Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Community Based Approach in Dealing with Children Without Guardians

Arshi may not have been able to keep her promise but she is thinking of a day when there will be no need to make such promises

(Ms. Arshi Javid, 20, was born in the Lal Chowk area of Srinagar. She completed her schooling from the Tiny Harts School. Ms. Javid is pursuing a graduate degree in Humanities at the Government College for Women, Maulana Azad Road, Srinagar. She has been actively writing in newspapers from last three years and was awarded budding journalist award by the Rotary Club of Kashmir. As a socially concerned Kashmiri youngster, she wants to contribute on local issues emanating from the turmoil.)

Orphanages in Kashmir

Making promises to children is a difficult job. And when the promises remain unfulfilled, they don’t just hurt children but adults too, who deliberately offer them dreams that are meant to be shattered. Children might even forget the myriad promises that we make to them, but when promises are significant, they neither forget nor forgive.

We all err with promises, but I blundered. In addition my preys were already fate-bitten orphans –barely seven or eight year old. My inquisitive nature always transported me to the places which meant strange to my peers. One of the places, I frequently visited was an orphanage. One of my visits coincided with Eid and gave me a chance to witness how festivity commenced at these special homes. I could realize that festivals never came alone. They bought along euphoria and a deeper sense of wiping out sorrows and despondencies for a while. The magic of festivals could make the saddest boys cheerful. Nevertheless I could scan a pain in their eyes, a discomfort in their voices. It was a language of isolation, codified expression of separation and broad grudge of segregation from rest of the society.

People took some children home on the occasion of festivity and dropped them back once it is over. But the practice isn’t very popular and not many people come forward in this regard. Whirling in a jerk of idiosyncrasy and perhaps emotions, I assured few children that my family will be playing their host this Eid. The spontaneous response from kids was whether I was being truthful or just kidding. In order to establish my truth I made a rapid promise. The news was sufficient to give them bright smiles that could lit up the saddest scene. However melancholy was to replace the gaiety that I was enjoying. It is said that children cannot keep secrets. Within no time, the boys I had planned to take home had unburdened their hearts with fellow inmates, making them all eager to come with me. Soon I had scores of orphan boys after me, yearning to come with me but it was impractical for me to invite all of them. So, aborting the entire arrangement was the only alternative left with me. And, somehow I broke the promise I had just made. But never again could I look anybody in eye, who believed every word I uttered. My shadow felt like a traitor which had crushed a thousand tiny hopes. I can imagine little Imran peeping outside the window, waiting for me endlessly and ultimately reverting to the life determined for him.

Children fall the biggest casualty in any conflict. Be it a clash between disputing parents or the political conflict between two states. In our case, the armed conflict has been benevolent enough granting a legacy of orphans which multiplies each passing day. We have a generation of children whose ears knew the sounds of gunfire before actually they recognized their mothers. It is estimated that there are about 30,000 orphans in Kashmir making it about 3-5% of the total child population. Thankfully, we as a community have dealt wonderfully in the time of catastrophe offering our help to the kids and widows. The role of orphanages which mushroom the valley and the Samaritans who worked hard for the cause cannot be neglected either. But as alert commoners, a thought arises. How long can this orphanage culture continue? It has been twenty long years since the armed insurgency has broken out and hopefully the worse period has been averted. It’s high time when alternatives should be adopted.

Observers believe that need of the hour is community-based care for these star-crossed kids rather than institutionalizing orphanages. Children living in orphanages experience isolation. Genuinely orphanages have catered to the requirements of orphans in an unparallel manner but how long can this stretch? Though all their apparent needs like food, clothing, shelter, education and health but somewhere all round development-physical, social, psychological, congenial has been neglected. And the neglect cannot be put on the shoulders of people who run orphanages, but on community, on every individual who has been spectator to this pain. Any thinking community cannot afford to isolate a major chunk of their child and teenaged population. The stress should shift on the broader contours of rehabilitating the orphans in community; inculcating a feeling of kinship- making them feel like one of our own; cutting through the knots of segregation making them a part of society. Furthermore, segregation can make them more susceptible to various unethical habits. Apart from this focus should be on all round growth rather than confining them to particular atmosphere where the feeling of victimization can never vanish. My conversations with young orphans hinted at the victimization syndrome that they undergo at all fronts and unnecessary tagging as orphans. Their grievance is that people don’t empathize but sympathize with them.

The concept of orphanages unfortunately originates from a bad precedent. Throughout the Islamic history one hardly finds any reference of orphanages. Prophet Muhammad (saw) never supported the model of orphanages and rather insisted on community care for orphans. An episode from battle of Ohd testifies it too. During the Ghazavi-Ohd, Muslims lost against pagans and roughly 72 Muslims were martyred, while the total population of Muslims was not more than 900, that made it a significant chunk of 10% population. As the news spread to Medina, the prophet commanded his followers to remarry the widows and shelter the orphans. And, the whole dilemma was resolved in few days only.

Traditionally, orphanages were unheard of in Kashmiri society before 1990’s. Previously due to closely knit joint family structure, orphans got adjusted within the extended family or even neighbors didn’t falter to take their responsibility. But after the insurgency, the social scene changed and we saw orphans in abundance, making way for orphan homes.

It is imperative to redefine the commitment we have for orphans; else the internal strife may not be distant. The tribulations can construct serious fallouts, lest we may go the Afghanistan way.

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