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, May 28, 2010

Paring Down Unemployment

Aatif dwells on the under performing sector in Kashmir, meaning the private industry

(Mr. Aatif Ahmad Mehjoor, 27, was born in Srinagar. He received his primary education in London and Srinagar, with the final two years at the Burn Hall School. He studied law at King's College London and the University of Oxford. He currently works in the London office of Shearman & Sterling, an international law firm, specialising in the regulation of financial markets. His personal interests are: financial markets & investment, cricket, and ancient history & archaeology.)

A Knowledge Industry in Kashmir

Unemployment remains a serious problem in Kashmir. Despite many efforts by previous governments to address the issue, hundreds of thousands of educated people in Kashmir are languishing at home without any jobs. People have mistakenly pinned their hopes on an endless creation of government jobs, not knowing that the government’s finances are in such a troubled condition that it cannot even pay its existing employees properly, let alone additional employees manning unnecessary jobs.

The only way to deal with this problem is to allow the private sector to create jobs. Although this includes encouraging entrepreneurship and small-scale businesses, in order to create the hundreds of thousands of jobs that are needed to absorb the current unemployed youth, we must also attract an adequate measure of foreign investment.

Kashmir offers tremendous opportunities for foreign investment in a number of areas. It has huge potential for the installation of hydroelectric plants and less than 10% of our capacity has so far been harnessed. There is also much potential to develop the tourist industry on a much higher scale if foreign investors can be persuaded to set up ski resorts, hotels and tour companies. Already, the J&K Tourism Department has made sterling efforts to construct (and reconstruct) valuable assets such as the Royal Springs Golf Course and the Nigeen Club.

There is, however, one area in which Kashmir is ideally suited to excel. It is something that would reinforce our tourist industry, provide tens of thousands of jobs, and deliver innumerable other benefits to our people and economy. It is higher education. This sector could offer Kashmir the chance to specialise in a rapidly evolving and lucrative industry. Recently, the Central Government introduced the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill 2010 in the Lok Sabha. If, as is very likely, this Bill becomes law it will be possible for foreign educational institutions to establish colleges, universities and institutes in India and run them for profit. Indian students, who have until now had to spend lakhs of rupees on education abroad, will now be able to obtain such education at home.

The J&K Government should seize the opportunity offered by this initiative and investigate ways of fostering this new industry in Kashmir. It should immediately establish a committee to study the possibility of promoting Kashmir as a centre of higher education and to recommend what measures the Government could take to achieve this end.

Kashmir has all the characteristics of a centre of higher education. In ancient times, Kashmir was a seat of learning in Asia – ‘Sharadapeetha’ – and students flocked from all corners of Asia to study Sanskrit and Buddhism. As most people know, the University of Kashmir has one of the most beautiful campuses in Asia. The attractions of studying in Kashmir are obvious. It is no wonder that Kashmir has already become a centre in India for teacher education: there are now more than 40 ‘B.Ed colleges’ operated by the private sector in Kashmir catering to students from throughout India. In my view, this successful industry proves that there are greater heights to be achieved, provided the Government steps in and takes up its role as facilitator.

There are several steps that could be taken to foster the higher education industry. The J&K Government should introduce its own Foreign Educational Institutions Bill to regulate the entry and operation of foreign universities and colleges in Kashmir. It should come up with a comprehensive set of incentives to encourage the industry. To start with, the Government should acquire a vast tract of land – along the lines of the various industrial estates – and designate it as a ‘knowledge city’. Land in this area would be set aside for foreign investors intending to establish universities, colleges and institutes of higher learning, as well as for ancillary businesses. It would be offered at nominal rates. There would also be incentives based on tax. The Government could emulate what Dubai has done and offer complete exemption from income tax and corporation tax, so that any professionals working in the knowledge city and any institutions in it would pay 0% tax on their incomes. The regulatory environment would aim to place the lightest burden on institutions so that they are attracted to Kashmir rather than any other part of South Asia.

To ensure jobs are created for the people of the state, any foreign institution setting up in the knowledge city would be required to set aside, say, 10% of academic jobs and 30% of the non-academic jobs for state subjects and to allocate, say, 30% of tenders to local contractors.

Dubai’s experiment with establishing higher education as an industry has yielded mixed results. Although the industry survives, it has not really flourished. In large part, this is due to the lack of academic freedom as well as excessively strict residency laws that do not allow expatriate workers to obtain citizenship. It is very difficult to persuade a professor who is an expert in a particular subject to come to a region where his or her views will be constantly monitored and who will always face the possibility of expulsion. To attract foreign academic staff, it is important to enable them to feel a part of the local culture. This means permitting them to attain full citizenship and its concomitant rights (right to own land, etc.) after a certain period of time. This is why the United States and Europe have magnetically attracted thousands upon thousands of the world’s brightest brains to their universities and companies. The Government should therefore enable foreign academic staff who have worked in the knowledge city for a certain number of years (say 5) to become permanent residents of the state (with the right to own real estate), provided they demonstrate in an objective test knowledge of the local culture (including proficiency in a local language).

If properly nurtured, foreign education or ‘educational tourism’ could emerge as a big industry in Kashmir. It would also provide a fillip to other industries and, indeed, give rise to new ones. A large university or institute with an enrolment of tens of thousands of students is a complex animal that creates enormous business for local entrepreneurs and traders. The presence of a large numbers of foreign students and staff would also boost tourism as well as other sectors of Kashmir’s local economy.

When it Rains in Pakistan, Kashmiri Separatists Take Out Their Umbrellas in Srinagar

Bukhari saheb is putting too much emphasis on the State-Centre talks when the real challenge lies elsewhere

(Syed Rafiuddin Bukhari, 72, was born in Kreri in Baramulla District. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Kashmir Media Group that publishes the English daily, Rising Kashmir, and soon-to-be launched Urdu daily, Bulund Kashmir. He had his early education in Sopore, Beerwah and then in Srinagar where from he got his post-graduate degree in English from the University of Jammu and Kashmir, and took up job as a teacher in higher education department. He taught English in various colleges in Kashmir took voluntary retirement in 1995 as Professor. Even though not a professional journalist by training, he has been extremely successful in the field, launching SANGARMAL, the first ever multi-coloured Kashmiri newspaper from Srinagar which is now in its fourth year. Later in 2008, he created the Kashmir Media Group. His interests are reading and writing and building value based institutions.)

Quiet Diplomacy: The idea didn’t work sir jee?

The response from Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Chairman of moderate faction of Hurriyat Conference to Union Home Secretary G K Pillai’s “optimism” came barely after 24 hours of the statement he made to All India Radio. In other words Mirwaiz proved him wrong since he could be the only significant player in this kind of an overture. Pillai’s statement came at the time when the news about Prime Minister’s proposed visit to Kashmir is making rounds. The noise about “Quiet Diplomacy” has been on for last several months and it was seen as something new to address the internal dimension of Kashmir problem. On its face value people did not pin much hopes with this initiatives as the past experiences are so bitter that this pill can’t be swallowed easily. Nevertheless, there were many who had expectations that something positive was in store. Home Minister P Chidambaram proved to be very sharp by coining this word as it gives a diplomatic edge to New Delhi and the process as such cannot be held accountable at any stage.

Like all past initiatives aimed at finding an “understanding” with those who are out of mainstream, this also was fraught with dangers. After some selective leakages in the press about “secret meetings of some separatists” with home ministry officials as part of “Quiet Diplomacy”, Fazl Haque Qureshi, the suave face of separatism became the target and had miraculous escape. Qureshi had played an important role in brokering peace between Hizbul Mujahideen and New Delhi in 2000 though the ceasefire did not last for more than 12 days. Making Qureshi a target was clear message from those who do not want that any of the parties should sit across the table. Earlier in 2004, Mirwaiz himself had to pay the price for entering into dialogue with New Delhi when his uncle was shot dead and 100 year old school was burnt. Like those abortive attempts this time too the Quiet Diplomacy has not shown much progress on the ground.

In this backdrop the statement from Union home secretary that it was yielding results is something which needs to be debated. It has become more important since Mirwaiz has termed as a notion to create confusion in (separatist) ranks. If at all the Quiet Diplomacy was progressing well who are the players. Here in Kashmir the separatist camp is well defined in three quarters. One led by Syed Ali Geelani, who is deadly against any direct engagement with Delhi, another is on a “middle path” not aligning with any side, moderate in nature and headed by JKLF Chief Yasin Malik, the third one is obviously of Mirwaiz who has outrightly rejected the Quiet Diplomacy.

Here the statement of Mirwaiz gains weight to an extent when he says that it is a notion to create confusion. New Delhi’s problems in dealing with Kashmir are well understood, but it is surely on a soft peddle at this juncture as the important player in this game in Pakistan which has been grappling with its own problems, giving an advantage to India. This was the time New Delhi could have found a ground in Kashmir by a “serious and sincere” engagement with the separatists who challenge India’s presence in Kashmir. It remains a fact that the problem cannot be resolved overnight but extending it too far also leads to complications. Quiet Diplomacy could have been the best way to address this dimension but as of now it seems that it had failed to take off despite the support from the state government and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party. The results of this diplomacy are not visible on the ground as the conflict in Kashmir is not showing the way towards any reconciliation. This is also vindicated with the speech of Mirwaiz at the commemoration rally of his father at Eidgah on Friday where he hardened his stand asking Prime Minister to come forward for meaningful dialogue with Hurriyat and Pakistan. Nowadays Mirwaiz is not in the “good books” of Pakistani establishment but he still looks towards Islamabad than New Delhi and advocates in favour of former. This erosion makes it clear that the confidence and trust deficit with which New Delhi has been “managing” Kashmir has not gone down.

The “Quiet Diplomacy” was seen as something New Delhi announced under American pressure as Pakistan began to bargain with Washington on Kashmir in lieu of its “unflinching” support to war on terror. If the experts are to be believed it was purely done to satiate the “American feelings” which in turn assured Islamabad that “something was happening” over Kashmir.

Past experiences have shown that with such “half hearted” moves the separatists in Kashmir only get discredited among masses which in turn gives New Delhi a “room” to further delay any meaningful exercise over Kashmir. With Mirwaiz rejecting it again, New Delhi should think afresh to move forward positively on Kashmir. The talks in 2004 and 2005, the Working Groups and similar “Track II” initiatives have not made any difference on ground. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s sincerity may not be subject to scrutiny but the way his “Kashmir handlers” are going, the confidence is on decline. During his visit he should walk a mile more to send a positive message and remove the apprehensions Kashmiris have always attached with New Delhi’s moves. In case something has really moved on “Quiet Diplomacy” front; it is time for Dr Singh to make it public which certainly will show a way forward.

Resuscitating "Venice of the East"

Ashraf wonders if it is the same Srinagar which was once called the Venice of the East by the European travellers

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 66, was born and raised in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. High School and the S.P College before joining the Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Civil Engineering. However, he changed his career to adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing, completing his training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and Gulmarg. He also completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Française in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.)

Welcome to the ‘Dirty’ City!

Other day I was amused at the Airport by a hoarding of the Tourism Department. It is located on a very commanding position and depicts a Kashmiri selling flowers in a shikara. The mournful expression on the face of the shikarawala truly depicts the sad state of the city. The hording welcomes tourists to the hospitality of Kashmir, which unfortunately has been questionable in the recent past. However, the fault does not lie with the Tourism Department. They are making tremendous efforts to attract visitors to Kashmir from all over the world in spite of numerous obstacles including adverse foreign travel advisories. Their untiring efforts get totally negated by the actions of all other departments connected with the upkeep of the city. Recently some international TV channels were showing the garbage dumps in the world famous City of the Sun. It is not a proud moment for a Kashmiri when his capital city, probably one of the oldest in the world is rated as the 4th dirtiest city in India. The rating is not by an NGO but by the Central Department of Urban Development.

To know the difference between the Srinagar of yester years and now, it would be interesting to quote some extracts from some old travelogues of Europeans. Recently while surfing the net, I stumbled on two old travelogues about Kashmir. One is the “A lonely summer in Kashmir” by Margaret Cotter Morison written in 1904 and the other is “Kashmir, the land of streams and solitude” by H R Pirie written in 1909. Margaret, while describing Srinagar writes, “Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir and the only big town in the country, is a place full of life and picturesqueness, which captivates the visitor by its novelty and perpetually amuses him by the many quaint similarities to places seen before. With the polo-ground, tennis-courts, and smartly dressed ladies, one might think oneself in an ordinary Indian station; at the Residency garden-parties, where croquet is played on the softest of lawns, and strawberries and cream dispensed under cool spreading trees, any one would think himself at a country house in England; on the river above the town, where house-boats are crowded close together for over a mile, the sight recalls Henley a few days before the regatta; a row down the town where houses and temples line the banks, where gracefully carved wooden balconies overhang the water, where men and women loiter chattering on the steps, and half the population lives in boats, brings back faint memories of Venice. But a visit to the Dal Lake, with its willow-lined water canals and unique floating gardens, or a stiff climb up the hill, called the Takht-i-Suleiman, to obtain a panoramic view of the city, so green in spring-time, with grass growing thickly on all the roofs; and lastly, the perpetual swarm of merchants round one's boat thrusting themselves and their goods in at the window repeating their never ceasing cry of :"Only see, lady, only see ; don't buy, Mem-sahib " these are suggestive of Srinagar, and only Srinagar, for their like is seen in no other part of the earth”.

Pirie narrating her journey on Jhelum River writes, “There are other roads in Kashmir; roads like colonnades between serried ranks of poplar trees, the tall, slim, silvery pillars of the beautiful populus alba, or the sombre stateliness of the dark poplars of Lombardy; roads bordered by willows, or leading through marshy meadow, or carpeted with snowy petals from the blossoming branches of apple and pear and cherry trees, which make fragrant archways overhead; many and lovely are the roads of the Valley ; but the road par excellence of Kashmir is the River, the Veth as the Kashmiris call it, which is an abbreviation of Vitasta, its Sanskrit name, the fabulous Hydaspes of the classic historians. Up and down the wide and placid river go the flat-bottomed, slow-moving boats of the country—the wide grain-barges, the doongas with their roofs and sides of matting, the deep-laden market boats, and the little fishing-boats so often drawn up near the bank with a wide net outspread, its wet meshes glittering in the sunshine like a dragon-fly's wing. It is with a dream-like feeling one goes up the wide, calm river; following its thousand windings, one passes in and out of all varieties of climate, sunshine and shadow chasing each other through the day. It is a sunny, brilliant morning; the light breeze made by the motion of the boat sets the delicate iris petals fluttering, and the water ripples gaily against the prow; while before one's eyes a magnificent and ever-changing panorama unfolds itself, dominated by a splendid succession of lofty snow-peaks, the serene and silent guardians of this enchanted land. Later we pass out of the sunlight, and the prevailing tints of the afternoon are violet and indigo under the heavy clouds which hang over the Valley”.

The descriptions of Srinagar and the journey on the River seem out of this world. Where have these gone? Destroyed by the greed of the people and the apathy of the rulers! What does Srinagar of today look like? Mounds of stinking garbage strewn in every nook and corner. Dug up roads, overflowing drains, coverless manholes, and swarms of wild and vicious dogs prowling everywhere! The famous Veth is like a sewer taking in sewerage from all the towns and villages on its banks. The view from the world renowned boulevard is more disheartening. One gets the stink of a dying water body. It is more so in hot weather. Lake is in its last throes of death. So far no one has been able to restore or even arrest its further deterioration. The reasons for these disasters are many. The first is the edifice of corruption on which the state runs. The departments concerned with the maintenance of the character of the city and keeping it clean are doing just the opposite. There is absolutely no accountability. There is a free for all atmosphere prevalent everywhere. One department is paving the roads and the other one is digging these up! There is no co-ordination. The only thing that makes things move is underhand money. Municipal Corporation, Urban Development Department, Public Health Engineering, Power Department, and so on ensure the upkeep of the VVIP and VIP areas. All civic facilities are to be provided here on top priority. Rest does not matter. Delhi too cannot escape the blame. They may have rated Srinagar as the 4th dirtiest city but they have not analyzed or detailed the causes for such a calamity. They have been pumping hundreds of crores into various projects and departments but have they ever bothered to take to task the people for misappropriation of these funds or held them responsible for the mess? They overlook all these things in ‘National Interest’. The most that has been done is to express displeasure at the slow pace of implementation of various projects. It was rather the highest court which pointed out that the State Government cannot get away from its primary responsibility by claiming uncertain situation of conflict. There does not appear an easy way out of this mess. The way things are going ahead we may soon reach the first position in the list of the dirtiest cities. Instead of a welcome sign, we should put the Latin saying supposed to be at the entrance of hell which says, “All ye who enter here abandon all hope!”

The Civil Dialogue

Arshad argues for unity in diversity

We The Divided


The strength lies in the unity on principles. Divided we are crippled. that is what has been proven in history all along. It is not the number but the strong will and commitment of the masses and leaders that leaves an indelible mark in history. Kashmir issue surfaced and erupted primarily because of the Muslim majority status of the J&K state. That is the very reason India and Pakistan fought and continue to fight for it since 1947. There are voices from certain quarters that try to give other reasoning for the dispute. They trace Kashmir dispute to 18th or 19th century status or pre Mughal era and so on. These theories have now an academic importance only. If world will try to settle the geographical status on four to five century old records, imagine where it will lead. Those advocating the same may have their own calculations and justification; however it doesn’t look some thing that is going to deliver. Geographical borders are never permanent, but timely and ever changing; history vouches for that. These changes are generally the outcome of power balance rather than any ethnic or cultural or linguistic identity. Despite religious, cultural and linguistic similarity we see Arab world fragmented into mediocre states which do not cooperate with each other. At the same time we can see USA having diverse populace working as a single unit today. USSR came into existence as a single unit out of power balance and fragmented on the same factors as well. We see Koreans divided, Yugoslavia divided, Pakistanis divided, Pakhtuns divided, Arabs divided, Hindus divided and who not. These are the hard facts. Long back we see Bharat was the state which today means around 8-10 independent states.

There are usually two thoughts today focusing on the affairs of the state. One is trying to focus on economical perspective and the other on the nationality that includes culture, language, ethnicity etc. Kashmir is a multiplicity of issues. Earlier it was almost entire Kashmir unanimous in approaching the major issues especially the disputed status. There were divisions then as well, but individuals were normally busy attending their priorities. The public in general was united. Today there is a huge change on the ground as different plans were adopted that left us divided. Today the state is fragmented especially on the political front.

Jammu, Kashmir and Laddakh today don't represent the real prospects of a single state with all the three regions placed at a big distance from one another. This could happen with precise politics adopted, nourished and worked upon. We created different linguistic zones, Dogri, Kashmiri, Laddakhi etc. out of the same state where the aim primarily seems to be isolating Kashmiris. We are further fragmented; first by creating more districts and then these districts become hostile against each other. Since it is the people from Kashmir region that are politically more active, there we find profound fragmentation. We have mainstream camp divided in Kashmir thus marring the chances of development in this region. We have separatist camp divided in Kashmir thus inviting miseries rather any specific gains. We see people in Kashmir turning hostile to one another on various issues. Even if Islam unites us in the bond of brotherhood, but our own politics has divided us and thrown us apart.

Let’s debate, debate on issues, debate not for the sake of debate and not for wining the debate but for coming to consensus based on logic. That is only way we can seek unity which is the need of the hour.

The Matter of Life and Death

Not only is medical care dismal in hospitals, even the emergency care is pathetic

Valley Lacks Critical Care Ambulances

Srinagar: Timely medical help during emergencies can make a
difference between life and death. Ambulances equipped with
life-saving facilities, therefore, assume key role in saving lives.
Despite the high incidence of casualties in the valley, there is an
acute dearth of critical care ambulances. Those available lack
necessary facilities and are just used for carrying the patients.
Director Health Services Kashmir, Muhammad Amin Wani told Rising
Kashmir that though ambulances with basic facilities are available in
every primary health centre, sub-district and district hospital, the
critical care ambulances are not available. “We have sent the proposal
to the government for approval of a critical care ambulance worth 35
lakhs rupees to every district,” he said.

Wani says the valley is short of nearly 30 ambulances. “Health
department cannot provide ambulances at every place,” he added.
Meanwhile, experts believe the ambulances provided by health
department are simply “carrier vehicles”.

‘The number of ambulances provided by health department is not
sufficient to cater to the needs. Even during cross-firing, blasts or
encounters, the injured are generally ferried in police or civilian
cars in the absence of proper ambulance service,” they said.
Besides, there is also lack of proper emergency service in the state
unlike most other states.

Director Health says the department is in talks with some private
agencies to provide 24-hour ambulance services.

“We will establish a control room soon in Srinagar, first as a pilot
project. If private sector cooperation will not mature we will
introduce a hotline number for ambulances at government level,” said

To filter fake calls, he added, a software package will be used.
In 12 states of India- Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Tamil
Nadu, Rajasthan, Goa, Assam, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya,
Punjab- emergency ambulance services are just a call away. Call 108, a
hotline number, an ambulance will arrive at your door step in these

These emergency ambulances run by GVK¬-Emergency Management and
Research Institute in association with the state governments are
accompanied by trained Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) responsible
for pre-hospital care while transporting the patient to a hospital for
stabilization. If required, the technician can contact the in-house
Emergency Response Care Physician (ERCP) who is a qualified medical
practitioner available 24/7 to support the EMT as and when required
through cell phone.

Ghulam Muhammad from Wagoora, accompanying a patient at SMHS hospital,
paid Rs 650 for ambulance from sub-district hospital Sopore to SMHS.
“There is no first-aid, no trained paramedic in the ambulances.
Patients are left unattended throughout the journey. Many patients
lose their lives on way to hospital due to lack of transport or
immediate treatment,” Ghulam Muhammad told Rising Kashmir.
Ambulances should ideally have facilities including proper couch for
patients, splints for immobilization of fractures, first-aid kits,
emergency care equipment and supplies like airway care, oxygen
cylinders, masks, blood transfusion facilities, ECG machine, external
cardiac compression, prevention and treatment of shock, life saving
drugs and injections, IV fluids, drip sets, blood pints and blood
transfusion sets.

Besides this, refrigeration facility, communication facility,
emergency childbirth and transportation of newly born infants are
necessary for an ambulance. For immediate treatment of serious
patients a highly trained paramedic staff should also be onboard.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Are Western Style Stimulus Jobs Appropriate in Kashmir?

Arjimand comments on short-term jobs being created in the State to stimulate the economy. First the news item, then his commentary

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 34, is a columnist/writer and a development professional who matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering from Bangalore University and has a diploma in journalism as well. He is an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany and has worked with UNESCO, Oxfam and ActionAid International in some seven countries in Asia and Africa. Arjimand writes regular weekly columns for the Greater Kashmir and The Kashmir Times since 2000 on diverse issues of political economy, development, environment and social change and has over 450 published articles to his credit.)

J-K govt to appoint 8000 volunteers for social services

Jammu and Kashmir government has decided to appoint 8000 youths as volunteers to work at places of public importance, including clearance of famous Dal lake and traffic duties, minister for youth affairs and sports R S Chib said today.

"These volunteers will be paid an honorarium of Rs 2500 per month and would be selected from all districts of the state and sent outside the state to undergo vocational training", Chib said addressing a public meeting at Pampore, 20 kms from here in Pulwama district of south Kashmir.

President J&K Pradesh Congress Committee and Member of Parliament, Saif-ud-Din Soz said the Central Government is very keen for the speedy development and prosperity of the state.

Class Struggle Question: Would 8000 state-paid ‘volunteer jobs’ work?

A new brand has just entered into J&K’s job market. This brand is christened as State-paid Private Volunteers. This brand is unique and, probably, one of its own kind. And the title looks as much as a misnomer as the idea itself.

When state Congress leader, Saif-ud-din Soz and the state’s Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports, R. S. Chib, announced the government plan of hiring 8000 youth as ‘volunteers’ last week, it raised many questions. One question relates to the state’s management of the job market in our state. The second question is related to the basic economic and social philosophies that this government espouses in an era of limited state. The third question relates to the quality of our governance and the vision our governments hold to make it better. Would our governance be any better with this ‘volunteer system’? Would the ‘volunteers’ employed be motivated enough to make positive difference to the quality of our governance?

We have been told that the plan is to enroll some 8000 volunteers from all the state’s districts, who would be paid a monthly honorarium of Rs. 2500 by the government. These volunteers would be required to help the state in areas where formal administrative structures haven’t been able to work so well. For instance, these volunteers would be tasked to work at places of public importance, including taking up a clean up of the Dal Lake and perform traffic management duties. They would even be sent outside the state to undergo ‘vocational training.’

This announcement seems to come with a not-so-veiled admission that the State has almost given up on its efforts to create productive jobs in the private sector. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s honest confession at a rally in Srinagar last week that out of the 500,000 unemployed youth, who have registered themselves in the employment offices of the State, the government might, at best, be able to recruit only 150,000 youth over the next few years is significant. That means we will have around 350,000 unemployed youth who would remain jobless for a long time to come.

Looking at the private investment climate in Jammu & Kashmir state today, it is clear that the room for creating jobs in the private sector would remain quite limited in a foreseeable future. Even as the locals are making investment in various economic areas, a big job creation as a result of that is quite improbable. The possibility of outside investment in the Kashmir region, owing to the chronic political uncertainty, remains bleak. The investment happening in the plains of the Jammu region is also likely to remain by and large static or even go down, in view of the government of India‘s decision to withdraw certain tax benefits, like the exemption of excise duty, in the State.

Politically speaking, this is quite a difficult situation for any political formation seeking to establish its political credibility and peace. J&K’s ruling political parties are, undoubtedly, confronted with severe pressures for jobs from their political constituencies today. Given the highly competitive political environment in the State today, the political parties here are naturally compelled to constantly reinvent their raison d’etre in an environment of high political instability. In view of this environment, seen from a narrow perspective, this kind of job creation does offer a viable solution in the short term, keeping in view its low costs and high political returns. But looking from macro economic and social perspectives, such a decision is fraught with serious complications in the days to come.

Let us begin with the possible economic consequences.

Bringing in a greater number of people within the quasi state structures without a corresponding increase in the State revenues makes little macro economic sense. This system is also going to consume a highly educated segment of our youth to a unproductive system of service delivery, which won’t help the economy in a significant manner either.

There are a number of possible political implications as well. The provision of these kinds of informal jobs, among other things, is also expected to ease the pressure on the state for jobs. However, as experience has shown, it will generate newer stresses in the days to come, which may not be that visible today.

As the experience of the statecraft employed in Jammu & Kashmir in the past testify, such an approach will make the subjects of this state even more dependent on government. It will also distract a greater number of our youth from their quest for jobs outside the State – something the governments here have been working hard on since some time now. It will also challenge the philosophical underpinnings of the state’s arguments about why J&K’s youth need to look beyond the state for jobs now.

In the shorter term it will definitely help the state’s ruling political formations in reaping a rich political harvest by way of greater political loyalty and grassroots support as well. However, on the longer term, it is going to aggravate the pressure cooker situation that the state finds itself in today. There may be some other spin offs of such an exercise too, which may not be anticipated or intended. Quite naturally, such a job system is going to create another layer of ad hoc governance system between the State and the citizens. The presence of such a layer will have both political and social consequences. Since this layer will operate on the normal governance space without a formal legal validity, it is bound to create frictions in the areas of coordination and jurisdiction between various organs of the state.

At another level, an adhoc system of law enforcement like involvement of these volunteers in state functions like traffic management are bound to raise questions of legal legitimacy. From a social perspective - and in view of past experiences – this system is bound to give birth to a new class struggle in the Kashmiri society, where various classes, by virtue of its systematic disempowerment, seek power by various proxies.

Under such circumstances, it is important to factor in the several class struggles happening within the Kashmiri society today. Some of these class struggles are as a result of our own contradictions. Some are clearly manufactured and designed to divide. It is important for our civil society to recognize this aspect in their analyses of such state decisions.

Water Polo in Kashmir

Yusuf sees competitive tourism market leading to new creativity in boosting tourism in Kashmir

(Mr. Mohammad Yusuf, 56, was born in the Dalgate area of Srinagar. He attended Government Schools in Drugjan, Sonawar, and Batwara, all in Srinagar, and completed his college studies at the Sri Partap College, Srinagar. Following his graduation, he briefly attended the University of Kashmir, and in 1980, joined the Physical Education Department of the University of Kashmir. Mr. Yusuf teaches aquatics and adventure sports (swimming, mountaineering, snow and water skiing, rafting, parasailing, skating, kayaking, canoeing, etc.) and has won many local sports trophies. He has led many exploration expeditions in Kashmir, and is the Treasurer of the Winter Sports Association of Jammu and Kashmir, General Secretary of J&K Aero Sports Association and the J&K Ski & Mountaineering Association, Secretary of Srinagar Winter Sports Association, and Vice President of the J&K Yoga Association. In his leisure time, Mr. Yusuf engages in social work, gardening and writing.)

Polo in Waters of Kashmir

God has gifted us with snow, water and mountains. Ours being the most liked tourist destination in the country we must make full use of these natural resources and heal up the ailing tourism industry. Tourism Department is undoubtedly working hard to bring back the glorious days of Kashmir tourism.

For promotion of adventure tourism the Director Tourism, Mr. Farooq Shah is more concerned and is making all out efforts to create one or the other tourist attracting activity here. Holding of festivals and adventure activities at national and international levels by the department has carried message of peace all over the world and more and more tourists have now started pouring in. It was great of Tourism Department to introduce American national sports, Baseball, on Snow at Gulmarg during winter this year. Snow Baseball was a brainchild of Mr. Farooq Shah which received accolades worldwide. But there are still many more things to be done. Besides tulip, saffron, Shikara, gardens and heritage sites etc we have many more things in Srinagar which need to be exploited by the Tourism Department and its alliances in a big way. Mount Mahadev has excellent ski runs thereby offering ski-touring within Srinagar limits till late April.

In Srinagar we have a number of world famous water bodies, like Dal Lake, Nigeen Lake and river Jhelum where we could promote scintillating water based activities like jet boating, water skiing, aqua-parasailing and other paddle sports etc. A new ball and paddle sport called Canoe Polo has come up in the world. We need to develop and encourage it.

Polo is an ancient game in which two teams of players riding on horses play with hammers.

With the passage of time the cyclists started playing polo on their bicycles. Not only cyclists but the swimmers also introduced it in water. While the paddlers introduced it in lakes and today we have different types of polo.It is catching up fast all over the world but we only lag behind. After adopting this fascinating, scintillating and thrilling paddle sport the competitions are regularly held at regional and International levels. Canoe Polo has become one of the best sources of recreation and pleasure today.

Canoe polo is a game played on still waters by two teams who paddle hard, pass ball from hand to hand and throw it in each other’s goal posts to score goals. It is often described as combination of water polo, basket ball and Kayaking.
It is admitted fact that this unique sport has tremendous potential in our state, particularly in Srinagar, which is known as the City of Lakes.

The Kayaks and Canoes were basically used for travel and transportation for hundreds of years by many cultures. Canadian Canoeing was started by Red Indians in North America and Kayaking by Eskimos. Today we have not only the competitive Kayaking and Canoeing but we have invented Canoe Polo as well.

Jammu And Kashmir State has in fact played a pioneering role in introducing and developing Kayaking and Canoeing in India. We are known as fathers of modern Kayaking and Canoeing in India. First two National Championships were consecutively organized on the waters of Dal Lake, in 1988 and 1989. Kashmir University introduced it at All India Inter-Varsity level in 1999. It is incredible that out of five Inter-University championships Kashmir University has hosted it thrice and lifted championship trophies twice.

The J&K Police and J&K Youth Services Department are also promoting these sports here for long. It is praiseworthy that all the three organizations have raised a lot of infrastructure for promotion of these sports but unfortunately,accept Kashmir University; no other organization has ever conceived idea of introducing Canoe Polo in their Centers, though they have produced ace kayakers and canoeists. Canoe Polo could become our national sport should someone have given little attention towards its development. Pertinently most of us live close to water bodies and know the art of paddling. We have plenty of small boats (Shikaras) available here and have easy access to them. Our youth could easily learn this kind of polo and become strong contenders in the world. It is now right time for us to start training youth, forming polo teams and holding regular feedback competitions.

Sponsoring the first-ever State Canoe Polo Championship by our Tourism Department could be a big gift to youth who are celebrating the International Year of Youth this year. No doubt they have made an attempt in the past but the sport could not sustain.

In its effort to introduce Canoe Polo in India the Kashmir University Lake Club (ULC) started training its students to this healthy sport last year under the supervision of this writer. The ULC is all set to arrange a demonstration match during next All India Inter-University Kayaking and Canoeing Championship. The University Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Riyaz Punjabi is an avid aquatic athlete.
He has great love for water sports and is keen to develop aquatics. Under his patronization the University lifted Team Championship trophy in Canoeing in last All India Inter-University Championship.The Tourism Department should try to arrange a demonstration Canoe Polo match during forthcoming Common Wealth Games in Delhi which would help not only to introduce this sport in sub-continent but will also help promote much needed sports tourism in J&K.

For promoting sports tourism the Tourism Department and other tourism players will have to work together and exploit every unexploited tourist product whichever we can offer to intended tourists. Special adventure programmes must be conducted for College and University youths so as to raise trained manpower for adventure tourism. There is also need of setting up a Research Wing in the Tourism Department which could invent, introduce and promote new recreational activities that help state to lure more tourists here.

When Leadership Fails, New Stars Emerge

Balraj Puri examines the backdrop that makes Shah Faesal's success story even more endearing

(Mr. Balraj Puri, 80, was born in Jammu city and attended the Ranbir High School and the Prince of Wales College in Jammu. He is a journalist, human rights activist and a writer who has been an eye witness to the turbulent history of the State. He has written 5 books, including the historical "5000 years of Kashmir" in 1997. He is the Convenor of the J&K State branch of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and the Director of the Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, based in Jammu.)

Phenomenon of Shah Faesal

Shah Faesal is a phenomenon which is unparalleled in recent years in Kashmir. His performance has been hailed from the Governor and the Chief Minister to a layman in Kupwara. Columns after columns have been written on him. His fame has crossed the lofty Pir Panchal. The spontaneous welcome he received at the airport and unending crowd that continued to greet him at his residence for many days without any organisational support would be envy of any popular leader. It has demonstrated the potential of Kashmir youth if given an opportunity.

In a way, he fills, however partially, the vacuum created after the decline in popularity of political parties and their leaders. So much has been written on our new hero that I can hardly add more to it. I would confine my observation to some lessons younger generation may learn from his achievement.

A pertinent point that strikes me is that why Faesal and other of his two colleague from Kashmir and two from Jammu who have been selected in the prestigious Indian Administrative Service happen to be medical graduates. How would medical knowledge help them in their administrative work. Faesal did say that he would be available to any patient in need of medical help. But would not it be at the cost of his primary duty for which he has been selected?

May be medical course helps candidates get more marks than those with social sciences subject. For science paper examiners award marks with mathematical accuracy whereas papers in social sciences are never awarded cent per cent marks. It calls for reform in system of marking. But it is an undeniable fact that knowledge of social sciences equips any administrator to do his job better.

I learnt this fact more clearly when I used to visit Academy for training of IAS probationers at Mussoorie for lectures. I always found that my lectures went home more effectively with those with a social science background. I had a similar experience in my lectures to probationers who opted or were allotted to J&K State. I always emphasized the need for knowledge about history of every region and of cultural diversity of the State. Even doctors would do their job better with knowledge of sociological background of their patients.

The least that can be done is to introduce a capsule course in social science for science students and similar course in science subjects for social science students. Total ignorance of one field to the other and vice versa keeps both of them somewhat illiterate. Some time back great intellectual CP Snow had warned against the dangerous consequences of dividing the society in what he called “Two Worlds.” His warning was heeded by most of the western world. We must follow his sane advice before it is too late and our educational institutions produce split personalities.
I must take this opportunity to warn against the craze among our younger generation for following the exact footsteps of Faesal. Nor should parents put undue pressure that might make them paranoid. Moreover, while Faesal is an excellent source of inspiration, no two persons can be exactly alike. The aptitudes differ.

Amir Khan’s famous film ‘3 Idiots’ brings home this lesson in a telling manner. There is no ideal course of subjects or career for everybody. Each should choose them according to his/her aptitude and talent. A student who fails miserably in one subject may excel in another subject.

There should be provision in every school for aptitude test or vocational guidance by experts and training facilities for completing for various careers. Everybody need not go, nor can afford to go to Delhi as Faesal did for joining coaching institute is certainly a very prestigious career. But many new vistas have also been opened for aspiring educated youth suitable to their aptitude.

His own aptitude does not seen to suit for medical course, if his activities before appearing for IAS tests are any guide. His columns in Greater Kashmir did not require knowledge of medicine. His campaign for Right to Information Act, along with another dedicated worker for the cause Muzaffar Bhat, merely shows his belief that right to information is essential pre-requisite for a democracy. Obviously he did not learn this lesson in the medical college. There is no reason to believe that without medical degree he could not be selected for IAS or do justice to his engagement before this selection. There are many courses, more remunerative and prestigious than IAS. Prospectus and full information about them should be available in every educational institute. Even less remunerative career gives better satisfaction if it suits your aptitude.

Lastly I must repeat that I am no less proud than any body else of the signal achievement of Faesal. I believe that he is capable of scaling further height for which I offer my best wishes whatever be their worth. But true lesson from his example for young generation would be to try to excel him and that can best be done by knowing your aptitude and available options.

The "Other" Twin Monsters

Fida comments on why Srinagar has turned hellishly unbearable and how to save it before it is too late

(Mr. Fida Iqbal, 47, was born in Sopore. He attended the D.A.V. School in Nayadyaar, Rainawari, and the Government Higher Secondary School in Sopore. He obtained his Bachelor's degree in Agriculture/Floriculture and Landscaping from Chowdhry Chottu Ram College at Muzaffarabad Nagar in Uttar Pradesh. Mr. Iqbal works with the Jammu & Kashmir Tourism Department as a landscape architect. He enjoys kitchen gardening, reading writing, and is very a passionate and dedicated golf player.)

Garbage Management and Traffic Chaos

A few days back one of my learned friends, a budding bureaucrat, asked a very straight question. What are two grave issues faced by the people of Kashmir (Srinagar to be precise) at present? Within a second I replied, it is garbage management and restoration of Dal. My well-informed friend corrected me and said at present garbage and traffic chaos are two major issues faced by people of this valley. He was right, as in our daily routine and survival traffic confusion is much more a pressing problem than Dal.

Recent survey conducted by union urban development ministry has placed Srinagar as the fourth dirtiest city of the country. After attainment of distinction on corruption front last year, this newly achieved peculiarity robes Srinagar of its status of once being a much cleaner summer retreats. At the moment Srinagar, because of its filth has been practically hijacked by dogs that are controlling every nook and corner of the city particularly from dusk to dawn. Every street, crossing and road is full of stinking filth and dirt; drains are either chocked or over-flowing in almost every part of the city. More or less every civic facility and amenity is in shambles. Reasons for this mess are very well known; negligence and selfish behaviour of city dwellers and total failure of civic authorities.

In Kashmir there is no proper and scientific garbage collection, segregation and disposal (involving both recycling and dumping) system in place. Instead, age old system of collecting, carrying filth and dumping it some where in an open area on the outskirts is being adapted in the name of garbage management. Earlier this practice could do away with the garbage as major part of our waste was bio-degradable and it would merge with mother earth without any adverse effect on soil and water, but presently the waste generated is of many sorts and can not be disposed off without proper scientific segregation. In contemporary world managing waste, particularly garbage is a vast science and involves much of scientific efforts and knowledge.

We as society in Kashmir are yet in a transitory phase of learning and our approach in dealing with our waste is the biggest victim of this transition. We changed and acclimatised to almost every new trend on international level in every field of life but our domestic garbage disposal manners have shown no signs of improvement. We clean and clear our establishments of filth but place it just outside our house on the wayside. Our negligence regarding waste disposal makes the job tougher for the civic authorities. Municipal authorities can not be absolved of being negligent in making people aware of proper handling of garbage at domestic or commercial level.

At present good chunk of our garbage finds its way into our waterways, water bodies and cultivable land. Non degradable waste being more than fifty percent of our garbage not only contaminates but also chocks the water resources and the cultivable land, making them both contaminated and barren. In the absence of proper garbage management, Srinagar Municipal Council has turned into not anything beyond official carrier of rubbish from congested areas of city to its outskirts. This unscientific attitude of SMC headed by well paid executives and assisted by learned technocrats makes it a laughing stock. This official garbage carrier (SMC) has to avoid sluggish attitude and come out of political pressures; learn to serve people like other modern civic bodies within the country and outside, which render excellent services in the fields ranging from waste management to health care, education and many other sectors related to common-man’s dignified and dirt-free survival.

The present traffic chaos reminds me of early seventies of last century, when traffic control lights were installed in Srinagar city on experimental basis. These lights turned dysfunctional within months of their installation because the number of vehicles plying on Srinagar roads was very low and working mechanism of these lights could not get synchronised with the rate of movement of traffic on the roads. Ultimately these lights died their own death.

During the last two decades the Indian auto sector developed manifolds and Kashmir became one of the prominent places to showcase this exponential growth of Indian auto sector. Out of more than hundred thousand vehicles in Kashmir majority is that of small and medium cars and other light motor vehicles. During peak hours of morning and evening rush these vehicles move at a snail’s pace-almost bumper to bumper. Srinagar is the only major urban habitation in Kashmir which is focal point of all administrative, commercial and all other activities, thus ever road of movement leads to this place and at the end of the day major part of the vehicular traffic converges at Srinagar. This traffic jumble chokes not only the roads of this over stretched city but suffocates its inhabitants by inducing vast amount of toxic residual gases and pollutants into the atmosphere. Last two decades of trouble and turmoil has put more pressure on this city as sizeable chunk of countryside population has migrated here for varying reasons. All this had added a sea of vehicles into this city making its management more difficult for the authorities. At every crossing there is traffic jam and commuters have to spent hours to reach their destinations earlier covered in minutes. What are the reasons of this traffic mess? Obviously, increase in number of vehicles and shrinking roads is one of the most prominent factors but, yes, there are some other reasons as well, which are possibly within the command of common man and the law enforcing authorities. People’s cooperation, unflinching discipline and proper and unbiased law enforcement can help in resolving traffic confusion considerably.

On the roads traffic can be managed reasonably by the sensible behaviour of drivers, responsible manners of commuters and pedestrians and ultimately the judicious and effective management and enforcement by traffic department. Unfortunately, both, public as drivers, commuters and pedestrians and the law enforcing agencies like traffic police and regional transport authority are not behaving and working responsibly and dutifully.

Rash driving, over speeding, wrong parking, riskily overtaking and road rage are common on roads of Kashmir. At occasions even sensible citizens get indulged in this madness. Valley’s roads are experiencing bloody accidents due to gross negligence of errant and inexperienced drivers leading to death of many people on daily basis. It seems that people of this comparatively calm and cool place have lost their patience and drivers of this place have turned much impatient. At every road, crossing or in a traffic jam every one tries to overtake the other at any cost bothering least about his safety and the life of others. This aggressive and impatient mindset makes the traffic disorder more severe and confusing for the traffic managers. Present deterrents of fine for traffic violations have become irrelevant and now it seems authorities have to think of more severe and serious measures like cancellation of licenses and permits and imprisonment so that arrogant traffic violators can be tamed effectively. It is an established fact that a good number of drivers on the valley roads are either without valid driving licenses or have fake ones. This situation demands stringent laws and a much competent authority to issue and monitor driving licenses. Every traffic violation and related crimes should be categorized and punitive measures suggested depending on the severity of the violation. Road rage is a grave and fatal crime committed almost on every valley road but very less of this criminal act is reported or treated as cognisable.

Traffic regulating authorities-mainly the traffic police force is not a holy cow. No one can deny the fact, that this force in blue is under-staffed and lacks man and machine miserably. Their credibility has eroded manifolds over the period of time. Many reasons other than the dearth of men and equipments contribute to their declining reliability and yes, alleged corruption is one of them. The other major cause of confusion and chaos on part of traffic cops is dereliction of duty by resorting to selective action against the erring drivers. Normally our cops in blue have got two set of rules, one for the common man and other one for influential and VIPs. This selective treatment in the first instance is undemocratic and against law and on the other hand weakens the faith of common- man in law and its judicious implementation. Unless this VIP syndrome is off from our traffic management system, nothing substantial can be achieved on this front.

Both these problems of filth and traffic mess are in the first instance directly related to the unruly behaviour of citizens and then gets further complicated by the inefficiency, VIP syndrome and other influenced administrative lapses on behalf of traffic managers. The only way-out is we as society has to contribute and put in our best of efforts and discipline and authorities have to deal every one sincerely, equally and impartially.

Filthy City, Filthy Mafia

Dirt apart, Srinagar also battles a marauding land mafia

O Srinagar


Last month one of my friends teaching in a US university asked for the photographs of Srinagar city for an academic exercise. However, what he saw stunned him into disbelief. An aerial snap of the heaving swathes of the monstrous residential colonies around a squeezed Dal lake shattered his gossamer image of a city, which has historically been a locus of the western romantic dreams. This is what he had to say: “I had thought central Srinagar would be verdant and green, with lots of parks and open space”. I went back to these words after Srinagar was declared fourth dirtiest city of India. The words seemed to foreshadow this dubious distinction.

However, he had noticed a facet of the place which is little acknowledged locally. That Srinagar is not about filth and dirt alone but also about a steamrolling juggernaut of unplanned construction choking the last breath out of the city. To save some grace I later sent him specific shots of the Mughal gardens and some cleaner expanse of the Dal untrammeled by the gathering cesspool of the colonies after residential colonies, almost all of them unregulated and in case of a large number of houses un-permitted by the Srinagar Municipality Corporation. Their owners pay municipal officials small amounts to get on with the construction unhindered. So, what you have is a forbidding mass of cement and bricks taking shape in all its ugliness across large swathes of the orchards, green highlands, paddies, swamps, streams, canals, sars and of course even on Dal.

What is even more disturbing is the singular lack of aesthetics in the construction. These colonies are guided by the sick commercial pursuits of the rapacious land mafia. To get a proof, one need not go farther than the wide marshy stretch of the land between Bemina and Batmaloo where one can witness a chaotic spectacle of the work in progress on hundreds of residential houses. Big imposing bungalows with all the architectural detail reeking of wealth, ostentatious medium sized structures and the petty, obnoxious dwellings are coming up side by side in full anarchic glory.

This brutalization of our landscape is outside the realm of the concerns that otherwise outrage us on a day to day basis. This too in a city which is thrown off track every now and then “by a nut crack or a mosquito wing”. Nobody will raise a squeak if Chinars are felled to pave way for the construction. Nobody will speak a word if a bridge or road is built by filling up a part of the lake, like in Dal Gate where the requirement of a parallel road has been met by further obscuring an already shrunk expanse of the water. This brings to mind once again the road over fabled Mar canal which deprived Srinagar of this breathtaking natural asset which had inspired western poets like Thomas Moore. Of course, nobody will protest if Dal is swallowed up by its greedy dwellers with every passing day. Not even the so called environmental NGOs which in Kashmir come a dime a dozen.

The vested interest has seeped so deep into the public aspects of our life – led of course by the politics – that there is little genuine concern for the monumental problems at hand. What we have in the form of the public action is a theatrical agitation of the issues, an operatic performance, more geared towards responding to a certain sentimental state among people than towards fulfillment of an end. This is why our regulatory agencies often do more damage than preserve our natural assets.

Dal suffers from the connivance of LAWDA in its encroachment, Dal Gate has the government itself bearing down on its watery expanse and the SMC has left the field open to the land mafia, a whole food chain of the builders, property dealers and foot soldiers who pounce on any free space and soon turn it into a concrete jungle. This real estate edifice is sustained by the administrative and political corruption, bureaucrats, small employees and the political leaders, one among them a well known separatist politician. In fact, real estate has become the only predominant business of the Valley which seems to overshadow everything else. And it is out to turn Srinagar into a monster city, choke every open space with concrete, every hill, every orchard - famous Badamvaer in downtown is not an old example - leaving the city gasping for breath.

What is exceptionally disturbing about this growth is that more than ninety percent of this construction is unregulated and ungoverned by the building rules. In this murky scenario, SMC is only part of the problem. For its denial of the building permission is no bar on the construction. Left to their own devices, people could have been trusted to conduct themselves with some sense of additional responsibility towards the environment. In Srinagar’s case, the regulator has scored a dubious double whammy: it has not only contributed to the mess but also prevented the germination of some environmental consciousness. And to top it all, at whose door do we lay the blame for the tag of city being judged as one of the dirtiest in India.

Does SMC really do justice to its sanitation work? Where do we go from here? The head-spinning pace of the construction in the city has left the regulation far behind. This means we are fast losing this once fabled city of orchards, an inspiration for the travelers - emperors, poets, Sufis etc for centuries. And this all happens under the nose of the J&K government and which following in the steps of its predecessors makes do with an operatic show of concern rather than actually get down and dirty to make some redeeming difference. No doubt, there have been some really wonderful rescue efforts over the past several years like the restoration of Jhelum Bund, a large portion of the Jhelum embankment has been remade into a chinar tree-shaded riverside park. There have been other changes, too. A portion of Eidgah, the Valley’s largest prayer ground, close to Martyr’s Graveyard, has also been turned into a park, as has the old almond garden on the banks of Dal Lake. Similarly, Ghulam Nabi Azad, also built a tulip garden in the foothills of the Zabarwan hills during his three-year term as chief minister.

But this is nothing when compared with the all-encompassing construction activity that city has been through over the past two decades. While what has been lost to land mafia is not restorable for eternity, there is a need to rethink the development of Srinagar. And this rethinking should not only be about reclaiming Srinagar as a physical space but also regenerating it as a cultural and social place. What the marauding land mafia has done is deprive the city of its character, spirit, its celebrated poetic deportment and over and above it all, an idea: the idea of Srinagar

Filthy City

Two commentaries - one in the Greater Kashmir, and the other in the Kashmir Images - address the most recent dubious "award" bestowed on Srinagar

We the Dirtiest

Ajaz ul Haque

A touch more and we would have won over Pilbit, Lakhanpur and Churu, the cities dirtier than ours.
But worry not, there is always next time. Some day, some time we will sure hit the mark. This Venice of the East, which today ranks at 420 among 423 cities, is all set to surmount the peak of pollution. All we need to accomplish the mission is to do nothing different from what we are doing. Continue adding muck.

It's paradoxical to see fountains in the city adjacent to disease-breeding garbage dumps. Well, no one can question the logic of installing these water splashing show pieces as long as they add to the beauty of the city. Any attempt to prettify the place is admirable whenever or wherever made. But what use when it happens after keeping the dirt intact. It's like embellishing a shit-pot to keep the stink away.

We can't think of decorating a house without brooming out the dust. That is how our city suffers not neglect, but ineptness at the hands of those who run the system. Mayors of the city must have done their bit during their tenure, but a bare high profile toilet inaugurated by some chief guest is too little a thing to clean off the filth that has earned us name, fame and shame.

Sanitation ratings by the urban development ministry are not that surprising for us. Given the conditions we live in and the system that governs us, we could not have expected any better. After all everything that happens contributes to the same end. As if men in uniform were not enough to jam the place, beggars and slum-dwellers fill up the blanks. And yes, not to forget the most important and omnipresent component of our landscape – dogs. Rabies cure centers are being established everywhere but there is nothing done to stop rabies from spreading.

Allow dogs to bite you and don't panic, we have a treatment centre.. What a thought! Dogs are breeding faster than humans and will soon outnumber us. What will this uncontrollable abundance of beasts result in except the epidemic we are experiencing. Flies, worms and humans – a perfect mix to push a place ahead in the race of dirt-manufacturers pvt ltd. This way our very concern is misplaced. If we are losing on one count, we are surely gaining on the other. Dirtier the place gets for humans, cleaner it means for dogs. And either of the two has to survive.

Just a mere look at our gang-raped roads explains the story. It takes years to dig out the bowels of the road and to spread them on the surface. Then you press hard to recall as to when was it really a pliable road. We too have our own versions of Jalal Abad and Tora Bora in our city, not ravaged by any bombing but by endless digging. Our historic Lal Chowk has fallen to a bizarre road map of beautification. The beautification which only the planners know how could it be.

SMC authorities are not too beside the point when they shift the blame to other concerned departments. PHE, UEED, LAWDA – each one has a story to narrate and each one's explanation is plausible. No one can be blamed but then no one can be absolved too. It is a collective failure and in this failure it's not only the government-run departments holding the responsibility. It's we too. You me and all. We also add our bit to this huge junk-yard which is now eating us away. No sermonizing will work. Those who run the affairs have to make it easy for people to follow certain norms of cleanliness. Even hygiene conscious citizens find it difficult to throw the refuse in the receptacles when there are none planted to avoid a promiscuous heap of trash.

When you have the whole city turned into a bottomless bowl where more you throw, more it demands, you litter effortlessly and remorselessly. Let's do a little to see off this shabbiness. And that little starts from our own selves. Of course we can't crane the whole mass of muck ourselves which there are departments to do. We can at least begin from getting conscious about what we are losing fast. And we are losing dignity by first being the second corrupt, and now - the fourth dirtiest.

Stinking State

Alarmed at Srinagar city figuring among the dirtiest cities, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has called on the Srinagar Municipal Corporation and Urban Development authorities to gear up to erase this notorious distinction. However, people have a reason to take this assertion with a pinch of salt, for they know that it is not going to change much. For a few days, the civic authorities will try to show that they are doing something about it, but after that everything will be back to square one -- Srinagar will remain dirty as ever.

Few years back when Transparency International indexed Jammu and Kashmir at number two among the most-corrupt states in India. The then government made similar assertions that corruption would be tackled with whatever means it takes. However, nothing has changed since. The state continues to enjoy the same very status – at number two among the most-corrupt states. Instead of corruption being tackled, it has been patronized and institutionalized so much so that the likelihood is in the next list the state might progress ahead to number one spot.

It is unfortunate that despite Jammu and Kashmir getting a beating on every front, successive governments have desperately failed in bringing about any betterment anywhere. Instead each dispensation that comes to power milks the system dry for its own selfish ends without bothering to do anything for the general welfare of the people. Had it not been so, then certainly the situation would have been different. The reality is that state suffers a perennial lag in progress, development, public welfare and now also on health and hygiene fronts, but on corruption it is at the top. No amount of assurances from the political leadership is going to allay public fears unless the government displays its resolve of affecting change in the situation on the ground. This requires practical action, and for this the government will have to rise above political considerations.

Everybody in know of the work culture in the government departments and agencies knows for sure why the entire system here is so resistant to change – change that promises public good. One of the major problems of course is the political patronization of the corruption and the corrupt. So far official pronouncements about fighting corruption have remained confined to public statements alone which are carried by media for the sake of news and people too take it likewise without any seriousness whatsoever. They know that corruption is rooted so deep in the systems here that it needs massive political will and ruthless corrective measures to clean it up. But unfortunately both these factors are in short supply here. This is the reason why the anti-corruption agencies and mechanisms are without teeth here. It doesn’t need an anthropological study to identify the sources and reasons of the rot. The political white ants of corruption are too discernible to need any magnifications. The rot is identified but the will to nip it is missing.

A place that stinks of corruption has to stink physically too. Therefore, it is no wonder that Srinagar is among the dirtiest cities and Jammu too is no different, although it is placed slightly better than the former. Asking the civic authorities to remove the physical filth won't help unless the socio-psychological garbage, "the corrupt work culture," is taken care of. This initiative has to come from the top. Let the corridors of power be made corruption free first, rest will follow.

This is no"T&D Mumbo Jumbo" - it is Outright Thievery - and Kashmiris are #1

What is basically electricity theft is being repackaged in politically correct terms, but J&K takes the "Gold Medal" of infamy

T&D Losses in J&K Highest in Country

Jammu: The Government proposed to bring down Transmission and Distribution (T&D) losses, which had touched an all time high at 65.7 per cent during last financial year (2009-10), to 57.4 per cent during the current year (2010-11). One per cent reduction in T&D losses will save Rs 25 crore burden on the State exchequer.

Official sources said the Power Development Department (PDD) hoped that a series of measures including increase in metering will help it bring down the T&D losses to 57.4 per cent during current year. As T&D losses last year stood at 65.7 per cent, the PDD will have to reduce them by 8.3 per cent to meet the target of reduction.

The Department would be in a position to save over Rs 200 crore if it managed to bring down the level of T&D losses to 57.4 per cent.

Significantly, the T&D losses have been going up for the last three years despite installation of electronic meters in several parts of the State. The T&D losses were 61.9 per cent and 61.3 per cent during 2007-08 and 2008-09 respectively. However, they went up to 65.7 per cent during 2009-10.

Total energy requirement for 2010-11 has been projected at 10,081 MUs taking into account 57.4 per cent T&D losses. Sales for current financial year were projected at 4286 MU and T&D losses at 5795 MUs taking total requirement of energy input at 10,081 MU.

Last fiscal year's energy requirement was 11,032 MUs which include 7257 MU T&D losses and 3775 MU sales. Energy requirement during 2007-08 and 2008-09 was 8743 MU and 9147 MU, sources said.

Admitting that T&D losses in the State are highest in the country, sources said the Government as well as State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERC) have described as ``unacceptably high'' the level of losses, which was putting ``enormous strain'' on the State finances.

The PDD proposed to improve revenue, quality of power supplied and reduce expenditure besides introducing a scheme of incentives and disincentives to bring down the T&D losses to an acceptable level. A counter-check system of meter reading and restricting the tenure of Meter Readers to a maximum period of one year at a place are among the other measures proposed to reduce the level of T&D losses.

The SERC has also asked the PDD to reduce the T&D loss levels by 10 per cent during current financial year by adopting various measures such as 100 per cent metering of consumers, metering of all distribution transformers in the capital cities of Jammu and Srinagar, undertaking revision of agreements of all categories of consumers to arrive at realistic connected loads, re-activate supervision to check the menace of bypassing and tampering of meters, involve Electricity Magistrates already in place in the Department, computerize bills, reduce human interface and replace bare conductors with insultated wires in theft prone areas.

(Daily Excelsior)

Gender Equality

Rufaida demands R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Strength Thy Name is Woman


A feminist is not the one who wants to be treated like a man but who keeps herself at par with men. Women are in many ways ahead of men, but unfortunately most women either are not aware of their strengths or do not want to be aware. Supporting feminism does not mean giving out lectures but taking charge of everyday life. A woman sacrifices her dreams, desires and 'chooses' to do household chores and take care of the family, without being paid for it! She does it all selflessly and what she gets in return is her husband's beatings, in-laws’ abuses and society's views on 'housewives' where if a child is asked what does her or his mother do, the reply comes "nothing, she is a housewife". This 'nothing' indicates the perception rather misperception of people about the Herculean job of a housewife. The maintenance and perpetuation of human society depends to a very large extent on this indiscernible, unpaid, underrated soul. And the is no recognition of the unrelenting jobs done by women- the cooking, feeding, washing, cleaning and breeding services provided by wives and mothers.

A young woman is a productive and reproductive asset in the larger scheme of things and she is not allowed to take her own decision on who she'll marry like a domesticated cow or horse cannot determine who it will be milked by or whose cart it'll pull. How do these housewives and mothers swallow it all with a smile? This and many other questions always bother me. Why is a woman expected to leave her parents house after marriage? Why is she supposed to adopt her husband's surname? Why is only a woman expected to learn to adjust in a relationship? Why is only a woman supposed to do the household chores? Why is she the epitome of all the values and traditions of a family? And yet why is she the 'weaker-sex'? To all these questions the answers can be traced back from the time of hunters-gatherers. It is a historical fact that at that time there was an egalitarian society. In fact, women had a superior role because of their superiority in sexuality which includes the power of giving birth to an altogether new being and the power to attract any man towards her. Women also had the ability to perform both the jobs that is the household as well as the hunting-gathering. But as the time passed and men started feeling inferior to women, inequality started emerging and women's role started waning. Their role was limited to the household. Through ideology and force the men made women accept this as 'the fact of life or the law of nature'. Men had a physical advantage over women. They were made stronger. They took (mis)advantage of this and overpowered women. They labeled women as the 'weaker-sex'. They did this because they suffered from a huge inferiority complex.

Its human nature that, if there is anything that threatens us, we try to overpower it and this is what men did to women and are still doing the same! But still they could not hide some facts. By producing kids women did the biggest favor to humankind. The pain that she goes through is unmatchable to anything that a man has to face during his entire life.

Most ironical and disgusting side of the story is that it is not just men but women who have accepted slavery as their fate. Indian women are the most 'faithful' of the lot. They think it is their birthright to bear with such a treatment. They are asked to treat their husbands, while she herself is seen as merely a piece of furniture, a machine that produces kids. This plight of women especially Indian women is because they are mentally, physically and financially so much dependent on their husbands that they prefer to get beaten and abused by their husbands than being without his support. Her husband is her only bread-winner after marriage and gives her a sense of security and protection. She feels totally incomplete without him and is not ready to leave him even if he ill-treats or thrashes her. The 'husband' as the title suggests that of a caretaker takes advantage of this situation and treats his wife like a slave is treated by his lord. But her culprit is not her husband but she herself. Women are seen as objects of love and lust because she desires so. She dresses up in such a way that she remains nothing more than a Barbie doll, that’s it! Her brain is supposed to be hidden in her elaborate hair-do.

Men, on the other hand are also stuck in their patriarchic role. From office to home the male is still built in a patriarchic image. An aggressive boss might not be a happy man himself but he is clearly been told that to 'diktat' and 'control' are masculine qualities. The most telling is the popular notion is that a man should not earn less than his working wife. This will definitely hurt his so-called 'male-ego', and even if it doesn't matter to him individually, it'll matter in the society. He has to be the primary bread-winner and if he is not he is being undervalued is the perception. The most common perception of a husband is that of an aggressive, dominating, and powerful, in control of his wife, the provider and if he is anything else, he is then a softie, a henpecked husband who is laughed at by society.

Now, if we come to think of one more aspect of the debate, I would say it was once very rightly said by a very famous historian that a true conversion is not that of faith or religion, but it’s the conversion of a woman which she goes through after her marriage. She gets a new surname, new house, new parents (which she is expected to treat like her own even though they are not), all new relatives, and overall an altogether new atmosphere. No matter whether she accepts it or not, this is got to be her world. a world where she not only has to live, but try her best to create a heaven out of it, even if it comprises a bunch of devils. But who cares! She has got to sacrifice as they say its (sacrifice) the "essence" of womanhood.

After her marriage, a woman is not only a wife or a daughter-in-law, but she is also a mother, a mother who is given very less value when it comes to the surname of the child. In India children are given the father's surname and are shown as the descendants of their patriarchic family while the matriarchic side is totally forgotten. Our old system (of insisting the) father's name be included in the certificates. Why not mother's? This is very unfortunate and discriminatory. She is the one keeping the child in her womb for nine months, getting sleepless nights because of the child, providing him/her with her milk and unconditional love and care. She herself suffers but makes sure that her child doesn't. She is the one taking the child to school mostly, but when it comes to legal and government stuff she stands nowhere.

Not only in India but most of the cultures around the world are marked by a distrust of female sexuality. In Christianity too, it is Eve who bears the stigma of succumbing to the temptation. Women are just 18.4% of the members of parliaments around the world. Many countries, in the developing world, use quotas for their women to get into politics.

Celebrating Women's day once a year is not a solution to this problem. Why not make everyday a women's day! The need of the hour is a 'woman of substance’. One who cannot be taken for a ride, who takes her own decisions, who is independent not only financially but mentally and physically as well. She needs to have self-confidence, self-assurance, self-respect and most importantly self-worth. Until a woman doesn’t respect herself, she cannot ask for respect from the society. Only a woman can liberate herself. They have to understand that power is not given to you, you have to take it. For all this women need to be educated especially women at a grassroots level who are the worst victims of this 'man's world'. Moreover spreading awareness about women empowerment would do a lot of good. This will help women to raise a voice against any injustice done to them. My main purpose behind writing this article is -"if you support humanism, then support feminism”. I would like to conclude this essay by quoting the words of an American playwright and a feminist Clare Boothe Luce,

"Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say,’ she doesn’t have what it takes’. they will say,’ women don’t have what it takes'."

Yet Another Historical Proof That Jammu and Kashmir are Linked

Archaeological twin found in Rajouri

Famous Martand like temple found in Rajouri

Jammu: The famous Martand like temple recently found in Rajouri district and considered to be the earliest one of Jammu region, has finally attracted the much needed attention of State Government, which is going to declare it as State Protected Monument to prevent its further plunder.

After the declaration of this earliest temple of Jammu as State Protected Monument, the number of historical monuments being preserved by the State Archeology Department will go beyond 37.

Besides this temple, the Government is also in the process of declaring Bamiyan like Buddha in Kargil district, Rajouri Fort, Mughal Wall around Hari Parbhat Fort, historical mosque at Jaffar Chak near Domana in Jammu, ancient Hamam near Mulla Akhoon Shah mosque at Srinagar, as State Protected Monuments.

This earliest temple of the Jammu, which resembles like famous Martand temple in Kashmir valley, is situated in Panjnara village of the Kalakote tehsil in Rajouri district and is entirely different from all other temples in the region thus assuming great importance. This temple was noticed during survey and documentation of historical sites in the State.

According to former Director General, State Archives and Archaeology Department and Consultant to Government, Khursheed Ahmed Qadri, the style and other architectural characters of the temple resemble with famous and early ancient temples of Kashmir like Sun Temple Martand in Anantnag, group of temples at Naranag in Kangan, Awantiswami Temple at Awantipora and Buniyar Temple in Baramulla dating between 8th to 12th century AD.

Like early Kashmir temples, this temple, although in ruins, has a central shrine enclosed by peristyle and Havan Kund. The entrance of the temple is assessed through a large double-chambered gateway.

The main temple stands on 14.6 feet high double terraced plinth. The whole structure is measuring 126 feet by 174 feet while as its 63 meditation cells are measuring 7 by 5 feet each. All these compartments were being used for meditation purposes.

Disclosing that this temple is entirely different from all other ancient temples of the Jammu region and is the earliest one, Mr Qadri said that the poor quality of a friable sand stone unable to withstand the seasonal temperature changes and some major earthquake have reduced the relief carvings including the figurative works mention of the shrine".

However, after a thorough search the highly weathered bust of a female figure most probably of a Gandharva, a figure of a bird (peacock) and few lotus designs have been found.

Likewise, the inner walls of the doubled chambered entrance carries highly weathered relief carving of a miniature temple of Kashmiri style with double tent roof as also found in Sun Temple Martand in Kashmir.

The use of huge stone slabs measuring up to 10 feet long reveals that the shrine construction must have involved large number of stone cutters, sculptors, masons and carriers to build this temple over a period of years.

Mr Qadri said that this temple would help in establishing the missing links in the ancient history. However, it requires further research/ excavations, which would throw light upon its exact period and name of the builder (ruler).

The earliest temple of the Jammu region was recently visited by Minister for Tourism and Culture, Nawang Rigzin Jora, his deputy, Nasir Aslam Wani and Consultant, Khursheed Ahmed Qadri to assess its historical and architectural importance.

(Daily Excelsior)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Road to Chaos

Mustaq highlights the disconnect between increasing vehicular traffic and the poor state of infrastructure, and is concerned about public safety and impact on tourism

(Mr. Mushtaq Sidiqi, 56, was born in Srinagar. He went to the C.M.S Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School, Srinagar, and completed his B.A. from the Amar Singh College, Srinagar. He received M.A. (Economics), and L.L.B. from the University of Kashmir. Mr. Sidiqi is employed in the J&K Government Service, presently serving in the position of Special Secretary in the Finance Department. He enjoys English Poetry and writing articles on matteres of public interest.)

Restore Road Order

Srinagar, the Capital City of the State, is these days buzzing with lot of activities. Incessant rains are a welcome sign for the tourists turning in large numbers mainly from hot and dusty conditions prevailing elsewhere in the country. But is this city otherwise dressed up appropriately to receive them in other aspects as well? From the awful traffic scenario prevailing all around here, certainly not!

Rampant traffic jams are mainly the result of large scale illegal permissions granted by the Srinagar Municipal Corporation to commercial complexes in the garb of residential houses, none caring for fall-outs on the traffic scenario and on the urban face of this tourist city. With the scope of road widening very limited, the mammoth increase in the number of small and big vehicles plying in the city have made things worse. Slow pace on the implementation of approved road-widening schemes have added to the woes of people. As if this was not enough, inaction on the part of authorities encouraged some people to indulge in the sale- purchase of every type of vehicle ranging from motor-cycles to luxurious cars. This made pavements as their sale points thereby giving rise to chaotic traffic conditions in the process!

Mercifully, the realization seems to have now dawned upon the authorities who have initiated the much needed action to arrest this state of affair and to restore semblance of order. The action has started in Karan Nagar area where this kind of unruly behaviour on the part of some shopkeepers had blocked pavements and roadsides for use by pedestrians besides allowing nearly the half portion of the road to serve the parking needs of illegal commercial complexes which have no such provision. For present, people have been relieved of this menace and a semblance of order has been restored to an extent for over past couple of days, despite protests from these shop keepers who seemed to make merry out of unchecked violations and were reluctant to come to terms with the fact that their actions were completely illegal causing avoidable hardship to common people.

This is just the start of eradicating a problem that has over the past few years assumed colossal proportions at the expense of public convenience. People of the Srinagar city and those who visit it from outside deserve better civic conditions. Dirty surroundings and awful traffic conditions instantly make a visitor think otherwise about the place on landing in the City. Now that the tourism is picking up and the nature too is favourably inclined towards this place, it is about the time that the authorities go ahead seriously in enforcing the law as it should be.

We are lucky in having the State’s first female Divisional Commissioner a local person whose knowledge about the Srinagar City is immense. She is a hard administrator as well and, therefore, an ideal person, in the given situation, to rid the city of its traffic problems. All that she would be needing is a committed support from the general public and the local administration, municipality and the traffic authorities. The State Officers heading these institutions have attained a credible name for their service to the State. Therefore, the situation is well placed for us to expect orderly traffic conditions in city in days to come. The gains that have been made so far thus need to be consolidated.

Stories From the Edge

Javid, Blog's unofficial "resident philosopher," mulls on a fabric (called Kashmiriyat) that seems to have lost its color

(Dr. Javid Iqbal, 63, 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.)

New Lexicon of the Kashmiris
…a Tale of Changing Social Attitudes and Political Perception!

The title is borrowed; it is the title of a book written by B.L.Saraf. The book conveys, what ails us and reflects on what we have missing in the vale for last two decades; the colour that our Kashmiri Pandit community added to social panorama, without which we are a lot poorer than we ever were, since the waters of ‘Satisar’ the wide water formation covering the entire vale, flew through the mountainous range; the Himalayas, leaving the geographical bowl, breathtaking in appearance, we so proudly call the vale of Kashmir!

The book projects persons, relating them as live characters to events. The events encountered, though known relate to characters in varied manner, for example 82-year-old widow Sampkuj living in a well furnished flat in a posh locality, courtesy of her two sons, US citizens, who are extremely happy that the young maid Salochna looks after their mother very well. And for the septuagenarian Gopi Nath who, in an old age home, is waiting for his death.” These are live characters, who had in the good old days, the benefit of a known neighbourhood, generations old, who would act as a cushion, wherever the sons would be living. They wouldn’t need the cover of Salochna for their mother. Ghulam Mohammad’s, Ghulam Nabi’s or Ghulam Qadir’s family would readily come forward. Septuagenarian Gopi would not be in an old age home, awaiting death.

B L Saraf paints a tragic-comedy situation, on which Kavita Pai too has commented in a very touching manner in a column recently. However, Kavita is not live to the pure Kashmiri scenario of years of yore, hence lacunas in her comment on the ‘Lexicon’ are understandable. There are accounts in migrant Pandit homes of parental threatening of decamping in old age home, obviously arising from perceived lack of concern by their upwardly mobile professional off springs in metropolitan centers in the country…Bombay, Bangalore or Kochi. In good old days, an old Pandit or Panditani living the comfort of their home and hearth in Kashmir might have had to face a similar situation; perceived lack of concern, however they would have vented their anger by walking into the neighbouring Muslim home and returned home after getting a few tips on being considerate to off springs, who might have a young family to rear, an office to attend to. So, the perception developed might have had no reality. That is how concerns were shared in Kashmir of two decades back. It was a delight to live in these shared neighbourhoods.

Tales of so called ‘exodus’ abound with glimpses of pathos and what Kavita calls dashes of the acerbic wit. Kavita is right; Kashmiri Pundits did have that acerbic wit in abundance. However, I would definitely question the use of the word ‘Exodus’ not on what the use of the word implies grammatically, but in its religious implication. The term alludes to Moses (AS) who led the ‘Hebrews’ out of Egypt, which was not their home and hearth, but as per the lore, they had been migrated to Egypt, out of economic compulsion. The religious lore says that due to famine in ‘Cana’ [Kena’n in Arabic] they migrated and were settled there. The settlement was facilitated by Syedena Yousuf (AS) who was Aziz-i-Misr; a position of commendable authority. Later they were tyrannized by Pharos. Put on forced labour in building pyramids, Moses (AS) worked for and achieved their salvation. Contrary to Hebrews, Kashmir is home and hearth of Kashimri Pundits and they have a birth right to be here, the Hebrews in their exodus out of Egypt, were led across Sinai to Palestine. It was named Israel, as this is another attribute of Syedena Yaqub (AS)/Jacob, as Judeo-Christians call him. So, in the religious lore, it is exactly the reverse of common implication of the word. Exodus of Hebrews was the way to salvation!

B.L.Saraf asserts that ‘the events of the last twenty years in Kashmir, the uncanny attitudes of the Kashmiris and the roles played by the politicians’ is responsible for the accretions to the lexicon. Uncanny attitudes could be attributed to developing political situations and he is right about the role of politicians. Infact uncanny attitudes resulted from the changing perceptions of politicians. Perception borne of conviction could be acceptable, even appreciable, as times and events do dictate a change in perception. However the changed attitudes were borne of design rather than conviction, which as Saraf seems to suggest resulted in accretions to the lexicon. The politicians in Kashmir have changed colour and hue repeatedly. The swim from mainstream to separatism and from separatism to mainstream has been too frequent for comfort. And it is not last twenty years only, but over six decades old tale, ever since subcontinent was divided and Kashmir question cropped up.

Saraf is also right about culture of sycophancy, which led to “sycophancy Kashmiri style” wherein “in Sheikh Abdullah’s regime everyone, even a confirmed atheist rushing to offer nimaz five times a day and in Farooq Abdullah’s regime a rotund armchair un-athletic person of any hue religiously rushing to 18 hole golf course every day”. On a personal count, I asked a brilliant highly qualified Kashmiri Engineer in UAE, who was getting rave reviews in the media for doing some excellent work, as to why he doesn’t serve his own people. His reply confirmed Saraf’s take of the situation “I failed to attend the mosque to please the lion and also failed to wield the golf stick to please the cub!”

The propensity to living in nuclear families is not confined to Kashmiri Pundits, but is worldwide phenomenon, which was already in existence in the west, but has now overtaken the eastern hemisphere too. The nuclear family having no space for the senior citizens has led to the concept and development of ‘old people’s homes’ where ageing parents are dumped. As of now, there are no such homes in Kashmir. However to say that nuclear family concept is not taking root would amount to denying a fact. While as in the past, for brothers to live separately, even after getting married and raising families of their own would amount to violation of social norms; however on children growing up, getting married and another generation coming to fore would force a separate household. The reason was mostly economic; means to sustain a separate household were meager. It could be said that virtue was made of necessity. In modern times brothers do separate, the parents are taken by usually the one, who may have a supportive and understanding spouse. Kashmiri Pundits, had they been in their home and hearth might have faced a similar phenomenon of gradual change, which could be absorbed, as more change would follow with the evolvement of times and new chain of social norms.

Kashmiri Pandits, in their earlier migrations in 18th and 19th century settled in U.P-in cities like Allahabad a and Lucknow. These were economic migrations, as Kashmir had phases of flood and famine. Kashmiri Muslims too migrated, mostly to cities in Punjab-Amritsar, Sailkot and Lahore. Kashmiri Pundits however stuck to the roots much more than the Muslims. While as Muslims did inter-marry with other subcontinental ethnicities, Pundits exhibited clannish tendencies. A pandit girl was sought after, even if the search would consume time. It happened in case of Jawaharlal Nehru also. Marriage with Kamla resulted after an intense search. That clannish mentality might be changing, as reports pour in of Kashmiri Pundits marrying girls from other subcontinental ethnicities. If true, the miniscule community might find it difficult to maintain numbers.

Saraf’s account of Pandit home away from the home is interesting. The talk of snake bites, unknown in Kashmir and of employment packages forming the crux of discussion is considered unique by Saraf. With passing years, Pandits have learned to evade snake bites. Some have shown interest in reaping the benefits of employment packages and are assessing return. Their wholesome return would be welcome, as the colour they provided to social fabric is missing.

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]