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

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.

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