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.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ghost of Swat Looms Large on Kashmir

As violence subsides and Spring weather returns, people begin to enjoy visits to parks, music and theatre. But Taliban chants are not far behind. First three reports on idyllic charms, and fourth and the last report a grim reminder of what is possible

All city roads lead to Mughal gardens

Danish Nabi (Greater Kashmir)

Srinagar: The Mughal Gardens witnessed unprecedented rush of people, including tourists on Monday. All city roads lead to the gardens which were thrown open to public on Monday.

While hundreds of people from Srinagar queued up at the gate of Nishat and Shalimar to get a ticket, the gardens remained jam-packed with families who had come from far off places of the Valley.

People of all ages could be seen enjoying themselves in the gardens. While children were busy playing, the elders were easing out on the mats, relishing the home made dishes in customary Kashmiri style.

Maximum visitor inflow was seen at the Nishat garden where people were waiting in a queue outside the ticket centre. The other Mughal gardens like Shalimar and Harvan also witnessed a good rush of the visitors.

Talking to Greater Kashmir, people expressed joy over the opening of Mughal gardens.

“We have come to Mughal gardens just to relax in the beautiful Mughal gardens. It is like a festive season here with so much rush of the people,” said a group of youth, while waiting for his turn to get the ticket outside the Nishat garden.

Others who had come along with their family said, “This is good time to enjoy with the family at Mughal gardens. The new bloom in the garden is refreshing and the presence of colorful people is adding to the charm,” said Bashir Ahmad Dar of Narbal.

The occasion had attracted several tourists from all across India. “This is the first occasion when we have been to the valley on Baisakhi. But these are unforgettable moments for us,” said Ashok Mishra of Assam, who is touring Valley along with his family.

The ongoing tulip festival at the Asia’s largest tulip garden here added to the attraction.

Tourism department had organized special musical programme in the tulip garden while musical programme were also organized at the Zabarvan Park on Boulevard in the evening.

‘We have opened the Mughal gardens for the public. People kept flowing into the garden throughout the day,” director tourism, Farooq Ahmad Shah, said, adding, “We had organized musical programmes for people in tulip garden. We received people from across the valley and also from outside the state.”

Shah said the tourist inflow into the festival was more this year. “Around 90 per cent tourist were from outside the state,” he added.

Musical night adds to Kashmir’s idyllic charm, lends fillip to tourism

Suhail Ahmad (ANI)

Srinagar: The Kashmir Tourism department has come up with a unique way of adding to the idyllic charm of the valley and captivating the tourists.

After nearly two decades, an initiative by state tourism authorities has revived the custom of musical nights in Kashmir.

A musical night organised near the Zabarwan park overlooking Dal Lake in Srinagar on April 14 enthralled the local youngsters..

The event added to the bewitching charm of the valley.

The tranquil environment here came alive as the youngsters dance to the tunes of traditional folk music and bollywood numbers.

Farooq Shah, director, Kashmir Tourism said that the reason behind organising a musical night was to make the tourists feel at home.

“We are organising the musical nights so that the tourists have a wonderful evening and we also wanted the tourists to feel at home and be happy,” said Shah.

On the other hand, the evening was a nostalgic reminder of the rich cultural heritage of the state for the people, who are fatigued by years of militant threat.

People enjoyed the musical evening with local artists dressed in traditional attire and singing traditional songs.

Asif, a local, said that he could not believe that such events were being organised in the state.

“We used to watch on the television the musical nights happening in other places such as Delhi, but now I can’t believe that such programmes are happening in Srinagar. Organising such nights have been made possible with the help of tourism department of Jammu and Kashmir,” said Asif.

Kashmir witnesses harsh winters for more than six months between November and April. During this extremely cold weather, the temperature dips to sub-zero levels and most people prefer to stay indoors.

But as spring sets in, the valley bursts forth with life as the landscape undergoes a sea change.

The state’s tourism department as well as locals are optimistic that such shows will once again see tourists from abroad thronging this Himalayan haven, as it is a sign of the return of peace and normalcy in the valley.

Violence down, curtain up for Kashmir theatre

Srinagar: Theatre is undergoing a revival in Indian Kashmir where the most popular plays these days deal with the gritty reality of the violence that has blighted the troubled region for decades.

More than a dozen theatre clubs from various towns have started operating in summer capital Srinagar, many staging new plays about the hardship of daily life.

Srinagar's only theatre, Tagore Hall -- which was closed when violence broke out in 1989 and used as a security forces' base -- is presently showing seven different plays during the week, all by renowned writers.

Playwrights and actors say the revival is thanks to a lull in violence since India and Pakistan, who have fought two wars over control the scenic Himalayan region, launched a peace process in 2004.

"The relative calm has definitely helped in the revival," said actor Shabir Hakak, 37, who has been performing to packed audiences at the Tagore Theatre in "April Fool" -- which focuses on politics and the environment.

Kashmiri playwright and director Amin Bhat, 44, said the popularity of heavyweight plots over romance was a "reflection of events taking place".

"How can we detach ourselves from day-to-day happenings? It comes through in our writings," said Bhat, whose hard-hitting play "White Paper" won him wide praise and huge audiences.

"White Paper" touches on the sensitive issue of disappearances and custodial killings which have characterised the troubles.

Police say more than 300 people have died in custody, and at least 100 have disappeared after being arrested since the insurgency against India rule erupted in the Muslim-majority region nearly 20 years ago.

They say many of the missing crossed over the line of control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan to join insurgents.

Local human rights groups however offer figures much higher, with the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) saying that 8,000 people have vanished, most of them after being arrested by Indian security forces.

The drawn-out insurgency against New Delhi's rule here has affected almost every household in Kashmir -- and Bhat is no exception.

"I have felt the pain of violence and the stage is the place to give vent to my feelings," said Bhat, whose younger brother bled to death after a grenade attack two years ago.

"The stage is a refined form of protest and it helps to debate an issue. I am glad the plays are back and the response has been fantastic."

The violence has left more than 47,000 people dead by official count, though rights groups put the toll at 70,000 dead and disappeared.

Bhat's play "April Fool" explores political issues surrounding the famous tourist destination of Dal lake, tackling corruption at the highest levels of government and the authorities' failure to protect the lake.

The farce, which drew huge crowds during its run last month, revolves around rumours of government plans to fill in the lake and build houses on the land.

Ayash Arif, 48, is another writer-director of the new wave of Kashmir theatre whose latest production tells of a sculptor who is forced to give up his art and carve tombstones for the victims of the violence.

"These topics are very dear to us and they touch the psyche of every Kashmiri," said Arif.

"I could do justice to them as I have seen the turbulence myself," said Arif. "Our plays hold a mirror to what has happened and the present situation."

It is all very different to before the insurgency, when theatres staged saccharine boy-meets-girl storylines that helped people forget about the horror outside the theatre doors.

Now the mood is calmer, theatre-goers says they are simply delighted to back in their seats.

"My favourite form of entertainment has returned. You will see me here more often now," said Nazir Ahmed after enjoying an evening at Tagore Hall. (AFP)

Taliban Chants Heard In City Violence

Srinagar: Pro-Taliban slogans rang out in the old city today as masked protestors turned violent during demonstrations demanding a poll boycott during which the effigies of acting Hurriyat (M) chairman, Maulana Abbas Ansari, were set on fire.

Violence also flared up in Baramulla and Sopore where the police used tear gas and aerial firing to disperse protestors, while a march was held in Anantnag, even as Syed Ali Shah Geelani and several other pro-freedom leaders were placed under house arrest since Thursday evening.

Pitched battles between the police and violent protestors in several parts of old Srinagar and in Baramulla and Sopore in north Kashmira left nearly 35 persons, including 5 policemen, injured.

Groups of youth took to the streets in Nauthatta and adjoining areas after Friday prayers chanting slogans for the release of detained leaders and for total poll boycott.

Slogans in favour of the Taliban were heard in Srinagar for the first time since the birth of the group as the crowds surged towards the Nauhatta square where the effigy of acting Hurriyat (M) chairman, Maulana Abbas Ansari, was set on fire.

The demonstrators, many of them having masked their faces, also shouted slogans favouring the United Jehad Council and militancy as they demanded a total implementation of a poll boycott during the parliamentary elections now underway in the state.

Acting Chairman of Hurriyat Conference Maulana Abbas Ansari had said on Thursday the "diktats" of UJC chairman for a poll boycott were not acceptable.

(Kashmir Observer)

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