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

The Lost Years

Shyamji looks around him and sees very little to cheer about

(Mr. Shyam Kaul, 76, was born in Safapur, near Lake Manasbal, in the Gandarbal District. He did his schooling in the local area (then part of Baramulla District) and his graduate studies from the Sri Pratap College and the Amar Singh College. He obtained double Master's degrees in Psychology and Philosophy from the University of Lucknow. Subsequently, he moved to Mumbai and obtained diplomas in Advertising and Journalism. His first job in 1950's was with the Jaico Publishing Company in Mumbai as an Editor. Following a brief stint at the Filmistan Studios as the Marketing Manger, he returned to Kashmir where he became associated with the All India Radio (AIR) and various media outlets before joining the National Herald where he stayed until his retirement in 2002. He is now a free lance journalist and his commentary appears regularly in various J&K dailies. In his leisure time, Shyamji enjoys writing poetry in Urdu and cooking.)

Uniting Hearts, but How?

A journalist-writer from Mumbai, recently on a visit to Jammu and Kashmir, spent many days in Jammu city interacting with people from different walks of life. Later, during a chat with him over a cup of tea one could see that he was deeply impressed and touched by the bonhomie between displaced Kashmiri Pandits (KP) in Jammu and their visiting Muslim friends from Kashmir.

He wanted to know that, as a displaced Kashmiri, how I felt about it. His query brought to my memory the name of Bettina Bunga, an international tennis player of yesteryear. Bettina had played a record number of seventeen games against the tennis legend, Martina Navratilove, and had suffered defeat in all her games.

When she was retiring from her tennis careers, Bettina was asked what she had learned from her encounters with Martina. "How to shake hands," came the incisive reply.

Over the past twenty years of exile and "defeat" on all counts, we have learnt a good deal from the nostalgia-kindling visits of our friends, neighbours, workmates, fellow villagers or city dwellers, from different parts of Kashmir.

We have learnt how to shake hands, impatient for contact with us, and how to get into excited hugs. We have learnt how to spend hours with the visiting friends over long tea sessions or sumptuous dinners or at a sundown booze party. We have learnt how to take interminably, cursing with heaves of despair our twenty years of disconnection, fast leading to total estrangement with the passage of time, especially among the new generations, far removed from one another on the two sides of the mountain barriers.

After some days of reunion our friends from Kashmir go their way and we go ours. However there is a tragic difference between the two home-goings. They go to their homes, their habitat with roots, belongingness, continuity and tradition, the same as we once had back in what was our land. We go to our make-believe homes, where we all the time dream of homes what are no more. There appears which we have been hankering for, year after year.

Other than what we have learnt from the occasional visits of people from Kashmir, the curse of homelessness thrust upon us, has made us learn many more things. We have learnt that our wail in political wilderness ends up only in its own reverberation.

We have learnt what it means practically in the world's largest democracy to be impoverished in numbers, in electoral strength, in political clout, and in vocal aggression, which are some of the effective weapons to attract attention and get things done. We have learnt that no matter how much and how persistently we may plead with the government to work out a viable plan and line of action for making the return of the displaced community feasible, our please will not evoke any credible response. We have learnt that despite the suggestions from different quarters, the government has not shown any keenness to involve the civil society, the opinion leaders, and the political class in Kashmir in creating an environment congenial for the return of displaced people.

Long years of exile have made us learn that the measures announced by the Centre from time to time for the benefit of the displaced KPs hardly ever reach the full implementation level, essentially because the funds allotted for the purpose largely find way to other destinations. We have learnt that the governments in Delhi and Srinagar are visibly getting reconciled to the all time exile of KPs, and ultimately their obliteration from the historical, cultural, social and political map of Kashmir.

Coming to the nostalgia of the soil, whose love permeates our entire being, we have learnt how to crave for the twittering appearance of the first swallows in the valley in early March to herald the arrival of the spring season, coming in their wake.

We have learnt how to pine for the sleepy and dream-inducing shades of gigantic Chinars when summer blazes in, breathing fire into the air of Jammu, Delhi and other places.

We have learnt how to fantasize about the crumpling feel of dry autumn chinar leaves under our feet, as we leisurely saunter about in Shalimar Bagh.

We have learnt how to hanker for Chilla Kalan snows when the flakes, dyed in spotless white, the colour of peace, fall softly on one's body, from head down to feet, bringing down the blessings of peace from the heavens.

It is often said of KPs, as an argument, to "accuse" them of not being interested, in going back to Kashmir, that they are reconciled to their exile as their younger generation is doing well outside Kashmir. In other words, it is tantamount to saying that a displaced and dispossessed person should compulsorily stay as a "destitute" to convince others that he craves for his homeland and that he is no more interested in his well being or that of his children.

Yes, the new generation of KPs is doing well. It is getting proper education and training and settling down to remunerative jobs, within and outside the country. They are proud of it, and genuinely so, because adversity could not destroy them nor put them on the wrong track. It egged them on to strive for a better life and bring honour to themselves and to their community.

But it is an irrefutable truth too that there are no two opinions in the community about the pain of having lost their home and hearth, together with unending displacement and it will continue to rankle deep down in their minds. It will never go till the fundamental right of the displaced community to live in its own home and its land of birth in honour and dignity as proud citizens, will see the light of the day.

One is reminded of the opening line of a fine poem of Ahmed Batwari, Hakima wareh woochtam, doad nai, dugg kamich chham, (O Hakeem, examine me more carefully, if there is no ailment, any do I have this gnawing pain?). A displaced Kashmiri may apparently look fine, but the pain of homelessness is fully alive deep inside him.

Despite the government's inability, or unconcern, as one may look at it, in creating or trying to create a congenial atmosphere for the return home of KPs, it appears that the features that united the Muslims and Hindus of Kashmir are getting better today, as compared to what had divided them in the wake of the eruption of militancy in Kashmir. What is needed now is to encourage and strengthen the trend by taking steps to involve the two communities in the broader perpective and goal of reviving the bonds of social, cultural, emotional and historical togetherness, for which Kashmir was once widely known.

But who will do it? It is a question of retoring contact and uniting the hearts. The government could have played the role of an active facilitator and promoter, which it is not capable of, or lacks the will to do so. It appears that today the factors that once knit together the Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims, are fairly alive and stronger than the compulsions that segregated them in the wake of the rise of terrorism and fundamentalist elements. It calls for farsight, imagination and resolve on the part of powers that be to work on this state of things and rebuild the bridges of togetherness, cordiality and peace.

The latest specimen of the government's initiative is the report of the 5th Working Group. Headed by Justice (Retd) Sagheer Ahmed. The report took a very long time in coming, and when finally it did, though not through the expected channel, it only caused the raising of voices of indignation and rejection of the document.

What the report said about the displaced KP community has evoked no reaction other than that of disgrutlement. The report has laid stress on the implementation of relief and rehabilitation packages, including those announced by the Prime Minister. The only thing deserving mention is that the migrant employees should be encouraged to go to Kashmir by giving them the guarantee that their children would get education and, later on, jobs, and secure place to live.

Where are the guidelines, working plans and road maps for the return of KPs to Kashmir, which they had expected to emerge from the deliberations and report of the 5th Working Group?

Adequate representation in the government employment is, no doubt, an issue for the KPs which they are keen to see resolved to their satisfaction. But it is only one of the problems, and certainly not the central issue, which continue to agitate lakhs of displaced people.

The displaced KPs stand deprived of their homes, their land of birth and their fundamental right to go back to Kashmir and live in their own homes as equal, honourable and dignified citizens of this state and this country. They have now waited for twenty long years for their right to materialise. But going by the unrelenting passivity of the government and dismaying quality of reports of the concerned working groups, it appears that nothing may materialise for the displaced community of Kashmir, which also has lately learnt how not to unite hearts!

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