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 13, 2010

Saving Srinagar

Efforts are underway to spruce up the ancient city - as examples Nishat, Lal Chowk and Dal are under the scanner

At last Nishat Bagh attracts some official attention

Srinagar: Authorities are restoring medieval Mughal buildings inside the Srinagar’s Nishat Bagh in a bid to boost tourism in the state.

Officials said that they are trying to restore the buildings inside the famous Nishat Bagh, which is the second largest garden in the Kashmir Valley built by the Mughal emperors, in the traditional manner in which they were originally built hundreds of years ago.

The authorities also exhibited their concern over the sharp dip in tourism in the state and said that the restoration of monuments would definitely lead to an increase in the number of tourists visiting the place.

"The organization took the decision that in order to boost tourism in the state, the historical structures in the city and in the adjoining areas need to be restored and preserved in their original traditional form. In this, the Tourism department supported the decisions and provided sufficient funds to renovate and restore the structures," said G S Naqash, Director Floriculture.

The buildings being renovated are surrounded by beautiful gardens, and attractive lighting and fountains would be added to the pre-existing layout.

"We feel lucky to see such renovations and this unique work in progress. To see the restoration work in progress is a one-of-a-kind experience. The gardens and scenery are very beautiful and we are enjoying ourselves as we see the fine Mughal structures," said Ritu Jain, a tourist from New Delhi.

Red square model for Lal Chowk, redesigning of historic ‘GhantaGhar’ on anvil

Srinagar: Located in the heart of Srinagar city, Lal Chowk which is and has always been nerve centre of political and business activities is being renovated to restore its historic grandeur.

While the work of digging for drainages has commenced, other developmental works are soon to start in the area. An amount of Rs two crores has been allotted by the government for the project. The project includes fixing of light, benching, repairing of foot paths, maintenance of proper drainage, renovation of parking slots, besides the face-lifting of the buildings and shops of Lal Chowk.

Minister of state for urban development Nasir Sogami said that they have begun with digging for drainage to overcome problem of water logging in the area. Water logging is a serious problem in Lal Chowk. Other works will also commence within few days.”

Replacement of existing cables with latest ones is also to be done in the area for which the BSNL authorities have consented. The heritage buildings, which form the charm of the area, will be given a face lifting within the legal boundaries. This would include painting of all the buildings in and around Lal Chowk in a uniform scheme. Even the fonts of shop hoardings and banners would be the same.

Additionally, to overcome the parking problems and to cater to the rush of vehicles in Lal Chowk, the parking slots of Sheikh Bagh and matador stand of Lal Chowk would be renovated and thrown open. Major development would be the redesigning of the historic Ganta Ghar (Clock Tower), which has been lying lifeless since years.

Besides renovating the outside casing of tower clock, the ticking of the Ganta Ghar would also be heard soon. Setting up of coffees shops are included in the scheme of things. “We want Lal Chowk to look the way it should. It is the heart of the city with historical importance and famous world wide. We want it to be a major attraction in the city. It should look like Red Square,” added Nasir Sogami.

The shopkeepers of the area have welcomed the project heartedly who see it as a much needed initiative for the area. “It is a really good step. We all know the importance of Lal Chowk. It is a place inhibited not only by people of state but world over. It has to look the best and we are hopeful after beatification Lal Chowk would be the major attraction,” expects Riyaz Ahmad, a shopkeeper of Lal Chowk.

Another shopkeeper Bilal Ahmad added, “Lal Chowk has become an unruly crowded place with no freshness in it despite being the heart of the city. We see that historic building and shops here are in bad shape. But with the beautification plan we are hopeful of seeing Lal Chowk as never before.”

Lal Chowk holds political and historic importance in the history of Kashmir. It has not only seen the major political developments of the valley but has a bearing on cultural and societal development of Kashmir. Looking back to 1920s, it was through Lal Chowk that people from different parts of the country visited Kashmir.

Before 1947, the main road connecting Kashmir to Punjab was through Rawalpindi. This facilitated the movement of people from Lahore and Rawalpindi to Kashmir. People from Central Asia would also make their way to Kashmir through Lal Chowk. The few nationally plying bus service of the valley during 1920s were located only in Lal Chowk making it a hub of visitors.

The easy availability of hotels, guest houses and restaurants at Lal Chowk added another positive point to its development. Freshly arrived tourists found it feasible to settle in and around Lal Chowk due to the availability of comfortable lodging. The inflow of people from Lal Chowk facilitated the interaction of people from across the world with the people of Kashmir resulting in cultural intermix and societal changes.

Major development in the history of Lal Chowk is said to have taken place from 1929, when communist theorists from Rawalpindi and Lahore started paying visits to Kashmir. “Communists, Qamar Muhammad Ashraf, Pandit Narangnath and many others started coming to Kashmir. Like others visitors, they too preferred their stay at Lal Chowk,” added historian Fida Hussain.

G.M Sadiq became a prominent companion to these visitors. They all began to meet regularly and formed group. It was this group of G.M Sadiq who wished to name Lal Chowk as ‘Red Square’ after the name of Moscow’s town. The group of G.M Sadiq’s group began campaigning for the new name and soon it became ‘Lal Chowk’ forever.

In course of time these communists came in contact with the people and leaders of Kashmir, thus affecting the political scenario of the valley. The location of court and Maharaja’s palace, on one hand, and office of British presidency on the other, facilitated the interaction between visitors and elite class of Kashmir.

Lal Chowk became the nucleus of all political activities. Protests and demonstration organized by any political party or group from time to time were staged here. Any prominent national or international figure like Jawahar Lal Nehru, who visited Kashmir, addressed the general public at Lal Chowk.

Since 1990, when the situation changed in the valley, Lal Chowk remained the centre of political issues. Whenever any issue had to be brought into focus, people would hold demonstration at Lal Chowk which still happens to be a trend. Large number of grenade attacks and firing incidents also occurred in the area.

On January 26, 1992 the then BJP president Murli Manhor Joshi hoisted the tri clour at Lal Chowk making the culmination of his party’s highly publicized “Ekta Yatra.’ Despite witnessing large number of militancy related incidents and other political developments, Lal Chowk continues to maintain its elitist charm. Today it has grown into a major business place, equally standing with other leading markets of the country. (Kashmir Times)

Saving Dal

Two state-of-the-art drudging machines were commissioned by the Chief Minister Saturday which would be deployed for cleaning the dying Dal lake. If the authorities are believed, the machines costing eight crore rupees have the capacity to crawl on dry land mass, shallow water areas and cruise in deep waters. So for, none of the machines, that were used to clean the lake, had been able to function there as they could work only in deep waters.

The new machine “Water Master Classic 3” is a multi-purpose dredger and the experts are on the opinion that it would be successful in cleaning Dal and restoring it to its past glory. Every conscientious citizen should welcome government’s effort and pray that this time the new machines are able to do the needful. The lake is the very part of Kashmir’s heritage and hearts bleed when it is seen shrinking and turning into a cesspool. It is one of the most polluted water bodies of Kashmir Valley and till date, in the name of cleaning it and clearing it of all fatal pollutants, billions of rupees have been spent. People are genuine when they raise questions that where all the money has gone. Fact of the matter is that Dal has become a lucrative business. There is money, huge money and while this money fails to stop Dal from further shrinking, it has helped the bank accounts of the concerned authorities to expand.

Be the concerned authorities, non governmental organization or any other environmental group, all have tried to cash in on Dal lake. Despite spending huge amounts of money, no serious effort has ever been made to save this lake as the government is yet to come up with treatment plants. The waste and garbage from surroundings continue to land in the lake and treatment plant for the same is yet to to come up. It is good that finally the state government has decided to get some what serious about the lake and purchase of Finnish machines is an indication of government’s seriousness but the question is that why not to make those people accountable who bought earlier machines that couldn’t be helpful in cleaning the lake.

Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah has been showing keen interest in Dal preservation. His efforts need not to be appreciated but at the same time it is his responsibility as the head of the state that he tries to find out that what has went wrong with earlier save Dal projects. Unless those wrongs are identified, one can’t expect much progress in fresh initiative. Dal is to be saved to save Kashmir and also attention is to be given to other water bodies. Dal remains in focus all the time but little is reported or talked about other water bodies. Chief Minister needs to take personal interest in all the water bodies and ensure that efforts are made to save these too.

(Editorial in Kashmir Images)

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