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.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Going From Seminar to Seminar

Maroof discusses life in the "Seminar Capital" where one can spend an entire lifetime in and around seminar halls

(Dr. Muhammad Maroof Shah, 31, was born in Kunan, Bandipore. He has pursued a career in veterinary medicine and animal husbandry, completing Bachelors's degree in veterinary sciences (BVSc) at the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences and Animal Husbandry (FVSc & AH), Shuhama campus of the Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Kashmir (SKUAST-K), and MA English through the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). He is presently posted as a Veterinary Assistant Surgeon (VAS) at the Government Sheep Breeding Farm in Dachigam. Dr. Shah is the author of two books, and has lectured as a visiting fellow at the Jaipur University on Western Philosophy. In his leisure time he pursues studies in comparative religion, philosophy and literature.)

SEMINARS IN KASHMIR: A serious academic activity or a simple time-pass

In Kashmir, generally speaking, seminars and conferences are not discussion forums but just provide a space for gossip. It is not that a properly constituted seminar committee invites papers through proper media, reviews them and then selects the paper readers – only the pleasure of the HoD counts in selection of the paper reader. His acquaintances, his erstwhile guide and his party in some business partnership are more likely to get invited. It is rare to see open invitation circulated in easily accessible medium as is the norm. Seminars have time for everything, including tea breaks, lunch breaks, gossip breaks (thak kadun) but often little time for paper readers.

I remember one experience of a seminar in which paper readers were given two and at the most five minutes – asked to present gist only or abstract only or more ridiculously only the first and last paragraphs. A serious argument can rarely be paraphrased without creating confusion and need for explanation. One wonders how funds are granted for seminars and why there is no monitoring and auditing. What for is the audit department? Some seminars are conducted only to prevent lapse of funds. There is so much repetition of time worn themes that one feels suffocated at times and seeks excuses to leave the seminar.

Here in our universities paper readers come to read papers and not listen to others and it is often seen that the paper reader is present only on the session or the day at the most in which his paper is scheduled. Organizers are unable to check the problem. Sometimes vote of thanks takes more time than would suffice for one or two paper readers.

In developed countries seminars are goal directed, issues are raised and discussed threadbare. Every Tom, Dick and Harry will not be allowed to poke nose or bore audience. Here, in contrast, few people are really interested in genuine researches and debate or discussion. People need to be dragged or begged to attend seminars and offer of lunch coupons etc. proves ineffective.

If one has some personal grudge against the seminar organizer it is rare to find him to accept the invitation. If organizers have some grudge they too are not keeping scholarship in consideration while inviting potential participants. There is hardly observed any seminar ethics. Organizers are sometimes interested in conducting seminar come what may or they are compelled to do so. Seminar organizers are compelled to beg for papers through repeated phone calls and letters to the paper readers. The paper readers don’t bother to send soft copies or hard copies of papers in advance. It is often a challenge for the organizers to gather paper readers and the audience. In a world where knowledge is the last thing on the list people have no time and no energy for seminars.

In big seminars the most disgusting thing often noticed is the arrangement for lunch etc. Respectable and aged scholars are compelled to sit in queue for a long period to receive the meal as if beggars are with a begging bowl or it is some shrine in which tahr is distributed.

Inaugural session is the least technical thing in the whole seminar and it is more a formality and could even be bypassed. But the irony is that it is in this session that most people attend, relevant and irrelevant – many attend just for the sake and fun of gathering or are compelled to attend for this or that reason. Big audience in the inaugural session is often supposed to make seminar a success.

Here almost all seminars are declared success even if no important paper has been read or more than a handful of people have bothered to attend the seminar.

Another absurdity is that paper readers are asked to stoop to the level of audience which is often lay with a few scholars as if seminars are like mahfil-i- waaz of preachers. It is not for har khas-o-aam. They are primarily for the concerned, the specialists. If we are to evaluate utility of seminars it might be asked what significant papers have come out of them in Kashmir. Derrida became world famous for his paper that introduced deconstruction in a seminar. One could well ask the authorities here which paper has created history or even ripples. If any paper could it would, most probably, not be accepted or understood. It is an observation of many people in the seminars that only lunches are the most remarkable things about our seminars. And who takes seminars seriously. Perhaps it is in the logical order of things as there are hardly any serious seminars and serious deliberations though themes are often weighty. There are examples where students who can’t even pronounce words correctly are allowed to present papers.

Why conduct seminars? If nothing substantial is to be achieved or planned to be achieved and no specific agenda is there why waste money on it? It is a routine that the same faces, with little variation, will present papers in departmental seminars across decades and there is not much innovation in the subject chosen for seminars. It seems as if departments are taking it as a hobby and a feast. Papers are often not presented before the date of seminar as they should be normally and they are not distributed in the audience. Sometimes discussion on papers is not allowed or just skipped. Sometimes scheduled papers are not read as some more assertive and manipulating persons manage to take extra time or the chief guest takes time to come or spends too much time with his presidential remarks. How humiliating it is for certain paper readers to beg the seminar organizer for a space to read his paper as happens often here? It is almost routinely observed that time schedule is hardly observe neither by the organizers nor by the paper readers and sometimes discussion takes too long a time at the sacrifice of another paper reader. But who bothers? It is rare to observe pin drop silence and rapt attention from the audience in seminars. Side-talks and even attending to phone calls is not a rare sight in our seminars.

Abstracts are normally submitted weeks before the seminar but here, especially in humanities departments, little consideration is paid to abstract submission. There are examples where scholars have no time for writing papers and they just jot a few lines at the last moment to make a paper out of it and even don’t give full length paper after many requests from concerned authorities. Even extempore lectures are deemed to be papers and justify one’s claim to receive an honorarium.

How many seminars have created noticeable impact in academic circles nationally or internationally?

There are examples where the same paper is read in many seminars. Very few scholars take pains to write really original papers. There is much repetition, appropriation and cut pasting from other works with little creativity. Very few scholars care to avoid plagiarism and if one goes by the strict laws that are operational in most developed countries most of our authors/paper readers would find themselves charged – and not unwarrantably so – with plagiarism.

Often it has been noticed that the papers are not quite relevant and widely deviate from the theme proposed. Yes almost anything goes in this part of the world which believes in “democracy” of education and generously tolerates all kinds of abuses in academic industry. It is good to impress upon the concerned authorities to conduct seminars but it is necessary to ensure that a seminar in the real sense of the word is conducted instead of a gossip show.

Occasionally good seminars are held and a few good papers are read and discussed but that only proves the rule of general indifference towards this important academic activity.

I am not opposing holding of seminars but only emphasizing the need of holding them in real spirit. Otherwise it is better to divert seminar budget to finance scholarships for meritorious students and projects or some similar activity. It is at the cost of taxpayers that seminars are conducted and they have every right to demand proper use of their money from the authorities. Seminar as an important academic institution or a concept is virtually dead in the valley and needs to be revived. Seminars are crucial for academic health and the diseased state of academics in the valley is attributable to the virtual absence of healthy critical activity that seminars are supposed to carry.

No comments: