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, November 13, 2009

A Urban-Rural Divide

Two reports in the Rising Kashmir appear to bring out the chasm between city dwellers and villagers - while rich city folks are shunning "Bukharis" in favor of gas heaters and central heating systems, the sale of "Kangris" is at an all time high among poor villagers

Bukharies no more warm Kashmir winter chill

Srinagar: With Valley experiencing a sudden drop in temperature and summer heat fading our memories, offices and households are trying to reach for heating systems. One of the oldest heating devices, the hard coke Bukhari is witnessing lowest ever demand this winter season. The makers of Bukhari are facing tough times as offices and homes are switching over to new heating systems.

The presence of Gas heaters and Central heating systems for past few years has taken a serious toll on the Bukhari business in the valley. According to its manufacturers and dealers, the business has gone down by 75 per cent and it is believed that in the coming two to three years, these traditional warming systems will be part of history.

“The business has nosedived ever since gas heaters and central heating systems were introduced in Kashmir market,” said Mohammad Sarwar, a wholesale Bukhari dealer in Srinagar. He added, “The use of Bukhari at homes is almost over and in the offices it is about to vanish.”

Sarwar who is a Bukhari manufacturer as well said that in the past he used to do business worth Rs 2 lakh per season, which lasts for three months but now a meager amount of Rs 10000 to 20000 per season is realized. “The material used for making these Bukharis has also witnessed a price hike. This has also dented our business,” he added.

The manufacturers admit that Bukhari acts as polluting agent and is harmful to health but they claim there are methods available now that can make them safer.
“The use of coal is dangerous to health but then kerosene Bukharis are not only safe but cheap as well,” said Mohammad Amin, another Bukhari manufacturer and dealer.
Asking for government help Amin said, “We don’t want financial aid from the government, however they should provide us infrastructure for making gas and kerosene Bukharis as is the case in some countries.”

He informed that they have shifted from Bukhari making to other trades to make a living but are facing the same fate there as well. “After Bukharis we shifted to Gate making but now Gates also come readymade from outside the State,” Amin said.
Meanwhile experts say that modern systems are not only safe but also research based and cater to thermal needs of people and their settings.

Electrical Engineer, Zahoor Ahmad Batoo also a consultant with Eco-tech engineers, a Central heating system firm here said, “The traditional heating systems be it coal Bukharis, heat blowers or the gas heaters warm the air around which is not in accordance with the thermal comforts of people.”

On the other hand, the central heating systems are made according to the temperature profile of the floor, which is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), Batoo said.

“There is no threat of oxygen consumption and carbon monoxide emission in the modern gadgetry but the case is reverse with Bukharis,” Batoo added. No manual intervention is needed in modern systems and everything happens with just a push of a button, he added.

Demand for Kashmir kangri (fire pot) increases as temperature falls

Bandipora: With cold wave conditions in the Valley intensifying, the demand for the Kangri (an earthen fire pot) has increased manifold. The kangri has withstood the flood of modern electronic heating appliances in the market and continues to be the preferred choice among Kashmiris.

Kangri is the proud possession of Kashmirs during winters. It keeps them warm in hostile weather conditions when even electricity supply remains disrupted. The kangris produced in Bandipora and Chrar-e-Sharif in central Kashmir are considered aesthetically best and durable.

A 60-year-old wicker weaver Saifudin Ganai of Kaloosa, Bandipora said the sale of kangri is increasing with passage of time. “People still prefer kangri over electric heaters, blowers and LPG heating devices as it is cheap and inexpensive,” he said.

Ganai said he used to sell 300 kangris in a season (from August to January) 20 years back. “The demand has increased to 600 in last decade and witnessed further rise from past two years,” he said.

Ganai has set a mini kangri manufacturing workshop at his home. “I have hired services of seven persons at my home to weave the required number of kangris.”

Kangiri weaving is an age old artisan trade of the Valley and hundreds of people are associated with the trade in Batingoo, Bandipora, Kaloosa, Gund Kaisar, Ajas and Saderkoot areas in North Kashmir.

“Kangri is light, in-expansible and easy to handle. It is being used since ages. People prefer Kangri over the electronic and gas heaters because of its cost-effectiveness,” said a group of elderly persons in Sopore.

A kangri weaver Mohammad Ismail Sheikh of Botingoo, Sopore said they are producing and selling kangirs in large quantity. “The demand for the kangri has not gone down. I have sold two truck-loads of kangris in previous three months and one more truck load is ready. We are selling hundreds of kangris in the locality every day,” he said, adding, “kangris are selling like hot cakes”.

Maintaining that heating gadgets have a negligible effect on the sale of kangris, Ismail said, “Since kangri is not dependent on electricity and gas, people prefer to use it even in this modern technological era”.

However, one of the kangri weaver, Mohammad Shafi of Gund Kaiser Bandipora said the deforestation and callous attitude of government towards the poor wicker weavers has led to slight decline of the trade in the Valley.

“Owing to growing deforestation, a weaver has to pay Rs 400-500 per five kilograms of wicks, which were once freely available in the nearby forests,” he said adding, “Now a weaver has to spend thousands of rupees for procuring wicks”.

The Kangiri artisans use wicks of plant species: Parrotia jacquemantiana (Vrn Pohu) Indigoferra pulchalla (Vrn kecch) and Cotoneaster bacillaris (Vrn linn). They say these species are perpetually becoming extinct.

Shafi urged the government to give subsidized loans to the weavers so that they can continue to follow their age old profession.

Meanwhile, a noted ethno-botanist and retired Deputy Conservator of Forests Barkat Ali Qureshi said the business of kangri weavers has been affected not because of shrinking forests but due to the improper technique used by them in extracting the material.

He said the kangri weavers extract these plants in an improper manner causing retrogressive succession, which leads to the extinction of this genius.

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