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.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Kashmir's Literary Revival

Arjimand notes the success of three new books in English by Kashmiri writers and feels something to cheer about

(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.)

Our English Jihad: Reflections on Curfewed Night, The Collaborator, The Garden of Solitude

Hope seldom overrides despair for we Kashmiris. Let us honestly admit, most of us often give in to what looks like ‘the inevitability of a national decay.’ Our circumstances usually leave us confused, and dejected. Left marooned and captive, we often crane our necks for a glimpse of hope, some fresh air.

The good news is that our grey clouds have plentiful silver lining. Look at the sort of renaissance our English literature is going through. Kashmir is catching global attention today, and not for ordinary reasons.

It is true that we have a rich tradition of producing fantastic literature, mostly in Kashmiri, Urdu and, to some extent, Persian. But our brush with English is somewhat new.

If ever Kashmir happens to own the hated, the brilliant, the maverick Salman Rushdie, then we have made our mark in English literature for a while now.

If not then our English era begins with Agha Shahid Ali – the genius, who made the literary world take note of Kashmiris’ ability to craft astonishing English literature. No matter the angel of death had him little early, and we didn’t get to read a novel from him, his poems remain the best thing we have ever produced in English. His writings – including his translations of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Urdu ghazals - continue to captivate, and leave a reader with incredible but pleasant bewilderment.

What has created ripples in the literary world lately, however, are Basharat Peer’s memoir Curfewed Night, and now Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator and Siddharth Gigoo’s The Garden of Solitude, both novels.

And, one hears, more stories are just on the way.

Listening to Waheed Mirza at a Srinagar café a few days back was a real treat. This genuine English writer, who seems to know his job well, made an excellent case for what he had crafted. And, frankly speaking, I greatly enjoyed his narration of the evolution and the making of The Collaborator than the tracts he read from the novel.

Having spent the last couple of weeks in the reading of The Collaborator, Curfewed Night, and a partial reading of The Garden of Solitude, I am left with a mixed feeling.

All these three books are undoubtedly a work of colossal effort. What they have done in great measure is make the world open its eyes to Kashmir’s profound human stories. These books are bold, do not mind making people angry, and come with an emotionally-charged personal relation to their narratives. For those who wish to appreciate why Kashmiris nurse so much of pain and anger, these books hold the answer. In two of these books, there is also some resonance with Muzammil Jaleel’s "My Lost Kashmir", which appeared in the London Observer way back in 2002.

But there is something that is missing too – a captivating narrative that captures intricate details normally seen in Kashmir’s non-English writings and an inquisitive plot. Curfewed Night and The Garden of Solitude have mostly relied on linear story telling. But there are some brilliant thoughts in Curfewed Night as well, like this one - Srinagar is never winning or never being defeated.

In the end, in all these three books, the thirst for a narration where imagination goes berserk, and attention to detail sounds obsessive, is left unquenched.

But those who see too much of politics in these books miss the point. No writer having been witness to Kashmir’s mayhem can skirt the political circumstances their authors have breathed in. Those circumstances shape their cognition, and so what they write.

But when it comes to literary merit, one would surely love to see more of magic realism squeezed from a million things that are Kashmiri, entwined in our historical fiction, which is inevitable.

To say that a first person or third person protagonist narrative could have been avoided in these books is unfair too. No creative writing needs to be moored to a particular genre. Likewise, it is completely ethical to narrate a story from the prism of one’s perceptions and biases. But, yes, when personal political biases cross a certain line, and balance creeps in for being politically correct, literature loses its charm.

What The Collaborator does remarkably well is bring to the world the story of Kashmir’s secluded hinterland – the life of the hapless people living close to the Line of Control. But as what Peter Carty in his review of the novel says, The Collaborator is “frequently histrionic and overwrought.” Although that sounds little too harsh while reading, but actually not totally unfounded as one goes into the novel in detail.

When it comes The Collaborator’s title - originally titled In the Valley of Yellow Flowers – a reader is left thinking if it is intentional. A best-selling novel of the same title by Seymour Gerald, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is already in the market since September 2009 in the UK.

There is, nevertheless, a big reason to cheer our Aborted Martyrs kind of writers – waging a jihad of a different ilk, winning friends to their political cause and empathy for their people’s suffering.

First novels seldom bring out the best of the writers. Writers evolve as they write. Basharat, Waheed and Siddarth possess a talent that is capable of producing far more striking stories.

And then we have our other brilliant and veteran creative English writers - Syeda Afshana, Ajaz-ul-Haque, Muzammil Jaleel, Sajad Lone and Ajaz Baba. These individuals are capable of producing English literature which could hit the global literary stage with unpredictable results. I wait for the day when these people find time from their work commitments, resign to themselves, and let their literary genius go berserk. I am also greatly fascinated by the writings of Sameer Bhat, whom we read mostly on Facebook. He has the talent of being a global sensation. He is my favorite number one.

And who knows we may one day have a master piece, a contender for the Booker, as Agha Shahid Ali said – in a language that must measure up to one’s native dust.

Kashmir's Plunder

The Rising Kashmir editorial asks the government to review laws and make them more stringent to safeguard Valley’s natural resources for future generations.

Kashmir’s Plunder

In a bid to check the encroachment in Pahalgam, the High Court Monday directed the state fovernment to file an affidavit giving full particulars of people who have violated the Master Plan and municipal regulations in the area. The Court also ordered that the inquiry into the First Investigation Report filed by Vigilance Department should not be conducted by an officer below SP rank.

In the last twenty years of conflict, Kashmir’s environment has been at the receiving end of vested interests. Under the garb of unrest, massive encroachments have plagued all major tourist destinations in Kashmir. Dal, Nageen, Anchar lakes have been reduced to pounds by encroachers and places like Gulmarg and Pahalgam have also seen massive infringement in the last two decades. During the last summer unrest encroachers took full advantage of the situation as many new constructions propped up in the greenbelt areas. This could not have been possible without the help of government officials who turned blind eye to the violations. In those days one could easily see trucks carrying soil for filling large tracts of state land near Hokersar, at a time when not even milkmen were being allowed to move. Pahalgam has also witnessed construction of new hotels during these months. When the unrest first broke in Kashmir in late 80s, Dal and Nageen lakes not only saw unprecedented illegal constructions but also large scale encroachment. The problem goes deeper when it comes to deforestation. It seems forest department has joined hands with the smuggling mafia to denude the forests. In Rafiabad, timber smugglers used ambulances to smuggle wood during the summer unrest. It was impossible for them to do so without the patronage of forest department and help of the local residents. In the upper reaches of Budgam, smugglers ally with the locals as they pay them Rs 3000 per-night to cut the expensive timber from the local forests.

The government as well the people should shoulder the responsibility of conserving our natural resources. It should not take High Court to deliver orders for protection of Kashmir’s rich resources. While the conscientious sections of our society could set off a debate around the survival of the state amid such random loot, the state authorities could review the laws and make them more stringent so that the violators or officials willing to collaborate with the violators don’t escape punishment for harming the future of future generations.

Scandalous Loss of Power

Rashid says distribution loss in electricity generation is putting a huge burden ion the exchequer. An investigative report

(Mr. Rashid Paul, 40, was born at Ompora, near Budgam. He has a master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. He has worked as a senior correspondent on numerous valley based dailies. He follows business and economy, conflict, environment and power beats. He is also a documentary film maker.)

Against 10,876 million units of energy only 4349.02 million units are billed by PDD

Srinagar: Throaty cries are being made about the success of power reforms in J&K but the distribution losses alone have surged to around 60 percent as only 4349.02 million units of energy are billed against a consumption of 10,876 million units.

The distribution losses in electricity supply have reached an incredible figure of around 60 percent although official assertions downsize the figure at about 50 percent. Even if it is taken as 50 percent, still the figure is the highest in the entire Indian subcontinent, official documents in possession of this news paper reveal.

The documents let slip the figure and say that current energy consumption is 10,876 million units while as only 4349.02 million units are billed.

This mismanagement drains the state coffers worth of Rs 2000 crores a year.
Official statistics put the revenue realization of Power Development Department (PDD) at Rs 703.21 crores. The proceeds are from its entire user base including domestic, industrial, commercial and other areas.

Now the question is: where does the unbilled energy go? Obviously, it is pilfered with active connivance of the PDD employees, official sources disclosed to this newspaper.

See the domestic subscriber base of the PDD. Out of 25 lakh households in J&K, only 12 lakh officially consume electricity.

What about the rest? Well, it is easy to guess!

According to official estimates the population of the state has reached 13.46 million people with nearly 25 lakh households. But the number of households subscribed to the PDD is even below the 2001 census.

According to the census, the state had a total of 15,51,768 households. However, only 1239216 subscribers including 5,77,976 from Jammu and 6,61,240 in Kashmir province are the registered consumers of the PDD.

Revenue realized from the manipulated and undersized domestic area stands at mere Rs 166.51 crores.

The pilferage in industrial areas, military establishments and official organizations is so far unnoticed. Millions of units of energy are consumed here without actually being paid for, say the insiders.

The per capita consumption of power has reached 832.1 KWHr from 549.56 KWHr in 2001 while as the revenue realization rate has failed to correspond with this rise, the official documents reveal.

At least energy worth Rs 2100 crores was purchased by the state from different CPSU’s across India but the revenue realization continues to be scandalous.

All Politics is Local

Shiban argues that self reliance is the first step to real autonomy

(Mr. Shiban Dudha, 50, was born in Srinagar. He went to government schools in Chandilora (Tangmarg) and Srinagar, and matriculated from the D.A.V. High School in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. College, Srinagar (1980 batch), and completed the Chartered Accountancy course from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India. He runs his own Chartered Accountancy firm with offices in Srinagar and New Delhi, and divides his professional and personal time between the two cities. He is a well known social activist and a community volunteer. He is also a strong proponent of Kashmir's pluralistic culture. Mr. Dudha is political advisor in the J&K Peoples Democratic Front - PDF)

We must learn to be less dependant on New Delhi

It has rightly been said that “Democracy, good governance and modernity cannot be imported or imposed from outside”. The vacuum of bruised democracy, inefficiencies and hollow claims of the qualitative modernism leave an ideal place for this phrase in our state of Jammu & Kashmir. The state has also been incidentally rated as second most corrupt state in the country. Both during pre and initial decades of post independent India, Kashmir had uniqueness on myriad matters and after the demise of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, sudden unforeseen and unfortunate developments in the sub continent have turned this multi faced uniqueness counterproductive for the subjects of J&K. To gauge the pulse of masses and to sense indications of possible mass movements emanating out of genuine or non genuine aspirations of people need astute leadership qualities which Sheikh Sahib had in abundance. None of his successors especially from his own family could exhibit those qualities in part or in full. This eroded the “Kashmiri Nationalist concept” as a result of which uniqueness of Kashmir and Kashmiris became the first casualty.

It goes without saying that due to reasons best known to the then rulers in New
Delhi, many deficiencies which are coming to fore now, remained in the decision making process vis-à-vis Jammu & Kashmir during the period August 1946 to July 1948. Perhaps the then National leadership at New Delhi and Maharaja of Kashmir relied more on natural forces to eventually come to the rescue of their hasty decision on accession. This also corroborates with the fact that Maharaja was accorded consent by Sheikh Sahib, the tallest of tall Kashmiri leader of that time to accede with India and the lackadaisical approach towards Jammu and Kashmir by successive Governments in New Delhi. Half a century plus has passed by and instead of expected natural forces to appear as level players, Kashmir witnessed perpetual voices of freedom and these intense voices of 1990 became a Tsunami waves for Kashmiri Pandits and those tides have yet to recede from their minds. They today live as IDPs’. As a close observer of the events unfolding in Jammu and Kashmir, one occasionally tends to surmise that the tendency of delaying the timely deliverances in J&K is willful as it benefits the vast, well knit and strong vested interest that has webbed the entire Kashmir in it. This vested interest existed even prior to 1947 in Kashmir and in over sixty years it has now assumed the size of a monster. Being a locally well connected leader, Pt. Ram Chand Kak, the Prime Minister of Kashmir during Maharaj’s rule had in his close interactions with people of state rightly gauged the pulse and psyche of people. He had thus concluded that majority Muslim community may not be willing to join Indian union and minority Hindus may not be willing to join Pakistan and based on this finding he advocated the concept of “Independent Kashmir” having friendly and good neighbourly relations with both India and Pakistan. Based on the facts before us in the past 65 years, one can surmise that Pt. R C Kak had also the foresight and astuteness of a true and honest leader. It is different that for his such astuteness, he went through hell after being removed unceremoniously by New Delhi.

The endemic nuances associated with Kashmir are also specific and unique. Peoples’ vows in Chillai Kalan of 1947 and 2011 have no difference. Our Government have had scare resources then as are of now. But it is true for the summer of 1947 and 2010 in Delhi, UP, Maharashtra, Gujrat or Orissa. People in erstwhile backward districts of these and other states of India as on date enjoy better facilities of sanitation, drainage system, un-interrupted power supply, hospitals, drinking water, solid and liquid waste management and above all better and quick redress to their grievances. Who gave them this all? Their successive State Governments with support of Central Government’s financial aid/ assistance/ loan. It is not that such financial assistance has not been earmarked for our State but the irony is that the funds earmarked for our State have most of the times been lapsed. The blame squarely lies with the State Governments those were in power; Hartals and protests make no excuse. Why are there no hartals and protests now or why were there no hartals during Sheikh Sahib’s regime or during Mufti Sayeed’s regime. This is the vision that Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had. He was the least travelled person in comparison to his successors yet he had foresight of a spiritually awakened person. Is it not a fact that after SKIMS we have not built or added even a single indoor bed to any existing hospitals in Kashmir”? Internal hygiene, condition of OTs and other facilities at SMHS hospital are an apology in the name of a hospital. We don’t have a second convention hall equivalent and comparable to SKICC. We have not bothered to attend to roads, public libraries, stadia, recreational centers, stadia for indoor games and parks to quote a few. We don’t have good State owned hotels. Private investors have not been attracted to invest in Kashmir. We have not even encouraged native businessmen to invest in Kashmir. We have thrown town planning laws and rules in Jehlum. Commercial malls and sites are day in and day out mushrooming in residential areas of Srinagar much against the Master Plan layout.

Social, economic and political power has not to remain concentrated to few families of a State, alone. On this account, our State defines a true mother-daughter relationship with India. Any country where devolution of economic and political power has not happened gradually from few families has seen eventual ugly resentment from masses. Complacency associated with diversions towards unproductive and meaningless tasks sets in at top of the governing pyramid and these attributes lend additional impetus to resentments and mass upsurges by a civil society. Leader must know the timing and technique required to be applied for a specific situation. This is a tall demand and it is acquired by a leader with tall sacrifices and vast experiences.

Our local political leadership has to bear in mind that for matters within our control and means, we must assert ourselves irrespective of the consequences. We must learn to be less dependant on New Delhi as Sheikh sahib and lately Mufti sahib would do. Strong self reliant state/s can make a strong India and experience has shown that reverse has never worked. So why try that or allow Union of India to try that. We must identify our strengths, rise above petty political considerations and always be people oriented. That is the way forward. If I am not misunderstood I need to ask to myself -If my own new home gets constructed and well furnished in record eight months time despite hartals and social unrest in valley, why should a displaced boatman run from pillar to post for appreciable time to get his file cleared for a few meters space under VAMBAY scheme or why should an entire displaced community of Kashmir remain homeless for two decades.

Neglected Issues

Two timely commentaries by Zeenat on the status of women and environment puts the microscope on important but neglected issues of the day

(Ms. Zeenat Zeeshan Fazil, 26, was born in Srinagar, Kashmir. She did her schooling from King George (Mumbai) and later Cambridge (New Delhi), and received her Masters degree in English Literature from the University of Kashmir in 2008. Presently, she is also pursuing her second Masters degree in Mass Communications through the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). In 1998, she began her career as a freelance journalist with leading national newspapers and simultaneously joined ‘Fazil Kashmiri Publications’ as Editor and Publisher, and is also an editor of the ‘Focus’. Ms. Fazil has written a book on Mass Media and Linguistics (2006), and ‘Falcons of Paradise'(2009), a reference book contains 100 Eminent Personalities of J&K starting from 14th century till date. After working for ‘Daily Etaalat’- a Srinagar based Newspaper in 2007-2008; she joined ‘Daily Kashmir Images’ as a Senior Correspondent by the end of 2008. She is also currently associated with ‘Charkha’, a foundation that highlights the developmental concerns of marginalized section of Kashmiri society particularly in rural areas and to draw out perspectives on women through their writings. Ms. Fazil is also associated with ‘Interchurch Peace Council Netherlands’ which is intensely involved in several conflict areas such as in Kashmir. In 2009, she joined the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA). She has received numerous awards for her meritorious contribution in the field of literature. Her interests are reading, writing, poetry, music, travel,and gender related topics.)

Women - Bearing the Brunt of Social Prejudice, Conflict

Yes, many aspects of normal civilian life are compromised in Kashmir, as in any area of conflict. But in Kashmir, there is an overlay of this reality with another one; of women being treated with insensitivity, callousness and being subjected to all manner of discrimination, and in extreme cases-violence.

The rape and killing of two young women in Sopore has drawn the ire of many in Kashmir’s multi-layered society and polity. The last few months have been a period of relative quiet after the spiral of violence last summer and killings that have now erupted are once again a reminder of how tenuous this peace may be.

The incident is no doubt horrific and highly condemnable, but it also depends on the lens one is looking at such acts of violence. Is it only an incident triggered by a particular set of circumstances at a particular time or is it symptomatic of a larger malaise affecting society in Kashmir, that of degradation of women in many spheres of life and in the larger society and polity?

Yes, many aspects of normal civilian life are compromised in Kashmir, as in any area of conflict. But in Kashmir, there is an overlay of this reality with another one; of women being treated with insensitivity, callousness and being subjected to all manner of discrimination, and in extreme cases-violence. There is an inherited tapestry of Kashmir’s societal norms which are discriminatory, that are then exacerbated by the over two decades of conflict Whatever the provocation for this incident and the steps to prevent such attacks in the future, the fact still remains that women in pre-conflict Kashmir have suffered in different ways.

The problem is deep-rooted, pervasive. Social prejudices reinforce the woman’s identity as being subordinate to the male. Domestic violence is more widespread than is reported. Dowry is an ugly reality with ceaseless demands leading to a high degree of stress. According to Dr. Mushtaq Margoob, well-known psychiatrist in the Valley “Women's physical and mental health is often permanently damaged or impaired. In some cases there can be fatal consequences as in the case of dowry deaths.”

In Kashmiri society, women are generally repressed. The region over the decades has witnessed tremendous change with the processes of industrialization and modernization ushering in enhanced levels of economic prosperity and education. The traditional role of women in society has also changed but it has also brought about new areas of stress within the old mould. Pre-conflict, the suicides amongst women can be said to reflect this but there has been an alarming rise of suicides over the last two decades with some 12000-18000 persons committing suicide. According to leading sociologist, Dr. Bashir Ahmed Dabla suicides amongst women are more. He cites the ongoing conflict as the major underlying factor.

It is not always easy to discern how the existing patterns of societal norms and attitudes towards women, reach a point of conflagration but they feed each other. A woman who has been abused either at home or has been a victim of attack, molestation or worse rape by any of the players operating in the conflict zone finds it difficult to register her complaint with the authorities. She finds very little support from the family or society and often carries a stigma for a wrong that has been done to her. The Minister for Social Welfare, Sakina Itoo agrees with this view and holds the police accountable for negligence in registering their complaints. “Hundreds of women have informed me that police refuse to register their complaints of domestic violence,” states Itoo.

The environment for women in Kashmir is far from conducive and the fall-out of the conflict has taken a huge toll not only on the physical security of women but their psychological well-being, mental peace. People anywhere in the world exposed to benumbing violence in any situation of armed conflict are prone to developing psychological disorders and this is equally true for Kashmir where the incidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) has grown. According to Dr. Margoob, “Women constitute more than 55% of the patients seeking treatment at Kashmir's only mental health hospital in Srinagar. Most are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD).” Margoob says women are more prone to PTSD than men. Whether this is a reflection of the odds stacked against them or their coping mechanisms can be debated but there are no simple answers.

The atmosphere of conflict pervades all of society and within that what women endure, what are the points of breakdown, what are the factors both underlying and immediately provocative, which lead to their suffering and in a sense their marginalisation? The answers need to be urgently sought.

Margoob believes that hundreds of women do not approach medical help because of illiteracy and social taboos attached to the mental health hospitals. “They continue to suffer silently,” he says. Abdul Rashid Hanjoora, a committed social activists says, “Women are often caught in a vicious circle of economic dependence, a sense of insecurity, a lack of awareness about their rights” These factors effectively keep a woman trapped in circumstances that maybe harmful to her physical or mental health but the shroud of privacy or so-called sanctity of a home often stops outside agencies from knowing about let alone acting upon the problem. Hanjoora also reiterates the belief that it is social stigma that prevents many cases of domestic violence being reported thus giving a false picture of the situation. He says “We need to ponder on how degradation of women can be stopped. It needs support from all quarters, be it government, NGOs and women themselves,”

What could signal hope is that the police acknowledges that violence against women gets ‘least’ attention and seeks to correct its image as being negligent by taking firm action. Says the state’s police chief, Khuldeep Khoda “We are aware about most cases not getting registered in police stations not only because our administration mechanism is weak but other reasons as well. “ He says increasing the number of women’s police stations was a step in the direction “ In order to control crime against women, we have established two women police stations - one in Jammu and another in Kashmir, exclusively headed by women officers. These have helped police a lot in controlling the crimes against women. Our target is to establish women’s police stations at all district headquarters of J&K”

That women have got a raw deal over the ages in Kashmiri society is now being accepted as a credible view within enlightened sections. It is vital that in the larger ramifications of seeking solutions for the region’s way forward politically, economically and culturally, this is not ignored.

World Wetlands Day

Srinagar: The news on February 02 celebrated as the World Wetlands Day is that the wetlands, considered as the kidneys of environment, are vanishing fast in Kashmir. For instance, the wetland at Hokersar has almost shrunk to 1-2 sq. kms compared to its original area of 13.75 sq. kms, while the Haigam is left only up to one-and-half sq. kms from its original size of 14 sq. kms. Shalbug wetland has no different story -- this too has reduced from 6.5 sq. kms to only one sq. km.

“Mirgund wetland has completely dried up and only in rainy season it becomes marshy. Dal Marg wetland in Lasar Dangiwacha of Baramulla district has completely dried up and has now been converted into orchards, while portions of it are under paddy cultivation by locals,” said an official who wished not to be identified for obvious reasons.

“Kanispora wetland in Baramulla district which used to attract more than 50,000 migratory birds until 1990 is no more considered as a wetland today. And now even the Wildlife authorities have forgotten about it. Same is the case with Chatipora wetland of Achabal Sopore -- this wetland too no more exists in the map,” the Wildlife official added.

Besides the encroachment and land-grab by people, the major problem confronting wetlands in Kashmir is because of silt deposition.

Silt has reduced the Haigam wetland to a great extent. “A decade back water levels in Haigam were over 12 feet but now the maximum depth is not more than one-and-a-half feet,” says former Wetland Warden Hokersar, Mohummad Maqbool Baba, who has been witness to the decline of the wetland and blames official apathy for it.

One of the main reasons he cites for vanishing for wetlands is unplanned urbanization. “Most of these wetland have vanished due to rampant urbanization and encroachments while the authorities are watching everything as mute spectators,” says Baba.

Environmentalists too warn that wetlands in Kashmir are rapidly shrinking courtesy official apathy and rampant encroachments, endangering thousands of animals and migratory birds.

Today the state boasts of having 16 wetlands, nine of them are in Kashmir Valley. However, experts predict these will vanish in around four-five years if the authorities continue to neglect them.

The Environment and Remote Sensing department had spotted 500 lakes and water-bodies in the Valley in 1998. However, this number has considerably decreased in the last one decade, say experts, although they do not possess any figurative data about it.

“Human folly has spelt doom for the wetlands. The damage can be arrested if officials become serious about conservation of wetlands; otherwise day is not far off when Kashmir’s wetlands will meet the same fate as Rajasthan’s Bharartpur wetland which has completely dried up,” Wildlife experts warn.

Fears Baba, “Time is not too far when migratory birds will look for other halting grounds if situation continues to be like what it is now in Kashmir.”

Haigam wetland hosted 500,000 migratory birds last winter on Feb 02, but this year no migratory arrived in the wetland, informs Baba.

“Reduction in the size of wetlands is also one of the reasons for continued and often prolonged dry spells that the Valley is witnessing and then it is also affecting the production Trappa, (Gaud), Nucifera (Nadro) water chest-nuts.

For instance, Hokersar and Haigam wetlands are no longer able to produce Nucifera, informs Baba, while blaming it on the heavy silt deposition and reduced volume and expanse of these wetlands.

It’s pertinent to mention that current year being the United Nations International Year of Forests, this year’s theme for the official functions in connection with the Wetlands Day was ‘Wetlands and Forests’ with the slogan “Forests for Water and Wetlands”.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dal Lake and its Houseboats

Sajjad finds an intricate tie-in between the future of the Dal Lake and the houseboat industry. Without a paradign shift both are doomed

(Mr. Sajjad Bazaz, 45, was born in Srinagar. He attended the Khalsa high school and the Sri Pratap College in Srinagar. He received his bachelor's degree in Media and his master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. Mr. Bazaz has over two decades of experience in journalism (both print & electronic), and he is author of the book "Bankwatch" which is about a financial scenario with particular reference to the J&K state. He is currently incharge of corporate communications department in a leaduing financial instution in J&K. Mr. Bazaz likes to spend leisure time watching movies and enjoying company of his friends.)

Realigning Houseboats

Environmental issues marring the natural beauty of Kashmir have always remained a concern mainly from tourism point of view. High on the agenda is to fight out the pollution in Dal Lake, which has endangered the life of the lake. When we talk of pollution in Dal Lake, we cannot ignore the presence of houseboats, which have primarily harmed the lake, and this 150-year-old tradition is facing extinction today.

The Dal Lake is burdened with over 60 hamlets with a population of almost 70,000, many floating vegetable gardens, several hotels, guesthouses and lodges besides houseboats. Despite years of disturbances in Kashmir, tourists have still flocked to Dal Lake to stay in houseboats. But while it may appear idyllic, the volume of waste generated by this tourist heaven has turned the lake into a latrine. Millions of litres of raw sewerage are pumped into the lake every day. Many scientific studies have found that the untreated sewerage and other chemicals in the water together act as a super-fertiliser promoting the growth of ferns, duckweed and green and red algae. This in turn is killing other aquatic life in the lake.

The expanding pollution of the Lake has put the existence of houseboats, the flag bearer of Kashmiri tourism, at stake. At the moment, the thunderclouds are hovering over the houseboats. The blame is on the primary stakeholders - houseboat owners - who have never taken care of the Lake, which nourished them. They threatened its existence by polluting it, as they never cared about the waste management. So, it’s their own future which is at stake.

If we analyse the situation of the houseboat industry, there is every reason to believe that the industry is dying with the passage of time. And the environmental issue confronting the existence of houseboats is just adding pace to its extinction phase. The gloomy faces of the current generation running this industry indicate that they have already lost interest in the trade. They see ‘no future’ in the trade, as their activity is not having an industry status.

Notably, while giving recommendations to aggressively reposition itself as a tourist destination riding on the back of the economic buoyancy around the world and in India, the Rangarajan Report in 2006 had recommended to accelerate renovation and new constructions of house boats, hotels and shikaras, as a additional sum of Rs.30 crore may be allocated for immediate disbursement as soft loans with an appropriate monitoring mechanism.

But, today, a houseboat owner cannot even think to renovate his houseboat, as the permission is not granted in a hassle free manner. Since there is no dockyard facility, the renovation has to be carried out in Chinar Bagh area. To reach there, the Dal gate crossing needs permission, which is hardly granted. Another factor is that the life span of houseboats too has drastically gone down. In fresh waters, its life span is about 60 years. But in the current polluted water body, the life span, as the experts have put it, is hardly 40 years. Most of the 1,200 houseboats floating on the waters of Dal and Nigeen Lakes have completed their shelf life and could be put out of action for want of repairs.

Construction of new houseboat is economically unviable and has been stopped long back because of the unavailability of the rare cedar wood and lack of expert carpenters. Its construction would cost over Rs.1.00 crore. It is not only the cost factor that deters boatmen, the special cedar trees, which grow only at altitudes of 7000 feet in the forests of northwestern Kashmir, are fast depleting because of massive deforestation. A look at the past reveals that in 1980s Kashmiris used to export 3000 logs of cedar without realizing that they were seriously depleting a treasure which wasn't being renewed.

In the current market scenario, for a simple houseboat, 300cft cedar wood is required, which means around Rs.15 lakhs of investment. The labour involved in its construction further requires around Rs.10 to 12 lakhs. In addition to this, interior fittings/decorations involve a cost of another Rs.10 lakhs and total financial involvement in construction of a houseboat comes to over a crore of rupees. In the uncertain tourist inflow, the investment of around Rs. one crore in a houseboat construction would be unwise decision.

Under the circumstances, the focus should be to protect the existing houseboats. The death of the houseboats would have a devastating effect on our tourism industry. The houseboats are the heart of this industry. If they stop operations, the tourist trade will die its own death.

Plans should be devised to allow entry of tourists in to the Dal Lake in an organized manner and their stay in houseboats should be brought under time limit. Exploring new tourist destinations in the State, particularly the Valley is ok, but there is also need to put a coordinated effort to preserve heritage sites and promote them as tourist destinations. We have a huge potential to promote heritage tourism. An amalgamation of Buddhist monasteries and paintings of Ladakh, palaces and temples of Jammu, mountains and Sufi shrines of Kashmir, with each one having a distinct architecture, the state is rich in this respect. Ironically, nothing much has happened on this front, as preservation of this heritage is at stake. Many studies have suggested to exploit the state’s rich cultural heritage along with modern allurements in the shape of shopping, food courts, multiplexes and music festivals at such places.

This will take some pressure off from the Dal Lake, as tourist would get engaged in exploring these destinations.

As far as preserving heritage sites and promoting them as tourist destinations is concerned, there is dire need to increase spending and also have a well integrated marketing effort to reach to the world and tourist populace. The promotional effort should entirely focus on intimating and alluring them about culture, beauty and riches of the state, particularly Kashmir through all seasons. Efforts should be to carve out means and ways so that tourists prolong their stay in the valley.

Meanwhile, to combat extensive pollution and encroachments and to improve aesthetic beauty and extend expanse of the framed water body, the realignment of houseboats in the Dal lake is a welcome move. Notably, in March 2009, J&K High Court while taking serious note of the deterioration of water bodies, including the Dal Lake had asked houseboat owners to suspend their operations until they make some alternative arrangement to their waste disposal. If seriously pursued, this proposed realignment of houseboats would, of course, increase water expanse of the Dal. However the scientific disposal of sewage in a cost effective manner holds the key in improving its aesthetic beauty.

The Murky World of NGO's

Fayyaz takes the lid off the murky world of NGO's in Kashmir by exposing the inner workings of one such organization, which in turn goes on the defensive without addressing issues raised in the investigative report. Fayyaz' report followed by two related news stories

(Mr. Ahmed Ali Fayyaz, 48, was born in Bodina, Budgam, and received his primary and secondary education in Budgam and later at Amar Singh College, Srinagar. He completed his Master's degree in Kashmiri language and literature from the University of Kashmir in 1987. After working with Rashtriya Sahara and Kashmir Times in 1993-94, and later for 13 years as Srinagar Bureau Chief of Daily Excelsior, he is woking as Resident Editor/ Srinagar Bureau Chief of Jammu-based English daily Early Times since April 2009. He is also a filmmaker whose forte in audio-visual media is Kashmir's composite culture, heritage, ecology and social issues. Since February 2008, he has been regularly anchoring Take One Television's bi-weekly hard talk show "Face To Face With Ahmed Ali Fayyaz" which is watched by more than three million viewers in Srinagar, Jammu and other urban areas of Jammu & Kashmir.)

UN’s 25000 Euros Brings Relief to ‘Activists’, Despair to Victims

Srinagar: One of the journalists working for premier international news agency Reuters in Srinagar has been feeding families of five disappeared persons out of his monthly salary. Yet another, who himself survived a fatal attack on his life in a bomb blast at his office in 1995, has been providing sustenance to another group of the victims of enforced disappearances and bloodshed.

Hundreds of opulent businessmen have been silently doing similar noble work to provide succour to civilian sufferers of the 21-year-long armed conflict whose actual numbers are claimed to be 8,000 to 10,000 but impartially believed to be around 5,000. In approximately 70:30 ratio, these ill-fated civilians have disappeared in custody of security forces and separatist militants respectively.

Most of these civilians, owing allegiance to conflicting political ideologies, have vanished in the first 10 years of turmoil. With remarkable downswing, armed forces as well as guerrilla groups have continued to eliminate soft targets but those who disappeared in the last 11 years are in hundreds, not in thousands. Police have not received even a dozen of such complainants in last three years.

However, the numbers of people claiming to be fighting for protection of human rights and recovery of the disappeared persons have risen phenomenally over the years. Interests heightened enormously after the ‘human rights activists” learned through media last year that the United Nation’s Working Group on Involuntary Enforced Disappearances (WGIED) was providing a substantial financial assistance to families of such disappeared persons in Kashmir. Both factions of the lately split Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) began a flurry of activity to attract attention of the UN group.

Over a dozen of demonstrations were organised in Sher-e-Kashmir Park in Civil Lines here as young children and elderly women, describing themselves as families of the disappeared civilians, issued passionate appeals to the world to support them and help in recovery of their loved ones.

It was during the maiden visit of the UN’s Special Rapporteur, Margaret Sekaggya, that the much exploited families of the real victims learned on Monday that WGIED had provided the first ever financial support to them in the form of Euros 25000. Soon it surfaced that the account of one faction of their organisation was being operated by “unknown persons” in New Delhi, rather than any board of directors in Srinagar.

Even as WGIED had specifically made it a condition that the money equivalent to over Rs 17 Lakh would be operated “in democratic and transparent manner”, it became known that entire operation was restricted to two New Delhi-based female activists, including a Kashmiri filmmaker, and President of a faction of APDP, Parveena Ahangar. Parveena, whose son Javed Ahangar once disappeared allegedly in custody of Border Security Force nearly 20 years ago in Batmaloo area, had launched her own group after she broke away from the original organisation over charges of “nepotism and fraudulent handling” against her former colleagues.

Enjoying support of several groups based from New Delhi to Europe to USA, this uneducated middle-aged woman has been at the forefront of most of the demonstrations organised by her group in Srinagar. Last year, she was among the activists who held a demonstration outside the Parliament in New Delhi and also met President of India Pratibha Patil.

At Skaggya’s news conference here on Wednesday, one of the young APDP female activists walked out to register her strong protest against the way she had been clandestinely removed from office-bearers of the body and her “memorandum” to be submitted to the UN Rapporteur had been replaced by the one drafted by a Delhi-based human rights activist. She confronted Parveena how she had signed a document without being able to read a word out of it. She later revealed to mediapersons that in violation of the UN group guidelines and conditions, recipient APDP had got the money deposited in Parveena’s personal account.

The angry APDP activist alleged that Parveena’s son Yasir was single-handedly operating the bank account and its password was with a Delhi-based activist. She further revealed that like her old rivals, Parveena too had appointed daughter Saima and niece, Suby, at the APDP office at Hyderpora. “This whole money is being brazenly swindled. Not a pie is reaching the real victims. This is, in fact, business on the dead bodies”, Ms Arjimand Khan complained. She said that she would soon write to media and everybody at the UN how “vested interests” were looting the world in the name of victims of the Kashmir conflict.

While Parveena was not reachable for comment, APDP’s Legal Advisor, Advocate Hafizullah Mir, confirmed to Early Times that there was no board of directors. He said that due to recent disturbance in Valley, APDP could not fulfill its task of constituting the Board of Advisors. He also claimed that the money received from the UN group was “not for families of the disappeared persons”. “It has been decided that the money would be paid to the lawyers fighting suits of the victims in different judicial courts”, Mir said.

APDP to Spend $ 10000-UN aid on Rehab, Survey

Abid Bashir (Rising Kashmir)

Srinagar: Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons has received 10,000 US dollars from United Nations for the rehabilitation of families of disappeared persons. This was disclosed by APDP chairperson, Perveena Ahanger here Thursday to dispel the rumours about the amount, adding that she was receiving threat phone calls in this regard from last one month.
“Today, I decided to break my silence as I have been receiving constant threats from some unknown people. Some blame me for receiving Rs 80 lakh aid and some even use abusive language,” she told Rising Kashmir during APDP’s monthly sit-in at Pratap Park, Srinagar.

Ahanger said following rumours that she had received lot of money; she was left with no option other than to reveal the “truth”.

“The reality is that I have received 10,000 US dollars (Rs 4, 56,000 Indian currency as per the current value of a US dollar). The money has come from the United Nations Human Rights Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture,” she said.

The monetary aid is first of its kind from UN for any rights group functioning in Kashmir. The APDP chairperson said the aid was transferred from UN to Kashmir in June last year. “It took us five months to receive the same. I received the entire amount in November last. I have already prepared a trust deed for it,” she said.

“The money is not my personal property. It is for the rehabilitation of the families of all 10,000 families, whose dear ones have disappeared since 1990.”

She said the money has to be spent in case any of the family members of missing persons face problems in terms of food, medication and education. “Besides, the money will be spent on the survey to find out the exact number of disappeared people in Kashmir.”

Ahanger said APDP has already started the survey of people who went missing. “At present, the survey is going on in Srinagar and Kupwara districts. We will move to Bandipore in the next phase,” she said, adding, “Compilation of the exact data would take time.”

“Since there is no exact data or any official number about the number of missing youth, the process started by us will take time. We will be going to districts like Doda, Rajouri and Poonch as well,” she said.

About the recent visit of UN special rapporteur on human rights, Margaret Sekaggya to Kashmir, Ahanger said she handed over a report to her about the problems being faced by APDP.

“She (Margaret) promised us every help but so far there is no progress on that front,” she said.

It may be recalled that as per the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, an independent rights group, at least 8,000 to 10,000 people have gone missing in the state since 1990.

I am Being Threatened, Alleges APDP Chairman

Mukhtar Ahmed (Kashmir Images)

Srinagar: Alleging that she was being threatened by some people who she says are bent upon defaming her organization, the chairperson of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) Parveena Ahangar Thursday said by resorting to such mischievous acts, “they are trying to create obstacles in the pursuance APDP’s cause”. Declining to reveal the identity of those who are threatening her, Ahangar said she is receiving threatening calls from some 5-6 people. “I am investigating it of my own and once I am sure of their identity, I will then expose all of them through media.”

Talking to media-persons on the sidelines of APDP’s monthly sit-in protest of at Pratap Park here, Ahangar said that she had received $10,000 in June 2010 from United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. “But some persons, for their pitiful gains, have spread canards in some sections of media that APDP has received Rs 80 lakhs from the UN funds.”

“It is a baseless allegation leveled against the APDP as some persons are envious of our organization and they don’t want us to pursue our cause in a hassle-free manner. We have been granted only $10,000 which has been released to the needy from November last year,” Ahanger said.

She said APDP uses its funds in a judicious manner for the education and medical assistance to the deserved members of the APDP across the state.
Referring to her recent meeting with the UN Special Rapportuer, Margaret Sekaggya,

Parveena Ahanger said she had one-on-one with the Rapportuer on a wide range of issues from ensuring investigation and punishment to those responsible for enforced disappearances to other human rights violations in the state and abrogation of Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) and other “black laws”.

Meanwhile, as part of its monthly sit-in program, dozens of protesting members carrying placards - “Stop crime against humanity”, “Stop disappearances” and demanding “independent, credible commission on enforced disappearances”, “implementation of court orders”, “prosecution of guilty” and “replacing impunity with accountability”, held a silent sit-in at Pratap Park.

Demanding the whereabouts of all disappeared persons, the APDP president criticized the state government for not cooperating with the organization. She said that there are some national and international civil society groups and non-profits who are lending a helping hand to APDP enabling it to pursue its cause.

“We have been restricted to gather in small parks to raise our voices and the government’s response has been that it is also preventing the national and international organizations, which are desirous of helping us in our cause, from helping us,” Ahanger alleged.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Kanger

Manzoor says there is more to "Kanger" (traditional Kashmiri fire pot) than meets the eye

(Mr. Manzoor Akash, 25, was born in Rafiabad, Baramulla district. He completed his schooling locally, and earned degrees in B. Litt (comparative Literature) and M.A. in English from Barkatullah Vishwavidhyalaya, Bhopal. A very articulate writer, he has published numerous articles in various journals. He is also a budding poet, having published his first book of poems, "Verses of Heart," in 2006. Some of his poems have been reviewed by prominent literary critics in India. He has taught English at high school level, and hopes to teach in a university some day.)

KANGER: Warming our Identity

Kanger, that we use in the winter months, is an important element of Kashmiri culture. It is the cheapest and potable item that Kashmiris keep to warm themselves. Among all the winter preparations it ranks atop. It is carried wherever we like it to. It is a mobile heater that we go near wherever it is felt chilly or it rains and snows. No sooner the weather turns cold than people in entire valley start buying it, no matter what the price. People, across valley, find it most convenient to save themselves against the biting cold. No doubt there are numerous Bukharies, Room Heaters and Mobile Gas Heaters being sold in the market yet this traditional firepot has not lost its importance. From a layman to an aristocrat , everybody likes it, in one way or the other. However, the charm is more unique when it is taken under Pheran.

Kanger that we purchase in rupees hundred or two is not woven in just one hour or two but it undergoes along process before being used. It comes from where and reaches where. It simply has a story to say.

There are several thousands people in our valley that earn their livelihood through this craft. This needs a great skill and mastery before being thrown to public. It demands patience and hard work.

Almost from all parts of Kashmir, firepots start pouring into the markets as soon as the mercury level dips down. Kangri weavers (Kanyel) from the commencement of autumn, remain busy in making Kangris. Though these weavers in the valley differ in their skill yet the raw material, the craft requires is everywhere the same. Kundal (firepot) and Kanye (sticks) like posh kanye, geer kanye and khech kanye are some of the most frequently used ingredients that Kangris are often made of. These weavers get sticks from forests which are peeled off by women. In some families women also help in making Kangris but men are mostly seen doing this work.

In the earlier days Kangri vendors used to go from village to village to sell their stock but now this village to village campaign is abandoned. Except money, people, in rural areas, would buy Kangris by giving goods like Cereals, rice, Maize etcetera to the sellers. But now only money can buy you a Kanger . Parents nowadays don’t even let their wards touch firepots. They care that they’ll get burnt. But our time was quite different. Without any fear we’d keep Kangris with us, even while playing some outdoor game.

Wahab Kak, the Kangri weaver’s popularity is yet the same in my area. My mother used to buy a small fire pot for me from him. Though I was not born in a rich family. I was loved by my parents so much. My every demand was fulfilled. My memories have not faded; I remember, every year my mum would tell Wahab Kak to bring a small fire pot for me. I was fond of it. It indeed used to be fun those days.

This traditional fire pot is now purchased every year not because it comes in verities but because of cultural advancement of the people. Kangri weavers change its looks and style every now and then. They decorate it to catch the attention of more and more People. It is one important item in Idd Bogh and Wand Bogh that Kashmirs carry to the bride’s home before wedding. Apart from J&K where it is mostly manufactured, it has spread its wings to other states also. It has reached Himachal, Punjab, Haryana and Ludhiana where people love to use it in cold weather. They are surprised to see it. They admire this craft. I remember last year when I was traveling from Srinagar to Jammu, one of my fellow passengers happened to buy Kanger from Islamabad (Maraaz) market. He was taking it to Ludhiana where he was selling carpets. He told me that instead of warming during morning and evening time, it (Kanger) reminds me my own culture.

Benign Neglect

Salman bares the cupboard where Kashmir's disabled are routinely hidden away from public discussion and guilt

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

Kashmir's Disabled

Shahida's arms were blown off in a suicide attack in the Dal lake area of Srinagar city few years ago. Flesh was also torn from one of her legs and she lost much of her vision. Her mashed face is split by an uneven scar. Now about 35, she has four children but not much else. "I cannot even drink water by myself," she weeps silently, dabbing at a tear with one of her stumped arms. What is left of her limbs is covered by a black shawl that also partially hides red lumps of flesh on her neck and jaw. "Of course, I would have plans if I had hands or eyes. But now I have half a body. I don't even have a husband," she said. Her husband, a day labourer, was killed in the attack as he sat in the front seat of the private taxi, a Tata Sumo vehicle, that was taking them home from a wedding.

Shahida was dozing off in the back of the Sumo with her then three-months-old son in the lap and her arms resting on the front seat, when the car bomb exploded directly in front of them on 2 Nov, 2005. She said a police party signalled a car to stop. As police were trying to stop the car, there was a massive explosion resulting in the death of police constable, two civilians and a suicide bomber. Now she and her children live with her policeman brother, who supports them. Her daughters, both under 14, are her hands, cooking and cleaning and helping her to eat and drink. In her humble room at Rafiabad in Baramulla district, Shahida does not know where to turn for help. "I don't know where to go or what to do," I just want one hand, she says.

On the other side of the valley, Trehgam area of Kupwara district, lives 27-year-old Nafisa, who has an attractive face but no legs. She waddles around her family's small and spotless home on her hips, unable to even use a wheelchair on her own due to the attack by the security forces which destroyed her home about 14 years ago, mangled one of her hands. She remembers the chilly autumn day the attack happened. The family went into their courtyard to catch a little sun. Nafisa took her sewing machine out into the sunshine as she used to earn some livelihood. "There was the sound of a blast in a military camp near their home," recalls Nafisa mother. I told everyone: “Let's move." Then our house was surrounded by security forces, my son named Mushtaq Ahmed Dar was blind folded and taken to the military camp. This time it was another sound of a blast and cross firing at our home, she said. I saw the legs of my daughter cut off from her body; there was a bullet in her legs and another in her arm. I fainted. When I woke up I was in hospital," the 50-year-old lady narrated. Sara Begum lost a leg. Sara’s family is one of the few to collect a government disability pension totalling Rs 400 per month. But it is not enough for them to live on and they rely on relatives and the little money that the only surviving son earns by selling cigarettes and Nafisa can make from sewing for the neighbours.

Only 1.20 lac physically challenged people in militancy related incidents have access to the government disability pension. The J&K state, according to 2001 census, has a total disabled population of 302,670 (272,816 males and 130,853 females). According to estimates, this number has increased to 605,340 (343,632 males and 261,708 females) in 2009. According to Indian census reports there are five major types of disabilities in the State -‘seeing’, ‘speech’, ‘hearing’, ‘movement’ and ‘mental’.

The mental and movement disability were found to be dominant while other disabilities were comparatively low. While 2.12 percent of the total population at all-India level suffers from such disabilities, in J&K 3.0 % of population is disabled. The percentage of disabled population in J&K is higher in comparison to northern states of Punjab (1.74 %) and Himachal Pradesh (2.56 %) and Union Territory of Chandigarh (1.72 %). This higher proportion of disabled in J&K can only be attributed to perpetual conflict in which thousands of people were treated brutally and beaten mercilessly or have suffered mentally. This gets confirmed from the district-level disability data according to which border and militancy affected districts have more number of disabled people. So the situation in Kashmir needs a different treatment than the one applied in other states. Despite the higher proportion of disability, J&K has not responded to the problem in a way it should. The state has not carried out any survey or census of the disabled. Last, but not the least, the role of NGOs in the cause of disability stands crucial. So, these organizations must necessarily and continuously intervene in this problem.

Free to Loot

Daya Sagar comments on the slow pace of reform in J&K institutions created to provide transparency and good governance

(Mr. Daya Sagar, 65+, was born in Udampur. He completed his schooling from SRML Higher secondary School in Jammu. He completed his post graduate degree in engineering (M. Tech.) in 1971. After a short stint in Larsen & Toubro, he joined public sector from which he retired after 30 years of service in 2003. He has held numerous consulting assignments. Mr. Sagar is a social activist and founder member of the Jammu Opinion Forum, the Vichar Kranti Manch International Jammu, and J&K Samaj Kalyan Kendra, an organization primarily dedicated to the welfare of physically handicapped members of the society. He is also an advisor to the International Human Rights Protection Council Jammu, and the Jammu Gamin Vikas Sanstha, working for the welfare of the rural people, mother & child health, and education. Mr. Sagar is a free lance scribe since 1988 and writes on various social, human rights and national issues in various news outlets in the State. His family has been politically associated with the J&K National Conference.)

J&K's Toothless Commissions

Earlier J&K State Accountability Commission was in news for being headless and without adequate teeth to get the corrupt government servants and public men punished. Now it is the J&K Sate Information Commission in news for being without any Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners. The J&K RTI Act and the appointment of Chief Information Commissioner has recently hit the news line more prominently. In India the Commissions and Committees are seen more as the rehabilitation centers for retired senior bureaucrats / public men/ others of the class. It is less for the purpose and more to benefit some personally. Some names of retiring and retired Government officers did appear in the media as prospective candidates for securing the positions of Information Commissioners. A likely date for the meeting of the selection committee was also mentioned . But the point that I want to make here is that it was not appear to some a mere coincidence that a news item about the selection of a Chief Information Commissioner appeared at a time a very senior bureaucrat of J&K was to superannuate a couple of weeks thereafter. Otherwise RTI Commission was headless since long. People need to take notice of this. Such coincidences do some times send otherwise signals to common man even if there may lie no unfair intention.

The incomplete infrastructure of the JK Information Commission established under the RTI Act has consumed nearly a crore of rupees ( formally constituted in October 2009) without doing any good to the people. JK State Accountability Commission has been the other totally non delivering institution for 3 years now. These institutions have not been provided the Heads and the “teeth”. Where should any one file a complaint against the non performance of those who had to provide the “ Heads” to these institutions ?. It was most agonizing that recently it was reported that a very senior retiring IAS officer has been booked for alleged corruption on the money kept for the school mats for the “dust laden class rooms” of the students in government schools. It is not out of place to mention here that the said officer had been got promoted to senior positions even when the case had already been detected during the days of his active service.

While replying on demands of his departments in the JK Assembly on 18 Mar 2010 J&K CM Omar Abdullah, had said that for curbing corruption his Government was contemplating for better earmarking the areas of jurisdictions Accountability Commission and the Vigilance Organization."While Accountability Commission will look into the complaints against political leaders the Vigilance Organization will deal with the cases of Government functionaries. We are also contemplating to convert the Vigilance Organization into a Commission giving it more teeth". Then also he had informed that Chief Information Commissioner and two Commissioners under RTI Act would be appointed soon. In response to a cut motion by PDP member Peerzada Mansoor Hussain he had informed the JK Legislative Assembly that 343 cases of corruption had been registered against government officials by State Vigilance Organisation from 1/1/ 2005 to 12/31/ 2009. Out of those 175 cases pertained to officials who were caught red-handed while accepting bribe. But the Chief Minister did not inform that how many had been stripped of their job, how many had been imprisoned and property of how many had been confiscated.

Earlier the offences of corruption and bribery against Government Employees were dealt under the provisions of Ranbir Penal Code ( of 1932 A.D) and were investigated by Local police upto the year 1949 A.D. A separate Anti Corruption Wing was formed in 1949 under the State Crime Branch under J&K Prevention of Corruption Act, 2006 Bikrami (1949 AD). And it was in 1962 that a separate body by the name “Anti-Corruption Organization” was created. With the menace of corruption going unchecked “State Vigilance Organisation” was created with the incorporation of ‘Prevention of Corruption Laws (amendment) Act, 1983 A.D. “State Vigilance Organization”, J&K Public Men and Public Servants Declaration of Assets and Other Provisions Act, 1983 A.D was enacted and MLAs and Ministers were also brought under the purview of Corruption Laws and filing of Annual Property Returns was made mandatory for all public servants and public men. But Corruption on the public resources has further grown, had it not been so, the need for replacing J&K Vigilance Organisation with J&K State Vigilance Commission would not have been felt. So far there have been no signs of fulfilled commitments of war against the corrupt.

The Jammu and Kashmir State Accountability Commission had sent recommendations for severest action against some political bosses / government officers /( even for termination of services / forfeiture of retirement pension under Rule 30 of the J&K Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules 1956. ) as back as 2007. But no immediate action , worth appreciation ,was taken by the Gulam Nabi Government . Some of the accused obtained some orders from the J&K HC in reference to the recommendations of SAC. But no follow up worth appreciation was taken to get the notices from the J&K HC attended to on priority basis even by Omar Government. The orders of SAC involved some officers who had allegedly looted even the common middle class subjects of J&K in association with the managements of co operative housing societies. And above all this the State Accountability Commission is headless since April/May 2008. Believe it ,the J&K SAC Act provides for completion of enquiries / recommendation with in six months and now it is nearly three two years since there is no chairman in SAC . The complainants are just incurring expenditure of time and money by paying visits. Omar Government too has been no different than Azad government in this regard. Even if the politicians may not be fearing the SAC, may be there is no favourite subject who could be favoured by appointment in SAC.

Yes one thing surely has happened after 2008 with regard to SAC, and that is the concept for birth of J&K State Vigilance Commission Act ( that would handle the complaints against government officers and not the SAC ). How far the Vigilance Commission would do some good for people can not be said at this state. But one thing is very sure that it would provide some relief to the Government Officers since they would be taken out of the purview of J&K State Accountability Commission for alleged non performance of duties / corrupt behavior. Although SAC has not been able to dig its teeth deep into the corrupt veins but surely it did create some worries for the corrupt government servants , that could not happen with State Vigilance Organisation so far. So, it is also being alleged by some that the government officers are instrumental in cultivating the idea of an Act like J&K State Vigilance Commission Act where by J&K State Accountability Commission would deal the complaints only against the public servants / public men excluding the Government employees. Like SAC and SIC the SVC too is looking for a HEAD.

Time has come when the social groups must rise at their own level to prove their strength to the politicians. Otherwise the Commissions and Committees would remain more as the rehabilitation centers for the favourites of those in power seat without delivering any common good.

True Lies

Ashraf says that in Kashmir the “Truth” has become flexible depending upon the requirement of the circumstances

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 67, 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.)

Nothing but the “Truth”!

Dishonesty and untruth or falsehood seems to have become part of our daily life. We do not feel any compunction while speaking a lie! Sometimes it is projected to be the survival instinct of a Kashmiri which has been ingrained into our psyche by centuries of oppressive external rule.

For a Kashmiri survival required forgetting all principles of morality and honesty. However, over the years it has become our second nature. We do it even if we are under no compulsion. It is the communist dictum, “the end matters, means don’t matter!” In reality, the corrupt means corrupt the end also. Recently a very senior leader of Kashmir’s popular movement spoke the “truth” about the killing of some leaders in the past. According to him these leaders were not killed by the government or other agencies but by our own people and no one had the courage to admit this fact at the time of the occurrence of these assassinations. Well, he took his own time in coming out with the truth! Speaking the truth at the time of the occurrence of an event is different than declaring it after decades. Had the truth been spoken when the events occurred, Kashmir’s movement may have taken a totally different turn! However, this was not the only untruth; Kashmir has been living with for last two decades. In fact, there are hundreds of such untruths which have been there for last 63 years or so. The very first untruth is the accession of the state to the Indian Union. No one has been really able to speak the truth behind the entire episode. It is rather foreigners who have been writing more about the factual position than our own people. Did accession really take place? People have questioned even that! Coming to killings, there is no end. The very first innocent killings took place near Ram Bagh Bridge when the Indian troops landed here in 1947.

This incident too was hushed by the leaders of the movement at that time! During last 63 years there have been massacres, individual killings, even removal of relics like the holy hair of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) from Hazratbal mosque which have remained unsolved. No one knows the real truth behind these episodes. The truth has been quite flexible in Kashmir. It has been uttered in the fashion it suited particular set of people, in particular set of circumstances at particular times. There has never been absolute truth. We cannot blame any particular person or organisation or agency. We have all been guilty of suppressing the truth for our own convenience.

It has been alleged that some killings had been engineered by the intelligence agency of a neighbouring country. It is not only killings but the very political line towed by some organisations has been doctored by that agency. Every country has its own interest and the intelligence agencies are meant for protecting as well as furthering that interest by all means, legal or illegal. The same is the case with the agencies on this side of the border. There is always a game of wits being played between the rival agencies and sometimes these games take very dirty shape! These agencies have neither any dearth of resources nor any accountability. Even the people in their own countries are mortally afraid of them. To speak out the truth in such circumstances is definitely an act of extreme courage. However, unless people are prepared to speak the truth regardless of the consequences, things won’t change for the better. It is a fact that the intelligence agencies of both the countries have liquidated inconvenient people either through straight forward assassinations or through fake encounters. Apart from indulging in brutal acts of liquidating inconvenient people through various illegal means, the agencies also undertake concerted disinformation campaigns for character assassination of leaders of various organisations. Concealment of truth is a matter of state policy for these clandestine state organisations. This does not happen only in our part of the world but is a universal phenomenon. The account of machinations indulged in by CIA and Mossad given in William Blum’s book, the “Rogue State” sends shivers down one’s spine. According to the author who himself was an agent, the list of assassinations planned by CIA included even Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru!

The funniest part of the recent disclosures has been the jubilation expressed by the ruling elite betraying the attitude of “I told you so!” They have probably forgotten that the most important commitment made by them before last election was the constitution of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Normally such commissions are set up after a country is freed from bondage. However, it would have been a positive move to demonstrate Indian sincerity towards the suffering people if such a body had been set up at least to go into the incidents of last two decades including the thousands of disappearances. On the contrary, the attempts at hiding the truth continue. In fact, the recent declaration of the three non-political interlocutors that the majority of Kashmiris are not in favour of UN Resolutions is the classic untruth. May be the interlocutors meant that the Kashmiris did not favour UN Resolutions because these offer only two options and the majority of the people as surveyed by a British Organisation, are fed up with both the countries and want an independent Kashmir?

Now that the “Truth” has begun to be spoken, it augurs well for all of us. Let us all decide to be honest and speak the truth, nothing but the truth. It is the only way we can move forward. One can fight the falsehood only when one speaks the truth without fear or favour. It has not to be one time speech but it has to be spoken always in every matter that concerns us. Will it happen? That only time will tell but surely on that may depend our destiny!

The Sopore Incident

Two editorials in two leading dailies in the valley (on the same day) convey the sense of duplicity that is a hallmark of the resistance leadership in Kashmir

Monster, called ‘Unidentified’
(Greater Kashmir)

Sopore incident stares us frighteningly into our face. The statements of condemnation, from all quarters, have flown in already. Syed Ali Shah Geelani has gone some half step more by giving a call for Hartal, albeit restricting it to Sopore town. It is, by all means, a grudging response to something immensely terrifying. Till now the response from Resistance camp, as we all here know it by the name of, has been a chilling reminder that the dichotomies and contradictions in this movement are far from over. The immediate, and the most intense comparison that comes to mind is the Shopian incident in 2009. There also it was a tragedy indescribable. Here also it defeats our description. Two sisters, too young to die.

Two sister of a family absolutely poor to be fed to the uncertainties and vulnerabilities of the conflict. Two respects and two lives snatched from their family. The level and the kind of response that we saw in case of Shopian is unmistakably missing in this case. The moment we saw Shopian turning its sting towards the State entire Kashmir shot up into protests. This matter is still raw and bleeds occasionally. Why did Sopore not go the Shopian way! This is a huge question that grindingly stations itself on the collective conscience of Kashmir. It doesn’t mean that separatists, militant organization, and the human rights activists should exactly repeat Shopian 2009. After all we had many acerbic rejections of extended hartals and endless protests coming from within our own society. The exterior of protest can not be the same always. And this too is a fact of our times that we had a months long protest, that brought Kashmir to a grinding halt in every possible way, just recently. People are not like an electronic gadget that you switch it over to the desired mode all the time. The point here is not this. The point is not even bringing the credibility of one particular political movement into question. If the government or the ruling party digs at separatists on their tepid response to Sopore incident, they have their own reasons and motives. The question that the larger society of Kashmir is whispering right now is that why we are not impartial in our responses to human tragedies. If a teenager is killed in a police action and it develops into an unprecedented public mobilization why can’t a killing by ‘unidentified’ gunmen evoke the same response! If Shopian pointed towards men in uniform we witnessed a dam burst, but when Sopore alludes towards ‘unidentified’, we barely come across a splash. This is a question that we all ask in our private chambers. The tragedy with us is that we have gravitated heavily towards the belief that if some questions are uncomfortable, asking them would bring about even more uncomfortable answers. So we end up terminating our questions midway. Sopore, if separatists are really serious about the future of our society, should be a point of change. The discourse often triggered by the State on all such occasions is a definite problem, but that has to be negotiated somehow. One way of doing this is to unequivocally register our protest against whosoever has done this dastardly act.

Second would be to follow it with the same vehemence and relentless action that was seen after Shopian. Third, and the most important, is to bring all the gun-holders to question. After all what is it that is not identifiable in Kashmir. Guns are carried either by State or the armed groups that have definite names and defined leadership. We, as people, can bring sufficient amount of pressure on both to throw light on the dark patches. If the security agencies and the intelligence apparatus associated with that, can dig out minutest details when it comes to cracking down on separatists and militants, why can’t they make public the details of this ‘unidentified’. And if the militant organizations are fighting a people’s war they are even more expected to contribute to the element of responsibility. About the human rights groups it is time to use their influence in developing a mechanism so that both state and non state actors get registered in the public domain through some graspable institutions and leadership. If that happens it would not be easy for anyone to hide in an ‘unidentified’ corner. Sopore is a time of test for all; government, separatists, militants and human rights activists. Of course, media too. No body can, and should, shirk the responsibility.

Hidden Hands
(Rising Kashmir)

What do people think when the embattled actors in a conflict condemn, with equal vehemence, the murder of laypersons? The brutal killing of two sisters from North Kashmir’s Sopore town should prompt an answer to this crucial question from the society, political rivals included. According to police records three militants believed to be the local cadres of Laskhar-e-Toiba abducted on Monday night two teenage daughters of one abjectly poor Ghulam Nabi Dar who lives in a one-room house at Mulsim Peer in the apple-rich town Sopore. Both were shot dead in neighboring Arampora when Fareeza, the ill-fated mother, was struggling with formalities at the nearby Police Station where she had gone along with her husband’s brother to lodge a report. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was quick to not just condemn the incident but also pinch his separatist rivals, saying that their silence on such incidents was unfortunate. It was only after two days that the separatist Hurriyat factions, PaK-based militant leader Syed Salahudin and Lashkar-e-Toiba, which Police blames for the murder, condemned the killings with equal disdain for violence, repression and the acts of putting unarmed people to death. Although the fact that two blood sisters were gunned down at once makes Sopore incident more gruesome, killing of non-combatants especially women in the same manner has been intermittently going on ever since 1990.

Shopian is a case in point. On the sidelines of a roaring agitation against the alleged murder of two women in 2009, few more women fell to the bullets on the upper reaches of the town’s Keller area. Examples could be aplenty but the common concern among all hues of social quarters is how to go about it, how to deal with all this. What makes Omar Abdullah’s ‘regret’ look more real is the reluctance of Hurriyat factions or militant groups while responding to such incidents. Their stance on KILLINGS, it seems, is yet to assume the shape of a concrete political stand, a solid policy.

Hurriyat leaders and leading militant groups often distance themselves from ‘political murders’ or other mysterious assassinations. They have been stating frequently that killing anybody for his or her political affiliations does not fit their code book – Then why delay condemning a plain murder. Omar Abdullah’s assertion may ring true given the ‘politically correct’ stance Hurriyat always chooses to cling to, but he too carries some dark spots around his stance on killings. The same assembly wherefrom Omar derives legitimate powers has several times debated the issue of private militias and arms provided to them. Irregular militias can go crazy even in the most ideal conditions. People remember when Omar as opposition leader advocated the decommissioning of all the ‘private militias’. If both Omar Abdullah and Hurriyat, including militant leadership, have even a speck of concern for the masses, they should set aside their respective ideas about Kashmir and its solution in order to at least forge a ‘working unity’ against those hidden hands that are always on the prowl. No point-scoring please!

Corruption, Corruption, Corruption

Iqbal and Fida provide their perspectives on the thriving corruption industry, follwed by an editorial in the Rising Kashmir

(Mr. Iqbal Ahmad Peerzada, 40, was born in Parigam village in Kulgam district. He graduated from the University of Kashmir. Mr. Peerzada looks after his family farm business, including tending to horticulture and orchard gardens. He enjoys writing on social and political issues of the day.

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.)

Waging a War Against Corruption

Well, the word ‘Corruption’ is quite dynamic in its nature and has numerous shades and impressions. It is quite obvious that the word, as such, would draw numerous conclusions when executed in various dimensions. Better governance, which would be free from all malpractices, nepotism, unnecessary hassles and corruption is one to qualify to be called as ‘welfare government’. The matter of the fact, however, is that we don’t come close to matching the requirements and have drowned, with heads down, into the sea of corruption.

The real story is that Jammu and Kashmir stands on the 2nd position in the list of most corrupt states of India. The state is deeply aghast with such a reality but chooses, ironically, to create excuses to go on without a ting of moral or social guilt. It is here that we often ascribe corruption and all other evils to the turbulence that is continuing here since past three decades.

Looking at the spread of its roots which have gone down into our social systems and administrative as well as governance behavior, one can not hold a particular regime as sole responsible for this. The changing regimes have been extempore when it came to waging a war against corruption, but the practice has remained limited to lisping alone and no hanges have taken place on the ground.

The current government like all the previous regimes seemed firm and stiff against Corruption and, from the very beginning, had made a commitment to provide a clean administration which would be free from the cultures of Corruption, malpractices and nepotism. Once again the claims remained limited to claims alone and on the ground corruption ruled the roost and dictated terms.

In Jammu and Kashmir several politicians, ministers and many bureaucrats are facing serious charges of misappropriation and embezzlement of funds. It has the dubious distinction of having many politicians and bureaucrats against whom cases of corruption are registered in the State Accountability Commission. State’s Vigilance Organization and Crime Branch have more than 700 corruption cases registered against politician’s bureaucrats and other government officers.

Jammu Kashmir has RTI Act but till today the Government has failed to appoint chief information commissioner and members for the State Information Commission which could have been assigned the responsibility of overseeing and safeguarding the implementation of the RTI Act. Now, as the government has appointed its commissioner, let us wait and watch how freely the commission functions.

State Accountability Commission was set up in Jammu and Kashmir after legislation in this regard was passed by the state assembly in the year 2002. But this commissions functioning was below par and had no bigger impressions. The government was utterly unsuccessful in implementing the RTI Act in its letter and spirit and the pros and cons of such a failure are visible in almost all the administrative units of the state machinery.

The Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah seems promising and has, once and again, shown some presence when it came to dealing with situations that erupted in the state during his tenure so far.

Addressing a State-level conference of vigilance officers in Jammu recently, Omar again repeated his commitment and said, "Today, we are number two (in the list of most corrupt states of the country)...In this battle to stop corruption, we are equally responsible”. He also lamented the leniency shown by the officials against corruption and nepotism.

The chief minister was very honest when he said "Although the responsibility lays with me... the buck stops here... the buck of responsibility. So be it. The buck stops with me, but it starts with you (officials),"

On the efforts of State Vigilance Organization to check corruption, he said, "It is an area of continuing concern for me and also a cause of lot of personal dissatisfaction. We have not done as much as we should have."

He further said "It is not good enough to trap somebody taking Rs 5000 when we cannot trap somebody taking bribes in lakhs. This is pretty much the story today," he regretted.

Moreover, in his address, the chief Minister almost spoke what he has already said in the same conference held last year. But on the ground its impact was not so effective and is again not so effect now.

Majority of the people, held the present state government responsible for misgoverned and human rights violations which they say were the main reasons behind worsening of the Kashmir situation. They accuse NC government of miss-governance. They allege NC for providing space to separatist politics. They believe that the miss-governance has been the root cause of the previous year crises. There are opinions that the government and its political and administrative institution are completely absent from the ground.

Good governance is not possible without accountability and transparency in the system. The Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah should lay a foundation stone of transparency before building his credibility. If this young chief Minister can assure people for their basic and fundamental rights of living, it could be a fundamental change in the status quo.

The Monster of Corruption

Making resolutions is human. Every person has a desire to excel and hope to be successful in life and wishing good for mankind can be the noblest of all wishes. Leaders and rulers are unique in many ways, but they too have every right to ‘wish’ and make resolutions. However, graciousness demands that their wishes should always espouse progress for their followers and subjects. Their wishes should not carry any agenda of ill will, malice and in no way should be egotistical. In present political scenario of squeezed space for values, no political system can stand chipping and fragmentation of its political constituency at any cost. Though, a fair level of unnoticed enthusiasm and dynamism, sometimes make even most selfish politicians and leaders to come out of the hard shell of insensitivity and make them wish and hope beyond boundaries of political egotism.

Omar Abdullah is young, articulate; with a political legacy of great significance and above all he is Chief Minister of this troubled state located on the cross roads of regional and political variance. Like all of us he has many desires, wishes and hopes to fulfill his dreams, and obviously his wish list like any reasonable human being keeps on changing and updating with turn of events. Particularly, for last two years his priorities, wishes and hopes are much more different than what would have been his earlier aspirations. He has a political carrier to keep in shape against all odds; a state to be looked after well under the most pressing situations; and his people to be provided with just and genuine administration in an atmosphere of considerable levels of corruption and nepotism. So, his wishes have to be and are in conformity with his responsibility and prevailing situation within the state. His latest wish list is dominated by his two new-year resolutions for the year 2011 and the resolutions are – ‘Not to allow violence to engulf Kashmir again in summer of 2011’ and ‘to nab ‘big fish’ involved in corruption’. If I could hear him properly, he had drawn a deadline for accomplishing his resolution regarding corruption–Midnight 31st December 2011. Mr. Abdullah made his cherished wishes (resolutions) public while addressing a function of rural development department at Jammu.

Avoiding violence of any kind cannot be achieved merely by making a resolution; instead it requires a multi pronged strategy of considerate administrative reforms, justice and equality in every aspect of governance. It is constitutional obligation and moral duty of head of the government to create conducive atmosphere of peace and amity, so that violence is kept out of this beautiful valley. Last three years situation of turmoil has put many imprints on administrative setup of the state, both adverse and introspective. Three seasons of confusion is a pretty long experience for any inefficient and indolent administration. For present system of governance which claims to be improved on many fronts, containing any likely exploding violence should be an effortless task. But, it seems the present dispensation has not learned its lessons well from earlier confrontations of last three summers. Compassion towards common people seems to be a far cry and justice appears eluding almost every area of governance.

No one can challenge the intentions and a fair degree of straight forwardness of Mr. Omar Abdullah, emanating not necessarily from his political lineage and affiliation, but out of his enthusiastic and energetic persona. His resolution and wishes can be genuine but his system seems failing him. His instruments of governance are plagued with hypocrisy, and sycophancy. His inability to move freely (because of security constraints) and contact his people personally makes the situation much worse for him. Genuine public and basic problems faced by them don’t subsist and exist in trendy posh localities of Gupkaar, Rajbagh or many other places of significance but reality can be trailed in lanes and by-lanes of demonize localities of city and other far flung area of the valley. A mere visit by Mr. Abdullah in disguise (strictly in cover) to any public place like bus stands and government hospitals within the state will give him the first hand feel of actual state of affairs, enabling him to establish factual standing of gap between facts and the situation of fabricated myths regarding governance. People are to be owned not alienated, and provided with best possible amenities within the existing means and resources. No magic wand can keep the violence at bay but surely addressing people’s sufferings and their genuine demands will help in restoring peace and tranquility.

As for Omar Abdullah’s second wish of dealing corruption and nepotism with iron hand, goes, many political dispensations in this state earlier made long, but never lasting statements, under the influence of political euphoria. Even towering leaders like Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah failed to tame the monster of corruption and nepotism remained unchecked. Others, who were politically least consolidated and had many strings of political conspiracies and frills of treachery attached to their governance made corruption to flourish as an industry and nepotism to grow for their political survival. If it won’t amount to exaggeration, their main instrument of governance was corruption and nepotism. Governments in recent past tried their best to jump on the bandwagon of anti-corruption but failed miserably as their own political arrangement were severely plagued with virus of corruption. Inability to contain ugly elements of dishonesty and many other political compulsions made them ‘eat the humble pie’ in the darkness of ambiguity. Corruption has engulfed not only the organization of governance and administration but the whole society of ours is corrupt in one way or the other. We were number two in corruption a couple of years back; may be by now we may have graduated to number one position and overtaken Bihar in this notoriety.

Mr. Abdullah! It is a herculean task, not only to be wished, desired and made part of New Year resolutions, but demands a huge political will beyond your own personal dedication and resolve. Your New Year resolution to nab ‘big fish’ of corruption by the year end is a huge personal political investment in present contemporary political industry attributed with deceit and pretense. How far you will able to take your political system and administrative structure with you on this sacred mission, only time will tell?

Hopelessness is a sin. If both these resolutions are made in good faith and with good intentions, then we all as a nation should stand with Omar Abdullah and wish him luck for success and fulfillment of his treasured wishes. Aameen.

Corruption Cancer (Editorial)

Corruption is commonplace in our state and the lack of transparency in the administration has meant that the menace has assumed monstrous proportions. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah also stressed on the need for adopting transparency in the administration for weeding out corruption from the state during his address at the 10th Departmental Vigilance Officers (DVOs) Conference at Jammu a few days back.

Omar pulled up the officials for “sitting with their eyes, ears and mouths shut to the corruption and nepotism around them”. He also expressed concern about the “sharks of corruption” being let off. It is indeed not good enough to trap somebody taking Rs 5000 when somebody taking in lakhs is let scot free. The influential persons, who are caught taking bribe, enjoy virtual immunity. If the government is serious in tackling corruption, it has to ensure that no culprit, howsoever influential, is spared. During his speech the other day, Omar also talked about the need to appoint full time departmental vigilance officer for all such departments which are prone to corruption. The vigilance officers can keep a constant eye on the ground. It can serve as a starting point to check the corrupt practices in the administration. The failure of successive governments to tackle rampant corruption has meant that it has become institutionalized in many respects. It has almost become a requisite for getting a piece of work done in government offices. There is a sort of inertia that has crept into the offices where nothing moves till there are some illegal gratifications to be made. According to a Transparency International survey, the nations who are relatively corruption-free like New Zealand, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland, their clean image reflects political stability, long-established conflict of interest regulations and solid functioning public institutions. These are the very factors which Kashmir has been unfortunately lacking very badly. The daily struggle of people with corruption tells upon the public confidence in the administration. The successive governments have been making tall claims about good governance, but it is impossible to think of good or clean governance if corruption remains rampant. Omar has the opportunity to reform the administrative system so that the corrupt elements are isolated. By acting tough against corrupt officials, he can set a deterrent for others. The chief minister also has the opportunity at hand to rid J&K of the ‘second most corrupt state’ tag. While people too cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility to discourage bribery, the buck starts and stops at the government. True, corruption cannot be eradicated through magic wand overnight, but it can be substantially minimized by adopting transparency in the administration.