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.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Genius of Radio Kashmir Srinagar is in Peril

Farooq has some advice for those at the helm of an cultural icon that not only promoted talent among budding Kashmiri youth but also played a significant role in fabricating literary and cultural milieu of the valley

(Dr Farooq Fayaz, 56, was born in Sathu Barbar Shah Srinagar. He did his post-graduation in History and Kashmiri Literature from Kashmir University in 1976 and 1978 respectively. Making brief stints in School education department and All India Radio, Dr. Farooq finally joined Kashmir University in 1992, where he was awarded his M.phill and Ph.D degrees. Currently Dr. Farooq is working as Senior Associate Professor in the post-graduation department of History in the same University. Farooq Fayaz has authored seven books in English ad Kashmiri of which his recent publication entitled Kashmir Folklore---- A study in historical perspective won for him the best Book Award for the year 2009-2010 by the State Cultural Acadamy. Dr. Farooq is a regular contributor to Print and Electronic media and writes on wide variety of themes pertaining to Kashmir History, Literature, Folklore, Contemporary politics and Kashmiri Culture. Dr. Farooq Fayaz has attented several national and international seminars on oral history which is his area of specialization. He is recognized as a specialist across the country on Kashmiri Folklore.)

Radio Kashmir Srinagar: Past and Present

The history of broadcasting culture in Kashmir dates back to 40’s of the last century, when in 1948 Radio Kashmir was established during the period of great historical crisis. The organisation though established a year later from the commissioning of Radio Kashmir Jammu but within a short period the organisation won immeasurable applause and appreciation for its in-depth production and broadcasting mettle.

Though, initially, established with a predominant objective to counter the crafted propaganda of Radio Pakistan during the war time emergency, the organisation soon excelled in different broadcasting domains and succeeded in emerging as one of the leading broadcasting houses of the country. The organisation has at its credit scores of national level awards and trophies won at different intervals for best productions. True to the rich literary and cultural traditions of the valley, Radio Kashmir Srinagar through it’s variegated programmes not only promoted talent among budding Kashmiri youth, it also played a significant role in fabricating the contemporary literary cum cultural milieu of the valley. In the absence of journalistic endeavour in vernacular print, the news unit of the organization fulfilled the gap and discharged the societal role by disseminating information to the people about the day today happenings .To rectify the social wrongs and cultivate among masses the true spirit of civility and citizenship the most popular family serial of Radio Kashmir Srinagar “Zoona Dab”, served as a desired household product for years together.

But it is painful to document that the organisation which once served as the mirror of societal and intellectual decency has for some time now become an object of acute criticism. The truth stands that the criticism is not being levelled for bad quality productions but the internal bickering and crisis through which the organisation is going for the last three months. The present Director has a distinction of having worked with the legendry broadcasting giants and by close association with them, he has attained exemplary proficiency in discipline. Immediately, after assuming new office, Bashir Arif attempted to give new colour to programme and production format. With the introduction of new programmes, there started renewed interest among wide circle of radio listeners towards the radio programmes. In his endeavour to bring the past glory of radio back, the entire team of programme officers and other supporting staff provided him their full support. Sure, he has accumulated enough technical experience with reference to variegated shades of broadcasting craft but these things hold little ground in discharging the administrative management.

Radical changes have been brought in the programme format; in the recent past, it seems clear that Bashir Arif intends to broaden the range of Radio listeners by introducing or recasting programmes which aim to address the likening of various shades of radio listeners. In his attempt to bring radio back to its past glory, he has received active co-operation of his programme staff. The question may be asked as why there erupted a void between the present Director and the rest of the Programme staff? The truth stands that both the parties misconceive each other’s frame of behavioural application. Any move initiated by the Director to set the organisation in tune with administrative decency and codal dictates should not be taken by subordinate staff as an attempt to discredit their talent and professionalism. In the same spirit, the official capacity of the Director doesn’t empower him to doubt the every intention of his staff as irrational and illogical.

The Radio is a unique organisation which demands for a team coherence to see a programme go on air to the best satisfaction of the listeners. The Director in complete isolation may not be in a position to achieve this societal goal. If he fails to carry his team along with him, he can’t expect positive result of achieving excellence in latest cannons of broadcasting culture. Therefore in the wider interest of the organisation, it is imperative for the Director as well as his Programme officers to develop a congenial climate; wherein trust, dignity and professionalism outclass personal like and dislikes and the egoistic dispositions.

Death of Sanity

Muneeb speaks for Kashmir youth driven between the "devil and the deep sea"

(Mr. Muneeb Raja, 32, was born in Srinagar in a business family. He did his schooling from Burn Hall and Tyndale Biscoe. He completed his graduation from Melbourne, Australia, and recently completed an online certificate course on Conflict Analaysis and Management from the USIP. He has worked as a journalist in New Delhi, and now heads a research organization in social sector in the valley. Mr. Raja occasionally writes for the Rising Kashmir.)

Death of Democracy

The most disastrous year of this decade in the form of human suffering and tragedy has been 2010 for Kashmiris. On one hand New Delhi has been claiming for a crown on various economic and world forums and on the other hand the so-called crown of this growing country has been trampled under the boots of its own people.

The country which is proud of its diversity and its democracy has shamelessly and mercilessly crushed its own proud by not only being ruthless but also highly arrogant towards people of a state who have been raising voices against the daily inhuman act committed on them.

With more and more young people dying on the streets and the old fragile shoulders burdened with the task of burying not only the hope of a budding generation but as well as a nation, the onus is really on New Delhi to bring an end to the current cycle of violence and to deliver on the promises made for a political solution to this war-torn state where for now peace is not only elusive but seems a distant dream.

No doubt the assembly elections in Kashmir saw a sizeable amount of voting and a democratic government emerged under the leadership of Omar Abdullah who had promised an overall development with the slogan of Bijli, Sadak and Paani, the Aam Aadmi had really pinned hopes on his government for leading the conflict-ridden, emotionally and financially crumpling state to some sort of dignity and pride. However, the events that followed plunged the entire state into an ocean of crises and chaos. The dirty dance of death began just a day after Omar Abdullah became the CM, a deaf and dumb man was shot dead just a few yards away from his residence. Shortly after, the Bomai killings happened when army shot dead three innocent youth. Though the timely intervention by the CM did bring some solace to the people but when the Shopian incident took place where two young women were allegedly raped and murdered, the entire valley erupted in a fireball of protests and just when it seemed that the fire has been doused, Machil fake encounter in which three innocent civilians were murdered in cold blood followed by the killing of a young school-going kid Tufail Mattoo fuelled it to an extent where it reached disastrous heights and the dissent among people that grew was never seen before. Over four months, more than 100 young boys, men and even women lost their lives while thousands were left injured in an unabated cycle of violence which just doesn’t seem to end. With the protests growing against killing of unarmed protesters everyday, the state’s iron fist policy is raising many questions about the legitimacy of democratic rights of Kashmiri people.

Protesting against injustice is a fundamental right of any citizen in a democratic country and India being a democratic country where number of times stone pelting was witnessed in many parts of the country including its capital and other metropolitan cities, even when the national mainstream parties had called for protests, their workers had vandalized government and public property, the protesters never met with a bullet in response to their activities. However, in Kashmir the stone pelting protestors’ voice crying for a life of dignity and self respect has been silenced by the bullets. With no end in corruption, favoritism and political alienation on one end and brutal violations of human rights on the other the young Kashmiri population see themselves increasingly being pushed towards a wall of despair with no space of hope from any corner.

In circumstances where the definition of humanity has virtually lost its meaning and the democratic political leadership has turned itself into a dictatorship by silencing the voices and the cries of genuine grievances, people of the valley have been left with no other choice but to fight for their existence - Right to Live. Something that has been taken away from them. So it won’t be an overstatement to make that the killers of democracy and the diggers of its grave are its very own saviors - the politicians. The complete failure of a political system on reaching out to people in these crucial circumstances has once again highlighted the lax on the part of mainstream policies and the seriousness in addressing the grievances of the Aam Admi who is suffering endlessly.

The visit of All Party Delegation and the subsequent announcement of the eight-point formula to cool down tempers and bring an end to violence did trigger a debate among many about the seriousness of New Delhi in initiating a peace process and addressing the conflict. The most crucial among eight-points offered was the appointment of interlocutors with strong political background who could build political consensus among Indian Politicians to bring an amicable political solution to the Kashmir conflict. But New Delhi’s choice of appointing academicians and journalists has turned out to be the biggest disappointment. A political solution needs political acumen and a political will to resolve an issue which is of a very sensitive political nature with broader contours of interstate conflict attached to it. At a time when majority of Kashmiri’s want a long lasting peaceful solution to this never-ending conflict and the initial interest from New Delhi to meet them half way has again been dealt with a major blow. New Delhi backtracking on political interlocutors is a serious blow to an intra-state peace process. At a time when New Delhi could have addressed the trust deficit and endorsed its seriousness in seeking a lasting solution which would have restored faith in the masses by political intervention and sustained political dialogue, on the contrary the appointment of non political interlocutors has raised serious concerns about their callous approach and non seriousness in dousing the flames once and for all. Whether the interlocutors can achieve the goal which none of the similar ones in the past have been able to achieve is a question that will be answered in the coming time but much depends on the political will of New Delhi to seek a win-win solution that will also determine the overall peace of South Asia.

Dachigam's Ecological Holocaust

Adil describes lofty expectations and sad reality surrounding the Dachigam National Park. Iqbal shares his sadness by noting how Kashmir's premier national park has degenerated into an ordinary municipal park. Original commentary by Adil, followed by a comment from Iqbal

(Mr. Adil Bhat, 32, was born in Srinagar. He completed his school education from the Sri Pratap Higher Secondary School, and completed his B.Sc. from the Sri Pratap College, Srinagar. He completed his Master's degree in Ecology from Bangalore, and subsequently, took field assignments in Himachal Pradesh, Srinagar and Ladakh. Mr. Bhat currently works at an environmental NGO in Bangalore.

Mr. Sheikh Iqbal, 35, was born in Srinagar. He completed his schooling locally and graduated with a B.Sc. from Sri Pratap College, Srinagar. He subsequently completed an MBA from Bangalore. An avid nature lover, Mr. Iqbal pursues activities by virtue of which nature can be respected. For example, when he goes hiking on a nature trail, he tries to study every thing related to nature that comes his way, while enjoying the scenary as well.)

Changing face of Dachigam National Park

Adil Bhat

The concept of creating National Parks originated in the 19th century, by preserving some especially attractive and notable areas, but the pursuits of commerce, lifestyle and recreation combined with increases in human population have continued to result in human modification of relatively untouched areas. Such human activity often negatively impacts native flora and fauna. As such, to better protect critical habitats and preserve low-impact recreational opportunities, legal concepts of "wilderness" were established in many countries, beginning with the United States.

The first National Park established in 1872 was Yellowstone. The creation of this and other parks showed a growing appreciation of wild nature. The world's second national park, the Royal National Park, was established in 1879 in Sydney, Australia.

This concept soon caught on in Canada, which created Banff National Park in the 1880s. Then it was during the President Roosevelt’s period that the United States began to enlarge the U.S. National Parks system, by establishing the National Forest system.

Likewise in India, the National Park movement started to gain ground with the creation of the first National Park in 1935, the Hailey National Park, now known as Jim Corbett National Park. By 1970, India only had five national parks. In 1972, India enacted the Wildlife Protection Act and Project Tiger to safeguard the habitats of conservation reliant species. Further federal legislation strengthening protection of wildlife was introduced in the 1980s. As of April 2007, the total number of national parks India had stood at 96 and the land encompassed under these national parks was 38,029.18 km² i.e. 1.16% of India's total surface area.
As of now a total number of 166 national parks have been authorized. Plans are underway to establish the remaining scheduled parks.

Since, by law, the concept of creating a National Park is to have an ecologically the most intact, undisturbed wild natural area which is representative of a bigger geographical area that once used to be afar from the human interference and control, hence as per a broad definition these National Parks have two dimensions i.e. these areas must be biologically intact and legally protected. Because, the wilderness character of a National Park is supposed to support the area as repository of genetic material (gene bank), the precursors of the present-day biodiversity found in that particular geographical area, hence have a great genetic value. Besides, ecologically, these areas have a crucial role to play as they act as heart and lungs (vital organs) of the adjacent bigger geo-ecological systems which they represent, hence have an inbuilt and collective function to purify surrounding polluted atmospheres and to supply the whole system with the elixir of life - purest form of water, from its unpolluted catchments. Hence, National Parks are not only significant as potential wildlife habitats or gene banks for the biodiversity in their respective geographical areas, but have also to play a crucial role in maintaining the necessary life support systems (in terms of fresh air, pure water supply and sustenance of basic livelihoods for the communities surrounding these areas). Summing up the benefits of having National Parks, it can be safely said that these wilderness areas are the insurance policy, against the unpredicted ecological upheavals, for the present and future generations.

Having understood the preliminary ecological considerations this category of wildlife protected areas have, Jammu and Kashmir State also felt the need for bringing some of its potential wilderness areas under National Parks Network.

Since, the State of Jammu and Kashmir is the northern most state of India and owing to its sharp rise of altitude from 1000 feet to 28250 feet above the sea level within State’s four degree of latitude, the state comprised of three distinct Climatic regions viz. arctic cold desert areas of Ladakh, temperate Kashmir valley and sub-tropical region of Jammu. A large part of the State forms part of the Himalayan Mountains. The State is geologically constituted of rocks varying from the oldest period of the earth’s history to the youngest present day river and lake deposits. It is this distinct climatic, altitudinal and geological variation that gives the Jammu and Kashmir State a special status with respect to its biodiversity as a result three regionally representative National Parks were declared and established in 1981 under the provisions of Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act, 1978. These National Parks included:

Dachigam National Park (Kashmir Region)
Hemis High altitude National Park (Ladakh Region)
Kishtwar National Park (Jammu Region)

Later on two more National Parks were added to the list i.e. Salim Ali National Park Cheshmashahi and Kazinag National Park Varmul. These additions were formulated purely on the very basic concept of “interconnectedness for conservation” as sustained conservation required corridors that link natural wilderness areas or habitats so that clean and sufficient water, pollution free environs and preservation of genetic material could be assured for future generations which seems a task that often transcends concept of creating National Parks.

Dachigam National Park, located among the high mountains of the mighty western Himalayas with a vast variation in altitude, ranging from 5500 ft to 14000 ft above MSL and very clearly demarcated into an upper and lower region, is one of the oldest representative wilderness areas in the state which was declared as a protected area (Game Reserve) in1910 under the care of the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir with the primary objective to protect the rich watershed for ensuring clean drinking water supply for the city of Srinagar. However, this stretch of wilderness area is presently shimmering under unprecedented levels of biotic interference both on the part of local communities as well as the State Government agencies. Despite the fact that the area, has come up all along from game reserve status given by the then Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir to the status of a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1951 and thereafter as National Park in 1981, but it seems that with the enhancement of conservation status of Dachigam to the highest level as National Park, the values of the National Park has all along been compromised to accommodate every type of biotic interference, which otherwise having no legal constraints could have been made possible and would have come up outside the National Park area.

The ecological vandalism, Dachigam National Park is currently facing on one or another pretext is the highest one as not a single activity, on the part of custodians of this National Park or other stake holders goes well with the ecological settings, which this area is supposed to hold. Such activities have already taken the toll on the only remaining population of hangul, the only representative of Red Deer in Indian Sub-continant, as the species has already stepped into last phase of extinction process wherefrom its return would be practically impossible.

Further in this regard, not to speak of recent cloud burst at Leh, the reasons for which are yet to be ascertained in light of some Chinese Cloud Bomb connection, but it is sure that the cause of the subsequent cloud burst, during the intervening night of August 10-11, in Khonmoh-Balhama area on the outskirts of Dachigam National Park, lies well in the large scale devastation of Khrew-Khonmoh forests mainly because of the mushrooming number of cement factories and mining practices which are currently going on in the area. Such more future natural catastrophes like forest fires, droughts, floods, landslides, cloud bursts etc. could be in the offing for other areas neighboring the National Park like Nishat, Shalimar, Harwan, Dhara etc. if the present vandalizing practices in Dachigam National Park are not stopped immediately.

To see “ALL IS WELL” all the concerned, whether having direct or indirect stake and irrespective of their status and power, they are currently enjoying, are having a legitimate duty towards keeping Dachigam National Park intact as a representative wilderness area (as sterile as possible). This wilderness heritage need not to be developed with buildings, roads, animal cages and other infrastructure (iron and concrete monstrous structures), or put to such land use which though, may suit to ones individual taste, needs, and even ones larger vested interests, but such activities are likely to jeopardize the very survival of people living in the vicinity of the park, because these activities are making the ground for triggering ecological catastrophes like forest fires, droughts, floods, landslides, cloud bursts etc. Besides, the vandalizing developmental activities, knowingly or unknowingly, going on in the national park are totally in conflict with the natural processes supporting the centuries old catchment character of the National Park. Ultimately, this all is going to translate into a high intensity Ecological Holocaust with public health implications for the people at the receiving end, particularly, those living in Srinagar city and nearby areas, having dependence for their water requirements on Dachigam catchments.

Dachigam Park is in a shambles. Who cares!

Sheikh Iqbal

This refers to Adil Bhat’s article titled “Changing face of Dachigam National Park” (GK 11 October, 2010). The article should be an eye-opener for politicians and bureaucracy and the people. I appreciate Mr Adil for giving actual historical background of creating national parks as icons of conservation and also for putting the Dachigam Park in right perspective since its origin during the regime of Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. He has rightly described its present status. The park seems to be deteriorated to the extent that the visitors don’t find any difference between a municipality park and a Dachigam Park. Those responsible for its destruction are the government agencies like Sheep Breeding Farm, Fisheries Farm, Protocol Rest House and the Wildlife Department itself. Our pride Dachigam has presently been reduced to the status of a picnic spot. The entire management of Dachigam, which consists of dozens of employees, instead of managing its entire area of about 150 sq. kms, has been concentrating on 3-kms road stretch of the park from Harwan Bus Stand to Draphama VIP Lodge - the stretch generally used by VIPs. The rest of the area has virtually been handed over by the Wildlife Department to herders, grazers and cement factory owners. Dachigam Park has become a big joke. As per the residents living in its vicinity the Park had become famous for not having any wild animal in it. Then the Wildlife Department tried to catch bears and leopards outside the park and release them inside it to make people feel that some animals are there. But, these measures failed because the released animals found the park uncomfortable and moved out repeatedly. Now the wild animals are kept indoors on the entry gate of Dachigam Park to avoid visitors’ disappointment. Dachigam was famous for having Hangul (State Animal). But for the last few years the animal has vanished from the park. It is time to address the issues concerning the Park.

Alarming Maternal Mortality Statistics in Kashmir

Salman goes where few Kashmiris have in describing alarming statistics related to deaths among women while giving birth to young ones in Kashmir

(Mr. Salman Nizami, 25, was born in Banihal tehsil of District Ramban. He completed his graduate degree in mass communication and journalism, and joined journalism in 2004. He began his professional life at The OUTLOOK magazine as a columnist, and then started writing for Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Times, Times of India, The Hindu, Asian Age, Statesman, Rising Kashmir , JK Reporter. Mr. Nizami later joined SAHARA television in New Delhi as Desk Editor, and rose to the position of Group Editor of The Rastriya Sahara. He is currently working as a Editor-in-Chief of The Revolution newspaper published from Jammu and Kashmir, Sahara television as Desk Editor and Resident Editor of MID-DAY covering Upper North India including J&K. He is also active with UNICEF India and the Hungary World (NGO) as Media advisor. In that role, he has travelled widely investigating on new developments in the media industry, taking a special interest in child problems including labour, marriage, poverty, education, etc. He is one of the first journalists to research and write extensively about the child growth in Jammu and Kashmir.)

Maternal Mortality in Kashmir

Kashmir has seen thousands of civilian deaths since 1989 due to the conflict. Men, women and children lost lives, still life continued to roll with the pace of time. But deaths of women caused during childbirth have become more alarming in Valley. As every year about 6,000 mothers die during childbirth and allied complications of pregnancy.

According to UNICEF, figures illustrated indicate that poor women have been left behind by state’s economic boom, entrusted to lift thousands of people out of poverty. India's maternal mortality rate stands at 450 per 100,000 live births, against 540 in 1998-1999. As per a study conducted in September by the team of Dr. Meenakshi Jha from Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, of 5,476,970 population, in four districts, 357 women of reproductive age (15-49) died, and 154 died of complications during pregnancy, childbirth or the puerperal period. Maternal Morality Rate (MMR) in those four districts was 418 in Kupwara, 774 in Islamabad, 2182 in Baramulla, and 6507 in Bandipora.

Baramulla district showed the highest mortality risk ever recorded in human history, with 54% more than half of the women of reproductive age - died during 1998 and 2003.The causes of deaths were analyzed mainly in two parts: direct and indirect. Direct causes include haemorrhage, obstructed labour, cardiomyopathy, sepsis, obstetric embolism, and pregnancy-induced hypertension, whereas indirect causes were tuberculosis, malaria, and obstetric tetanus. According to the survey women who died port-partum were 64% within 42 days. 56% of these women died in the first 24 hours, other socio-economical, geographical and cultural factors contributed to the high mortality ratio. 60% Kashmiris do not have access to basic health services. Even 40% Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS) offers basic emergency obstetric care in Valley, only 7% have the capacities to provide comprehensive emergency obstetric cases according to the Ministry of Health. Most of the professional ante-and postnatal cares are used by only 20% of all pregnant women. Lack of awareness and transportation problems especially in mountainous districts have limited access to Basic Health Care Centres. Sogam basic health centre had two mini-vans that functioned as ambulances, and it took about three to four hours depending on the roads or weather conditions to haul the patient(s) to the provincial hospital in Kupwara. In accessibility to the advanced health care is one of the main barriers for pregnant women. When I was travelling to districts such as Tangdar, Teetwal, Ramhal, in mid-May, the effort was thwarted by natural disasters such as floods and avalanches, thus failed to reach the areas. There was no doubt that any emergency patients who needed the advanced care beyond the basic health care level from those effected areas could not travel to Kupwara.

The mortality rate in Kashmir would not improve unless the availability, accessibility and awareness of Kashmir people improve. Much mortality on both mothers and children occur during home births. Home births are widespread especially in rural areas where roads are tough and people are more conservative. Some of the women I have interviewed in the hospitals have told me that male members of the family such as husbands and fathers refuse to send their wives or daughters (in-laws as well) to health facilities because of cultural and religious reasons create difficulties in serving people. In Trehgam and Kalaroo, most of the women are not allowed to travel on their own, and if they have to, they need to be accompanied by Maharam, a legal guardian, a male member of the family. Even if women do want to go to the local health facilities, if husbands or fathers – patriarch of the family – does not allow, they would not be able to see doctors or skilled midwives. As Dr Meenakshi’s report points out, inability to leave the home without the permission or escort of a male relative is a big barrier for women to access proper health care in bigger towns. Chronic poverty and limits on education are also important factors in high maternal mortality rate in Kashmir.

My visit and experience on Kashmir maternal mortality tells a story of a woman who died of port-partum complications due to tuberculosis, the disease widely known as the product of poverty. Her death could have been prevented if proper family planning and prenatal healthcare were provided. The story follows her from the hospital when she was recovering from her delivery to the funeral in her village. Through the journey of following this woman, I documented the process of how a woman could lose her life from such unbelievable causes. When I first met Khalida , a very thin, fragile looking 26-year-old Kashmiri woman from a remote village at the recovery room at Uri Hospital in Baramulla district, she was lying on her bed next to her 75 year-old mother-in-law, Jabeena, and her unnamed son. It was five days after the caesarean section and she did not seem to have the energy to move, she rose slowly as I walked in. The nurse explained to me that she had tuberculosis. Her thinness was from the disease. She looked sick, but not too much ill. The baby was the second child as her first child died in childbirth a few years ago. Two days later, she began to suffer from fever. Doctors and nurses injected medicine and provided oxygen even though the oxygen machine went occasionally out of power due to lack of electricity. One of the doctors said, “I am very worried about this patient. I need some more blood for her, but there’s no more blood in the blood bank. The family cannot afford to buy the blood.”

After one week, she was transferred to the general patients ward from the maternity ward in the same hospital. It turns out she has been suffering from deadly complications after the delivery, meningitis, hypothermia, and toxoplasmosis. She was barely conscious in a room filled with other female patients and visitors. The family could not get the blood, but one pack of blood did not seem to have been the remedy. Her conditions have deteriorated, and she constantly moaned in pain. Nurses were injecting painkillers so much; she had a string of injection marks on her left arm. She kept groaning, and the baby was crying. Jabeena, the mother-in-law, was rocking the baby. She said, “We don’t even have money to buy milk. My son is jobless. What can we do?” Later in the afternoon, the doctor decided to move her to another room and put the oxygen mask on her. However, by that point, doctors were sceptical about her conditions. “The condition is very poor. I think she will die,” one of them said. The mother-in-law did not say too much. It seemed that she had to accept the destiny or too tired to tend the bed. The husband, Qamar Din, dropped in the room and called her name. “Khalida, hey Khalida.” He swayed Khalida’s face left and right a bit, then covered his face with hands. He walked outside.

The oxygen and the pulse level were dwindling over time. By 8:30 pm, Khalida stopped breathing. Qamar Din and hospital staff were absent. Jabeena, who was sitting on the bed next to Mustafa with her grandson, slowly rose and approached to her. She was already dead. “Khalida, Khalida.” Jabeena called her name a couple of times, tapped her both cheeks a bit, and then confirmed her death. She closed her eyes and called the caretaker. The hospital staff came. One doctor said, “This is the problem of Afghanistan. There was no way we could cure her.” The caretaker tied Khalida’s face and toes with white linen straps, and moved her on the stretcher. There was no morgue or freezer for dead bodies in the hospital. Her corpse was kept in an empty patients’ room. On next day, Jabeena, Qamar Din, and a couple of relatives decided to carry the body back to their village. They knew that the roads were closed from the area called Kreeri, about few hours from Uri, due to rains. They went to the point in which cars could no drive any longer, then decided to walk to the village for two hours: which was common for Kashmiris in rural areas. A couple of workers from a nearby bridge construction came to assist them. After crossing landslides and tough roads, they reached the house. They slowly laid the stretcher down in the living room. Qamar Din began crying as relatives and workers laid down. The next morning, family members including Jabeena began their normal day. Khalida’s baby was in the hands of Jabeena as she put a pacifier on his mouth. Women baked bread and prepared tea. They seemed to accept death and life and moved on pretty quickly. Khalida is not the only mother who died in childbirth but is an example of thousands of women who lost their lives in child birth.

Cry of the Silent Majority - Part 2

Finally an editorial in the Greater Kashmir that the majority of public that live off the agrarian economy will appreciate

Talking Self-reliance

Despite all claims about progress made by the State after the end of feudal-autocratic rule, a major chunk of population continues to reel under poverty and deprivation. Large sections of people particularly in rural and remote areas continue to suffer; proper health care, sanitation, potable water and education are still a far cry in many areas. The State especially Kashmir valley and some hilly district of Jammu lag behind in all the developmental indices. In comparison to other states it is a reality despite a rosy picture presented by the official handouts. The failure of Jammu and Kashmir to keep pace with other states has not been for it being deficient in natural resources but for the failure of its leadership; add to it a total lack of commitment in the top notch bureaucracy. Besides the political uncertainty that the State has inherited from its feudal days the development of the State suffered for wrong prioritization and a rampant corruption at all levels.

We all know that despite being landlocked this State was self-sufficient in meeting its day to day requirements till the first half of the past century. Ironically it was only after its getting connected to other parts of the world that its dependability on imports for essentials increased. Considered as the rice a bowl of Himalayas it has been importing every year thousands of tons of food grains from neighboring state of Punjab; ironic! In fact it has been importing agriculture produce from carrot to cabbage worth billions of rupees every year. The reason for this is not that the naturally irrigated fertile land of the State has suddenly turned parched and barren. The reasons are the lack of respect for law of the land and lack of planning. Despite ban, thousands of acres of A-grade paddy land have been converted into residential colonies. The vegetable farms that spread over thousands of acres of land in cities and towns have now totally disappeared. The increasing dependability on imports from other state has devastated the much cherished idea of self-reliance; how can then economic independence of the state become a reality! It cannot be denied that the economic emancipation, political freedom, and people’s honor are deeply interconnected ideas and ideals. No doubt there is need for taking concrete steps for making the State self-sufficient, but the reasons for failure must be accepted. The agriculture, horticulture, handicrafts and tourism have been strong areas of the State economy but to believe that the State would be in a position to keep pace with other developing and developed states by focusing only on these traditional sectors would be wrong. It is a hard reality that during past two decades the farming populace has considerably declined. Farming is largely being done by hired laborers from outside the state; and with children from artisan families taking to other occupations the production of handicrafts has considerably gone down. Tourism that is believed to contribute ten percent to State GDP is a very uncertain sector as it is largely dependent on political condition in the State. Also, ours is an overwhelmingly agriculture society and there is need for bolstering agriculture and horticulture production.

The endeavors made by various departments and agencies for increasing agriculture production by providing hybrid and high yielding varieties of seeds and other incentives have been appreciable but to see the State progress in real sense there is need for seriously relooking into the development programs of the State. One of the major factors that have contributed to the economic backwardness of the State has been ignoring building of much needed infrastructure for industrialization and other allied sectors that could provide jobs to educated unemployed youth. Instead of watching the interests of the State the governments in office have been from time to time bartering them away to the Central Government for political expediencies. For two decades the State forests were allowed to be depleted for peanuts for laying railway lines in different states. The mineral deposits were allowed to be exploited and above all the State water resources if harnessed by the State on its own could have changed the economic landscape of the State; and they were allowed to the central agencies for producing cheapest electricity! If the government really wants to see the State self-reliant, it is high time to reprioritize the development programs.

Cry of the Silent Majority - Part 1

An editorial in the Rising Kashmir highlights a challenge mostly ignored by the civil society, but the message is tainted by unrealistic expectations

Mission Dal

The biggest challenge facing the state government in saving the polluted Dal Lake is to get the implementation mechanism of its ambitious project right. The government’s flagship scheme to revive Dal under the new boost of funds still needs to be vetted on the score. There are of course different ways to implement Dal Lake conservation projects successfully. Which will the government choose?

In the last four months when Kashmir was in deep turmoil, Dal and Nageen Lake became the silent victims of the conflict. Already in deep mess, these lakes have reached the verge of extinction. If one looks around the Dal these days it has been marginalized to a big sewage. A set of works by the LAWDA to save the famous water bodies sheds some light on the government’s thinking on mechanism for implementation. As with getting the awareness, new machinery, infrastructure, rehabilitation, public-private partnership is a preferred mode. This could split the burden of financing the conservation project and will be the precursor to thwart the unprecedented corruption known to plague the project for years now.

The sharing of the financial burden will for sure guarantee accountability from each of the parties involved. If government wants to attract private partnership in the project, they should give various incentives and perks to private developers to attract their interest. State government for example will be required to provide the revenue sharing models from the various tourism projects, which can come up after the cleaning of the lakes. This could be a radical and welcome shift having the impact beyond the cleaning and maintenance of lakes. If public-private partnership is implemented in the Dal project, Kashmir could get a world class infrastructure in sustainable eco-tourism as the free flowing funds will attract new technology, globally used to save environment from the tourist load. Government could attract private sector in saving Dal Lake by giving them avenues to create excellent tourist resorts near these famous water bodies. The government could also attract private partnership by detailed marketing projects, which can bring millions of tourists to Kashmir every year. To have private sector involvement is saving the Dal, state government should be transparent about the concept of freebies the politicians and civil servants usually demand from private sector in such mega projects. Needless to say to implement such bold decisions Jammu and Kashmir government has to take a real challenge to ensure all this is done and implemented on the waters which are always turbulent and now very dirty as well.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Evolution of Two Distinct Sects of Islamic Sufism in the Valley

Iqbal describes the schism that distinguishes native Sufis from those who came from Persia

(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.)

Influence of Sufi Thought on Kashmir Mindset

Apart from the local saints, who cultivated the Sufi traditions of this land, there was also another major group of Muslim missionaries who came from outside the valley, the state and the country. They began to arrive here from the beginning of 14th century AD. They were the Syeds, the descendants of the Holy Prophet (SAW). These were the noble people who adopted the mission of conversion. They not only practiced the true message of Islam in its finest spirits but also propagated it in the whole of valley. They were also Sufis and were associated with different schools of Islamic Sufism. They differed with the local Rishis in several ways while as the mission, at the core, remained similar- to spread Islam.

The local Sufis called Rishis were influenced by the local environment and traditions. The influence of Buddhism and Vaishavism was found in the dictates and practices of local Sufis, while as the Syed missionaries brought along them the social, cultural and other influences of Persia. They were strict to “Shariah”, the Islamic law as compared to the local missionaries and followed Persian culture in their teachings and practices instead of the Arabic one.

The introduction of Persian art, culture and languages is attributed to these Syed saints. They, like the local Sufis and saints, had no political ambitions or motivations and introduced the Khanqah system. Khanqah system was a practical way of teaching Sufic traditions and Persian arts and crafts besides the message of Islam.

These Syeds were also great saints and have shown miracles to the locals for bringing them closer towards the religion. So high were the spiritual strengths and aspects of these saints that the conversion process in the valley begain peacefully and kept going without any resistance or bloodshed. The valley people saw the people by their deeds and than paid a listening ear to them.

The shrines and sites associated with Syed saints are revered highly by the local people. The locals visit their respective tombs and seek spiritual and worldly aids by evoking their blessings. Their Urs (festivals) are also celebrated with full fervor and gaiety. “Khatutmai Muzumatt” (recitation of Wazif’s) and “Zikerwa-Azkar” (recitation of holy scripts) Mehfils are held at these shrines, during their festival days. Darood Khawani and Na'at Khawani mehfils (remembering the holy prophet) are also held at the Urs venues.

But unlike the local practices, beating of drums, dancing and playing of music like Sufi practices are not followed at the shrines of the Syed saints. The other practices and traditions arc the same which are followed at local Sufi shrines. The tombs of the Syed saints have also followed the similar architecture of local tombs. They adopted and introduced the Khanqah system in Kashmir.

It is nothing more than the building of Muslim mosques; the fundamental worship place for the Muslims. However, these mosques came to be known as Khanqahs because these sites were not only used for offering five time prayers but also served as basic Muslim institutions where people were invited and imparted the Muslim Sufi education and practices. The Sufis were also made to learn the various arts and crafts which these Syed saints had borrowed from Persian.

The Khanqahs proved instrumental in changing the socio-culture and economic life of the Kashmiri people. Syed may be remembered are the descendants of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW). On the basis of their descent these people are considered as royal and their families are held in great esteem. The women of the Syed families too are held in high esteem and are known as royal mothers. Kashmiris usually call them “Bib Mauj”. One can also find many shrines and royal graveyards of Syed families, these are still held in high regard, I have seen such two royal graveyards one at Ammo Kulgam and another at Panchalthal-Sheikhpora in Anantnag district. Sayyid Bulbul Shah, Hamdan Mir Muhammad and Syed Hussain Samnani were few leading celebrated saints of this Islamic mission. Bulbul Shah Qalandar is the first Muslim saint who ensured a religious evolution in Kashmir by conquering the heart of its ruler as well as his subjects. A legend recorded in local traditions states that once the king of Kashmir1 called Richan who was a Buddhist declared that he would embrace the religion of the first man, whom he would meet first after coming out of his palace.

Next morning he came out of his palace and saw a saint offering Nimaz with full devotion, the king invited the saint to his palace and asked about his name and religion. The saint told him that his name was Bulbul Shah and his religion was Islam. He also told him about some of the miracles of Holy Prophet and his companions. The Buddhist king embraced Islam at the hands of the saint and adopted the new name of Sultan Sadr-ud-Din. The sultan is also recorded to have become the Mureed of Bulbul Shah, whose Khanqah is situated at Bulbul Lanker, Srinagar. Syed Taj-ud-Din was another Syed saint who arrived here during the period of sultan Shahab-ud-Din and lived at Shahab-ud-Din Pur. The sultan got impressed by his saintly character and became his Mureed. Traditions speak that it was due to the spiritual aids of the saint that Shahab-ud-Din made extensive conquests. He also built a Khanqah at Shahab-ud-Din Pora.

Syed Hassan Bahadur was son of Taj-ud-Din. He was also a great saint. It is said that he crossed over river Attack at several times while walking on the waters of the river. Syed Masood was another saint who lived during the times of Sultan Shahab-ud:Din. A legend states that once the son of Shahab-ud-Din named Mirza Hassan was very serious, all the Shah-e-Hakeems failed to cure him. The Sayyid was requested. He prayed in his favour and Hassan found his new life. Syed Hussain Samnani was a great Syed saint. He was the cousin of Shah Hamdan who also arrived here during the period of Sultan Shahab-ud Din. There are many legends associated with this Syed. He is said to have ridden a rock which gave him lift to this destination, after crossing over through Pir Panchal. The Syed is learnt to have settled at Kulgam in South Kashmir on the left bank of river Vishu.

Another tradition related with the Syed is that once he was sitting under the shade of an apricot tree. He was encircled by his mureeds the later desired that the tree should bear fruit during this off season. They only wished, the tree grew fresh fruits. The saint also had controlled many heavy floods of the river vishu, and thus saved the lives and property of the people who lived close to its banks.

Syed Samnani's shrine is the most famous shrine in entire South Kashmir, where people from its areas visit this shrine for seeking spiritual blessings. About 2 km below is Amanoo village. There are also few shrines associated with Sufis. The most significant site is the royal graveyard, where the holy women of Syed Hussain Samnani have been laid to rest. This royal graveyard is located at Astanbhar and is fenced around by high walls.

A common tradition speaks that men can not gaze into this royal graveyard. If any one gazes, he would lose his eyesight. As earlier said Kashmiries have been holding Syeds both men and women in high regard. The practice still continues in many areas, where a Syed woman would be revered high and a non-Syed man would never think of marrying a Syed woman.

No doubt Samnani was a great Sufi, but the most prominent among Syed Sufi missionaries was Syed Ali Hamdani popularly known Shah-e-Hamdan. He is subscribed as the leader of Syed missionaries who arrived in Kashmir in early 14th Century AD. Sufis always were non-political and did not believe on political practices, they always refrain from taking any part in active politics. They believed in social reformation through spiritual and peaceful means.

Records reveal that these Sufis originally lived in Persia. Syed Ali Hamadani accompanied by seven hundred Syed saints left their country to escape the tyrannical rule of Timur. These saints found no land as peaceful as Kashmir, where Buddhist faith was dominant among its people. Syed Hamdani entered Kashmir along with his other associates during the period of Sultan Shahab-ud-Din. When Kashmiris came to know of their descent, they received them with great honour and respect. These Syeds spread to all the corners of the valley and main Sufi centre along with a Khanqah was raised at the present site of Khanqah-e-Moulah. The centre was used as the main centre where Syed Ali used to meet his Mureeds and advice them in matters of Sufi Islam. Syed Ali performed great miracles here. The most outstanding was that he made about forty thousand converts to Islam. He was followed by another great missionary called Mir Muhammad Hamdani. Although these Syed saints reached to the distant lands of Kashmir, all of them did not stay here: some of them like Syed Ali and Mir Muhammad while establishing several Khanqahs did not prefer to live here and went to other central Asian places . Their tombs are not located anywhere in Kashmir. Most of the Syed saints lived in villages and towns of Kashmir. The glorious tombs symbolizing the Kashmir Rishi order of architecture have been created over their graves at every place. Their days are also celebrated here with great fevor and gaiety.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Kashmir's Destiny

Razdan asks does it matter whether Kashmir acceded to and not merged with India?

(Mr. Pran Nath Razdan, 71, was born and raised in Srinagar. He completed his master's degree in Statistics from the Patna university and joined the J&K state service. He rose through the ranks to the post of Special Secretary, Department of Planning and Development, Government of Jammu and Kashmir. After his retirement in 1997, he was appointed as Advisor, Planning and Development. He currently lives in the National Capital Region. In his leisure time, Mr. Razdan stays engaged by doing consulting and social work, and by writing occasional commentaries on Kashmir for various newspapers.)

Much Ado About Accession

Omar Abdullah's emotional outburst on Kashmir's accession to India made in the State Legislative Assembly on 6th October 2010 has been a matter of national debate. Various commentaries have been made on Chief Minister's statement much to the liking of separatists and outrage of nationalists. While LK Advani has publicly asked for his resignation through his blog, the Foreign Minister and the Home Minister do not find anything abnormal in his speech when read in totality.

The issue is however trivial and of no concern to a common Kashmiri. What difference does it make whether Kashmir has acceded or merged to India? For all practical purposes it is part of India, under its physical possession and governed by its constitution, judiciary, currency etc. Kashmiris are well aware of the political brinkmanship of its leaders. Not only Abdullah family but even other leaders of the state have resorted to this political bargaining quite often in the past.

It doesn't cut ice even with the separatists. Regardless of their initial elation and resultant taunts to central leaders, they realize their fight is for the substance and not for the trivialities. It makes no difference to them whether the link is accession or merger; they want the entire link itself to be annulled. So in this entire flop show there has been no gainer. If any, there has been a loser in Omar Abdullah. Having raised himself to the crest of an Indian and a Muslim with no contradiction, he has allowed his self to be seen closer to separatists, a view that in all fairness;, is wholly inaccurate for a secular, upright and intelligent young son of the first family of Kashmir.

While the semantics of the two words in the outpourings of Omar Abdullah may be inconsequential, at least in spirit we must accept that he is nearer the truth. Whatever merger may mean legally or politically, in English language it means absorption and if this has to do anything with two hearts, then the expression amply suits Kashmir-India relationship. A majority of Kashmiri Muslims has never merged with India emotionally. They have never seen India as their home, a place where they command love, respect and rights of a citizen. This may not be factually correct, but this is the perception that most Kashmiris hold to-day even after 63 years of its accession to India. For a large number of Kashmiri Muslims, integration with India has remained incomplete. They are alienated from India whatever the reasons. And if this is what Omar meant, he had a bang on assessment.

And if we delve into history, a situation like this was called for by all the parties. Kashmir was designed to be a separate entity even as part of India. Article 370 was inserted into the Indian constitution to encourage an identity exclusive to Jammu & Kashmir. And if today Kashmiris are alienated from India, it is the direct result of the policies followed by either party to maintain the special status in pursuance to Article 370. If the leaders of yore inserted this special article to preserve the historical, cultural and ethnic identity of Kashmiris, did they take into account the apathy; insensitivity and indifference that the mainstream society at large in the country would develop in return for this state that chose to isolate itself? Kashmir may have had a mammoth transfer of funds from the country in history, but what it has suffered is the lack of resource development, entrepreneurship, technology transfer, job prospects, relationship with Indian Muslims and above all an uncaring attitude of a mainstream society of which it was supposed to be a part. More importantly this special relationship spawned the evil designs of our unfriendly neighbors to grasp this piece of territory that had a loose relationship with India. In the case of Pakistan, there was an added excuse i.e. the religious resemblance. Kashmir has therefore not seen stability in the real sense ever since its freedom in 1947. Kashmir has paid very dearly for maintaining its special status in the country.

It is now realized by all concerned that money is not the healer medicine. What is important is to capture hearts and evolve social cohesion. Unfortunately Indian society has fallen through on this score. Despite laws, reservations and targeted programs we have not been able to absorb the downtrodden as equals into our society. Social discrimination is rampant in Indian society between states, regions and at times religions. Happily age is steering clear of these dogmas. Young generation of India including Kashmir is free from these shackles and is forming up a futuristic society that sees each other as human beings free of labels and tags. Well wishers in the country in general and governments in particular therefore need to nurture the youth of Kashmir, assess their problems and aspirations and work towards their fulfillment. Kashmiri youth have already demonstrated their potential rising above narrow political, social and religious beliefs.

We therefore need to provide them with suitable infrastructure to flourish in this great country of diverse faiths, colors and affiliations. Real integration of Kashmir with India depends on the blending of the Kashmiri youth into Indian society.

Historical Perspective on Accession

Saraf analyses Omar Abdullah's recent statement in light of Kashmir's political history

(Mr. Bhushan Lal Saraf, 65, was born in Batapora, Shopian. He finished his schooling from the Government Higher Secondary School in Shopian, and completed his professional degrees in B.Sc. (Hons.), Diploma L.L.B., and KCS (Judicial) from the University of Jammu and Kashmir, and from the University of Lucknow. Mr. Saraf retired as a Principal District & Sessions Judge. He is presently an Honorary Member of the J&K State Consumer Commission. He has authored a book, "New Lexicon for the Kashmiris," published by UPS in New Delhi. In his leisure time, Judge Saraf, provides complimentary legal counselling, campaigns for legal awareness, and enjoys reading and writing.)

Merger or Accession ?

Omar Abdullah’s speech in the Legislative Assembly, made few days back, has created a controversy. At this juncture, he could have done well without it. He has said that Kashmir has only acceded to and not merged with India. We don’t know what crossed his mind when he made the distinction, whereas materially there is none. He made another point that it makes no sense in repeatedly saying, “Kashmir is an integral part of India” because no one says so about any other State of India. The knowledgeable tell us that this is beleaguered C M’s attempt to regain some of the lost political ground in the Valley. Merger or Accession –the fact is that relationship of Kashmir with India is, admittedly, of a unique nature brought about in unique circumstances.

Omar’s speech should make us look afresh on the circumstances preceding and surrounding the fact of the union of Kashmir with India.

Traveling some distance with the Muslim Conference, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah came to realize that his struggle against the autocratic rule of Maharaja would not be all inclusive and purposeful unless every section of the J&K population was taken on board. His interaction with the nationalist leadership of British India, in Lahore, comprising Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr Saifudin Kichloo and Abdul Gaffar Khan, widened his vision about the political need of the hour. Writing in his autobiography Aatish-e-Chinar about his meeting with Jawaharlal Nehru and other nationalist leaders Sheikh Abdullah says, “Soon after meeting the nationalist leaders I felt the deliverance of the Kashmiris lies in coming out of the narrow confines and aligning with the national mainstream ….”( P,.210). He further writes that in order to garner support of the Indian Nationalist forces it was imperative to change the name and Constitution of Muslim Conference. Sheikh Abdullah found a good deal of commonality between the Indian Nationalists, who were fighting the British rule, and his struggle against the autocratic Maharaja.

Accordingly, on 28th June, 1938, the Working Committee of the Muslim Conference, on his resolution, changed the name of the Muslim Conference to ‘National Conference ‘, with a view to enable the Hindus and Sikhs to join the struggle against the autocratic rule. Therefore, the bedrock of Indo- Kashmir association is the vision that developed during the freedom struggles of the two. It was of a socio-political set-up which would provide for a safe, tolerant and egalitarian space to every section of the populace, and respect their religious beliefs. It, thus, became an idea central to the both. Only history will tell whether this association did strengthen the shared values or become a festering sore--a flashpoint for the bloody wars in the subcontinent. Did the parties hold on to the promises made?

Kashmir’s association with India was on some conditions. The Maharaja, while acceding to India had, in terms of Clauses 7 & 8 of the Instrument of Accession, reserved a right not to commit himself to accept Constitution of India in toto or fetter his discretion to enter into arrangement with Govt. of India, and his sovereignty would continue as provided under this Instrument. This was indicative of a special position Kashmir would have within the Indian Union. Delhi Agreement of 1952 reiterated this position and Article 2 of the Constitution of India permitted it. At the time of accession J & K was governed by the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution Act of 1939, with Delhi’s jurisdiction extending only to External Affairs, Defence and Communication. The Maharaja wanted the continuation of the Act while the popular leaders differed. The Constituent Assembly was made aware that the State’s association with India would be on terms of accession, acknowledging this special position and the problems with which the government of J&K was, then, faced. Constituent Assembly adopted Article 306A which became Article 370 in the final Constitution. Thus a special provision for constitutional relationship of the State with the Union came into the existence. The geographic position, difference in the religions of the Ruler and the Ruled and the demographic character of the State dictated the course. Apart from that popular support was needed for the accession which came through Sheikh Abdullah. For some the conditions around the accession are for India and Kashmir to settle. Others see international dimension to it and think that fulfillment of the conditions is a sine quo non for Kashmir’s association with India to survive. This is a big subject in itself. Much can be said on both sides. Let us leave it for other time and the place to deliberate upon.

India is a union of States. The Indian Society is multi - cultural and multi- lingual. The language and ethnicity are the broad parameters on which the States, within the Indian Union, came to be reorganized. The Constitution of India is federal in nature where the States can exercise legislative and executive powers independent of Union Government, subject, however, to some limitations. Jammu & Kashmir is a constituent unit of Union of India as described in Article 1 of Constitution of India and Section 3 of Constitution of J&K . We must remember that all the Princely States that acceded to India or Pakistan signed the instruments of accession before joining either dominion. However, most of the Princely States got merged with the British India Provinces following the reorganisation of the States, post accession. Nearer home, Patiala and Kapoorthala; Jaipur and Alwar in Rajasthan are the examples. The State of J&K retained its geographical boundaries as distinct identity, except those occupied by Pakistan. While acceding to India, it did not merge itself with any pre- existing Province in British India. The State retained its distinct identity as a separate entity , with a separate Constitution and flag .In any case the relationship of Kashmir with India is indestructible. There is no need to sharpen the edge of competitive politics by quibbling over the meaning of words “Accession”, “Merger” or “Union” .

One cannot be sure whether Omar Abdullah had this in mind when he made the speech because most people don’t credit him with the knowledge of turbulent Kashmir. But when seen in the aforementioned background his statement in the Assembly, to this extent, is a narration of the fact. Regarding his other part of the speech that there should be no repeating of , “ Kashmir is an integral part of India” he must go through Sec 3 of the State Constitution , which boldly mentions this fact. Mr CM, there is no separate constitution for any other State in the country.

The young CM would do well to recall what his illustrious grandfather told the Press in Delhi in Sept 1948., “We have burnt our boats. There is no place in Kashmir for a theocratic state. Kashmir will never make a plaything of India’s honour.” (Source - Kashmir: Behind the Vale—M.J Akbar). Omar Abdullah must realize that a word said in prevailing surcharged atmosphere may cause more harm than the intended good. Yes, Kashmir’s relationship with India needs to be reassessed and some promises made redeemed. But broad parameters of the values that, initially, defined the relationship must remain same.

Who is Protecting Human Rights of Children?

Zeenat speaks to educators and rings alarm bells

Azadi without education – USELESS!

Zeenat Zeeshan Fazi (Kashmir Images)

Srinagar: The prolonged denial of schooling to the students could develop them into “negative” individuals with anti-social and aggressive behaviors, warn experts.

Educationists caution that the prolonged closure of schools in Kashmir in the wake of ongoing unrest could be the cause of severe adverse effects on the overall development of school-going children.

Renowned educationist of the Valley, Prof. A G Madhosh says the absence of schooling was depriving students “not only of academic but also co-academic and extra-academic part” of school education which are must for their personality development.

Elaborating on it, Madhosh informs that the ‘academic’ part includes learning through teaching which pupil can recover at home; ‘co-academic’ part involves personality development through symposia, seminars, debates, et. al. while ‘extra-academic’ part involves excursions, camps, etc., which teach a child basic principles of living.

“Absence of school education has affected latter two parts related with education and at the same time the component of personality development of the child also gets shadowed,” he adds.

Consequentially, children will turn more violent, undisciplined, disobedient, and irritated besides developing love for loneliness and adverse behavioral changes. “We can say they will groom into a negative generation,” Madhosh says.

Madhosh, who himself runs one of the schools in the outskirts here, said, “I personally observed that some of my students could score better this time in the examinations than last year but there is nothing to feel elated about it as it can be because of their seriousness towards studies and the responsible approach of their parents which otherwise students lack.”

He says educational institutions are important for the over-all development of the child as “student gets its formal education only in school, college or university and long-drawn strikes effects the over-all development of the students”.

Meanwhile, noted psychiatrist, Dr. Mushtaq Margoob told ‘Kashmir Images’ that besides depriving students of school education, the ongoing unrest has had other negatives to offer to the psyche of the children. These include killings of many school-going children, teenagers, attacks on school buses and arrests of people ….

Margoob sees all these factors are developing a fear-psychosis among the children. Time is far when they will suffer of “free floating anxiety disorder”, a kind of depression which will be a challenge for the mental health experts as well as the society in general in the coming time, the psychiatrist forewarns.

Education is the basic human right as admitted even in UN Convention on Child Rights, noted social activist and lawyer Abdul Rashid Hanjoora said.

“It is unfortunate on the part of the separatist leadership that by not allowing the children to attend schools they are denying this basic right to them (children).”

Asking students to fight for their basic right of education, he adds, “There should have been appeals from students’ community to these leaders but unfortunately we don’t have organized students’ unions here. Why are the students and parents both silent about the issue?” asks Hanjoora.

It is the prime responsibility of the state to ensure safe passage to school-going children and once state fails to deal with the crises, then it becomes the responsibility of the civil society to come forward, he points out.

Hanjoora laments people’s silence over the issue. “Unfortunately the civil society here is unaware about its role; it is disorganized and will take some time to get organized.

Counseling separatists to consider students’ rights – their education - while issuing protest calendars, Hanjoora says, “Students should not be made to suffer; ‘Azadi’ can’t be at the cost of education of our children. Unless we provide education to our children, how can we claim Azadi?”

The Ugly Face of Corruption

As hired contractors and government officials enrich their wallets and bank accounts, obnoxious weeds and encroachments engulf the water bodies

Dying Dal, Nigeen in Last Throes

Arif Shafi Wani (Greater Kashmir)

THE non-seriousness of the Government to restore the glory of Dal and Nigeen lakes is clearly reflected by overwhelming growth of obnoxious weeds and Azolla, a deadly water fern which if left unattended has the potential to kill the water bodies.

The problem is compounded by massive encroachments in the lake’s catchments and even in its interiors— defeating the purpose of ‘conservation measures’ for which crores of rupees have been spent so far.

In absence of sustained conservation measures by the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority, the lakes have been pushed on the verge of extinction.

Ironically, the weeds have completely engulfed the front portion of the Dal overlooking LAWDA’s dockyard near the Northern Shore Road. Despite having state-of-the-art machines and manpower, the LAWDA has miserably failed to salvage the dying water body.

Reports state that massive construction is taking place in the catchments and core area of Dal. In blatant violation of the High Court orders, the construction material is being openly ferried into the lake particularly during the night.

Pertinently, the High Court monitoring the Dal conservation has placed blanket ban on any sort of construction in the lake and within 200 metres of its periphery. “Dal is gradually turning into a concrete jungle. There seems to be no accountability and people are undertaking construction in the lake at their will and whim. This has defeated the purpose of the conservation measures which were undertaken in past few years. The lake is back to square one,” the locals said.

The infectious waters of Dal containing harmful Azolla, has drastically affected the lakes outflow channels also. Pertinently, Chuntkul and Pokhribal acts as a catalyst in maintaining the water budget of Dal’s ecosystem as its surplus waters flows through them into Jhelum and Khushalshar respectively.

The deterioration of the outflow channels started since June this year when thick mats of obnoxious water fern Azolla gradually poured into them from the Dal. This has not only affected the outflow of Dal waters but marred its aesthetic beauty.

Presently, the Chuntkul and Pokhribal are engulfed by thick mats of Azolla and weeds. The problem is compounded by heavy accumulation of garbage and plastic bottles which have been stagnated in the water fern. “Chuntkul has been turned into a cesspool. It has been completely neglected as if it is not a part of Dal. The water emanates a pungent smell causing inconvenience to the locals as well as tourists,” fumed Muhammad Ashraf, an inhabitant of a neighboring locality overlooking Chuntkul.

Recounting the Chuntkul’s grandeur, Ashraf said till a few decades ago it was a favorite haunt of foreign tourists. “They used to erect tents on the islands of Chuntkul and enjoy fishing in its gushing and importantly crystal clear waters. But due to indifferent attitude of the concerned authorities, Chuntkul is all set to become a history,” he said.

Similarly, Pokhirbal, a part of Nigeen lake has started to turn into a marshy land due to heavy influx of Azolla, and weeds.

“Due to accumulation of Azolla on its surface, Pokhribal looks like field. It has gradually started to affect the Nigeen lake. LAWDA only cleans the front portion of Dal to hoodwink the people about the lake’s deteriorating condition,” the locals said.

The locals alleged that dozens of illegal structures have come up in Nigeen and its adjoining areas during the past four months.

“The construction material is ferried into the Nigeen and Pokhribal without any check. We are gradually losing our natural heritage. Ironically, the concerned officials in the disguise of ongoing unrest are acting as mute spectators to the vandalization of the lake,” they said.

Environmentalists have also expressed concern over the deteriorating condition of Chuntkul and Pokhribal. “The stagnation of Azolla in the outflow channels has triggered perennation in the water fern, which if left unattended will not only raise the lake’s bed but drastically affect its flora and fauna,” they said while recommending immediate dredging, desiltation and cleaning of the outflow channels.

Dr Shakeel Romshoo of Geology and Geophysics Department University of Kashmir said the conservation of inflow as well the outflow channels of Dal is imperative for maintaining its eco-system.

“Dal needs regular flushing to neutralize the concentration of nutrients. It is the natural process to prevent pollution in the lake. Steps on priority need to be taken to improve the inflow and outflow capacity of the lake,” Romshoo said

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Can Interlocutors Succeed?

Arjimand notes that both the Central Government and Separatists, led by Ali Shah Geelani, have many loose ends to tie to make the work of interlocutors meaningful

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 34, was born in Srinagar. He 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.)

Festival of Interlocutors

Former Indian diplomat G Parthasarthy, while commenting on New Delhi’s latest Kashmir initiative, in an article “Not all in J&K are Kashmiris” on October 14 in Deccan Chronicle, made an interesting statement, “Let us not forget 45 per cent of the people of Jammu & Kashmir are Dogras, Punjabis, Paharis, Bakarwals, Gujjars, Buddhists and Shias.”

Mr. Parthasarthy’s views are a general reflection of how most of the people in India’s political establishment think about Kashmir. It is also a reflection of New Delhi’s political approach on this issue ever since 1947.

The problem is that few people today realize the gravity of the powder keg situation of Kashmir. Few people are able to objectively visualize the cumulative effect of Kashmir’s failing economy, militarized governance, New Delhi’s political micro management, acute unemployment, tight military control and religious radicalism on both sides.

New Delhi’s latest Kashmir initiative in the form of new interlocutors has shocked many. The terms of reference and the format of the initiative looks like a classic NGO needs assessment exercise. Worse, it sounds a repetition of many such past exercises. There is a lot of cynicism about the outcome in Kashmir. Everyone seems to remember that the ink on the reports of the five Working Groups Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had formed is yet to dry up.

There are many in Kashmir who feel that the very idea of ‘interlocutors’ on Kashmir is out of sync with the real need – that is engagement between New Delhi and the state’s political formations at a political level. This view has a great merit.

Technically, political interlocutors are engaged to open lines of communications between two estranged parties in a political conflict. The new Kashmir interlocutors will end up meeting at least 1001 groups and individuals in its one-year time frame – who, in all probability, will include politicians, activists, business groups, ‘civil society’ actors, academics, journalists, NGOs, state-sponsored minority ‘representative’ groups, trade unions, students’ groups and so on.

Over the years, the centre of gravity of New Delhi’s political engagement on Kashmir has shifted towards engagement with the ‘civil society’ here. What needs to be appreciated is that engagement with the kind of ‘civil society’ Kashmir has today has limitations. Civil society does in fact play a pivotal role in influencing public opinion, but in Kashmir’s context its ability to do so to an extent where it can alter political dynamics is highly limited.

Admitted, the three interlocutors have an objective view about Kashmir. At the end of the day it is not what these ‘interlocutors’ will report back that will matter. What will matter is New Delhi’s political will of addressing Kashmir’s real political issues, which it knows quite well, and which it does not need any interlocutors to understand.

On the other extreme end in Kashmir are the position and the political approach taken by Hurriyat (G) leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The strategy of long shutdowns and a political approach which seems to be frozen somewhere in the times of Maulana Maudoodi and 1980s need fresh thinking too. It is true that the formidable support base Geelani sahib has, does not want him to budge an inch from his stand and approach. But, as a leader, who is being followed, he needs to understand the follies of his approach as well.

The first thing to realize is that what was politically applicable in 1980s as a strategy may not necessarily hold true today. A lot has changed since then locally as well as globally. It is true that his movement is denied democratic space for peaceful mobilization and expression, but his strategy needs to factor in this limitation too.

The premise that Kashmir’s moral high ground through long shutdowns will force New Delhi to accept Kashmir as a dispute and win international support is little too misplaced.

It is true there are many people in India and beyond who are sympathetic to Kashmir’s basic political cause, but does sympathy alone translate into support and political transformation?

In international politics and diplomacy it is only self interest that guides political stands. Currently, most of the international community’s interest, including that of most of Muslim countries, lies in the political status quo in Kashmir. This reality needs to be factored in Hurriyat (G)’s strategy.

The second question relates to political inclusiveness and joint advocacy. The fact is that no single leader can stake claim to sole leadership of Kashmir. Any political approach based on honest resolution of this issue will have to be inclusive and accommodative. Beyond core ideologies, a break from the deadlock demands accommodation. In the absence of a united Hurriyat – speaking for all those who do not believe in the status quo – New Delhi will always have ample political and geographical space for conflict management in Kashmir.

What Geelani sahib also needs to come to terms with is the bitter reality of Parthasarthy’s “45 per cent” argument. Why Hurriyat (G)’s politics shrunk exclusively to Kashmir Valley and failed inclusiveness across Pinpanjal and among Gujjar, Pahari and Shia sections needs introspection too.

There is another side to the current deadlock - that is economic. A daylong of shutdown in the 80s or 90s meant largely disruption to government services in Kashmir. There wasn’t as great private economic activity then as today. Services sector was limited. Today’s daylong shutdown results in economic catastrophe, the results of which will be felt in several decades to come. Further economic deprivation and job losses will ultimately push people closer to the state.

Then there is the issue of power inequality. The power equation between Srinagar and New Delhi is overly in the latter’s favor. Hurriyat (G)’s current strategy will deteriorate Kashmir’s this equation not only vis-à-vis New Delhi but Jammu and Ladakh regions as well. That will mean the centre of gravity of most of the economic activities will shift to Jammu, something that has already happened to alarming levels in the last two decades. The end result will be political. Jammu will attain greater economic, demographic and political stature, leaving Kashmir as an entity of secondary or even tertiary importance. That has already happened. That is a process which Kashmir will find impossible to reverse. Kashmir will have been politically defeated by its own hands.

Then is the question of brain drain and reverse investment. Kashmiris, who had lately begun to come back, invest and create institutions here, are going back again. A precarious private investment climate will mean the state will attain greater role as an economic moderator. That will make people even more dependent on the state.

Finally, there is a psychological aspect of this deadlock too. Long spells of hopelessness, economic loss and stress will result in an epidemic of anxiety disorders among its hapless people, whose ability to take rational decisions will increasingly fail. It will also breed family and social unrest. And all this will make the state monopoly to thrive. And the deadlock will be perpetual.

The Open Closet: An Illness Like Any Other

Maajid bares open the stigma associated with mental disorders when in fact it is an illness like any other affecting all ages and all strata of society

(Dr. Abdul Maajid, 38, was born in Srinagar. He received his undergraduate education in Srinagar, and completed medical degrees (MBBS and MD) from the Government Medical College (GMC) in Srinagar. Dr. Maajid is currently a consultant in Psychiatry at the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) in Srinagar. In his leisure time, he does research work and community outreach activities.)

Psychiatric Disorders: No more a Ghost Story Now

In Kashmir, if an individual develops some psychiatric disturbances, normally people instead of attributing the occurrence to underlying biological (nuerohormonal) disturbances in the brain ascribe the complaint to influence of some spiritual power, yeti or ghost on the patient.

In addition, there is a false belief that poverty, violence, insecurity and unemployment are correlated with mental disorders, although these being endemic factors in this part of world that require sustained, multi-pronged interventions. Studies, however, conducted at various prestigious research centres as well as in our valley have clearly depicted that psychiatric disorders can affect any individual irrespective of age, sex, caste, creed, status in society, occupation etc.

Keeping in view this false perception in our society regarding occurrence of psychiatric illnesses as having no biological basis, the first point of contact is a local non-medical expert or faith healers, where patient is supposed to be freed of all ill omens. However, when these psychiatric disturbances become difficult to handle or at times if the concerned people are a bit aware of the illness, relatives of the patient are advised to see a doctor. And in view the common psychiatric symptoms verbalized by the patient and attributing them entirely to heart problems like palpitations, restlessness, decreased sleep, decreased interest in activities, decreased concentration, tremors, sad mood, decreased appetite (which actually are symptoms of most common psychiatric illness - Depression), the patient undergoes various investigative procedures. When nothing significant is revealed by these investigations, patient is advised to see a psychiatrist, although the initial important period when diagnosis and treatment were easy, was lost before seeking psychiatrists consultation.

The parents, relatives and friends obviously think hundred times before seeing a psychiatrist to seek help for their psychiatrically ill patient, owing to fear of stigma, in view of the fact that psychiatrist in this part of the world are supposed to treat lunatics (insane) people only. Although this shouldn’t have been a scenario at least in this turbulence-ridden valley where during last few decades the psychiatric illnesses in the form of depression, anxiety disorders (especially Post Traumatic Stress Disorders), drug abuse, suicides etc have increased alarmingly due to various factors.

Like chronic medical disorders (diabetes, hypertension, hypo/hyper-thyroidism etc), psychiatric disorders also occur due to interplay of various factors. As revealed by research and scientific data world over, hormonal disturbances in the brain of an individual can give rise to different psychiatric disorders. As in depression there is decreased quantity of serotonin and norepinephrine and in schizophrenia dopamine levels are abnormal. Genetics (hereditary factors) also play a vital role in the occurrence of psychiatric disorders. Environmental stressors in the form of natural disasters (Oct 8 earth quake, snow storm, floods) and man made disasters; unemployment particularly in this part of world has been one of the major contributory factors for such steep rise in prevalence of psychiatric disorders. There is certainly role of psychosocial, cultural and psychological factors in etiology of psychiatric illnesses.

Taking all the above facts into consideration we need to change our mindsets and get psychiatric disorders treated at the earliest possible time the way medical disorders like diabetes, hypertension etc are being attended and treated properly on priority.

As the World Health Organization has pointed out that efficient interventions to diagnose and treat the most common mental disorders like depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia etc are as cost-effective as those for other chronic medical disorders, still most of the states in India spend a small fraction of their health budgets on mental health although they can afford to do a lot more. So it’s unfortunate and disappointing as well that only a small proportion of patients have access to proper treatment in our set up. Non-availability of voluntary health insurance policies for psychiatric diseases worsens the scenario. Although India made a beginning in community-level interventions through implementation of the District Mental Health Programme a decade ago it, however, has managed to serve only a fraction of the population, possibly due to improper execution of plans.

So there is an urgent need to change our perception regarding the causes and treatment of these psychiatric disorders and seek a proper psychiatric consultation without any hesitation. This will obviously prevent a small wound (manageable psychiatric ailment) to become gangrene (severe psychiatric disorder/ unsound mind).

Making our community aware through media, organizing seminars, discussing mental health issues in schools and with vulnerable population, involvement of religious leaders etc could be a step forward for proper management of the patients with psychiatric illnesses.

Last but not the least let all of us follow the golden words of former WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland in the 2001 World Health Report "the present generation must be the last that allows shame and stigma to rule over science and reason". So better late than never. Let’s take up the challenge of removing stigma and discrimination for our better and sound future.

A Question of Water

From renegotiating the Indus Water Treaty to adding a State tax to hydoelectric power generated by Kashmir's resources, Javid discusses a wide canvass of options under consideration

(Dr. Javid Iqbal, 64, was born in Srinagar. He attended the D.A.V. School, Srinagar, and graduated in Medicine from the Government Medical College (GMC). His professional service in medicine includes work in the Middle East for three decades. During his days at the GMC, he captained the cricket team. He enjoys writing and staying close to his children in far away lands.

Indus Water Treaty…..Arbitration Blues!

It happens so often-the dispute over modalities of the 1960 Indus water treaty, its provisions and obligations become bone of contention and had it not been in the provisions of the treaty to refer disputes to court of arbitration, there might been un-intended clashes, more often than not.

It is yet again J&K water-the rich hydro-electrical resource with the potential to make the state economically viable, which has become the bone of contention. The truth is visible-naked in fact-India has the land and except what the run of river allows J&K, Pakistan-the water! Reports indicate that Pakistan has instituted proceedings in the International Court of Arbitration to resolve the issue of the Kishanganga dam, which India is building on the Neelum River in Jammu and Kashmir. This has been stated by Pakistan’s Federal Minister of Water and Power Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in the National Assembly (Pakistan parliament’s lower house). The court is expected to take up the matter soon, as it has done, so often in the past 50 years-ever since the treaty was signed in 1960. Pakistan reportedly is concerned about a parapet of the Nimmo Bazgo hydroelectric project on the Indus River. The concerns relate to pondage, spillway and power intake, which remain to be resolved. But concerns like a parapet, the pondage or the spillway may look minor, as experts assess the major concerns of future.

Gwynne Dyer a London-based independent journalist of international fame whose articles are published in 45 countries, in one of his latest columns, entitled ‘A question of water’ spells out problems inherent in ‘Indus Water Treaty’ at a time when the problem in Pakistan is too much water [floods] not little as the future is foreseen of the treaty signed in 1960. The future as Dyer visualizes is pregnant with grave problems. Indus Water Treaty, says Dyer addresses the flow of six rivers and their distribution between the two countries-three eastern (read Punjab rivers, from which India gets water, having one fifth of the total flow of six) three western (read J&K rivers, from which Pakistan gets water) five of the six however cross Indian administered Kashmir. To make up for India’s low share and to hike it to around 30% India was allowed a share of two of western rivers, before they leave Indian Territory. 320,000 hectares (1.3 million acres)-and it is a FIXED amount, as Dyer calls it, regardless of how much water there actually is in the river. Having spelt the provisions of treaty, the famed columnist paints grim picture-Indian eastern rivers do not depend on glacial melt, while Pakistan’s western rivers do. And with the dwindling glaciers, expected to dwindle further with the flow of times, the flow of the rivers might actually dry up. The consequences of Pakistan with hardly the water to irrigate its fields might result in grave incidents, fear the geopolitical experts like Dyer.

That indeed is bad news, however lately the reports of some scientific experts contradict the dwindling glaciers. We may now leave the future-grim or otherwise and assess the present. Pakistan’s reported concern about a parapet of the Nimmo Bazgo hydroelectric project on the Indus River, remained unresolved earlier on, as other concerns were mutually and amicably resolved, without resorting to the ultimate-referral to arbitration. These concerns related to construction of the Uri-II hydroelectric plant on the Jhelum River and the Chutak hydroelectric plant on a tributary of the Indus. These were resolved within the counsels of Permanent Indus Waters Commission, giving rise to speculations that related Indo/Pak issues do affect the Indus water treaty Permanent Commission’s deliberations. At that time Jamat Ali Shah, the Pakistani commissioner on the commission seemed willing to concede anything Indians asked for, in all probability on account of India seeming willing to resume dialogue after the 26/11 Mumbai militant strike. The strike attributed to be the handiwork of Pakistan based militant groups had India call off diplomatic interaction with Pakistan. However Kishanganga dam parapet was left to be resolved at a future meet. “The establishment of a court for arbitration and the appointment of neutral experts would be proposed to India, as New Delhi had failed to satisfy Pakistan in matters related to the dispute during negotiations between the Indus water commissioners of the two countries,” Syed Jamat Ali Shah had said. 1960 Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) stipulates appointment of a neutral expert by the World Bank as a last option to resolve water related issues between both the countries.

Indus Water treaty over the years has resulted in so many ifs and buts that there are many, who think it might be highly proper to re-negotiate the treaty, as it does not only result so often in spat between the two nation states, but has shown an increasing tendency to sow seeds of discord between provinces within the nation states, as an example the problem within Pakistan between littoral Punjab (province from where the water flows) to riparian Sind (the province to which it flows). On the Indian side, the report has come at a time, when Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly has cleared decks to charge the government of India (GoI) owned National Hydro Electric Power Corporation (NHEPC) and state owned power companies for harnessing the state’s water resources. The issue runs deep in J&K, irrespective of political affiliations. Not to talk of separatist camp, even in main stream camp, reservations have been expressed vis-a-vis harnessing of the hydro electrical resources of the state by the central agencies and other states.

The most pro-Indian of Jammu and Kashmir’s political formations-J&K Pradesh Congress Committee’s nominee in the council of ministers-senior leader Taj Mohi-ud-Din Minister for Public Health and Engineering piloted the bill, named (Jammu and Kashmir Water Resources Regulation and Management bill) which is all set to become a law now, having received the requisite assent in the assembly. The bill would be tabled in the Upper House ahead of sending it to the governor N N Vohra for his approval. The bill while seeking economic viability of the state, as spelt by the minister evades affecting Indus Water Treaty in any manner, the minister was at pains to dispel the impression. The minister quoted a staggering amount of Rs 7,140 crore annually, even more as the money that NHPC and state owned companies were earning annually from different hydroelectric projects operated by them in Jammu and Kashmir. On the charges that stakeholders would have to pay in the state coffers, Taj stated “They will be charged two paisa per cubic meter for using water for power generation but there will be no levy or tax. From the preliminary calculations made by the department, the companies will now require to pay at least Rs 850 crore to the state government against the usage of water for power generation. They will have to pay if they earn such huge money from the water resources which belong to state,” said Taj. The state nodal agency for realizing it would be-State Water Resources Regulatory Authority, which would be deciding fixing the liability and charging tariff rates for water usage by the power companies.” We are very serious about this Act. The Regulator Authority will be set up in next two months to set the process of recovery in motion,” Taj said.

The bill also seeks to fix responsibility in case of loss of life while operationilising the deal. This follows tragic loss of 25 human lives caused due to the “faulty design in URI-I” power project owned by the NHPC, besides addressing environmental concerns. Encouraged by the state government’s move, the central Water Commission is also contemplating to make a law on safety of dams similar to the one we have proposed,” added Taj. Taj piloted bill however has a serious lacuna; it leaves NHPC and state companies lightly-charging them only a fraction of what they actually take away from what is state’s richest natural source, hence the bill may not ease the hurt significantly-the hurt that people in the state feel so deeply!

A re-negotiated Indus Water Treaty could, in the light of half a century of past experiences and the grim picture painted of the future by Dyer and his ilk, set up a new course for water distribution between nation states and then between provinces within the nation states. And who knows, it might usher in an era of much needed peace and tranquility in the subcontinent, as well as provide the key to what P. Chidambaram-the Indian Home Minister calls a ‘Unique Problem’ needing a ‘Unique Solution’? J&K’s hydro-electrical resource solution-the economic settlement is implicit in overall conflict resolution-the political settlement!