Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Can Kashmiris Change For the Better?

Can the Sun rise from the West? No, but Arjimand hopes that since Kashmiris have sunk to their lowest social and institutional degeneration, there is a possibility, howsoever slight, that things may change for the better

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

Chaos to Dreams

For the people of Kashmir, the turn of a year marks just one thing – chaos to chaos. Sixty three years – and even longer – of cynicism leave little scope for optimism, perhaps.

To wish “Happy New Year” sounds little awkward, rather too plastic, in our lives. Some sixth sense says that 2011 just can’t be better for us. It would be just a turn over from one state of anarchy to another.

A change for the better today demands our introspection. And action, too. It is not just our political situation that needs our introspection; we need introspection at personal and societal levels as well.

If what our elders say about the past is any indication, our today’s level of social and institutional degeneration is the lowest we have ever seen. That is what must worry us the most. Our social values – we have for long cherished - and crumbling. Our institutions are going to dogs. Our respect for human life – our own and those of our own – seems not like before. We seem to have resigned ourselves to the slide of the bad times.

Our classical refrain for skirting every good - Ye sha kasheer – yeti shu yethai kane chalaan (It is Kashmir and that is how things move here) is symbolic of a national disease. We need to question it before it is too late.

There are theories and theories about why are we where we are today. But nothing can change the fact that our political situation is our enemy no. 1. A long chaotic political situation has conditioned Kashmiris’ human attitudes and attributes tremendously. The worse happened in the post 90s era. Cumulatively, these attitudes and attributes have shaped what and where we are today.

Today when we compare ourselves with other human societies, we have reasons for worry as well as satisfaction. We are terribly devoid of political and economic systems that are going to survive societies in this highly competitive world. But despite degeneration, we still are one of the most humane societies one can find on this planet.

The first agenda for 2011, as such, must be to define our collective political agenda – something which is based on needs and realism. One of our biggest problems is that no single person today has the ability to do that. It can only happen as a result of collectivism.

To begin with, Kashmiris need a broad internal dialogue. We are highly divided today than ever before. For that, the culture of political untouchability needs to go. There are many basics that most Kashmiris settle for. Despite disagreements and opposing ideologies – which necessarily need not go – we can still have a common minimum agenda.

For this to happen all native political parties across the political spectrum - like the two Hurriyat factions, NC, PDP, JKLF, Jamaat-i-Islami, etc. -need to sit together and talk. That must bring us to our bottom lines and also distinguish between needs and fantasies. What also needs to dictate this agenda is the realization that no “international intervention” or “attention” is going to change even an iota in our situation as what stands today.

This of course is a big task, but there is hardly any alternative available. New Delhi and Islamabad are tired of the noise we have subjected them to in our differing voices. No one can help any nation talking nonsense in million voices. And it is not just for a positive political change that we need to do this; it is for our very survival and wellbeing. We need to analyze what does that mean.

Kashmiris are today suffering colossal human and spiritual loss that go beyond the normal statistics of quantifiable casualties and economic loss. Psychologically speaking, almost the whole Kashmiri population is sick. We are overwhelmed by the strains of professional, family and personal lives, but we have hardly any de-stressors. And all that is impacting our lives. People are suffering and dying - silently.

In the last fortnight alone, 16 people – most of who were in their 40s and 50s – died in my native Srinagar locality. This is an astounding number for a small neighborhood. Most of those who died were suffering from hypertension, which they themselves didn’t know. And I am sure many of us will see such things happening around us if we take stock.

The last 20 years of mayhem have given birth to some grave illnesses in Kashmir. Hypertension, anxiety disorders, obesity, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, low fertility, etc are present in our lives like epidemics. We are undergoing hormonal changes which will impact our future generations as well.

Our long chaotic political situation has a big role in adversely shaping our personal and social lifestyles. Our effective living time is now between morning and afternoon. And we are supposed to squeeze our professional, personal and social obligations in that time. The result is unbearable stress.

One of our greatest strengths – our social support systems – is now stressors themselves, rather than element of catharsis. Our social life has been marred by painful ritualism and artificiality. We hardly enjoy it now. The pulls of modernism and tradition; stresses of insecurity and militarization, dismal public services, insecurities about tomorrow - especially about children - has made a mess out of our lives.

In professional and family relations, mutual distrust and suspicion guide almost our every action. We very rarely appreciate each other’s excellence. We have developed a compulsive love for seeing others’ failures.

But what keeps the silver lining alive on the horizon is our people’s performance outside Kashmir. That makes us to conclude that there is not something wrong with us as people, but the system that nurtures us.

And there is another reason for hope. One of the best things to have happened in the last twenty years is Kashmiris’ unprecedented emigration. Our people are doing remarkably well in diverse areas – from management to medicine, from engineering to trade, from development to media. Some big success stories in our private industry – which are now established brands – are reasons for hope too.

Abnormal times erase the idea of common good to a great extent. Individual survival alone becomes paramount. The post-invasion Iraq and Afghanistan are two cases which reinforce this.

In such troubled times appealing to one’s self interest in setting this mess right tends to work. So our action towards that good could, for instance, be dictated by a concern for the future of our children. Can we afford to give them a worse tomorrow?

By seeking to do all this it is not to aim for utopia. We can at least aim for a civilized society where we can wish each other a happy new year. And mean it.

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