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.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Tragic Disappearing Act

Javaid sees a frightening calamity ahead in Kashmir if forests keep disappearing

(Professor Javaid Iqbal Bhat, 31, was born in Anantnag. He completed his Bachelor's degree from the Amar Singh College, Srinagar, and his M.A. and M. Phil. from the Centre for English Studies in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He was nominated for the President of India Gold Medal for the highest Final Grade Point Average (FGPA) in the Masters Programme, and got Distinction for his M. Phil. dissertation on Salman Rushdie's "Shalimar the Clown." He currently teaches as a permanent faculty in the Post Graduate Department of English at the South Campus of the University of Kashmir.)

Forests: Where Have They Gone?

There are other ways in which the villagers and other people living in close proximity to the forests are compelled to become their enemies. This takes place in terms of the availability of the timber for the construction purposes. For example if there is a household “X” which needs to construct a new home, there is a whole set of boring and cumbersome procedures that has to be gone through before the wood reaches anywhere close to the site of construction; writing applications, a slew of signatures, spending days on end in persuading the officers and paying handsome bribes to them. After a long delay what is received a minimal so as to make you feel foolish for waiting too long and doing so much. It is nothing but a covert promotion of the menace of loot and smuggling under the darkness of night. The people are compelled to approach the local smuggler for the needed amount and quality of construction wood

Thus giving him a fair degree of moral and economic legitimacy. Instead of updating and rationalizing the entire structure of acquisition and distribution of timber, it feels happy in sitting on the outmoded ways and practices, unaware of the implications of this cold and inhuman behaviour. The irony is that the likes of Forest Protection Groups (FPG) are created to bring to end the illegal felling of the forest trees while as nothing is being done to make the timber easily accessible and as per the legitimate demands from the government depots. The problem-do I need to say this-is that the micro picture and the ground condition almost always remains vague or hidden from the minds of the policymakers. There is another equally disturbing dimension. The policymakers and the law enforcement agencies are not though the only accused. On their part the huge thirst of the consumers is becoming unmanageable. The modest desire of a roof over the head is giving way to an unlimited craze for spacious bungalows. Where four rooms could have sufficed for a family a dozen are prepared. How is nature going to meet these rash demands of the human beings? The greed and competitive showbiz is taking a heavy toll on the calm of our soul and mind, not to mention the devastating impact on our natural resources. Basically the idea of need has become subservient to the idea of Show. Everything should give “Show” to become acceptable. Even then the state machinery can never be absolved of her responsibility as it has the power, if not the will, to bring about the change through effective laws and their even more effective execution.

Whenever the elections are round the corner there are no prizes for guessing what verbiage is let loose to catch the imagination of the gullible. Autonomy, Article 370, free and fair, pointless rumpus over the ubiquitous corruption, dynasticism, trifurcation and all that stuff which has become the leitmotif of our state ever since it became the chess board of sub- continent. Once more on these occasions our green-gold, metaphorically speaking, is made to remain content with a passing reference. Blaming others for all the crimes and misdemeanours committed has its source in the established strain of our blood, and the chief ministers and the ministers are no exception especially when they know which side the bread is buttered. “These contractors,” grumbled the Golf-Disco aficionado of our polity, a few years back in the Assembly, “of that time who exploited the forests are the rich men now and our government worked hard to save forests from destruction.” Environmental protection in our state is circumscribed to cosy confines of the cities. Beyond that the law and its implementing instruments have gone to seed. While the axe wielding Shylocks of our society is having a field day, the administration is snoring in blissful indifference. Officers are posing before the camera with a water pot, ostensibly busy in watering, what seems to be a reluctantly standing Chinar saplings; forest minister sermonizing a drowsy group of officials around him on the virtues of afforestation and the CM quakes in rage against deforestation on the innocent sensibilities of a common man.

Not long back the Bush Fire engulfed a chunk of the Australian territory. A pall of despair fell over the country and a national emergency was declared to tide over, what they saw, as a crisis. Here in our valley, to hell with the environment and the forests, city parks and the gold clubs must remain prim and proper to the sensual gratification of some of our idle city elite and the foot loose and fancy higher social and political circles. So often have we heard about the “ambitious, integrated, forest projects for the rehabilitation of degraded (read razed to the ground) forests involving an expense of over Rs. 2000 crore.” It had in one of the previous regimes. These are big dreams wrought to impress the ordinary people to silence. Recall the fate of more than 60 crore rupees which had been sanctioned for the Dal Lake and take these ambitions and big projects as gut busting jokes. The ruling dispensations have changed, however, these promises and proposals have remained the same; only the colour and the manner of their presentation have witnessed difference. Where the gorgeous sum allocated in these schemes and projects goes is never concealed from the people. It is only that they cannot find time and space to push the black sheep behind the bars for good or till they make up for the public loss. The thing is that for concrete action with ramifications in favour of social stability and satisfaction the less said the better. More or less it s a clean slate.

Of late the State Forest Minister Mian Altaf has, in response to a question in the Assembly, emphasized the steps taken to stop the encroachments on the forest land. He also turned the attention towards what he termed as the ‘New Forest Policy’ as per which timber would be supplied as per the needs of the consumers. Frankly we have heard it and seen it before. Mere soundbytes. An efficient, result oriented policy formulated for the protection of the forests must contain, inter alia, the following ingredients to arrest the criminality denuding the forest land:-

* An effective afforestation drive to recover the land lost to the evil forces
* Generous allocation of funds but not without a strict vigil on the utilization to pre-empt the defalcation and embezzlement
* Equipping the forest guards
* Establishing the supremacy of law
* Emphasis on the protection of environment in educational curriculum
* Promotion of the socio-economic justice as bedrock on which all the above can be fruitfully made to see the light of the day.

A pipe dream perhaps! But one thing is definite. The continuing negligence is sure to lodge a time bomb in the heart of our existence. It is time to defuse it before it explodes. This is not to be done for our sake but also for the safety and security of the coming generations. When they will see their surroundings devoid of the life sustaining resources what would they do? They will walk all the way to our graves, not with the flowers and prayers but with, God forbid, a mouthful of curses.

The Land of Rishis and Sufis Deserves Better

Roshan Ara sees no redeeming social value in an antiquated custom called dowry

(Ms. Roshan Ara, 45, was born in Warihama, in Budgam district. She attended the Government High School Aripanthan, and the Government Higher Secondary School Beeru. She graduated from the Government Womens College (GWC) Srinagar, University of Kashmir, and the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi. Ms. Roshan Ara has degrees in B.Com, M.Com, M.A. Economics, B.Ed, M.Phil, Diploma in Women's Empowerment and Development, and Ph.D. work underway titled 'Managing Work and Family Roles: A Study of White Collar Working Women in Kashmir.' She is presently a Lecturer in Commerce, Department of School Education, Government of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar. During leisure time she enjoys reading newspapers & journals, staying engaged on Women's Issues, and writing articles for newspapers & journals.)

A Menace Called Dowry

Kashmir as the land of Sufis and Saints has remained mostly free from many social evils in the past. No doubt such evils were taking place in other societies of the world where it was almost institutionalized as it was a part of their custom and culture. Our society inherited this menace from those societies and slowly started to welcome such culture which has now taken the shape of a big social evil. Dowry is one of such social evils which is like a dreadful dragon which brings under its clutches the rich as well as the poor. It has consumed the lives of so many women yet its hunger has not gone. Dowry is a blot on the modern civilization and it is responsible for social and economic backwardness of the people. The word `dowry’ is termed as anything of value, the gifts which a bride gets along with her at the time of marriage to her husbands home. Thus dowry is a universal phenomenon and a generally accepted view. It crosses all borders, religions, colors and castes and travels free. Its roots are so deep that it needs lot of efforts to up-root it.

The daughters belonging to other communities were not entitled to any share of the property of their fathers and they were given some valuable gifts at the time of their marriage to establish their new homes and start a new life. Since according to Islamic law, daughters are entitled to a due share in the property of their parents they are not supposed to take any valuable gift to their husband’s home at the time of marriage. As against this, it is obligatory for the bride groom to pay Maher at the time of Nikah ceremony. The bride is fully authorized to demand any amount which has no limit and is to be paid at that moment. The terms and conditions are to be fixed by the bride herself and her husband has no right to ask for a single penny out of the amount of Maher. But mostly the religious laws are violated and customs are practiced. Maher is fixed by the parents of the bride and her consent is not sought while fixing the terms and conditions of Maher. She is kept unaware and bound to accept whatever has been decided. Usually the girl’s parents ask for a lesser amount of Maher in order to please their son in laws and his family members. They don’t dare to ask for more because it will bring disgrace to the family.

Living in the era of the 21st century, our daughters are educated, skilled and they are working in different capacities at par with men. They are teachers, doctors, engineers, lawyers, company executives etc. but still at the time of marriage they are weighed in terms of dowry that they can bring. It is really a disgrace for the whole women folk and the community at large. Dowry related issues are multiple which have an adverse influence on the economy and the society as well.

Some of the Social and economic implications of dowry are explained as under:

1. Dowry related deaths are reported in our newspapers daily. Women are burnt alive and compelled to commit suicide because they are not fulfilling the unending greed of their husbands and in-laws. Since 2006 there has been 15% increase in dowry deaths in India.
2. All other forms of violence against women like domestic violence, social violence, physical and verbal abuse, and psychological violence perpetuate from dowry itself. Dowry leads to conflicts among the couple and ultimately it ends mostly in divorces.
3. Late marriages are also the by-product of dowry. Those girls who do not have the capacity to pay sufficient dowry face the dilemma of delayed marriages which later on creates the adjustment problems and affects their reproductive functions. They don’t find a suitable match in the marriage market.
4. Dowry is responsible for the heinous crime of female- infanticide. Most of the parents who are not in a position to pay dowry to their daughters at the time of marriage prefer to get the female fetus killed as they don’t want to get their daughters killed by their in laws later for want of dowry. Many states of India present a skewed sex ratio. Haryana is leading them all. Thus female infanticide is going to make our society a bachelor society soon if the trend continues.
5. Because of dowry, girls receive a differential treatment from their parents since their early childhood. They face discrimination in every stage of life, they are fed less, preferred less in all choices including the medical treatment. They are always considered a burden on the shoulders of their family. The girls themselves feel this pain. They become guilty conscious right from their childhood as if something is wrong with their existence in this world.
6. Dowry acts as a great impediment in the way of education and development of women. Parents do not prefer to invest more in their education and training. The money they posses is to be spent for their daughter’s dowry. Thus they remain educationally backward which makes them again dependent on the men folk. The lesser education not only effects the personality formation of girls but also affects the strength and the development of the nation as a whole.
7. Dowry gives rise to the menace of corruption in the society. People follow unlawful practices to grab more and more wealth to accumulate it for meeting the dowry demands of their daughters.
8. Dowry widens the gap between the rich and the poor. The rich people get an occasion to dispose off their excess money in the name of dowry whereas on the other hand, poor people who are caught in the demonstration effect of rich have to borrow and repay for the whole life. Thus the rich become richer and the poor poorer.
9. Dowry gives rise to hoarding of money, precious metals and other valuables. It hampers the circulation of money and thus reduces opportunities of savings and investment.
10. Demand for dowry has caused an increase in unorganized female work force. Preparations for dowry compel the girls to work in any capacity in the unorganized job market where they work in uncongenial working conditions for long working hours for a meager amount of money. They are not governed by any rules or regulations and do not enjoy any privilege like their counterparts in the organized work force.

To nip this evil in the bud as early as possible, women have to wakeup to fight this war themselves. Women’s organizations need to be formed state wise, district wise, block wise and awareness camps regarding dowry have to be arranged. The Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 which prohibits demand for dowry and contains stern punishment for the people demanding dowry needs to be implemented in letter and spirit. Women also need to show enough courage by rejecting such marriage proposals where they find people greedy and selfish and materialistic. This will boost other women to take strong decisions of their life. Also stringent laws regarding dowry need to be framed so that there will be no place for these culprits to escape themselves from it.

We need to educate our masses especially youth to understand the negative aspects of this evil so that they can imagine the relevance of their resources and their proper utilization from the economic, social and human perspective. We need to make them understand the concept of marriage and its importance in our life. A happy marriage without any give and take will help them live a good and a prosperous life. Dowry adds to the assets of one section of the society and the liabilities of the other, the balance sheet remaining the same. We need not to wait only for the government and its machinery to eradicate such evils but all stake holders need to take up the issue as a social responsibility.

Heart Craves for More

Dr. Mian Mehboob questions if the urge to acquire more and more wealth is necessary

"DIL MANGE MORE": All I Need is Everything

Money is important. Without it one cannot live as the things other than the air and water, somewhat freely available- at least for the time being, are but to be procured. That is why I wish this write up not attracting the attention of those who are struggling to ensure a semblance of Roti, Kapda aur Makan for their survival. I am interested in interacting with those who are engaged in the hard or thoughtless race for amassing money, fair or foul. I confess I belong to this class of the humans and I trust that most of us have a very vague justification for what we are doing.

My tryst with money ‘the maal’ has been an eye- opener. It has been disgusting, to say the least. I, during the days of my total dependence for money on my father would manage to spend, at least symbolically—by debit to my meagre pocket money, on the purchase of some news papers and sports and film magazines. Once I started earning myself, I, perhaps under a freshly dawned realisation for the value of money, virtually sculled the expenditure and started looking for free of cost offers such as the public libraries, institutional reading rooms and other charitable means on offer. I thus concluded that exposure of the youth to an early and premature self earning is fraught with risk and that makes it desirable to debate whether children should be exposed to self earning at the age of their formative years or not. This definitely weakens the focus of the youth on their studies and personality development. Most of the city dwellers (who have a better chance of earning) shall perhaps easily agree to this argument.

I am (oops I was) a poet. I would compose poems purely with an intense desire to release the sentimental pressure generated by the sweet and sour happenings and experiences occurring around me. Somebody led me to a government managed concern having been assigned the duty of promoting the ‘art, culture and languages’ of my part of the earth. Initially, under a fascination to reach out to some audience, I began to participate in the duly paid “poetry recital congregations’ of the government organization. Ultimately I became a contractual poet and would, wily nily, compose poems with the primary purpose of selling them through this forum. Incidentally, although not necessarily as a part of this write_ up, I would have also liked to say that I found very big local names of literature there primarily concerned about duly, uniquely (as they were not like their ordinary co-participants) and suitably paid for their often repeated presentations. I was saying that I became a contractual poetry composer and ultimately lost the art of mapping imagination and personifying fantasies.

This perhaps is the major risk of thinking in terms of money. I am sure that our great ancestors wrote all their masterpieces with the sole motive of either a service to humanity or the proverbial lightening of their souls and hearts. Most of us have been since then reaping the input of their hard work by venturing in the task of cutting materials from their works and pasting them under our own banner names or, more ethically, by indulging in the exercise of annotating, appreciating and explaining their thoughts. I have come to realise that the arena of our intellectual activity— writing books, religious oratory, literary conferences, seminars— is primarily driven by the force of money and an urge for bonus buck making just as in any other business— brokering, commission earning, marketing of sub standard merchandises, promoting and advertising newly launched products and professionally participating in political rallies under a mechanism of payment terms.

But why do people wish to possess lots of money? Take a few of the justifications. One of my friends once said that money was very important and he wanted to have a lot of it more so because he wanted to go around the world.. To this another friend quipped that that was neither possible nor desirable as Myanmar, Israel and the tribal controlled areas shall be out of bonds and more importantly there were better things to be done during a short span of life than exhausting oneself on long journeys and travels. Some believe that lot of money needs to be saved for future eventualities such as major ailments. To this others say that when future is prone to prediction why not predict it in very positive and optimistic terms and hope for the very best.

A Canadian Sikh millionaire had a better idea. As per a BBC report the millionaire gave away all his hard made assets in charity at an advanced stage of his life just to find out if he could rebuilt a new fortune during the remaining years of his life and once again give it away in charity. Fare enough perception, although, seriously debateable.

However, some others have an inexplicable urge for expanding their cash reserves. This is just like a causeless thirst. One of my elderly uncles, for example, would argue differently in support of the money he had amassed virtually at the cost of denying a semblance of comfortable living to himself and his family. He said that the very sight of his currency notes –which he preferred to term as bloody bitches - and counting them filled him with an enormous sense of pride and pleasure.. The crude argument of my uncle seems to represent the better drafted and gracefully documented perception of money of the modern capitalists also.

Alright, there might be other valid reasons for people who either honestly toil or brazenly manoeuvre and manipulate conditions for expanding their wealth empires. Individuals and institutions have been found burning their bodies and bloods in the pursuit of achieving their growth and expansion. Logic- they wish to be counted and to be the leaders. They are obsessed with the longing of seeing huge bank balances in all the banks of any name. Good: but who guarantees the fruit of whatever right or wrong means they are employing?

For the last few days my thoughts go again and again to the ill fated rich people of Haiti who lost their lives as well as those of their kith and kin. Their cash at home, their vast business assets, their bank balances, provident funds, mutual funds, fixed deposit certificates, ready to mature insurance policies, debentures and shares must be unclaimed in the face of the devastation of the claimants as well as the managers.

Money is important indeed. It is needed for building houses, marrying off ones sons, daughters, brothers and sisters for some and for others it is needed for insuring of their expensive cars, mortal hairs, imported dogs and above all ensuring a luxurious life style.

All these seem to be self-imposed curbs and voluntarily worn hand-cuffs. Rich people designed easy ways of spending and deflating their abundantly fattened cash reserves and most of us wished to emulate although without the affording capacity. Unfortunately it became a norm and led us to the reckless ways of making money. This ‘man-assigned’ importance to money is the main cause of people going mad and indulging in corrupt practices, elbow pushing and encroaching upon other’s genuine interests.

Now, also see the extent of man’s foolishness. Although there is no guarantee for him to enjoy even the genuinely earned wealth still he, quite foolishly, indulges in wrong practices for making some surplus bucks perhaps with a view to contribute, for example, in keeping the marriages and building of houses, a costly and lavish affair. How the great majority of middle class agrees to dance to the tune of the small minority of extra moneyed people is in itself a haunting and mysterious question.

So I have but to doubt if any one of us is clear as to why he or she wants to have a lot of money. As the last example let us talk of a comparatively more enlightened class of the society –the professors having retired from the active service and indulging in the hard toil of giving dawn to dusk tuitions at the various tuck shops of learning. Some of them, quite like me, also cherish the arrival of the “evaluation season” to grab the opportunity of evaluating, at a lightening pace, as many as answer scripts as could be offered by the in-charge official of the evaluation centre. Both I and they do this despite of having handsome and enviable sources of an assured income perhaps only to join the mad rush of making some bonus but utterly un-wanted money albeit at the cost of exhausting our bodies and compromising our dignity. The only motive seems to leave big money for our progeny (to fight out its inheritance in legal courts) and thus deprive them of the daily tonic of struggle and hard work that is so very crucial for a happy and purposeful life.

Bill Gates, I have heard, does not like to rob his children of the wonderful gift of self earning through hard work. Also enviable are those graceful ‘greats’ belonging to the set of my counterparts who resist the temptation of making bonus and un-needed money and prefer to enjoy their time with their children. A sincere and respectful salute is always due to them. Nevertheless, some can argue that the love of, at least, some people for money is important as it alone makes them work hard even on behalf of others. This human instinct is the virtual drive engine of human existence. If there are no lovers for money the system of human life shall come to a grinding halt. Anyway, this totally is a different subject.

Lot of money might be very important for governments and institutions. To the individuals it is not. Money, more than anything else, actually gives its owner a sense of pride and joy when he sits to count his currency notes. My uncle seems to have had a pragmatic assessment of the importance of money. God also lamented the stupidity of Man when He said about him “……that who amasses his riches and goes on counting them (under a wrong assumption) that these shall permanently accompany him is destined to enter the hell.” And amassing riches even through corrupt practice, I believe, is nothing but an advanced stage of stupidity.

Beyond Stones

Afshana comments on periodic shutdown of life in Kashmir brought about by stone pelting

(Ms. Syeda Afshana, 35, was born in Srinagar. She attended the Vishwa Bharti High School in Rainawari, Srinagar, and the Government Women's College in Srinagar where she received a B.Sc. degree. She completed her Master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the Kashmir University in 1999 and was the Gold Medallist (first position holder) in her graduating class. She is currently a Lecturer in the Media Education Research Centre (MERC) of the Kashmir University and pursuing her doctorate on the role of internet after 9/11.)

How long can we stand this Stone Showering Strategy (SSS)?

Fire is on. Kashmir is still burning. The periodic spates of violence continue to consume more and more young lives. The protests are devouring the deaths.

They say movements demand sacrifices. Revolutions are watered by blood. Freedom comes at a cost. A colossal price that entails hammering out anything. Rather everything.

Kashmir has a bank of death and destruction to put a wager on. At least, the saga of last two decades tells us so. The amount of gory mayhem is the certain cost that the hapless people of this land have paid and, continue to pay.

However, the question arises: How Long? The compassion or combatant fatigue, or for that matter, the collective burnout may not be the plausible causes to put the whole issue through the mill. But then, the viability and efficacy of a particular mode of résistance needs to be grilled.

Down the armed insurgency to peaceful marches to stone pelting, the scheme of things has not remained similar. The typology of minds and methods has undergone an alteration. Something that was inevitable, partly due to local situational factor(s) and partly because of changes on the international arena. However, the uncontrollable digression and de-railing of the events at various points of history as also the fracturing of militant and separatist groups, resulting in the presentation of divided multiple voices, took a heavy toll of the image of résistance. As such, the credibility crisis troubled it badly, all through.

Having witnessed one of the most deadly and ruthless counter-insurgency machinery, which consumed some of the best assets of this land, and also sowed the seeds of perpetual mistrust and discord among the various voices, that were apparently longing to achieve the same goal for the people, the public sentiment, survived somehow, witnessing episodic highs and lows, inspite of the counter-insurgency getting firmly institutionalized with each passing day, by growth in men, materials and technology. Because of all those who proved worst turncoats by criminalizing the situation, again by victimizing their own people, the guns in Kashmir never fell silent. Thus began a rising penchant for an alternative modus operandi.

Sandwiched between the guns of natives as well as aliens, the situation in Kashmir has touched flashpoint time and again. Usually it chills down quietly, and rarely does it simmer to a sweeping outburst. The periodic commotion in vale has, conceivably, proven the same. However, the way it has been handled by the people at the helm has unfolded their dithering and dual approaches. One fails to comprehend the consistency and dependability of their individual and collective statements at different occasions. The need of ‘realism’ by highlighting the need of dialogue metamorphoses overnight into an antagonistic mood of “conditional talks”. The ‘flexibility’ of owning the decision of people, whatever that may be, soon narrows back into a blind “wedding with a country” that has so often stabbed the trust of people over here.

The dichotomy is so vivid, even as the bickering is couched. In the backdrop of this politics of claptrap, ambiguity and flip-flop, Kashmir seems destined invariably for betrayals by the clinging classes of stiff interests. The nation sans heroes and leaders: the ones who can rise above their individual level, and have the capacity to be indigenous and independent in their thinking and vision. And, of course, those who possess the political acumen to foresee the swing of national moods that is quite characteristic of this place and historically proven.

Consequently, with these factors at the flipside, the course of action at any juncture requires to be planned critically and pragmatically. The whole population cannot afford shutting down their business of life every now and then. The protests that snatch the precious young blood of this nation cannot go unabated. The Stone Showering Strategy (SSS) cannot linger on and on and on, when the State has the absolute power to trample it forcibly and ruthlessly without any remorse, and reprimand from any quarter.

The youthful prophets of SSS need to understand that mass movements become success stories only when the stability of struggling minds, morals and means coincides with the set goals. We need to understand that this is a land-locked part of a third world, unlike any European country where economies are open and any public outcry is strongly able to carry a point due to enormous intrinsic support, especially material and media back up. This is Kashmir. We are Kashmiris. Let’s accommodate this truth in any strategy.

The throwing of stones, of course, is the manifestation of a typical revulsion that could not get properly and permanently redressed even after the intervention of gun. Stone pelting cannot be looked upon as a deviation from the resistance discourse and a recklessly recurrent rather than persistent force. There cannot be an easy departure from the protest ideology that has a history of decades. More so, when the system is absolutely intolerant and prejudiced towards the unarmed protesting commoner in Kashmir, stone pelting indicates both a bitter denunciation of the prevailing order and a belief of a better tomorrow. For a common mind, the stone pelting is nothing but a crude manifestation of frustration over the failed resistance of past two decades, the confession of which is smothered collectively.

As such, brushing stone throwing as a ‘mob fury’ can be justified if it garners a reproachful attention and fails to overlay the defiance with a reasonable conviction that could sustain sense and sensibility, beyond the villainous contours of crowd passion. Our new prophets of protest need to realise that it is commoners who alone have to pay the price of this kind of protest. They are the ones who shout and suffer, dare and die. Baffled by the complex and invisible forces, they fall to nefarious designs.

The reality is that getting together to yell slogans, pelt stones or smash vehicles including medical ambulances, sporadic rioting does not qualify as a protest. It erupts out disorderly, just to be identified and recalled as a sheer blurring of historical memory. And then, there are always extraneous corrupt elements embedded in every form of protest to aid in manufacturing a kind of moral turpitude over the modes of resistance. It goes without saying that guns and stones have been equally demonized for that matter in Kashmir.

All the same, there is more to improving civil society than mere noisy political activism. There is a dire need of strengthening the ideological impulse of the commoner. His understanding of protest has to be made clear and committed. Civil society has to gear up, before it’s too late. That leaders have fooled us; that intellectuals have duped us; that we have betrayed ourselves; and that Providence has forsaken us—is enough an alarm to wake us up. Guns, Stones or Mindless Mob—the insanity of reason and resistance needs a break. No denying that there is a cause to mourn. A reason to remonstrate. A position to register protest. But all with good sense and judgment rather than turning into a raucous rally or a group of outraged people kicking up a row, and getting self-destructively rowdy.

Stoning Civility

An editorial in the Kashmir Images speaks for the silent majority

Stoning Sanity

A newborn baby, on way to hospital for medical check-up, died at Baramulla as stone pelters would not allow the vehicle, he was in, to pass. They pelted stones on the vehicle, forced the parents of the newborn to join ‘protests’ and when they declined, the stone pelters scuffled with ill-fated parents which caused some fatal injury to the newborn resulting into his death.

Tragic, shocking and uncalled for! But is anybody concerned? Would there be any protests against the ‘murder’ of this newborn? Will any group or leader call for a strike to mourn the death of a child who had just eleven days back landed into this world? Will government order a probe to ‘identify the killers’? Will Mehboobas, Geelanis, Maliks and Mirwaizs issue statements of condemnation? No, nothing of the sort will happen because this killing is not going to help the political agendas of all these groups including the government. The death of the newborn will hardly find any mention in the columns of our writers and intellectuals and Bar Association will never have an ‘all party conference’ to discuss the issue. And champions of human rights will not utter a word.

The tragic incident should serve as an eye opener for those who have been advocating stone pelting and describing stone pelters as heroes of resistance. In Baramulla the stone pelters resisted this newborn’s drive to hospital resulting into his death. Everyday there are scores of ailing people who can’t reach to hospitals because there are groups of youth allover pelting stones on anything and everything that dares to move. One may give some margin to these young boys – they are too young to understand and realize what harm their activities are doing to peoples’ lives, education and economy. But what about the matured, educated and experienced people who advocate stone pelting and thus encourage the youth to indulge in this fatal game? They are the people whose wards never take to streets instead are comfortably studying in best and reputed schools and colleges. They never tell their own children to skip their academic classes and throw stones on police and para militaries. But when it comes to the children of lesser mortals, they are there to encourage them for stone pelting and pat them.

Is it a class war with a difference? Are the rich and elite of the society intending to make the poor poorer by keeping their children busy in stone pelting so that they don’t study? The lawyers, who advocate stone pelting, are earning huge sums from their clients and the politicians too are comfortably placed but fail to realize the trauma of a poor man who can’t earn when stone pelting is going on and thus can’t feed his family in the evening.

Fatal 2009: Road Accidents Increasing

Amazing that a booming city like Srinagar where road vehicles have tripled in the last decade is still without traffic lights

514 road accidents claim 63 lives, 537 injured: Report

Srinagar: About 63 people lost their lives while 537 were injured in 514 accidents across the city in 2009, a report prepared by Traffic Police says.

The report shows the number of killed in road accidents was 43 in 2008 and the accidents pick up pace in summers when both vehicular and pedestrian movements are high owing to Durbar move and tourist influx.

The reports suggest that the number of accident-related picked up pace in September 2009 when 10 people lost their lives in 60 accidents while July topped the accident rates in which seven people lost their lives in 66 road accidents.

Of all the accidents 62 accidents involved two-wheelers, while minibuses accounted for 56 accidents followed by Tata Sumo’s figuring in 31 accidents.

(Rising Kashmir)

Friday, February 19, 2010

When Demons of Materialism Take Over Angels of Spirituality

Fida Iqbal challenges Kashmiri elite to shun their love affair for materialistic life which has devastated core values of the Kashmiri culture

(Mr. Fida Iqbal, 47, was born in Sopore. He attended the D.A.V. School in Nayadyaar, Rainawari, and the Government Higher Secondary School in Sopore. He obtained his Bachelor's degree in Agriculture/Floriculture and Landscaping from Chowdhry Chottu Ram College at Muzaffarabad Nagar in Uttar Pradesh. Mr. Iqbal works with the Jammu & Kashmir Tourism Department as a landscape architect. He enjoys kitchen gardening, reading writing, and is very a passionate and dedicated golf player.)

Reform the Society

Humankind had gone through tremendous change and achieved high standards of social reform ever since his habitation within the caves. Present day civilized society is the pinnacle of social transformation brought about by the mankind’s unrelenting endeavor for excellence in the field of existence. A particular society is known and appreciated by its social-fabric, great values, distinct traditions and compassionate norms. Contemporary world of knowledge gives far more importance to social science for any future research, planning and implementation of developmental and social schemes, because the success of every transformational venture is directly related to the behavior of the societies.

Kashmir is a land locked country with mighty mountains guarding it from all sorts of invasions for thousands of years. It had its own traditions, culture and above all social order but for the last few decades invasion into our language, traditions, and culture is very prominent. The social norms and order are crumbling with adverse impacts of the social invasion. Certainly some changes within the social system are for the betterment of the society but majority of intrusions had given negative impact to our more or less conservative society. Every society should be open for interactions but with a positive approach of taking up the better and giving the best. No doubt, varying levels of education imparted during these testing periods worked as cushion against the onslaught of social evils imposed upon us; otherwise the social situation in this wonderful part of world would have been disastrous. It is also true that we could not take on the sudden exposure to world social affairs so comfortably during last two decades. Several factors beyond our control worsened our social frontline and political strife was one of the most prominent amongst them. Every conflict, weather political, ethnic or economical leaves the society torn making it more susceptible to interference with an impact of disintegration. Our entire social system at the moment is almost tattered with our much appreciated virtues of altruism and pacifism at the altar of egotistic mindset.

For last many years our decayed social system is making its presence felt in many shapes, suicides, alarmingly rising dowry deaths and waywardness. Disturbed social system has drawn clear lines between affluent and the oppressed on all fronts. People command respected depending on the amount of wealth they own and the quantum of power they hold. Gone are the old days, when people commanded respect out of their wisdom and judiciousness. Presently materialism is governing the norms and order of the society! Obviously, this apparently peaceful situation, a symptom of extreme suffocation can not last long and an undercurrent of deprivation and disregard will lead to a revolution which can be bloodier. When only wealth and power become indicators of social status, no society can sustain of its own for longer period of time.

If the studies of valley based social scientists are to be taken as authentic, thousands of women have crossed their marriageable age due to lack of financial support to afford a dowry laden marriage. These ladies are decaying within the confines of their poverty ridden dwellings and any disproportionate rise in their number over the period of time will bring our society to the crossroads of decadence. Emerging waywardness in society will get a catalyst by such a situation of shame. Who will provide social, financial and emotional security to such a bigger chunk of the society? Ultimately, rebelliousness will be the befitting slap on our collective faces. Unrestricted nepotism and corruption of all shapes give rise to many evils and evil-minded tribes. These evil-doers become instruments of social evils and degradation of society by flaunting their ill-gotten wealth brazenly. Their unaccounted and illegitimate wealth is instrumental in redrawing the rules of our social system and encouraging many a customs and traditions of extravagance, earlier unheard in Kashmiri society; making simple and straight marriages so intricate that common man can not have enough financial vigor to solemnize.

Almost every fortnight some young married lady commits suicide or she is driven to it in a gradual manner out of unending materialistic urge by the perpetuators. This is real degraded society devoid of any mercy, respect and civility for the fellow social animals. In many such appalling acts those materialistic brutes are involved who otherwise give long lectures and deliver unending sermons on emancipation and empowerment of women. Alas! These first grade hypocrites have penetrated deep into our social system and are occupying the top echelons of our social arrangement. Materialism is the ultimate cause of massive degradation of societies all over the world but our society has been engulfed by the fire of greed severely and we have lost the ways and means of love, tolerance and compassion. We are drifting away from our religious teachings and fear of God. Otherwise no one would dare to douse the fellow human being with petrol and put her to flames just for the sake of money and material. This is the unique manifestation of brutality; even beast will be ashamed of such barbarous acts. Almighty has given us a beautiful life and endless gifts to relish but with a respect for our surroundings and the fellow inhabitants. By resorting to acts of barbarism to fulfill our gluttonous and materialistic urge, we are doing no good for our eternal life the hereafter. Choice is ours. Either we live and let live in harmony with a justifiable social system or be ready for the anger of Almighty.

Now the question arises where and why our social structure has gone wrong? Invasions by, and exposure to, other societies is an ongoing process of social transformation. Particularly cultural, linguistic and social intrusions are bound to occur in case of any suppression or subjugation and Kashmir has a history of subjugation for centuries. Cultural invasions can be located in our recorded history of hundreds of years but we have never compromised on the fundamentals and basics of just and genuine social norms. For the last many decades our social apparatus has succumbed to wickedness and materialism. Our level of knowledge was always high but it was limited to few and majority of people were lacking this gift of wisdom, even then our social system resisted to all sort of evil designs of invaders. But now! We have left our social order in lurch; exposed to all kinds of invasion. We are more literate now but it seems our knowledge quotient is not in compatibility with our quantum of education or may be we lack quality education. The other aspect, voluntarily exposure to other social systems or societies by regional and global social interaction if handled properly can have very positive impact on our system. Here again, we lack the adaptability to the judicious and genuine aspirations for improvement and development of our social coordination. Materialism has taken over the every sensible aspect of our consciousness. We adopt every cheap and covert means of voraciousness; not only to toss down the clean wealth but the filth as well. Our gluttonous bellies never feel contented even with rubbish. This is our filthy social scenario!

Degradation of social system is actually a chain of misadventures and their ultimate source is materialism. Once a society is overtaken by the extremes of materialistic urge the first casualty is the humanity and the rest will follow. Societies overtaken by materialism, lack the characteristic of, righteousness, impartiality, honesty, consciousness, modesty and ultimately their credibility. For present dented in social organization every one is responsible, no one can shirk the responsibility and pass the buck. If we as a nation want to be given some space in the annals of history for future generations as people of value then we have to strive hard and put an end to this materialistic social setup where man kills a man for money. We have to create a reasonable society where every one will have justified access to the means a resources and where norms and rules will be laid by wisdom and not by the weight of material. If social substance won’t improve in right direction, a time will come where we as individuals of the society may have to pay the heavy price.

Yet Another Kashmiri Craft on the Verge of Extinction

Iqbal makes a passionate case to preserve the art of pottery

(Mr. Iqbal Ahmad, 48, was born in Parigam Chek, Kulgam. He is a graduate with Diploma in Numismatics, Archaeology and Heritage. He is an archaeologist, writer, and a cultural historian. He is employed by the Jammu and Kashmir State Government. Mr. Iqbal Ahmad has published 12 reference books on Kashmir archaeology and heritage.)

The Art of Pottery

The artistic tradition of Kashmir is dying fast and the revival looks a distant dream. Pottery is one such art, which was once very popular in Kashmir. The people, who are associated with this art, are called Kral (Potter). Hundreds of people were, once, associated with this trade and products made by them were used for domestic purpose. The potter used to make numerous utensils in their workshop called Kral chrit. It is a wheel driven by hands. In the middle of it is placed a lump of clay from which pots are made. When desired pot is ready, it is then detached from the wheel by a special thread called kralpan. From large vessels to miniature cups, they are first baked in the potterÕs miniature kiln and then decorated. After then they are carried to the adjacent village markets where they are sold.

Pottery has a long history in this land; articles of pottery had been used from earlier times. The archaeological sites of Burzhama in Srinagar and Gufkral in Pulwama which dated back 5000 years also revealed the evidences of ancient Kashmiri pottery. The medieval sites of Avantipura, Devsar and Martand exposed the fragments of earthen vessels such as jars, gharas, handis, jugs and bowls. Incense burners, bottles and earthen lamps, cups and bowls of clay were also made for special occasions.

It would have been very interesting to take food in pottery bowls. These earthen potteries were in great demand in local markets. However the tradition of using these items is fading away. It has forced the people, who are involved in this business, to look for alternatives as the demand for these items is declining. They have closed their workshops. Their condition isnÕt good; they are living a miserable life. The golden hands which once chiseled marvels of soil have been neglected. These craftsmen have been deceived by their own ancestral art because it did not stand the assault of machine made utensils.

Steps are required to identify the community and people who are still associated with this art. There is a need to explore new markets for this dying art and thereby helping to get a face-lift.

We can start a drive and try to revive this art. We can encourage consumers to opt for the clay objects instead of copper, aluminum and steel.

If we are able to revive this art, it will surely help in our economic upliftment of our society in general. It will give a push to our domestic economy as well and help us to revitalize our culture and tradition. The government has a role to play,

Past Bumps into the Future With Uncertainity

Afsana describes the paradox faced by carpet weavers - send their young ones to learn the art or educate them to take up other professions

(Ms. Afsana Rashid, 30, was born and raised in Srinagar and attended the Minto Circle High School. She graduated from the Government College for Women with a Bachelor's degree in science, and completed her post-graduation degree from the University of Kashmir, obtaining her Master's Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism. She has received numerous world-wide recognition and awards for covering economic depravation and gender sensitive issues in Kashmiri journals, which include Sanjoy Ghose Humanitarian Award, Bhorukha Trust Media Award 2007, and the 2006-07 UNFPA-Ladli Media Award. Her work on "Impact of conflict on subsistence livelihood of marginalised communities in Kashmir and Alternatives", was recognized by Action Aid India in 2005-06. She has travelled abroad attending a workshop on "conflict Reporting" by Thomson Foundation, Cardiff, UK, and a seminar for women in conflict areas by IKV Pax Christi, Netherlands. In February 2008, she compiled a book, "Waiting for Justice: Widows and Half-widows." Afsana is the chief correspondent of the Daily Khidmat (English edition), correspondent for the Tribune (Chandigarh) and publisher of a new monthly journal, RealityBites.)

Carpet Weavers a Harried Lot

Ganasthan-Bandipora: Shifting of carpet weavers towards alternate and profitable livelihood is likely to give a setback to this home-based industry here.

“At present, 60 per cent of the population is engaged with carpet, weaving while a few years ago it was 99 per cent. Though it has affected the carpet-weaving sector as a whole, individually people are more benefited by shifting to other alternatives,” said Fayaz Ahmad Baig of Ganasthan in Sumbal, Bandipora. He said, “Most carpet weavers fall within the age group of 30 and above.” He informed that out of 60 per cent of the population engaged with carpet weaving, 35 per cent were women. Quoting reasons responsible for the shift, Baig said, “People have shifted to other options like poultry farm, which they feel are more profitable and involve physical exercise, while in carpet weaving, weavers have to sit at one place for hours together.”

“Education becoming popular among younger generation and media, too, has played a positive role in spreading education,” he said. Role of “wosta” (middlemen) in this sector had declined, said Baig. “They earned more profits and at times exploited weavers. The communication system has played its part in minimising the role of ‘wosta’ as weavers can now communicate directly with customers and get better prices,” he added.

Ali Mohammad Dar, a resident of Sheganpora, deals with purchasing of carpets from weavers and sells them to carpet-dealers. He observes that a few years ago, carpet weaving was common in village and young children were also involved.

Dar accepted that the role of middlemen in carpet weaving had declined. “People used to take advance money from middlemen, which resulted in their exploitation. Weavers were paid less wages,” he added. “Exporters cannot approach families directly. They go to middlemen, who can provide them variety of designs and bulk of production,” he said, adding that designs like Hamdan, Goum, Chole kashna, Anari kashan, Mehraj, Sabz kashan, Seena and some size patterns of carpet like six by nine, eight by eleven, nine by twelve, four by six and three by five are still followed.

Upgrading the State Vigilance Commission (SVC)

An Editorial in the Greater Kashmir argues in favor of extending the national law to the State through adoption in the State Assembly


The setting up of the State Vigilance Commission (SVC) on the pattern of the Central Vigilance Commission is a good decision; one that can be counted as a step towards providing good governance to the State. Surely it is meeting the people’s long pending demand for fighting the menace of corruption in the state administration.

This state, right from early fifties, has earned the evil distinction of patronizing corruption in the administration. It not only brought an acute disrepute to it but also destroyed the social fabric of the State. There have been public out cries and agitations against the corruption but for the lack of an effective mechanism for curbing malpractices in the administration it always went heedless. The state cabinet committee by proposing constitution of the SVC on the pattern of the Central Vigilance Commission has done a commendable thing. But before putting it to the cabinet for approval there is need for making the document public. It is not important symbolically only but can also elicit suggestions from civil society. The Central Vigilance Commission was established by Government of India some forty six years back on the recommendation of the Committee on Prevention of Corruption as an advisory body to GoI. Nonetheless it took decades for this organization to establish itself as an independent apex vigilance institution free from the control of the executive.

If the government is really serious in making the proposed State Vigilance Commission as an effective organ it needs to replicate the Central Vigilance Commission in full. To establish the SVC as a statutory body an Act on the pattern of the Central Vigilance Commission Act 2003 needs to be passed in the State Assembly. The Central Vigilance Commission is also a designated agency to receive written complaints for disclosures on any allegation of corruption or misuse of office. It can very well recommend appropriate action. It also has authority to publicize the list of the corrupt officers. The State Vigilance Commission besides having powers as enjoyed by the Central Vigilance Commission should be empowered to prosecute the state officers belonging to the Central Services, i.e. I.A.S, I.P.S and I.F.S . And this must be without waiting for a clearance from the Ministry of Personnel, Pension and Grievances or the Ministry of Home Affairs. It because of such in adequacies that many known corrupt officers belonging to these services have often escaped the dragnet of anti-corruption department or have skirted a disciplinary action.

While appreciating the idea of setting up of the SVC, there is need to reorganize the State Vigilance Organization. This organization ever since its inception has been working just as an extension of the State Police Department, and not an independent organization. It, more or less has been converted into a dumping ground for the police officers who fail to stay in the good books of those who matter. Even a cursory look at the track record of this organization suggests that it has been one of the most ineffective organizations and whenever the organization has initiated a campaign against corruption at any point of time it has been motivated. As very rightly said by Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah the organization has been so far targeting smaller functionaries and people at the top, who are known for accumulating wealth beyond their known sources of income, go scot-free.

To see the state vigilance organization that is supposed to be the organ of the State Vigilance Commission carrying out the investigations, there is a need to make it broad based. The criteria for appointing head of the organization need not to be the police service but any officer of high integrity from administrative, judicial or police service should be chosen. The officers for the organization also need to be recruited from all disciplines. Another important decision that deserves an appreciation is restricting the role of the State Accountability Commission (SAC) to dealing the charges of corruption and misuse of office by politicians holding public offices. The Commission by taking the role of the State Vigilance Organization, taking complaints against administration, had diluted its role. To make this organization an effective organization it needs to be made fully autonomous and allowed to initiate action suo moto against any politician misusing public office.

Accountability Appears Missing in the State Accountability Commission (SAC)

Ranbir Singh discusses evolution of the Accountability Commission in India, and resistance of the J&K officialdom to adopt it in letter and spirit

(Mr. Ranbir Singh Pathania, 30, was born in born in Jammu city. He did his early schooling from the J.S. Luthra Academy and the S.R.M.L. Higher Secondary School, Jammu. He graduated from the G.G.M. Science College, Jammu, with distinction, and went on to earn his law degree from the University of Jammu with distinction in the Constitutional Law. He is a practicing lawyer in the Jammu seat of the J&K High Court and subordinate courts in Jammu. Mr. Pathania has taken on prestigious cases like the Siddhra land scam, B.Ed. colleges scandal, etc. and is one of the vocal advocates for the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to root out corruption, preserve heritage and enforce the Right to Information (RTI) law. He is the General Secretary of jagriti Samaj and a member of the Advisory and Constitution Amendment Committee of the J&K Bar association. He was selected for the "Best Citizens of India" award by the Best Citizens Publishing House.)

Where is the Accountability and Accountability Commission?

Accountability is the anti-thesis of anarchy - Norah Burke.

Accountability Commission is a novel concept tracing its origin to the institution of Ombudsman conceived in Sweden and beautifully brought up in United Kingdom. Ombudsman is an office before whom the general public could record its genuine grievances against the anonymous bureaucracy and the brittle political elite. It registers public complaints, voraciously investigates them and reports its findings without any fear or favour. Political philosophers love to call it as ‘bulwark of a sound democracy against tyranny of officialdom.’

In India, first demand for an institution on the pattern of Ombudsman was raised in 1960 by a turbulent parliamentarian, Mr. K.M. Munshi. Leading legal luminary, M.C. Setalvad, fired a second salvo in this regard in the Lawyers’ Conference. And the sweet result of path-breaking initiatives was the introduction of Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 1968 in Parliament. Unluckily the bill could not see light of the day. In 1977, another bid in this regard was made by Morarji Desai, popularly known as karmayogi Prime Minister of our country. But his untimely exit cost heavy on the prospects of the bill. In 1985, another Lokpal Bill was tabled in Parliament but irresponsible opposition was there to queer the pitch for its smooth passage. During V.P. Singh’s tenure, Bill was re-introduced with much fanfare and innovation – it sought to bring all the public offices including that of P.M. within its sting and scope. Deve Gowda’s brief stint at 07, Race Course also saw serious efforts to pass the Bill through in the Parliament. Unluckily, on both the occasions, the Bill received more brickbats than bouquets and a political consensus on too sensitive an issue remained elusive. The casual conduct of law-makers on such an important issue reminisces of a golden quote of a political commentator, “The least-debated Bill rather inviting a welcome cheer from treasury as well as opposition benches is the one seeking enhancement in the salaries and perks of law-makers” Notwithstanding the chequered fate of Lokpal Bill at the centre, many states have taken the bold lead to establish Lokayukatas.

It is in the same vein that in J & K, Accountability Commission Act came to be enacted in the year 2002. But the much-talked-of dream of a full-fledged Commission could be materialized only with the appointment of Justice (retd.) R P Sethi as its first chairman in the state. Despite all hiccups and handicaps, the vibrant retired judge is known to have pushed through the institution to lofty heights. But, the optimism and fanfare with which the institution was framed was ephemeral. The politicians and bureaucrats ganged up overnight to create such a sleazy situation where the illustrious judge had but to resign. Another member officiated as chairman till June, 2008 when his tenure expired and since then, the institution is lying headless and all cases pending before him have gone into a limbo.

It was a couple of months back that our High Court intervened and rapped on the knuckles of the State - directing it to appoint a chairman and the accompanying members without further delay in accordance with the set procedure. But the flak and censure of the High Court was too insufficient to penetrate the thick skin of the government. It called a meeting of Selection Committee with incomplete quorum and flawed recommendations. And this time the Governor of our state was witnessed belling the cat while sending back the file for fresh recommendations.
Whosever may be in saddle since 2002, the powers-that-be owe a answer to the people of J & K as to what is their specific stand regarding ‘accountability’ and ‘accountability commission’ Whether they mean business or simply want to amuse the people by showbiz and gimmickry and run a government on the strength of artistically-manoeuvred press-notes of Information Department. A cursory overview of history reveals that not even a single recommendation of the Commission has ever been acted upon by the government till date. And the big fish including ministers and top bureaucrats indicted by the Commission continue to roam unabatedly and man pivotal postings whiling down at leisure in posh retiring-rooms of civil secretariat. If Accountability Commission and State Human Rights Commission are for public consumption only, is it not the better to wind them and save millions of public money. And further if the much-boasted-of Vigilance Commission is also going to meet the same fate. The government ruling with too high a hand requires to be put to the litmus test of credibility and reasonable justification.

Ironically enough, our civil society has also not yet made any serious attempt to act as a viable pressure-group compelling the government to fill in the void created in the Commission. The scope and ambit of the powers vested in the institution is too wide that it could try cases and reflect recommendations against public servants accused of maladministration, nepotism, lack of integrity and all that. But the level of political will associated with the subject is too small. It seems as if the politicians want to hold the nose-strings of power close to the chest with least accountability. Noted historian Friedrick had said, “The cause of decline of Roman empire was rampant corruption”.

In yet another hitherto untouched field of ‘Right to Information’ the report card of the State government is not much inspiring. Although the high-profile Finance Minister, recently awarded with ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ has thumped his chest on floor of the Assembly terming promulgation of the legislation as ‘historic,’ the talk in the town remain that it is much wool and little cry. The requirement of Rs 50-/- per application Rs. 10-/ as photostat charges per page and thirty days time for providing of information has run into the face of very idiom and grammar of the legislation. And the government has also done least to properly put into play the historic legislation by organizing awareness programmes and training camps for its PIOs and APIOs and appellate authorities throughout the state. Absence of penalty clause and non-constitution of State Information Commission till now have also worse confounded the fuss.

A dejected and disappointed common man has been left with his fingers crossed as to whether the much-dreamt-of gospel of ‘accountability’ and ‘accountability commission’ could ever be materialized on ground. It is high time that the 21st century generation realizes that nothing happens unless something is done. And it always takes a loud noise to make the deaf hear.

It is About Time

J&K Domestic Violence Bill is long overdue. While such an announcement has been made, there are concerns about effectivess of the Bill because the process is not transparent enough. A women's group, "Athwaas" protests.

Law on Violence Against Women in Offing

Srinagar: Government will introduce a bill in the budget session of the state legislature for the protection of women against domestic violence. The decision was taken at the state's winter capital at a meeting chaired by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah late Monday night.

The decision was taken in the backdrop of several cases of mysterious deaths of women in Jammu and Kashmir, attributed to a demand for dowry or harassment of women by in-laws.

Omar Abdullah had promised that the government would act fast in such matters, and in Monday night's Cabinet meeting it was decided that the Law Ministry in consultation with the Social Welfare Ministry will introduce a bill in the Budget session, which will commence Feb 22.

It is pertinent to mention here that the Cabinet has approved five Bills for introduction in the Legislative Assembly, including the one for fixing the term of Mayor of Jammu and Srinagar Municipal Corporations at two-and-a-half years instead of present one year.

Jammu and Kashmir Arbitration and Cancellation Amendment Bill 2010 is the other prominent Bill which would be submitted in the ensuing Assembly session. (Kashmir Images)

Make Domestic Violence Bill Public: Women’s body to Govt

Srinagar: Welcoming the government’s decision to introduce the Domestic Violence Bill in the forthcoming assembly session, Athwaas, an alliance of women from Ladakh, Kashmir and Jammu, has underlined the importance to put up the bill on General Administrative Department’s official website for public comments.

“It is only fair that women’s groups and those who had been actively engaging with the issue to personally read the government’s proposed domestic violence bill so as to suggest recommendations. Moreover, for democratizing the various processes unfolding in the state it is important that people are involved so as to evolve a participatory and transparent approach for governance,” a statement issued by the organization reads.

Athwaas members had pursued the matter by first approaching the Social Welfare department where they were told that all procedures have been completed and the Law department has already vetted the bill and that amendments could be made later.

“This was not acceptable to us. We then wrote to the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah about our demand on January 16. He personally responded on January 18 and assured us that he will forward our demand to General Administrative Department to be examined by them. We are still awaiting their response,” the Athwaas statement reads.

Pertinently, last year Right to Information bill was put up on the GAD website for public scrutiny.

Meanwhile, Athwaas has urged media and members of legislatures to help make this important legislation public so that women can make comments on the same.

Since 2002, Athwaas has been engaging with women at the grassroots through Samanbal Centres located in all the three regions of the State on issues related to their emotional, social and economic security. The women who come to these centres are further in touch with their local communities and reach out to them with information, solidarity and collective action.

According to Athwaas statement, major issue which the Samanbal members were particularly concerned was violence within the private space of home.

“Initially it was a challenge to open discourse in this area as it was being perceived that any law which addresses this would break families. There continued to be denial within the society that domestic violence exists in Jammu and Kashmir. However figures and facts told us a different story. Every region’s gender narrative revealed that while social communities in all the three regions proscribed violence against women, violations of women’s rights were being sanctioned under the garb of cultural practices,” the statement reads.

To bring this to the foreground Athwaas organized several workshops within the Samanbals. The workshops were designed to highlight the intersectionality of private, public and political violence within the framework of the human rights discourse. Athwaas also organized joint Samanbal workshops wherein grassroots women from the three regions for the first time came together to discuss domestic violence and draft recommendations for draft bill to be made into an Act as the state of Jammu and Kashmir unlike the rest of India does not have Domestic Violence Act.

The members were also trained as trainers to further take the idea to local communities. Myths about the Act that it would punish men and break families were also dispersed. The Act it was told would essentially protect women.

(Rising Kashmir)

Environmental Blowback Affects Heritage and Tourist Trade

Houseboat owners can not be faulted for their feelings today, but the question that begs an answer is why did they allow a slow but steady ecological destruction of Kashmir's pristine waters and lakes?

Kashmir Fast Losing the Houseboat Heritage: HOA

Srinagar: The Valley houseboat owners Wednesday appealed to government to take necessary steps to protect the houseboats which according to them were facing decay.

Dozens of houseboat owners who had gathered under the aegis of Houseboat Owners Association (HOA) in the premises of the tourism department here to draw government attention to what they said the pathetic condition of houseboats, said the government needed to take immediate steps to prevent their further decay.

Addressing the gathering chairman HOA Manzoor Ahmad Wangoo said the houseboat constituted an important part of Kashmir heritage that needed conservation.

He said most houseboats needed renovation and the government must provide the timber on subsidy for it. “The forest ministry has agreed to provide us timber and the tourism ministry is ready to bear its cost on our behalf. But the project is yet to be finalized and we appeal to the government to expedite the process in this behalf,” he said, adding that the number of houseboats in Kashmir had come down drastically over the years. Most houseboat owners, he said, were indebted to various banks. “The government must waive off their debts,” he demanded.

“In this regard we had sent a deputation to the state government and they called a meeting to consider our demand. Government should take up the matter with centre and waive off the loans of the houseboat owners,” he said.

The chairman said it was unfortunate that a thirty year old counter allotted to the HSBA has been snatched from it to give it to a private tour operator by the Airports Authority of India.

“Around 50 thousand people comprising families of houseboat owners would be affected by the action of the AAI,” he said. He, however, expressed gratitude to state government for taking up the matter with the centre. “State government has accepted that our business depends heavily on the counter and it has assured us that it will be given back to us.”

He thanked Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA)and Tourism Department for “their support to set up a dockyard in the Dal Lake.”

“It will help in reducing the pollution of Dal Lake,” he said, while appealing the LAWDA to cooperate with the houseboat owners in the rehabilitation programme.

“We are also thankful to tourism department for marketing the Kashmir as a tourist destination which has helped us in making bookings. Most houseboats have been booked up to April,” he added.

(Greater Kashmir)

The Dog City

Muzaffar says canine menace continues to dog the city


Muzafar Wani

Srinagar: Four days back when Ghulam Qadir Sofi of Zaina Kadal left his home for having his hair cut, the old man had no idea that a group of stray dogs ruling the street outside would make it sure that he doesn’t reach the saloon.

Instead he soon found himself at the SMHS hospital with a bitten and blood drenched right leg where he paid Rs 800 for anti-rabies injections. “The hair cut cost me dearly,” says Sofi who was attacked by canines, adding that he was given prescription that has to continue for four weeks.

Sofi is not alone, however.

Officials at SMHS hospital say that at least 40 patients bitten by stray dogs are treated at the hospital every day of which 25 are first-timers. “Dogs have taken up the charge of city that is why the patient rush is increasing every week. And the figures are increasing every week,” says Health Inspector of the hospital’s Anti-Rabies Clinic Muhammad Yousuf Mir.

According to the official figures, in SMHS 3940 dog bite cases were registered in the year 2009 and on an average 11 cases were registered every day. The administration is preparing the list on how many cases were received this year so far but officials say more than 225 anti-rabies injections were utilized.

“The number of deaths caused by rabies has decreased but there is a continuous increase in the number of patients who are targeted by dogs and come to SMHS for treatment,” the health inspector says.

The treatment for rabies is free at SMHS which was initiated by the SPM department of Medical College Srinagar under the supervision of Dr Muneer Masoodi, however, the patients who come in category three, are required to buy the immunoglobin injections from market outside. “It costs a patient somewhere around Rs 400-450 for 5ml injection,” the official says.

But there are many who can’t afford the treatment and end up either partially infected or sometimes lose the battle of life. Abdul Rehman of Dalgate was initially treated for rabies but the stray dogs had attacked him ruthlessly so much that he needed more than Rs 2000 for medicines on eth first day of canine-assault. “I fear my treatment may remain incomplete. I can’t afford the medicine,” says Rehman, who was bitten by rabid dogs few days back.

Danish, a seven-year boy from Achabal who was being treated at SMHS was, however, unlucky. Stray dogs had mauled his face and the kid died within 14 days of infection. “Bite on the face or near anywhere on the head, in majority of the cases, prove fatal since the virus incubate quickly till it reaches the brian,” believes Dr Muhammad Saleem Khan, Senior Lecturer SPM, Medical College Srinagar.

Rising Kashmir tried to seek comments from Health Officer Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) Dr Riyaz Ahmad Dar, whose department is responsible for controlling population of dogs in the city. He said, “I am not authorized to talk on the issue. Better you talk to Commissioner.”

SMC Commissioner, Tufail Ahmad Matto, couldn’t be reached for his remarks despite repeated attempts.

(Rising Kashmir)

Finding Value in Learning From Great Books in an era of Popcorn Journalism

The following Editorial in the Rising Kashmir sees hope in a recent meeting to rejuvenate the library system, but first we need to recover nearly 10,000 loaned books in default mostly borrowed by state gazetted officers

Ignored Treasure Troves

Libraries are considered as treasure troves of knowledge. However, the state is lagging far behind as far as the upgradation of libraries and their utility is concerned.

A review meeting of the Department of Libraries and Research on 2 February 2010 deliberated on the measures needed to upgrade the state libraries as per modern requirements like the need for library information to be made available online for readers, to set up libraries exclusively for women to promote reading habits among them and also the need for recruiting qualified and professional personnel. One would hope that the decisions are implemented in letter and spirit so that the libraries regain their relevance and the reading habits are promoted among the people.

There is an urgent need to revisit the role and set up of public libraries as the storehouses of knowledge so as to consolidate whatever infrastructure is available besides upgrading the facilities in so that people are drawn to reading books. It is a matter of grave concern that despite the Libraries Department is yet to reclaim more than 15,000 books from the defaulted borrowers. The department has been able to reclaim possession of only 10-15 per cent of the books since 2009 and till now almost 10,000 reminder cards have been sent to defaulters and guarantors, most of whom are officers of gazetted rank. This goes to show the lenient approach adopted by the concerned authorities. It is high time that the department acts tough and takes strict action against the defaulters to recover the books which include hundreds of rare ones also. Ironically, a large number of defaulters include government officials of gazetted rank.

In the 21st century, computerization of public libraries is imperative to retain their relevance. The government should set a time frame to complete this task on priority basis. Department of Libraries also needs to be reorganized on modern lines to improve its working.

The government should also pace up the construction of SPS Central Library coming up at M A Road Srinagar. The seven-storey library complex will have an Art Gallery, auditorium, fire-proof blocks for manuscripts, Internet café, Exhibition Hall, Children Section, Researchers’ cabins and cafeteria. Its completion will prove to be very beneficial for common people and may well pave way for cultivation of reading habits. Other such projects like Gani Memorial Reading Centre at Rajouri Kadal and District Library Pulwama should also be completed.

The government should also take steps to encourage book reading at school and college level. The institutions should be supported so as to develop the libraries which include procuring the latest books and making them more accessible to students. Holding book exhibitions in different parts of the state can also draw people back to reading books.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Kashmiri Women Deserve Better Recognition

Wasim makes a point about the absence of women's role and contribution in the present debate

(Mr. Wasim Hussain, 29, was born in Srinagar. He attended Government High School and the Gandhi Memorial College, both in Srinagar. He has completed graduation and is pursuing his Master's degree in political science through Distance Mode of Learning. He took an English speaking course through the Islamia College of Science and Commerce and an advanced diploma in Information Technology. He has completed diplomas in web design and software design. Wasim has worked at the University of Kashmir since 2000, and is presently in the Directorate of Internal Quality Assurance (DIQA) as a senior computer assistant. He has received awards both as a student and as an employee for his performance. He enjoys writing and reading books. Wasim writes under the pen name of Wasim Ali.)


Women have always been played a vital role in shaping future of any nation. Of course why not? It is the mother, sister a wife and indeed a leader of a family, the material of leadership has been found in her gene and if women will be given an opportunity it will lead a society and a country in a proper and prosperous way.

Women constitute almost half of the population in the world. But the hegemonic masculine ideology made them suffer a lot as they were denied equal opportunities in different parts of the world. Women in Kashmir have also been continuously the victims of physical/psychological, cultural as well as economic violence. Yet, they have resisted, they proved the best in every field of society. The role of women in Kashmir is unforgettable especially the role they played during the turmoil speaks volumes for their credit.

Kashmir has been central to political discussions in India, the impact on women due to the ongoing conflict in the State has received little or no attention. There are no precise estimates, official or non-official, of the number of women widowed during turmoil. The two decades of conflict has deeply affected the living standard of women, their breathing surroundings, strength, eating habits, their work, workplaces, income resources, their access to education and so on. It is the women of Kashmir who have felt the impact most severely. Yet there is very little which has been done so far for the betterment and upliftmet of women in the State. The changing global shape introduced so many opportunities for the women which unfortunately cannot be availed by the women of Kashmir due to the continuous conflict and bloodshed.

Upto to the year 1990, women in Kashmir chose to stay inside their homes, and remain confined to their traditions, culture and heritage. It was only in the early 1990s the bitterness and the anger which caused due to the atrocities faced by the people of Kashmir due to the bloody conflict between India and Pakistan and brought the women out into the streets. The Darpora village of Kupwara district is commonly known as the village of half-widows, due to the ongoing turmoil the village faced the worst suffer as there are so many men still disappeared and some were killed during the militancy period. Widowhood had become the dominant marker of women in Dardpora.Women are considered to be more sensitive and expressively stronger than men. Women are also sympathetically impulsive towards the male gender. If a girl child sees the male members of her family being victimized, she feels more sturdily about it than her male counterpart. Similarly, a woman feels strongly about any perceived atrocities committed against her community.

For Kashmiri women – mothers, wives, sisters and daughters – negotiating space for their men folk has become a way of life, whether it is taking up the issue of missing sons and husbands or it is the procession taken against any type of atrocities occurred due to the militants or armed forces a story every single house in Kashmir must be familiar with. During the early years of the militancy when it was more of a popular uprising, women were often seen at the forefront of the mass protests and agitations, challenging the Indian forces on the streets of Srinagar and established several important organizations. The setting up of the Association of the Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) is an important initiative on the part of women towards bringing peace in Kashmir.

The role of women is not confined only during the turmoil but the history itself speaks a lot for the role played by them in J&K, if Kashmir is the soil of saints like Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Noorani it is the same place where, Lala Ded and Habba Khatoon proved their credibility, their poetry and sayings give enthusiasm of living to every generation and also became role model for every women in the State.

The role of women has been worldwide endorsed and a woman has given equal opportunities to avail and to display their strength of leading any nation. In India the role of women also has been endorsed by appointing women on the top most official positions, like President of India, Chairman of Ongoing Collation, (UPA Chairperson) leader of Opposition, Speaker of Lok Sabha etc

During past twenty years the women in Kashmir has faced a difficult time but they never compromised and successfully proved their potential on achieving any goal. The status of women in Kashmir was not different from that of other parts of India and the adjoining countries. Women in Kashmir used to work right from ploughing fields to harvesting the crops in the agricultural fields, weaving and making handicrafts while working in household industries, and women also gather wood in the informal sector. Although most of the women work and contribute to the economy of the state in one or the other form, however much of their work is not accounted for in official statistics. In addition to this women are also engaged in their daily household chores e.g. cooking, fetching water, rearing and caring of children and attend other domestic works. The ratio of women education inclines and they successfully come out by facing every challenge. They work shoulder to shoulder to men and occupied so many important places in the administration and other allied sectors. In alone University of Kashmir there are 10 important Departments / Centre which are headed by women. She is also in a reasonable quantity in the J&K assembly and also holds the position like Leader of Opposition.

Looking the status, contribution and the challenges faced by the women in Kashmir one cannot rule out their role in peace process in the State. Women perceive peace as a condition free of any kind of violence in society. This concept of peace begins with one's immediate family and goes on to cover the whole region, country and the world. When there is violence in society, women feel its impact first. Therefore, women must play a decisive role in negotiating the peace process. In order to make this possible, they must be empowered politically, economically and represented adequately at all levels of decision-making. However, state and non-state agencies make no effort to involve women in ongoing peace processes. They ignore the impact of conflict on women and marginalize their needs and aspirations. If Kashmiri man were killed, it belongs to the women who become his widow, a mother lost his son and a sister lost his brother. In short a woman is the centre of this pain in every corner, then why she is overlooked when politicians speak about peace . It is not out of place to mention that women can play an important role in the ongoing peace process in the State. Government should not ignore the role of woman and must accommodate her in the ongoing peace struggle in Kashmir as it has been affected most during the twenty year deadly turmoil in the valley.

A Closeup of Lakes of Ladakh

Ashraf shares a truly marvelous and unique experience

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 66, was born and raised in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. High School and the S.P College before joining the Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Civil Engineering. However, he changed his career to adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing, completing his training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and Gulmarg. He also completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Française in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.)

Pangong and Tsomoriri Lakes

I had heard a lot about the twin high-altitude lakes of Ladakh situated almost 200 kilometres or so from each other. The first one called the Pangong Tso in Ladakhi is like a small sea. It is 134 kilometres long, 5 kilometres wide and is situated at an altitude of 4,250 meters above sea level. The lake has a total surface area of 700 square kilometres.

Two thirds of the Lake is under Chinese control and only one third is on the Indian side. It is a salt lake. The other lake called Tsomoriri is 19 kilometres long, 3 kilometres wide, and 4,595 metres above sea level. It is 40 meters deep and has a total surface area of 12,000 hectares. It is brackish but supports a large birdlife including the Bar Headed Geese and the rare Black Necked Crane. For me the trip to the lakes materialised in 1995. As usual I had gone to Ladakh with the then Commissioner/Secretary Tourism Anil Goswami to review working of various projects. He too planned to visit Pangong Lake and took the circuit before me. I followed him next day with Kakpori and Sonam Dorje. We took our Maruti Gypsy driven by Nissar and a Jeep from the local garages driven by Motup. All the provisions, sleeping bags, and a cook were taken along. Before starting I had contacted my friend late Commandant Hukam Singh of Indo-Tibetan Border Police whom I knew as member of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, for assistance. We had planned to spend the night in Chushul in the ITBP camp. As the drive to Chushul was a long one, we started very early in the morning. The road to Pangong takes off on the left side short of Upshi on the main Leh-Manali Road. The drive is through a beautiful valley which has the monasteries of Chemrey and Takhtak. After traversing the valley for some time, the road climbs to Changla Pass. Those days road was still rough and we were driving slowly. While climbing up one gets panoramic views of the valley and the distant mountains towards Leh. The top of the Changla Pass is not so impressive. From the pass one can have a dramatic view of the distant mountains. On the other side of the pass the road was almost like piles of broken stones and the driving was very rough till we descended a thousand feet or so. After that the road went straight on the other side to Tangtse. On the way as well as at Tangtse there are big Army camps. This is a very strategic location. The Leh tourism had constructed a small bungalow here. However, they had not made it with a typical Ladakhi façade but a normal brick and concrete structure. I asked the local engineers to change it and create a Ladakhi ambiance. The needful was subsequently done. In Ladakh I witnessed a tragedy of local environment being spoiled by outsiders. The local hoteliers, guest house owners were very conscious of their cultural and traditional values and tried their best to preserve these. In fact, the use of polythene bags was banned by the Ladakhi shop keepers on their own without any government initiative. They did this a long time back. Kashmiris followed it only last year and that too under a compelling law! However, the great violators of environment in Ladakh were the government departments both the State and the Central.

We had a cup of tea in the bungalow and left for the Pangong Lake. Here, the route bifurcates in two. One branch goes straight into a valley which is famous for wild life. The other turns left through very narrow and winding valleys towards the Pangong Lake. Even though the valleys are narrow, there are many grazing patches en route and we found herds of Ladakhi mini-goats grazing there. There were in some places yaks also. The road was quite dusty and in some places there were land slides. We reached the Lake around noon and passed the army barrier. It was a dramatic site. Surrounded on two sides by totally barren brown mountains was a huge expanse of blue water. It looked like a painting. At the start of the Lake is the village of Lukung. In the very start of the Lake the Army authorities had constructed a viewing deck with some bath rooms. They also had some motor boats moored here for patrolling as well as joy rides for VIPs. We stopped here to have lunch and visit the wash rooms. From here onwards the road goes all along the banks of the Lake. Next village is Spangmik. Till recently, the tourists were allowed to go up to this village only. Now the Government of India has extended the limit up to Merak, the last village on the banks of the Lake. The drive along the Lake is fascinating. The Lake changes colours after every few kilometres. The landscape is same throughout. Barren brown mountains and the blue waters which keep on giving different shades at different points. We passed a couple of villages before we came to the turn in the road. From here the Lake turns left into the Chinese controlled area and the road climbs up on the right. The climb is straight and steep and after sometime, the Lake disappears from the view. This portion of the road is rougher as there was not much traffic on it. We did not see any human settlement all along till we reached the top and moved over.

From here we could see the village of Chushul which we reached just before sunset. Chushul is a small village in a flat valley surrounded on two sides by high mountains. There are many small streams flowing near the village. There is also an airstrip which saw lot of fighting during the Chinese invasion of 1962. We drove straight to the ITBP post which is located on a small hill. The officer in charge was waiting for us as he had received a wireless message from Commandant Hukam Singh. The post was in the form of bunkers and we were given a small cubicle for the night with two folding steel beds. We were served tea and pakoras which were quite welcome after a long and tiring journey. The officer indicated to us through binoculars the location of the Chinese pickets on the opposite mountains. In the middle of the plain below were some single storey buildings which we were told, are for conducting flag meetings etc. Those days there was no tension and things were quite normal. In fact, we were told that quite a bit of unofficial trade was going on between the local people on two sides. We could order anything especially electronics and these would be procured for us and even delivered in Leh. We had an early dinner and retired to our cubicle. Next day was going to be again a very long drive. The officer told us that for some distance the tomorrow’s drive would be along the Line of Actual Control and the Chinese would be watching us all along. He cautioned us not to stop for photography etc. and drive past this area quickly. The night was not very comfortable due to high altitude. In fact, Kakpori had some breathlessness due to frequent turning in his sleeping bag but it was not very serious.

We got up very early in the morning and packed our bags for a quick start. It was cold but the weather was clear and sunny. During day the Sun is quite warm and sometimes in rocky areas it is even unbearably hot! We had a breakfast of eggs and paronthas. The Officer gave us some pack lunch. We thanked him and the jawans for their kindness and hospitality. After crossing the village and the numerous small water channels we hit the main road going on one side of the flat Chushul valley. As advised by the Officer we were going at a good speed to be away from the piercing Chinese eyes.

Unfortunately, after only a couple of miles, the Gypsy had a flat tyre! We had no choice but to stop and change the tyre. It must have been the fastest tyre change I have ever seen! All the time we were very nervous about the Chinese peering through their binoculars. We were scared that they may whisk us away and the ITBP Officer would have to conduct a flag meeting to get us back. From this close distance the two buildings looked quite impressive with Chinese style roofs. We were more than glad to restart and speed past this strategic location. The road after some more distance turned right and we had another steep climb to the top of Tsaga la pass. The road was quite sandy and we raised clouds of dust in some stretches. The descent was smoother and we were soon crossing the Tsaga village. It seemed a very primitive and poor village.
Another half an hours drive brought us to a huge sandy plain. Here, Motup stopped us and explained to Nissar, the Gypsy driver about the technique of crossing this tricky stretch. He asked him to follow his tracks and not to use the brakes in any case whatsoever. He explained that if we stopped the vehicle in the sandy stretch, it would be impossible to take it out as more speed would sink it deeper. This was another adventure. Driving through a high-altitude desert. Following Motup’s advice we drove at a good speed bang in his tracks without slowing down anywhere. In the meantime, on our left we saw herds of Kiang, the wild ass, running in all directions. It was out of an African Safari movie! Quite impressive and fascinating.

Soon the problem area was over and we came to a marshy stretch. It was easily passable and we saw in the distance peacefully flowing Indus River. In this area, the mighty Indus River which had given India its name flowed very quietly. It was virtually flat with a very gentle slope. This has made the sides somewhat marshy. After a few kilometres we passed the bridge leading to Hanle and Demchok, the last point on the Indo-Tibetan border. This has been the traditional route between Ladakh and Tibet but after Chinese takeover, the route got closed. In spite of repeated requests from Government of India, the Chinese have refused to open it. There is already a road all along this route and probably a bridge is missing somewhere? This is the shortest route to Kailash- Mansarovar, the source of Indus River. The normal pilgrimage to this holy place takes about three weeks trekking through the present route in Uttaranchal but this way it can be done in less than a week and all the way in motor vehicle. Had the Chinese agreed to open it, Ladakh would have been flooded with pilgrims! Recently, the Chinese have become more aggressive and assertive. They even stopped construction of a small road connecting local villages. It seems the dream of connecting Kailash-Mansarovar to Leh via Demchok may not be realised in the near future. Hanle has an astronomical observatory probably highest in the world. Ladakh due to its altitude and pollution free clear skies is the best place for astronomical observations.

We carried along the Indus River to Nyoma. After driving along for some distance we turned left across the Mahe Bridge towards Tsomoriri. There is a beautiful spot near the Mahe Bridge where a mountain stream descends into Indus. With flowers and greenery along the descending stream it looks like a spot somewhere in Kashmir valley. There is supposed to be a small lake on the top from where the water was coming down. We liked the spot so much that we decided to stop here for lunch on our return journey. After crossing the Bridge, the road follows a stream through a very narrow valley, almost a gorge with steep sides at many places. The main road from Nyoma to Leh is black topped but the one going to Tsomoriri across the Mahe Bridge was rough but the drive was not so bad till we reached a bifurcation. There is small clearing here with a cairn in the middle. The straight road leads to Tsokhar and Puga valley while as the left branch climbs up to Tsomoriri. This was a freshly cut mountainside and it was difficult to discern the road from the rough cut rocks all around. This was probably the most difficult portion of the road stretch we had driven on so far. It took us quite a bit of time to reach the top which flattened out into a wide valley. Here again we had to cross some stretches of sand but these were easy compared to the ones after Tsaga la. There is also a small lake on top. After traversing this area the road turns left along a narrow valley and follows a stream downwards. There were many green patches on the banks of the stream which could be very good camping places. Here too there were some herds of Ladakhi mini goats. The stream flows down into the Tsomoriri Lake which we reached just an hour before sunset. The first view of the Lake was captivating. A blue expanse of water surrounded by barren mountains of all hues and shades. In the distance we could see snow on the mountain tops. The road follows the left bank of the Lake to the village of Karzok, the main habitation here.

The first sight we had was of some ugly stone and steel structures which had destroyed the total ambiance of this wonderful place. We subsequently learnt that these were the store houses of the Food Corporation of India. One fails to understand why Government has to destroy environment of an area? No doubt certain things are essential but these could be designed and constructed keeping in view the traditional architecture and using local materials. After all the Ladakhis have been living in their mud houses for ages. Even their monasteries and gompas are so nicely blending into the local environment. We were in for another surprise! Near Karzok there is a huge grassy plain on the banks of the Lake. This must have been a part of the Lake earlier. Bang in the middle of this beautiful grassy land was a small hut supposed to be the Public Works Department Rest House where we were expected to stay for the night. We went straight to this monstrosity called the Rest House and unpacked our bags. By now we were very tired due to a long and rough journey and after an early dinner dozed off to sleep!

The night was quite cold and we did not want to get up early. It was very cold outside even in the morning in the shade. We got out of the hut only when the sun reached the spot. The sunshine was brisk and we got warmed up quickly. The Lake looked very beautiful in the morning. In the distance on the side from which we had entered the area, I could see hundreds of birds.

It is supposed to be a nesting ground for a number of bird species such as the bar-headed geese. After a late and a leisurely breakfast we went to explore the Karzok village. It is a small village and the people seemed to be really poor. It has a monastery which too was not in a very good shape like other places. All the time we were irritated by the sight of the huge and ugly stores of the Food and Supplies Department. We also visited the site on a slope which was being considered for setting up a tourism establishment for visitors. It was a Government of India scheme. If the construction is done in the traditional style, it will blend in the landscape like the monastery some distance away. However, such things are unknown in government circles. Our people are experts in spoiling the environment and local ambiance by letting the engineers do everything on their own. They mostly do such things which would give them the maximum monetary benefit. Ultimately same thing happened with this establishment. First there was problem about land and then the construction got stalled for years on. It transpired that the brother of a senior officer in Leh was putting up camps in the area and he did not want the government establishment to come up. In fact, the whole issue became an audit objection and the Central Government referred it to CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) as a draft Para.

We climbed on a nearby ridge to have a panoramic view of the Lake. It is really a beautiful spot with some high peaks on one side. From the top it looks more beautiful as a blue sapphire set in a sandy brown mountain bowl. From here one can trek to Himachal across the mountains. It is also possible to go to Tibet. We had a nice day in and around Tsomoriri. It was total relaxation after continuous journey on some of the roughest roads and that too at high altitude. In the evening I made an entry in the register of the Public Works Hut while paying rent to the chowkidar. I wrote that the Tourism Department will bear all the expenses for dismantling and removing the hut from this spot. It is an eye sore in an otherwise wonderful eco-friendly place! Again we went early to sleep as we had to start the next day for another long journey to Leh.

In the morning while going away from the Lake we saw thousands of birds near the Lake entry. These were flying in all directions and some were on the Lake surface. It was a rewarding sight to see such extensive bird life. The return journey was smooth till the sandy patch. Here we got stuck at least for half an hour. It was difficult going uphill on the sandy patch. However, we managed to clear it. Next was the drive down through the freshly rough cut stones which formed the so called road. This too was quite tough and tricky. Nissar managed it quite well in the gypsy. Motup because of his heavy vehicle was going slowly. After clearing the stony track, Nissar drove quite fast and we were across Mahe Bridge by noon time. We drove to the scenic spot of the gushing stream and stopped there for making our fresh lunch. The Jeep which was hardly 20 minutes behind failed to turn up even after one hour. We waited and waited but there was nothing in sight. After an hour and a half we started worrying and were about to decide for going back to look them up when they came across very slowly. On our asking them what had happened, they gave us a shocking account. The entire suspension of the Jeep had fallen down while crossing the stony patch. They took almost an hour to put it back and had tied it strongly with steel wires and ropes which Motup always carried along. Motup was sure that it will last till Leh without any problem. After a lunch of rotis, potatoes, sauce, and pickles we started for Leh. The road now follows the Indus River which goes through a rocky gorge. There are huge boulders in the river and it roars all the way. The rapids are beyond grade VI in white water rafting parlance. It was also unbearably hot! Our heads would ache with the heat of the sun and we would often stop near the side streams which descend into Indus, to cool our heads in the cold water.

We soon passed the hot springs of Chumathang. These had become very dirty with lot of garbage and filth all around. I missed the site of these springs which Rauf and I had seen in 1974 when Brigadier Jeeti Goel had brought us here. Too many tourists and army personnel had been a big polluting factor. One hopes that the springs have been cleaned by now? Tourism though a big booster for economy of an area is at the same time a great destroyer of environment and one has to strike a balance. Only sustainable tourism needs to be promoted. Again among the tourists it is not the number but the type which counts. It may be better to have a smaller number of high spending tourists than a large number of budgeted tourists. Bhutan has stuck to this principle. May be we too need to do something about it? This is true in view of a tremendous increase in tourist numbers. The figures have gone from 500 in 1974 to over 77,000 in 2009!

We were driving smoothly when suddenly while passing over a bump in the road there was a loud thud and the Gypsy came to a standstill. Nissar immediately said that the front axle of his Gypsy was broken. We came out and everybody started checking the vehicle. There was no doubt the vehicle was broken down and we had to change the axle. Unfortunately, no one carries a spare axle in these parts. Luckily this thing had happened over a speed breaker in the road which was near a small village. The only alternative was to send an axle from Leh. Those days there were no mobile or satellite phones. We had no choice but to leave Nissar there. A Kashmiri Pandit who was walking nearby met us. He was a teacher in a local school. He said there was nothing to worry and he will take care of Nissar till we send the spare part. I had seen Kashmiri Pandit teachers in many parts of Ladakh. We had met one in Zanskar also. They seemed to be committed teachers and were prepared to go to any place to perform their duty unlike their Muslim counterparts!

We all cramped into the Motup’s jeep and rushed to Leh which we reached in the afternoon around 4 pm. On arrival even before taking some tea, we searched the market for the spare axle and after having bought it sent it to Nissar through another vehicle, a tempo traveller driven by Rajinder. They finally reached Leh almost at midnight. Thus ended one more of my adventures which was probably the toughest I have had so far!