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, March 28, 2010

Free Press in a Free World

Saleem has found his calling

(Mr. Saleem Iqbal Qadri, 24, was born in Duroo, Sopore. He did his schooling in the Government Higher Secondary School in Sopore, and is currently a student in the Government Degree College in Baramulla, studying for the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in Journalism.)

Journalism and Democracy

In any democratic set up, there are three types of identities: the politicians, the public, and the publication. The three elite “P’s” of the democratic process which, through their correlation with each other, make modern democracy unique compared to other political philosophies. The relationship between the politician and the public, through the media and journalism particularly, is distinctive in a democracy, and has a very special connection with the electoral process, which separates true democracies from imitations. Remember, even the USSR had elections, but that certainly did not make them a democracy. Liberated media is fundamentally crucial in genuine democratic societies because it practices the theory of including the public in governmental affairs and commemorates the democratic idea that reality can only be relative and truth and facts are to be deemed authentic by individuals, not administrators.

Journalism is necessary because direct democracy is obsolete. People do not really have a say in modern democracy, aside from their vote, unless they are a politician themselves. Journalism serves as a window; however it could be rose coloured glass, to the bureaucracy that is democratic process. From there you can see what polices and philosophies you buy into. Journalism, relating to the politicians, is the glass display counter that lets the audience see what kind of watches there are to buy. Some are fake and some are real. You buy the one you like, but in an eerie “twilight zone” plot twist, the appreciated watches stay under the display, and the under appreciated watches disappear. The average man is discreetly unconnected in a democracy, his opinions and beliefs have no real influence on anything. The only real reason there is journalism in a democracy is so the average man is aware that there is an election, so he can vote!

And to vote for whom, largely depends on which newspaper and journalist you subscribe to. While politics might make up less than a quarter of a newspaper, make no mistake, journalism is the advertising agency of politicians. The rest is simply marketable brain fodder.

Journalists serve as cocaine dealers. But also the wholesaler and retailer. If journalism was like a cocaine supply trade, journalism would be the “internal supply chain”, consisting of purchasing, producing, and distribution. Cocaine, consisting of interviews, government “leaks”, and alleged scandals would be bought at a low price, refined with sweetener, and sold to the men, women, and bloggers of the country. To be a journalist is to have the freedom to modify the raw facts given from sources, to change information so that the audience can see the world from different perspectives. Journalists have the freedom, and should be encouraged, to have and publish their own opinions because many journalists lack the courage to have diverse opinions in publications, also by ignoring and un-publishing individual opinions, free journalism and press would become futile.

The main difference between a democratic and non- democratic country is not determined by elections, but by how free their journalists are.

Journalism is an anarchist dimension where individuals can choose to relay the truth, or make their own. Governments don’t need free press, but free journalism needs democracy. Free journalism is simply impossible without one. A democracy would be unattainable without attempting to include the public into governmental affairs. A French novelist once said, “Free press can, of course, be good or bad, but, most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.” Journalism, for better or for worse, is the best example of the freedom of individuals and the importance of free thought in a democracy.

Should Hangul be Allowed to go Extinct?

Mansoor gives a clarion call regarding saving the Hangul

(Dr. Mir M. Mansoor, 54, was born in Shopian. He completed his schooling from the M.L. Higher Secondary School in Shopian. He attended the Government Degree College in Anantnag, receiving his B.Sc. degree in Natural Sciences, and subsequently received a degree in Bachelor of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry (BVSc & AH) from the Ranchi Veterinary College, Rajindrea Prasad University, Bihar. He has received mid-career post-graduate training in Advanced Wildlife Management (AWM) at the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, and a post-graduate diploma in Conservation Breeding & Management of Endangered Species (CBME)from the University of Kent at Centerbury, U.K. Dr. Mansoor is the Chief Wildlife Biologist (Veterinary) in the J&K State Wildlife Protection Department. He has received the "Bharat Jyoti" Award and the "Glory of India" Gold Medal and has 30 publications to his credit. In his leisure time, he enjoys nature photography, travel and browsing on internet.)

Lest we Lose it!

You are reading this article because it is all about a species which is having its roots deep in our history, culture and social life. We could have this argument about a black bear or a common leopard and the issues would have been identical, but the ability to get people's attention would be far lower.

Everywhere you look on this planet there are issues to be addressed and we have finite resources. So we do make really horrible choices. But nowadays, almost exclusively, when people work in conservation they focus on saving habitats, because there are many species that live in a narrowly defined habitat. If we don't destroy their habitat they will just continue in the same way as they have been for the thousands of years before.

I don't want the hangul, the designate state animal for Jammu and Kashmir, to die out. I want the species to stay alive but conservation, both nationally and globally, has a limited amount of resources, and I think we're going to have to make some hard and pragmatic choices.

The hard fact being that we have already left the Hangul to face the extinction because we have compromised on the animal’s habitat at every level. We spend millions and millions of rupees on developmental works, that too, within its very habitat and on the name of saving this species, knowing that the best thing we could have done with this money was to have effective habitat management with adequate protection measures. Without habitat, you've got nothing. So maybe if we took all the money we spend on hangul over the years and just bought its habitat with it, we might have done a better job and earned the required dividends in the shape of increased number of hangul and other species sharing its habitat.

Of course, it's easier to raise money for charismatic megafauna like hangul, which appeals to people's emotional side, and attract a lot of public attention. The species being emblematic of what I would call single-species conservation i.e. a focus on one animal as this approach began in the 1970s with Save the Tiger, Save the Panda, and so on, and it is now out of date.

Many among the conservationist community may stand up and say, "It's a flagship species. We're also conserving the forest, where there is a whole plethora of other things." And when that works, I'm not against it. But we have to accept that some species are stronger than others. The hangul is a species of red deer - a herbivorous animal. It is susceptible to various diseases, and, till recently, it has been bred in captivity only during late eighties and early nineties on experimental basis in erstwhile City Forest National Park, but the task seems not so simple now. Had that time the concerned agencies given due attention towards that project, the present day crises would have not been at least in beginning the project once again. The present very restricted range of this animal is also ever decreasing, due to grazing pressure and encroachment on their habitat. Perhaps the hangul is already destined to run out of time.

Extinction is very much a part of life on earth. And we are going to have to get used to it in the next few years because climate change is going to result in all sorts of disappearances. I'm not trying to make predictions. I'm saying we won't be able to save it all, so let's do the best we can. And at the moment I don't think our strategies are best placed to do that. We should be focusing our conservation endeavours on habitat management and conservation, spreading our net more widely and looking at good-quality habitat maintenance to preserve as much of the life as we possibly can, using hard science to make educated decisions as to which species are essential to a community's maintenance. It may well be that we can lose the cherries from the cake. But you don't want to lose the substance.

In the background of things saving the hangul habitat, or saving the Dachigam National Park landscape as a whole, is definitely going to serve the purpose to a greater extent otherwise, this biological massacre will take place, that too, in a grossly distorted manner which is likely to include a multitude of species losses constituting a basic and irreversible alteration in the nature even before we understand its working.

Those Were the Days

Dr. Khuroo shares his experiences from a time and era when getting admission to the GMC Srinagar was not an important thing, but the ONLY thing

(Dr. Mohammad Sultan Khuroo was born in Sopore. He attended the Government Medical College (GMC) Srinagar, receiving his MBBS and MD from the University of Kashmir. He specialized in Gastroenterology from PGI Chandigarh, and subsequently earned three prestigious international fellowships - FRCP, FACP and MRCP. He is currently the owner-director of Dr. Khuroo's Medical Clinic in Srinagar.)

Trip Down the Memory Lane

Government Medical College Srinagar is celebrating golden jubilee this season-what an event! Only yesterday on June 1st, 1962 I was delivered a letter by the postman at my home in Sopore and to my surprise and shock, was invited to join as a medical student in Government Medical College Srinagar. Few weeks prior to this our FSC (Intermediate 12 class) results had been announced and I stood high in medical merit list from University of Jammu & Kashmir, Srinagar. I had never applied for this coveted course and Secretariat had processed the list from the result merit sheet issued by the University. Very soon I found myself in the “Anatomy Dissection Hall” in Lalmandi Srinagar. The Lalmandi makeshift facility had par excellent delightful ambience and get up. The first view of a 6 feet 8 inch human being (Late Prof. M. L. Kaul, our anatomy demonstrator at that time) got all our attention and his loud shout “Come dangerously close to me” to 8 of us (6 boys and 2 girls) yet rings in my ears. That is how all of us joined our heads together with his, to watch the most intriguing human structure on and around the dissection table. Next it was a treat to watch a wise fatherly figure (Prof. Ayer, Head Department of anatomy) and his ultimate manners in imparting knowledge were masterly. Once he spotted a girl student weeping in the corner of “Dissection Hall” and on enquiry found that she was scored “zero” in quiz by Dr. Aslam (Another anatomy demonstrator that time) for identifying “Humerus bone” as “Femur”. He asked Dr. Aslam to watch that villager through the window, who was carrying a gunny bag on his back and questioned what score he shall give him in quiz. Dr. Aslam remarked “Zero”. He walked out silently with the remark that my daughter (girl student) is evaluated so. Dr. Aslam apologized for his error. Prof. Kahali headed department of physiology and taught subject with great passion. His weekly quiz of ten MCQ (multiple choice questions) with ten marks is reminiscent of modern methodology for medical entrance examinations/evaluation so well propounded by the Americans.

We were 62 in the class, what represented a true picture of global (students from Africa, Malaysia and Pakistan), national (students from Mumbai, UP and Himachal), religious (Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhist and Christians) and social (those from convent, Biscoe, Burnhall; those from Govt: schools like me; those from distant villages and undeveloped regions of State etc) integration. One who impressed me most was a tall skinny fellow from Chinkriyal Mohalla (now Legendary pathologist Prof. Abdul Rashid Khan) and every day we walked together from Medical college gait to his home discussing Best & Taylor (Physiology) and Gray’s Anatomy. It always astonished me how he had mastered these books including the foot notes. Occasionally I took pleasure to relish Kanti & Kabab from famous Ahdoo’s and for this took a Tonga ride with Ghulam Nabi Lone (who later took over as a Minister in J&K Govt: and unfortunately succumbed to the bullets of the assassin) and Lone sahib always volunteered the smaller Tonga bill (rupees 2) and left for me to pay the bigger Kanti bill (rupees 16). Medical College canteen was a place of great entertainment and joy. On a daily basis, we all assembled around one table in the canteen where Fida Hussein (Dr. Fida Hussein settled in South Africa and unfortunately died few years back from motor vehicle accident) was to sing gazals in his melodious voice. Many would name him Mehdi Hassan and/or Mohd Rafi of our class and I can vouch that his voice was as impressive as either one of these legends. Another legend in our class was Abdul Wahid (recently retired as Prof. Medicine SKIMS) and his critical reviews about Kashmir politics and leaders would hit the Urdu paper “Khidmat” and other Urdu periodicals on regular basis even in those days. For a number of years I lived in the Medical College Hostel, Bemina and during these years three of us namely I, Ved Prakash Gupta (retired as Director Health J&K), and Bashir Ahmad Khan (unfortunately died from aggressive Polyarteritis nodusa soon after passing MBBS) would have afternoon Abi-Guzar bund walk, eat one rupee “roti and tarka-dal” from a vegetarian dhaba in Kokar Bazaar as a single evening meal of the day and at around 9 PM would drive our 3 bicycles from Amirakadal, to Karan Nagar, to Tutto ground and to Bemina Hostel.

We entered second MBBS after 2 years and relished the pathology lectures from Prof. Goyal who taught subject by symbolizing human pathology to varied events in nature. For this he had made a compendium which he always kept to his chest and brought it to the class room to narrate these events. One day many mischief mongers of our batch (there were quite a few) coaxed me to ask Prof. Goyal to lend his personal great compendium for a short time so that we could broaden our knowledge. He hesitantly surrendered it for just one night (probably first time in his career) and that night we all relished it from A to Z with great fun. Prof. Ahluwalia, Head Social & Preventive Medicine was an exceptionally great character and his environmentalist abilities should today win him an international award from IPCC. Those days, Medical College Garden and SPM museum were treat to watch and created attention at national medical circles. Our clinical postings in SMHS Hospital wards and outpatient departments were supervised by Prof. Col. S. Kaul (Medicine) and Dr. Permanik (Surgery). Because of this and with the untiring efforts of these/such medical giants, we learned the most difficult of art of history taking, palpating the magic box of human body i.e. abdomen and listening to the demanding tender human structure namely the human heart.

I have taken pains to portrait the faculty of the Govt. Medical College of that age, in order to pay special tribute to these/my teachers and find it a part of my duty and prayer. All these were full time medical teachers and had brought this profession to recognition in India. They took pains, showed tremendous patience and made intense efforts in order to impart the most difficult knowledge of humanity i.e. art of medical practice. These and such teachers went to the ultimate details to teach us ethics, respect to human being, patience, and self-respect and above all how to be God fearing. They did it not by talking to us about these virtues but by practicing these virtues. They practised morality and thus spoke of it and wanted us to follow it. They practised medical ethics and wanted us to follow ethics. They respected every patient for his values and taught us to practice it. They felt inner happiness to see their students doing well in quiz and examinations and finally in life. For those who stood at the backbench and struggled, they were there to extend help, support and advice.

Apart from learning medicine through dictatorial lectures, bed sides and weekly quiz, Govt Medical College those days offered education, including medical, religious, social and political on an intensive basis. The institution was frequently visited by national and international scholars and educationists and system would encourage and support this process. During our student days, we have listened to Noble Laureates, great religious scholars, legendary political figures, and Yoga giants and palmists of international fame. The system absorbed views of all shapes and kinds and this created a highly conducive scientific atmosphere.
I always wondered about the abilities of the conceiver who brought these legendary teachers from all parts of the country together and invite/force us to join the medical studies and create an atmosphere which was revolutionary and full of creativity. Over the years, this Medical School has produced thousands of medical graduates who have served our State, other states of India and rest of the World. Today when we are to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this Institution, we can only thank those who conceived, built, supported and maintained this great seat of learning.

How a Good Idea Morphed into a Disaster

Maroof looks at a program that was intended to end hunger among students but ended as making beggers out of students, contractors out of teachers, and turned the educational department into the den of corruption

(Dr. Muhammad Maroof Shah, 31, was born in Kunan, Bandipore. He has pursued a career in veterinary medicine and animal husbandry, completing Bachelors's degree in veterinary sciences (BVSc) at the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences and Animal Husbandry (FVSc & AH), Shuhama campus of the Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Kashmir (SKUAST-K), and MA English through the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). He is presently posted as a Veterinary Assistant Surgeon (VAS) at the Government Sheep Breeding Farm in Dachigam. Dr. Shah is the author of two books, and has lectured as a visiting fellow at the Jaipur University on Western Philosophy. In his leisure time he pursues studies in comparative religion, philosophy and literature.)

Mid-day Meal Scheme in Kashmir

Many teachers are expressing their extreme displeasure on midday meal scheme. Everything written here is based on information provided by teachers when personally interviewed. I have yet to meet one who approved of the scheme in its present form. They say that once upon a time teaching department was considered to be noble and free of corruption. The midday meals scheme has poisoned this profession. It has made some teachers contractors, of course, C grade ones. It has inculcated begging attitude in some students. It has compelled many teachers to give less attention to teaching. Midday meal programme launched in order to feed the hungry students, correct the deficiencies malnutritioned students and attract more and more students to schools is almost a complete failure in Kashmir. It is a source of great corruption. It has tempted traditionally sacrosanct professionals to corruptions of all kinds. It has led to unforeseen problems in schools.

The meals provided, generally speaking, don’t constitute balanced diet and don’t correct malnutrition. Aalu dal or soya fed to students instead of recommended menu that includes more nutritious things can’t correct the deficiencies. Sometimes not a single piece of potato is there for a student.

Practically what happens is that low quality food is given to students, that is, sometimes too unpalatable. Many students refuse to take it because it is not worth eating. In-charge teachers show full attendance of all the students in the month including even strike days. Higher authorities are attesting the papers knowing fully well that this is manipulated. Ask any nutritionist to comment on the nutritional quality of the diet that is routinely fed to students. We should not see the manipulated statements but survey randomly different schools and ask the students.

We could achieve the target of better roles for which midday meal scheme was designed without meals. Students could get better food if they need it by the same money paid in cash. We could replace the money spent for meals for a month or two by cash payment or scholarship paid to every student to see the difference in response. This will ensure transparency as we could legislate to give money as payee’s cheque. This will ensure more attendance. This will also check the problem of false rolls reflected in many attendance systems.

I am making simply two points. Why force students to eat midday meals, to eat substandard meals, to inculcate a begging attitude in them through it? Why not try alternatives that will involve lesser corruption if not no corruption? If most teachers are not happy, if many students are not happy, if general public has reservations why impose the scheme? There are some positive points associated with the scheme but its ill effects far outweigh the good ones. If we use all the money granted for midday schemes for uplifting only the deserving or poor students huge difference could be created. Not many school going students suffer malnutrition. The few that suffer are not helped, generally speaking, by existing midday meal scheme. Let any nutritionist be asked to give his judgment. Let every day a small prize be given to the best presentation at the prayer class or on weekly debates and other dozen kinds of extracurricular competitions. The money of the taxpayer goes mainly in the pockets of many corrupt clerks and teachers and officers. Let teachers association raise its voice against this scheme.

I don’t think anything could be achieved by tightening vigil on corruption in delivery of midday scheme. It seems to be a corrupt idea in its essence if applied indiscriminately in all schools, to all students. In the name of a few students in some remote areas who may be supposed to be hungry but for the midday meals or who feel it as an incentive to come to school millions of dollars are squandered, misappropriated. I wish sociology students take up this as thesis project so that the world will see a huge hoax is being perpetrated. If only half of the money spent on the scheme be spent on increasing quality of education or strengthening infrastructure of educational institutions we could very well have an educational revolution.

At many places in India midday meal scheme is working quite well but surely not in Kashmir. Agreeing that students should be provided refreshment if not full meals during recess period why not give students an egg, a glass of milk and say a banana instead of third rate meal? If we can’t ensure quality control we should not allow the scheme to operate. I wish the balanced diet to be given to students but if the department can’t ensure that it should divert the funds to some other channel for the benefit of students.

If it is indeed necessary to feed children at schools let government ask for private services in this area. Let cafeteria be opened in all schools and the department may also pay Rs 10 to every student for the meals. I have enjoyed the best vegetable meal which will suffice for two students if not more for Rs 15 in Central University Hyderabad in students canteen a few days back. The same or lesser could be fixed here as well and contractor shall get everything done of his own. If the teachers are able to make a business out of Rs 2 excluding rice, transport, cooking and fuel charges why can’t our contractors? If the government is sincere and nobody interested in corruption and looting public money let it invite tenders, give the room reserved for meals to contractors and fix the price of the meals rupees ten or even below excluding the cost of rice which should be provided as is in vogue now from rashan depots and of tea Rs 3. This will employ thousands if not tens of thousands of unemployed youth. This could revive cooperatives also. It could boost vegetable industry and milk industry. If this idea is not feasible it means there is no need for the midday meals. Students, generally speaking, manage well without it.

Still I grant the necessity of meals in some pockets. We should identify those pockets and confine the scheme to them. Or if we intend to give food to every student and make it mandatory the best idea is to invite youth seeking employment to open up cafeteria and serve as suppliers of food and other items like ice creams, juices. If we think private investors will not be interested in the business of midday meals in schools then why should government be so serious about it and managing to do it though badly at very cheap rates? If this is the case then there is no warrant, no compelling necessity for these meals which cost exchequer a huge sum, breed corruption, distract both teachers and students, inculcate a spirit of beggary in many students and increase burden on clerks.

A Childhood Fantasy

Zahid takes you back to the time when one did not worry about things like hygiene and water quality, and yet we all survived to tell those tales with relish

(Mr. Zahid G. Mohammad, 61, was born and raised in Srinagar. He earned his Master's degree in English literature from the Kashmir University and has completed a course in Mass Communication from Indian Institute of Mass Communication. He is a writer and a journalist who has written for many newspapers, including the Statesman, the Sunday, and the Kashmir Times. He currently works for the Greater Kashmir.)

Of Great Kulfi Wala

The room, I opened eyes for the first time, the clay daubed green walls that greeted me with a smile on my first day in this world, the window that allowed golden sun rays to stealthily steal into the room to kiss my rubicund face for the first time are now no more there. The house I was born in has been devoured by the ferocious monster that eats heritage and gulps down the past. They call this monster as development.

This monster eats beauty - my garden city that used to be rash with beauty in spring, filled with fragrance of roses and jasmine during summers and drooping with ripeness during autumn was eaten by him years back. Now the behemoth has eaten everything that often reminded me of those golden days- golden days of childhood, whistles resonating from lanes and by lanes, giggles and laughers coming out from behind the half-shut latticed windows, the lone flute playing youth at night lending cheer to the desolate streets, hordes of swallows perching on electric wires, beautiful makeshift markets and eating places.

I never believed in that Maoist saying, ‘there is no construction without destruction’- I believed old is beautiful – it needs to be preserved. It provides edifice for creating something more beautiful- but who could make them understand that destruction of heritage is no construction but destruction only…. In the name of monster they have destroyed everything connected with my childhood- they first destroyed the roof gardens, then they vandalized my eternal home by marketing every rhizome that blossomed irises- pink, white and magenta, they chopped the mystic berry bearing celtis- the three I and my peers loved, they filled up willow canopied waterways and called it reclaiming of land- now I am left with nothing but tales of yesteryears with traditional intro for all such tales- ‘Once upon time’…

And on narrating these tales I may sound as strange to my children as many travelogues by European writes like E.F. Knight, ‘Where Three Empires Meet or Francis Younghusband, ‘Kashmir As It Was’ read to me. I did enjoy the thrill and romance of their travels and many years after reading them some of their experiences live with me but they often looked far from realities to me. So would be my tales one day.

Some sentences in Knight’s travelogue often bother me even today: “A Kashmiri will unresistingly take a blow from anyone, even from a Kashmiri…. they never come to blows by any chance, having attained such a cowardice they actually fear one another. I had been a good deal among Mahomedans in other countries, and had always associated dignity and courage with the profession of the creed, so was disagreeably surprised to discover this cowardly, cringing, cackling race among the followers of the Prophet” (SAW). So have been the tales about reception accorded to the Maharaja on his arrival in Srinagar, recounted by Younghusband.

I may sound strange to children when I say that once upon time a canal named as Mar for its serpentine course flowed through my part of the city. The vivisected city was connected by many bridges. The canal was an engineering marvel. It brought everything from garden fresh vegetables to grains to the doorsteps of the people. It worked as the jugular vein for the city’s drainage system and saved it from stinking and sinking. I have written sometime about the grand morning spectacle on the banks of the canal. There used to be a lot of hustle bustle on the Ghats of the canal—many stories mystic as well romantic surround it.

The areas on both the sides of the bridges over the canal in my childhood were the busiest market place. From wee hours in the morning when scores vegetable and fruit vendors used to put their kiosks in the area to late in the night when appetizing and mouth watering aroma exhaling out of barbeque stalls filled the air the market places would be full of life.

Of all the markets around the bridges on the canal Bohri Kadal for its being adjacent to the main trade centers Zaina Kadal and Maharaja Gang where from snuff to shahtoos everything was sold had earned distinction for emerging as one of the best eating places- what today in fashionable colonies is called the food street.

Looking back Bohri Kadal was the best food street. This place would be one of the best examples of medieval period markets with small time vendors sitting on both the sides of road leading to the main market. The vegetable sellers sitting in midst of their huge willow vats with fresh vegetables filled to capacity added freshness to the market. There were couple of Moungegear ( I have no English alternative for the word) making different varieties of sizzling food items in flour in their huge boiling oil cauldrons-Nadarmunge ( lotus-reeds-in-flour), Mungegada (fish-in-flour) and Moungegool( water nuts-in-flour), Teli-Kara (peas-in-flour) and there were some local sweet meat sellers selling sugary items. Some of Moungegear were known for quality of their preparations. I do not if these food items are indigenous or have some Central Asian connection.

In the nearby lanes there were some very good eating places known for quality Kashmiri wazwan- but those days having food on these food joints was not looked at as gentlemanly. These eating places were visited by the traders from rural areas who were on shopping spree in the nearby markets and were famous for their lingos and argots.

Of the entire food item Bohri Kadal was known for its Kulfi and ice cream. There were a couple of ice cream sellers- at often put their stalls in the afternoon. One of the ice-cream seller or the Kufli-man, I remember had put his kiosk on the corner of the bridge. His name was Ghulam Ahmed. He would squat on a mat amidst huge earthen pots (Nauut). I loved watching him rolling his pots filled with ice and small kulfi containers- I enjoyed watching him taking out kulfi out of the tin containers and then decorously opening it on a plate.

As the sun set the rush at his kiosk would increase…I have seen many leaders stopping at his kiosk for enjoying a Kulfi at his shop- but that was once upon a time.

The Ugliness Called Dal Today

Nayer Mohammad has the courage to speak his mind hen he says that the conservation of Dal Lake is all bone and no meat

From Dal to Dull

Returning home from a walk along the banks of the Dal Lake, I as usual grabbed the newspaper and began to scan the headlines. A news caption that caught my notice read JORA SPEAKS DAL BEAUTIFICATION IN L.A. It really bemused me because a recently added beauty mark has made its presence felt so strongly that if you happen to walk past you just cannot miss it as the nose comes under a most virulent attack. Before you can salvage something from your pocket to cover your nasal passage, the damage is done and you find yourself running away as fast as your legs can, before the terrible stench engulfs you completely.

This newly added beautification ornament lies just adjacent to the CRPF headquarters at Brein and faces the recently installed fountains in the lake. It is a makeshift urinal erected by putting a few rags around a popular tree and a couple of sticks stuck into the ground. For want of a proper facility the jawans go behind the flimsy cover and relieve themselves.

It is not as if the urinal is a lone eye-catcher there are other beautiful adornments, scattered all along the banks of this once famous lake, for all to see. The appalling open drains emptying sewage from the hotels, whose very existence is inextricably woven together with the existence of the lake, speaks of a callous apathy which can find no parallels elsewhere in the world.

Rumour are running thick and fast that the much hyped STPs have failed to deliver and other than emitting a most foul smell that permeates the air, while they are in operation, they have contributed little less to the restoration programme.

So much is being written about the pathetic state of the lake which was once Kashmiris gateway to fame. Accusing fingers are pointed towards the people in power and in response the government quotes mind boggling figures that have been spent, or are in the process of being spent ,or have been set aside for implementing such plans as are necessary to resuscitate the water body which is gasping for breath. If we go along with what the government claims then Dal restoration is being undertaken on war footing. This assertion, however, has put an ordinary Kashmiri in quandary for there is a vast discrepancy between what is said and what is done. People are confused as they don’t know whether to believe their eyes or accept what is stated in media. It is situation where the emperor is wearing new clothes as in reality he is stark naked. Tall claims made by the authorities are belied when viewed against the backdrop of Dal which is shrinking in size while being vandalized with as much insensitivity as before.

The Dal card is played by every political party; in fact, the lake has become a veritable battleground for politicians to measure up to one another. It finds a place at the top of every election manifesto. During election campaigning Dal assumes a prominent place, all else follows and is used as a real bait to woo the innocent voters. Each government begins on Dal note and ends on a Dull note, in the meantime Dal gets lost somewhere in the corridors of bureaucracy. Huge amounts are spent on discussions and plan formulations, foreign expertise is hired and press notes are issued but when it comes to actual groundwork very little is done or seems to have been done. Convening meetings at la Jaspal Bhatti, where menu is more important than agenda, are not going to help.

The Boulevard is the most traversed highway by the who’s who in the state administration. Each time their motorcade passes the accompanying shrill cry not only frightens the fish in the lake but heralds doom for the common people who might be unfortunate enough to be walking or driving at the same inopportune moment. Not only are they squeezed to the wall literally but if they take a fraction of a second more to heed to the summons of the signal the goons hanging out from the security vehicles gleefully use their danda’s with a flourish, either on the innocent pedestrians or on the poor vehicles. Damage done to either is rectified only by spending precious money which in these hard times (when a kilogram of sugar costs 60) is much needed for meeting the daily requirements of subzi and chawal. If people at the helm of affairs would care to look outside the tinted windows of their official cars, with a discerning eye, the stark reality would dawn upon them. After all, for how long can one camouflage the ugliness which lies beneath by raising the level of the Dal waters, for is it not true that,

You can fool some people for some time

Some people for all time

But not all people for all time

New Medicine, Old Ailment

Ashraf wonders if the lake will ever recover its pristine condition

(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 Fran├žaise 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.)

New Machines but old Problem

Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, recently announced the procurement of new machines for cleaning Dal Lake. Every step taken to save the Dal Lake is most welcome by one and all. However, the delicate eco-system of the Lake with its fragile bio-diversity requires careful evaluation before going full steam ahead with dredging or excavation. In fact, the chief minister himself has said that the machines alone cannot save the dying Lake. The Lakes and Waterways Development Authority has imported two Finnish machines at a cost of Rs 8 crores. The present Vice-Chairman of the authority appears to be fully involved in his job and is serious about initiating various steps for restoring this prestigious water body. He had earlier faced criticism for fencing the western foreshore road. That was a necessary practical step to prevent further encroachments and dumping of garbage into the lake. The fence which was claimed to be an eye sore could be easily beautified by a creeper of wild roses. It has been reported that some more machines would be imported by the authority. These machines act as excavators as well as weed removers. These can also dredge muck out of the lake. It has also been reported that an Italian Engineer is going to train the locals in the use of these machines.

It is hoped that before importing and operating the machines the concerned authorities have fully considered the implications of dredging and weed cutting by these machines? There have been some bad experiences with the earlier dredgers and harvesters. The Red Algae which had resulted after cutting of the weeds by the harvesters had to be removed by manual deweeding. The Lake has dozens of springs inside. In addition, all the weeds growing in the Lake are not harmful. More than engineers, the Lake conservation needs advice of bio-scientists. Hopefully, the concerned authority is proceeding ahead by co-ordinating efforts of bio-scientists and engineers? The most important aspect of Dal conservation is to take care of the quality of its water along with the marine life living therein. One would not like the Lake to be restored as a dead Lake without any marine or plant life. It would be then a huge pond of water and that too stinking awfully! There has also been some talk of beautifying the lake shores. There seems to be something wrong with the priorities. Beautification can be considered seriously once the patient has been restored to health. Otherwise it would amount to putting make up on a dying nude lady!

The most important task is to save the lake from further deterioration. The immediate concern is to stop the inflow of pollutants from certain localities of the city including hotels on its shores as well as house-boats and permanent houses on the islands inside the lake. The sewerage and night soil going into the Lake from the shores as well as house boats acts as fertiliser and accelerates the growth of dense weeds. This has to be taken care off. Already a number of sewage treatment plants have been built round the Lake and sewers have been constructed to carry the sewerage from various localities to these STPs. One has to be sure that the water going inside the Lake from these plants is safe for the health of the Lake? For house boats on board miniature treatment plants have to be installed. A number of technologies are available for the same. These are in use in Lake Kentucky in USA and in some parts of Australia. This issue has been pending for a long time. Even if the Government itself has to install these treatment plants, it should be done immediately without waiting for any voluntary effort by the owners of the boats. It is not going to cost hundreds of crores but the result would be worth hundreds of crores.

Simultaneously, the focus has to be on enlarging the open water area by removing the encroachments inside the lake. Along with this, there is urgent need for the improvement in the flow of water by opening the blocked channels. The stagnation of water with continuous influx of pollutants has virtually converted the lake into a gigantic septic tank. There is no point in beautifying the shores when the inside is like a stinking marsh. Unfortunately, we have always been thinking of the lake as a major tourist attraction and are concerned about its view from the Boulevard around it. No one is really going into the heart of the lake to check its health. It is really sick at the heart! Unless we are able to increase the open water area, improve the quality of water, and ensure its flow, we will not be able to halt further deterioration of the lake. For achieving all these goals we have to think not only in terms of larger numbers of machines and men at work continuously but have to undertake all ancillary works simultaneously. A ceremonial start of newly imported machines forgotten after few weeks is not going to save the lake.

The Lake’s greatest misfortune is general apathy of the public to the state of its health. There is general pinning without any productive work. There has been considerable voluntary effort in the Nageen area but much more needs to be done not only there but in other parts of the Lake. No one has so far been able to move the masses for saving the lake. We need a charismatic leader who can move the masses for saving the Dal Lake. Without the active involvement of common people, no plans are going to succeed. The problem with Dal restoration is that for last over three decades people have been watching various government initiatives to save Dal. Instead of saving and restoring it, one has been a witness to its fast deterioration. All have lost faith in government initiatives and the organisation supposed to do the job has become notorious because of numerous corruption cases. Even the State High Court which has taken over the lake has not been able to fully force the government to take various steps on an accelerated pace. The lake has been debated in the courts now for over three years or so. No doubt, the Court has been able to get some of the things done yet the government has not been keeping pace with the directions issued from time to time. The only solution is to wake up the peoples’ court and motivate the masses in general about the need of restoring the Lake not as a tourist attraction but as an essential living organ of Srinagar in particular and the entire Kashmir in general. Only when the common people feel concerned about it and participate fully in its restoration can one be hopeful of saving it for the posterity.

Neutralizing Duplicity

Rekha looks at empowerment of Kashmiri women's as part of the empowerment of the Kashmiri society as a whole

(Prof. Rekha Chowdhary, 55, was born in Jammu and has been a university teacher for the past 30 years. She is currently the Professor of Political Science, University of Jammu. During her distinguished teaching career, she was the visiting Fellow under a Ford Foundation grant at the Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford, in 1992-1993; winner of the Commonwealth Award availed at the University of Oxford, 1997-1998; and the Fulbright Fellow availed at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at the Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, in 2005.)

PR Bill: Debate it Further

This article is another intervention in the debate on the recently introduced Permanent Resident (Disqualification) Bill in the state legislature. The two articles published in the Rising Kashmir: Sadaf Munshi’s ‘Revisiting the PR Bill: Why only Women’ and Abdul Majid Zargar’s ‘Permanent Resident (disqualification) Bill’ have already given us an idea about the range of responses that the Bill has generated. The debate has been interestingly carried on the pages of Facebook, especially in response to Sadaf Munshi’s article which has raised lot of emotions. As against her argument that the Bill is discriminatory against women and deprives them of their basic right to live a life of dignity and equal treatment along with men, there are all kinds of arguments being made in its favour, some of these reflected in Zargar’s article as well.

The basic logic underlying all these arguments is that the Bill is necessitated by the need to preserve the ‘Kashmiri identity’ and to maintain its ‘special status’. Like Zargar many see in the Bill a ‘conspiracy’ at the behest of the ‘Centre’ or ‘the Indian State’ to encroach into the ‘rights of Kashmiris’ and to change the demography of Kashmir. The way the arguments are made, the issue of women’s rights is either considered unnecessary or subordinated to the ‘larger political cause’. In the first category fall those who, like Zargar, argue that the secondary status of women is a ‘social reality’, perpetuated by the existing customs of marriage as well as the existing law of citizenship which continue to place women in a secondary and subordinated position. Unapologetic as they are about the existing practice, they see nothing wrong if the proposed disqualification Bill reinforces the secondary position of women and ‘disempowers’ them further. For many of them women just form a number-hence many who are disqualified by being ‘married out of the state’ are balanced by those who are ‘married in the state’ and become entitled to be the Permanent Residents. Blissfully ignorant of the desire of the modern woman to be seen as a ‘person’ in her own right, to be counted as a ‘right bearing citizen’ and to be claiming a life of ‘dignity’, they continue to see the status of women as derivative of their relationship with men. It is difficult to engage this mindset on the question of women’s rights. However, it may be more fruitful to engage those who are familiar with the language of women’s rights but are favouring the Bill since they consider that issue of women’s rights is of lesser significance as compared to the larger issue of ‘rights of Kashmiris’.

As per this argument, the disqualification of women is required due to the onslaught that the Kashmiri identity is facing from exterior sources. The protection of this identity from any wilful design, specifically that of changing the demography, necessitates the Bill. The argument then goes into two different but related streams. First, that the issue of women’s rights is an unnecessary diversions from the major cause (and also the attempts to fragment the movement) and that all energies should be focused on the ‘larger cause’. Second, that women are entitled to equal rights as men and hence their claim is legitimate but it needs ‘ideal’ conditions which will be attained only after Kashmiri identity is fully redeemed.

Engagement with this perspective needs a debate on three major issues. The first of these relates to the relationship between the ‘Kashmiri identity’ and ‘gender identity’. Somewhere the presumption is that there is either a contradiction between the two identities or that the two identities are hierarchically placed (the Kashmiri identity being superior to the gender identity). It needs to be seriously probed as to how empowering Kashmiri women with equal rights along with men endangers the rights of Kashmiris as a whole. The fact that only women and not the men marrying outside the state are considered to be dangerous for the Kashmiri identity, smacks of the patriarchal mindset, especially when one considers the fact that women marrying outside the state, with the exception of few, generally exit from the state but men marrying outside the state bring women from outside. While the woman marrying an outsider does not pass on the privileges of either holding the property or taking up employment or even the right to vote or be elected to the state legislature to her husband or even children, the man actually passes on that right to his wife and children.

The second issue that needs to be debated is about the very concept of Kashmiri identity and women’s relationship with that. Certainly, the Kashmiri identity is inclusive and not only the men have the privilege of forming the Kashmiri collective but also the women. A woman is as much a part of the Kashmiri identity as a man is. And if any act of man, including that of his marrying outside the state does not endanger the Kashmiri identity, how does that of a woman marrying outside would endanger it. Unless, one thinks again from a patriarchal mindset which would privilege the Kashmiri identity to men and women becoming part of it only as secondary members, via their relationship with men.

Third and the most crucial issue that needs to be debated is about the relationship between the rights of Kashmiris and the rights of women. How can one visualise a contradiction between the two? Can there be a full empowerment of Kashmiri ‘people’ without the empowerment of women? And most importantly, how can the Kashmiris as ‘people in movement’ deny women their movement for their rights. Isn’t the empowerment of Kashmiri women very much the part of the ‘greater cause’ of ‘empowerment of Kashmiris’?

Established in 280 B.C.

Arjimand looks at the ancient city with deserving reverence

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 34, is a columnist/writer and a development professional who matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering from Bangalore University and has a diploma in journalism as well. He is an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany and has worked with UNESCO, Oxfam and ActionAid International in some seven countries in Asia and Africa. Arjimand writes regular weekly columns for the Greater Kashmir and The Kashmir Times since 2000 on diverse issues of political economy, development, environment and social change and has over 450 published articles to his credit.)

Tale of a Lost City

The big news making the rounds is that Srinagar’s Downtown, or shehr-i-khas, is going to get a facelift. A sort of government-sponsored Marshall Plan is planned to widen its narrow roads and alleys. Families living in congested houses will get land and cash to build new houses elsewhere. Srinagar’s Downtown may get its new home in city suburbs like Narbal and Shoor near Lal Bazar.

The Plan II of the exercise envisages financial support to ‘professional stone pelters’ to start small businesses, like roadside kiosks. That is all the publicly-stated part of it. The grapevine part of this plan talks of another unstated, but duly intended, result: getting Srinagar’s downtown rid of day-to-day stone pelting.

If these two plans really get to the ground, Srinagar’s Downtown may, perhaps, never be the same again. There will be a bunch of political and social spin offs, many of which cannot be foreseen today. That grand Old Srinagar, or what we call `Downtown' – which has shaped our history for 2000 years, nurtured the finesse of our culture, and symbolized the excellence of our heritage – may, perhaps, be history.

Srinagar has a big history of conquests and reversals. It has had periods of glory and downslides. From Mughals to Pashtun tribes, from the Durrani Empire to the Sikhs rulers, from the British to the Dogra Maharajas, from New Delhi to Islamabad, Srinagar has seen it all. It has evolved, it has assimilated; but yet it is what it has chosen to be – one of the rarest cities in the world today which live modernity and tradition together.

On many occasions, it has adapted to cultural and religious influences got from outside. Many a times, it has also resisted change. Today Srinagar, especially the Downtown Srinagar, is what it is. Rest all is history.

For most parts of its known history, Srinagar has mostly been multi-religious. It has been a centre of trade and transit for many civilizations. But it has always had one culture, and, generally speaking, one way of life. If one reflects on the recent past when we Muslims lived side by side with Kashmiri Pandits, it is amazing to recollect how similar our way of life was. We shared so much in common.

Over the last 2-3 decades, Srinagar city has been under the process of a steady change. A large number of families from Downtown Srinagar have shifted to its suburbs – giving birth to a number of satellite colonies. A good number of people have migrated to other countries. This thinning out of real Srinagar, and creation of satellite colonies, has given birth to a new cosmopolitan Srinagar. This newly-acquired cosmopolitanism has changed the way of its life. Greater education and increasing affluence has generally meant men and women in the city taking up jobs outside their homes almost in equal measure. The city’s main vocation – artisanship – has given way to white collar and other jobs.

There has also been assimilation - of families coming from various other locations of Kashmir to these new satellite colonies, giving birth to a new hybrid culture. The result has been a kind of cosmopolitanism which looks progressive as well as traditional. But this assimilation process and thinning out of Downtown Srinagar hasn’t been all that rosy.

Today, when we look at these new colonies, we realize they do not symbolize the culture and spirit of Downtown Srinagar. They do not symbolize the profound community bonds that immigrant families would share at their native places either. Every community is missing something – the warmth of social bonding of their native places.

The deep community bonds – cherished in Downtown Srinagar - are clearly missing in these cosmopolitan colonies. The social proximity, sharing and caring of yesteryears do not generally exist here. The people, who have migrated from other towns and villages to these colonies, find the Downtown lot little snobbish, and, sometimes, even arrogant. The Downtown people generally see the immigrants as introvert and little misfit.

But then there are instances where the assimilation has been perfect. People, irrespective of where they have come from, share warmth and their distinct ways of life. Cross-area and cross-ethnic marriages, for instances, make petty cultural divides disappear. Some share ideologies too, across all divides.

But there is another aspect of the life in these cosmopolitan colonies. Affluence and cosmopolitanism has rendered them mostly politically inert. Barring a few exceptions, the inhabitants of these colonies are hardly part of any political movement. They are generally indifferent to electoral politics. They do take interest in and discuss azadi politics, but mostly inside their homes. Politically, these colonies are as good as non existent.

Like problems with social assimilation, these colonies also struggle to find a shared political wavelength. Politics and roadside talks over politics are like a taboo here. People hardly share their political views. Mosques remain the only places of interaction and socializing. But they also reflect the newly-acquired differences in the schools of thought.

Social interaction in these new colonies is limited. If at all it exists, it is too formal. There are multiple political and ideological wavelengths. Activity outside homes is largely limited to jogging, to burn calories to loose weight – another spin off of the newly-acquired affluence and sedentary lifestyles. But there is nothing to match the nature of the roadside gossip of Downtown Srinagar or the countryside.

Coming back to the latest Marshall Plan to decongest downtown Srinagar, it is hard to say which way it is going to work. Will it silence the street or create a whole new world of possibilities? Difficult to say.

A similar plan was implemented in the 1960s by then chief minister G.M. Sadiq, which involved shifting hundreds of families out of the old city. That process also produced political and social spin offs which were largely unforeseen. The filling up of famous Nallah Maar canal, built by 14th century ruler Zainul Abidin, was an environmental disaster. But it had certain political consequences too. It created a ground of greater political mobilization across the city. It brought people more together socially. It created a political cohesiveness.

So, what is the latest plan going to do? Create a new world of possibilities? Or just alter the course of history? Time will tell.

"Northern Buddhism"

Iqbal looks at the rise and fall of Buddhism in the valley

(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.)

Northern Buddhism and the Mystery of Ancient Copper Plates

The Ancient copper plates carrying the fundamental details of Northern Buddhism are buried somewhere in Kashmir valley and, as the historians and numismatics argue, it remains a great historical mystery for the researchers to unveil the truth. Does the state know it? If yes than what the state has been doing to locate these copper plates. Perhaps very few people are aware of this mystery. The state’s tourism and Culture department may also not be fully aware about this as their discourse clearly suggests so.

Had the case been anything different, the concerned authorities should have undertaken necessary measures to locate these hidden plates to explore one more dimension to the valleys cultural tourism.

This is a fact that there is no Buddhist population, nowadays, in Kashmir valley while Ladakh province of this state remains dominated by them. While Buddhism is hardly practiced here in the valley, it had been the most dominant faith before the mass conversion to Islam. People of Kashmir are learnt to have been staunch followers of Buddhism prior to the conversion. The fact is further testified by the observations and revelations that were bring up during various excavations and researches leads to explore ancient Buddhist sites and artifacts in valley of Kashmir. Today no living Buddhist monument is found any where in the valley but remains of several Buddhist pavements and stupas have been discovered which where functional during their respective times.

Valley of Kashmir is learnt to have served as the cradle for ancient Buddhist knowledge. Although Buddhism was born in Budhgaya, the ancient Maghada (Bihar) but it was reshaped in the glorious valley during the period of imperial Kushans in 2nd century AD. The most significant event associated with Buddhism in Kashmir is the International Council Convention that was held here in the valley during the period of Kushan’s.

The council is said to have sat for six months and collected scattered sayings, theories and dictums of various doctors of the law. The council is believed to have, `composed 100,000 stanzas of Pupadesh Shastra explanatory of the canonical sutras; 100,000 stanzas, of Vinayas Vibhasa Sastras, explanatory of the Vinaya; and 100,000 stanzas of Abhidharma Vibhasas Sastra, explanatory of the Abhidharma. For this exposition of the Tripitaka all of learning from remote antiquity was thoroughly examined; the general sense and the terse language was again and again made clear and distinct and learning was widely diffused for the safe guiding of the disciples’.

The commentaries of the council are said were written in Sanskrit on copper plates, which were enclosed in stone boxes. These boxes were then deposited in a stupa specially built for the purpose. Where this stupa existed has become the mystery. Nobody till date has succeeded to locate the site. Although it was Huen Tsang,the Chinese Ambassador who was first to give birth to this mystery when he in his accounts made the mention of copper plates which are buried some where in kashmeri stupa. He could not give the exact location of the site and left it for the future scholars to identify it.

Tarrant an Indian historian has suggests Kundal Van’ as the place where the council was held. But where is that place that is still to be established. Different scholars have been identifying Kundalvan with few places of Kashmir bearing somehow a similar name. The names of the places suggested in the process are Kuntikleun (the area from Harwan to Gupkar in Srinagar) Kund in Kulgam and Kanelvan in Bijbehara. I suggest Kundalen in Shopian as the corrupt form of Kundalvan. Dr. Token Sumi a Japanese scholar believes those ethnological studies about the Yakshas in Kashmir may lead the archaeologists towards the right direction. Few scholars believe that numismatic studies may help the excavators to locate the actual area where the council has met.

Where these plates are hidden and how could be reached to them, is a big question. It would not only require the services of trained archaeologists but necessary funding as well. In absence of the relevant government agency, the state has never been so serious about this task. But now when the Department of culture has been setup, it is expected it would take some initiative to locate the hidden treasure of this land. If this treasure is found it would certainly be a turning point not only for Department of culture but for our international tourism as well.

Kashmir Brand Gets Recognition

There is good news for shawl makers

Kashmir's Famous Kani Shawl Gets GI Status

Jammu: Famous for its hand-woven designs, Kashmir's Kani Shawl has got the Geographical Indication (GI) status that would legally prohibit people from selling the drapes made at other places under the same name.

"In order to protect the Kani Shawl, Jammu and Kashmir government has been able to register it under Geographical Indications Act in order to provide it legal protection all over the world," Minister for Industries and Commerce Surjeet Singh Salathia told a news agency.

Kani Shawl weaving originated in Kanihama area of Kashmir Valley. A project worth Rs three crore is in the pipeline with Indian government for development of Kani Shawl, he said.

The state government has recently held various exhibitions for Kani Shawl in Delhi.
The state government also sanctioned a testing laboratory worth Rs 4.40 crores to check the genuineness of Pashmina Kani Shawl, he said.

(Kashmir Images)

Let the Good Times Roll

Who cares if the State is broke and totally reliant on the Central Government for most of its budget? Politicians know how to look after their own needs

State Spends Lavishly on CM, Ministers

Jammu: The state government which depends heavily on the Centre for funds has been spending lavishly on the renovation of government as well private houses of ministers/bureaucrats and bearing the hefty phone and travelling expenses of the state Council of Ministers.

A whopping Rs 7.29 crore was spent under these heads. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s telephone bills alone account for one-fourth of the nearly Rs-16 lakh expenditure of 25 ministers in year 2009. PDP member of the Legislative Council Murtaza Ahmad Khan had asked the government to furnish the expenditure on fuel, telephone and TA/DAs of ministers.

In the Assembly,another PDP MLA, Zulfikar Ali, had sought details of the expenditure on the renovation of government as well as private houses of ministers. The reply given by the General Administration Department (GAD) about fuel and phone bills included details of all ministers, but the reply furnished to Zulfikar Ali by the minister-incharge of the Estates Department, did not include the details of ministers or bureaucrats.

Of the total Rs 7.29 crore spent last year, Rs 5.79 cr was on the renovation of government as well as private houses of members of the Council of Ministers and Rs 1.5 crore on fuel, telephone and TA/DA of the ministers.

The expenditure does not include the fuel consumption of the Chief Minister. The reply states the security agencies bear the on the motorcade of the Chief Minister.

The expenditure means that if all ministers were on the move for 365 days in a year, then each of them was spending over Rs 800 daily on fuel only. The most surprising thing is that while the spending on fuel was Rs 73.28 lakh, the expenditure on TA/DA paid to ministers was Rs 61.41 lakh.

This means if ministers travelled all days of the year, the government paid them TA/DA of Rs 16,824 daily or about Rs 670 roughly to each minister per day. This is besides the salary and other emoluments of the ministers. While Chief Minister Omar Abdullah incurred the highest expenditure of Rs 6.51 lakh on TA/DA, the bill of his political adviser Devinder Singh Rana was zero.

The TA/DA bill of Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand was the second highest at Rs 6.02 lakh.

(Tribune India)

Hoping Against Hope

A 5,000 year old community celebrates with optimism even as it prepares for its final journey towards oblivion ... only 3,445 souls are left today

Pandits Celebrate Ram Navmi as Unity Day

Srinagar: Special prayers and ‘havans’ were held across the Valley today on the occasion of Ram Navmi,

the birthday of Lord Rama, which was celebrated as Hindu, Muslim and Sikh unity day. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Ram was born on this day on Chait Navami in Ayodhya (UP), owing to which the day is marked as Ram Navami. Special prayers including fasts and readings of Ramayana mark the day. Pandits, who did not migrate when the members of the community left the Valley in early 90s, celebrated Ram Navmi with religious fervour and gaiety throughout the Valley today.

Right from the early morning, hundreds of Hindu devotes gathered at the Ramji temple at Barbarshah for special prayers, where despite the happiness and gaiety of the festival, many Pandits wore a sombre and melancholic look.

“We pray to God for peace and joy for the whole world, especially in Jammu and Kashmir state,” said the organisers of the special ‘puja’ at Ramji temple.

“We suffered very much, lost our loved ones,” they said and expressed hope for peace, joy and return of happy days again.

This year, the Hindu Welfare Society Kashmir (HWSK) celebrated the day as Hindu, Muslim and Sikh unity day.

HWSK leaders said that organising special prayers was aimed at revival of thousands-years-old brotherhood, which was affected due to turmoil.

Describing the Kashmir as Valley of Saints, Reshis and Sufis, they prayed to God and took oath to work for restoration of good old days.

Lauding the role of majority community for helping to reopen the temples locked for the past two decades, again in the Valley, the HWSK leaders alleged that state and central governments had failed to announce any package for those Pandits who remained in the Valley.

“We have 500 educated unemployed youths in the community who do not have any source of income,” they said, adding that most of the Pandit families live in not-so-good conditions and must be rehabilitated.

HWSK leaders said the step-motherly treatment meted out to the Pandits living in the Valley was forcing them to migrate from here.

In the central Kashmir district of Budgam, Pandits organized a ‘havan’ at Sheikhpora where ‘puja’ was held for peace and prosperity in the Valley.

“We prayed for return of old days when people of all faiths joined each other in celebrating festivals,” the Pandits who participated in the prayers said, adding that they were greeted by their Muslim brethren on the occasion.

Similar prayer meetings were held at other temples of the Valley as well.

(Kashmir Images)

Life in a Fish Bowl

Amid official tepidity and absurdity of continuing violence, Kashmiris grab the nearest bottle ... or is it the case of too much leisure time and too little to do?

Valley all set to Drown in Liquor

Jammu: Brushing aside allegations of discrimination and disparity between various regions of the state, the Valley people have restored parity by increasing consumption of liquor by thirty percent during the current financial year.

If the trend continues unabated, Valley seems all set to drown itself in liquor. The Ladakhies may not like it but the Valley is fast leaving them behind as far as consumption of liquor is concerned.

According to data furnished by the finance minister, the consumption of liquor in the Valley has increased by 30 % during the current financial year. "Fifteen lakh and thirty three thousand bottles of liquor have been consumed in the Valley till date. Last year the Valley had consumed around eleven lakh bottles of elixir. This year the consumption has increased by four lakh bottles. On the contrary Ladakh sales have declined during the said period. Last year the Ladakhies consumed 23 lakh bottles. However, the sales went down this year considerably. They consumed 20.60 lakh bottles only. This means Ladakh has cut short its liquor consumption by 2. 40 lakh bottles", a spokesman of the ministry said.

The liquor consumption has gradually increased in the Valley over the past few years. The Valley consumed 11.44 in 2007-08 and 11.48 bottles in 2008-09 respectively. This year 15.33 bottles have been sold till date.

Pertinent to mention, the militants imposed total ban on sale, purchase and consumption of liquor in 1989 when the armed struggle commenced. Liquor shops across Kashmir were ransacked and destroyed. People found in possession of liquor or under its influence were punished in full public view.

Surprisingly there are a few government outlets in the city of Srinagar. No private liquor shop could be opened across Kashmir till date.
(Early Times)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

J&K Budget 2010-2011

Arjimand looks for the silver lining in the latest budget, followed by an analysis in the Kashmir Times on the dirty open secret called the Overdraft (OD) and how it has enriched the J&K Bank

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 34, is a columnist/writer and a development professional who matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering from Bangalore University and has a diploma in journalism as well. He is an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany and has worked with UNESCO, Oxfam and ActionAid International in some seven countries in Asia and Africa. Arjimand writes regular weekly columns for the Greater Kashmir and The Kashmir Times since 2000 on diverse issues of political economy, development, environment and social change and has over 450 published articles to his credit.)

Reflections on J&K’s Budget 2010-11

Contrary to anticipations, the state’s budget for 2010-11 has no surprises. It is a classical South Asian-style budget – which generally aim to consolidate rural vote banks, provide sops to specific constituencies and enhance hidden general taxes. The expected boldness and innovation from this budget are missing. It is a comfort budget in the short term for various interest groups, but it sans a reform and sustainability orientation – something that we need badly in the longer term.

There are surely some good ideas in this year’s budget, but the populist content far outweighs these. To say that this budget will transform the state’s economic landscape is little too exaggerating. There are valid reasons why it can’t do so.

Three administrative issues in the budget look promising: assigning the task of evaluation of 150 projects worth Rs. 744 crore to NABCONS and M/S Mckenzy, initiation of disinvestment of PSUs and Rs. 20 crore for creation of a power transformer bank.

For a larger picture, this budget has to be understood in the backdrop of the state’s Economic Survey for 2009-10. The survey, tabled on Friday at the time of the budget presentation in the Assembly, takes us to some of the state’s fundamentals, which we cannot afford to ignore for too long.

The increase in the Value Added Tax (VAT) by 1 per cent, service tax by 2 per cent to 10 per cent, along with the enhancement of the toll tax by Rs 10 per quintal, are likely to get us some more revenues. They are likely shoot up our inflation further too. But there was obviously no other choice. The question now is: is this sort of taxation good enough?

The target of generating additional revenue of Rs 3,858 crore, especially by collecting power tariffs, sounds little unrealistic. The problem is that power tariff campaigns in our state are too urban-centric. While they excessively focus on the pilferage part of it, they close their eyes to the system part of it – that is the obsolete transmission and distribution systems and the non-civilian pilferage. Our plans for power tariff realization must go beyond the cities of Srinagar and Jammu. Or else we will remain where we are now.

Finance Minister’s contention that toll tax and VAT exemption on agriculture-related appliances, fertilizers, and fodder etc. were meant to increase agriculture’s share from 25 percent to 47 percent in the 80s in the Gross State Domestic (GSDP) is absolutely misplaced. That is not going to happen in a foreseeable future. If at all that is going to happen, that will take our state backwards by several decades.

It is a fact that agriculture’s share in our GSDP has dipped to 25% from 47% during the 80s. But that is not a novelty; that is a global trend, even in the countries which have traditionally been agriculture-based economies.

A better way to fix growth targets for agriculture sector in J&K is to enhance targets for yield-per-hectare. In economic terms, in today’s world, it is wrong to set a target for enhanced percentage share of agriculture in GSDP.

Reduction of agriculture’s share in GDP fundamentally happens because greater education and development of knowledge component of economies tends to enhance services’ share. Same is the case with our state. The share of services, and also industry to some extent, is very likely to increase even further in J&K in the days to come. However, this increase in services’ share does not necessarily mean a negative growth in agriculture. This premise is wrong. In small-land economies like ours growth in a sector like agriculture has many constraints because of many reasons.

Another thing to acknowledge is that subsidies and tax cut on farm-related tools is fundamentally a populist measure in J&K’s context. Those who know the politics of the state’s farming sector know it very well that subsidies or tax cuts in this sector do not necessarily enhance its productivity. They target a segment which is basically a vote bank, and do not necessarily depend on agriculture for their livelihood. The ratio of government jobs to rural households is perhaps the highest in J&K in whole of India.

A tax cut and subsidies regime on farm-related products, like tractors, would not enhance our farm production massively. Those who know the state’s geography well and the nature of the land holdings know it too well that there is a limit to the use of tractors in our state.

Over the last few years, we have increasingly shifted from low-income agriculture, like paddy, to value-added and high-income cash crops. J&K’s case, as such, is different than the rest of India. Generally, barring a handful of rich states, India’s farming sector is about day-to-day survival. And economic and social policies are required to be designed as such. Our farming sector is mostly of an income supplementing nature, even though we have families which wholly depend on agriculture. We need to target these households with softer loans and other incentives which do not have government jobs and rely mainly on subsistence farming.

The budget statement also boasts of the ‘highest-ever’ award to the state by India’s Finance Commission. In actual terms, J&K’s share in the central taxes is only 1.55 per cent. What is, however, interesting is our state’s relative impoverishment in comparison to the rest of India. According to Economic Survey 2009-10 while our contribution to India’s overall wealth was 0.85 percent in 1999-2000, it has declined to 0.7 percent at present.

Likewise, while India’s income has grown at a rate of about 8.2 percent during last five years, our state income has grown at much lower rate of about 6 percent. We must factor in our population growth while understanding our economic growth. According to the Economic Survey 2009-10, our per-capita income (PCI) has grown at a rate of 4.13 percent during 10th Plan period. This slow growth in state income reflects in our per capita income (PCI) – which was Rs. 20604 in 2007-08, far below India’s national average of Rs. 27442.

Another key area which the Economic Survey calls for attention is the state’s fiscal deficit. It has increased from Rs.1665 crore in 2004-05 to Rs. 3386 crore in 2008-09, which is around 9.7 percent of our GSDP.

It is well known that a fiscal deficit of around 10 percent is unsustainable. Containing fiscal deficit, as the survey itself has noted, would require mobilisation of additional resources, by raising direct and indirect taxes, including on public services and compressing expenditure, particularly establishment related. But has this budget really attempted that?

J&K's Rising Liabilities a Hurdle

Jammu: Ever-rising liabilities of the J&K in the form of total outstanding debt, Over Drafts (ODs) and drawals from General Provident Fund (GPF) are a major threat vis-…-vis the recovery of state's shattered economy.

As per SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) Analysis of Economic Survey 2009-10, the total outstanding debt as a percentage of GSDP works out to around 48 percent as on March 31, 2009. However operating on GAIL (Gross Accumulated Internal Liabilities), it works out to around 62 percent of GSDP. This is a considerably high level of debt and the debt-GSDP ratio needs to be brought down to a level of 55 percent over the next five years or so.

However given the persistent upswing in the overall liabilities including the ODs despite having generous central grants in the past six-seven years, it seems a remote possibility.

The total outstanding debt of the J&K as on March 31, 2008 stood at Rs 16659.00 Cr. Apart from the stock of debt, the state government also resorted to an Over Draft (OD) of Rs 2299.53 Cr from J&K Bank as Ways And Means (WAM) facility to meet temporary mismatches in liquidity. Further drawals from GPF amount to Rs 4826.00 Cr. When this is also taken into account, the overall liabilities, net of overdraft, as on March 31, 2009 comes to Rs 21485.00 Cr

In fact, the comparative account of Over Draft (OD) position of the state during different regimes gives an interesting portrayal.

During National Conference (NC) regime headed by Dr Farooq Abdullah while the OD as percentage of Total Expenditure (TE) was 18.37 percent in the year 1997-98, it came down to 15.44 percent in his last year of governance in 2001-02 while fluctuating in between 18.13, 13.51, 13.93 from 1998-99 to 2000-01.

In the first year of Congress-PDP coalition government i.e., 2002-03, when Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was the Chief Minister, this percentage was 14.43. In 2005-06, OD as percentage of TE had reached to the level of 17.00 percent, although the flow of the central grants to the state was too generous as compared to Farooq's regime which was more a turbulent period.

In between i.e., in the year 2003-04 and 2004-05, this percentage was 14.60 percent and 15.82 percent respectively.

Interestingly during Azad's regime in 2007-08, the percentage came down to the level of 12.89 percent while in his first year of rule, this percentage was 16.24 percent.
In 2008-09, when Congress-NC government was at the helm of affairs, it showed yet again an upswing to the level of 13.43 percent despite further increase in central grants.

As far as debt position in the state is concerned, outstanding debt at the end of 2008-09 stood at Rs.24275 Cr, comprising Internal Debt of Rs. 13336 Cr, Loans and Advances from central government Rs 3135 Cr and other liabilities accounted for under Public Account Rs. 7804 Cr, which does not include the investment of Rs. 11 Cr made in Calamity Relief Fund - Investment Account out of Calamity Relief Funds.

The state also acts as a banker and trustee in respect of deposits like small savings collections, provident funds and deposits. There was an overall increase of Rs. 664 Cr (Rs. 675 Cr - Rs. 11 Cr) in respect of such liabilities of state government during 2008-09.

Liabilities of the state government thus increased by Rs. 2920 Cr from Rs. 21355 Cr in 2007-08 to Rs. 24275 Cr during 2008-09.

Public debt comprising internal debt of the state government and loans and advances from the central government increased by Rs. 2245 Cr from Rs. 14226 Cr in 2007-08 to Rs. 16471 Cr at the end of the current year.

Interest payments on debt and other liabilities totaling Rs. 1578 Cr constituted 13 percent of revenue expenditure of Rs. 12048 Cr. Interest payments on public debt were Rs. 1275 Cr (Internal debt Rs. 1079 Cr and loans and advances from central government Rs. 196 Cr) and Rs. 303 Cr on other liabilities. The expenditure on account of interest payments, however, decreased by Rs. 859 Cr during 2008-09.

Internal debt of Rs. 5578 Cr raised during 2008-09 was mainly used for discharge of debt obligations (Rs. 3352 Cr) and payments of interest (Rs. 1578 Cr).

Jammu and Kashmir government obtained temporary loans from Jammu and Kashmir Bank for its Ways And Means (WAM) requirements. The state government had temporary loans from the bank for 365 days during the year. The maximum temporary loan obtained was Rs. 2480.43 Cr on September 29, 2008. The total temporary loans raised during the year amounted to Rs. 2883.48 Cr. A balance of Rs. 2055.22 Cr was also outstanding on April 1, 2008. Government repaid Rs. 2648.45 Cr during the year leaving a balance of Rs. 2290.25 Cr (figures are under reconciliation) on March 31, 2009.

During the year 2008-09, Rs 217.65 Cr (Rs 195.00 Cr OD-I and Rs 22.65 OD-II) were paid as interest. (Kashmir Times)

Why Gender Discrimination?

Sadaf says that Kashmiri women will not settle for anything less than EQUAL status at par with men

(Dr. Sadaf Munshi was born and raised in Srinagar. She received most of early education in Kahsmir which include primary school in the Standard Public School (Hawal, Srinagar; 1990), secondary school in the Girl’s Higher Secondary School (Soura, Srinagar; 1992), and a Bachelor of Sciences in Biosciences from the Women’s College (Maulana Azad Road; 1996). She pursued a Master of Arts degree and a Master of Philosophy degree in Linguistics from the University of Delhi. She was awarded Shri R. N. Shrivastava Gold Medal (1999) and Shri Uggrasain Gold Medal (1999) from the University of Delhi, and a Junior Research Fellowship from the University Grants Commission of India. She moved to the United States in 2001 for a doctoral degree in Linguistics from the University of Texas at Austin which she completed in 2006. Currently she is working as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Technical Communication at the University of North Texas (USA). While in the US, Dr. Munshi received a number of fellowships and awards from various sources including: the University of Texas at Austin, the University of North Texas, the National Sceince Foundation and the National Endowment for Humanities (Documentation of Endangered Langauges Program). She has published her scholarly work in refereed journals of international repute. Her research focuses on Indo-Aryan languages (e.g. Hindi/Urdu, Kashmiri, and Romani or "Gypsy" language) and Burushaski. She works in the areas of historical and comparative linguistics, language contact, and language documentation. Besides linguistics, she likes traveling, reading, writing, and painting. She has worked as a columnist and regularly contributed articles to the daily newspapers in the Kashmir valley such as Kashmir Observer and Rising Kashmir. She has also written plays and telefilms for Doordarshan Kendra, Srinagar.)

Revisiting the PR Bill: Why Only Women?

Yes, it is the 21st century world where women are being considered, not as goods and commodities which could be bought and sold, but as real human-beings entitled to what we call “fundamental rights”, just like those of men. It is a time when globalization is leading the women of today into new roles around the world establishing greater equality to men, where the social role for women is changing from that of the traditional “mother” to that of the “provider” (in addition to being a mother). Unfortunately, we are still living in a society which is yet to comprehend, let alone acknowledge this changing reality. It is still a society where men tend to make decisions for women, despite the fact that social roles have considerably changed. It is a society where it is taken for granted that a woman, after marriage, will and must leave her home and hearth to settle in with her husband, and that she will belong to his family. An opposite scene where a man would join his wife is no less than a blasphemy and a matter of great humiliation; and the possibility for a woman to choose to live on her own is even out of question. In such a scenario, it is unthinkable and even unimaginable for us to admit that our woman is not only quite capable of, but, in fact, is entitled to the right to make decisions on her behalf.

In the year 2004, during the first week of March, a stream of extreme rage and dissatisfaction had passed all up my nerves so that I had to suspend all my day’s work after I read through the headlines of the various local dailies of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. This was about the passage of the J&K Permanent Resident (Disqualification) Bill 2004 (“PR Bill”) which deprives the women of the state from maintaining Resident status and from the right to own property should they marry a “non-state subject”. Same law, however, would not apply to men in a similar situation. Irrespective of the fact that the Bill was fundamentally flawed and absolutely unjust and discriminating towards one-half of the population of the state, it was unanimously passed. The then National Conference President, Omar Abdullah, himself born of and married to non-natives, had even taken a very strong stance by issuing a whip for ensuring a “smooth passage of the PR Bill 2004” warning that any violation would entail action in terms of Anti Defection Law against its Legislative Council members should they oppose the Bill. Shortly afterwards, however, the passage of the Bill had caused a great upheaval in and outside the state in various circles, and it had, at least temporarily, been shelved aside.

After six years, the Bill has resurfaced from the debris to haunt us a second time -- this time ironically on the International Women’s day, around exactly the same time of the year (moved by the PDP legistator Murtaza Ahmad Khan on March 8, 2010). Interestingly this time too, the Bill was allowed “unopposed”. What is even more interesting to note is that during the same session, the Minister for Social Welfare, Sakina Itto, has proposed a Bill on Domestic Violence for “empowering women”. Was that a bad joke?

The PDP’s stance may be a bait for the separatist mindset aimed to “safeguard Article 370” (or “special status” of the J & K), or a part of some new political gimmick to regain its lost face, but one must concede that such politicians can no longer make a fool of the womenfolk who are more informed, more confident, and more determined to fight for their rights. There is no rationale whatsoever behind the argument that women’s marrying non-state subjects causes an “imbalance in the state demographics” while the same action by men, committed on a much larger scale than women, does not. It does not take a genius to realize that the Bill is absolutely blind to our women’s basic and fundamental rights.

While many political parties supporting the Bill certainly have their motives, the important question that must be addressed by everyone today, irrespective of our political orientations or ideologies, is: Do the women of the state of Jammu & Kashmir deserve equal treatment as that of men? On the one hand is the question of their basic human and fundamental rights, their right to live with dignity and equal status as that of men in a country which boasts of being the largest democracy in the world, and on the other, is the issue of safeguarding article 370 of the “privileged” state. The answer is more than clear: If such a Bill must pass at any point, it must apply to everyone irrespective of their gender; under these circumstances, the first person to be disqualified from the Resident status must be our honorable Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, followed by everybody with similar qualifications. If that is not likely to happen any time, the Bill must be buried for good.

Male Hegemony

Balraj examines the the Bill that NC-PDP sneaked into the State assembly as a Private Member Bill bypassing the ruling coalition

(Mr. Balraj Puri, 80, was born in Jammu city and attended the Ranbir High School and the Prince of Wales College in Jammu. He is a journalist, human rights activist and a writer who has been an eye witness to the turbulent history of the State. He has written 5 books, including the historical "5000 years of Kashmir" in 1997. He is the Convenor of the J&K State branch of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and the Director of the Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, based in Jammu.)

Permanent Resident Bill of J&K is Anti-Women

On International Women's Day when Rajya Sabha passed a bill for reservation of 33% seats for women in Parliament and state legilatures, Jammu and Kashmir State assembly admitted a bill which would deprive women status of permanent resident of the State if they married an outsider. A similar bill was passed by the State assembly unanimously in March 2004, moved by amember of the National Conference, which was than in opposition. Now a PDP is doing it. The Congress, the BJP, the CPM and RSS supported Jammu State Morcha, re-tracked from their support to the bill in the upper house after their national leadership issued a directive to them. The then ruling PDP-coalition government dragged its feet and chairman of the legislature council adjourned the house since die. Moreover, the bill lacked support of 2/3rd members of the council which was needed to pass it as according to section 9 of the constitution of the State any bill relating to permanent resident of the State required 2/3rd majority to pass it.

The starting point in the argument in support of the proposed bill was the State subject law that Maharaja Hari Singh had promulgated vide Notification dated April 20, 1927 which provided certain safeguards and privileges for the permanent resident of the State.

But Maharaja’s law was not based on gender discrimination whereas the bill moved in 2004 and the present bill disqualify only women of the permanent resident status if they married outsiders and allow men to retain their status if they married outsiders.

A further disqualification has been added in the present bill to the 2004 bill which disqualifies a woman who had acquired permanent resident status by marrying a permanent resident after divorce. Also after the death of her husband, in case she settled outside the State.

Neither the earlier bill nor the present bill has any sanction in the in legal and constitutional history of the State. Nor has it any thing to do with Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which grants a special status to the State. If at all, it weakens moral basis of the Article by linking it with a gender biased bill. It would give a handle to the opponent of the Article 370 who would argue that it should be abrogated because it can be used to deny equality to women.

Even the Permanent Resident Act, 1957 and rules thereunder provide no legitimacy to the present bill or that of 2004. For the rule 8 of the Jammu and Kashmir Grant of Permanent Resident Certificate does not provide for cancellation not to speak of disqualifying only women on any ground.

When daughter of a senior bureaucrat of the State, S A Qadri, married Mehmood-ul-Rehman an IAS officer from outside the State in 1973, her permanent resident status and her right to inherit property of her father was declared valid by the Revenue Minister on the ground that “the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir or any law does not provide for deprivation of a permanent resident status of his or her status.

Curiously the supporter of the bill argue that loss of permanent resident status to the women of the State who marry outsiders was compensated by the gain of outside women who marry a citizens of the State. In both cases, women have no identity of their own and their status is determined by that of their husband.

In 1956 UN General Assembly passed a Convention on the Nationality of Married Women which ensured that a woman's nationality would not be affected by "either marriage or its dissolution or the change of nationality of her husband." After this, independent identity of a woman became a part of international law. This principle remains valid with or without Article 370; whether the state becomes just like any other state of India, becomes more autonomous or even acquires a sovereign status.

If the fear is, that outsiders, by marrying girls of the state, get property rights in the name of their wives and acquire an undue influence in the life of the state, it is more applicable to Kashmir valley than in Jammu. And there is greater need for applying disincentives to men who marry outside than women who do so. For as, Mehbooba Mufti, the President of the PDP had argued a statement to the press, "there are more reasons now that the law (which seeks to disqualify a women of her status as permanent resident of the state) should also be applied to men because, a) within last 15 years many young men have died (due to militancy related incidents); b) due to turmoil in the state so many boys have gone out for their higher studies who tend to marry their class or college mates; c) there has been an influx of Bengali, Bihari and other women in the state, who marry Kashmiri boys belonging to poor classes." Thus according to Mehbooba, women of Kashmir are deprived of much choice. This ratio will become very disturbing unless and until people give a thought to put restrictions on boys marrying outside the state, she adds. Otherwise, she warns "the girls may have to settle down as second wife". (Kashmir Times, 20 March 2004)

But PR (Disqualification) Bill which is applicable to women alone and does not take into account the fears she expressed above. Perhaps it could be a good compromise between opponents (at least liberals among them) and supporters of the bill which is tending to polarize the State on regional/communal lines, if it is made equally applicable to men and women. Whatever be its other implications, it would not violate the fundamental rights of the constitution and would not bring Article 370 into needless controversy.

The opponents of the bill are doing a great harm to their cause by describing it as anti-Jammu or anti-national. It is just anti-women. Neither anti-Kashmir nor anti-Jammu.