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, April 11, 2010

Whether RTI or Women's Bill - J&K State Assembly is a Slow Learner

Rekha sees a linkage between the demand for greater autonomy and a general lag in the State Assembly to adopt pro-people legislations

(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.)

Article 370 and Legislations

Two major developments have taken place in India during the last few days. First, the Women’s Reservation Bill, allowing for reservation of one-third seats of Lok Sabha for women has been introduced in the Parliament’s Upper House. Second, the 86th Constitutional Amendment has come into force which makes the Right to Education a Fundamental Right. Both the legislations have been termed as historic having far reaching implications for the people of India. However, since these legislations do not cover the state of J&K, bills of similar nature will have to be introduced in the State Legislature. The Government of the state has showed its willingness to introduce both the Bills, so one can hope that the citizens of this state would not be deprived of the benefits accruing from these legislations.

However, the record of the state shows that it generally lags behind other states of India in adopting the pro-people legislations. We are much behind other states in adopting the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in the spirit in which these have been adopted in other states. These PRIs have been hailed as the basis of a silent revolution elsewhere as these have brought millions of women to the centre of the political space. With one-third of the Panches and Sarpanches being women, the political discourse of many places has been changed with decisions and policies at the local level becoming more people and gender-sensitive. While women elsewhere have the experience of being elected to the panchayat for more than ten years now, the women of this state are still awaiting their first opportunity to be elected to the Panchayats, since the principle of one-third reservation is still to be applied to this state. The PRIs in the state suffer from many other structural flaws including the proper decentralised democratic governance at the three levels of village, blocks and district levels and the real empowerment of these institutions with effective powers and financial resources. Not only in terms of the Panchayati Raj institutions, we are also lagging behind other states in Right to Information movement and Institutions. It took us a long time to bring our Right to Information Act at par with the Central Legislation. Enacted in the original form, it was quite ineffective and had to be amended later. Though it has now been put in proper form, yet it still has to make an impact. The empowering potential of the RTI that we see elsewhere has still to be found in this state.

If we place issue of pro-people institutions and legislations in the state in a proper perspective, we will find that initially there existed a very strong linkage between the politics of the state and people-oriented demands. Right since 1930s and 1940s, the politics reflected the demands of the peasantry, artisans and the working class. The New Kashmir Manifesto, which became the blueprint of the movement led by the National Conference under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah, had a forward looking agenda not only for peasants and artisans but also for women. It contained three charters – the Peasants’ Charter, the Workers’ Charter and the Women’s Charter.

It was in the spirit of the strong pro-people politics and a concrete socio-economic agenda that the objective of Article 370 was defined. In addition to maintaining the political identity of the state, it was also to protect the pro-people legislations from encroachment of the vested interests. This was specifically in the case of land reform legislations which in the state of J&K were quite radical and progressive in nature. Unlike in rest of Indian states where the landed nobility was given compensation for the land expropriated from them and distributed among the landless masses, in case of this state, no provision of compensation was provided. It was mainly because of Article 370 that State could pass the land reform legislations in the way it suited the best interests of the peasantry. The compensation clause as given in the Constitution of India was not applied to the state at that time.

There was, therefore, a linkage between the Article 370 and people oriented policies and politics. The state had a forward looking ideology and hence its leadership wanted to use this Article for enacting pro-people policies. The constitution of the state that was drafted in pursuance of Article 370 was also having a pro-people orientation. So progressive was the approach of the political class at that time that it did not want the extension of the Part IV of the Indian Constitution containing the Directive Principles mainly on the ground that it found them as very limited (as compared to the vision contained in the New Kashmir Manifesto). It was therefore decided that the state will have its own list of Directive Principles. The state was also hesitant about the extension of the Fundamental Rights as incorporated in the Indian constitution. The progressive streak of the state, where it placed itself in a superior ideological position was also reflected in its post-1947 laws and policies. Apart from the land reform legislations which empowered the landless peasantry as well as the legislations related to debt-relief, this was one of the exceptional states which provided free education to all till the level of post-graduation.

Somewhere along the line, the linkage of Article 370 with the progressive, pro-people public policies has been changed and it is used to stall the pro-people institutions and policies. There would have be no issue if the state was still having a progressive political base. As we can see, the state has lost the capacity to mould the public policy on the basis of mass-based politics. The imagination and vision that is required to give it a progressive direction is absolutely missing. The lead that this state had in welfare a policy therefore is no more to be seen. Rather it is lagging behind other states when it comes to anything that is people-oriented.

In the absence of the socio-economic orientation of politics, it is the marginal sections of society who are facing the maximum brunt. With the local political discourse becoming almost devoid of the pro-people content and the political class finding it convenient to defer the extension and implementation of some of the most democratic institutions operating in other states, the state is facing a lagging behind other states in many ways. It is ironical that this state which had the vision of politically empowering women as early as 1940s is still dither towards the reservation for them in Panchayats, and the state which had introduced the idea of free education for all, is being counted among the states having lowest literacy levels.

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