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.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Hartal Culture, Hartal Misery

Firdaus points his finger at one segment of the "pampered society," forgetting that it was separatists who initially unleashed the hartal virus that has infected everybody in Kashmir

(Mr. Firdous Syed, 44, was born in Bhaderwah, Doda, and had his schooling in Jammu. He is currently the Chairman of the "Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Development Studies," and associated with the J&K National Conference. Between 1989 and 1991, he led the Moslem Janbaaz Force, a militant group, and was jailed from 1991 through 1994. In 1996, he publicly renounced the gun culture, and is an active member of the Kashmir civil society.)

Strike Unjust

Four lakh plus, much pampered state government employees are again on agitational path. Employees demanding, sixth pay commission arrears, enhancement of retirement age from 58 to 60 and release of HRA, last week called for a five-day strike. Strike caused much inconvenience to the general public, particularly to sick and student community. Government employees are a demanding people; they are ever discontented with their work conditions. Only last year government conceded main demand; implementation of sixth pay commission. Again, employees are agitating for the reimbursement of arrears and enhancement of retirement age. Indeed, ever rising food prices have immensely burdened the common masses leading to many economic hardships. However if a comparison has to be drawn between salaried class (fixed income group) and small time traders, peasants and laborers, without any doubt government employees are economically better placed.

Rising inflation has broken the backbone of the masses. People with no fixed income are facing the brunt of sky-rocketing prices; food inflation is touching twenty percent mark. Moreover rising unemployment rate and declining incomes owing to recession and low Farm productivity has made life hell for the unsalaried class. The government employees are also facing some difficulties; they have the comfort of a fixed income at the end of each month. Hike in the salaries after implementation of sixth pay commission was substantial; moreover from time to time government also announces Dearness allowance for its employees. In the given situation, one could have expected the employees to be circumspect and not add to the miseries of the people by resorting to strikes at the drop of the hat.

Arm-twisting tactics of the government employees are highly unpopular with the general public. People wonder, why Government has failed to deal sternly with this ungrateful lot. Government employees are very conscious about their rights, they seem to be unaware of their responsibilities? To protect rights, trade union activity is fine; unionism has become an excuse to no work. Union leaders here are a privileged people; idle people have promoted a parasite mentality among the work force. In virtually a defunct work-culture, fourth class employee leaders have become millionaires’ overnight? Unionism here is short-cut to prosperity?

Without discussing the lifestyle of union leaders, who otherwise are much starved of publicity, a rational approach needs to be adopted towards the present set of demands. These look to be totally unjustified? In a chronic resource deficit state like ours, 4100 crores of arrears, is a big economic burden. It is very difficult for a state with meager recourses at its disposal and a begging bowl in its hands, to generate such a huge amount of money. And even if government has promised to reimburse the arrears in installments, what beef one can have, it is an issue solely between government and its employees. However the demand about enhancement of retirement age, one cannot help but to use a strong word. It is completely nonsensical. In a landlocked, poorly industrialized state, where vast number of educated unemployed youth has become overage, raising the retirement age makes no sense. It will further choke the scarce employment avenues. Agreed, some other states have raised the retirement age. In those states educated youth have many employment avenues available; there government is not the only source of employment. Enhancement of retirement age is a shortcut; in the long run it will not serve any purpose. And why government is keen to reward a bad behavior? It is a spineless government prostrating before a rowdy crowd? Had there been an upright government in office, employees would have never gathered courage to blackmail it?

Five day government employees strike after a long winter vacation, outraged parents of school going children. Initially, the schools were to open on March first. School education department to appease Darbar move employees, arbitrarily extended for a week the vacations; weather conditions in the valley were near normal. It is ridiculous, out of 365 days, schools here do not function even for 150 days, and mandatory limit is 180 days. In the academic year of 2008-2009 schools in valley approximately functioned only for 140 days. This year also situation is not any better. As highlighted in GK by a teacher: Half of the academic session is nearing completion, but one-eighth of the prescribed syllabus is still incomplete. Is it possible that in less than half of the academic calendar left, students will be able to cover the entire syllabus? If it is not a cruel joke with the education system, what it is? This is not it; there are fewer working days, irresponsible and selfish behavior of teachers further plays truant with the education of the students. Dismal performance of the government teachers is obvious; it is not a rocket science difficult to comprehend.

In comparison to the teachers of private schools, government employed teachers are highly paid. Yet the performance of the private schools invariably is much better than the government run schools in the Board examinations. Do not we get to hear about zero per cent results in some government run schools? Dose it behoove well for the teachers to indulge in unionism, whence the education standard in government school has almost nosedived. It is an irony that teachers have become union leaders spearheading agitations. Teachers are frequently on strike, only Poor’s children suffer endlessly due to closer of the school. Shamelessly, government teacher’s children continue to attend private schools. Why only union leaders, all most all the wards of government school teachers study in private schools. Is it not hypocrisy, they do not trust the education standards in schools where they teach? What right they have to agitate for pay hike and other privileges. In far-flung areas teacher are usually absent, in cities teachers outnumber the students.

As trend has been observed for several years now, performance of students belonging to government schools appearing in Boards exams is continuously declining. While as “the overall pass percentage of the Secondary School Examination session (2008-09 Jammu) recorded a pass percentage of 55 percent but, as a matter of fact the pass percentage from the side of Govt schools was below below 39 per cent in Matric.” The situation for Kashmir zone seems to be far worse. What meets the eye is not the real story, rot runs much deeper. According to some experts; all the students enrolled in class 9 in a government school if allowed to sit in class 10th Board exam as regular candidates, the pass percentage will not even exceed 25%”. Government school teacher ingeniously systematically weed-out students weak in studies, they are forced to appear as private candidates. Even then pass parentage of government schools remain well below the fifty percent. Government school education system is going bad to worse. Is it not high time to think about some drastic measure?

Under community participation scheme, Parent Teacher Association (PTA) was thought to be step forward. But this idea has also failed to show the desired results. Teachers and the bureaucracy employed all their skills to kill the idea. Time has come for some revolutionary steps to be taken; otherwise government education system will continue to produce half-baked and half-literates. Government is already spending huge amount on education sector, it is right time to make community the real stake holder. Let government be only in a regulatory, supervisory role. School Board must continue to conduct exams. Management of the schools and other administrative affairs should be left to the local people. For three year as a pilot scheme, fifty villages should be selected, wherein complete management, from selection of teachers, management and construction of schools should be left to the community. If the results are satisfactory the scheme should be implemented in phased manner in the entire state. The other idea is to completely privatize the school education? In the backdrop of private schools despite poor infrastructure doing well, the idea of privatization makes sense.

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