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.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Father's Delight

Asifa conducts an interview with Dr. Sameetha Agha, daughter of Dr. Agha Ashraf Ali

(Ms. Asifa Amin Koul was born in Srinagar. She went to the Arya Samaj School in Hazuri Bagh, and the Government Women's College on the Maulana Azad Road, both located in Srinagar. She completed her Master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. Asifa did internships at "Aaj Tak", a New Delhi based news channel, and at the Srinagar office of the Agence France Press (AFP). She is presently a correspondent for the Kashmir Times, covering local stories on human rights violations, economic matters and socio-cultural issues. Asifa worked as the Art Director for a national award winning short film, Belaus, for which she won the national award at the Annual Jehangirabad Film Festival in 2006. In her leisure time she likes to spend time with her family.)

Daughter of the soil carves her own niche as historian, thinker and orator

Carrying the legacy of literary pursuit of her family forward, Sameetha Agha, daughter of Dr Agha Ashraf Ali, Kashmir's renowned educationist, thinker and orator and sister of internationally acclaimed poet, Agha Shahid Ali has finally made her literary debut at international level. Kashmiri born-American based historian and scholar, Sameetha, 44, has edited and written a research piece for an Oxford publication on colonial imperialism, Fringes of Empire: People, Places and Spaces. The book is all set to hit stands shortly.

In this exclusive interview Sameetha during her brief sojourn to Srinagar shares her views on different topics pertaining to Kashmir which include politics to education.

AAK: Please tell us something about yourself-family, education and job.

SA: I was born in Kashmir on August 9, 1965. I did my schooling from Presentation Convent and my 11th and 12th from Nawa Kadal College because it was the only institution in the valley which offered different combination of subjects in Humanities.

Later I went to America in 1984 to pursue my bachelor's degree in Computer Sciences. But suddenly I developed my interest in History and I did my bachelors in US foreign policy and political economy from Smith College, Massachusetts. Then I went to Yale to do my PhD. For my research I initially opted for Islamic languages but I would have to learn five languages for the kind of work I wanted to do so I switched to International Relations and International History. Finally I opted for nationalism for my research. Meanwhile the turmoil in Kashmir erupted in 1989 and I did some work on Kashmir and Balkans.

I became assistant professor of World History at Pratt Institute, New York. I was appointed chair for the same department for nine consecutive years. But now I have gone back to teaching because I did not get much time to do my own work being an administrator. Presently I am again working as an assistant professor at Pratt.

AAK: Please tell us something about the book, Fringes of Empire and about your own piece in this collection.

SA: This book is a collection of articles by different writers in which we have tried to write a new history by going against official narratives that exist on margins (the colonies of British Empire in India). There is a section in the book in which we are looking at different geographical fringes -the imperial sites of British Empire which include Tibet and Kashmir. Well, the whole book does not really focus on Kashmir, but through different fringes we are trying to provide a view of how the post-colonial states which includes Kashmir function in the present world.

I think that this book will help to remove various misconceptions about Kashmir especially among the people in the West who do not know much about the history of Kashmir. They believe that Kashmir is a religious issue where people are fighting with each other for religion!

My own piece, "Inventing a Frontier: Imperial motives and sub-imperialism on British India's North West Frontier, 1889-98", is about how imperial colonial policy was made on North West Frontiers. And I am specifically looking at tribal areas which are now called as FATA in which I have touched some of the biggest colonial wars that took place in these areas during 19th century some of which were much bigger than Crimean War and comparable to Indian mutiny. But majority of the people hardly know anything about these wars!

AAK: How close do you find yourself to your roots-Kashmir?

SA: I think very, very close. I was very young when I left Kashmir for America for my studies. But later I discovered my own location, my own history and what shaped me. The change in political development here (in Kashmir) affected me like anything else. But being a scholar and a historian, Kashmir has always been on my mind. I love reading Kashmiri papers everyday and I read them page to page.

Besides I am in the process of finishing my book on colonial wars in North West Frontiers and after that I want to work on Kashmir. I am very much interested in trauma, memory and history. I can see sadness and trauma on people's faces. I realise there are children in Kashmir, now in their 20s, who have grown just seeing violence since 1989. I want to look at all these issues from a larger perspective in my next book on Kashmir.

AAK: How do you feel when you hear about the incidents of gruesome human rights violations in Kashmir?

SA: Oh, I feel horrible! I was here post Amarnath crisis last year and I remember there was curfew in the whole city. Everything was closed and deserted.

But I think the situation in Kashmir during Amarnath crisis was quite remarkable because it seemed as if the whole valley had come out for peaceful demonstrations! And then of course the army fired upon them and many people were killed. It was really painful!

Unfortunately, a lot of information like this does not flow into the West. The American newspapers do not really focus on what is happening in Kashmir. So what was happening last year (Amarnath crisis) was not really picked up by American newspapers that way. They may have two lines on violence in Kashmir but not much!!

AAK: And what is the response of other Kashmiris living in America?

SA: Well, I cannot really speak on behalf of all Kashmiris there (she laughs). But about the people I know, yes, they are very much concerned about their relatives.Whenever they hear of some disturbing incident in Kashmir, they try to get information about the safety of their relatives. And they all want things to change here.

Then there is a Kashmir Council in Washington DC which holds various seminars on Kashmir. I have myself been to their various conferences and I found them good.

AAK: How do Americans look at the developments in Kashmir? Do they see it through the prism of media or do they try to have their own understanding about Kashmir issue?

SA: Well, Americans mostly know about places like Bosnia, Rwanda, Iraq and Afghanistan. For those who at all have ever heard of Kashmir, there is a very short attention span as far as Kashmir's politics goes.

But yes, there are some American scholars who really pay attention to the happenings in Kashmir. And they realise its significance in terms of South Asia and geopolitics. They want it to be resolved.

AAK: You do not live here but you do visit Kashmir more frequently. What changes do you observe on psychology and thinking of people, women in particular because of the ongoing turmoil in valley?

SA: It is only in the past two years that I have started coming here most frequently. Before that I was quite busy with my research. But I have not systematically gone around and talked to people the way I would do for my research on Kashmir. But even from taking to very few people and from my own little observations, I have felt how things have changed drastically since the time I left Kashmir. There is a huge impact of trauma on people. I hear people constantly lamenting on as to what has changed and I have noticed them yearning for things to get better.

AAK: What is your take on the treatment of Shopian rape and double murder case?

SA: Whatever I read from newspapers it seems it was not handled properly. In my opinion a legal system does not really require government intervention. Shopian incident should have been resolved fairly and quickly. And it seems to suggest that legal system is not quite working here and the fact it (resolution of Shopian case) is taking so long that seems to be creating problems for government!

AAK: What is your opinion about the academic atmosphere in Kashmir? Is it improving or deteriorating?

SA: I did not get a chance to visit Kashmir University or any of the colleges and schools here all these years. But through my interaction with some local students I came to know that they are very much dissatisfied with the prevailing education system here. It is from their experiences I felt that neither the level of education system nor the atmosphere in which it is conducted are as inspiring as it should have been for the students. I feel very sad when I hear students talking of pursuing their studies outside the valley!

AAK: How do you assess the influence of women here?

SA: Kashmir has a tradition of strong women both politically and educationally. There is something very unique about Kashmiri women. They are not only interested in politics but they are very much actively involved in it as well. I find it very interesting!

You know there is a woman from some village who visits my father's residence in Srinagar. What excites me when she talks about politics and sometimes has a strong opinion about some local politicians or a political party. You would not get to see this in many parts of the world where women do not really know who the minister or mayor is!

But at the same time Kashmiri women have also been exploited since 1989 which gets vivid from the incidents like sex scandal and Shopian rape and murder case. And I am sure such things might have been happening ever since conflict arose here!

AAK: Your brother, Agha Shahid Ali, made a name in a very short span of time. He was a man with a sensitive soul which loved Kashmir. How do you see his loss as a poet?

SA: He was unique in lots of ways. I do not have to affirm what others say about his poetry. But in my opinion, as far as his poetry on Kashmir goes, it evokes such a myriad of things that most of us cannot put it in words! That is why it is so powerful!

Personally, his death was a huge loss for our family! We still feel it very deeply. He was an amazing person who had a deep impact on the lives of many people! His death was definitely a big loss for Kashmir.

AAK: How relevant is Kashmir's past to its present and future keeping into view diverse school of thoughts that exist on Kashmiriyat?

SA: Well, as a historian I believe that past lives on. Past is extremely important for it has an impact on future. As a student of colonial history I believe that until we understand the impact of colonialism and the structures and mindset that we have inherited because of it, we really cannot move forward.

I also believe that when a certain group of people are deliberately alienated from their own language and history, it itself indicates how colonial past has an impact on them. And that is how it has happened here.

AAK: Do you think there are some positive signs in US president Barrack Obama's interest in relation to Kashmir resolution?

SA: I think no matter how Obama might be more pleasing to listen than Bush, but for great powers like America, issues like these are viewed in the larger context of their own geo-strategic interests. There are some people in America who think that America has its own problems and that there would not be a big shift! They feel that America is not going to view Kashmir on its own but in terms of politics in South Asia and Middle East.

AAK: As a student of history how do you visualise future of Kashmir looking from the present situation?

SA: Well, on talking to local people it seems that Omar Abdullah is quite inspiring for majority of Kashmiri people because they feel that he wants to do something for Kashmir and under his leadership the government is going to be forward-looking.

I cannot really predict future but as a historian when I look at it from a larger historical and global perspective, I believe there has to be a long-lasting political solution with which the majority of the people are happy. And that is what living in modern state and modern democracy means!

I think that this book will help to remove various misconceptions about Kashmir especially among the people in the West who do not know much about the history of Kashmir. They believe that Kashmir is a religious issue where people are fighting with each other for religion!'

Recalling a Hire who Became Family

Ashraf recalls a helper who loved BBC Radio and Vajpayee

(Dr. Mirza Ashraf Beg, 69, was born in Sarnal, Anantnag. He did his primary schooling at the Primary Hanfia School in Anantnag and completed his F. Sc. from the Government Degree College in Anantnag. He completed his medical degree (MBBS) from the Government Medical College Srinagar, University of Kashmir, in 1967, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Clinical Pathology from the Government Medical College Jammu, University of Jammu, in 1981. He served as the Medical Director of the Civil Hospital, Pahalgam, until 1983 and subsequently held senior administrative positions in the health service system of Saudi Arabia, including participation in a joint program with the Johns Hopkins University and the University of South Florida for a United Nations project related to environmental and ecological impact of the 1991 Gulf War. He is an Executive Member of the Jammu and Kashmir Red Cross (nominated by the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir), Member of General Medical Council, Jammu and Kashmir, Medical Council of India, Saudi Medical Council, and General Medical Council, London. He is proficient in Kashmiri, Urdu, Hindi, English, Arabic.)

Hassan Kaka, the unforgettable

The word Kaka has diverse meaning. In Kashmiri ‘Kak’ is a respectful way of addressing an elder brother, an uncle or a helper at home. While in Dogri and Punjabi ‘Kaka’ is a loving youngster irrespective of his relationship with you or his social status.

Hassan Kak was born in the mountains of Himalayas at Udhyanpore Doda where people still tread on foot or use livestock as a means of transport. His mother hailed from the reputed family of Maliks of Narwaw Kulgam and his paternal genes came from ‘Wanis’; a successful business family of Udhyan pore in Doda. I am talking of the days when pedigree was given a lot of importance for matchmaking. People would travel hazardous routes to find an appropriate life partner and the relationships were not disposable as today.

As said,

‘Time you old gypsy man where have you been
Last week in Rome and last week in Babylon.’

After the fall of the business empire of his forefathers in Udhyanpore Hassan Kaka left his birth place in search of his maternal lands in Narwaw Kulgam just in his childhood. The quest for his roots landed him in our house when my father Mirza Gulam Qadir Beg had been released on parole facing trial in Kashmir conspiracy case at Canal road Jammu. Though he never got his lands but a great fighter Hassan Kaka didn’t give up his struggle against the deep rooted corruption in the prevailing system. Thus Hassan Kaka grew up with my younger brothers as one of the siblings of our family. His long stay of half a century made the bonds deep rooted and he got genuinely associated with the younger generation in our home. Whenever I would call him to listen to an e mail from Nimmer from Malaysia he would innocently ask, ‘Tell me how his hand is writing,’ hardly realising the power of the present day information technology! At the same time as a true son of the soil he never forgot his roots in Udhyanpore or Narwaw and stayed closely in touch with his pedigree as if he had taken a lesson from Socrates’ advice to Alexander the great. “Your desire to conquer the world will take you to different lands but never forget that you are a Greek.” Being extremely hospitable he would attend to guests personally but gifted with keen observation he would grade the visitors on their performance rather than their art of gossip.

During my internship and house job in SMHS hospital in Srinagar Hassan Kaka was my house keeper and whenever I was on twenty four hours duty in the hospital Hassan Kaka would deliver my lunch box in the house surgeons room in ward sixteen. Alien to the system of men and women working together he hardly liked my liking of sharing my modest meals with female colleagues in the hospital. As an orthodox conscience keeper he would warn me against the temptations of a youth but a prodigal youngster I would recklessly violate his rules.

At home in Sarnal we would generally share a common ‘dastarkhan’ and would have the same vitamins and glucosamine for our knee pains but of late he had developed a fascination for liquid form of vitamins. So I had to ask Heemu a dutiful pharmacist to supply him Mecalvit regularly. Hassan Kaka always refused to undergo blood tests for his increasing general weakness and would insist that ignorance is a blessing. He would argue while there is no cure for the diagnosed ailments, so better stay in ignorance and wait for the divine judgment.

Besides being a great fan of Kashmiri music Hassan Kaka was religiously regular for the news from BBC, Radio Pakistan and radio Kashmir. He hated the gossip about Hartals, declared and undeclared curfews as he detested sitting indoors. A great lover of peace he disliked the news of wars and conflicts. Despite the fact he had a great abhorrence for BJP at the same time he was a fan of Atal Behari Vajpayee for his peace mission to Lahore. Having grown up in the house during the times when my father was sometimes arrested under preventive detention act and at times for concocted Kashmir conspiracy case or Hazratbal murder case Hassan Kaka had developed a natural aversion for men in uniform roaming aimlessly in the streets. In the heart of his hearts he would want them to go back to the boarders or their barracks. A pro literacy intellect having just his basic schooling he always hailed the government decision of having south campus of Kashmir University at Karewa (called as high ground in the terminology of armed forces.) However he was apprehensive of having men in uniform dangerously close to a coeducational institution.

As a practicing physician one sees death in different forms. Sometimes it is sudden and accidental while at times it comes with chronic and prolonged ailments but this time it had a totally different modus operandi. August 2nd; Hassan Kaka decided to visit his native place. Accompanied by two of his nephews who had traveled to escort him to Udhyanpore, he came to my room to ask my consent. Focusing his eyes on the mother-earth under the feet he did not exchange glances with me, perhaps knowing well that he could not keep his word to come back. Though he said he will return after Ramdhan hardly realising ‘Ids’ will come but he will not. Two days after his departure when I called his brother at 9.30 pm I was told Hassan Kaka had just breathed his last-- 5th; August the date coincided with the death anniversary of my father and Shabi Barat. Despite the fact Quran Khani was arranged at home at Sarnal, the son of the soil seems to have planned his final abode and was laid to rest at his native place in Udhyanpore.

Highways To Hell

The title of the Editorial in the Kashmir Images says it all

Highways To Hell

Kashmir’s roads are becoming highways to hell. The staggeringly high traffic fatality rate attests to this in a pronounced manner. There is hardly any day when somebody doesn’t die on our streets. Just a day before yesterday three people lost their lives and four were injured in different road mishaps across Kashmir.

Although daily traffic deaths are alarming, the annual toll is scarier. In 2008 alone, for instance, 950 people were killed in traffic accidents across the state. The statistics for the preceding years too mirror a high accident rate. In the Valley where members of the expanding middle class are taking to the roads in record numbers, crash rates are growing out of control. There are a host of other factors that heighten the peril. With car and motorcycle sales rising, the government is unable to build wider and safer roads.

In a place like Kashmir where the existing road systems are badly maintained and lack basic infrastructure such as stop signs and traffic signals the rise in road accidents is becoming difficult to bring down.

With existing roads already hopelessly congested road fatalities are likely to go up in the years ahead. Besides, in Kashmir the causes of accidents are varied: Traffic in the Valley especially in the capital city, Srinagar, is frequently a tumultuous and deadly mix of pedestrian, affordable motorcycles, cars, bicycles and passenger vehicles- all vying for places in line along the same overburdened stretches of blacktop.

To this add lax law enforcement, a flood of inexperienced drivers, and a marked indifference to safety on the part of many motorists and it’s little wonder that our roads sometimes resemble the traffic chaos of the metropolitan cities. The offensive behaviour now universal among Kashmir’s aggressive me-first motorists too is likely to take the accident rate up. Motorcycles are wildly popular in Kashmir because almost anyone can afford one. But the tendency among Valley’s youth to ape their reel favourites especially the Dhoom flick’s motorist gang is likely to inflict a toll.

Motorists are usually seen disobeying the rules and often avoid taking safety precautions. Though helmets are mandatory, people seldom use them. Too often they pay an appalling price to feel and look cool.

Apart from the motorists, the reckless driving by the Sumo and Tipper drivers too is significantly responsible for the rising accident deaths in the Valley. Besides, there appears to be another universal truth underlying Kashmir’s soaring traffic death rates: fatalities increase with rising incomes. This means Kashmir’s statistics are bound to get uglier. Kashmir has exploding middle classes whose members are reaching for the car keys for the very first time- yet it will be years before the Valley is able to fully afford the costs of safer and wider roads.

Traffic accidents can be ascribed to myriad other factors. With innumerable new cars and fledgling drivers clogging the transportation system of Kashmir’s major towns and the capital city strict enforcement of traffic laws is crucial. Unfortunately enforcement is the weakest link in the road safety chain. Corruption among the traffic section of police is no secret. The traffic cops usually help people get off the hook for traffic violations for petty monetary gains. Corruption has now become part of our culture. Given the rising road accident rate strict enforcement of laws is a must. We have plenty of laws. It is the enforcement that is lacking. If measures are not taken to improve road safety through strict enforcement of traffic rules then in the coming years it seems inevitable that people will continue to die in road accidents on Kashmir’s mean streets.

Perils of Outsourcing the Resistance Movement

Wajahat argues for charismatic resistance leadership but can such a leadership really succeed where Pakistan and religious warriors have failed?

(Mr. Wajahat Ahmad, 30, was born in Anantnag. He went to the Montessori school, followed by the Islamia Hanifya College, both in Anantnag. He completed B.A. (Hons.) in German Studies at the Centre for German Studies in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. He completed his M.A. in Social Sciences from the University of Freiburg in Germany, and also studied at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban. He is currently enrolled in M.A. program in International Peace & Conflict Studies at the University of Peace (UPEACE), a U.N. mandated University, in Costa Rica.He has received numerous scholarship to study of conflict resolutions, including one from the Austrian Government.)

What ‘ails’ our resistance movement?

Kashmiris have for long deluded themselves into believing that some day Pakistan or the United States would help them in realizing their long cherished dream of independence. Granted that every liberation struggle needs allies, supporters and cheerleaders but external support cannot and must not be seen as the blood of a resistance. Whenever the leaders of India and Pakistan get together for the so-called peace talks, we wrongly assume that Kashmir is the theme of deliberations between the two and it is only a matter of a few months that some breakthrough would be achieved.

Our politically infantile leadership loses no time in hailing the meetings between Indian and Pakistani leaders or diplomats, with a naïve hope that the two countries would soon start behaving and let the battered Kashmiri people have some watered down version of freedom.

A national liberation movement cannot be expected to walk on crutches. The resistance movement has to learn to walk alone when there is no forthcoming international solidarity and until the time such solidarity is earned through relentless efforts. It is high time for the younger Kashmiri generation to take full charge of the political landscape and chart new paths of non-violent and creative resistance, which are not dependent on the signposts erected by Pakistan or any other State.

Steve Coll, recently wrote a piece, “Backchannel Diplomacy”, which revealed that in 2007 India and Pakistan had almost agreed on some kind of demilitarization in Kashmir, which was to be followed by ‘self rule’ and a soft border in the form of free trade and movement of Kashmiris across the Line of control. We have also seen news reports that majority of our so called independentist leadership had agreed to be midwives for selling the proposal to hapless Kashmiris, provided India could formally commit to the idea and guarantee its deliverance.

It is depressing to see our leadership nodding their heads in affirmative to almost every sound that emanates from the durbars of Delhi and Islamabad. We are a nation bereft of any independent agency. It is very important for us to stop breathing the air of expectancy, hope against hope that Indians and Pakistanis would soon start loving each other soon and spare us their shackles. Freedom is not a dole to be received but an ideal to be realized through an unflinching commitment to uphold human dignity, justice and liberty.

We have historically outsourced our freedom struggle to Pakistan and now we are reaping the bitter harvest. Kashmir liberation struggle remains unrecognized by the world and to the extent it is recognized, it is only seen as an inter-State conflict. Beyond a few informed or concerned journalists, academics or policy makers in England and the United States, Kashmir remains an oblivious idea. Some Europeans think that it is just the name of a particular type of a fabric, Cashmere and for the few news hungry ones on the globe it is some border conflict between India and Pakistan. If one were to randomly scan European, Latin American or African media, for news on Kashmir, it should not come as a surprise that Kashmir story does not exist and if it does exceptionally, it is about rising Indo-Pak tensions on a border region called Kashmir .We may ascribe this to our unfavourable geo-political reality or ill luck but the question that must stare us in the face is what have our leaders and intellectuals done to address the almost total lack of awareness about the Kashmiri freedom struggle across the globe? The cocooned reality of our leadership deludes it into believing that a barrage of pro freedom statements in the Kashmiri media makes the world stand up and take notice.

How many awareness campaigns have been launched by our leaders to sensitize the civil society of at least the world powers if not the globe about the grim happenings in Kashmir. Reading a few news reports in local newspapers about one or two conferences that are held in the United States or Belgium should not lull us into complacence and make us believe that the whole world is discussing Kashmir. The sad story is: It isn’t.

Of all the major recognized academic works on conflicts across the world, Kashmir constitutes the subject matter of a very few. Nearly all major works on ethnic/inter State conflicts or nationality movements do not register Kashmir. Kashmir has not captured the imagination of major theorists of nationalism or ethnicity like Kedourie, Homi Bhaba, Ernest Gellner, Anthony Smith, Benedict Anderson, Donald Horowitz, Thomas Hyland Erikson, John Brueilly, Milton J Esman, Michael Billig, etc.

Even if we concede the point that the conflict in Northern Ireland –with roughly 3700 deaths as compared to around 60,000-70,000 deaths in Kashmir- enjoyed a lot of global academia and media attention as it pertained to a globally dominant continent of Europe and that Global media is awash with happenings in Palestine, owing to the geopolitical importance of the Middle East. But how does one explain the virtual absence of Kashmir in the global academic discourse, when Kurdish national movement, Tamil nationality movement in Sri Lanka, figure much more prominently in world academia than Kashmir.

Even if Kashmir does get noticed, it is seen as more as a raison d’etre of a conflict between two nuclearized States, a nuclear flashpoint and not as a national liberation movement waged by a Stateless nation of Kashmiris.

As far as the campuses of international universities go, Kashmir is missing from the student debates and discussions. There are hundreds and hundreds of student solidarity groups and networks across world’s famed universities, in support of many a nationality movements, especially in the cases of the Palestine, Tibet and not surprisingly Kashmir and Kashmiris are invisible there as well.

Except for a few good men, most of our intellectuals have chosen not to speak truth to power. Many yes men in our academia, journalism and NGOs, to safeguard their interests, have largely maintained silence on the repression unleashed by India in Kashmir or at worst have become the apologists of the Indian colonial enterprise. Most of our academics tend to hide behind a ridiculous veil of so called “academic neutrality” and refuse to term the Indian military control of Kashmir as military oppression. What they articulate is actually an affirmation of an oppressive State’s position on Kashmir, a garrisoned territory, with no freedom of association or dissent, controlled by half a million soldiers. Majority of our meek and self-centered academics have often discouraged their students from critical thinking and many times prevented them from expressing political dissent on colleges or university campuses. They have been singing peans in the honour of the men in power. Not surprisingly some of them end up misrepresenting the mass sentiment for Azaadi as demilitarization, self rule etc. In contrast, world renowned Palestinian academics like Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Walid Khalidi, Edward Said, Rashid Khalidi, Nur Masalha never minced words whenever they spoke about the Israeli occupation of Palestine.They have authored seminal works on the Palestinian question and convincingly demolished the warped Zionist discourse on Palestine.

Kashmir is still waiting for its own Khalidis and a Said, for organic intellectuals who can lead the people out of the current morass and steer the nation towards a complete liberation. We are yet to see the emergence of an indigenous Kashmiri narrative that could resonate across the globe. When a nation’s intellectuals and leaders have lost their moral compass, it is bound to give birth to flawed forms of resistance.

The Kurdish national leader, Abdullah Ocalan once said, I have struggled to develop a new kind of a Kurdish person, a new identity among Kurds, one that is informed and capable of making a stand for Kurdish demands. This is what I have been preparing my people for. Hope our leadership and intellectuals can draw some lessons.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hidden Treasures of Kashmir

Akhtar and Aijaz explore the hidden beauty of Kashmir valley

(Mr. Akhtar H. Malik, 31, was born in Khag,Budgam district. He attended the Government Higher Secondary School in Khag, and completed his B.Sc. from the Amar Singh College in Srinagar. He has a Master's Degree in Botany from the University of Kashmir, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Taxonomy at the university. His reserach specialization is in Taxonomy and Biodiversity, and is the Curator at the Centre for Plant Taxonomy, University of Kashmir.

Mr. Aijaz Hassan Ganie, 32, was born in Anantnag. He graduated from the Gandhi Memorial College in Jammu, and completed his M.Sc. from the University of Jammu. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. degree in Cytogenetics and Reproductive Biology from the Department of Biology of the University of Kashmir.)

Lidder Valley: The real beauty is here

The Lidder valley forms the north-eastern part of Kashmir. The word 'Lidder' is derived from lambo-dari which means a goddess 'long-bellied'. The main stream of Lidder receives a number of tributaries. The first mountain torrent arises from Shisheram Nag and carving a deep gorge round the Pisu Hill, flows past Thanin or Tsandanwari, at Tsandanwari another tributary rising from Astan Marg- a stream of pure water mainly from springs-joins it on the right. Near Pahalgam, a torrent rising from the snout of Kolahoi glacier, receives a tributary from the Sona Sar lake near the Kolahoi valley, the water from the Tar Sar lake joins it on the right at Lidderwat, and a stream from Katri Nag near Aru, enters it, the whole volume of water, swelling and flowing with rapidity to join the stream flowing from Tsandanwari side at Pahalgam and form the famous Lidder Nala. The stream arising from the Kolahoi glacier passes through Lidderwat which means Lambodarwat (Lambodar's stone).

The Lidder irrigates a large rich tract of alluvial soil and for miles from either of its banks one can see a green sea of rice-fields during the summer. The aqueducts full of glacial water infuse life everywhere and we heard the rush and flow of water all along. A canal has been constructed at Lidder near Ganishpor to water the Mattan Weder (plateau). This canal is called Shah Kol, built in the reign of Zain-ul-Abideen (Bada Shah), one of the greatest kings of Kashmir.

We recently visited Lidder valley in connection with biodiversity characterization of the area under the banner of a project sponsored by Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). We started our journey from “Beetab Valley” located on the right side of Pahalgam - Tsandanwari road. The valley has been named after a famous and popular Hindi movie "Betab" whose major part was shot here. The valley was in its natural condition when we visited this place along with other hostel mates of GKRS hostel University of Kashmir two years before, but the beauty of the valley has been tarnished by the Government at the cost of development by constructing concrete roads within and around the valley. Most unfortunate is the construction of concrete and masonry “Bunds” along the banks of stream which hitherto used to give a charming and heavenly look without caring for the loss of its natural beauty and biodiversity. People whether local or foreigner visit such places to see the Nature’s creation and beauty but not the man-made roads and buildings.

Travelling ahead we surveyed the area from Tsandanwari to Pisutop; the area is rich in biodiversity and gifted with natural beauty. Here we saw ponywalas, the hard working class of our society, working day and night for their livelihood. The Amarnath Yatris should be thankful to them for the services they render in making the yatra of old and ailing people possible even under harsh weather conditions. We returned to Pahalgam late in the evening and next day we went to Aru early in the morning. From Aru we started at 10:00 am on foot to cover 12 kilometer distance of hilly track to reach Lidderwath. On the way we saw lofty mountains, forests around milky Lidder. We were so thrilled that one of our team members told us that he wanted to stay there forever as it was really a paradise on earth.

On the way we could see only foreigners and nomads. We asked one of the foreigners from France that what did he think about Kashmir? He told us that if there was any beautiful place on earth it was Kashmir. These tourists were going to see the Lidderwath valley, Kolhoi glacier, Tarsar, Marsar lakes and the meadows. It is pertinent to mention that Kolhoi glacier is the highest glacier (5500 meters above sea level), and is about 18 kilometers from the Aru. While Tarsar and Marsar lakes are alpine lakes.

On the way we were surprised to see the rich biodiversity of plants like Cobra plant (Arisaima jacquemontia), Banwangun (Podophyllum hexandrum), Bunafsha (Viola odorata),Wild Strawberry (Fragaria nubicola), Kulmach (Viburnum grandiflorum), Kahzabhan (Arnebia benthami), Poodina (Mentha longifolia), Abuj (Rumex nepalensis),Tethven (Artemisia absinthium), Jawend (Thymus linearis), Hand posh (Cichorium intybus), Jan-e-Adam (Ajuga bracteosa) Pamb hak (Rheum emoid), Kuth (Saussurea costus,), Aashud (Geranium nepalensis), Nepeta cataria, Kalvuth (Prunella vulgaris), Zakmehahaat (Bergenia stracheyi), Hapth-phal (Phytolacca acinosa), Primula denticulata, Aquilegia fragrans, Dioscorea deltoidea, Iris ensata, Barr (Ziziphus jujuba) etc. This richness could obviously be attributed to sufficient forest cover and less anthropogenic interference. We saw huge chunk of old trees lying scattered on both sides of river as well as in the valley. Unfortunately we don’t have an active and vigilant forest department to lift this fallen wealth so that it could be supplied to timber depots for sale to the needy ones rather than to keep it there for decay. Such practices could also lessen the pressure for the demand of the timber and will also check smuggling from the easily accessible areas to greater extent.

We reached our destination place i.e., Lidderwath valley at 2:00 pm; it was so pleasant here that our tiredness vanished just within a few seconds. There were few tents in which foreigners were camping and some Gujjar and Bakerwals were rearing their cattle. On the left side of the valley one can see the Kolhoi glacier which is 6 Km from Lidderwath while on right side there is gorge and a small mountain, crossing this one can reach the Tarsar and Marsar lakes but due to the shortage of time we couldn’t manage to go there. The people who were returning from these twin lakes narrated their beauty. According to them the water of these lakes is bluish and crystal clear and nature has decorated the sides of the lakes with marble like sheets. They added that the area is so beautiful that one wants to live there forever and the air is so fresh that even an ailing person can recover within seconds.

On seeing our team Gujjar boys rushed towards us and invited us for cup of tea; we accepted their offer and had hot sips of Namkeen tea. On way to their muddy cottage we had to cross a foot bridge over Lidder made up of logs of wood. The bridge is in a bad condition and would prove fatal if not repaired immediately. When we enquired from these people whether their children go to school or not? They replied in affirmation that government has arranged mobile schools for them. Every one among us appreciated the efforts of the government in this direction. In connection with our study we also visited some far flung areas of Pahalgam, we visited the village of Nagham (Haptnar), and the area is also rich in plant wealth. While doing our field work in the nearby forest, a teacher accompanied by a few Gujjars requested us to visit their school.

After completing our field work, we went to the school and interacted with the students and the teacher. The school is reported to have been established in 1982 as a primary school and latter upgraded to Middle level in 2007. The total enrollment of the school is 137 with only two teachers. At present the school does not have its own building but is housed in a rented building which is without window panes and matting. For two teachers it is simply impossible to run all the eight classes. Due to lack of facilities and shortage of teaching staff, the future of these innocents seems to be in doldrums .This is the story of one of the school in this modern era and there are so many such schools in our valley.

Cause and Effect

When religious opportunists politicize morality, social freedom is the first victim. Two inter-related events that happened in Srinagar and Sopore on August 24, 2009, followed by a thought provoking editrial in the Kashmir Observer

Mirwaiz Paints Alarming Picture Of Society

Srinagar: The chairman of the Hurriyat (M), Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, today said that vice, immorality, waywardness and drugs were being promoted in the valley in the name of culture under the patronage of the government, and that there was no time to sit with folded hands as society appeared to be heading fast towards disaster.

In a statement issued today, the Mirwaiz said that Islamic, moral and human values were being sought to be defaced throughout the valley under a considered conspiracy, and that various agencies were active on a large scale to hollow out Kashmir’s national identity in the garb of education and culture.

“It is a strong demand of the times to launch an awareness drive against this alarming trend,” the statement said.

“The society is on the brink of disaster. The tide of social evils has engulfed us all, and emerging out of this quagmire appears very difficult if not impossible,” it said.

Holding moral transgressions responsible for the worsening state of the society, the Mirwaiz said that a people condoning depravity could not move forward on real progress and success.

“Shameful and deplorable acts are taking place in rapid succession, and the valley that was famous for righteousness today appears to be devoid of religion, morals, character, and social values, and an abode of all sorts of evils,” he said.

“Vice and immorality are being spawned under government patronage in the name of culture,” he said.

“The shameful exploitation of innocent girls under the garb of recreational tours is a challenge to our pride and self-respect, and needs to be combated vigourously,” he said.

The Mirwaiz appealed to teachers in schools, colleges and universities not to confine themselves to academics but to impart moral guidance and character-building to the new generation,” the Mirwaiz said, adding that including Islamic and moral curriculum was essential for this.

He said that intellectuals, writers, religious scholars and parents would have to strive hard to save the sinking boat of the society from moral decline.
“This is not the time to sit with folded hands as society is speeding towards disaster. Long and short term, consistent and positive action is needed to save society from this lethal pandemic,” he said. (Kashmir Observer)

College principal beaten up

Sopore: Two unidentified gunmen today beat up the principal of Government Degree College, Dr. Peer Muhammad Ashraf, when he was on way to the college.

Peer was traveling along with his son from Dangiwacha to Sopore in his car, when they were intercepted by two gunmen near Watergam and beaten severely. The assailants set the car (No JK05A-0958) ablaze and threatened him to enforce the rule of wearing veils by girl students in his college and to also inform other colleges. He said, they had given him three days to enforce the dress code. (Greater Kashmir)

State Of Society (Editorial in Kashmir Observer)

It could not have been merely for rhetorical effect that Mirwaiz Umer Farooq came out with a harsh verdict of the state of Kashmiri society last week – nor could the Jama’at-e-Islami’s copycat act have been an exercise in competitive alarmism aimed mainly at doing one better than the Mirwaiz. Both are supposed to be responsible institutions, and their estimations of the society deserve more than a cursory look. Though couched in vague generalities, they have given an acutely disturbing impression of the state of our society, with the Mirwaiz going so far as to say that it (society) appeared to be ‘devoid of religion, morals, character and social values.’ Strong words indeed. But with little in them to indicate that they are, in fact, warranted. The temptation to dismiss this diatribe as a routine fire-and-brimstone denunciation from the pulpit meant to put the fear of God into the hearts of mortals must be put aside for some serious questions.

There is little call for anyone holding the office of the Mirwaiz to incriminate society in such strong and sweeping terms - going to the extent of issuing a formal statement – unless there are urgent underlying reasons demanding immediate attention. The Mirwaiz and the Jama’at both have a vast network of sources embedded in society, and they must be privy to particulars unknown or unrecognized at the general level.

If indeed Kashmiri society has degenerated to such a level, its rightly concerned leaders have a duty to eschew banal pronouncements and put the hard, indisputable evidence before the public. Bey hayaiee, bey pardagi, uryaaniyat make for impressive elements in a sermon, but society cannot be cured by thundering denunciations against intangibles. Nor can turning on the government as a handy scapegoat, as the Mirwaiz has done, serve the purpose of corrective measures. Both the Mirwaiz and the Jama’at owe it to the society to spell out in stark and concrete terms the specifics of its ills. If their approximation of the society is correct, the time for diplomatic constructions and circumlocution is over. These institutions, which have assumed the mantle of the guardians of morality, must make the society confront the unpalatable truth about itself publicly and openly.

The state of the society as formulated by the Mirwaiz and the Jama’at is also a telling commentary on the role, or rather the lack of it, of both these institutions and the plethora of religious organizations engaged in so-called moral uplift of the masses for decades. If society is, in fact, on a declining trajectory, one can raise legitimate questions about the efficacy of the pulpit which has proliferated to an unwieldy level over the past two decades in particular.

With at least half-a-dozen mosques armed with highly vocal imams blaring the supremacy of our deen in every mohalla, one would have though that deviant behaviour was restricted to an unfortunate few outside the pale of the ministrations of the custodians of faith.

But taking the Mirwaiz and the Jama’at at their word leads to the inescapable conclusion that the past two decades of high-decibel moralizing have been an absolute failure. Had the phenomenon that began as far back as the early 80s, peaked in the 90s, and persists in several guises even today, been truly devoted to character-building, its impact could not have evaporated with such ease. Individual and collective morality appears to have been only an alibi, or at best a small, expedient component, of a wider design of wielding political power under the guise of faith.

Global experience, particularly in the immediate neighbourhood, has discredited this model, and the time has come for religious institutions in Kashmir to emerge out of its debris and acknowledge the enormity of their error. For, their obsession with the past, and somewhat questionable, glories of the Muslims of yore, seems to have blinded them to contemporary challenges.

Whether they like it or not, Muslims of today have to live in a deeply interconnected world, and not as secluded, ghettoized societies. Nor were they meant to be an insular entity with no impact on people outside their sphere. Today’s Muslims are subject to outside influences, healthy or unhealthy, like never before. The task before them is to sift and discriminate in what others have to offer. If we in Kashmir have been lagging on this count, it is because our leading lights have chosen indoctrination over real education. The tragedy is that many so-called thinkers in the Muslim world advocate a domination over the rest of the world without ever giving a thought to the basic essential – that in order for a society to have a positive influence on others, it must offer itself as an attractive, workable alternative.

One tangible, glaring and quantified trait of Kashmiri society comes readily to mind on reading the concerns of the Mirwaiz and the Jama’at – widespread financial corruption. Having had an unparalleled sway over the society for twenty years and more, these institutions have made no move, or utterly failed, to wean the masses away from what has eaten into the very vitals of society. How can they be relied upon to chart a course out of more intricate problems?

Kashmir's Exports Suffer

Global recession is bad news for Kashmir's traditional handicraft industries

Global recession impacts Kashmir handicrafts, exports dip by41%

Rashid Paul (Rising Kashmir)

Srinagar: The global economic slowdown has caused a dip of more than 41 per cent in Kashmiri handicraft exports during the fiscal 2008-09 against preceding period.

Handicrafts goods of Rs 1200.47 crores were exported during the year 2007-2008 from Kashmir. The global recession that engulfed the world’s big economies has contracted exports by 41.23 per cent, as handicraft goods worth Rs 705.50 crores only could be exported to Europe, United States and West Asia during 2008-2009.

“The export to European Union that consumes almost 60 per cent of our products has contracted drastically,” said Hamid Punjabi, the secretary general and spokesman of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, KCCI. Carpet, which contributes 50 per cent to our craft exports, is the worst hit, he added.

“Since carpet is a luxurious item, the economic down turn has weaned away the buying potential of customers across Europe,” said Hakim Zafar Ali, a leading Valley based carpet exporter to Europe. The sales have been hit by 50 per cent, he said.

Against an overseas sales of Rs 649 crores during 2007-2008, carpets sales valued at Rs 326 crores only were recorded during the preceding year.

The second highest hit is the shawl industry. It suffered an export loss of almost Rs 90 crore during the ongoing recession. Woolen shawls including, Pashmina, Kani and Sozni valued at Rs 310.29 crores were sold overseas in 2007-2008. However, shawls worth Rs 226.50 crores could be sold during the previous year.

Papier machie however registered a surge of Rs 8 crores in the collapsed overseas market. Different papier machie items costing Rs 41 crores were sold in the international market by Kashmiris in the previous year against a transaction of Rs 33.65 crores in 2007-2008.

However, other craft products including, woodwork, chain stitch, crewel and other products suffered a fall of Rs 95 crores.

Our traders tried to explore new markets in Africa and other regions but it made least impact, Punjabi said.

The signs of economic revival in Europe are visible and by the end of the year the trade is expected to pick up, Zafar Ali, the exporter said.

Monday, August 24, 2009

State of Education in Kashmir

Naseem reflects on the poor quality of education in Kashmir

(Syed Naseem Zafar, 40, was born in Sopore and raised in Bandipora. He completed his high school and higher secondary education from Government schools in Bandipora. He joined the Amar Singh College, Srinagar, for the first year of the Bachelor's Degree course in sciences, transferring and graduating subsequently from the Government Degree College in Sopore. He completed his M.Sc. in Zoology from the University of Kashmir. Taking a public service track, he was selected for the State Forest Service (SFS) and completed his Master's Degree in Forestry at the SFS College, Dehradun, under the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests. He subsequently completed a post graduate diploma in ecology and environment from the Indian Institute of Ecology and Environment, New Delhi. He is currently posted as a Scientist in the Faculty of Forestry at the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Kashmir (SKUAST). He has published 10 papers and attended numerous conferences and workshops in his field of specialization.)

We need to change for better

India at present spends about 3 % of its GDP on education. About 70 million children receive no schooling, and more than one-third of the population is illiterate. Education sector being the backbone of every developing country, Indian Parliament has approved a landmark education bill which seeks to guarantee free and compulsory education for children aged 6 and 14. The bill will also force private schools to reserve at least a quarter of their places for poor children. The bill is now waiting only for the presidential approval. The Minister for Human Resource Development, Kapil Sibal says, the bill covers children with disabilities and that the government is planning to set up special schools for them. He further added that the bill provides for the inclusion of children who are disadvantaged because of disability. The government is not only setting up special schools for them but doing all to provide education for them in all types of schools. It is said that the bill does not address India’s inequitable school system under which there are vast discrepancies between private schools having good infra structure and state run schools with poor infra structure.

The concept of mid-day meals was introduced by the government of India to feed students from the poor class of society unable to afford educations for their wards. By implementation of mid-day meals it could not show any good results in the state of Jammu and Kashmir because of the reason that not a single one faces hunger here. The scheme could have been implemented not for the mid day meals but to build up the infra structure of the schools, some schools are still without class rooms, chairs, seating arrangement, and could not afford to get sports goods for overall development of their students. As far as in human resource in concerned in the government run schools, we are one of the best and well qualified in the concerned subjects, but still these schools are not preferred by government teachers itself leave the other sections of the society. The fact being that even being the best faculty in the government schools, the students can’t face the competition world because without best infra structure and facilities, the teachers are also helpless.

Thus if we want to increase the rolls of our government schools, we should have to pay the attention towards the overall development of a student, and that can be developed only to give the latest facility to all our schools. We are having innumerous schools; most are running in rented accommodations without sanitary facilities. We should curtail the number not the quality of these institutions. Need of the hour is also to change our mindset towards admitting our wards in government schools.

Previous government has laid stress on revolutionized education system by saying that rich-poor disparity should go in education. The Ex Chief Minister of the state, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in an interview said that his government is committed to remove the disparity existing between the two streams of education available in government run schools and public schools. He said students in public schools have edge over those in government run institutions primarily because of the medium of instructions and quality of education. The present time is the age of competition, students have to choose subjects that are in demand and market oriented education system is necessary to meet the challenge of growing unemployment. It is also unproductive to produce an army of degree holders who have nowhere to go after completing their education.

Kashmiri students are capable but unable to make a mark due to the lack of facilities in schools and colleges. There are hardly any government initiatives as far as the need for libraries, counseling and guidance centre in colleges and universities are concerned. There is one more problem with our educational system that is ratio of the teacher to student which is very large. The ration outside state is 1:35 while as in our state it is 1:80, due to which a teacher can’t give proper attention to every student. The system in our libraries of the colleges exists as it was in the 19th century. A single book which has to be manually searched and issued for a limited period creates the additional difficulties for our poor and needy students. The IT has revolutionized the system of libraries and students can avail the facility on their personnel computers at any time.

One thing more is needed to have some evolved teaching methodologies, such as debates, interactive sessions and group discussion must be introduced as a part of curriculum. The teachers need to take interest in their students and to build their creativity and overall development rather to develop their bookish behavior. There must be an environment where the true aims of education are realized, and the relationship between a teacher and a student will flourish whereby education becomes a vibrant and dynamic activity.

Employment Opportunities

Shakeel-ur-Rehman provides a timely primer on standing up on one's own two feet

(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.)

Job Hunting

The state government is planning to revive the idea of starting an Overseas Employment Corporation. This will be welcomed by all.

As a matter of fact the problem of unemployment has aggravated over the years. A Planning Commission analysis says that by the end of 2010 nearly 60 per cent of the jobless will come from the educated class. This is a telling comment on our educational system which still follows Lord Macaulay’s pattern intended to produce clerks.

So far the majority of the idle workforce has been uneducated or semi literate that is mainly absorbed in agriculture. But this is going to change as more and more educated people are joining the ranks of the jobless. And unless the government changes its employment strategy, the educated jobless would be the single largest casually of the new millennium.

Along with myriad other factors, the chief reason why we have plenty of jobless roaming across the state is the obsoleteness of our educational system. Today’s educational system has lost its relevance because it fails to conform to the requirements in the present scenario. In order to make our youth really employable we should impart them practical and job market relevant skills. Through practical training, the youth would gain an in depth knowledge which would give them confidence they need in the job market.

The youth today is a class of its own. They wish to acquire name, fame and affluence without putting in the required efforts. When they find it difficult to secure a job of the desired level they take up any job that is offered. Nepotism and bribery favour the less competent and undeserving job seekers, overclouding the talent completely. Another tragedy is that the youth today feel hesitant to start small businesses of their own. There may be monetary constraints but banks come to the rescue of such people. Training is also provided to the budding entrepreneurs to help them successfully start their own business.

One’s own business could range from a grocery shop to a gift shop, a coaching class, a computer institute or a PCO booth. Success in the venture depends upon the capability of the candidate and his determination and grit. By self employment we can reduce unemployment that is prevailing in the state to a considerable extent. On their part schools should set up counseling centres and guide the students. Professional knowledge could be imparted in schools by calling some well known experts to demonstrate their expertise.

Job creating strategies for the educated jobless should focus on offering employment opportunities in the service sector. Tourism, media and telecom are the areas that should be targeted. FM radio stations and regional television centres would absorb many educated jobless youth. The government should concentrate on developing these sectors. Those in power should realize that the future of the state lies in the hands of the youth. Their betterment will be tantamount to the betterment of the state. By helping youth we will let the state into a prosperous era.

The Rape of a Garden

Timber Mafia operatives, working in tandem with officials, are leaving an irreplaceable legacy for generations to come, including their own progeny

Who will stem the rot?

Syed Junaid Hashmi (KT)

Jammu: Like the proverbial 'who will bell the cat', the endless puzzle of who would put curbs on the timber mafia operating in league with officials of state forest department in Jammu and Kashmir is a million dollar question. Like his predecessors, Forest Minister Mian Altaf too has obliquely expressed his helplessness in putting curbs on this mafia.

Ironically, while minister talked about taking stringent measures to curb the timber mafia, he failed to make a mention of the fate of officers who under his very noose, despite being knee deep in corruption, are enjoying prize postings. They have proven cases of timber loot against them but their influence have prevented their prosecution and instead, they are enjoying prize postings.

A DFO, presently working in Udhampur range who was held responsible for extensive damages to around 400 Kail and Deodar tress in Marwah area of Kishtwar district has been rewarded with prize posting. It needs to be mentioned here that an internal inquiry had held him guilty of official misconduct and recommended his penalisation but to no avail. The damages attributed were worth Rs. 1 crore 20 lakh.

Sources in the forest secretariat said that senior officers have repeatedly informed the minister about timber mafia managing posting of DFOs and rangers in the most sensitive Pir Panjal Division. They added that a DFO was prematurely transferred just because he ignored an influential politician's orders and dismantled the illegal sawmills of three of his relatives in Budgam district.

Moreover, sources said that the department is yet to seek answer from the officers about felling of scores of conifer trees in compartment No: 66 of Gogaldara Block in Gulmarg Range besides inquiring into the massive damage caused to some specific compartments in Lidder Division of Anantnag district.

Reliable sources said that goaded by the inability of Jammu and Kashmir government failure to deal with timber mafia, a senior officer of forest department has prepared a white paper and put the entire blame of timber smuggling on the rangers and DFOs of various ranges.

Citing instances, the officer has in his paper made a mention of frequent transfers of range officers and DFOs, attributing it to their connections in higher echelons of power. They added that the officer, while referring to fire incidents, said that around 104 square kilometres forest area has been gutted causing loss of several crores of rupees to the state forest department.

"50 percent of the fires were caused intentionally mainly with the objective of encroaching upon the land and to cover-up the loot and plunder of the green gold. The remaining 50 percent fire incidents have taken place because of carelessness of the officials of forest department," the officer has reportedly stated in his paper.

The officer in his white paper has said that a Range Officer of Gulmarg, who was placed under suspension for his alleged involvement in timber smuggling not only managed his reinstatement but was also been rewarded with a training course. "He has cases against him which are being probed. Yet he is being sent on one training programme after another for the reasons best known to the administration," the officer has written.

Talking about the Chenab circle, the officer has in his paper put the blame of plunder of forest wealth on the nexus between DFOs, Range Officers and some timber contractors belonging to Jammu and Doda region. He has even gone to the extent of saying that "All these are much more powerful that the entire cabinet of Jammu and Kashmir."

Sources said that the well-drafted white paper on the Jammu and Kashmir forests which is spread over 300 pages has also made a mention of a senior IAS officer who managed posting of a DFO in Chenab circle for helping his relatives dealing in timber without the knowledge of the minister in-charge.

Interestingly, the officer has pointed out that mass transfers and postings of officers are done on the basis of their regional affinities. "Those from Jammu and Kashmir are being discriminated when it comes to postings. They usually get second preference on every issue," the official has written in his paper. Sources said that the officer would be submitting this white paper to the Forest Minister within a month's time.

"It's a veritably big mafia, completely intact even after the Kundal probe. It has become a huge, lucrative business for well-connected people. Until we take a major initiative, it's not going to break", said an officer of the forest secretariat. He added that timber smuggling has been state's biggest problem. "Our forests are denuded with impunity and there's a lot of political intervention from several quarters," added the official.

Meanwhile, Minister for Forests and Environment, Mian Altaf Ahmad has said that government is ready to open new Forest Protection Units in uncovered areas to check forests smuggling. For this purpose, the forest department would be re-organised, the minister said, adding that a Gamma Unit of Forest Protection Force has already been set up at Doabgah, about 10 kms away from Zainagair.

He said that besides Gamma Unit K-06 Natnusa, Kupwara has already been established in Kamraj Forest Division and there is no Gamma Unit in one territorial Forest Division, adding each Forest Protection Force Gamma Unit comprises 55 men especially recruited and trained for the job. He said the department has taken cognizance of the damages caused to forest due to smuggling and has duly assessed quantum of damages during last decade (1999 till date).

The plans are ambitious, given the still strong nexus of officials and timber smuggling mafia. Will the minister be able to walk his talk?

Fallout from a Heated Economy Sustained by Easy Money and Poor Planning

Only 5% of the valley can be cultivated, and even that meagre land is fast disappearing. Latest report followed by an Editorial

Shrinking Agriculture land concerns Kashmiri farmers

Srinagar: The constant shrinking of agriculture lands in the Kashmir valley has become a cause of concern to farmers of the state.

The rapid increase in the urbanization and allied infrastructure development activities are considered as the main reason for the shrinking of agricultural land in the valley.

The farmers fear that the growing trend of private builders purchasing the agricultural land for building residential colonies, complexes.

The farming community also fears that this would lead Kashmir valley towards a devastating situation of food crisis in coming years.

"From the past ten to twenty years, there have been no restrictions on the construction of these houses. Although the government has laws, rules and regulations, but till now they haven''t been implemented yet. If government agencies will not pay attention to this problem, then it is possible that in years to come, sufficient land might not be available for our next generation," said Bilal Wani, a farmer.

Ninety five per cent of land in Kashmir valley is not suitable for any kind of cultivation activities and land sharks are encroaching upon the remaining 5 per cent of cultivable portion.

These trends have become a cause of immense worries among the farmers and evident are the instances of extensive construction activities.

Though the law prevents the use of agricultural land for the non-agricultural purposes, the authorities express helplessness sighting poor or no updated land records.

"Our revenue records are not updated as yet. The revenue records still have the usual statement that this land is barren. And because of such a state, the houses are being constructed on the agriculture land. As and when the authorities check the record books regarding the condition of the land to grant permission, they give permission on the basis of what is written in the reports. So the need of the hour is to update the record books," opined Bashir Ahmed Dar, Director of Agriculture.

Presently around 1.60 thousands hectares of land is under paddy cultivation while it is believed that over the past decade, ten thousand hectares of cultivable land in the valley region has been usurped due to urbanization. (Etalaat News)
Save Agrarian Land (Editorial in Kashmir Images)

Agriculture being the main economy of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, one would expect the authorities to be more focused on this sector and try to boost it in all spheres. This sector, if exploited properly and innovatively, would help the state to deal effectively with the biggest challenge it is face to face with – unemployment. It is the agriculture and horticulture sector which have tremendous employment potential but because the governments that be have never taken these sectors more seriously, this potential remains untried and untested.

It is shocking that while in entire world new experiments are being done in agriculture sector, Kashmir, by and large, remains stuck in traditional farming. There are no innovative schemes which would attract farmers to try new crops and seeds. The agriculture authorities, understandably, would be having the know-how of all new and modern techniques of farming but the problem is that there is no mass awareness. There may be schemes which would help the farmers to have better produces, but these schemes never reach to the farmers.

The agriculture department needs to launch a massive awareness campaign and attract farmers towards more productive crops and seeds instead of remain stuck to the traditional farming.

That said, the authorities are playing blind to an issue of very serious nature which is going to have disastrous impact over the agricultural industry. Despite a ban on the use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, construction of residential houses, commercial complexes and other huge concrete buildings is going on unabated in the length and breadth of the Valley. Move from Srinagar to any direction – Gulmarg; Pattan; Bandipora; Budgam; Anannag; Ganderbal etc, what used to be huge paddy fields are now vast jungles of concrete.

Private educational institutions, housing colonies, shopping complexes, that is what one sees surfacing all over in the agricultural land. The state government is armed with laws and provision to stop construction in agriculture land and even stop of use of agricultural land for non-agricultural activities (which even includes using it for horticulture purposes), but these laws have never been invoked.

The government, time and again, continues issuing circulars asserting that agricultural land should not be used for non-agricultural purposes but fact of the matter is that the more these circulars, the more agricultural land vanished under huge concrete structures. The revenue department and the agriculture department have shut their eyes and people are turning very productive and fertile paddy fields into jungles of concrete. Somuchso, the world famous saffron fields of Pampore too have not been spared. These fields too are falling to human greed and people are busy using these fields for construction purposes.

If the trend continues, Kashmiri saffron would vanish from the scene once for all. Government needs to look into the issue very seriously and people too should understand that their greed of earning more will deprive coming generations of the food.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Kashmir's Tryst With its Own Brand of Madness

Mehmood lays out a compelling argument for reforming certain elements of a mostly rude and ill-behaved Kashmiri society once you get past his incredulous argument relating Kashmir's history and culture to a country that did not even exist a few decades back!

(Mr. Mehmood-ur-Rashid, 36, was born in Srinagar. He graduated from the Amar Singh College, Srinagar. He has been active in journalism for over ten years, and currently works at the Greater Kashmir, having worked in the past at the Rising Kashmir as the Features Editor.)

Shepherd This Herd

For three days Pahalgam was all about a people mad and Government absent. But before we talk about that madness and absence, certain other things need a paramount reminder. It’ll help in building up a perspective to evaluate things and save the comment from being an irate response to all the discomfort that fell ones lot while being in the Shepherds’ Valley for three days of absolute chaos.

Two nations flanking us on either side had their days of independence; 14th for Pakistan and 15thIndia. Both the nations are confronted with their own set of problems, as states and as a collectivity of people as well. Still they have a reason to celebrate their days of independence. But what should Kashmir do while both unfurl the flags and play the anthems. During the heydays of armed struggle 14th of August would see Pakistan being celebrated in Kashmir also. But 15th was always a black day. The day that reminds us of the loss of independence. Entire Kashmir would, more or less, understand and act out these two days the same way for many years. But after having experienced the deadly face of Indian state, people gradually stepped back from undertaking any activities on the 14th of August. This was exacerbated by the kind of obnoxious politics played out by Pakistan over Kashmir. People no more found any point in celebrating a day that practically belonged to someone else. Needless to say that Kashmir shares a positive relationship with Pakistan, the idea and its people. But over these years the lesson was driven home that we cannot afford to be considered as an appellate body of the state of Pakistan. Our political struggle cannot always be the reflection of Pakistan’s foreign and defense policy. (Here we must remember that we share a permanent relationship with the people of Pakistan and as a geographical and cultural continuity we cannot conduct a mutiny of realities just because the Establishment in Pakistan behaves a particular way. Our relation with Pakistan should be guided by larger realities of history and culture than immediate politics. Of course we need to be mindful of what is going on in Pakistan. We can re-engineer the outward structure of relationship with Pakistan, but any thoughts of severing the ties are bound to have disastrous impact on us.)

About the 15th of August, people still reject it and going on strike is almost a national ritual in Kashmir. But here too a change has set in; except that perfunctory hartal the content of resistance that would flow into this day is almost entireluy absent. Now what people usually do on these days is to push off early morning towards some health resort and enjoy a few moments with family and friends. Although this is just being human and in a dithered and protracted struggle the banalities of life cannot be held hostage to the rhetorical politics; this finer dimension of life needs fuller acknowledgement so that national struggle is not needlessly burdened.

And this is what people did on 14, 15 and 16th of August. Three holidays in a row, scorching heat and Ramadhan being days away, people set out in different directions to hang out. Pahalgam was one such place. Thousands of vehicles speeded up towards Pahalgam, all packed. Though the hamlet was full on the 14th morning, but the ceaseless flow of cars and bikes ensured that Pahalgam burst at its seams. What followed was complete pandemonium. This beautiful valley witnessed some of the ugliest things from its visitors during these three days. When thousands of vehicles honked horns all at once, hordes after hordes jostled into each other; agitated young boys craned necks out of the windows like wild creatures and yelled at each other; when abuses were hurled randomly at whosoever came ones way and all the none sense was displayed; when dust was sold at the price of gold and people paid thousands to find a place in a barn, one was reminded of that comment made by Rudyard Kipling that once every year Indians turn mad, a reference to the celebrations of Holi.

Is this the people that cry for high end political goals and heavenly morality! One wondered was it all the force of situation that made people behave in a particular way or was this the seamy side of our collective being. Generalizations definitely don’t work but what got displayed by us at Pahalgam deserves serious reflection. When millions gather in Europe and America, not even a particle is disturbed, and when thousands of us descend on a place, turbidity sets into the depths of that land. The peaks, pines and parks of Pahalgam can vouch for that. For three days the beauty of this valley silently watched the chaotic crowds, expressing itself in most frenzied way; as if all else had fallen down and Pahalgam was the last post conquered.

Before we consider it as an exaggerated and misplaced reading of things, as a people, we need to think that if left to ourselves to take care of our resources, both human and physical, what will we do! We will pour the contaminated water in a bottle and sell it as purified mineral water. We will make thousands suffer by displaying machismo on a bike or by making a nasty attempt to overtake other vehicles, making hundreds others strand.

About the government; less said the better. If a VIP cavalcade has to pass by a particular area entire administration is made to stand on toes. But here none bothered even to make an announcement that Pahalgam cannot afford any more visitors and people are advised not to go there.

The conclusions that one can draw from this experience are that the rhetoric of ‘mainstream’ political parties about development is all false. The talk of tourism is nothing but a hoax. The governments in Srinagar are midwives of Delhi. Whatever nasty has to be delivered here is assisted by them. They can manage lakhs of Yatris over some months but not some thousands of their own people over just three days.

On the other side, we need to understand that unless the quality of people is made a basic theme of national movement, even if our aspirations are met, things will stay the way they are. We will have some ardent and passionate supporter of Kashmir’s national movement depressingly jotting down his impressions about the failure of a huge enterprise and the ugly characters coming to the fore to rule the lands after independence. Like Mukhtar Masood of Pakistan; or that Jammu boy Qudratullah Shuhab. Geelani Sahib may please take note of this as he is deeply rooted in reformative politics. Dropping the shutters down doesn’t serve the purpose, lifting the blinkers does!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Widening Gap Between Rights and Practices Involving Disabled Persons

Javed describes how the latest State Budget ignores physically challenged people of J&K

(Mr. Javed Ahmad Tak, 35, was born in Bijbehara in the Anantnag district. He received his schooling from Government schools in Bijbehara, and his B.Sc. degree from the Government Degree College in Anantnag. Unfortunately, at the age of 21 he became a victim of a terrorist bullet which hit his spine and disabled him for the rest of his life. However, he overcome mental and physical odds to complete his Master's degree in Social Work from the University of Kashmir, and also completed certificate courses in Human Rights and Computers from the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). Although wheel-chair bound, Mr. Tak is recognized as a leader who has relentlessly and with extreme passion taken up the cause of disabled people in J&K, seeking full citizen rights guaranteed under the J&K Disability Act but never implemented in the past. He is a founder-member of numerous NGO's dealing with issues and sensitizing public about challenges faces by physically handicapped people in Kashmir. He has received numerous awards and citations for his selfless work and has attended numerous workshops on disability rights around the country.)

We the fortunate people without independence

When a physically challenged walks along a roadside physically fit people show greater concern to help him, show sympathies, give attention and sometimes provide extra helping hand to get satisfaction of doing appreciative job in this world. We are not given any heavy job and preferred to be seated with care. Thus making us more privileged without considering our Rights. We have not been given any place in the budget 2009. Neither railway minister nor finance minister said anything about us. All this shows that our leaders are no way considering us humans.

All this miserable conditions for the disable persons arise because of the cold shoulder from policy makers, planners and the concerned officials. The education policy includes the empowerment of persons with disabilities but the implementers don’t bother about it. The Example for this fact is that J&K state board of school Examination has passed a circular that there is a fee concession and concession in marks for the students with disabilities. But no disable student has so for taken the opportunity to avail such concession. The school heads are not aware of this concession. The examiners and assessors do not know who is eligible for said concession. Actually when a child with disability gets birth in a family, the negative feeling and social stigma comes in the way of development of the child.

Thus the child remains hidden inside the home and sympathies are shown in his favour. The Rights of the child are trampled under feet. The schools and other social institutions are not accessible. Therefore the persons with disabilities find it secure to remain inside their homes. When they reach such places they get humiliated. They are carried to a park to a school to a hospital instead of free mobility. A ramp and a lift can make most of the places barrier free at first instant but these things are beyond the concept of the architects who design our buildings. There are countless buildings under construction throughout the country and countless are going to be constructed in future. A simple decision with strong directions from planning commission of India can make whole India barrier free to attain the freedom of the persons with disabilities. No architectural design for a building to be constructed may be passes until it is made barrier free. The Public works and Urban development departments at the central and the state levels need to be very cautious about the infrastructure building. They can change the picture of the free India and thus can give a free access to all.

This is the 63rd time when the people of the independent India are celebrating the taste of Independence and freedom, sought after a lots of pains and bloodshed. The whole nation has got prosperity and happiness. But the big question that arises today is that “Are all of us free and independent after 63 years of the independence?”. The answer for this easy question seems obviously NO. This is because the under privileged classes are still living hand to mouth. Beggary and exploitation exist in our society. We couldn’t attain the 100% health surety, 100% literacy and 100% social security.

The marginalised class of the society is the persons with disabilities. Up to the year 2001 the class was not even counted to see the numbers and scale of severity in the disability sector. But in 2001 the disability activists put pressure on the government of India and a column was added in the census papers regarding the counting of the persons with disabilities. The overall scenario was at least 5% of Indian population is disable excluding old aged and the people caught in stress. But it was seen less than 2% persons with disabilities are educated and less than 1% is employed.
Education is important for all irrespective of cast, creed, colour, gender or disability. His Excellency the Ex. President of India Shri APJ Abdul Kalam set up 2020 programme that suggested India will be empowered with 100% LITERACY RATE and then Minister for HRD Shri Arjun Singh agreed to make whole India literate. But what has been done to literate persons with disabilities. The answer is obviously negative. Recently the Honourable union Minister for HRD presented Right to education Bill in the parliament. It was no doubt passed by the parliamentarians but for the persons with disabilities it contained nothing. The persons with disabilities protested in Delhi but nothing happened. So we have to sensitise the ministers first who are the law makers.

In J&K, according to census 2001 the population of the persons with disabilities is 306410 out of which 184000 are visually challenged (Blind). Here is no school where Braille technique can literate these special children. Then how can we be sure about the success of 100% literacy mission or Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Only one parameter can prove it that is when an Act will be passed saying that persons with disabilities are no more humans. Then may be rest of the people are educated and the aim of educating all is sought. Otherwise if the real aim is taken in consideration then the school buildings need to be made barrier free so that children with disabilities feel free and secure go attend classes. The barriers like stairs and narrow doors need to be removed and ramps with railings, wide doors, Braille signage, tactile paths and special assistive devices need to be introduced in the schools. The special teachers that have enough knowledge to handle or deal the children with disabilities need to be appointed in schools. At least one special school at tehsil level need to be introduced, that can cater all children with disabilities like blind, Locomotors, deaf, dumb and other multiple disable.

There is special education subject already introduced in the syllabus of B.Ed and M.Ed programmes, which is meant to train teachers for teaching special children. But it an optional subject therefore no student opts for the special education subject. Manpower in disability sector is much less and what already exists in the field is idle or without work. Thus special teaching and special education is a myth.

Budget-2009 presented at state central level gave nothing special for persons with disabilities. After 63 years of independence we the persons with special needs are struggling to get our due in annual budget allocations and right to education and right to health.

When there is no tool to fight with, we are not secure to join the battle field. In the same way when the persons with disabilities are illiterate they prefer to beg or rely on sympathy than to earn with dignity. Because they are not in a position to attain the education with security, honour and decency. The reservation provided is not covering the professional courses. The zero concern towards disability has forced the disable persons to live idle life without any job. But whosoever fights the challenge shows he is the best. Thus the conclusion is that usable human resource is changed into a non usable stuff. Although little in numbers disabled educated youth have made their way in Indian leadership, Bureaucracy, official and working class. There they have proved themselves very dedicated, honest and reliable. But the ignorance from the Social justice ministry has stamped the disability as liability on the government.

There are success stories all around the world, Helen Keller, Christy Brown, John Milton and Stephen Hawking have proved it well that the disability is no way evil but a challenge saying can you? And the committed one reply Yes I can.

There are Acts existing in the favour of physically challenged. Indian Disability Act 1995 guarantees equal opportunities protection of Rights and full participation but still persons with disabilities are dependent on stipends and festival gifts. That clearly depicts that the Act has not been implemented in a concrete way. It is just on papers and the files are kept on shelves as food for moths. There are various activists’ organisations throughout India which have been struggling to keep the Act alive and persons with disabilities in good humour. Many organisations have proved govt. as non serious regarding disability issues. The organisations have made their infrastructure disable friendly thus giving clear indications everything is possible when the vision is clear and brain without handicaps. Freedom cannot be curbed at all.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kashmir's Endemic Malignancy

Sahil is not simply idealistic but a pragmatist who believes that corruption inhibits prosperity

(Mr. Sahil Showkat, 24, was born in Badripora Naina Sangam, near Awantipora, in Pulwama district. He graduated from the Government Degree College in Anantnag, and his post graduation in Political Science from the University of Kashmir. He is currently a M. Phil. scholar in the Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir.)

Corruption in Public Life

''In the multitude of crisis, political and economic, that face us; perhaps the greatest of all is that of the human spirit. Till this crisis of this spirit is resolved it will be difficult to find a solution for the other crisis that afflict us.''

For the last fifteen years, there have been growing indications that corruption has stormed all aspects of our public life. It has become obvious that corruption is no longer a question merely of individual moral turpitude. Now it has become so wide spread that it has pierced into vitals of our economy, polity and society. It is cutting across every organization of all levels from top to bottom.

In Jammu and Kashmir corruption has seeped into the blood stream of Kashmiris. The Transparency International has now upgraded the people of J&K to the first position among the most corrupted states of India. It has been said that corruption is the deadliest enemy of good governance. It has taken several forms like bribe, nepotism, misappropriation, patronage and favoritism. The worst form of corruption is the political corruption because every thing depends upon the chief executive of an organization and it is more so for a political organization. If the top is clean, the bottom will have to get cleaned. If the top is dirty the cleanliness can’t be expected at the bottom. It is often believed that politicians and public officials also come from the society and so, the character of the politicians is the manifestation of the nation’s character itself. This situation can only be improved by a general character of the people. But it appears to be not a correct approach and it deemed to be the worthless appraisal of this prevailing crisis. Although it is explicitly true, that the character of the people in general, will influence of our public officials, they are not in fact, directly related to each other.

Undoubtedly, it would be far from truth to add that the vast majority of our people are corrupt or wanting in character. At the same time, it can not be denied that the majority of our senior public officials are corrupt. In other words it is true to say that the proportion of corrupt officials increases as we move top to the hierarchy of the bureaucracy. As such, it would be true to say that more than 90% of our central or state ministers are corrupt and the percentage of corrupt officials of the lower level would definitely be less. The recent dramatic Tehalka episode exposed what most of the people apprehended already that corruption has encroached the highest management of the government and that our defense forces are not even freed from this slow poisoning. In fact, there is also widespread corruption in defense procurement, stock exchanges, film world, revenue departments, cricketing community and in political establishments exposed in the form of power and committing criminal offences.

Now, the question arises what are the factors which are encouraging or promoting the corruption in public life. There are four such important factors, one is the, lack of transparency in public dealings, second is the public officials are still taking bribes because there is no law, rule or convention, compelling or encouraging public officials to lay open there income and assets to the people. Third factor is the dysfunctional of the system of lokpal and the fourth and the most important cause is the denial of right to information--what is happening in indoors and lack of vigilance.

Now, so far we have talked about the problems/factors of corruption. It becomes obvious to look upon the way out of corruption from the public life. First of all let's go to the institutional reforms because the persons in authority are not interested in any of these measures, which would restrict their independence to taking bribes and involve in all kinds of illegal activities. Second thing is the electoral reforms. Clean and fair elections are the very foundation of democracy and any attempt to upgrade the system, will have to begin with reducing the dependency of all political parties on unaccounted money. Thirdly, as far as our financial structure is concerned the full implementation of right to information is needed. Fourth, effective vigilance is also important and last but not the least is the role of media about the creating awareness in the public about the growing menace of corruption.

Thus, to conclude we can say that fair governance is the fundamental right of the citizens of a particular state. The above mentioned measures will go along way in ensuring the fulfillment of the same. Collective campaign against the menace is essential to do the needful.

Can Entrepreneurship Succeed in the Land of Maximum License Raj?

Rafiuddin saheb has high hopes while doubts are for everyone to see and note all around

(Syed Rafiuddin Bukhari, 72, was born in Kreri in Baramulla District. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Kashmir Media Group that publishes the English daily, Rising Kashmir, and soon-to-be launched Urdu daily, Bulund Kashmir. He had his early education in Sopore, Beerwah and then in Srinagar where from he got his post-graduate degree in English from the University of Jammu and Kashmir, and took up job as a teacher in higher education department. He taught English in various colleges in Kashmir took voluntary retirement in 1995 as Professor. Even though not a professional journalist by training, he has been extremely successful in the field, launching SANGARMAL, the first ever multi-coloured Kashmiri newspaper from Srinagar which is now in its fourth year. Later in 2008, he created the Kashmir Media Group. His interests are reading and writing and building value based institutions.)

Boosting Entrepreneurship

In absence of sense of entrepreneurship, the educated youth have not been able to think beyond a government job which ultimately has turned the state government as the biggest job market

The Jammu and Kashmir government has taken a giant step by announcing an initial corpus fund for entrepreneurship development in the state. Finance Minister Abdur Rahim Rather in his first budget speech presented in the Assembly on August 10 earmarked Rs 25 crores for this purpose. This amount is being kept at the disposal of Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) which will further the agenda.

This is for the first time the government has seriously taken up the Entrepreneurship, which has been so far neglected. Mr Rather in his speech made the intentions of government abundantly clear saying “Centrally sponsored schemes are generally linked to motivated and prospective entrepreneurs. EDI is asked to offer a package which apart from sensitization, training and consultancy inputs shall include an incentive in the form of non refundable seed money to enable prospective entrepreneurs to kick start their ventures and make their projects bankable”. He said that in order to achieve this goal the Entrepreneurship Development Fund (EDF) has been created. Following this a well conceived scheme will be framed up for the prospective, motivated, trained and provisionally registered first generation entrepreneurs who can enter into agriculture, horticulture, floriculture, food processing and medicinal plants cultivation.

Government’s move to boost entrepreneurship is something which should be lauded as the entrepreneurship development has not been promoted in the state as has been done in other states of India. In absence of sense of entrepreneurship, the educated youth have not been able to think beyond a government job which ultimately has turned the state government as the biggest job provider. This is a stark reality that we have 40 percent more manpower in the government than required. Such a tendency has severely affected the skills of youth who always look for a government job which is considered to be the only secured area of employment. Even a Post Graduate in this state prefers to be a fourth class employee rather than trying to carve a place for himself.

This remains a fact that for being an entrepreneur an educated youth in this state suffers a lot in wake of red tapism and corruption at all the levels. His patience is tested at every stage through this sick system generally leave people crest fallen. Banks in the state also been a hurdle in the development of entrepreneurship as the age old tradition of discouraging people has come in way of enthusiastic youth. However, things have started changing now. First for the reason that corporatization around the globe has given tough competition to state owned institutions forcing them to toe the line which private institutions have set for themselves. Second that the less opportunity of jobs in government sector has somehow dawned the realization that it was a diminishing sector.

In this whole backdrop the only answer for eradicating unemployment is the entrepreneurship. No doubt this area is new to our state though JKEDI which came into existence in 2004 has carved a niche for itself. From the Union Minister of the stature of Jairam Ramesh to Finance Minister of Jammu and Kashmir all those who matter in the government set up have recognized its contribution in the field. That is the reason that EDI is considered to be the most trusted institution in the industrial sector and government has earmarked this significant for this. EDF for that matter is bound to revolutionize the concept of entrepreneurship in the state. Its simple purpose is to provide principle amount or margin money to young entrepreneurs who generally would call it a day after getting trained of sensitized from EDI. Not only this, but a large chunk of funds from National Minorities and Finance Development Corporation (NMDFC) is to be channelised through EDI. This was earlier done through Women’s Development Corporation and SC/ST Corporation in which latter has failed to lift the required amount of loans. Under this Corporation controlled by Government of India, the EDI will now give loans to prospective entrepreneurs on a very low interest of 6 percent upto Rs 5 lakh as against standing interest rate of more than 13 percent from other banks.

So far the scope of entrepreneurship in this state has been very low as it was not explored and the talent of youth was wasted in government jobs where they would end up laidback workers. Now the government has come up with a boosting scheme it is time to take it to its logical conclusion. We do not doubt the sincerity of government particularly that of Finance Minister at this stage. But the past experience has shown that such schemes are ultimately used as a tool by the political parties to strengthen their votebank. That is why the credibility of institutions is at stake in this state. In order to achieve the goal for which such a whopping amount has been earmarked, a path for a foolproof mechanism which is devoid of any political interference should be set out which will help state to grow in entrepreneurship thus finding a final answer to unemployment.