Introduction to Blog

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

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

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

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

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

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Friday, February 11, 2011

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.

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