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.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In Touch With the Culture

Sajjad describes a private-public partnership that heralds a new promise for re-emergence of cultural life in the valley

(Mr. Sajjad Bazaz, 45, was born in Srinagar. He attended the Khalsa high school and the Sri Pratap College in Srinagar. He received his bachelor's degree in Media and his master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. Mr. Bazaz has over two decades of experience in journalism (both print & electronic), and he is author of the book "Bankwatch" which is about a financial scenario with particular reference to the J&K state. He is currently incharge of corporate communications department in a leaduing financial instution in J&K. Mr. Bazaz likes to spend leisure time watching movies and enjoying company of his friends.)

We Need a Vibrant Cultural Policy

There were times in Kashmir when staying alive was a big challenge. Death of a friend, neighbour, father, mother or children was so common that it was unbearable not to breakdown. Among other things in the peak conflict period which took a back seat were things like art, music, poetry etc. But after two decades of armed conflict between men in uniform and separatists, current times seem better now in Kashmir. However, the chances are as alive to ignite a large scale conflict between India and Pakistan as they were in 1990 if the solution to Kashmir dispute is not worked out in coming times.

From an aesthetic point of view, last few years have seen reemergence of poets, playwrights, and artists etc in Kashmir who are among the custodians of Kashmiri art, culture and heritage. This has come at a time when civil society as a whole has nearly reclaimed the space which was totally occupied by violent armed confrontation between Indian military and paramilitary forces and the separatists.

Our state has 5000 years recorded history depicting composite cultural heritage of the State. Despite this, the preservation of cultural heritage never got serious attention, even when the armed conflict was not there. And the events in the past few decades only indicated that we have been losing our heritage. But it was J&K Bank, though a commercial organization in nature, which has emerged as an outstanding bastion of the Kashmiri art, culture and heritage.

Over the past four years, the bank’s unique initiatives are on record where it has used wall calendars, table calendars, diaries greeting cards, ad-campaigns, bank stationery, button buddies, pens and pads etc to carry strong messages of heritage preservation and depicting cultural values both in terms of content and their graphical representation. The Bank’s calendar for the year 2010 with ‘Contemporary artists of J&K: Changing colours as the theme, is a bold step in this direction as it has projected the contemporary and the young artists of the state with medium as oil and water color paintings. The calendar is an attempt to capture the artists who have been struggling all along their career to claim their space in the society. Precisely, through these initiatives, an attempt has been made to bring the people of J&K and their legacy both in terms of their culture and economy at the center of contemporary Kashmir frame.

As far as contemporary artwork of Kashmiri artists is concerned, the only place to see a collection is on the walls of the Institute of Music and Fine Arts, where a hundred odd students are being trained in painting, sculpture, applied arts, graphic design and classical music. But it is for the first time that any organization has come out to introduce the contemporary artwork of Kashmiri artists in their own society while as they are well known at national and international level. Notably, some of the experiences during the peak of the armed conflict are being incorporated into the works that Kashmiri artists are producing nowadays. But the Kashmiri society has little or we can say no knowledge about this, as the society has ignored to carve out a space for this community with just 200 odd members. In this context, JK Bank calendar 2010 may have taken a common man in Kashmir by surprise, but the fact is that the works of these artists projected in the calendar will bring them in the limelight among their own people. Notably, the concept of JK Bank to work for the preservation of the legacy of physical artifacts and intangible attributes inherited from past generations is unique in the banking industry.

We have seen so many diplomatic engagements on Kashmir. Be it track II diplomacy or the like, exchange of art, culture and literature prior to this kind of diplomacy at least between two parts of Kashmir has never been given a thought. In the name of LoC trade, we have been exchanging potatos, onions and various variety of Dals, but this kind of cultural exchange has not been given any space. It would have been better to include exchange of artwork of Kashmiri artists across the LoC along with other commerce. It is of utmost importance to build cultural bridges. Let power of art is explored.

We have around 200 odd artists here who are active practitioners of artwork and are known at international as well as international levels. They are invited in important events to display their work at different places in India and other countries. We have three art galleries in Jammu and one of the biggest cultural centres is coming up fast in Ladakh, but we don’t have an art gallery in Kashmir. Why Kashmir has been left out? There should have been a space for Kashmiri artists to showcase their works throughout the year. Even as cultural academy is directly involved in this affair, it has failed to project their works. We have a huge collection of world’s costliest painting and art works of internationally known artists in the academy, but these are eating dust.

These paintings worth crores of rupees are in bad shape and have never been displayed. Kashmir has produced national award winning artists and their collection is available in National Gallery of Modern Art and Lalit Kala Academy New Delhi.

The state government has a huge responsibility to share as far as preserving the cultural heritage of the state is concerned. Let there be a cultural heritage centre in the State employing best practices in cultural heritage education, research and consultancy. The centre should draw practitioners, scholars and students across the region into collaborative projects and disseminates professional information throughout the state by means of newsletters and conferences, educational programs, training workshops and seminars. Organizing debates and seminars on such themes paves way for initiating constructive measures to conserve the cultural heritage and pass on to future generations.

JK Bank has shown the way and government must join the initiative with full strength. Let us understand this fact that nothing has ever been achieved by violence and coercion. Time has come to lay stress on the evolution of a culture of peace, non-violence and amity. The culture of peace should ensure that the conflicts inherent in human relationship are resolved non-violently, based on our traditional values of peace. And above all, it should frame a cultural policy so that our cultural heritage preservation movement is put on a right track, of course, with our contemporary artists as one of the major players. Our art, culture and literature should remain in constant dialogue with the world at large in the realm of ideas, perceptions, etc. The policy should restore to development its profound human significance.

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