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

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.

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