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.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Reconstructing Pakistan

Two regional policy analysts present various scenarios depicting Pakistan's future. It goes without saying that resolution of the Kashmir issue will require a stable (even more than friendly) Pakistan

Pakistan: need for smart diplomacy

Amitabh Mattoo & Happymon Jacob

(Drs. Mattoo, 47, and Jacob, 34, are Professors at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)

It has been clear for some years now that there are few other states in the international system more troubled than Pakistan. And yet, tragically, the Indian debate — academic as well as at the policy-level — reflects neither an appreciation of the complexity of the situation nor a recognition that Pakistan needs to be dealt with at multiple levels, even (and especially) after the Mumbai attacks. Instead, we witness routinely (in the soundbyte-driven media di scussions and predictable seminars) knee-jerk responses — even from otherwise sage former diplomats and intelligence officers — which suggest that even after 61 years, the Indian policy establishment does not really understand Pakistan. In this sense, the failure of Pakistan is as much the failure of India. Can the inability to stabilise a troubled neighbour inspire confidence outside the immediate landscape?

Can India really become a great power when it cannot even influence, leave alone pacify, its own “backyard?” Should India not have a more nuanced and deeper understanding of the range of forces operating in the country? But can India really develop a thoughtful and comprehensive understanding of Pakistan when we have virtually no academic expert or policy analyst who can speak, say, Pashto or Balochi? And should India not be systematically working towards constructing a Pakistan that is at peace with itself and in harmony with the region? Mea culpa is, unfortunately, not a term that exists in the Indian diplomatic or academic dictionary.

The reality is that much of the contemporary Indian analysis of Pakistan is rooted in a blinkered, and often partial, and simplistic understanding of the country as it exists today, and drawn, often, from crude textbook readings of the realist discourse in international relations. Pakistan is not a rational, unitary and univocal actor capable of making coherent foreign and defence policy decisions, or of executing them in a predictable and reliable manner. It is this misconstruction of the nature of the Pakistani state and society that sadly informs the Indian policy, for instance, of nuclear deterrence, compellance, the fight against terrorism and even the composite dialogue. Not surprisingly then, the policy does not and will not work. Contemporary Pakistan is not just another country that can be dealt with by following the well-known axioms of international politics or bilateral diplomacy.

Pakistan’s potential future

Given the many challenges that Pakistan faces today, we argue that it has at least four potential futures: Fractured Pakistan, Fascist-Islamist Pakistan, Failed Pakistan and, Friendly Pakistan. The first image is of a Fractured Pakistan. This is the Pakistan the world is faced with today: a state that has been (for at least a couple of decades or more now) on a trajectory that is counter-productive and self-destructive. It is a Pakistan that runs with the hare and hunts with the hounds; creates Frankensteins that confront the maker; rides a tiger from which it is unable to dismount; and bleeds itself almost to death in an attempt to bleed its enemy through a thousand cuts. It is a state that is reaping what it has sown for several decades now. It fits every cliché on the dangers of being short-sighted, tactical and double-faced.

This is a Pakistan which is permanently on the edge of a precipice, with competing centres of power, and increasingly out of the control of even the strongest institution: the army. A Fractured Pakistan would maintain an unpleasant status quo with India and the region, even if it is hurting itself in the process. Elements within the state would fight the jihadis, on the one hand, and others would encourage them, on the other. The state would be in denial of any internal disequilibrium and its almost pathological hostility towards India would increasingly be the only glue that would seem to bind its fractured divisions. A Fractured Pakistan could well descend into a Fascist or Failed Pakistan.

A Fascist-Islamist Pakistan is the worst-case scenario projected by the Cassandras of the strategic community. A state that would be taken over by the jihadis, thanks to the material and ideological help provided by the Taliban, the al-Qaeda, and, to some extent, the rising prominence of the Pakistani army’s ‘Zia bhartis.’ A Fascist-Islamist Pakistan would not just be dangerous and unpredictable but could also become an exaggerated version of Afghanistan under Mullah Omar’s Taliban rule. It goes without saying that the security of India and the rest of the world would be seriously jeopardised if the jihadis were able to gain control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

A Failed Pakistan would be a state that would disintegrate and divide itself into multiple entities. Warlordism, civil war, huge refugee flows, a rise in crime, and the probable spread of a radical, violence-based sectarian ideology would be some of the markers of a failed Pakistan. India, all those who glee at the prospect of a Failed Pakistan should remember, would be a natural target for all the dangerous forces unleashed by Pakistan’s disintegration. Finally, and unlikely as it seems today, there still exists a possibility of a Friendly Pakistan. It would be rooted in Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s original design for the state: Muslim, Moderate and Modern. It is this Pakistan that an Indian grand strategy must systematically work towards constructing.

Indian grand strategy

India’s grand strategy, we argue, should include a careful application of moral, political and soft power resources; multilayered employment of diplomacy, communication and smart power; and sophisticated coordination of global, regional, bilateral and domestic means to engage Pakistan. Pakistan, as Richard Holbrooke’s visit reminded us, is no longer just a South Asian conundrum. We will continue to see ‘special envoys’ dispatched to the region with unprecedented frequency. New Delhi, instead of reacting uneasily to what it sees as unnecessary interference in its ‘sphere of influence’ should confidently join such initiatives. This would create the space in which it may become possible to build international and regional coalitions/consensus to help Pakistan move from being fractured to friendly.

But the most important part of this grand strategy is bilateral. Managing the bilateral segment of the grand strategy is perhaps our biggest challenge. India needs to use “smart diplomacy” to engage more than one internal actor in Pakistan, and at various levels. It must take imaginative unilateral steps to empower moderate voices and build real stakeholders. India’s vibrant civil society must be encouraged to engage with Pakistan. While Kashmir may need to be dealt with “symbolically,” it is on the issue of water that Pakistan and Pakistanis will need real reassurance and accommodation.

We should make much greater use of South Asia’s traditional liberal Islam to confront the radicalisation of Pakistan. But soft power has other uses as well. The acclaimed Pakistani novelist, Mohsin Hamid, was asked by Dawn: if he took a break from fiction to pen the script for a Punjabi blockbuster, how would the plot unfold? He responded: “In an operations centre, deep below Heera Mandi in Lahore, a fat man with a moustache receives his briefing. He is a secret agent, code-named Suth Panja, and his mission, if he chooses to accept it, is to infiltrate India and kidnap the one man who can revitalise Lollywood.”

All this does not preclude what New Delhi may or may not do to confront those elements that are as much an enemy of moderate Pakistan as they are of India. This grand strategic approach to dealing with Pakistan is in no way exhaustive, but we hope that it will be a step towards realising that complex problems can be addressed only in a comprehensive manner. Piecemeal and half-hearted approaches simply will not deliver.

Kashmiri Artisans Should Receive a Stimulus Package as Well

Commentary in the Rising Kashmir addresses the impact on economic downturn on Kashmiri artisans

Kashmiri artisans hit

There is no secret about the fact that the depression in the economies world over is directly hitting businesses dependent on exports. The exports from India have suffered a drop of 22 percent in January this year. Back here in Valley, the sales of Kashmir carpets and other handicrafts that generate substantial foreign exchange earnings for the State are also facing a slowdown.

Reports reveal that the market of carpets is already showing a downturn with international sales getting hit by more than 90 percent during the last four months. Now that is a big problem for the Rs 1500 crore carpet industry of the state as the industry has been trying to get out of the lean cycle for the last two decades. The global financial meltdown has added to its woes with too much dependence on lucrative European markets telling on the employment of artisans and labour force directly connected with the trade. Industry players estimate that more than 20,000 workers handling post production processes have been rendered jobless due to steep fall in carpet demand. Many of the units that handle trimming, washing and stretching have already laid off a sizeable portion of their workforce. Even exporters have signalled that the situation is bound to get worse as consumer spending has dwindled to an all time low in Europe and United States of America.

This will directly have an impact on two lakh skilled artisans that are associated with the carpet manufacturing process. Exhibitions are either witnessing no sales or have been cancelled altogether. Even the payments due from their counterparts in different parts of the world have suffered which in turn has disrupted the production cycle here. Other sectors like paper machie, walnut wood carving, shawl and crewel manufacturing have also got hit. People associated with these activities are bound to suffer and this will have a ripple effect on other sectors as well with more job losses.

The State government was not able to project the huge and recurring losses that export industry of Jammu and Kashmir has suffered during the past year before the central government. This is evident from the fact that no stimulus package for the Kashmir artisan sector was announced in the recent interim budget by the central government. Given the nature of international recession that is engulfing more and more nations with each passing day the downturn is expected to get worse in near future. It will be worthwhile if measures are initiated before hand to tackle the recession so as to reduce the impact of losses to minimum and prevent more job losses.

Getting off the "Freebies" (like illegal tapping of electric power lines) is not easy in Kashmir

Basim Amin Bazaz comments on the dismal power situation of the state


IN A state where majority of people, for a good part of every year, remain plunged in the depths of darkness, power theft indeed comes across as an intriguing issue. It’s a chronic problem of sorts. Even after decades it is there; unscathed and undefeated. In fact, the very nature of this act of stealing electricity from service lines – either by bypassing the meters or by tampering with them - remains contentious. Some strictly believe that it is unethical and unjustified. The say it is a theft like any other. Others say they are well within their rights to just take it because the power utilities owe it to them. While people say they steal power because the operating voltage is low, the power department says the voltage is low because the people steal! A deadlock with no apparent resolutions.

Kashmir has always had a tremendous potential for generation of power, but as we all know only a fraction of it is tapped. Thanks to our poor economical condition, the funds required to build power generation projects are not available. (Mind you, the funds to beautify Jehlum and to build Gondola over Dal Lake are.) To add to the miseries, even the amount that is generated is not available to the people for use. A major chunk of it goes outside, either to repay the money owed or to honour a treaty that was signed at the time of commissioning the projects. All the same, we see only a diminishingly small fraction of what is generated. That our needs are far more than what is left for use has resulted in incessant power cuts.

In a situation like this, the illegal tapping of power from the lines, has proven to be the proverbial last nail in the coffin. Not only does it lessen the already diminishing resources of insufficient power, it amplifies the irregularities in power distribution. When you suck power from a service line (whether legally or illegally, whether intentionally or unintentionally), you disturb the balance in a number of ways. If your neighbors do the same as well, you are likely to breach the capacity of your local transformer, and thereby damage it. We all know how painful a damaged transformer can be but we never realize it is us who make it so painful. By drawing extra power, you also make sure that the bulbs of your neighbor go dimmer. When your neighbors do the same, you collectively make the bulbs of your neighboring locality as a whole go dimmer. Hence the extra low voltages that are encountered. Even if you pay for the extra power you use, there is an ethical string attached that deters you. Using it without paying for it, amounts to a scandal then.
Improving the power scenario of the state will be one of the most significant challenges for the current government and the subsequent ones to come. However, I strongly believe that without an active support from people, no lasting solution to the problem can be achieved. We must understand that the only way to get out of this mess is to have a proper metering for every single home - no conditions applying. I don’t see a reason why people should use electricity at will but hide behind excuses when it comes to paying. Just like buying any other commodity, you need to buy power. Unfortunately, in Kashmir it is out of fashion.

We have become used to freebies so much that we have forgotten the term called payment. Why don’t other states have a power curse like we do? Partly because they are better off economically than us, yes. But definitely because nowhere will you find people using power for free. Having said this, there is always that fraction of people who just cannot pay for it. Who don’t have the means? For them the government needs to step forward and introduce some kind of a subsidy like you have on rice and wheat. But metering has to be made mandatory for each and every household.

Guaranteed, the benefits will be visible immediately. When meters were installed at a posh locality in Srinagar, the duration of the power cuts dropped miraculously. From over nine hours a day to less than one hour. Surprisingly, the power consumption of the locality also dropped. The same locality that had been consuming 2 Mega Watts of power for only 15 hours per day, began using as little as 1 Mega Watt for the whole of 24 hours! All this at an impeccable voltage of around 220V.

As of now, an unconditional metering remains the only viable solution. Although the Power Development Department had actively taken up the installation of meters two to three years ago, the lack of uniformity in commissioning them has left a lot to be desired. While some areas of the city have had meters installed for well over three years now and enjoy an almost uninterrupted supply of power, some areas have not even had a formal introduction with this little-guy. I happen to live at a place which falls exactly on the dividing line. They installed meters outside our doors two years ago. They knock on our doors every month to collect the bills. However the much hyped 24 hours supply remains elusive. What this has meant is that we pay for the power but don’t get it for adequate duration, or at desirable voltage. Issues like this have always acted as dampeners. This is why this transitory phase punctuated by ‘meters installed at some places and not at others’ is going to be difficult. It will definitely mean trouble for some but once we see this phase through, the fruits will be there to pluck. There is also this wide belief among people that the digital power meters installed do not work correctly on low voltages. Considering that it is true and that the voltage seldom reaches the desired 220V, it can safely be assumed that the meters never give a correct reading; that the installation of meters has all gone in vain; that it will hardly result in the outcome we desire. This is something that the Power Department will have to take into account if any of this has to make any sense.

Recently Greater Kashmir published a news item about unraveling a power theft of 30 KW. The PDD promised action against the defaulter and the officials involved.

Ironically the last time I heard a consumer being blamed for power theft, it turned out that he was the most honest man of the locality, who would use candles to search for the bulbs but not use a transformer. I seriously doubt the efficacy of this move – nabbing someone and then shouting from the roof tops. Unless there is a concerted and candid effort to curb all such instances, these isolated hyped success stories are not going to do any good. I mean, pretty surely the man did not become a 30 KW stealer overnight. He would have started with a 1 KW, then 2, then 20 and ultimately where he was snared up. Where were the authorities when he started? How did it go unnoticed so far? What about millions of other instances of power theft that go unpunished, not necessarily unseen?

There is a need to create an environment where people first of all know that yes, stealing power is a shame; where they believe that the yardstick is the same for everyone without any purple patches; where action against the defaulters is guaranteed; where the ones who don’t steal believe that their candor is no foolishness. We are way beyond the point where making an example out of an isolated 30KW stealer is going to deter people out of power theft. We need much more; a relentless drive. Not merely by the power department and the government but collectively by each and every person who wants to benefit from it. We need to curb this menace once for all. If not, the darkness will continue to loom; forever.

(Greater Kashmir)

Preserving our Culture

The Kashmir University, with the help of Indian experts including one of Kashmiri origin, is preserving rare manuscripts electronically

KU to Digitize Local Newspapers, Rare Books

Srinagar: The University of Kashmir will soon digitize all local newspapers besides the old and rare books available in its Allama Iqbal Library.

The decision to this effect was taken at a high-level meeting chaired by the varsity vice-chancellor, Prof Riyaz Punjabi. last week.

The members decided to conserve, preserve and subsequently digitize the newspaper and books, and later convert them as e-books¸ which would be available on the internet. They also decided to acquire and digitize Sanksrit, Persian and Arabic manuscripts.

In his presidential address, Prof Punjabi applauded the role played by the library staff in getting it at par with reputed national and international libraries.

The Library Committee Meeting was attended by deans of all the university faculties, heads of various teaching departments and the registrar, Prof S Fayyaz Ahmad. Two eminent scientists Prof T.A.V Murthy, Ex- Director INFLIBNET and Dr. H. K Koul , Director , DELNET, New Delhi, were also part of the meeting.

Prof Murthy and Dr Koul asserted that the Allama Iqbal library plays an important role in developing model literary culture in the state of Jammu and Kashmir by means of having the modern technology and infrastructure in place.

Dr Muthy offered to donate all his personal collection of books and other material to the library. The decision was applauded and accepted by the members.

The members also called for networking of all college libraries in the state particularly in the valley by upbringing their services and staff with adequate infrastructure and training.

The University Librarian, Reyaz Rufai, highlighted achievements and progress made by the library in providing access to the knowledge resources within the university by using modern technological means and expertise of staff.

Meanwhile, the library and its staff was impressed upon, to work more assiduously and efficiently in close proximity with civil society and play key role in transforming social set up.

(Kashmir Observer)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Counting on Short Memories Among Your Distractors and Jihadis Among Your Strategic Assets

Firdous is optimistic that Pakistani intelligence services are finally pulling back from sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir; but is that not what General/President Musharraf promised after his January 12, 2002 speech?

(Mr. Firdous Syed, 43, was born in Bhaderwah, Doda, and had his schooling in Jammu. He is currently the Chairman of the "Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Development Studies," and associated with the J&K National Conference. Between 1989 and 1991, he led the Moslem Janbaaz Force, a militant group, and was jailed from 1991 through 1994. In 1996, he publicly renounced the gun culture, and has since joined mainstream politics and is an active member of the Kashmir civil society.)

Kashmir gets rid of Pakistan’s shadow

When most of India was preparing itself for a negative response from Islamabad on the Mumbai terror dossier, the adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister on interior affairs, Rehman Malik, dropped a bombshell by conceding — "Some part of the conspiracy has taken place in Pakistan". More dramatic is the formal acceptance that Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, operational commander of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), was the "possible mastermind" of the attack.

The LeT, until recently fully supported by the ISI to wage war against India in Kashmir, espouses Kashmir’s complete merger with Pakistan.

Though banned, an admission by Pakistan about the LeT’s involvement in terrorism signals the withdrawal of official support to this group. Even if Pakistan’s military is not completely on board, it will become difficult for it to have truck with any militant group, no matter what guise they take in Kashmir.

This is a remarkable development, which leads to the question — is this volte-face a merely tactical shift or a real change of strategy? A long list of explanations of Pakistan’s turnaround is in circulation, the most plausible one being sustained American pressure to show positive results. The day Rehman Malik spoke to the press in Islamabad, President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan - Pakistan Richard C Holbrooke - had just left for Kabul after his first visit to Pakistan. Analysts in New Delhi believe Holbrooke, known as a diplomatic bulldozer, had to wield the stick of economic sanctions to make Pakistan come out of self-denial. Pakistan, reeling from a deep economic crisis, recently negotiated with IMF for a bailout package. The next instalment is due in the first week of March. It will find itself in a tight spot if the financial injection does not come on time.

But the separatist grapevine paints a different picture; not just sticks, but also carrots.

"According to insiders of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, Holbrooke asked Pakistan to wind up its terror infrastructure for subtle American involvement in a settlement on Kashmir."

Maybe Hurriyat is dreaming. It is interesting, however, that during his visit to Delhi, Holbrooke brought India, Pakistan and the US into a common triangle — "What is happening in Swat now is a common threat to the US, India and Pakistan". But what he said to an American TV channel in the week gone by leaves nothing to speculation: "As everyone knows, the Pakistan army has focused on India for decades, and most of us believe they have to reorient their attention much more to the west. To do that there has to be much more confidence between Pakistan and India."

In Indo-Pak affairs, the truth vis-à-vis Kashmir is always cloaked in murky deals. It is difficult to find a definitive answer to what happens behind closed doors. Nonetheless, what seems to be a dramatic shift — Pakistan’s withdrawal of support to militancy — has all these years been a gradual process. The common man in India may find it difficult to believe, particularly against the backdrop of Mumbai, that Pakistan is not vigorously abetting militancy in Kashmir any more. But people in Kashmir understand: Pakistan has virtually closed the tap on militancy in Kashmir.

Changed circumstances on the ground only confirm this notion.

The initiation of a composite dialogue between India and Pakistan led to a ceasefire at the LoC in November 2003. Since then, militant violence inside J&K is on the decline. In 1995 militancy-related incidents stood at 5,946; in 2008 only 703 incidents took place.

The arrival of freshly trained militants is also at an all-time low. IGP Jammu range K Rajendra is on record saying: "infiltration attempts this winter have almost come to a naught and things are shaping up for the better on the LoC". The recent assembly elections were the most peaceful since militancy began in 1990; "a comprehensive decrease of 86 per cent was registered in militancy-related incidents during the elections in 2008, as compared to the 2002 assembly elections".

Pakistan has all along been a factor in the Valley. Due to its strong patronage of the militant cause since 1989, support for it had sky rocketed. But from 1994 onwards, fatigue began to creep in and support for Pakistan dwindled proportionately. Diehard Pakistan supporters kept their hopes alive. For the last few years, however, among this section is a widespread feeling of ‘letdown’ by Pakistan. The militants also feel betrayed. These are all indications of Pakistan’s rethink on its policy of abetting militancy in Kashmir.

At last Pakistan has realised that continuing to support militancy in J&K has become a high-risk low-yield option. The theory of a war of a thousand cuts, bleeding India slowly to death, has proved to be an utter disaster.

In 1990, when militancy was at its peak, Pakistan’s economy was doing well if not better than India’s. New Delhi had to mortgage the family silver for debt servicing. But India steered itself out of rough waters. Today it is an economic powerhouse and has considerable military might. By comparison, Pakistan has lost its way completely; its economy is in a mess and political anarchy grows with each passing day.

Malik’s press conference and peace deal with Taliban in Swat indicate the gravity of the situation. Pakistan is in a state of panic. Circumstances after 9/11 forced Pakistan to divorce the Taliban and after 26/11 it has had to abandon its support of militancy in Kashmir. For the foreseeable future, provided its present political structures remain intact, Pakistan will not be able to support any militant incursions inside India. Kashmir may still experience flashes of sporadic violence, but they will be purely residual in nature. Kashmir will eventually quieten. The prospects of peace are bright, but a lot hinges on Delhi’s handling of Kashmir. It will have to understand: Winning a battle is not enough, concluding a war is important.

Valley Hijacked by Moral Brigade?

Afshana pleads for some common sense. Public may or may not get it, but civil society surely needs to loosen up

(Ms. Syeda Afshana, 35, was born in Srinagar. She attended the Vishwa Bharti High School in Rainawari, Srinagar, and the Government Women's College in Srinagar where she received a B.Sc. degree. She completed her Master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the Kashmir University in 1999 and was the Gold Medallist (first position holder) in her graduating class. She is currently a Lecturer in the Media Education Research Centre (MERC) of the Kashmir University and pursuing her doctorate on the role of internet after 9/11.)

Bollywood, here and now

From Roja to Tahaan, Bollywood since last two decades has pictured Kashmir in strangely fuzzy colours. Though the movies about Kashmir purport to be conveying some ideas, the level of distortion is however enormous. That Bollywood is confused and irrational regarding Kashmir is more likely to be the cause of projecting the real and reel situation with varying arbitrariness. What might pass for an attempt at shaping the theme of Kashmir, especially its 'romantic' essence in spite of gory turbulence, comes over as nothing but neurotic obsession. Like any other media, the Indian cinema too has fallen into rhetorical and vaguely symbolic style of portraying Kashmir.

As a potent tool of propaganda, Bollywood has been overly dramatic and sensationalist. It has unleashed a kind of "Screen Terror" by showing grisly scenes, being too aggressive and often picturising imaginary as actual in Kashmir. The bloated sense of patriotism has beguiled even the best of Bollywood film-makers.

This is not the case with Bollywood alone. From Nazi propaganda director Leni Riefenstahl to American Michael Moore, cinema has subtly passed sham under the garb of art. Virtually, the famous Hollywood has always taken up where Pentagon failed. Through scores of movies, it institutionalized the banal binary of 'us' and 'them', making it difficult for the Americans to break away from the comfort zone of the circle of 'reason', particularly after 9/11. As constructed by Hollywood, this mindset framed the discourses of narcissist nationalism in America.

Bollywood is just meandering the way to establish and propagate the position of State. It is rapidly turning into a political minefield. As such, there are no gigantic and scandalous surprises in store from Bollywood. However, what was really astonishing was the manner in which certain quarters in Kashmir reacted to arrival of Lamhaa crew to shoot an objectionable story.

One fails to understand if the locale of valley is made inaccessible, can't Lamhaa still go in making somewhere else. No big deal. As far as the logic of spreading depravity by shooting it here is concerned, Lamhaa will surely someday arrive in our drawing rooms, and we will watch it keenly. No second thought about it. For that matter, every recent box office hit of Bollywood sneaks in Kashmir like any other place. Wonder what then is the chasing of Lamhaa crew for?!

Without getting polemical, we should see the things as they are, sans perceptual or ideological blinkers, and try not to shy away from calling spade a spade. Of course, the moral state of affairs in Kashmir is not as favourable as it was some years ago. Things have changed, and so have the values. Monkey business is in vogue. There are multiple influences as well as forces working indiscernibly to rip off the moral fabric of society over here. Instead of chasing crews off or shutting our eyes down, there is a dire need to identify them, and prepare our minds to reject things which are unacceptable.

Where moral institutions are dead, mere sermons don't work. Where homes are heartless, mere harnessing doesn't suffice. Where parents are valueless, mere schooling won't do. Where preachers are puzzled, mere congregations don't rescue. When deeds and dealings are never ethical and principled, and religion is just a symbolic ritual, moral doom is inevitable.

Coercion has never worked. It may scare people. It may push them away, also. The impact is transient. What an idiot box transports to our homes is far dangerous than any drinking, dining and dancing film crew travelling to Kashmir. What a mischief miniature mobile brings is far fatal than Bollywood sleaze art.

We are referring to wrong people. We are addressing wrong symptoms. We are taking up non-issues. We must speak to ourselves; our own people; our own failings. Bollywood is here, it is to stay. We have welcomed this occupier. Its hideout is our home. It's our old guest. Let's accept this gracefully.

Rationality demands that we should shun getting reactionary every now and then, and keep away from adopting extreme viewpoints about issues or situations that are diametrically otherwise if looked at honestly. Moreover, the religion we claim to follow, too needs not be maligned by our fanatical sermonizing and posturing. If we cannot do any good for it, we have no right to bring bad name to it.

Kashmir cannot afford to be prickly, on every damn thing. We cannot afford controlling things which are uncontainable in the given scheme, and more importantly, which are quite trivial and frivolous in comparison to many critical crises confronting us. Moral panics have yet to strike us truthfully. We are yet to rise from deep slumber and pay attention to moral infernos engulfing us every sec.

Kashmiri Carpet Trade Takes a Hit

Carpet exports out of the valley may drop by 50% or more

Economic meltdown melts down demand for Kashmiri carpets too

Srinagar: The centuries-old carpet industry of Kashmir is facing a severe crisis in the wake of the global economic slowdown, endangering the livelihood of over 150,000 weavers. Industry leaders are expecting a sharp fall in domestic sales as well as exports this fiscal as demand is falling.

"Last year, the total sales of Kashmiri carpets (including exports) were Rs.500-600 crore (Rs 5-6 billion). This year, it is feared the sales would hardly touch around Rs 200 crore (Rs.2 billion)," IANS quoted Ahsan Mirza, a local carpet exporter, as saying.

"This is a huge slowdown that threatens the very existence of the carpet industry in Kashmir," he said.

Exquisitely designed and handmade, Kashmiri carpets have been the proud possession of many a connoisseur of art and luxury around the world. There are more than 30,000 carpet weaving looms in the Valley from which over 150,000 local weavers earn their livelihood.

"There are 300 to 400 carpet showrooms in the country where the local carpets are displayed and sold. The global economic crisis and the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks have dealt a serious blow to our industry," Mirza said.
Apart from the weavers, nearly 25,000 people are also depending on the industry to find a source of income.

"These people are associated with the industry as dyers, washers and other processing people, who are responsible for bringing the finished product to the market from its weaving stage," Mirza said.

Saying the slowdown in the market would continue for at least two years, Mirza urged the government to help the industry.

"This is the most appropriate time for the government to look into the matter and work out some kind of package to safeguard not only the interests of the weavers but also those of the exporters and local retailers in the country," he said.
Weavers also expressed concern over the worsening economic scenario.

"If the industry fails, I would have to starve since I have no other means of sustenance," said Abdul Rehman, a 46-year-old weaver from Kanihama village of central Kashmir.

Zubair Ahmad, Director of the Indian Institute of Carpet Technology (IICT), said the institute was providing "all technical support" to the industry to weather the crisis.

"While we are there to go all out to provide the technical support to the industry, I would suggest the government should seriously address the problem. The value-added tax (VAT) has already been abolished, now the government should provide soft loans to the weavers, manufacturers and exporters," Ahmad told IANS.

"The state-owned Handicrafts Development Corporation has a network of sale outlets throughout the country. The corporation must also engage itself in sustaining the industry so that it comes out of the present crisis," he added.

(Kashmir Images)

Finding the Space for Accountability in a System Where Politics is Stuffed by Money

Mehmood raises some interesting questions. But in a state where oligarchy has survived by harnessing public emotion on the singular issue of politics, where is the space to seek accountability?

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

Economy of politics or vice versa

Sad part of our politics in and around the slogans of Self-Determination, Autonomy and Self-Rule is that they set turbidity in the minds of people by emotional stirrings only. Although the economic part of the Self-Determination politics is too lean to be present in any manner, but the later two are afflicted with the malaise of talking Srinagar in the streets and doing Delhi in the seats. If all the three take some time off and stop their overindulgence in politics (the way it is commonly understood), concentrating more meaningfully on economic side of Kashmir, they can not only keep the foxes from Delhi at bay, but can also discover some common ground to strengthen the politics in Kashmir per se.

By being present on economic front, political leadership, on both sides of the divide, can come in the way of those who want to dig our earth and fill their holes. This fine art of loot is the deadliest weapon in the arms depo of any occupying force. No political party, that has its roots in the land, can afford to ignore the devastation caused by this weapon.

At a theoretical level independent intellectuals and the think tanks associated with political parties can theorise things and lay bare the basics and details of the economy that pertains us as a people, but it must be accompanied by the efforts to make business easier and profitable for people of Kashmir. From a road side vendor, a wholesaler, a small scale industrial unit holder to high level entrepreneurship every single business activity matters. Not just this, the money that flows into the state in the shape of different centrally sponsored schemes, routine government funding, commercial taxes, and the corporate business ventures, all needs to be watched. The huge projects like the ones carried in the power sector or laying of railway line, must not escape the eye of any political leadership that is meaningful.

Unfortunately it hasn’t happened till date. We have always been rocked into believing that had it not been for assistance from Delhi we would be facing the ignominy of poverty. While more money travels from valley than comes in, why should we not stand up and ask for a balance sheet.

If outsiders are stealthily allowed to set their bases in Kashmir to do business why are not we being allowed the same degree of easy-access to start a business venture? If we are paying enough taxes why are we disallowed information about where does all this money go? If our resources and services are made use of to generate power why we are denied its ownership? Why the money issued to government departments is not fully utilised and major portion of it gets lapsed at the end of the year? Why centrally sponsored schemes don’t benefit us the way they are statistically supposed to? Recent example of this is the report that poured in this week about the PMGSY, where out of more than 50 roads only 6 have been worked on. And lastly how the corporate sector does its business in the valley and who do they benefit primarily? All these question are conspicuous by their presence and only a blind leadership can ignore them.

Raising these questions has nothing to do with cynicism. These are the queries that people in Kashmir can throw at Omar Abdullah, Mufti Sayeed, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Umar Farooq, all at once. Those who are in the position of raising the question should raise it full pitch and those who are positioned to answer it should prepare an answer to it. The question is: why huge government projects and big business ventures, involving material and human resources from Kashmir, are undertaken, worked on and completed beyond public gaze? If it is related to people’s economy why should people be disallowed access to information about it. And the harshest part of it all is that our politicians project all these things as a favour done to Kashmir.

Fact of the matter is that it is all about money and business. It relates to the crass realm of money and matter. Here the size of heart may have some value but not the emotions and subtle beats that reside inside.

Present day economy is about politics and present day politics is about economy. The twain cannot be separated. So while doing any politics economy cannot, and must not be ignored. By questioning about the economy we cannot always act as rejectionists and isolationists. Intelligence demands that we engage with state backed economy in ways that strengthens us as a people against state. That is where the role of political parties is sought. It is ultimately how Politics are operated and Power made use of in any Economy that makes it good or bad. And it is by being present in the world that one can know its good and bad. Isolationist, radical and extreme approach of our Resistance politics cannot prove of any help. They need to participate in the economy of this state to make their politics result oriented. Similarly PDP can save some energy as an opposition party and contribute to the economy of valley by talking about it amidst people. National Conference too can prove its loyalty to its people by disallowing outsiders to pounce over the resources of valley, as they stay in power right now.

Tailpiece: Many months back our Geelani Sahib talked about millions. That was probably the first time when he sounded like a real politician. Geelani was to get those millions or billions only after Kashmir was independent. It would be better if he invests it right now, by the time political conditions changed drastically in any manner, it would only have grown. So better if real investments are made now than later.

Stripping the Cultural Icon Naked

Tagore Hall's dilapidated condition is a proof of Kashmiri society's fall from the grace

Lack of money defaces Tagore Hall

Mudasir Amin (Kashmir Images)

Srinagar: Tagore Hall, the only auditorium worth its name in Srinagar which has all along been the hub of cultural activities in the Valley is in shambles for unknown reasons.

“Tagore Hall stands fragile and battered, unclothed and with repulsive looks, which certainly is a cause of great worry both for the commoners as well as the artists of the Valley.”

In fact, reasonably speaking, the only reason for the pathetic condition of the Tagore Hall is the unreasonable lethargy and carelessness of the concerned authorities in taking care of the repair and renovation of this historical auditorium set by in the year 1958.

Although the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, culture and Languages is there to take care of the Tagore Hall, however, even this agency has been the unwilling victim of the official lethargy and unnecessary bureaucratic hassles plaguing various governmental agencies that were roped in for necessary repairs and renovation of Tagore Hall.

Three years ago, then Secretary, Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, culture and Languages, Dr. Rafiq Masoodi mooted a proposal for the renovation of Tagore Hall and then coalition government readily agreed to it and allocated requisite funds for the purpose.

So the renovation work formally took off and the old and dilapidated plaster was scratched off from the walls of the building. But then, after some time the work came to a grinding halt for unknown reasons.

Officials at Academy say the money that was supposed to come for the renovation of Tagore Hall never came, “so the work had to be stopped”.

And since then the Tagore Hall has been standing there fragile and battered, unclothed and with repulsive looks, which certainly is a cause of great worry both for the commoners as well as the artists of the Valley.

“This is the only big hall available for cultural activities and other important ceremonies. If proper care is not taken now, there will be only ruins there after few more years,” said a theatre artist who didn’t want to be named. “It is criminal on part of the authorities for having done this to such a cultural landmark.”

In September 2008 during the under ‘Governor Rule’, the Governor, N N Vohra following a surprise visit to the Tagore Hall, saw its appalling condition and subsequently during a function at SKICC, ordered release of funds amounting to Rs 2.5 crores for it. Although the funds were supposed to have come in, but given that the renovation work is yet to resume, it is more than obvious that the money has once again not been released.

“Tagore Hall is our cultural heritage. But, due to government apathy it is in shambles,” says Ali Mohammed, another dramatist. “If this hall would have been in Jammu, the administration would have gone out of way to ensure that it was repaired in time,” he alleged.

Talking about the delay in repairs and renovation of the Tagore Hall, Zafar Iqbal Manhas, Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, says, “I have been running from pillar to post and now I am expecting funds within five to 10 days.”

He said after getting the funds, “we will pay it to JKPCC and the renovation work will start again.” Manhas while acknowledging the importance of Tagore Hall, assured every step would be taken to preserve it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Feudal System is Alive and Well in Academic Institutions

Mudasir argues that better education requires meritorious teachers rather than a dual track approach where contract teachers are treated by regular staff with disdain and suggests a new recruitment system that does not breed corruption and nepotism

(Mr. Mudasir Wani, 30, was born in Srinagar. He graduated with a Bachelo's Degree in Business from the University of Kashmir and is currently pusuing Master's Degree (M. Phil.) in Economics. In his leisure time he looks to watch various business channels presenting global economy and market news.)

The systemic rot

It is really a great moment and a feeling of bliss to find a young and dynamic personality holding the reins of power. But it also makes expectations go high. So the new incumbent has the burden of expectation on his shoulders and he will prove himself only when he carry the burden with responsibility and ability. People of J&K have lots of expectations pinned on the young CM, especially the educated youth. His every step will be keenly watched and his behaviour will be always under a scanner. The young CM will need lots of courage and intelligence to see himself through as he is surrounded by such persons who don’t want him to be like the way he wants to be.

Among many problems that the state is facing, the condition of lecturers and teachers appointed on contractual basis is one. One would like this area to be attended with a sense of urgency. Our education and recruitment system which has become the basic cause for ruining the career of our youth and make them follow wrong ways must be corrected.

Our education system has a vital role to play in the development of the state but unfortunately it is in a pathetic condition. Lack of quality teaching staff and up to date infrastructure has harmed the prospect of this department. But all this apart it is very sad to find senior teachers taking their jobs casually and doing things listlessly in their classes. Hats off to contractual teachers and teaching assistants for their contribution, enthusiasm, dedication towards their work, in spite of the fact they get a meager amount as salary and are treated as second grade citizens inside the campus.

It is painfully ironical that where seniors should have been doing the majority of work contractuals are made to work like beasts of burden. It is indeed lamentable that they are being treated as labors. You will find them in the beginning of the session just like beggars asking for their new appointment orders. This is the condition of those who are nourishing the future of this nation by imparting education to our future generation who will command the nation in the times to come.

It is a clichéd though that teachers play key role in building a nation, but it stands true even today. And when these architects of future are reduced to such pathetic conditions what can be the future of this nation! It is no difficult to make a guess. There is always a fear in their mind about their job; they can be thrown out of the job anytime. What is needed here is to end this uncertainty and make them feel more comfortable so that they give their best to the students. One may hope that now things might change.

Similar is the case with our recruitment system. I will not put finger towards any particular person but our requirement boards are full of corruption. Some members of various recruitment boards are working like dons, having their agents to collect money from innocent people with a promise that they will get a job. It is here that the seeds of corruption are sown. Those who are selected want to get this money back in the same manner. This way roots of corruption lie in our selection process.

Unless the roots are not expunged the goal of good governance and corruption free system is not going to be achieved. Corruption has entered into the blood stream of our system. If the top brass is corrupt what can be expected from those on the lower rungs. It is an alarming situation and if it remained unchecked the time is no far away when our educated youth will indulge in activities that will lead our state towards disaster.

Surprise, Wazwan is Kashmir's Native Cuisine

Tahir debunks the notion that Wazwan is an import brought to the valley by foreign travelers and notes that the cuisine finds a mention even in old sanskrit texts

Discovering Wazwaan

Tahir Sufi

The popular local cuisine has always been the result of mostly the local cultural influence, and up to some extent, the result of some foreign influence as well. Over the centuries different countries have developed their own styles of cooking, shaped largely by their natural resources. World famous Chinese cuisine developed as a result of two powerful influences. First, the country has always been heavily populated and acutely short of fuel. Consequently, a method of fast cooking over scarce, quick-burning fuel was developed. While other Oriental cuisines have some things in common with Chinese cookery, they each have their own unique characteristics.

In Europe, French cookery is generally acknowledged as being the first and most influential of all fine cuisine-types. The chefs carried on the tradition of experimentation and innovation, developing cooking as an art in France. So the present French cuisine has evolved by hit and trail method and ultimately took the present shape of what is now called as nouvelle cuisine (new cooking), a method of preparing food in a simpler, less rich, and more natural way. Dry cooking, steaming, and grilling are the hallmarks of this approach, whereby wafer-thin slices of meat or firm-fleshed fish are served with a colourful array of crisp, only just-cooked vegetables.

Kashmiri cuisine holds an important place in the world. The Kashmiri food festivals are organized by most of the five star hotels and trade fairs across India. The list of the dishes served in wazwan is quite elaborate and has stood the test of the time when it comes to maintaining its authenticity. However, the strange phenomenon which can be hardly seen anywhere in world is the differentiation of recipes on communal lines. The dishes of wazwan prepared by Kashmiri Pundits and Muslims do not taste the same!

It is very difficult to trace the History of Kashmiri cuisine especially wazwan. Kashmir has been ruled by so many outsiders as we seem to have lost track of our own cultural belongings. With so many rulers entering over the mountain ranges or via silk route no doubt brought lots of their own culture with them, like carpet making. Similar arts like making “namda”, “gubbas” , copper work including “Naqshkari”, wood work “ Khatamband, “Paper Machie” and so many crafts we can boast are ours only, and we should be proud of this heritage.

The chief craft among the crafts we can boast to be ours is wazwan but unfortunately we cant believe that it can be our own. We are being informed that that probably Mongols, Uzbeks, Turkemenistanis, Samarkandis, Iranians so on have brought this cuisine with them. However, one fails to understand why then the cuisine is available in Kashmir only today, and not in any other place including central Asia.

Speaking of Mongolia, in thirteenth century, Pope of Rome’s ambassador Plano Carpini, who visited Mongolia, wrote that Mongolians ate dogs, wolves, foxes, horses and even humans. The latter was attested by Marco Polo too. How all of a sudden then they learnt the fine and subtle art of cooking wazwan? If we look the cuisine of Mongolia even today there seems to be absolutely no resemblance at all with wazwan. The “traditional” or “characteristic” style of Mongol cuisine involves methods like cooking mutton with “stones”, drying thin strips of meat in the wind and so on.

Another source, which has been widely discussed, is Azerbaijan, the capital of exotic cuisine. This cuisine is famous for being aromatic, delicate and original. Some of the core national dishes include Dushbara, “ Mutton dumplings stuffed in pastry sheets” cooked in broth , Yarpag Dolmasi “ Mutton, rice, dill etc stuffed in wine leaves stewed in sauce pan and served with yogurt” . These dishes are the heart and soul of Azerbaijan - but it is very easy to understand that how distinct our cuisine is. While going through the entire Azerbaijanian cuisine, there is hardly any evidence of any similarities. I am sure that any Kashmiri visits Azerbaijan, he will have to accept the cuisine with some efforts. One fails to understand why some of the very popular desserts like “parkhlava” and “tarkhlava” made from rice flour, nuts, sugar, egg whites and spices, kozinaki - nuga-like sweets, Turkish delight, jellied peaches, caramels shaker-pendir that have been traditionally served for dessert since the ancient times did not find their way into Kashmir. This questions the impact of Azerbaijan cuisine on Kashmir.

A yet another source that is also ascribed is Iran. There is absolutely no doubt that Iran gifted Kashmir with the art of carpet weaving. However, if we look at the cuisine of Iran we are surprised to find out if wazwan has anything to do with Iran. This is quite evident from the traditional Iranian cuisine which boasts of its diverse regional cuisine, which is distinct in taste and form. It includes a wide variety of foods ranging from khoresht (stew that is served with white Basmati or Iranian rice: ghormeh sabzi, gheimeh, and others), aash (a thick soup), kookoo (vegetable omellettes), pollo (white rice alone or with addition of meat and/or vegetables and herbs, including loobia pollo, albaloo pollo, zereshk pollo, and others). The main Persian cuisines are combinations of rice with meat, chicken or fish and some onion, vegetables, nuts, and herbs.

It is very difficult to justify that Kashmiri traditional cuisine” Wazwan” had to do anything with any central Asian country or with Iran for matter. This makes us to look for our soil only for the roots of “Wazwan”. The most ancient book on Kashmiri culture is the sixth century Sanskrit classic “Nilmathpurana” in which references to meat eating habit of ancient Kashmiris has clearly been cited at many instances.

Most of the traditional cuisine of Kashmir for sure is being inherited from our ancestors only. However, with the advent of Islam in thirteenth century through Muslim mystics of central Asia, the eating pattern could have got impacted. The mystics like Shahi Hamdan (RA), whose arrival in Kashmir led to beginning to spread of Islam might not have been fond of such lavish gourmet, however, it is not surprising that the kitchens of our local and foreign rulers were the innovative labs where the transformation and adaptation of local cuisine took place. In fact, the development of Kashmiri Cuisine seems to be clearly a local innovation, rather than the import and we must be proud to own it and call it our Heritage cuisine.

(Greater Kashmir)

The Tragedy of Lal Ded

The Lal Ded Maternity Hospital must be giving sleepless nights to the saint-lady of our history and folk lore

Lal Ded: crying for help

Muhammad Sadiq (Rising Kashmir)

Health and education are the two most important components of Human Development Index of any nation. And states have always been capitalizing upon these to stay ahead in the comity of nations. They say that nation’s health is the sum total of the healthiness of its individual citizens. If hospitals are the best places to have a glimpse of nation’s well-being then Kashmir’s health scene certainly calls for an emergency action. Our health services comprise an out-dated diagnostic measures, shoddy hospitals with untidy environs, cutting and sewing of human bodies what they call surgeries, torrent of drugs and purely mechanical modes of treatment.

On the contrary it is care that relieves patients of the severity of half of their pains and ailments. But that kind of healthcare seems a far cry here.

Lal Ded, the only full-fledged maternity hospital in Kashmir is a case in point. The unhygienic ambiance of the hospital looks more of a hazard for normal health than anything else. Over crowded wards with stink all around; shall we call this a hospital! Labour Room is a real shock. More than one patient writhing in labour pains having no choice but to share a single bed besides others just crying upon the floor. Bathrooms, corridors, stairs and surroundings are anything but clean.

Pathetic is the apt word for whatever is in this hospital. On an average more than 600 patients are admitted daily in the hospital. Nearly 100 new patients are received by the hospital daily and almost 500 patients visit the OPD every day. Add to it thousands of attendants and regular visitors and it turns out to be a real mess. Shortage of staff doesn’t help it either. Doctors call it a result of poor and out-dated infrastructure, and patients have accepted it as their fate like the passengers of a choked and over-crowded bus.

The hospital is the manifestation of Government-Public partnership in mismanagement and lack of concern. Once Legislative Council passed a resolution that recommended that government should take immediate steps to improve the deteriorated condition of the Lal Ded maternity hospital. The then minister of State for Health even said that a new 500-bed maternity hospital would be set up in Kashmir and Lal Ded hospital would be upgraded. What happened? Nothing, as usual. Here priorities are parks not people. Since then crores of rupees have been lavishly spent on the maintenance of golf courses and other public parks.

Now that the new Chief Minister has had a round of the hospital, suspending an officer as well, he needs to be quick and effective n getting the things right in this hospital.

It makes a deep dent in the credibility of the government, which flaunts development and makes it every-minute mantra, if it ends up doing nothing. By development what does the government mean? Is it not human development?

The government that has attracted people’s attention by raising the slogans of good governance owes an answer to them. Excellent articulation about public affairs alone cannot alleviate the sufferings. It needs delivery on ground. Can the new government come up with some plan to make hospitals come closer to the concept of healthcare? Let them give a thought to it, at least.

The Indomitable Kashmiri Spirit

At 80, smiling Mala Begum sells vegetables

A story of real woman emancipation

Baramulla: Kishore Nahid, a veteran Pakistani feminist poet once wrote – Joote Baichte, Moze Baichte – Aurat Mere Naam Nahi Hai.

She was a feminist, a strong advocate of women emancipation but couldn’t approve the vulgar exhibition of women.

She wanted women to be independent, strong and self made and Kashmir Images finds her ideal on a Baramulla street.

Will and determination can’t be cowed down by the age and that is what this 80-year-young lady from Baramulla is all out to prove.

Mala Begum, 80, sells vegetables on Baramulla streets from past 40 years. Rain and sunshine; curfew and strikes; encounters and grenade blasts – nothing has ever stopped her.

In the busy market of old town Baramulla, Malla Bagum, hardly bothers about complexity of modern life and does her business without any inhibitions and reservations.

The only thing she is concerned about – how many buyers she will get – she means business, strictly so.

Yes, she has compulsions, domestic, to get her out on street everyday but she has no regrets. “I earn for my household respectably and that is what matters at the end of the day,” she told Kashmir Images.

In comparison to the ‘semi-nude’ models being brand ambassadors of several items, Mala represents the women emancipation in real way. And at the same time her presence on the streets mocks at the diseased Talibanized ideology who want woman to be just the second fiddle shrouded in veil.

She doesn’t want to be dependent. She stands on her own feet and earns respectably to run her household.

“I have been selling vegetables from last forty years to earn my livelihood as I have a large family to feed including six daughters. I have to feed them and have no option but to work,” said Malla Begum, having no regrets because working at this age gives her a confidence that she ‘is the best.’

Malla Bagum's dedication and determination towards her work is visible from her comfy face as she gorgeously deals with every customer. Her work not only provides her satisfaction but she feels proud to be a street vendor as she had to fulfill needs of family.

“For me, work is worship,” she said, adding, “I feel proud to be an earning hand in this age. And it seems nice to work."

Like Malla Begum, there are dozens of women who are selling vegetables at different street of Baramulla market. While some women are selling vegetable out of compulsion of life to make their both ends meet, some of these women have inherited this job and have been doing it happily.

Sadri Bagum, 50, another vegetable vendor said, "My mother used to sell vegetables here, since she died I took over. My husband is a farmer. This is our ancestral job and I feel happy to do it."

(Kashmir Images)

Can Government Jobs Deliver Efficiency?

Tanvir ignores the fact that even the best government bureacracies in the world do not match up to private sector for efficiency and customer-friendliness

(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 is active in State politics and his interests are writing and social work.)

An Inept Bureaucracy

It has been my attempt to write my feelings as events unfold. As a result, many of my posts are political whereby I offer my analysis of the current political happenings in Kashmir. Some other posts are non-political while others are outright silly. I do not attempt to be an all knowing person, but I do have a fair knowledge of the political atmosphere brewing in Kashmir. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I am involved in politics myself.

Today I would like to further develop a couple of the ideas that I have been writing about in the last little while. My goal is to analyze in detail all the possible employment and developmental avenues for Kashmir, and this I seek to accomplish by presenting my case in a series of write ups where I will try to develop each idea as comprehensively as I can. This post is going to deal with an issue that I consider is of utmost importance if we seek to utilize our limited resources wisely. It deals with remedying our over-burdened and inefficient government service by curtailing the operations of inefficient departments.

I have mentioned in my earlier posts that we all are aware that most Kashmiris would rather be employed in the government services if they could get a chance. This seems to be the norm and I do not fault anyone for desiring a stable and sustainable form of income. In particular, the last two decades have seen this as the only source of income that was unaffected by the turmoil. Government servants are guaranteed to receive their paychecks regardless of whether they show up at office or not. Who would not desire such an easy source of income? I salute the new CM for getting down to business from day one, and sending a clear message that non-punctuality and absenteeism will not be tolerated in the government workers anymore.

Although this will send a clear message to the government employees to show up for work and they will be in office as required, a closer look is needed to get to the root of this lack of interest in work. In my opinion, some departments are useless and an unnecessary drain on our limited resources. Would it not be more sensible to reallocate the focus areas of these departments that would be more in tune with what the more pressing issues facing our governments are? I would like to emphasize that I am not advocating the dismissal of any government employees but what I am suggesting is re-assigning them different tasks that would make their jobs more useful to Kashmir.

For instance, even though we have had the department of floriculture and horticulture for many decades in the valley, yet, how come we are not even on the map of the world producers of cut-flowers? or why is it that our fruit growers are still utilizing ancient techniques in growing fruits when the same acreage is capable of producing hundred times more fruit than what they are at this time. Clearly, these departments have been unable to do adequate research in bringing technology from world leaders in these fields and educate our farmers in these new agricultural technology. For instance, New Zealand apple growers are capable of producing 400 times more apples per acre than our Kashmiri fruit growers. The main reason for this variance is that the New Zealand farmers were fortunate enough to be educated by "agriculture extension officers" as they are known there, in modernizing their production techniques.

Government officials should have the initiative to be innovative and have the vision to see what would make Kashmir more progressive in areas that their departments are concerned with. Instead of waiting for the CM to spoon feed them and pull them by their fingers. It is easy to follow orders but if they really want to earn their wages and excel in their jobs, then they have to start thinking out of the box and start thinking of ways of bringing in new technology from other parts of India and overseas and adapting it to be more suitable to Kashmir. That was the whole reason why such departments were introduced to begin with, to modernize our agriculture. They have failed to deliver because I do not see Kashmir on the map of the world leaders in the production of fruits, or cut-flowers, or bulbs, or even sheep. Therefore it is time that we re-assign these departments other tasks that require critical attention at this time.

In the First 12 Days in February, Kashmir Police Wrote 7,20,750 Citations

Kashmiris known for their recklessness are paying a having toll on roads

Record surge in traffic violations in Valley

Srinagar: A staggering number of challans imposed in a short period of time stand testimony as to how brazenly the traffic rules are violated in Kashmir. The traffic department has so far imposed 7,32,842 challans for various traffic violations since January this year. Most of the penalties were imposed from February 1 to February 12 after the traffic department started a drive against the violators. The figure stands at 7,20,750 challans during this period. In January this year, a total of 12,259 challans were imposed with a total of Rs 2306640 fine realized.

During the course, traffic department has slapped penalties on all types of vehicles. Many violators were even arrested and vehicles seized.

The fine was imposed mostly for offences like incomplete or no driving licenses, riding without crash helmets, wrong parking, misuse of tinted glass in the vehicles and commercial drivers working without uniforms.

As per the officials, if the law is strictly implemented, half of the city residents would go behind bars for not having driving licenses.

Senior Superintendent of Traffic Police, Kifayat Haider told Rising Kashmir that thousands of challans slapped in a short span of time are testimony to the surge in violations of traffic rules.

“We fear that if we implement the law strictly, then half of the city residents who drive vehicles would find themselves behind bars for various violations of traffic rules,” SSP Traffic said.

He added that despite imposing heavy fines, the traffic violations have not stopped. “It seems people are ready to pay for penalties. They pay for not seizing their vehicles. But they do not rectify themselves,” Haider said.

“I admit that whatever change we anticipated we never achieved,” he added. The SSP said the two-wheeler riders topped the list of violations with 70 per cent of the overall penalties recorded against them followed by the light motor vehicles. About the road accidents, Haider said they occur due to two main reasons: road conditions and licensing problem.

The drivers who become victims of traffic accidents had not taken precautionary measures like wearing helmet and seat belts and avoiding the use of mobile phones while driving.

On traffic awareness, Haider said majority of people do not know about the traffic rules. “Even those holding legal documents like licenses know nothing about the basic rules,” he said.

Meanwhile, the SSP Traffic reiterated that the drive against violators would continue. “We are not sparing even policemen,” Haider said. “We have fined many police officers for they have tinted window panes of their vehicle with black film,” he added.

Urging people to cooperate with the traffic department, Haider said, “We want people should take active role in this regard. They can come to us with their complaints. They can also tell us where we are lacking so that we would together effectively manage safe and jam free driving.”

(Rising Kashmir)

Yes, Dal will die!

An editorial in the Kashmir Images makes a compelling case

Yes, Dal will die!

Lot of talk is being made preservation of environment, threats of pollutions, shrinking of Kashmir’s water bodies and threats to the ecological balance. Governments – both State as well as Centre – are pumping lots of money for preservation of Dal Lake. The Lake still continues to die inch by inch and one wonders where the money is going.

Whenever in Kashmir, Union Water Resource Minister, who claims restoration of Dal’s lost glory is his passion, talks about the Lake telling people how may crores have been spent and are being spend on the project but never tells them that as the digits of Dal budget go up so do the quantity of weeds, dirt and filth that poisons and kills it. Talking about restoration of Dal’s glory has become sort of fashionable, both for media, NGOs and the Government. You have to say something about Dal and you will be seen a genuinely concerned citizen. But unfortunately nobody goes to the roots of the problem.

The Government claims to be launching ‘sustained operations’ for cleaning the Lake but without giving a fig to the real problem. You keep cleaning and pollutants keep on polluting, how will the operation succeed? It seems the Government is taking one step forward and two backwards and the result therefore is anybody’s guess. Government fails to realize that its cleansing operation is less aggressive and potent than the subsequent polluting operation and unless the sources of pollution are taken care of, the Dal will continue to die no matter how many crores are spend in the unfortunate Lake’s name.

As per the records available with State Pollution Control Board (SPCB), 70 per cent of hotels and restaurants along boulevard on the banks of Dal Lake and at tourist resorts Gulmarg and Pahalgam have not sought no objection certificates from SPCB despite the standing orders by the Central Pollution Board under Environment Protection Act. It is pertinent to mention here that seeking of NOC from SPCB is mandatory for all the hotels, restaurants and business establishments under Environment Protection Act. And if such establishments are along the banks of a fragile and dying lake like that of Dal, the NOC becomes more than mandatory. But the figures speak otherwise. These hotels and restaurants are continuously polluting the lake and government watches as a silent spectator. No action has been initiated against any such establishment and thus the Dal Lake continues to remain a dumping ground for sewage of these establishments. The Houseboats too don’t have SPCB NOC and continue to dump all sewage in the dying Dal.

Need of the hour is to look towards this aspect of the problem. Unless the sources of pollution are not taken care of, how could, no matter what amounts of money are sanctioned, Dal Lake be cleaned. Government needs to be practical and instead of making tall claims in speeches and statements, concentrate on the ground realities. In a place while 70 per cent of grade I and grade II hotels and restaurants, not to speak of other smaller establishments including Dhabas, are not having NOC from SPCB, how could government have the cheeks to talk about controlling pollution and saving environment.

"People in Kashmir Don’t Have any Concern for the Environment"

The State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) says that 90% of valley hotels and restaurants do not meet any environmental standards

SPCB regrets lack of action against polluting hotels, restaurants, houseboats…

Zeenat Zeeshan Fazil (Kashmir Images)

Srinagar: Notwithstanding the ever-increasing pollution of water-bodies in Kashmir, the hotels, restaurants, houseboats and health-care units all are contributing to the pollution of lakes and rivers here.

Displaying sheer indifference to the issue of pollution, not many of these establishments situated on the banks of world-famous Dal Lake or River Jehlum and other water-bodies have so far come up with proper sewage and liquid disposal mechanisms.

The sewage coming out of these hostels, houseboats and restaurants finds its way directly into the water-bodies including the already dying Dal Lake.

According to the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB), there are only 30 percent of the hotels and restaurants in the Valley who have obtained No Objection Certificate (NOC) from SPCB whereas 70 percent of them along the Boulevard, at Gulmarg, Pahalgam and other tourist resorts are yet to obtain clearance from SPCB.

“These establishments are openly violating the norms and rules laid down by Central Pollution Board under Environment Protection Act,” officials at SPCB confess.

Speaking to ‘Kashmir Images’, Regional Director, SPCB, Mian Javed Hussain said, “Some 70 percent of the hotels and restaurants are running their commercial establishments without having obtained NOC from SPCB which is mandatory for running any commercial establishment under Environment Protection Act.

“These hotels and restaurants are contributing to the pollution of environment and water-bodies and are clearly violating the norms laid down by State Pollution Control Board.”

And going by the exact details as provided by SPCB, the amount of pollution is far more than what percentage figures communicate.

“In this 70 percent we have taken only Class I and Class II hotels and restaurants and not ‘dabas’ or cafeterias which too are violating pollution norms; and if we include them also, then percentage of polluting establishments will go up and will touch more than 90 percent,” Mian Javed informed.

These hotels and restaurants further aggravate the environment pollution once they switch over to gensets for electricity which are potential sources of obnoxious gases like carbon and sulphur.

“We have already directed them to make use of green gensets which are both pollution- and noise-free and can save environment to a great extent,” Mian Javed informed.

Asked what about those units who are not following the rules, he says, “We are a regulatory body and can just notice the shortcomings and at the same time can direct violations to the District Magistrate and other concerned agencies, and the implementation has to come from respective departments,” the officer said.

He also clarified that SPCB doesn’t give NOC to houseboats as “they are discharging all sewage directly into the Dal Lake which we can never approve of.”

“It seems that people here in Kashmir don’t have any concern for the environment. In other states hoteliers and restaurant-owners can run their units only after getting the NOC from concerned department and till then the registration is withheld; but here the hotels and restaurants are registered by the Tourism department without taking into consideration the basic criteria of vis-à-vis pollution,” Mian Javed regrets.

He informed that in 10 districts of Kashmir valley, SPCB has booked 257 hotels and restaurants and 65 health-care units (both government-owned and private ones) in the month of January alone for violating pollution norms

According to sources, the Tourism department too has compiled a list of some 90 percent hotels in Kashmir Valley who have not obtained NOC from SPCB. Even though this list was compiled some two years back, but due to the involvement of some big names the department is overlooking the issue and no action has been taken against the defaulting hotels so far, sources in SPCB said.

Director Tourism, Farooq Ahmed Shah was not available for comment.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Society Without Respect for its Heritage has no Bright Future Either

Irfan points to a shortcoming that has made Kashmiris poorer in more ways than one

Europeans preserve our heritage, we don’t care

Irfan Naveed (Greater Kashmir)

Some days back I received an e-mail from a friend of mine who lives in UK. His name is David McDowell and is an authority on the Kushan Coinage. The email was about ancient coins of Kashmir he has came across a board of ancient Kashmir coins of Kushana period in a museum of Oxford University. He had written in his mail, “these days I am working on a coin hoard of Oxford Museum which had been purchased by stein during his stay in the summers at Srinagar Kashmir, these are Kushan coins, and if you can help me in establishing their find sports I would be then highly indebted to you”.

Dr. David McDowell has already done tremendous work on world ancient coins, and wrote several monograms on Afghan and Indian coins. He is an authority on Kushan cons, and has documented and deciphered maximum Greek, Scythian, Kushan and Hindu Shahis coins found in Kashmir. Dr. Michael Mitchnar and K Wings are other contemporary numismatists who have deciphered and documented most of the ancient Kashmir cons found in European Museums and coin collections.

The Kashmir coins, which have paved or are paving their way to the museums and markets of Europe, have got better treatment, and stands not only catalogued but interpreted well in historic literatures of the sub-continent.

I have met most of the archeologists and numismatists of contemporary Europe who are very concerned about Kashmir coins and archeology. One can also understand the concern of European experts through the contents of David’s letter. Thousand of Kilometers away and representing quiet a different culture from ours, these Europeans are interested in research and documentation of Kashmir ancient coins, and have written number of monograms on Kashmir finds. Not only the European experts, the general Europeans are familiar with Kashmir coins and have been taking care of this heritage.

These are outsiders and these people have no responsibility to take care of distant heritages, besides their own ones. The entire European heritages stands already explored and documented. And now they have shifted to other Asian and African heritages; because we are the people who never took care of our land and peoples’ heritages. We served our heritage brokers, and we sold it to the Europeans. By heritage we meant business, either by selling heritage relics to Europe or by creating NGOs in the name of culture and heritage to beg for donations.

A century is now over since scientific explorations and excavations extracted heaps of archeological and numismatic materials.

About eighty thousand ancient coins, which include number of highly priced gold cons, are housed only in SPS Museum at Lal Mandi, without any cataloguing and documentation. The entire numismatic and archaeology heritages of this land housed in its local museums and private collections have got no documentation. There are heaps of coins found, but there are no takers.

What is a coin? Perhaps only few people have understood its proper concept, while for most of the people these ancient coins are nothing more than outdated money, which has no value. For general public, these coins are useless, but for copper and gold smiths, these coins have got some metallic value and are re-used in making copper, silver and gold items.

It is only very few people of my land who are aware of their numismatic and historic value, while rest of the Kashmiris are totally unaware of their numismatic heritage.

These people are unable to understand Kashmiri panch marka, dirham, dinar, panchi, sansu dam, rupee, tanka and Mohur. Thousands of coins struck in Kashmir mints, during ancient, mediaeval and early modern periods of history by hundreds of Rajas and Maharajas are not known to Kashmiris. These people are quite unaware of their this rich heritage, and hardly know that ancient coins of Kashmir besides depicting political, economic and socio-cultural picture of olden Kashmir are the main and authentic source to our history.

The general people of this land are not too blamed when your institutions do not work. The institutions and departments who are the either custodians of coins or are related with archeology should learn a lesson from European institutions and experts, and come forward to share their moral responsibility. If these people have technical know-how to deal with ancient coins, they should learn it and work sincerely to preserve the dumped treasures troves of this land.

To decipher and identify an ancient coin no doubt is a very difficult job. It requires certain technical trainings in numismatics and ancient scripts. The departments concerned with archeology and museums may have the expertise to deal with this neglected heritage because this was the main purpose behind the creation of these institutions. If European are so concerned about our heritages, why can’t we?

When Water was Clean and Vegetable Land was Abundant

Zahid speaks of a time long before Srinagar turned into an asphalt and concrete jungle

(Mr. Zahid G. Mohammad, 60, was born and raised in Srinagar. He earned his Master's degree in English literature from the Kashmir University and has completed a course in Mass Communication from Indian Institute of Mass Communication. He is a writer and a journalist who has written for many newspapers, including the Statesman, the Sunday, and the Kashmir Times. He currently works for the Greater Kashmir.)

Of Self-Sufficiency Times

It was a canopy of working class. That is how I look back at my birth place. It was township of artisans, craftsmen, needle works, carpenters, woodcarvers, and workers connected with handicraft industry. More than twenty ‘taifs’ (tribes) were associated with manufacturing of handicrafts. These included Jalakdoz, tiladoz, rafgar, purzgar, patgour, khandawaw, rangar, naqash, naqashgeer, kundangar, roshangar, chahan-nagasheer, sadiawol, qalbaf etc. There were hardly any elite amongst the aborigines of in our locality.

On the Eastern side of our locality there were vast tracts of vegetable farms spreading over acres of land. Huge vegetable farms were not something peculiar to our locality but were the dominant scene of the city in our childhood. I can visualize today that vegetables were cultivated perhaps over more than half of the total land area of the city. There were vast tracts of vegetable gardens on the Northern side of my alma mater. Whatever locality or area I walked through in my childhood had large areas of vegetable gardens. The commonly grown vegetables were hak, knol-kohl, spinach, tomatoes, turnip, potatoes, chili, carrot, onion, cucumber, garlic and tobacco. Tobacco was seen as a cash crop that perhaps earned some exchequer to the state as well. Though limited numbers of vegetable varieties were cultivated in our city but the produce was sufficient for feeding the entire population. I don’t remember that vegetables were ever imported in the city from outside the city, not to speak of the city. During winters not only some shops were packed to full with vats of dried vegetables but the festoons of dried vegetables particularly turnips, chillies and tomatoes adorned every house. The long winters and limited transport facilities had made people learn hard way the lessons in self-sufficiency which they have now unlearnt.

These vegetable growers as their castes suggest were only aborigines, Bhat’s, Dar’s, Rather’s, Wani’s, Kak’s, Katjoo’s and some carried nicknames as was the fashion as their surnames. I don’t think any of the migrants from the Central Asian that arrived in the city along with some Islamic missionaries or accompanied some sufi saint or had left their homes because of persecution ever adopted farming as their profession. Most of these visitors from outside adopted the name of the towns of their ancestors were mainly engaged in ‘religious occupation’ as has been written by Sir Walter Lawrence that “these were all fed at the expense of working class” but in our childhood situation had changed and the educated amongst them had taken to the government jobs.

There was one locality in our vicinity known as Kak Mohalla where mostly vegetable growers lived. There was cluster of houses amidst sprawling vegetable gardens - I don’t know if this family of vegetable growers were converts from Brahman’s or not but many Kashmiri Pandits carried the caste of Kak in our childhood. On the periphery of this Mohalla there were some Mohallas where some elite families lived and some of them were believed to have migrated from Kashgar. There were families that were proficient in making glass bangles. There were families that had an expertise in making ceramic cups. There were some family of petty traders and grocers.

The vegetable growers were early risers. They would be seen hoeing and tiling in their farms much before the sun behind the Zabarwan hillock would splash its golden hue on the marble white snow peaks and make them look golden. I remember the most interesting scene that attracted my attention was tool- the dip well that was used for irrigating the vayer the vegetable garden. The dip-well consisted of two erect poles. On these two poles hinged yet another very long pole having a long rope tied on one side and a heavy stone attached on the other side. A big rotund bucket of iron was attached to the other end of the rope.

Notwithstanding some chroniclers believing that the dip-well had arrived in Kashmir from Persia, it seems totally ingenious as the raw material used in it used to be local. The poles for the ‘toul’ were either made from some light but strong wood. The rope used for dipping the rotund bucket into well was not also imported but it was manufactured in the nearby Mohalla named as Razagar Mohalla. Majority of the people in this Mohalla were engaged in the manufacturing of the ropes from straw, koin, that grow along the rice fields, (this grass was sacred for Kashmiri Pandits as it was on this grass he was placed after death before putting on pyre), yechkar, that grew in abundance in the damp rich soils, and ropes from this plant were superior to that made from Indian jute and ropes were also made from bhang that grew in abundance in the wastelands in our childhood.

In my childhood I visited the Shrine of Makdoom Sahib regularly. And I took the route through Kak Mohalla to the Shrine. On my way to the shrine, I would often stop to watch the vegetable growers dipping the rotund iron bucket into the well and pulling it out. I enjoyed watching the bucket being emptied and the water gushing through the arteries of small canals for watering the green vegetables.

The vegetable growers were brawny people. There hard labor did not stop at the farms only but I have seen huge pestles and mortars in the compounds of most of the vegetable growers. The pestles were mostly made from strong woods like Kekar, walnut and hawthorn and mortars were chiselled out by the famous family of stone-chiselers in the nearby Mohalla. It were not women only who would be engaged in pounding chillies and tobacco leaves in these mortars but men would also do the job. The pounding of tobacco was mostly accompanied by singing of folk songs.

I remember in my childhood my birth burg was not only self-sufficient but a complete civilization.

Corruption in Pahalgam

Basharat finds Pahalgam's cold weather has frozen the anti-corruption drive as well

(Mr. Syed Basharat, 29, was born in Kreeri, Baramulla, and did his schooling in Kreeri, and later in Uri and Sopore. He graduated from the Degree College in Baramulla and completed his Master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the Kashmir University in 2005. He has been a reporter for Kashmir Images, a Srinagar based daily, London based website Gaashonline.Com, and a Srinagar based journal, Globe. Currently, he is working as a special correspondent with Jammu based daily newspaper, The Kashmir Times.)

Pahalgam land scam: Big fishes still free

Srinagar: The government's much hyped 'tough stand' balloon against corruption has been deflated by none other than itsÿown administrative set-up, which has so far failed to take a disciplinary action, against the revenue officials including an Assistant Commissioner-the main accused in a recently surfaced multi crore land scam in Pahalgam.

Meanwhile rubbing salt to the injuries of the victims of this scam, Ghulam Mohammad Itoo (Patwari) one of the three accused revenue officials who were arrested by the Vigilance Organization (VO) has been released on bail granted by an anti-corruption court. When contacted, Deputy Commissioner Anantnag Gazanfur Hussain said that since the golf-course land scam is a criminal case, the district administration can only suspend the accused officials after they remain detained for more than 48 hours.
When asked about the detained Patwari, the DC said that it was not upto him but the immediate officer who is Tehsildar who can take the action. Asked about the accused ACR, Hussain said, "The accused ACR is not working in Pahalgam but in Pulwama."

Interestingly, the two Patwaris were arrested by VO on February 4, and out of these two, Ghulam Mohammad Itoo, got bail on Feb 12 only. Going by the DC's "48 hours" deadline for a disciplinary action against the accused officials, one of the arrested Patwaris has passed over 216 hours under detention and the second passed 192 hours in lock up before getting released on bail.

The three accused who were arrested are Patwari Ali Mohammad Itoo, Patwari Ghulam Mohammad Itoo and one land owner Mohammad Ramzan Wani who owned 19 Marlas land at Laripora-Pahalgam but got the compensation for 10 kanals and 19 Marlas. The revenue officials, hand in glove with Wani, had drawn Rs 56, 66,625 for 10 kanals and 19 Marlas instead of Rs 4, 91,625.

Although VO acted swiftly in registering a First Information Report (FIR) number 01/2009 in this scam and arrested two Patwaris and a land owner but the main accused which includes a Section Officer (SO) Dawood Ahmad Khan posted at deputy commissioner's office in Anantnag and the then collector land acquisition presently posted as Assistant Commissioner Revenue (ACR) Ghulam Mohi-u-Din Rather in Pulwama are still out of Vigilance net.

The SO according to sources is absconding since January 22 and the influential ACR, the protagonist of this big fraud, being patronised by a senior IAS officer in CM's secretariat, has got an anticipatory bail from the court. However, sources in VO said that it will contest ACR's anticipatory bail in the court on February 19, and more arrests are expected.
Reliable sources revealed that the senior investigating officer at VOK has written to the Commissioner vigilance recommending him to take up the case with government for a speedy disciplinary action against the accused revenue officials.

Sources said the Vigilance authorities have also written to the settlement commissioner for constituting a special team that will measure the actual land acquired by the government for the expansion of golf course at Laripora in Pahalgam. Sources said that Vigilance's probe in the scam has found that on July 3, 2008 two cheques worth Rs 18 lakhs were credited in favour of Pathwari Ghulam Mohammad Itoo and SO Dawood Khan in Urban Cooperative Bank Mehndi Kadal Anantnag.

Earlier, feeling the heat the land owner Ramzan Wani had deposited a cash of Rs 25 lakh at collector's office in Anantnag. Sources revealed that a departmental inquiry was also conducted soon after an upright officer forwarded a report about the scam to his higher authorities. But the result of this inquiry was kept under carpet and the case was hushed up. According to sources, some high level officers including a senior IAS officer are also involved in the scam. But nobody dares to touch them because of their position.

It is pertinent to mention here that VOK has registered an FIR No. 01/2009 U/S 5 (2) P.C Act 2006 r/w 120-B. 420, 467, 468 against revenue officials of district Anantnag for large scale bungling in the disbursement of compensation in this case. Initial investigations have revealed that land measuring 19 Marlas situated at Laripura Pahalgam was recorded under Khasra Number 1168/224 in the revenue records of Pahalgam, which was identified for the acquisition for golf ground.

But the measurement entry of land in revenue records was manipulated and changed from 19 Marlas to 10 Kanals and 19 Marlas by the accused who had drawn a compensation of Rs 56, 66,625 for 10 kanals and 19 Marlas instead of Rs 4, 91,625 for the actual acquired land.

Srinagar as an International Gateway

Ashraf wonders if the State is ready or even capable of capitalizing on the new tourist bonanza

(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.)

Dubai Take Off!

Finally, almost after 4 years the Dubai Flight is now taking off. It marks the beginning of a new era for both Tourism and trade by giving two way international access to Kashmir.

By the time this article is published, the first ever direct international commercial flight from the upgraded Srinagar International Airport would have taken off for Dubai. Notwithstanding the controversy about the nomenclature of the Airport, it is now an International Airport. We seem always to be stuck in names and lose the substance. As Shakespeare said, “A rose is a rose by whatever name you call it!” Srinagar name, which is 2,000 years old, is in itself universal and globally known because of being the capital of Kashmir, probably the most talked about place on the Earth at the moment.

Take off by an International flight from Srinagar is a historical occasion. So far only chartered Hajj flights had been operating from this airport to Jeddah for last three years or so. The demand for starting international flights from Srinagar had been pending for last 35 years. It was in 1975 that the proposal for converting Srinagar Airport into an International Airport was mooted. It has taken decades for the proposal to finally materialize. While celebrating the occasion we must not forget that this is only the beginning and not an end in itself. This is more so because of a tradition in our part of the world of starting a new venture with a lot of fanfare and then after sometime forgetting it altogether. The venture then remains symbolic and fades away with time. The present start of the flight also smacks of a similar attitude.

Normally, one would have expected lot of groundwork both in Kashmir and Dubai before the formal inauguration of the flight. It is reported that just a couple of days before the flight only 40 seats have been booked. It seems to be more a political gesture than a real commercial venture! Moreover, the service introduced, the Air India Express is the one which had been started for the use of the labour class with all economy configuration. People in authority need to realise that this flight is an opening to a vast field of trade, commerce, tourism, and above all an end to the centuries old isolation of Kashmir from the rest of the world. There may be some teething troubles in the beginning but with a positive and constructive attitude of the concerned authorities, these can be easily overcome.

Firstly, the flight is not going to any other part of the country but to a foreign land. The first mandatory requirement is the visa. It is these days possible to get online visas from a number of countries. Dubai also has online visa facilities, which can be obtained by travel agents in collaboration with local hotels in Dubai. It is not known what arrangements for grant of visitor visa have been made by the Airlines? Because of an introductory promotional return fare offer of around Rs.13, 500, it may be cheaper to fly to Dubai than to Mumbai, and Delhi. The most interesting proposition for new travelers from Kashmir would be an all inclusive week long package-tour to Dubai. This can be easily worked out by the Air India office in Dubai with local travel agents there, and then marketed in Kashmir by its own office or General Sales Agents which may have to be appointed among local travel agents in Srinagar. To make the trip attractive and popular among Kashmiris, it may be worthwhile to connect Dubai with Jeddah so that Umra is included in it. There could be packages for Umra only. There are a number of local travel agencies in Kashmir which are at present conducting Umra and even annual Hajj pilgrimage. These could easily make use of the flight by re-routing from the earlier routing of Srinagar-Delhi-Jeddah-Delhi-Srinagar to Srinagar-Dubai-Jeddah-Dubai-Srinagar route. In fact, even the foreign tour operators bringing groups to Kashmir from Europe and other places could try this routing for direct access to Kashmir. Entire Middle East has a large population of western expatriates working in different construction companies, institutions, government offices, oil companies, and so on.

According to an estimate there are about 20 million western expatriates working in the Middle Eastern Region from Egypt to Oman. All these people get their holidays in July-August, the hottest months there. This is the best season in Kashmir for foreigners but an off peak season for domestic tourists. Most of these foreigners instead of visiting their home countries, travel to different tourist destinations in South East Asia like Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore etc. Some even go to Kerala to see monsoon rains. Kashmir for them would be a short haul destination and much cheaper and easier to go than from their home countries. A large number of these foreigners are keen to visit the adventure packed land of Ladakh. At present they do it through direct flights from Delhi to Leh where three airlines operate daily flights especially in summer. There is only a single flight per week between Srinagar and Leh. In the past the Indian Airlines had been operating 3 to 4 flights per week. If the frequency of Srinagar-Leh flights is increased at least to three per week, it will be possible to connect the Dubai flight with these with a night stop over in Srinagar either way. This will not only increase traffic to Ladakh but will also give some boost to Kashmir Tourism. Apart from this there are extensive possibilities of promoting special interest tourism. This includes both the adventure travel like mountaineering, trekking, skiing, rafting, and soft recreational tourism like Golf, Angling etc. Dubai has a number of world class Golf courses and some prestigious tournaments such as the Desert Classic with prize money of 2 million dollars is held there every year. Tiger Woods, the world’s number one player, is always present in the said championship. Dubai itself has a number of top Golfing associations and in some the membership is more than 5,000.

Kashmir’s Royal Spring Course in Srinagar designed by the famous architect Robert Trent Jones Junior II is among the top ten in the world. The Course which cost more than 8 million dollars to build has been visited by many players from Dubai. There are two more courses being re-laid as per international standards. These are at Gulmarg and Pahalgam. Thus we have the possibility of attracting Golfers from Dubai for a week long Golfing holiday. They can spend two days each at the out stations and three days in Srinagar. Once the frequency of flights increases, people can fly in for a week-end of Golf. In addition, there are numerous possibilities of exporting cargo especially handicrafts, fruit, exotic vegetables, flowers, and trout fish.

As mentioned earlier, we have a tendency to forget everything after a grand inauguration. As such it is very important for the State Government to set up a multi-disciplinary Task Force preferably under the chairmanship of the State’s Chief Executive to work out details for utilizing this new opening in Kashmir to the optimum level. Some representatives of the private sector could also be included in such a high powered grouping. The Task Force will not only take measures for streamlining the operation of Dubai flight but would also be able to suggest operation of flights to other possible destinations in the Middle East, South East Asia and probably to Central Asia. They could also examine the feasibility of starting chartered flights to Srinagar from all these short haul markets.

Commencement of all these activities holds immense possibilities of employment in various sectors utilizing these flights. As stated by a fellow journalist in one of the stories on the subject, the Kashmir’s International Connection could be a better Confidence Building Measure than even the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Bus! Let us hope this CBM evolves into a real opening for Kashmir in all possible ways and does not get frozen in time like the Muzaffarabad Bus? Past experience makes one apprehensive that the venture may end like that unless the Chief Executive takes personal interest in it!

Tourism Promotion

Proper marketing is the very essence of promoting any tourist destination. Many countries spend huge amounts on tourism marketing. It involves creating a brand and then reinforcing it with continuous projection through media. There are many other tools such as FAM Tours, Travel Marts, and so on. The first requirement is to identify the potential markets and then a strategy has to be designed to tap the particular markets. Malaysia has a budget of US $ 80 million for marketing. Even within the country, states like Kerala and Rajasthan exceed Rs.60 crores or so. A state like Jharkhand has a higher marketing budget than the most touristic state of the country J & K. Another important aspect is the availability of a professional agency with top class creative personnel and sufficient resources. In the past the Department had engaged the best agency in the country for tourism promotion. Apart from this there is need to activate state tourism offices in different metros. These offices were primarily set up as promotional offices but have become just like post offices and are undertaking no promotional activity. These have to be made fully functional by undertaking extensive promotion in their jurisdiction. These must be manned by dedicated and professional staff. Then they have to be provided a blue print for undertaking continuous promotion for which sufficient funds must be made available to them.

Another problem hurting tourism to the state are the adverse travel advisories issued by various foreign offices. For modification of these, the state tourism officers have to be in regular touch with the consular offices of these countries. All the advisories are based on the feed back from consular offices. These officers can be invited to various tourist destinations in the state to get a first hand feel of the situation. This can make an impact on the feed back to their respective countries. Another measure to neutralise the adverse travel advisories is to organise and widely publicise through foreign media events of national and international standing. These would include Golf tournaments, Polo Matches, Rafting Challenges, Car Rallies, and important conferences and seminars. A number of such events can even be telecast live. To make best use of these activities, it may be worthwhile to chalk out a year long plan for tourism promotion.

Motivating Private Sector

Tourism can be a useful economic activity only if private sector participation is ensured. Usually for all new activities especially opening of new destinations, the private sector is reluctant in the beginning. Same is the case in uncertain situations. After having suffered repeated set backs, the private players hesitate in making fresh investments. In most of the developed countries, the state has a very limited role in tourism development mostly pertaining to regulation of the trade. The entire infrastructure is set up and operated by the private sector. In our case, even though we may have to initiate setting up of infrastructure in new areas, the effort should be to motivate the private sector to ultimately take over. In already developed and fully functional resorts, the field should be totally left open to private players only. It may also be worthwhile to examine the possibility of extending some sort of counter guarantee or insurance for private sector for all investments in tourism industry.

Here, it may be mentioned that almost a decade back, the Tourism sector was given the status of an industry but all the relevant incentives available to other industries were not extended in full to this sector. This issue needs to be examined afresh so that there is no discrimination between tourism and other industries. There has been a demand for constituting a Tourist Board or Authority on the pattern of the British National Tourist Board and the British Tourist Authority. Such body to be effective would have to be a statutory authority which only the state legislature can create. The suggestion deserves examination in the light of the British set up through some expert agency dealing in the field.

World Class Infrastructure

There has been a long pending demand for setting up of world class infrastructure especially in the accommodation sector. Every body who speaks about going to Kashmir in foreign marts wants to know about 5-star hotels in Srinagar. It is true that almost all major capitals boast of the properties of various multi-national hotel chains. Such high category hotels are not needed in mountain resorts like Pahalgam, Gulmarg or Sonamarg. In these places it is better to have mountain lodges and at the most 2 to 3 star hotels. In most of the resorts in Alps, the maximum rating for a hotel is 4-star. There are no 5-star hotels in the high altitude resorts anywhere in Europe. With the Srinagar Airport getting upgraded to an international airport, there is a need to have some world class 5-star properties here in the capital city. This is essential to attract up market tourists used to such high profile living. Apart from accommodation, there is also need to up grade our tourist transport services. Sometime back the government had taken initiative for up grading the infrastructure but the approach to the subject was totally ad hoc which resulted in a backlash. There is no need to auction huge plots of land to outsiders for setting up of infrastructure. Most of the international hotel chains do not construct their own properties. In most cases they give their name on franchise basis and undertake management and marketing of properties. The same approach of joint ventures needs to be adopted in case of Kashmir. There are some examples of such ventures like the Grand Intercontinental in Srinagar, ITC Fortune Inn in Jammu, and the Carlson Country Inn in Katra. It should not be difficult for the local entrepreneurs to invite chains like the Le Meridian, the Holiday Inn, Sheraton, and so on for setting up some 5-star hotels in Srinagar. The government must motivate local hoteliers to go in for joint ventures with similar chains and these projects should be given incentives and concessions by the government in terms of tax rebate etc. The subject can be further expanded by involving consultants specialising in this field.

Human Resource Development

An important sphere of activity in the tourism sector is the human resource development. No doubt Kashmiris are famous from the earliest times for being very good hosts, yet the modern tourism set up needs highly trained manpower to handle various activities. Every person involved in this trade these days needs some training to handle his job. Hotels have special software developed for managing various services efficiently. In fact, there are now specialised courses for most of the staff coming into direct contact with the tourists. These are based on psychoanalysis. One of the courses is called TACT (Transactional Analysis for Customer Treatment). Many international airlines use these. In our case, most of the hotels, restaurants, and guest houses do not have fully trained staff like waiters, front office managers etc. It is possible to organise short term courses for most of the in service staff. This responsibility can be easily taken over by the Institute of Hotel Management in Srinagar which has already shifted to a sprawling new campus in Rajbagh. They have in fact increased their intake with the inauguration of the new campus. Normally they undertake long term diploma courses. However, it should not be difficult for them to undertake this short term training in tourist facilitation. The training can be funded by the Tourism Department as an incentive to the private sector who can be asked to give preference to the trained staff. Apart from the private sector, the tourism officials themselves need to be imparted some training as well as familiarisation with the destinations they are supposed to be marketing. In the past, the department had conducted some study tours of the officers and officials to various tourist destinations in J & K including Ladakh. This is more important for the staff posted in the outside state offices. Unless they are themselves familiar with various tourist attractions of the state how can one expect them to market these? Some familiarisation tours had also been conducted for the staff of Government of India Tourist Offices in foreign countries. This exercise can be repeated in collaboration with the Union Ministry of Tourism. It needs to be emphasised that the Human Resource Development is a continuous process which has to be kept going for planned development of tourism.

Regulation of Travel Trade

An important role for the state in the tourism industry is the regulation of the trade. In fact, in most of the developed countries this is the major role played by the state. There also national and international associations for various sectors in tourism which have their own code of ethics for membership. In case of any complaint the individual members can lose the membership and can even be black listed. The J & K state has one of the best legislations known as the J & K Registration of Tourist Trade Act 1978/82 which controls entire tourism activity in the whole of the state. For enforcing various provisions of the Act, the department has an enforcement wing headed by a regular police officer of the rank of a superintendant of police on deputation. The officer has a company of police called the Tourist Police to help him in enforcing the Act. The officers of the tourism department have magisterial powers under the Act. They can enforce the attendance of witnesses by issuing summons and warrants and have also compounding powers. A written complaint of a tourist is admissible as evidence even if the tourist has left the state. Touting and pestering of tourists is a cognizable offence. Unfortunately, the state police who are supposed to enforce this section of the Act either are unaware of it or prefer not to enforce it! For any destination the repeat tourism is very important.

However, one can expect repeat tourism only when the tourists are satisfied with the services and have an assurance that any complaints would be immediately attended to. It is here that regulatory authority in tourism has a very important role. Accountability of the service providers is very important for the reputation of a destination. This has to be ensured and its availability widely publicised. The services include not only boarding and lodging facilities but shopping also. The state has to pay adequate attention to this aspect.

The points outlined can be basis of some brain storming sessions for the travel trade and government representatives. It is essential to formulate a proper policy for tourism development before going in for massive promotion and marketing. It is hoped the concerned in the trade will take the initiative to revamp the Tourism Industry in the State.