Koul complains that Kashmiri Muslims are not playing their part for the return of pandits. “ If they were interested in our homecoming, they would have created those circumstances,” he explains. He blames government for its “lackadaisical approach” vis-à-vis rehabilitation of pandits. “ Even the Kashmiri pandit organizations are furthering their own interests,” he says. According to Koul, the migrant pandits have just one priority at the moment. “Future of our children,” he says emphatically.

In Yousuf Sarai’s Kashmiri Market a polite and sober Kuldeep Parimoo has his own story to tell. Parimoo family owned a well-established medicine business in Srinagar. “After the migration, I had to work on footpaths,” 41-year-old Kuldeep states. Like some other fellows of his community, he acquired an NDMC shop at Yousuf Sarai and opened a diagnostic laboratory there. With this income, he is supporting four family members residing at Sahibabad,Gaziabad.

Asked about the return of Kashmiri pandits, Kuldeep has precise reply. “ I can’t say about others, but there is no possibility of mine to go back to Kashmir because I am not in a position to re-establish myself there.” Elaborating on this, he said; “ I have two priorities strictly on my mind: my children and my business. I see no future of my children in Kashmir and I can’t again set-up my business there…I can’t afford a second migration.” Though Kuldeep hasn’t any complaints against Kashmiri Muslims, but he is wary about their “collective behaviour.” “ Individual Kashmiri Muslim is honest and compassionate, I have all the love for him, but the sloganeering about jehad and Pakistan make me apprehensive.”

Like any other pandit migrant, Kuldeep narrates emotional reminiscence of cordiality between Kashmiri Muslims and pandits. “ After the death of my father in 1987, I had to shoulder the family business as my brother was paralyzed due to an accident. A Muslim neighbor gave me ten thousand rupees to run the business,” Kuldeep says and wonders in an emotional tone. “ Alas, what happened to that brotherhood, who created this chasm of mistrust?”

For Ramesh Sidha, 31, return to Kashmir is a dilemma. “ We don’t want to leave our birthplace, but it is not possible to live there,” says the business executive. Even though enjoying a settled life in Delhi and living in their own flat in Palam Vihar, Sidha, resident of south Kashmir’s famous Mattan town, says he is very nostalgic about his childhood days spent with Muslims friends. Why is he scared to return to Kashmir? “ Slogans of azadi and Pakistan scare me , as long as such slogans are there, I don’t see any space for my community there,” he observes.

Sudheer Koul echoes the viewpoint of young Kashimiri pandit boys, brought up outside Kashmir. “ There is a wide chasm between young generations of Muslims and pandits, we have no interaction amongst ourselves, how can we go there and live with them?”

28-year-old Sandheep Bhat was studying in 5th standard at the local school of Namtahal village of Budgam district, when pandits left Valley en masse. He studied up to graduation in Jammu and came to Delhi for a job. Marketing manager with a software company, he lives with his cousins in Laxminagar. “ I don’t see there is any possibility of ours to back to Kashmir,” he said, with Hindi accent overrunning his Kashmiri speech.

In Delhi, Kashmiri pandits have established around 350 shops and small businesses to earn their livelihood. INA market is one of the Delhi markets where at least 150 shops and dhabas are run by pandits. A visit to this market reveals the sordid saga of this hapless Kashmiri lot. Shiv Kumar Bhatt chief organizer of Kashmiri Migrants’ Market Association here speaks a mix of anger, apprehension, expectation and pragmatism. “Kashmiri separatists are living a lavish lifestyle, but befooling common Kashmiri with emotional slogans,” Bhat 43, avers. “ Kashmir Muslims and pandits are one blood, we can’t be separated,” Bhat says in an emotional albeit forceful tone. “ But I am surprised why Muslims don’t denounce gun and those mean separatist leaders.” An energetic, impressive Bhat has a word of advice for his Muslim compatriots-“ Kashmir has strategic importance for India, how my Muslim brothers believe India will let it go.”

About the return of pandits to Valley, Bhat said: “ We haven’t burnt all bridges leading to Kashmir, but we can’t return until gun is there!”

A mini Kashmir in Delhi

Kashmiri Pandits are nostalgic for the land they had to leave, but see no way to go back home, finds Pervez Majeed during a visit to Vitesta Enclave

I was very enthusiastic to visit Najafgarh’s Kashmiri Colony. “ It is like a mini-Kashmir in Delhi.” This statement of a Kashmiri Pandit increased my excitement. But I knew nobody there. The only address I had was Chandji. Kashmiri Pandit Kuldeep Parimoo, whom I met at his diagnostic centre in Yousuf Sarai, told me to meet Chandji for help who runs a provision store in Kashmiri Colony. However, I was anxious while traveling first time on the road to Najafgarh. Anxious because I was not sure inhabitants of Kashmiri Colony will be willing to talk to me. Moreover, a Pandit friend had cautioned me about the imminent offensive response of some young Pandits. “These days some Pandits, particularly the youth are belligerent over the recent developments in Kashmir, they vent their pent up feelings at any Kashmiri Muslim they meet,” he warned. “We are frustrated by the two-decade life in exile, majority of Pandits are upset over the latest uprising in the Valley,” my friend explained to me, adding,”you need to be prepared to face their wrath.”

However, this apprehension couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm to visit Delhi’s “mini-Kashmir.” I was amazed to know that Kashmiri Colony was famous in the area. Miles away all the people, whom I sought help to reach my destination, guided me, for they knew the Kashmiri Colony. From the main market of Najafgarh , a left turn on a wide macadamized road leads to Kashmiri Colony. After traveling on around one kilometer stretch of this road, a signboard on a street on the right reads; “ Vitesta Enclave.” Vitesta or Veyth is Pandits’ name of legendary Kashmir river Jehlum, which originates from Veerinag in south Kashmir. Besides Srinagar, many other prominent towns are situated on the banks of Jehlum, before the river flows into Pakistan territory in north Kashmir. Kashmiri folklore and its history is abundant with the mention of Vitesta, with a lot of mythical tales associated with the river, revered religiously by Pandits.

I stopped at the Vitesta Enclave street corner and asked a bystander about Kashmiri Colony. He pointed towards the street. “ This is Kashmiri Colony.” Later during my interaction with the residents, I was told that they have named their abode, as Vitesta Enclave but is famous as Kashmiri Colony because of its inhabitants! It is a silent locality. Cars, motorcycles and cycle-rickshaws intermittently plying on its dusty lanes and by- lanes. Most of the houses are one or two-storeyed. Not only the name of the residential area but also the architectural design of their houses denotes Pandits are struggling to preserve their identity.

With the help of Chandji, I met Dawarika Nath Koul, president of Vitesta Enclave Welfare Association. Septuagenarian Koul is a compassionate person. After meeting him, my fears got alleviated. He is hospitable like a typical Kashmiri. We had a candid conversation over tea. Koul, a retired government employee, has three daughters and one son. All are married. Son is a prosperous builder and Kouls are living in the beautiful house. He has no complaints, no regrets. “Whether it is turbulent situation in Kashmir or our displacement, it is ill-luck of we Kashmiris,” Koul laments. During the conversation, Koul nostalgically revisited his past, talked about the beautiful life he lived amidst his Muslim neighbors.

So you want to return to Kashmir? I asked. He sighed and said: “ I want to die on the land where I was born.” I didn’t asked any further questions on this subject…emotional Koul’s body language conveyed more than his words.

Koul informed that more than two hundred Pandit families are residing in their own houses in the Vitesta Enclave. “ It was an open field. Years ago some Pandit bought land here and built his own house. Then it became a trend for Pandits to buy land and construct houses here, turning it into a Pandits’ habitation,” Koul said.

Even though residents belong to different areas of Valley and myriad family backgrounds, Vitesta Enclave is now a well-knit Kashmiri society and its demeanor is typical Kashmiri. Old men and women are seen strolling in the lanes in traditional Kashmiri attire. Shops cater to specific needs of a Kashmir village. A baker prepares Kashmiri bread in the traditional Kashmiri oven. “ We are struggling to keep intact our culture and traditions and impart them to our new generation,” Koul maintains. “ But children seem not imbibing them because most of their time is spent outside homes,” Koul observes.

He was right. Outside Koul’s home, I saw two kids playing in the courtyard of their home. Kajal and her younger brother Mayur have no idea about Kashmir. When I asked them what they know about Kashmir, they chuckled innocently. “ Vahan thandi baraf hoti ha,” this is all Kajal knows about Kashmir, who was born in Udhampur eight years after her parent’s migration.

During my stroll accompanied by Koul in the lanes of Kashmiri Colony, I had tête-à-tête with a number of young and old Pandits. They shared about their lives in chaste Kashmiri with me. Shopkeeper Bhushan Lal and his wife Phoolaji were all praise for their Muslim neighbors. But at the same time, they narrate how a militant commander forcefully made them to sell their house to him. “ We want to return but we can’t feel safe there because of gun,” they said. During the conversation, Pholaji couldn’t hold back her tears.

Sanjay Dhar was riding a motorcycle and stopped on seeing me. He met warmly. Dhar, who works in a private bank, says he proudly narrates the tales of communal harmony between Muslims and Pandits to his colleagues.“ But there is a wall of mistrust among the new generation,” he laments. Pyariji, 68 talked in an emotional tone. “ We wait to return to our janambhoomi, Muslims are like our eyes and ears, how can we live without them?”

However, Ajay Kumar,45, who runs a shop in New Delhi holds a contrary view. “ There is no hope of our return, we have spent the life, now we have to think about our children.”

Koul bid adieu to me while I embarked a cycle-rickshaw for the bus stop. He asked me to visit again. As I was on the bumpy bus- ride back home amid traffic jams, I thought Pandits’ homecoming is besieged with same circumstantial bumps and political jams. For them return to Kashmir is a conflict between emotions and reality, head and heart!

Leaders of two Pandit organizations holding divergent ideology, respond to a similar set of questions about Pandits’ return to Kashmir.

Agni Shekhar –President, Panun Kashmir

Q: Do you see any chances of Pandits’ return to Kashmir?
A: See, religious co-existence was rejected when Pandits were forced to leave their homes. So a separate homeland only can pave way for their return to Kashmir.
Q: Many say homeland formula goes against the spirit of traditional amity between Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims.
A: If Pandits are helped to return honorably by providing a political and administrative set-up and a homeland, the traditional harmony is inevitable.
Q: What is the hurdle in their homecoming?
A: Ideology of terrorism and extremism is the hurdle. This ideology dubs us as Kafirs. The sloganeering like Nizam-e Mustafa, azadi, Islam, Pakistan etc scare us.
Q: What are your views about the steps taken by state and central governments for Pandits’ return?
A: It seems Indian state is at cross with Indian civilization. Governments and political parties have failed us. We are treated as mere vote bank not a human tragedy.
Q: Some Pandits particularly youth say they are settled outside and their return to Kashmir will be like a second migration.
A: No, our return will be reversal of migration. Actually, Pandits are dying for Kashmir. But they don’t want to go to Kashmir in a situation where their lives are at stake.

Pandit Bhushan Bazaz-President, Democratic Forum

Q: Do you see any chances of Pandits’ return to Kashmir?
A: I hardly see any chances because the threat is embedded in their psyche now. They will have to live under constant fear. Moreover, most people are settled outside Kashmir.
Q: What is the hurdle in their homecoming?
A: The uncertain situation there! The Pandit families who chose not to migrate are not satisfied there. How can the others take risk to go back?
Q: Some Pandits organization see separate homeland a solution?
A: Homeland is not a solution. Pandits can’t live in enclaves aloof from the Kashmiri society. That is total impractical and illogical demand.
Q: What are your views about the steps taken by state and central governments for Pandits’ return?
A: They just make promises. Politicians capitalize on Pandits misery.
Q: Some Pandits particularly youth say they are settled outside and their return to Kashmir will be like a second migration.
A: They are right. In fact Pandits’ homecoming has become a complicated issue. The young generations of Muslims and Pandits are like aliens to each other. Twenty years of separation has battered the centuries-old harmony.

Box Items
For a Kashmiri Aura…

Syed Ahmad, working with Govt. Arts Emporium, is the only Kashmiri Muslim family living in, Najafgarh’s Vitesta Enclave. A resident of Rainawari Srinagar, Syed chose this colony as his abode in Delhi, as here only he can avail the Kashmiri aura. “We happily used to live with our Muslim neighbors in Kashmir and Syed’s house here gives us a feel of that nostalgic Kashmir,” says his neighbor Subash Chander Wali, a retired government employee. “I took care of the construction of his house as he used to be mostly out on job,” he adds elatedly. “ Many more Muslim families are expected to build homes here, one has already bought land for the purpose,” informs Dwarika Nath Koul, president of Vitesta Enclave Welfare Association.

Delhi- Oasis for the Homeless

For most of the displaced Kashmiri migrant Pandits, national capital proved an oasis. Out of more than 55 thousand families that fled Valley in early 90s, around 30 thousand families made Delhi their abode. “ Delhi has the second largest number of Pandit migrants,” says Kamal Haakh, general secretary of Panun Kashmir.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Audacity of Hope

Mehmood may not have thought about it, but his message applies to Kashmiri Muslims reaching out to Pandits as well

(Mr. Mehmood-ur-Rashid, mid-30's, lives and works in Srinagar. His commentary is published by the Rising Kashmir.)

Thinking of Change

“There is a way to be good again”. This is the thematic refrain and the underlying urge of Khalid Hosseini’s Afghanistan: war ravaged, intrigue infested and inflicted with cancerous version of religiosity. In the most depressing times Hosseini runs after the kite of hope. In Kashmir we keep vacillating between euphoria and depression. The question that occasionally visits mind is that can we also keep ourselves afloat thinking that the shores of hope are somewhere in the vicinity of vortex.

Across many oceans a Black man has started speaking about the audacity of hope. He wants to make a new beginning with the Muslim world. He even wants to unclench the fists. Is this the time to think of Change, Hope and a renewed understanding of who we are and what we stand for? Is there a chance to earn some peace by realigning the struggles in the Muslim countries and revising the content of these struggles?
Usually we have been hearing of peace processes initiated by states. Suspecting them is easy and rational as well. What if Muslim world gives thought to the idea of reaching out to the world of Political Power without compromising the essence of their struggles, find ways to bring peace to their lands! Can we think of an initiative of building trust with the Other, without doing injustice to the truth and essential core of our collective struggles. Can we act impartially, drop bias, jump over the barricade of anger and stereotyping, and make peace with the people around the globe. At least people are not our enemies, neither are we theirs.

Building trust, without sacrificing impartiality, may not an easy task, but, at the same time, never an impossible assignment. Besides the knowledge of the niceties of human nature and its pitfalls any attempt to bring about reconciliation between two conflicting parties must be supported by the love for peace and willingness to do justice. If any of the three ingredients is missing, building trusts may either be an exercise that will harm the principle of justice, thus straightaway making impartiality a victim, or will lead to a false and transitory impression that the two conflicting parties have developed the bond of trust. So in order to build trust between the two parties that are engaged in confrontation, of whatever level, it is necessary to have the knowledge of the interests, positions and stakes of both the parties. Without knowing who stands for what one cannot even think of making an attempt to build peace between the two parties. It is true for all conflicts, ranging from petty personal to mighty international disputes. If the parties to the conflict are better understood in terms of their relation towards the conflict it always becomes easier to build trust between the two. It was only when the World Bank understood the stakes of India and Pakistan in the water resources of the region that they brokered a deal between the two. It’s amazing that in spite of the two countries being at loggerheads with each other on a host of other issues, they could finalise an agreement on the sharing of water decades before and till now it survives. How could the World Bank broker peace between the two arch rivals over an issue that is immensely critical. The answer to this uneasy question is simple; the trust was build between the two parties when the stakes of both were understood and genuinely addressed.

Another important factor that has to be present in the efforts to build trust between two parties is to allow both of them express themselves. It has not just the value of catharsis, which has a salutary effect at psychological level, but also lets it known that what do the parties stand for. It is highly important that the efforts to build trust focus on taking the attention of the parties away from conflict and turn it in the direction of yearning for peace. Once this is done there is no need of being partial, as both the parties will automatically exhibit interest in coming closer to each other. The next step to strengthen the process of trust is to address the vulnerabilities and stakes of the parties. If that is left unattended it will leave the chances of acrimony again ruling the relation between the two parties. The telling example of this, at international level is the Mid East conflict. Although the parties came closer to negotiations many a time but since the stakes of a particular party were undermined things trundled back into the same abyss. Latest is the example of Gaza. The land has again been irrigated with blood, and it does not sleep.

A time tested tactic to build trust between the contending parties, without letting impartiality get hit, is to allow the parties to engage with some routine activity without actually making them conscious of the conflict that stands unresolved between them. In the current times Lebanon provides a wonderful example of this phenomenon. In its fight against the intrigues and military interventions of Israel, Hizbullah discovered that the Christian population of Lebanon were supportive of Israeli activities. Once Hizbullah won over the situation it was feared that they will now unleash their anger on the Christian population that collaborated with Israel. This could have resulted in great damage to life and limb. But they resorted to this unique method of letting time heal the wounds. The populations, Muslim and Christian were allowed to engage themselves in the banalities of life. In the process they again developed mundane and profitable relations with each other. This made them forget what had happened earlier. Both the populations regained the level of trust, and justice could be maintained by the fact peace was not imposed on the two but was rather allowed to grow from within them. This example provides us a golden lesson; whenever we are to build trust between the parties, the levels of active conflict should be brought down. With the passage of time a situation emerges where parties become unwilling to dissociate from the routine and engage with conflict. Second important lesson from this example is that forgiveness is the ultimate remedy to calm the frowned, furious and fighting heads and make them friends.

If the talk of Change has started, the all important question is that can Muslim world, participate in it? Willingness to understand the outer world and engage with it is the key to ensure a place in the emerging world. Every time talking about grievances, holding grudges, deepening animosity and taking a wrong roué to history to feed all this negatives, is never going to help Muslim world. We can secure a share in the Changed World only if we participate in Change. First step towards Change will be know our times, and for that purpose we will have to educate ourselves. Right now we are revelling in our ignorance, and Change has always refused to make friends with ignorance. And probably the prime reason for our ignorance is our understanding of religion!

The End is Near

Irreversible environmental changes are affecting Kashmir

Wular wetland may disappear in 7 yrs: Environmentalist

Mir Tariq (Rising Kashmir)

Bandipora: The world famous Wular wetland reserve, according to environmentalist, may disappear from the scene in next seven years if government continues to ignore it.

The number of migratory birds visiting the wetland is already witnessing a decline.
The area of the wetland reserve, second largest in Asia, has decreased from 157.74 sq kms to 58.71 sq kms from 1911 to 2008.

Experts said that the unchecked encroachment by the locals and government departments has led to reduction of 45 percent of the wetland area. “It is badly affecting the habitat of migratory birds visiting the wetland from November to March,” they said.

It has been recently estimated that 60,000 kanals of wetland area has been encroached upon in the catchment villages of Sonawari, Bandipora, Watlab, Nigili and Sopore. Some of the reclaimed marshlands measuring about 25 sq kms have been transformed into willow plantations by the state government through social forestry while some areas have been transformed into permanent paddy fields.

Environmentalists warned that wetlands in the state especially Wular wetland are rapidly shrinking due to official apathy and rampant encroachment, endangering thousand of animals and migratory birds.

Wular used to host more than 30,000 migratory birds from different countries, but wildlife experts said that the number of winged visitors is slowly declining.
An environmentalist, Iftikhar Rashid Wani warned that if government continues to neglect the wetland, Wular wetland will vanish in next five to seven years.

Wild Life Warden Wetlands (WLWW), Muhammad Maqbool Baba, admitted that there has been a widespread encroachment in the Wular wetland reserve. “Yes, people of the area have encroached upon a large part of the wetland. We have taken steps to retrieve it,” said Baba.

He said, “Obviously Wular Wetland is shrinkage in size and the shallow water may have an impact on the winged birds visiting wetland every year. Such an affect is not visible”.

The guards, who are working in wetland from previous five years said that due to encroachment the number of migratory birds visiting the wetland is on decline.

An aged guard, Mushtaq Ahmad, who has seen lakhs of winged visitors arrive in the wetland, said that lesser number of winged birds are now visiting Wular wetland. “Since the space is shrinking due to encroachment, the birds have to compete and fight with each other for occupying space,” he added.

State of Denial in Kashmir Extends to Changes in its Climate as Well

Arjimand highlights an inconvenient truth while ignoring civil society's obsession with a single point agenda that snuffs out any discourse on non-political matters

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 34, 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.)

This winter is spring, so we better come out of denial

It is very much probable by the time these lines are in print, it is raining in the Valley. As I write these lines, latest satellite images show two to three weather systems hovering over Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. These are likely to pass over Jammu & Kashmir.

What is very unlikely, perhaps, is that we will have snow in the plains. The winds sweeping across through our winter-time Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan corridor are unusually warm. The temperature of our lower atmosphere is also unusually high.

It is not only about an elusive snowfall in the plains. This winter, in the midst of January, we witnessed snows melting even in the hills alarmingly. These were traditionally the times of deep frost. They seem to have gone, as if with the wind.

At least five major Western Disturbances – the winter-time cloud systems that arrive in J&K from the Mediterranean Sea and Central Asia – have hit the State by now, and yet there is very little snow in the mountains. Plains have had to be content with more of rain, except for the November snowfall when cold winds had blown from the Himalayas, bringing cold clouds, resulting in snowfall. That was a climatic aberration, which normally doesn’t happen.

This winter is the most uncharacteristic, at least in my living memory. Frost is nominal in the plains. Temperatures in the hills are unusually high.

What is rather scary is what is happening with our flora and fauna. Budding of blossoms in trees and plants has already begun. Plantation of trees, which would normally begin in March or late February in the Valley, may have to begin any time now. In some areas plantation has already begun.

Like the previous year, we are all set to see almond blooming well ahead of the normal times this year too.

It is not that February snowfall is not possible. It is. But it holds even greater danger in these circumstances. We all know snows now hardly freeze. Melting happens much faster. A February snowfall has the danger of wiping out the blossoms in fruit trees, mainly in almond trees. Early sap in fruit trees make them brittle and bulky. A February snowfall could wreck havoc with them.

Many types of greeneries - including puffballs – are already here in the plains and some semi temperate hills.

When it comes to wildlife, we all know the patterns of hibernation and habitat have already drastically changed. I came across the torso of a dead wolf while driving in the Charar–i-Sharief Karewas this week. Locals told me it was the handiwork of some wild animal. When I asked them how that could be so, locals told me the unusual warmth in the Karewas was making wild animals come out of hibernation.

All these things look really scary. When the report Climate Change and its Impacts in Kashmir – authored by myself – was published in 2007, there was a huge international response, mainly driven by panic. Many people working on climate change issues from around the world wrote to me saying that given the profound visible changes we are having, we people need to get our acts very fast. Hardly anything happened. This winter is turning out to be a kind of watershed. This situation must wake up our policy making apparatus now. As things stand globally, the politics of climate change and our miniature status in the whole calculus make us more apt to work in the adaptation mode.

There is no more kidding in that humanity is on the brink. That is something the world realized when the UN Inter-Governmental Panel report on Climate Change (IPCC) was released. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth made things even clearer.

There is real panic around the world, which is not unfounded. What was unimaginable a couple of decades ago looks like a vivid reality now, staring humanity in its face. The IPCC report has debunked even those of the scientists who until recently denied that climate was really changing. It has virtually closed the is-it-really-happening debate. Now what the world is debating is how to slowdown the rate of this change to save the humanity.

Years of change in our climate has done many things to our lives in Kashmir. It is an irony that we haven’t started to look into how our climate has changed over the years. Our policy making system doesn’t seem to be keen on knowing what changes it was bringing about in our lives, mainly in livelihoods. We haven’t started to look at how the water sharing calculus between India and Pakistan would alter if the present changes continue unabated.

Though talking about climate change is about hard science, the changes that it is bringing about in our lives are discernible. And we are, of course, a part of the global future trends that the UN report has talked about.

According to the report global temperatures are likely to rise by 1.1 degree Celsius to 6.4 degree Celsius by 2100. What would that mean for Jammu & Kashmir? It could mean that the critical zero temperatures needed for snowfall in winters may not be available even in higher altitudes of J&K. That would mean critical snowfalls in the mountains to supply us water through the year. That, in turn, would mean lesser degree of glacier formation. And what would that mean for our agriculture?

It is likely that vast tracts of agricultural land presently fed by irrigation canals based on gravity irrigation would go dry. That is something which is already happening at a drastic scale. In the course of a study I could not believe the scale at which paddy lands have been changed into dry land orchards in the Shopian-Keller belt recently.

The IPCC report’s revelation that eleven of the last 12 years are among the 12 warmest years ever recorded on earth leaves hardly any scope for debate on global warming. That is quite well discernible in all the three regions of our State. All these changes, quite naturally, have huge economic costs. Drastic decrease in agricultural productivity, which on an average contributes 50 per cent to our Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP), would shatter many livelihoods. It would result in food insecurity, and, possibly, even large-scale rural to urban migration.

It has been estimated that if the total impact of climate change is considered, then as much as 9 per cent of GDP of developing countries like India could be wiped out.

According to the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria, India stands to lose 120 million tons (or 18 per cent) of its rain-fed cereal production.

There was a time when all these statistical statements sounded like doomsday scenarios. Today they are not so anymore. Mr. Doom has, perhaps, arrived. All we need to do is to come out of denial, and act.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

City Without a Soul

Ather pleads for preservation of Srinagar's historical buildings

(Syed Ather Qayoom Rufia, 27, was born in Srinagar, and received his initial schooling from the Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School, Srinagar, and Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi. He graduated as an Architect from the Rizvi College of Architecture, Mumbai. He is currently a partner in an architect and real estate development company in Srinagar. His personal interests are reading, writing and surfing the internet.)

Preserve the heritage, don’t destroy it

At a time when the world is moving successfully ahead, surprisingly, Kashmir for some mysterious reasons is going back to the future. Heritage means something being inherited and is a legacy from centuries. Any cultural heritage expresses the cultural diversity and wealth existing in the country and aids in defining its identity. The heritage intensifies the connection between the people and its land, the links between the community and the country’s cultural landscapes and those between man and his past, and contributes to social cohesiveness. The diverse and numerous cultural heritage assets in Kashmir are tangible archaeological and historical testimonies that give expression to the unique Kashmiri identity. They reflect the range of ethnic and cultural communities in Kashmir, and they tell us of our current identity and our past. The cultural heritage and its surroundings are a nonrenewable physical resource that cannot be replaced or copied. Cultural assets today are highly vulnerable and are constantly threatened by the ravages of nature and man, accelerated development that is accompanied by pollution, population growth and density, an increasing burden of internal and foreign tourism. The great sensitivity of cultural and historical buildings and sites requires that we actively protect, conserve, and present them, to enjoy them now and to bequeath them to future generations.

But unfortunately that is not the case in Kashmir. Local population seems least bothered in the concept of heritage conservation because in Kashmir for the past many years day-to-day survival has been the main concern. Government and semi-government bodies do not seem to have the concept, the capability and the resources to protect and conserve our heritage sites and buildings. As a result we are on day to day basis losing our most valued sites and buildings with respect to culture, architecture and historical importance. At present our heritage buildings with purely traditional architecture, which has now been transformed into the so-called modern architecture, can be seen in every nook and corner in the old city of Srinagar. These are our cultural treasures which need to be preserved. But on contrary these old and traditional buildings are not only being altered or vandalized but even being demolished. We can very clearly see the vandalization of the old “Ganda Singh building” in the heart of Lal Chowk. Some portion of the building is being forcibly possessed by the army and the other half can be seen altered at various places for different commercial purposes. The front façade of the building can be barely seen as it has large advertisement hoardings all along.

Adjoining this building is the old palladium cinema which is still in ruins and tells the same story. The estate building in Lal Chowk, which was burnt some years back, is still in ruins and the authorities do not seem to be bothered to make use of the building in the heart of the commercial hub of the city. There are numerous heritage buildings in Srinagar city which have not been altered but completely demolished for various reasons, mainly for commercial purposes. The latest such example which stunned almost every admirer of the historic and cultural fabric of the old city and many experts is the 150 years old heritage building, “Lal Ded Memorial School” situated at the right bank of the river Jehlum, opposite Shergarhi Palace. What is more surprising is that this demolition has come at a time when the authorities are engaged in the riverfront development of river Jehlum. The development plan seems to have more mechanical and engineering methods rather than more humane ones. Surely the demolition of this 19th century old heritage building can never fit in the development plan of the river Jehlum especially when the tourism department had proposed to convert the building into a cultural centre that would have housed a craft museum. It was a three storey building constructed with typical Kashmiri architecture and a part of its roof still had birch on it. What remains today of this historic building is its ground storey only.

The building was a construction of the Dogra period and ironically it served as the first office of the Srinagar Municipality when it was set up in 1886, and today the same department gave the nod for its demolition. The building was later converted into a school by the renowned poet, Pandit Deena Nath Nadim. On the basis of its architectural and historical significance, this 19th century building had been registered as a Grade-1 historical property. Every citizen of Kashmir has the right to question the Srinagar Municipality responsible for its demolition-- that why such a building with such a historical importance was demolished, and why authorities from time to time change the built heritage and historical fabric of the city, and why all the development plans related to town planning lack this basic issue of conservation of heritage buildings. Why old heritage buildings are allowed to be demolished by the Srinagar Municipality so easily on a mere certificate from any civil or structural engineer declaring it unsafe? Srinagar Municipality ordered for the demolition of this 19th century old building (vide order no: SMC/KH/9978002 dated 23-01-2008) on the basis of some cracks after the earthquake. Weather any expert was even consulted by the corporation could be anyone’s guess. However observations of the experts from INTACH, an NGO working towards the heritage sites and buildings in the city, revealed a different story. There report clearly stated that the building was suffering from minor problems which could be easily rectified. In order to give more teeth to their findings, INTACH asked a renowned structural engineer, Rajindar Desai (consultant UNESCO) to examine the building and he in his report corroborated the findings of INTACH. On the basis of these findings, the tourism department had also written to District Development Commissioner, Srinagar for acquisition of the building. It still remains a question that why the recommendations of the experts were ignored by the Srinagar Municipality and why this historic building was not handed over to the tourism department by the civil administration for its development even after written request.

This blind eye by the authorities towards the historical fabric of the city has converted these old heritage buildings into an “endangered species”. At present a proposal by the government is on the table, which could result in the demolition of the sadder court in Lal Chowk, and in its place could come up a multi-storey shopping complex. The court complex houses the Dogra period buildings, which are a real treasure in terms of our built heritage. There demolition would be one huge blow to our built heritage in the city. It is time not only for the authorities but for the common people too to wake up to this vandalization of our built heritage.

Impact of Waste Waters on the Vegetational Pattern of the Dal and Nageen Lakes

Professor Majeed Kak shares the Abstract of his proposal that was recently awarded a major research grant from the University Grants Commission (UGC) New Delhi

(Dr. A. Majeed Kak, 63, was born and in Nowhatta, Srinagar. He received his primary education from the Government Middle School in Nowhatta and his secondary school education from Bagi Dilawar Khan Higher Secondary School in Fateh Kadal. He completed his college education at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. In 1977 he was the first candidate from the University of Kashmir to be selected by the University Grants Commission (UGC) of the Government of India for a doctoral research scholarship at the university leading to a Ph.D. in Botany in 1980. He is currently the Research Coordinator in the Department of Botany at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. Dr. Kak has over 35 years of teaching experience and research experience of over 25 years. He has received numerous research awards resulting in publication of 70 research papers and has authored two books on Botany. He is presently engaged in promoting and strengthening local and regional museums, a project supported by a grant from the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi.)

Aquatic weeds of Kashmir (J&K State) constitute a free crop of great potential value- a high productive crop that requires no tillage, fertilizers, seeds or cultivation. These plants have potential for exploitation as human and animal food, soil additives and fuel production besides a number of many other uses.

Two decades before all the lakes were thoroughly investigated. (Kak, 1985, 1997) and about 196 aquatic species recorded were identified, described, documented and preserved. Twenty-two new plants were recorded for the first time either from the Northern Himalayas or from India. Five new species were added to the Science as no vo.

During the recent past it was observed that large number of the species once growing abundantly in our lakes have dwindled and reached to near extinction and many of the species are recent introductions. Increase of some eutrophic aquatic weeds depicts change in the environmental complex, also the rapid process of eutrophication of our pride lakes (Dal and Nageen).

The significant change in the vegetational pattern of the Dal Lake and their prolific growth in the open areas were attributed to effluents from settlements and hotels. Presence of heaps of cow dung and garbage on the lake margins and the enrichment of waters with nutrients like N P K. Many other activities in and around the Dal and Nageen have increased the chemical parameters like, conductivity, chloride content, total alkalinity, total dissolved salts and sulphates.

Our main objective is to reinvestigate the macrophytic flora of both these lakes critically, We are working to have the complete checklist of all the existing species, and to record the number of the species that have totally vanished or are near extinction and those which are invasive or introduced by the human interference, visitors, migratory birds etc. Some immature scholars by just comparing the species with the illustrations without studying morphologically provide wrong information and great confusion, can defame us at international level, so the critical analysis of all the existing macrophytes of the valley is the dire need at present. Azolla, which was never recorded in the history of Kashmir lakes, is now in thick covers for the past three years and has created an alarming situation to the underwater life (both plants and animals ).naturally in a couple of years will change the whole aspect of our privileged lakes. We are studying the possible ways of its eradication or to keep it under control, its dominance and impact on our lake vegetation can also be critically studied. We also intend to record the impact of deweeding and drudging on our macrophytic vegetation, besides recording the extent of pollution in water and its effect on overall macrophytic vegetation.

Agenda for Good Governance

Ashraf suggests a way forward

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 66, 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.)

Agenda for Good Governance

One of the main planks on which most of the parties fought the recent elections in Kashmir has been the promise of “Good Governance”. People have made a conscious distinction between “Azadi” and Good Governance. They have been aspiring for “Azadi” for a pretty long time and are not sure when they will achieve it. In the meantime, the Governance of the State concerning the day to day living has considerably deteriorated. In fact, the State had got real “Good Governance” only for a couple stretches in its recent history. One was the first tenure of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah from 1950 to 1953 and the other was the tenure of G.M.Sadiq from 1965 to 1971. For the rest of the period most of the politicians have indulged in “Self-Governance”. They have been governing for their own selfish interests and not for the benefit of the common man. In the run up to the elections, various leaders have been promising moon to the common public. They have all spoken about “Good Governance”. Post election many columns, letters, and suggestive pieces have been written about what needs to be done. Most of these have made general suggestions for improving the governance and attending to very urgent and pressing issues. In fact, there are umpteen issues which need to be attended on priority if the promises are to be kept.

It is, therefore, very important not only to prioritise various issues but also to ensure planned implementation of the same with continuous monitoring. Some of the important ones connected with development side could be named as “Environment”, “Unemployment”, “Corruption”, “Healthcare”, “Power”, “Civic Services”, and so on. Let us begin with the most burning one. This is regarding our living environment. It may not seem so important to the common people at the present moment but it is going to be a decisive one for the very survival of our so called “Paradise on Earth”. When we talk of Environment in Kashmir, the first thing to hit us in the face is the dying Dal Lake. For more than three decades now the Lake is supposed to be under the process of restoration. However, instead of getting restored it is deteriorating at a fast rate and may be extinct soon! The so called Authority constituted for its conservation is not really a statutory authority which it should have been but a simple extension of a Government Department.

Had it been an autonomous organisation headed by an expert, it may have delivered something. It is just like any other government department and mostly headed by bureaucrats drawn from administrative services. The measures for the restoration of the Lake had been initiated by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah himself when he had commissioned a group of New Zealand experts to give a project report. That report known as the “Ennex Report” is the best so far on the subject. Subsequently the bureaucracy muddled the whole process of restoration by getting report after report. From a clear water area of 32 square miles it has been reduced to less than 11 square miles. The last Chief Minister called it a “Money Minting Machine”, thereby admitting his failure to save it. Corruption, red-tape, lack of popular concern have all contributed to its destruction. But the primary factor has been the lack of political will and initiative among the people at the helm. There is no better way to save Dal and restore it to its previous glory than to hand it over on a turnkey basis to an International Agency/Agencies specialising in such tasks. Unless we do it, it is doomed to extinction!

The Dal Lake is only the tip of the ice berg of an environmental disaster being faced by Kashmir. The other water bodies like Wular, Nageen, Manasbal and the River Jhelum are in no better state. Especially the River Jhelum has become a huge sewer. The previous governments have only tried to put make up on its banks and that too near the civil lines area. It once used to be the main channel for transportation and was fully navigable even for highly loaded barges. It needs to be made navigable once again by dredging. No dredging has been done in the River since Maharaja’s time. Next to water bodies are the lush green forests of the valley which have been massacred wantonly by timber smugglers (quite a few of whom are supposed to be so called ex-militants) in connivance with the authorities and the security forces. This butchery of our green gold must be stopped immediately if the valley is not to become a desert sometime in future. The diminishing forest cover has already resulted in freak weather in recent times.

The second most explosive problem being faced in ensuring “Good Governance” is the unemployment. Hundreds of thousands of youth some of them highly educated both academically and professionally are totally unemployed. It is they who had come out in large numbers to vote in the hope of getting some gainful employment. During election rallies it had been given out that two hundred thousand youth will be provided government jobs. Some leaders had stated 70,000 jobs are available. The State is already overburdened with staff. More than 4,000 crores is the annual pay bill of the establishment. If the bulk of funds go for the salaries of the staff what will go into development? It had also been given out that more and more battalions of India Reserve Police will be created. There seems to be a plan to create armies of paid slaves. It is just like keeping unemployed on social security without any productive work. What is needed is creation of productive employment avenues. Kashmir is rich many resources which have remained unexploited.

Agriculture, Horticulture, Floriculture, and many other fields present good opportunities for self employment. Similarly, there could be many industries based on the products of these sectors. One of the important sectors totally neglected is the possibility of finding overseas employment for Kashmiris on an organised basis.

There had been a proposal to set up an overseas employment corporation but this never materialised. The entire Gulf region has at the present moment an infrastructure development boom. There are thousands of jobs available but it is impossible for Kashmiri youth to land these jobs on their own because of numerous restrictions in getting travel papers and other clearances. Similar jobs are available in Malaysia, Brunei, and some other places. If Kashmiri youth could be guided and facilitated, they could be easily employed gainfully abroad. They would earn a lot of foreign exchange and also broaden their vision. One of the main sectors for economic development could be Tourism provided peace prevails. In a peaceful atmosphere Tourism could become a key sector and being a service oriented industry it can provide thousands of jobs. Even now with a limited scope it provides employment to a large section of the population. However, till the situation fully stabilises in Kashmir and in our neighbourhood, it cannot be depended upon solely as a viable and consistent economic activity. It needs to be taken only as additionality. For future it can be an important sector for large scale employment at all levels. Thus the unemployment problem needs to be tackled intelligently on a long term basis and no short cuts of creating armies of daily wagers and casual workers should be resorted to.

Any type of governance which is supposed to be good has to be uncorrupted. Corruption is the mortal enemy of good governance. The worst form of corruption is the political corruption. Everything depends upon the Chief Executive of an organisation and it is more so for a political organisation. If the top is clean, the bottom will have to get cleaned up. If the top is dirty, the bottom cannot be clean and even if a part of it is clean, it will not last! Corruption in Kashmir has totally lost the stigma normally attached to it in any reasonably good society. Here no one frowns upon corruption and it is taken to be a part of the system. Corruption has seeped into the blood stream of Kashmiris. One would have to conduct a special dialysis to clean the blood! Transparency International has now upgraded Kashmir to the first position among the most corrupt States of India.

The State authorities may try every means to create a fool-proof system to stem the corruption in different sectors. Unfortunately the operators themselves show the ways and means of short circuiting the system. An interesting episode is the installation of electronic meters for power consumption. The new ones are impossible to tamper with but the personnel who are supposed to guard these against tampering are themselves showing the common people the ways and means of by passing these! Thus, apart from transmission, and distribution losses, our power system has to face the deliberate human losses. The system of corrupt practices has been refined to finesse. An interesting example is the traffic department. There is a sophisticated system in operation throughout the state right from the first entry point in Lakhanpur.

Every truck driver, minibus owner, and a number of other vehicles like load carriers have to pay a monthly “tax” on plying various routes. By a strange secret code the traffic people posted at different points en route come to know whether the concerned driver has paid his monthly “tax”. The proceeds are distributed among all concerned. Similar is the situation in engineering departments where people in hierarchy have a fixed percentage for each work allotment right from the lowest officer to the senior most one. This process is not considered corruption but a regular and normal system of working. Corruption is when fictitious bills are drawn for non-existing projects. At one time it was the Revenue Department which was supposed to be the most corrupt due to an unimaginable amount of paper work involved in various procedures but now the disease is universal. Additionally, the disease has now gone into the moral fibre of the society and along with material corruption, moral corruption has spread fast in every sphere.

Material corruption can be possibly eliminated or reduced to some extent but how can the moral corruption be checked? This would need some drastic action not only from the government but by the members of the society itself. One of the surest ways of bringing in some order on the material side at least in the day to day working of different government organisations with lesser chances of corruption is the digitising of records and computerisation of different procedures. A beginning had been made in this regard in late nineties but with the change of government, the project was given a go by after the person who had initiated it was shown the door. The process needs to be restarted. It has been given out that an Information Technology Agency is being constituted.

Such an agency should be more like a statutory body without any outside interference from both bureaucrats and politicians. Only there should be a mechanism for co-ordination with the concerned authorities in the government. The job should be entrusted to an organisation having requisite expertise and resources on a turnkey basis in a specific time frame. Another important measure for lessening corruption is to have a strict system of accountability fully transparent and easily accessible to a common man. The implementation of the Central Right to Information Act in full in the state may ensure this. One of our other misfortunes is absence of an incorruptible development policy which would not get affected by any change of government.

With the change of government, everything changes even the basic principles of planning and development. There should be some sanctity for various government policies and procedures including the overall policy for development.

Any change should require sanction of the legislature so that works and projects started in one government automatically get carried on during the tenure of the succeeding government even if it is of a different political party or combination of parties. The projects or works should be suspended only if there is something terribly wrong with these as a matter of principle. This will not leave us a baggage of unfinished tasks and abandoned projects with the change of every government. Another avenue of corruption is the policy of frequent transfers. Normally there should be a fixed tenure for all officers and officials unless there is something adverse reported against them. People give and the concerned authorities both political and bureaucratic accept bribes for what are known to be prize postings. Sometimes prices are fixed for certain specific postings. This malaise is universal even in the Central Government! A sure way of developing vested interests and consequent avenues of corruption is the patronising of specific staff members by politicians, bureaucrats, and police officers.

All these people have a habit of carrying their personal staff, special assistants, sometimes even orderlies to whatever position or posting they go during the tenure of their service career especially at senior positions. The same is true of Ministers who desire officers of their choice regardless of the portfolios they are allotted to from time to time. It is said that some of these people insist on even carrying with them the same escorts and personal security officers wherever they go!

This is a sure blueprint for promoting corruption. It has been reported that the new rulers are not able to expand the state cabinet because there is a dearth of right people among the elected lot! Even some of the incumbents taken earlier are under a shadow. Here, one is compelled to appreciate the American Presidential System where the Chief Executive has the choice of picking the right people for the right job and does not have to depend upon a motley crowd of so called elected people. With each Presidential change in America about 5,000 people change jobs and a large number of advisors come from the top notch Universities which normally function as “Think Tanks” for the State policies in different sectors. One wishes that our Universities too would take the American example and become genuine think tanks for various government policies.

This needs, first of all, the removal of the taboo of political discussions in these centres of higher education. Coming back to corruption, it is so deeply entrenched in the society that the person honestly interested in removing it has a tough job ahead. Many people have become sceptical due to the imbalanced team and the failure to have the full complement soon. Nevertheless, someone has to make a determined effort to begin the process. Everything depends upon the Chief Executive now. If he takes the difficult but decisive first step, he will get full backing of the public. The fate of the widely publicised “Good Governance” depends upon that first step!

After tackling the most important item of “Good Governance” pertaining to the rapidly deteriorating living environment, the other urgent task is the provision of basic amenities of day to day living for both the urbanites and the village folk. In spite of being in the twenty first century in what has been called the “Paradise on Earth”, the dwellers in general here lead a pathetic life. No doubt compared to some other parts of India like Bihar, Eastern U.P., Rajasthan, Orissa, and some parts of Africa, we have a much better life style, yet it is not what one would expect with our natural resources! The amount of money supposed to have been invested in building our infrastructure during last 60 years or so should have made Kashmir like a real Paradise but it is still worse than hell in some places. During the severe weather conditions in winter life in the valley and remote areas is really tough. The first and foremost deficiency in the basic infrastructure is the perennial power famine. It is our tragedy that in spite of having the maximum potential for generating hydro-electric power we face a power famine.

The worst part of the story is that the same waters are being used to generate power on both sides of the divide but its full use has been made taboo for Kashmiris and we are entitled to mere 12% of the generated power! The potential of power is so much that after fulfilling our needs we could sell it to our neighbours and live only on that revenue. It is alleged by many that this water has been taken hostage on both the sides of the unnatural divide. However, no one seems to be really concerned about this supposed usurpation of our water resources. Neither the mainstream parties nor the leaders of the popular movement have earnestly thought about this problem. Our first priority should be to solve our power generation problem. This can be done only by mutual interaction between the three concerned parties, India, Pakistan, and the Kashmiris. Both the countries have to accept that they are exploiting the waters over which the first right is of Kashmiris. The least they can do is to set up some joint projects for the exclusive use of the local people. There are a number of major projects in the pipeline on both sides of the divide. These projects have not taken care of the local needs honestly and sincerely.

These have been planned with the aim of providing power for the use of people living in the mainland on two sides of the border. No doubt, Kashmiris may be getting 12% of the power without any investment but that does not solve our basic problem of the power famine. There is urgent need to sort out this basic issue of power generation. The micro-hydal projects and the run of the river small power houses are not going to solve the problem. For the generation to keep pace with the demand there is need of some high capacity storage projects for the exclusive use of the local people. These can be set up only when there is agreement between the signatories to Indus Water Treaty which has kept the Kashmir waters hostage to the two neighbouring countries. There is a Power Development Corporation but it has been mostly headed by bureaucrats and is abnormally short of funds. The Corporation should be headed by a top professional in setting up of power projects especially ones connected with hydro-electric power generation. Such a person could be even a foreign expert where many similar projects are functioning. Moreover, the Corporation should be able to raise global finances for setting up various projects. Along with resolving the basic issue of power generation, the government has to revamp the archaic distribution system. The entire distribution network is the most unscientific and obsolete in the present digital age.

Maximum losses occur because of this system. I remember one of my friends, a former Chief Engineer, relating to me an anecdote about the system. During the visit of an Engineering Delegation from the erstwhile Soviet Union to downtown Srinagar, the head of the delegation asked the host as to how many people get electrocuted in the city daily? On being told, none, he exclaimed that he had started believing in God! That was a couple of decades back. Since that time the world has moved far ahead but not our electric system. Recently there had been a news item about creation of a reservoir of transformers. According to another electric engineer, “Instead of rectifying the basic problem, which is poorly laid and overlaid distribution system, and unknown consumers, the engineers have proposed a solution which will increase their under the table earnings, (purchasing a large number of new transformers). The proposed remedy is like prescribing cough syrup for a patient suffering from lung cancer!”

One way of ensuring properly functioning transformers could be a maintenance contract with suppliers of the transformers. This would amount outsourcing the job to the companies which are supplying the transformers. They could be legally bound to ensure maintenance/replacement in case of default within 48 hours or so. Failure to do so should entail a progressive penalty. However, in any case the whole distribution system needs to be revamped. Sometime back there was talk of an Asian Development Bank loan being given to J & K for the revamping of the whole system. It is not known what happened to that scheme? Apart from technical problems, the power system in J & K has a human element which sabotages it. It is what is known as the “Power Theft”. This means consumers using more power than they pay for or using it without paying for it. This is a regular mafia involving both public and the departmental personnel. It is very disheartening for some people who pay full metered charges to see some of their neighbours paying just a pittance by having their meters bypassed by the very staffs which are supposed to monitor these! There is a massive revenue leakage. In a number of cases people do not pay at all by hooking wires that too on high voltage lines in some instances which is extremely hazardous. It may be ultimately worthwhile to realise fixed charges for each connection irrespective of the load. If an average is worked out depending upon energy consumption, a uniform charge can be levied. The overloading can be taken care of by relays which can be suitably calibrated to trip on overload in each receiving station. Thus the problem of “Power” in Kashmir is not an isolated one. It is quite comprehensive and involves multidimensional approach. Few isolated ad hoc measures are not going to cure the disease. Symptomatic treatment may give temporary pain relief but if one is sincere in solving this most basic major problem confronting the planned development of the state, one has to undertake an all inclusive and in depth study and devise a long term time bound programme for its rectification. Unless we do it, we will not be able to talk of good governance in real terms!
For “Good Governance” there are many essentials which have been highlighted in earlier columns. However, the basic and the most important ingredient of all the systems is a human being. Physical well being and good mental health is the fundamental necessity for a human being to deliver. An unhealthy person cannot be expected to develop and improve any society. Thus, the very concept of “Good Governance” of a State should start with the improvement in the health of its citizens. Numerous articles, columns, news reports, and public grievance letters about the deficiencies in our Healthcare System have been written umpteen times. Many attempts have been made to improve the set up but in spite of all these efforts the system has not shown appreciable improvement. On the contrary it has been deteriorating exponentially. One cannot hold the Department of Health wholly responsible for this deterioration. The malaise is much deeper. During the last couple of decades the most conspicuous visible impact on state administration in all spheres of its activity has been the loss of discipline and accountability. No one is answerable to no one! The entire focus of the people in authority had been on the maintenance of law and order and catching or killing the illusive militants. One could take any liberty under the cover of security reasons. The basic amenities and civic services were given a go by or these were allowed to be deteriorated to such an extent that it now seems impossible to redeem these. Instead of pointing out more deficiencies, it would be rather worthwhile to give suggestions to improve the system.

While talking of accountability one is reminded of regulations in the western countries or even in Middle East especially Saudi Arabia. If a patient under treatment dies in a hospital, there is an automatic inquiry into the cause of death and the role of the attending medical staff. If it is proved that a doctor or medical staff was at fault, he or she apart from losing the job and facing deportation can also be fined and sent to prison. In our case, there are almost daily deaths and sometimes even on the operating table which totally go unnoticed. Regarding administration of drugs, in the west if a patient in a ward is put on an antibiotic, the entire ward is on red alert. On the contrary, here any kid can buy a third generation anti-biotic over the counter and take it on his own. The Health Department needs to enforce the Drug Control Act vigorously to avoid complications by indiscriminate use of drugs by common people as well as the free circulation of spurious drugs. Drugs especially ones having severe side effects should in no case be dispensed without a proper prescription of a licensed medical practitioner.

To begin with, we have to improve the Primary Health Care which is not up to the mark. The Primary Health Centres have to be fully equipped both as regards the staff and equipment. There is common complaint of doctors refusing to serve in rural areas. We have Health Centres in far flung remote areas where we expect doctors and other staff to live on a punishment basis. In the deserts of Arabia, there are Medical Centres even in remoter areas but the facilities provided there are better than those available in the major metros of the country. The very same doctors who refuse rural duties in Kashmir gladly serve in the desert centres. It is not only because of higher emoluments but because of good living facilities available there. Why can’t we recreate similar facilities for our doctors in far flung areas? If it is made more lucrative and comfortable to serve in remote areas people will gladly opt to go there. Next come the sub-district and district hospitals.

Again these are not what hospitals should normally be. These lack both in specialists and specialised equipment. Most of the cases have to be referred to the City Hospitals. This is worse in regard to maternity cases. There is only one hospital in entire Kashmir and that is by now the most infamous “Lal Ded” Hospital. Totally over loaded and virtually in shambles. Same is the case with the Paediatric Hospital. The only one in the valley is an apology of a Children and Maternity Hospital. A number of reports have appeared about the status of these hospitals. In fact, the very first act of the new Chief Minister was to sack the top brass of Lal Ded Hospital. It is not difficult to maintain district or sub-district hospitals at a reputable standard. Only will to do so with the support of higher authorities is required. In late seventies when I was supervising winter sports in Gulmarg, the sub-district hospital at Tangmarg was kept in excellent shape by the then superintendant, Dr. Sheikh Mustafa Kamal. The centrally heated hospital was probably the first to have an auto-analyser! The reason for specialists avoiding district hospitals is the fact of these being non-teaching hospitals. The tenure of a specialist there is not counted as teaching experience required by him for promotion to higher posts. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to locate every important facility in Srinagar only.

This is true not only in Health sector but in almost all spheres. If one plots the growth of our urban areas on a map, the Srinagar City is like a football where as the other towns are no more than pinheads. Even in the City of Srinagar there is total dispersal of various specialities. Specialities concerning various parts of a human body are located in four corners of the city. The super-speciality institute, SKIMS, is operating as a normal hospital than a super-speciality centre because of the tremendous out patient load.

Kashmir does not have an ambulance service. In many other countries or even some of the metros the ambulances are so well equipped that a patient gets half the treatment during the journey to the hospital. In our case, many a patient may not survive the ride to hospital in view of the condition of the ambulances. One of most visible aspects which one notices in our hospitals is the lack of dedicated nursing staff. In any hospital, the success of treatment depends upon the post operative care. We have excellent consultants and some of these can be rated among the best in the world but their efforts go many times waste because of the lack of post operative care. If we do not have good nursing staff, why can’t we import good nurses such as the Keralites famous all over the world? This is more relevant in view of the massive import of both skilled and un-skilled Bihari labour. One suggestion for improving the facilities provided both by government and the private hospitals is to allow setting up of some international standard institutions in the state. These can be a bench mark for others to improve. For some unknown reasons the vested interests have not been allowing such establishments even by some non-resident Kashmiris desirous of serving their own people. An instant case is the permission to set up an International Hospital by some Kashmiri doctors from USA, UK, and Middle East which has been in the pipeline for last couple of years. It is reported that some politicians had demanded heavy bribes from them for giving the requisite permission!

Apart from Health Care, Civic Services like Municipal Services, Traffic, Drainage, there are umpteen other sectors involving basic amenities for the common people which need to be attended to urgently as part of “Good Governance”. There are other areas like Education which need attention. However, detailing all these would require writing a full fledged book on “Good Governance”. One would like to conclude the present series of the articles with the sincere hope that the issues already raised would get due attention of the concerned authorities. Depending upon the response it may be worthwhile to discuss other aspects especially pertaining to Civic Services in some future columns.