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.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Finding Space For Gender Equality in Kashmir

Social Welfare Minister Sakina Ittoo speaks to Kashmir Images

(The Ministry of Social Welfare is responsible for the welfare, social justice and empowerment of disadvantaged and marginalized sections of the society. The role of this ministry has become all the more important in a place like Kashmir where many families have lost their breadwinners, youth are facing joblessness and orphans are abundant. In order to assess as to how far this ministry has been able to fulfill its mandate as far as empowerment and social justice is concerned, Kashmir Images, Special Correspondent, Zeenat Zeeshan Fazil spoke to Jammu and Kashmir Social Welfare Minister Sakina Ittoo)

“Ours is a male dominated society”

Zeenat: In a conservative and male dominated society you have risen to a top most position. How do you feel?
Ittoo: As a woman I feel good that I have risen to a top most position but at the same time this post is full of responsibilities and commitments. There is no doubt that we are living in a male dominated society but at the same time I fell that women have gone ahead not like old times when women were downtrodden or looked down upon. So, in a way I must say I am satisfied.

Zeenat: You are the only woman Minister in coalition cabinet. Do your officers co-operate with you in the same manner as they do with the male counterparts?
Ittoo: So far I didn’t face any such difficulties that my colleagues didn’t co-operate instead officials always co-operated and co-operated in a big way. In 1996, when I became Minister, it may surprise but during those days I was not even aware what politics is all about and due to which sometimes my people used to take me for granted. They might have felt that I am young and won’t be able to discharge my duties properly. But after assuming my charge I first built infrastructure of my area which was gutted down in fire during militancy period , implemented schemes for the betterment of my area and also did lot of work during my tenure of six years and in that period didn’t gave chance to any officer to over look the problem of people.

Zeenat: Given your experience in politics would you like more women to join politics?
Ittoo: While attending functions or dinner parties I sometimes feel awkward standing alone in a group of males and wish to have more participation of ladies. We are very few in this field like President (PDP) Mehbooba Mufti, My self and some nominated MLA’s so expect and wish more participation of women in future. In a male dominated society when we talk about 33 percent women reservation then how many women are there but we are ourselves at fault as educated women around us are not coming forward in politics. Don’t know the reason, why they are not joining politics. May be they are scared whether society will digest them or not and whether people will not trust them while discharging duties towards society.

I believe wherever she will work woman will work with convention, dedication, honesty and will take her job seriously. We have better examples of Late Indira Gandhi, Late Benazir Butto , UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi who have made their mark in the field of politics. Even President of India, Pratibha Patil is a woman who is running whole country on her shoulders. People of J&K needs awareness that a woman can also do better work for the community. People should give them full support from society to come forward and to help the humanity. In Assembly Elections some ladies did come forward to try their luck but people at large didn’t encourage and support them .I personally believe that they can do something good and great for the nation and also for the state of J&K. I wish more and more ladies especially qualified ladies should come forward in politics and bureaucracy to represent..

Zeenat: As a woman politician, do you favor reservation for women in legislative Assembly and Legislative Counsel?
Ittoo: Yes I do, People in India and in every state have asked for 33 percent reservation of women but nothing concrete has been done on the ground level. I don’t know why but somewhere male dominated society is feeling insecure of ladies joining politics. I personally feel that a woman is a very essential part of government machinery and she should come forward and for that people should encourage them so that they should perform well in a present day society. I am hopefully that there will be a day when this Bill will be passed and a woman will get her due share in running the administration of our country.

Zeenat: In other parts of India the schemes under social welfare department have revolutionized the areas and helped poor societies in tremendous way. Why in J&K, the Social Welfare schemes have failed to deliver?
Ittoo: I can’t say that the Social Welfare schemes have failed to deliver but our department gets 70 percent funding from the central government and 30 percent from state government .But unfortunately we don’t get funds on time and with the result we are not able to go ahead with our schemes on time. We are not able to give utilization certificate on time so that people at centre could know that money has been spent in right direction and further releasing of funds could go ahead. Then in our state as a Minister I have seen people are also not aware of certain schemes and the central sponsored schemes are not implemented properly as more concentration is done on old age pensioners and widow pensioners here but then even these widows and old age pension schemes people do not get pension on time due to non availability of funds and delay in release of funds from Central government.

Maximum money of our department is spend on old age pensions and widow pensions but sometimes even old age pensions are released after six months and a widow gets her pension after three months and causing lot of problems for her to meet the exigencies of her life and family. There are some 35,000 cases of such nature pending with us which needs an immediate action. We even tried to clear the backlog but the process doesn’t stop here, it has to go again and again due to lack of funds. Then the state of J&K is a poor state and we have lot of expenditures and these expenditures are given by the center so simply when we get money from center and with that money we cater the necessity of needy and deserving people.
NFB scheme which is quite beneficial for people but unfortunate part is that people are still unaware of the scheme. Under this scheme Rs 10,000 would be given for the marriage ceremony of such grown up daughters for their daughters. No doubt it meager amounts for the marriage ceremony of a girl in today’s time but cases are numerous and government is doing its job.

We have rehabilitation counsel and under which we have received lots of funds and have disbursed that money among the needy. This scheme is for rehabilitation of the militancy affected families. Under this we sanction pension of Rs 750 per month in their favor and also provide education facilities to their children. The major problem that lies with Social Welfare department here is that we don’t have man power available. Officers are unavailable as the posts of Programme officers, district officer, project officers of ICDS project and CDP posts are lying vacant. So until we don’t have man power and required staff how can we run the department smoothly.

In the beginning when I joined this department I saw one CDPO at a times is looking after 4 projects and now one can analyses how long he will justify his job and when already 3000-4000 Aganwari workers are working under him. But we are trying our best to set the things right and we will over come the problem soon. There is a shortage even of Tehsil officers as well and in our department we have to lot of field work in order to analyze the cases of needy people so when you get appropriate staff how come work will be done on time. In our department we appoint KAS officer as Project Officers.

We don’t have departmental programme officers due to which get officers from General department. The posts of CDPO’s are not refereed to SSRB on time which indicates that our government lacks proper system .first it was the responsibility of previous government to refer post to SSRB (which previous governemnet didn’t) so that we could have got officers. Now we are trying for it. Even the promotion of Supervisor has not been done so far. Even there is no provision for the promotion of Anganwadi worker. Even DPC’s are not held till date. Now who is to be blamed that we can’t say but these things needs immediate attentions?

In our state people are mostly interested in government job and due to which they don’t go for central schemes of Social Welfare Department. They have better avenues in this filed but they hardly care for this. Whenever I approach any deserving person for applying for a loan he categorically refuses for it and asks for a casual appointment mostly. This is the reason that our schemes are not running successfully in our state

Zeenat: It’s said that Social Welfare Ministry has hundreds of schemes but no effort is being made to make people aware of those schemes because people don’t know about the schemes so they fail to take benefits?
Ittoo: Yes we have lots of schemes available with us but unfortunately people are still not aware of them. There is a scholarship scheme for pre-matriculation and post matriculation students but mostly people don’t know how to take benefits of the scheme which may be due to lack of awareness or may be department has not given due publicity to it but at the same time deserving people do approach us. Recently, we had to close down our district offices as their was so much rush of students and in many areas people started stone pelting on our complexes so that we could extend the dates and accept the scholarship forms and up to now we have extended thrice the day of application for those students who were unable to submit scholarship forms on time.

Recently , when Union Minister for Minority affairs , Salman Khursheed visited valley I personally requested him for the extension of dates in this scholarship scheme for which he agreed and then he was also kind enough to say that every needy person who has applied will be benefited and this time around 50,000 forms are under consideration.

People of rural areas were almost ignorant of the scheme whereas Srinagrities used to get maximum benefits. I distributed cheques among them. Intelligent students coming from rural and far-flung areas of Kulgam, Baramulla, Gurez, Leh. These students were not able to highlight their talent due to their financial position but our scholarship schemes has boosted their moral and made them financially sound. We have made appointed Director for Tribal affairs so that there is a full proof supervision of the activities which took place in such areas so that there is accountability because in tribal affairs we get funds for Schedule caste and Schedule tribes but such funds are never utilized as such funds are received in March and at that time due to climatic disturbance we are not able to do any concrete work but this I conducted a meeting with all Deputy Commissioners and asked them to inform us well on time for their requirement so that we could approach funds on right time.

Zeenat: Anganwadi scheme is a great concept if implemented in letter and spirit but there are complaints that this scheme is in a complete mess. All the work is done by poor Anganwadi workers who even don’t get comfortable wages and whatever they get is always delayed?
Ittoo: Yes its true, these workers get their salaries very late sometimes after six months and the reason for that are funds that are received very late. Then another reason for delay of the salaries is the number of Andanwari workers that has increased enormously after 1996. At the time of appointments these workers are well aware that they can get a very small salary of Rs 1500-1800 but they prefer to have this job even after passing their graduation and post graduation but at the same time I have observed that our Anganwari workers are getting better salaries than the workers living in other parts of country.

Zeenat: Your Ministry has a scheme for old age people in order to help them monetarily. But till date no efforts have been made to have old age homes in J&K sate?
Ittoo: Yes its true that there are no such homes in our state as we have not paid any attention to this problem but I believe it is need of the hour to look after those respected old age parents who are often tortured by their sons, daughters and daughters-in-law. Our sincere efforts should be to look into the problem and revive their living pattern in a respectable way. I have discussed the requirements regarding old age homes with Chief Minister and with the concerned Deputy Commissioners also who have been directed to prepare a concrete plan and identify certain patch of land so that we can place the proposal before central government and ask for funds and at the same time the state government will also have its contribution in running such homes smoothly.

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