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.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Strikes in Kashmir Produce a Mixed Score Card

While tourism and marriage season have been negatively impacted, online shopping picks up in the Valley (three stories)

Strike leaves tourism shattered

Srinagar: The cool wind blowing across the Dal lake and crowded market lanes with traders hawking Kashmiri handicrafts made for ideal summer destination today as the eight-day- long strike was lifted by separatists.

But such is the unpredictability of this ever-volatile land that travel operators and tourism officials believe that it would be a huge task to revive an industry which feeds more families than any other enterprise here.

Summer vacations are more than half way through, Houseboat Association president Azim Toman says, and they would be lucky if tourists return in the same number as looked likely a fortnight back. “We were partially hit by the Taliban scare but the scorching heat in the plains helped us. But this eight-day strike has been very cruel. We are most hospitable people but tourists suffered during these days. I don’t think they would be a good advertisement for us,” Owais Jan, a shikara owner, says.

Srinagar Airport’s director NV Subbarayudu told The Tribune that 11 domestic flights landing in Srinagar everyday were hardly 50-60 per cent full, a far cry from almost 100 per cent occupancy a fortnight back. On a more disappointing note, he adds that all outgoing flights have been full as the sudden eruption of protests and strike after the Shopian incident caught thousands of tourists already in the valley by surprise and they made a beeline for flight tickets.

However, most of the tourists have already left. Due to lack of demand, the prices of plane tickets have come down from both sides. Many tourists, who had found spiralling plane tickets in the light of strikes prohibitive, have travelled out of the valley by road. Toman says tourists are still coming but their flow has come down drastically. An official says from more than 3,700 tourist arrivals two weeks back their numbers have slowly come around 2000. Groups of travellers could be seen around the Dal lake, a hub for tourists. Khursheed of Hotel Imperial, a hotel with an enviable location at Nehru Park, says they are still getting tourists but they have also begun offering a discount of over 30 per cent to attract them. In normal times, customers would have paid a premium to stay in the hotel.

Rajiv Ghai, a telecom company employee hailing from New Delhi, says he has been in Srinagar for the past five days. “I met many tourists who complained of bad quality food during the strike days. I was staying in Nehru Park where most of the shops remained open. I could not get a taxi for two days. I would think twice before coming here. We come here to enjoy ourselves, not to suffer,” he says.

But the onset of Amarnath yatra, which will begin from mid-June, could act as a catalyst for tourism revival in the valley. There is a near unanimity among travel operators that pilgrims’ arrival in large numbers would be just the medicine needed for the crippled industry. “So far, there has been only a few cancellation by pilgrims. Not more than 2 or 3 pe rcent,” Yaqoob Khan of Sita Travels says.

If separatists do not start another round of protests and strikes, the arrival of over four lakh pilgrims may turn the tide for lakhs of people depending upon tourism for their livelihood. Travel operators recall that almost every hotel was full during the beginning of the yatra last year before separatists brought life to a standstill over the land issue. “Things are bad now. It could get better, or worse” a travel operator says. (Tribune News)

Marriage cancellations in Kashmir cause Rs 10 cr loss to mutton dealers

Srinagar: In eight day continuous strike over the alleged rape and murder of two women in Shopian, the Valley mutton dealers have suffered an estimated loss of more than Rs10 crores owing to cancellation of marriages.

“The mutton dealers have received cancellation orders from most of the marriages and at this point of time, we are left with mutton stocks worth Rs 10 crores,” President All Kashmir Wholesale Mutton Dealers Association Mehraj-ud-Din Kanoon told Rising Kashmir.

Kanoon said nearly 30 lakh sheep are annually consumed in the Valley, making it a Rs 9000 crore industry. “Each day nearly 8000 sheep worth around Rs 3 crore are consumed in the Valley. In the eight day strike, orders, particularly for marriages were cancelled incurring loss of Rs.10 crores,” Kanoon said.

He said that people preferred to celebrate Nikah ceremony in an austere manner and usually cancelled the feast.

“For Nikah ceremonies people purchase hardly 25-50 Kgs of mutton. More than 90 per cent of our stock is unsold,” Kanoon said.

Abdul Gani Mir, a mutton dealer of Jamia Masjid said that local dealers were suffering as their shops continued to remain shut since last eight days of strike.

“The situation is all the time tense here. Both police and CRPF lay a heavy siege around the whole neighborhood and restrict the movement of people,” Mir said, adding that the dealers of downtown were ready to observe strike unless justice was given to the Shopian victims.

“We import sheep and goats mostly from Delhi markets besides Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. Before the strikes we purchased stock worth Rs 1.5 lakh in view of the marriage season. Since last 10 days I have hardly sold 70 Kgs of meat,” Mir added.

Meanwhile, the consumers allege that the mutton dealers were exploiting the situation by giving excuses of strike. “They (mutton dealers) deceive us as they say trucks carrying stocks are stranded on the Srinagar-Jammu highway. They are creating the hysteria of mutton shortage,” Muhammad Altaf, a resident of Gojwara said.

Altaf said more than 20 sheep laden trucks have arrived in Srinagar before the occurrence of Shopian incident. “The mutton dealers of Nowhatta received around 5 sheep laden trucks,” he added. (Rising Kashmir)

Online shopping picking up in Kashmir

Srinagar: Online retailing that has taken firm roots in cities and metros world over is beginning to take hold in Kashmir. Online shopping is a new trend that has caught up among Kashmiri youth but delay in postal delivery is impeding e-tailing from gaining momentum.

E-tailing helps retailers build varied customers across regions and is aimed at selling in areas where they don’t have a physical presence. Scores of cyber savvy young individuals surf online web sites that offer variety of products for sale and place orders for the products of their choice. However most of the shoppers complain that a slothful courier service delays the delivery of goods purchased through a credit card transaction.

Rukhsana, a young banker from uptown Sanatnagar, said that she purchased some jewellery and kitchenware from a particular online store of India but “the items take exceedingly good time in reaching my house as the postal agencies, private as well as government run, don’t deliver the goods on time,” she said.

Appreciating the benefits of e-commerce, Rukhsana said, one gets a surplus choice without having to run after shops and malls. You save time and simultaneously free yourself from being caught in a violent incident in a conflict zone like Kashmir, she said.

The products are also cost effective, she revealed.

Jehanzeb Bhat, a company executive recently purchased a book to be gifted to his loved one through an online e-site. “We have the most unreliable courier service existing in Kashmir otherwise it is an effective medium of purchasing.”

Hadi Yousuf however complained that he was handed over a shirt of different stuff than what he had ordered for.

Saeed purchased some apparels designed by a leading fashion designer in Bombay. In fact one can buy clothes from around the world and designed in style beyond ones imagination, he said.

Online Shopping has emerged into every corner of life, linking people to the culture of capitalism in frequent and daily ways, said Zubeida, a web designer.

“It holds significance in Kashmir where life remains out of gear for most of the times due to frequent strikes,” she added.

The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) has pegged the e-commerce market in India at Rs 9,210 crore. The market is estimated to grow 30 per cent year-on-year. E-retailing comes under e-commerce.

Saqib, an engineering graduate differs and urges his fellow Kashmiris to encourage local trade. ‘We are passing through difficult times of our national history. Our trade has suffered. We should support our trader community by purchasing locally,’ he argued. (Rising Kashmir)

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