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

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”.

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