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, May 22, 2009

Ending Kashmir's Malaise

Shakeel-ur-Rehman hopes that the Right to Information (RTI) Act would bring good governance to the State

(Syed Shakeel-ul-Rehman, 32, was born in Qazipora, Tangmarg. He did his schooling at the Government Middle School in Katipora and at the Government Higher Secondary School in Chandilora, both in the Tangmarg Tehsil. He graduated in Social Work from the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), being the first Kashmiri student to graduate with that major. He subsequently did his post graduate diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication from the same University. He has taken specialized courses in computer hardware and software technology. He worked as a columnist and correspondent for the Greater Kashmir daily newspaper until 2005 and is currently the Opinion Editor of the Kashmir Images daily newspaper. He also anchors Doordharshan Kendra Srinagar's live phone-in show called, "Hello DD" since April 2005. Mr. Shakeel-ur-Rehman holds the distinction of having interviewed prominent personalities in all major fields and walks of life, probably more than any other Kashmiri journalist.)

Kashmir’s Malaise

Like the rest of the world, in Kashmir also there is an emphasis on good governance these days. One of the important characteristics of good governance is open governance. An open government is one which does not hide anything from the governed.

Open government in fact strengthens the link between the state and the citizens. For an open system of government people’s participation is a must. Without it no government can be described as ‘open’. People’s participation can be effective and meaningful only when they are allowed access to information about the government’s day to day activities affecting the important aspects of public life.

Participation in government by the people is regarded as an important aspect of democracy and people cannot participate unless they have information as to what the government is doing and how it is doing. A democratic state, being answerable to the people, the people are entitled to know what policies and programmes are being followed by the government. Another important factor justifying the openness in government activities is that almost all democratic countries adopt the concept of welfare state where the state undertakes a large number of activities that affect the social and economic interests and personal life of the individual.

It is extremely important, therefore, that these powers are exercised for public good and not for the good of those who are in power. It is a common saying that power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. Hence there is an inherent danger that the extensive powers vested in the executive may be used by office holders not for the public good but for their own selfish goal. And this is what is happening in Kashmir. The system has failed to such an extent that people hardly trust those in power. This is what has made it important that the people in this sensitive state should have the right to access to as much information about governmental operations as possible.

In the last few decades, freedom of information has been recognized as an internationally protected human right and societies across the world are moving away from opaque and secretive administrative systems to open and transparent one’s. Recognising the importance of freedom of information at individual, organizational, national and international levels, even the United Nations Organization has declared ‘freedom of information’ as a fundamental human right. Although the rest of the world including India has embraced the concept, the Jammu and Kashmir state, which enjoys the dubious distinction of being the second most corrupt state in the whole of India after the notorious Bihar, seems to be out of sync with this progressive concept.

The fact that it has failed to set up an independent Information Commission despite passing its own Right to Information Act earlier this year, highlights this starkly. It is because of this that in Kashmir despite the RTI Act and its provisions the problems regarding seeking information still remain the same. In order to make governance meaningful and effective the state administration will have to change its mindset. That is the only way to end Kashmir’s malaise.

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