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.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Valley of Beauty and Bliss

Javaid hopes that peace prevails and tourists enjoy their stay in the valley this summer

(Mr. Javaid Malik, 37, was born in Srinagar. He did his schooling from the Burn Hall High School, and completed his 11th and 12th grades from the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. After his graduation from the Madras University, he completed his Master's degree in Mass Communication from the Manipal University. Javaid has worked for various Srinagar based English language dailies since 2001. He joined the Greater Kashmir staff in 2005, and is now the Editor of the on-line edition.)

Welcome to Paradise

This year Kashmir Valley is witnessing a huge tourist flow. People associated with the tourism sector seem to be heaving a sigh of relief with the hope that this year they would make up the loss they suffered during the three consecutive preceding seasons. Most of them believe that it’s too early to rejoice and be happy as the summer has just begun. There is no doubt about the fact that situation this year is much better than the previous years. Till date law enforcing agencies have exercised restraint and state government also doesn’t seem to be in any mood of giving any reason to separatists to start any kind of agitation.

Many people have started believing that this year would be different from the last three years so stage seems to be set for a good tourism season which government claims is the back bone of the state’s economy.

However, the propaganda launched by some people with vested interest about Kashmir being an “unsafe tourist destination” can definitely hit the tourism sector. Recently Chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Muhammad Yasin Malik had issued a statement assuring the tourists that Kashmir is the “safest tourist destination” and they are welcome. He termed rumors about Kashmir being unsafe as baseless. He had assured the tourists about their safety. Interestingly the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora had seconded Malik and had appreciated him for giving such a bold statement. It was a rare occasion, a Minister praising a separatist.

Anyway those who are propagating that “Kashmir is not safe” seem to have forgotten that not a single tourist was harmed when Kashmir was simmering last year. People were angry but despite that they exercised restraint to prove it to the world that they are not violence mongers and they respect their guests even during the worst times.

A few tourists who visited Kashmir in 2008, 2009 and 2010 publicly announced that people of Kashmir are not to be blamed for the violence. Despite 112 youth falling to bullets of government forces last year not a single member of minority community was touched. The annual Amarnath Yatra passed off peacefully with thousands of devotees visiting the cave shrine in South Kashmir. One wonders how anyone can ignore such glaring facts.

New Delhi based news channels in 2010 aired many debates on Kashmir but all these channels made violence a focal point. None of these channels bothered to highlight how tolerant and hospitable Kashmiris are. Ironically these channels claim that they are unbiased and believe in objectivity. It seems objectivity for them is only to report violence. One needs to ask them why they don’t report what Kashmiris are facing and how they treat their guests?

Scores of parliamentarians, social activists and others during all these years have frequently visited the residence of the Chairman of Hurriyat Conference (G) Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who is considered to be the hardliner, but till date he has never said `no' to meeting anyone who has visited him. He has welcomed everyone with open arms. Unfortunately such events do not get reported in national dailies or channels, but whenever Geelani calls for a strike or asks people to stage a protest it makes headlines and national media leaves no stone unturned to prove that he is “out to disturb peace and ruin the economy” of Kashmir.

One fails to understand why everyone wants to see Kashmir burning. It seems peace and calm in Kashmir doesn’t suit some people even in New Delhi. Why some people want Kashmir to simmer during the peak season is a million dollar question which only they can answer.

Kashmiris have time and again proved that they are peace loving people and don’t believe in violence but situation at times compels them to give vent to their anger.
Many national and international organizations in their reports have put it on record that Kashmir is one of the heaviest militarized zones in the world and people are living under the shadow of gun.

Despite thousands of force personnel being deployed across the length and breadth of the Valley some people still claim that Kashmir is an “unsafe place” for tourists. One needs to ask how can be one of the heaviest militarized zones be unsafe for tourists. Is Kashmir unsafe because thousands of force personnel are deployed here? Anyway government claims that force personnel are in the Valley for the security of people. If it is true then why this propaganda?

It seems this tirade against Kashmir has been launched to hit its economy as some people don’t want Kashmir to prosper. Tourism sector directly or indirectly helps business and economy to flourish and everyone gets benefited in some or other way. Had Kashmir not been dependent on Srinagar-Jammu highway, only road link connecting Kashmir Valley with the rest of the world, situation could have been different. Prior to 1947 Kashmir was not dependent on this highway. People from Central Asia and other parts of the world used to visit Kashmir through different routes. Kashmir was a commercial hub and a junction but after 1947 Kashmir has been cut off from the rest of the world. How unfortunate it is that when entire world is progressing and it has been turned into a global village, people of Kashmir have only one road which connects them with rest of the world.

History stands testimony to the fact that Kashmiris are the most hospitable people and they give lot of respect to their guests. Some people are of the opinion that once tourists get over the fear psychosis Kashmir has got the potential of becoming a top tourist destination. Many people don’t want that to happen. Some believe that it can make Kashmiris economically stronger. They fear that if Kashmiris become financially strong they can pose a bigger threat and can turn the tables. Poor Kashmir can never be threat as for any poor nation hand to mouth survival is the first priority. No one can predict the future but one thing is for sure that no Kashmiri would ever harm a tourist or an outsider. Had that not been a fact hundreds of non local labourers would not have stayed put in Kashmir despite adverse conditions. Kashmir separatists leaders have quite often reiterated that people of Kashmir are not against any religion or the people of India and anyone can come here without any fear.

Country Without Discipline

What Imran does not say is that the real issue is whether Kashmiris, who have a poor record on exhibiting discipline, will ever obey traffic lights. It may be a case where a remedy is worse than the disease

(Mr. Imran Mohammad Muzaffar, 21, was born in Hajin Sonawari, Bandipora. He completed his high school from the Government Higher Secondary School in Hajin. He has studied Political Science and History, and joined Government Degree College, Baramulla, to study Convergent Journalism. He is presently a student at the Media Education Research Centre (MERC) of the Jammu and Kashmir University. Mr. Muzaffar has participated in one of the workshops of the BBC World Service Trust on Social Affairs Reporting. He has participated in the National Science Drama Contest in New Delhi, and looks forward to pursue post-graduate studies. He writes occasionally to express his hopes and dreams.)

Country Without Traffic Signal

At a time when the traffic signals are controlling the traffic flow in and outside the world, the traffic on Kashmir roads is still regulated by old masked traffic policeman standing amid heavy traffic queuing directing the people to go right or left. He seldom succeeds in his endeavour. No red, yellow and green lights, only the arms’ movement are the best tool for the traffic policewala.
Mohammad Aslam has been waving his arms from past six years showing vehicles direction and controlling the heavy traffic flow at the Zero Bridge Junction in Srinagar. He never teases or taunts drivers as he believes that they should realise themselves the wrong they commit. “What would I tell a 20-year old unemployed boy, who is a driver, that he broke my arm signal and hence charged, he should realise himself the complexity of the arm signal”, he says. The blue mask, which he uses to cover his mouth, is five years old and has been the best doctor for Mohammad Aslam. In his mid-forties, he is the man who always remains cool and calm directing the vehicles which otherwise could lead to a worst mess. He sometimes falls prey to the worst kind of treatment from both the state and the subjects he directs. People shout at him, most of the times, to vent out their anger while they had been stopped for zebra rules and other crossings.

I remember the famous poem, ‘Country without a post office’, by Aga Shahid Ali. The poet wrote the poem in the turbulent conditions when the state subjects were subjected to misery and captivity. It was a thought provoking poem which expressed the alienation of Kashmiris towards the means of expression, their newness in nothing and their straightforwardness of being mum. Kashmiris, then, remained silent over issues and did not take part in the sharing of ideas; post office was a farfetched dream. It was only by the dint of Aga Shahid that people opened up the gates of expression and expressed in full tone the misery and cruelty they were subjected to.

The things like freedom and the channels of expression are good but to the contrary we have the biggest ever challenge that of traffic jams. People like Mohammad Aslam, handling all the traffic in and outside the city, could no way contribute towards its end as they themselves say how they would charge a person when they are hardly in the range of the arms. This arm-signalling has proved very fatal both for the vehicles as well as pedestals as they hardly are differentiated.

Much has been written on the traffic jams and its causes. The biggest problem Kashmir is now in is that it has no traffic signals as they are very essential and could usher well the vehicles and the pedestals as is the case in Delhi and other metropolis.

Towards the end there is a poem to be written: ‘country without a traffic signal.’

BBC Report: Kashmir Killing Fields

At the heart of the problem is a glaring deficiency in civil society that is over obsessed over politics and indifferent to social issues of the day

Kashmir Killing Fields

Until recently, Indian-administered Kashmir was thought to be a good place for a girl to be born. Not any more. The BBC reports from Srinagar.

The Kashmir Valley, which has been in the grip of an armed insurgency against Indian rule for the past two decades, has now turned on its girls, killing them ruthlessly, in most cases even before they are born.

Four years ago Gul Afroz Jan, who teaches law at Kashmir University, first raised the alarm that female foeticide was rampant in the Muslim-majority valley. She was ridiculed.

She had done a study for which she interviewed 100 pregnant women and 10 of them told her that they had gone for sex selective abortions.

"In a patriarchal male-dominated society like ours, preference for a male child is in our psyche," she said as we sat talking in the law faculty of the university's sprawling campus.

"A son perpetuates our family name and line while a girl is thought to be a burden, to be married with a huge dowry."

I told the authorities that in the near future, you'll have cause to worry about something other than militancy, says Gul Afroz Jan Law teacher.

Ms Jan says now the growing middle-class families are also adopting the two-child norm and as they go for smaller families, female foeticide is often used to limit the size of the family.

"And technological advancement [sex determination tests] has ensured that thousands of girls are denied their right to be born," she says.

'Denial mode'

"I told the authorities that in the near future, you'll have cause to worry about something other than militancy," she says.

"Everyone was outraged. They said, we are Muslims, we don't do it, this is not prevalent in our society.

"The authorities too went into denial mode. They said my sample size was too small. They insisted that Kashmir had a healthy child sex ratio.

"They criticised me so much that I was beset with self-doubt, I was wondering if I had got it all wrong."

But when preliminary figures, released last month, showed that Jammu and Kashmir had registered the worst decline in the child sex ratio of any state in the 2011 Indian census, Ms Jan's worst fears came true.

In 2001, for every 1,000 boys under seven in the state, there were 941 girls. Now the number is down to 859. No other Indian state has fared so badly over the past decade.

The mostly-Hindu Jammu region, which shares a boundary with the state of Punjab in the south, had a low child sex ratio even in 2001. But the valley was different and most of its areas had many more girls under seven than boys.

Jammu and Kashmir has seen the steepest decline in the sex ratio in India. The latest census shows the steepest decline in districts in the valley and the administration is struggling to explain it.

"The decline in Kashmir is much worse than Jammu which is tough to understand. We need people to wake up to the long-term implications for Jammu and Kashmir," Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said.

He described it as an "alarming position".

Dr Saleem-ur Rehman, director of health services for Kashmir Valley, says: "The 2001 census figures were good so we thought we were doing really well and we all became a little complacent."

"I don't want to be in denial mode. I admit something was happening. And we are doing our best, what best we can do, to change the situation," he says.

On Dr Rehman's order, 100 ultrasound clinics have been sealed in the valley. Action has been taken against centres in Srinagar, Budgam, Baramulla, Ganderbal, Kulgam and Kupwara. Many more have been sent notices and are in the process of being raided and sealed.

Any clinic which is not registered, or one that has not submitted the mandatory Form F (which has to be filled for each pregnant mother that visits the clinic), or a clinic that submits incomplete forms has been shut down.

"Some of them are big names, but they are doing very bad work. We know they are definitely doing sex determination tests. I will not allow medical technology to be part of this menace," he says.

Dr Rehman says his job is made difficult by the fact that he can never have definite proof.

"The person who gets the sex selection done - like the pregnant mother, her husband or her mother-in-law - will never reveal anything. Nor will the person who does it, because he's getting paid for it and he knows it's illegal. So we can only have circumstantial evidence."

And of that, he says, he has plenty. In medical circles, he says, word gets around, and doctors who do sex selection tests or reveal the gender of foetus to parents develop a reputation.

But technology is only the supply side of this business. Activists say until the demand side - the overwhelming desire for the male child - is tackled, the problem cannot be wished away.

• Srinagar 869 (928)
• Anantnag 832 (977)
• Budgam 832 (1004)
• Ganderbal 863 (1014 )
• Kupwara 854 (1021)
• Shopian 883 (1011)
• Pulwama 836 (1046)
(Numbers of girls for every 1,000 boys aged 0-6. Figures in brackets are from 2001)

And that is an issue much trickier to address. The authorities are now calling for social and religious leaders to intervene.

Schools are being roped in to help spread awareness about the evils of female foeticide.

On a cool wet morning in Srinagar, nearly 200 schoolgirls march through the streets, watched by gun-wielding security forces.

Many of the children carry banners and placards and many shout slogans. They exhort passers-by to "Stop genocide" and "Save the girl child".

'Barbaric practice'

The rain does little to dampen the students' enthusiasm. Soon, they are soaked to the skin and their paper placards are soggy, but the campaign seems to have given them some food for thought.

Manpreet, 15, says: "It's our duty to fight for the right of the girl child. It's really bad that a woman is killing her own daughter."

Campaigner Sabu George recently attended a meeting in Srinagar to discuss the issue. "At least in Kashmir the authorities are recognising that there is a problem. That is a very crucial first step in dealing with it."

He says he had no doubts about the popularity of foetal sex determination in Kashmir.
"On my earlier trips, women used to tell me it was very common, doctors told us that there were more than 100 clinics in Srinagar alone, so we expected the slide. But it's our worst fears come true."

Shaukat Hussain Keng, who teaches Islamic studies at the Oriental College of Srinagar, says by killing the girl child, "we are moving away from humanity".

"In the Arab world, people used to bury alive their daughters but when the Prophet Mohammed came, he put an end to this barbaric practice. He told Muslims to value their daughters. Now, we have gone back to the pre-Prophet era."

The "moral degradation of the society and the practice of dowry have come together to turn man into a murderer of his own daughter", he says. "It's a grave sin."

Recently the state's former chief minister Farooq Abdullah said if female foeticide was not stopped urgently, men in India would turn gay.

He said it half-jokingly, but saving baby girls is not going to be a laughing matter.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Nightmare Misnamed Lal Ded

Everyone knows that condition of government health facilities in Kashmir is a disgrace. Shahid describes one such dysfunctional facility, followed by the editorial in the Rising Kashmir which correctly states that any reset should begin from primary care clinics in districts

(Mr. Shahid Kar, 28, was born in Sopore. He went to the Muslim Educational Trust (MET) Public School, and received his Bachelor's degree from the Government Degree College Sopore. Mr. Kar completed his Master's in English Literature from the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi. He is currently a Contractual Lecturer in the J & K Higher Education Department. Mr. Kar has attended and spoken in many national and state seminars.)

Lalla Ded: Hospital or Hell?

Kashmir, an unfortunate patch of the cosmos and mistakenly dubbed as “heaven”, is a region where life and death have become synonymous. There is no gainsaying that Lalla Ded Hospital, the only maternity hospital in the valley, ranks second to none amongst the worst and ramshackle hospitals.

It is, surely, not the worst and dilapidated today but was all along in every regime, and perhaps will remain as such until hell freezes over. What is inside the hospital may truly and equally be in the hell. Let me commence from the Emergency Door. The curtain hanging at the door is so grubby that one has to get one’s handkerchief out of his pocket and glue it onto the curtain in order to draw it back. This helps in keeping one’s hand tidy and hygienic. Instantly after getting inside the Emergency one can’t, despite making tremendous efforts, be able to find even a single piece of stretcher by dint of which one can carry one’s patient inside. Then the only option for one is to bribe the assistant on duty in order to get the stretcher. More is the pity, the stretcher acquired is lame. Being helpless one has to manage with this stretcher somehow or anyhow. The paper work in the hospital is as much complicated as less it ought to have been as the employee allotted for the paper job is slothful coupled with a wrinkle on his brow and shrewd enough to feign deaf and dumb. Consequently, a good number of patients untimely turn up their toes. The patients who somehow manage to survive in the Emergency are dispatched to superstructure and what comes to pass there with them is another tale of woe to be recited. They are coerced to lie on the surface as there is a dearth of beds and bed linens. Each bed is occupied by two patients. One will decidedly wonder how it is possible for two persons to lie on a single four feet in width. Humorous to say but pathetic to feel, one lies on the bed by holding the head towards north and other towards south. Where one’s head is, others are feet and vice-versa. But one has to endure the unendurable as one can’t afford to opt out. How much money is provided to ensure the availability of medicine in this maternity institute may be behind the scenes but how much is spared for the purpose can well be beheld, felt and known. Hanging boards are full of the list of drugs available but on grounds only syringe and dextrose 5% have been kept there.

When the day reaches almost one fourth of its span, a caravan of doctors comes out to have a supervision and examination of the patients lying on the beds with pang and distress. But the moment it dusks there are some other entities that perform the same job with different objectives. These entities are cats and rats. Availing the facility of darkness these entities pounce upon the patients to bite them or take away their babies in mouth thereby leaving no option for the patients but to bewail their plight by pounding chest, smacking forehead and uprooting hair. It never holds true of other city hospitals, SKIMS and SMHS.

Every thing of Lalla Ded Hospital deserves separate description. Grubby enough to lend such a bad smell as tonnes of fragrance will fail to breed a smell contrary to this. In other words, if somebody doesn’t vomit after having sniffed at something in the hospital s/he doesn’t have a sense of smell. Scientifically, it is not within the realms of possibility for anyone to get his or her life saved in this hospital. Nevertheless, whosoever escapes is a miracle.

No one seems enthusiastic about this maternity institute. Have they really called it a day? Isn’t there a dire need of timely renovation, able administration and supervision? Isn’t it indispensable to have at least one maternity hospital in every district, if not in every tehsil? Those in powers only know to make assertions that are nothing but a bundle of lies. They sign a pledge that fizzles out like a bubble. By duping people in the name of fabrication, development, rehabilitation and the like, they go on hoarding. One wonders in surmise as to what will be the future if such things will not be held on. If truth be told, authorities are there to play dice with our lives and make a mockery of us.

Lessen the Burden:

Govt must strengthen rural healthcare before expecting efficiency from city hospitals
(Rising Kashmir Editorial)

Notwithstanding the claims of successive governments to revamp the healthcare across the state, the hospitals in Srinagar continue to bear the ever growing burden of patents from different parts of the valley. This is bound to affect the efficiency of doctors and subsequently the patient care.

The reliance on city hospitals is necessitated by poor infrastructure in the sub-district hospitals and public health centres in rural areas. Besides, even if the infrastructure is in place, doctors dither to work in far off places thereby forcing people to seek treatment in the city. Take for instance Lalded Hospital. One would have expected the hospital to cater mainly to city and adjoining areas, but it continues to receive most of the patients from rural areas. The massive rush witnessed by the hospital tells upon its functioning. Reports of medical negligence, often leading to violent altercation between the hospital staff and attendants, has marred the reputation of the valley’s biggest maternity hospital.

Though the maternity facility is available in all district hospitals, Lalded Hospital continues to bear their share of patients throughout the year. With the capacity for around 400 patients, one can well imagine the crisis triggered by the excess patient burden. No wonder one can see two patients on a single bed in the hospital. Though a separate building with the capacity for 220 beds is under construction, one cannot expect it to bring any major relief for the hospital, given the ever increasing population and poor state of rural healthcare. Lalded hospital bears the brunt even when 30 public health centers (PHCs) are functional in all districts. Anantnag, Baramulla and Kupwara each have four PHCs, Budgam has six, Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam have two each while Ganderbal and Bandipora have one each. Other city hospitals, particularly SMHS and SKIMS also suffer from over-burden which ultimately tells upon their efficiency.

Official figures indicate the exponential increase in the patient flow at the two premier hospitals. The problems caused by the huge patient influx are further compounded by the lack of requisite infrastructure. Increasing bed strength won’t address the problem. The government should focus on strengthening the healthcare at all levels so that the city hospitals don’t have to bear the excess burden. There is also a dire need for effective monitoring of various health schemes so that common people can avail their benefits adequately. The authorities should ensure close vigil on the hospitals. They should also check the growth of nursing homes conducting regular inspections and initiate action against those not fulfilling the mandatory norms and formalities. The pending projects should also be completed in the scheduled timeframe.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Economic Empowerment Depends Upon Fiscal Discipline

Arjimand is cautious in bringing Kashmiri euphoria down to a realistic plane

(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.)

Elusive Azadi

There is a breaking news sort of thing. In the 2011 index on economic freedom of 20 states in India, Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) now stands at number 9! And let us don’t forget our state was at number 15 in 2005.

There is something more dramatic. The index suggests that our state has much better economic freedom than states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh!

So here we go and better ask: how did this miracle actually come about? Didn’t we think the opposite was happening?

Relatively speaking, it sounds quite an impressive rank - and also a jump. But do we really deserve to be at the 9th position?

The “Economic Freedom of the States of India 2011” report – a collaborative endeavour of the Cato Institute and Fredrich Naumann Stiftung is, as usual, thought provoking. This high quality and painstaking work – pioneered by Fredrich Naumann Stiftung in India - is knowledge.

Doubtlessly, the methodology and the indicators which this index follows are robust. So are the efforts of its renowned authors – Bibek Debroy, Laveesh Bhandari and Swaminathan S. Aiyar.

When it comes to J&K, it seems to have erroneously taken the path which many other such reports take – go by theory to treat this state like other states in India. And overlook its exceptional political, constitutional, economic and security situations.

There are certain theoretical assumptions in the report related to the central and the state government’s area of control. In J&K’s case, practical jurisdiction would need to be seen differently than what lies in theory.

The Indian Index has taken into account three parameters - size of the government, legal structure and security of property rights, and regulation of business and labour. Therein also lay many sub-parameters as well.

Let us take business regulation and investment first. If we apply the logic of relatively better economic freedom in J&K compared to states like Maharashtra, Kerala etc., then our investment climate should be better than these states. But the question is: is that really the case? Is our private investment climate really that good?

It would be fallacious to overlook the fact that J&K enjoys a distinct political status in the union of India. That status – as also enshrined in the Article 370 of India’s constitution – bars owning of immovable property – like land - by non-state subjects in the state. But then there are some special instruments as well. The state has been regularly providing land to those non-state subjects on long term lease of 90 years or so who wish to invest in the state.

There are two related issues – one that owning of land is not the only basis for outside investment in the state, and, two, we need to also learn the history of the state’s attempts in foreign investment and the reasons for its failure in doing so.

What inhibits the outside (including the foreign) investment to J&K? Is it only the adverse security situation? Is it the excessive militarisation? Is it the massive lands under the military use? Is it the central government’s discretionary regulatory role? Or all these put together?

And, by the way, what about the state’s own whimsical “regulatory” authority, which remains outside the ambit of democratic accountability?

In that, the case of a prominent US-based Kashmiri cardiologist’s big investment plan in tertiary healthcare in Kashmir would need to be treated as a special case study. What prevented him from doing so? What prevented the Ambani Group's proposal for setting up an IT University in Srinagar? Don’t such actions set a precedent for the future?

These questions need answers beyond quantitative analysis, and an evaluation of how such events mark a structural pattern rather than isolated individual cases.

When it comes to in-migration it is true our state performs better. But we don’t have any statistical system that tracks our out-migration. That issue is bigger than the in-migration.

Public infrastructure is another indicator which the report seems to have considered. Some governmental statistics related to infrastructure development in J&K may indeed tend to look rosy, but did this analysis go into the details of that “public expenditure?” The devil of course lies in the details – for instance the details related to the Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Package.

And how about the rule of law? Doesn’t the report seem to have overlooked the extra constitutional and other laws like the Disturbed Areas Act, Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Public Safety Act, Official Secrets Act, etc.?

Quantification of economic freedom in J&K will be flawed if it does not take into account its political freedom. We just can’t close our eyes to the questions related to judicial independence, controls on international investment and the rule of law.

When it comes to the size of government (expenditures, taxes and enterprises) we are not among the best ones anyway. Although the report itself mentions the military interference in rule of law, in J&K’s case it also needs to be taken into account more objectively.

Interestingly, Fredrich Naumann Stiftung’s own report “Jammu & Kashmir: Stuck in an Insurgency-2010” by Omair Ahmad has many answers to the above questions.

Take the Indus Waters Treaty, for instance. The report remarks, “Even if J&K could work around the treaty it does not have resources to build or manage large dams, even if it wanted to do so.”

So what is it that inhibits the state from raising resources in open markets for such projects?

The report also notes that the conflict has led to capital flight as well as a dearth of trained human resources as Kashmiris fled from the state to study and work somewhere safe.

It also touches a critical point on trade and communications saying that “as there is only one road out of the Valley, all transport has to go through Jammu and on to New Delhi, resulting in the real profits made by the traders at the chain end rather than those growing the crop.”

“A lack of electricity and capital combined with the flight of talented individuals means that these sectors remain at the primary stage, with little processing, or field for entrepreneurship”, it adds.

So before we begin to celebrate this report as a reason to celebrate an azadi for Kashmir, we better ask questions. And, one hopes, these questions are thought over in future reports to make J&K take its justifiably due place in the index.

Good luck!

The Sad State of SAC

Fayyaz investigates the dismal status of the State Accountability Commission (SAC), the chief instrument for pursuing corruption cases in the State

(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.)

SIC Suffered for Wajahat, SAC Shouldn’t for Kakroo

Srinagar: Previous coalition government’s much hyped integrity watchdog, Jammu & Kashmir State Accountability Commission (SAC), has been completely defunct since June 2008 when its last member, Justice Muzaffar Jan, reached superannuation. One of the two members, Justice Girdhari Lal Raina, had retired few months earlier. SAC’s first and the last Chairman, Justice R P Sethi, had earlier tendered his resignation on 4th of May, 2006, when Government appointed two members for the Commission without taking its head into confidence.

Ostensibly to make the politicians---Ministers, legislators---accountable, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s government had constituted SAC in July 2005. A retired judge of Supreme Court of India, Justice Sethi was appointed its first Chairman in August 2005.

In less than a year, SAC established its credibility when Sethi proceeded against a number of former and sitting Ministers, besides many legislators, in a no-nonsense manner. After Sethi stepped down in May 2006, Ghulam Nabi Azad’s government delegated powers of the Chairman to one of the two members and allowed it to function for some time. Successive governments have not appointed SAC’s Chairman in the last 60 months and no member has been in office in the last 35 months. This serves as a statement on the successive governments’ will to eradicate corruption.

Section 3 sub section 4 of J&K State Accountability Commission Act makes it incumbent upon the government to fill up the vacancies without wasting any time. “A vacancy occurring in the institution of Accountability Commission should be filled in as soon as possible”, says the law.

“We are looking for a suitable Chairman and members” has been invariably the reply whenever any journalist or legislator attempted to learn what a government was up to. “There is an understanding between all political parties. In Mufti’s and Azad’s time, SAC was not allowed to strike on the NC. Now, in NC’s regime, nobody in Mufti’s party would be disturbed. Congress is secure in either regime. They don’t want a Mayawati-Mulayam or Jayalalithaa-Karunanidhi type conflict in J&K”, says a senior mainstream politician from South Kashmir.

Chief Omar Abdullah revealed in reply to CPI (M) State Secretary Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami’s question in Legislative Assembly in March this year that there were as many as 309 complaints pending before the defunct SAC. His reply elaborated that 309 complaints of corruption, misuse of power, bribes, misappropriation, bunglings and illegal appointments involving several present and former Ministers, sitting and former MLAs and bureaucrats had been pending disposal with effect from September 2005 till ending January 2011 in Jammu and Kashmir State Accountability Commission.

Of these complaints, 221 were pending in the Jammu wing of the Commission and 88 in Srinagar wing and majority of these cases were in hearing and evidence stages besides proceedings in several cases had been stayed by the State High Court.

Like the SAC, successive governments did not appoint Chairman for the State Information Commission (SIC) for a pretty long time. For nearly two years, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said repeatedly that he was getting head of Government of India’s Central Information Commission (CIC) Wajahat Habibullah. That never happened, even after Habibullah’s term at the Centre ended. Finally, under great of pressure from civil society, Omar’s government appointed former Chief Income Tax Commissioner, Ghulam Rasool Sofi, as SIC’s first Chairman. Neither of the two commissioners has been appointed till date.

Even as currently there are five judges, who could be considered for headship of SAC, and 17 more, who could be appointed as members, Government has not undertaken any exercise for making the commission functional. A retired/serving judge of Supreme Court or a retired/serving Chief Justice of High Court can be appointed as SAC’s Chairman. In addition to these, any of the retired/serving judges of Supreme Court/High Court or a retired/serving Chief Justice of High Court or any permanent judge of High Court can be appointed as its member subject to the age bar of 70 years.

Former CJ of Jharkhand High Court, Justice Vinod Gupta, former CJ of Orissa High Court, Justice Bilal Nazki, former CJ of J&K High Court, Justice Bashir Ahmed Khan, and sitting judge of Supreme Court of India, Justice T S Thakur, are all sons of the soil. However, political consensus has been elusive in case of any of them, according to well placed authoritative sources.
By all indications, Government seems to be waiting for superannuation of Mr Justice Nisar Ahmed Kakroo who is scheduled to retire as Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh High Court at the end of October 2011. Justice Kakroo exceptionally has the advantage of being the favourite of not only the ruling National Conference (NC) but also both factions of the state Congress. Justice Kakroo’s proximity to Prof Saifuddin Soz has been no secret in J&K. Former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad demonstrated his respect and liking for Justice Kakroo on a number of occasions. NC has been his political alma mater before he was picked up by Dr Farooq Abdullah for the coveted position of Advocate General in 1988.

Even as no visible exercise is underway, sources insist that Mr Justice Hakeem Imtiyaz Hussain, who is retiring as a judge of J&K High Court in July this year, Mr Justice Pramod Kohli of Punjab and Haryana High Court besides the retired High Court judges, Bashir Ahmed Kirmani and Y P Nargotra, could be potential candidates for the two vacancies of members in the SAC. Many of the government’s well-wishers insist that it should not lose any more days in reviving the SAC. “If the political parties have consensus on Justice Kakroo, he should be asked to take voluntarily retirement and join as early as possible”, said a senior politician. He asserted that SAC should not suffer for Justice Kakroo the way SIC did for Wajahat Habibullah.

Clapping With One Hand?

Salman says that the practice of female foeticide is not only a violation of human rights, but also puts a question mark on human integrity

(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.)

A Death Unsung...

As one grows through the difficult experiences of puberty, enjoying the liberty of education, exploring the joys of womanhood, it is nauseating to know that someone will never feel the thrill of dancing in the first shower of rain, never breathe the air of freedom, will never be the person she could have been, without any fault of hers but only because she was a girl, a woman in the making.

Once in our lives, most of us must have heard that a child is a ‘gift’ from God. Whatever biology may suggest, it is not an uncommon sight in Kashmir to see couples praying to be blessed with a child. But almost half of Kashmir, no longer considers it a blessing if that child happens to be a girl. The blessing soon becomes a curse and the ‘precious gift’ is done away with as soon as possible. The doing away often includes either being ‘given’ in marriage to another toddler (or in some cases, to men twice or even thrice their age) or worse, slaying her even before she can take one free breath. Of late, technology seems to have facilitated this diabolical slaughter even before the birth of the child in the form of female foeticide.

Female foeticide is a practice that involves pre-natal sex determination and a subsequent abortion if the sex of the foetus is female. While the methods of detection may vary from amniocentesis and chronic villus sampling to ultrasonography, the reasons often cited are family pressure, the ‘expenditure’ required for having a girl child ( an obvious reference to dowry that would be necessary for the future marriage) and the perennial desire of the patriarchal society to have a son, an heir, and a successor. The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice but conformity. So people who don’t dare to carry this ‘burden’ often end up conforming to the ludicrous norms.

The sex ratio in Kashmir for the age group (0-6) has become skewed sharply against the girl child, reinforcing suspicions of female children ‘vanishing’ in the valley. From a healthy ratio in 2001 of more than 1,000 girls for every 1,000 boys in six districts of the valley, all the ten districts in the region this time have shown the numbers going down to fewer than 900 girls for every 1,000 boys in this age category. This is surprising because abortion does not have religious or social sanction in the region, where Muslims are dominant in numbers. The sharp downward trend has taken the overall sex ratio in the state for this age group from 941 in 2001 to 859 in 2011. The gender ratio for the overall population in the state has gone against the national trend, with the state having only 883 females for 1,000 males from 891 reported in 2001, and the country reporting an improvement to 940 from 933.“In 2001 six districts out of 10 (in Kashmir) had more than 1,000 girls for 1,000 boys. Today the very same districts are 100-150 points down. Pulwama in south Kashmir, which ranked third in the sex ratio in 2001 with 1,046 girls for every 1,000 boys born, has gone down to 836 girl children for 1,000 boys,” said Chander Shekhar Sapru, joint chief principal census officer, Jammu and Kashmir. The situation is worse in the Jammu region, however, Samba district there has the lowest girl-child ratio in the state at an alarming 787. Jammu district is also precariously placed at 795. “Jammu and Samba districts have been cause for concern and the trend is continuing in the current census also, but Kashmir, which seemed untouched by female foeticide, is cause for worry,” Sapru added. More shocking still is the fact that this trend is far stronger in urban than rural areas and among the literate than the illiterate, exploding the myth that education and affluence will help to eradicate gender bias. (Even some tribal areas are much better off than cities as far as sex ratios are concerned). Though the government enacted the Pre- Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act in 1994, which came into force in 1996, situation instead of improving, has worsened. A concomitant rise in the number of private clinics providing sex determination test was seen as a result of banning such practices in government hospitals, with even farmers with marginal incomes willing to take loans at 25 percent interest to have the test. Before the Act was amended in 2003, the technology had already reached even in areas which do not have potable water. As a result, the sex ratio recorded in India in 2001 in children was 927 females per 1000 males as compared to 1961 when it is 976 females per 1000 males. UN reports reveal that between 35 to 40 million girls missing from the Indian population. It is appalling to see in what is still considered one of the noblest professions, doctors participating in this illegal and inhuman money making venture, completely ignoring their ethical duties. The result is conveyed often subtly with a nod for a boy or a shake of the head or a grimace for a girl. It is ironic to see that maximum sex- selective abortions are performed by lady doctors.

Even more disheartening is the fact that women agree (whatever may be their justification) to undergo a sex – selective abortion knowingly contributing to the depletion of their own sex. While an abortion is understandable for medical reasons or keeping a small family, it’s absolutely incomprehensible that a child is aborted only because it is a girl. Though female foeticide had entered the lexicon of feminist struggle long back yet the fight still continues. It is a subject of grave concern especially when there is a vocal and influential school of thought that justifies selective abortion of female foetuses. Though the matter has been brought up now and then, this issue needs to be taken more seriously than ever and it needs be rewritten and vocalized until it the dogmatic mind set of people undergoes a change. Apart from the looking into factors responsible for female foeticide like low status of women in society and dowry, one also needs to be vigilant and brave enough to speak against this evil if one witnesses or comes to know about it. Also a more scientific approach towards things is required and the forestalling religious and cultural beliefs need to be replaced by rationality. No society can survive without women. The practice of female foeticide not only is a violation of human rights but also puts a question mark on our integrity as humans. It stuns our growth. If the patriarchal society has made the rules then they can surely be reworked. Why do we need to have different attitudes towards men and women? Why can’t they just be treated as individuals and valued for their worth? Her every unformed limb is battling for her rights, her every stifled cry begs for freedom and her every unsung death mourns the dilatory demise of humanity.

The Rot Within

Veeresh sees some disturbing trends in current day youth of the State

(Mr. Veeresh Saraf, 25, was born in Srinagar. He attended Kendriya Vidyalaya in Bantalab, Jammu, and completed his professional degree, AMIE, through the Institution of Engineers, Kolkata. He is employed as an electronics engineer, and concurrently puruing the civil servioce examination.)

Where Does The Rot Lie?

Thanks to the GK newspaper, recently I paid tribute to my legendary late grandfather, Pt. Swaroop Nath of Shopian. Apart from paying tributes, there was a larger purpose to the write-up. The purpose was to take the readers, particularly the youth of the state back to early 1920s and 30s, when the events which shaped up our present world were taking place in rapid succession. First World War had been fought and many new inventions made. Russian revolution had occurred and the old orders were collapsing fast. Jewish holocaust had begun and Hitler was on a rampage. Yet another World War, which proved to be even costlier and disastrous for the mankind, was fought. The events which would affect us all later were also occurring in this era. The future course of the Indian subcontinent was shaping up. The idea of Pakistan was taking shape. The late Quaid-E-Azam Mr. Jinnah had imposed self-exile upon himself after having failed in his efforts to bring Congress and Muslim League together and the poet of the East, Dr. Iqbal was constantly exhorting him to take the leadership of Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent into his hands and create a dream-country for them- Pakistan.

In Kashmir also, the younger generation was getting restless with each passing day and the youth, irrespective of their religious faiths were yearning for change. Industrial Revolution had already taken place and economic progress had established itself as the buzzword around the world. The events that followed are history and what happened in 1947-48 turned out to be not a dawn but dusk for many a people in the subcontinent, particularly the people of the state of J&K. The hopes of youth of this era went up in flames as did the aspirations of generations of people that followed and the process is continuing unabated. It is an irony that we cannot even dream of dreaming!

The environment all around us is charged to such an extent that it now looks like that nothing can set it right and we seem to be heading to an even more disastrous situation. In an era when the youth all around the globe are engaged in high creativity and productivity, the youth here seem to be grappling in the dark with virtually no respite in sight. Our government planning is in the hands of semi-educated people. They may possess highest academic degrees and may be top bureaucrats but their performance points only to the fact that they are mere theoreticians with little practical knowledge and ground zero understanding of the things. They seem to be there only to carry out the orders of their masters instead of being imaginative visualizers who would pioneer things and rejuvenate the youth into action. They prefer to be led by the norm.

I referred to my grandfather as he was an ideal youth of his times, who dreamed for the betterment of his society and having been inspired by the Industrial Revolution, would have liked to have dynamic entrepreneurs all around him. He worked in that direction, preferring to build a labour society of the workers of the saw mills, earlier owned and established by the favorites of the establishment of the day, instead of opting for any government post. He had dreams for the children of his society and these dreams centered around innovation, enterprise and entrepreneurship, which is what is very badly required in the state at present. The government policies may not be of much help. An awakening needs to be generated in the society at large which would instill creativity, innovation, enterprise and entrepreneurship in the by-now well educated youth. It is indeed a very sad situation that in this high-technology electronic age, when the youth of the prosperous world are indulging in such activities and sports like robotic games Olympiads and testing their knowledge and creative skills to the limits, the youth of this part of the world is held hostage to tradition and dogma. The obsession with the so-called Bollywood Tamasha and a simple game of cricket is almost total and they have nothing else to look up to. When they should be in laboratories and research centers, experimenting and giving vent to their creativity and innovation, they are forced to waste their lives in futile activities as watching those unending movies which have no significance whatsoever in the modern world.

Our universities and colleges are churning out thousands of educated youth every year who have a single point agenda –government employment. It was the responsibility of the government, right from Day one, to anticipate the future of the aspiring youth of the newly born nations in 1947 and devise policies and programs in such a manner as would turn this burgeoning young class into a dynamic force of creativity and productivity, paving the way for economic-progress of the new nations and thus not make them solely dependent on government employment.

Our social attitude has also not been of any much help. Our Governance and our political class is a sad and sorry reflection of our society at large irrespective of its communal colors. Corruption, favoritism, sycophancy, highhandedness, all these have their roots in our societal attitudes.

Education, for us, has not meant what it actually means. For us, it has meant getting degrees this way or that way and getting a fetching job. We live for ourselves, not for the society. This is a very sad part of our existence and if at all we indulge in social service sometime, we do so under the influence of a bias, which may be religious, political and economic or whatever. We are not learners. Learners teach themselves while we only give sermons to others. This has left us totally bereft of any creativity, innovation and exploration. The results are there for anybody to see. The civil engineers in the state may perhaps be doing their job but I wonder how many mechanical and electrical engineers contribute in the real sense. They were supposed to bring in the technological and industrial revolution to the society. Have they done so? No, not at all. Why? Perhaps they were not properly educated and trained and they had no avenues to learn. On their part they have shown no desire to do so and preferred easy money. The simplest electrical or mechanical devices consumed in bulk numbers in our state, particularly in the Kashmir Valley could have been easily manufactured here. But who would do that? Who knew how? I don’t think that any mechanical or electrical engineer had the knowledge and expertise to build this kind of industry from scratch here. If at all, they would look up to the government-generated project reports which is an exercise carried out by almost laymen. How many youth were attracted to SKEP, a program launched by our young CM with much fanfare for developing entrepreneurial base of the state? The reason is simple: Lack of knowledge and skill. Now they are planning to set up skill development corporations and they would get huge funds allotted to them for buildings, Furniture, etc. etc. and make a lot of tamasha with very little of substance. They are also planning to set up a corporation for finding jobs for Kashmiri youth in other countries and thus “export” the beleaguered youth along with Saffron and Carpets. And is this all what we are supposed to do? Forget everything else and leave our broken societal structure as it is, shutting our doors on any little hope of stepping forward into future? An assumption that is laughable. There is a lot of scope for electronic industry in the state. This industry ought to have been developed as a tiny sector enterprise and young boys and girls encouraged to coming up with ideas and projects which could be made easily and sold at cheap rates. Such a thing was definitely possible and in this matter we should take a cue from countries like China and Japan. The American ‘progress’ or the progress of the economies that we call ‘developed’ has largely been due to the dreams of their young boys and girls and the society making conditions favorable for those dreams to be fulfilled. Such a thing is very badly needed in our state at present. In the Kashmir Valley, the situation is even more horrific. I wonder what is going to be the future of those emerging thousands of young educated and intelligent youth in view of the fact that government is now almost forced to put curtailment on already thin number of jobs. Is it in their fate to live miserable lives or migrate to some safer haven or should they tighten the belts, rise in unison against poverty and ignorance and chalk new course for their future generations? As far as we, the Pandits are concerned, we are out in the ‘Hot’ and we are free to carry out our dreams anywhere and everywhere in the world, if not in Kashmir. However, I can state with authenticity that every Kashmiri Pandit’s heart bleeds for the people of Kashmir and we would like the young Kashmiris to have dreams about their Valley as well as their lives and the political masters make conditions conducive for those dreams to be fulfilled.

Discontent and prevailing dissatisfaction among youth in our part of the globe generally and in our state particularly, has assumed alarming proportions now, owing to so many factors. One of the most important of these factors is the wresting of political control by the old guard politicians and so called opinion-makers, who refuse to acknowledge the fast changing scenarios and fail to understand the reasons behind this change. It is this conflict of interests which has already alienated the youth and this sense of alienation and frustration will go on increasing until the balance of power shifts in favor of social dynamism and economic development and that too, in a time bound manner.

J&K Department of Education Under Scanner

Mudasir says that appointments by the Department of Education are unfair and unjust

(Mr. Jan Mudasir Gul, 29, was born in Srinagar. He went to the D.A.V. High School, Amira Kadal, Srinagar, and K.N.M. High Scholl in Barbar Shah, Srinagar. After completing her Bachelo's degree from Sri Pratap College, Srinagar, he completed his post graduate degree at the University of Kashmir. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. degree in English from the Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), Hyderabad. Mr. Gul is presently a lecturer in English, and enjoys reading and writing in his leisure time.)

Department in Mess

It is said that paradise is a place of perfection. Then if Kashmir is called “Paradise on the Earth”, therefore, it should have been a place of perfection. But if there is any worse place than hell, it is Kashmir as it has become a symbol of corruption, degeneration and degradation. There is not a single walk of life here where a living soul can become satisfied. Even religion, which is purely divine, has become defiled in this ill fated valley.

Having said this, it seems that I have become incurably hopeless about Kashmir and rightly so because I am. As we know the first word of the Qur’an which was revealed to the Prophet (PBUH) was “Iqra” which means “to read”. And the various exegetes of the Qur’an have agreed upon that it actually refers to education, religious as well as worldly. It is this education and the areas related to it which have made me hopeless. The department of education is in mess is known to everybody and much has been already written or said about it. And what is of our concern here is the process of promotion and fresh appointments, particularly at 10+2 level.

The department has the procedure of promoting PG teachers or masters as incharge lecturers (40%) and 60% as fresh appointees through Public Service Commission. But what has been going on in the department for the last 20 years is not only shocking but also illegal as per the recruitment rules of the department. The rule clearly mentions that the department can promote 40% of lecturers from the department provided they possess the eligibility criterion, i.e. PG in the concerned subject (10+2+3). But the irony is that the dept has promoted candidates as incharge lecturers who possess PG in 10+2+2+2 pattern which is gross violation of the rule.

Besides, the certificates produced by them have not been verified from the concerned universities as it is alleged that some candidates possess fake certificates. It is the fault on the part of the dept that these in charge lecturers have not been confirmed since 1998. One cannot deny the fact that out of nearly 6,000 in charge lecturers till date who are unconfirmed, there are candidates who are genuine, and they therefore deserve to be confirmed at the earliest. But, what the dept has been doing is playing delay tactics; one to save their skin as they have illegally promoted certain candidates, second to save the money which is due to those in charge lecturers once they are confirmed.

Other injustices have been going on with those lecturers who have been appointed directly through Public Service Commission. These lecturers, though confirmed, have not been given benefits which are due to them. First of all, there is no study leave due to them to pursue higher degrees like M.Phil or PhD. Even they are not allowed to do it on part-time basis for which normally a scholar needs a leave of one or two months per year as residency period during his course of study. Secondly, there is nothing for those who enter the dept with M.Phil or PhD degree. Thirdly, there is no separate grade for them once they are promoted as Senior Lecturers, which unfortunately has been again pending since 1998. However, the gravest injustice to PSC confirmed lecturers is that they have been appointed after a gap of nearly 3-5 years from the date they had applied for the post.

For instance, I had applied in 2005 but I got appointed in 2008. But, on the other hand, the dept had already promoted 40% of candidates as in charge lecturers when they referred the posts to PSC, which might have been in 2004 or 2005. Thus, we deserve to be notionally at par retrospectively with those in charge lecturers who have been promoted at the time when our posts were referred to PSC.

To conclude, let the Dept of education fulfil the genuine demands of both in charge lecturers and PSC confirmed lecturers at the earliest, so that our education system may run smoothly, otherwise, the status quo has given birth to unionism as we daily see its reflection in the newspapers in the form of press releases.

364 days of Benign Neglect, 1 Day of Whimsical Glory

Kashmir has a way of celebrating every "International Day" and forget the object of interest until the next International Day

International Museum Day

Srinagar: Notwithstanding the wholesale slaughter of wild animals during autocracy when game was a favourite pastime of the ruling elite, many of these animals preserved as mementos and housed in the Natural History gallery of the Sri Pratap Singh Museum at Lal Mandi Srinagar are facing acute official neglect. There are reports that several of these stuffed birds and animals which included the stuffs of few rare and extinct species, are on the verge of complete destruction owing to the poor conservation and mishandling by the museum authorities.

Most of the stuffs have already collapsed while many broken ones have been dumped into dead stock lockers of the museum.

A museum officer, who wished not to be named, confirmed to this newspaper that several of the stuffed animals damaged due to their mishandling and poor maintenance have been dumped in the lockers of the museum.

He alleged that although the higher authorities are also in know of this fact but to escape any administrative inquiry they have not been disclosing it to anybody.

According to official reports, about 2000 animal and bird stuffs are housed in this museum gallery. The stuffs which are feared to have deteriorated here include the stuffs of various varieties of Kashmiri musk deer, markhoor, ‘bara-singha’ (antelope), ibex, monkey, snow leopard and big brown and black bear. The damaged bird stuffs include the ones of Kashmiri vulture, crow, eagle, falcon, ‘hazaar dastan’, heron, kingfisher, golden oriole, chakor, nilkanth, woodcocker, etc.

Besides these, sources say a few varieties of migratory birds like Bengal tiger and ‘raj-hance’ too are not properly maintained here.

During the visit to this gallery, this reporter could also notice the decaying state of these stuffs. Several stuffs have been losing their feathers, eyes and other stuffed parts. The stuffs here are dumped in cabins like heaps of torn feathers.

This unsound and unscientific dumping has been one of the major reasons for deterioration of these stuffs, experts say.

Sources say that since years together this gallery has not seen any light of scientific conservation.

The lack of proper conservation and poor handling of the stuffs are cited as the main reasons behind the poor condition of this once wonderful gallery.

Ironically for lost several years there is nobody to take care of this historic gallery. Sources revealed that in order to escape any legal responsibility, the museum curator has handed over the affairs of this gallery to a simple orderly who hardly knows anything about conservation.

Although the maintenance of stuffs requires services of a trained and technically qualified taxidermist, but here this job has been given into the hands of a peon, sources alleged.

“It is this peon who is holding the charge of this prestigious gallery,” confirmed a museum officer.

Although the state government has, for past some time now, started taking the matters of this historic museum seriously and has sought technical advice its upkeep.

For the purpose, the state government has, in the year 2009, sought the services of the museum expert by re-appointing a former Director Museums as the museum consultant.

But fact of the matter remains that besides the Museum curator, the re-appointed consultant too seems to have forgotten their job altogether. Had it not been so the SPS Museum and its Natural History gallery would not have been in such a shambled state as it is.

It is in place to mention that each year lakhs of rupees are spent only in paying the consultation fee for this museum. But all this money is going ware as of now as nobody here seems interested in preserving the museum and its artifacts.

Historical recodes say that this once wonderful Natural History gallery was added to this museum by Col. A E Wards, a French expert, in the year 1910 AD. He was assisted by one British taxidermist J. Pearls.

These experts had arranged the gallery here on the scientific lines and dedicated it to the people of the state.

But now that it has come into our own hands, only God could save it from complete destruction.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Female Foeticide

Is it surprising that abortions are more frequent went it is a girl child? Roshan Ara reflects on the depths to which the society has sunk

(Ms. Roshan Ara, 45, was born in Warihama, in Budgam district. She attended the Government High School Aripanthan, and the Government Higher Secondary School Beeru. She graduated from the Government Womens College (GWC) Srinagar, University of Kashmir, and the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi. Ms. Roshan Ara has degrees in B.Com, M.Com, M.A. Economics, B.Ed, M.Phil, Diploma in Women's Empowerment and Development, and Ph.D. work underway titled 'Managing Work and Family Roles: A Study of White Collar Working Women in Kashmir.' She is presently a Lecturer in Commerce, Department of School Education, Government of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar. During leisure time she enjoys reading newspapers & journals, staying engaged on Women's Issues, and writing articles for newspapers & journals.)

Murder in the Womb

The future of the nation lies in the womb of woman as she is the architect of our future generations. A woman is a beautiful creation of God and the most important component of every society. God created woman to add colour to the colourless universe and to make it a peaceful place to live in. It is she who has given birth to all prophets, scientists, philosophers and other great personalities of the world. She is the nurturer and care giver of the whole human race. In Islam, the word ‘woman’ is termed as ‘wo-man’ because she has been created from the ‘rib’ of man. Therefore she is termed as ‘man’s half’ and has to accompany him in every moment of life. A man is always dependent upon a woman during different phases of life — as a child he depends upon his mother, as a brother upon his sister, as a husband on his wife and as a father on his daughter. Thus she is the companion of man, his partner and not his inferior or slave. The great Urdu poet and philosopher – Dr. Alama Iqbal says about the importance of women:

“wajoode zan se hai tasweere kaainat main rang
Issi ke saaz se hai zindagi ka soze daroon
Makalmate falatoon na likh saki lekin
Issi ke sholay se phoota sharaare aflaatoon”.

In spite of the significance of women to the human existence, the crime against women has taken an ugly turn beyond human thinking. Various types of atrocities are meted out to women in our society like dowry deaths; sexual harassments, female foeticide, molestation, rape, women trafficking, domestic violence etc. Since women enjoy a secondary status in the society, in order to continue their subordination and to suppress them, new techniques have come into being. Patriarchal forces are no longer interested in the development and welfare of women and that is the reason why they threaten and harass women folk. Women specific violence is the function of keeping women where they were centuries before i.e. in a powerless and subordinate position.

Gender equality was introduced as a fundamental human right for the first time in United Nations in 1945. The priority themes for women’s equality were to promote equality between men and women, to ensure the integration of women in the development efforts and increase the contribution of women to the strengthening of world peace. Equality is both a goal and a means whereby both sexes are accorded equal treatment, have equal opportunities to enjoy their rights and to develop their potential, talents and skills so that they can participate in national, political, economic, social and cultural development and can benefit from its results. But these goals are yet to be realised. Women lack equal opportunities to education, employment, and economic resources etc. They have been dominated by patriarchal forces of the society and left in a powerless position. The attitude of the parents towards a daughter is indifferent in terms of education, development, health care, nutritional status and other spheres. The stereotype mindset that boys are assets, the bread winners and support of old age, continues. Girls are only treated as an additional burden on the parents as they have to spend huge money on their marriage and dowry. A girl’s social and economic dependence confirms to the denial of literacy and skills as well as taboos on her social interaction.

India is reeling under a shocking sex ratio. The declining sex ratio reflects the extent to which violence has been institutionalised in our society. It acts as a blot on the face of Jammu and Kashmiri State like many other states of the country. The 2011 Census figures present a dismal picture of sex-ratio in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The sex ratio of 883 per 1000 boys is below the national average of 914 per 1000 boys. In 1981, J&K had a sex ratio of 963 girls per 100 boys which has come down to the lowest level of 883 per 1000 boys now. Census 2011 results make it clear that it is not illiteracy, ignorance and poverty that only is responsible for this unlawful and unethical practice as well off and educated parents are also leading this race. The records at the national level reveal that 150 most backward districts of the country have a far better sex ratio ( 947 girls per 1000 boys) than the rest of the country ( 921 per 1000 boys). The gap between backward and non-backward districts is particularly high in states like Gujarat. The national capital Delhi has a good per capita income and a very high literacy rate but records a sex ratio of only 865 girls per 1000 boys. Maharashtra with a literacy rate of almost 83 percent has a sex-ratio of 883girls per 1000 boys while as Chhattisgarh with just 71 percent literacy rate has a sex ratio of 964 per 1000 boys.

This trend continues not only at the national level but also at the international level. A world fertility survey has found that out of 40 developing countries with strong son preference are Bangladesh, Jordan, Korea, Nepal, Pakistan and Syria. India, Malaysia, Thailand and Yemen were found countries with moderate son preference. Countries like Jamacia and Venazula were the only countries were son’s and daughter’s are preferred equally. The sex-ratio among Indian Asian communities in U.S is much lower than among whites and blacks.

There are 35 million girls missing in India and if the trend continues India will very soon be a bachelor nation. A girl continues to be an unwanted child of her parents. Even if she is allowed to take birth, she is received with sighs and sorrows and the question of celebrations doesn’t arise. The only situation where her birth is welcome is when the parents remain issueless for a long time. The birth of a son in our society on the other hand is celebrated like anything. The woman who gives birth to a son is also felicitated for bringing honour to the family and is loved and respected by her husband also. The discrimination and bias against girl starts from the date of her conception when her parents decide whether they will keep her or kill her. The use of modern techniques has been a source of comfort for the elimination of the girls in the mother’s womb.

One fails to understand whether the birth of a daughter is a disgrace or a burden for the parents or both? The birth of a daughter is considered a disgrace to the parents because they feel that their daughter is exposed to harassment like dowry death, domestic violence, eve teasing and even the rape. But men should know that the threat they perceive for their daughters is not from any other specie but from the men folk itself. Since their infancy girls are protected from the lust of men and this threat haunts them throughout their lives. Girls are not safe inside or outside the home. The girls are supposed to be the stake-holders of the honour of the family whereas boys are set free to do whatever they want to do. Parents are not bothered about the behaviour of their sons but only that of their career. They should not forget that it is not only the daughters who can bring disgrace to the family but equally the sons can do so. Therefore, the parents need to reform the society by modifying the behaviour of their sons who are the future men of the society. We need to inculcate a sense of responsibility, moral values, and religious education in our sons and teach them how to respect their opposite sex. It is the men who have to work for creating a safe and dignified environment wherein the girls will live a dignified life. It was in late 1960’s when Indian Parliament was pushing through a law to impose curfew on women going out at nights because they were sexually assaulted and raped, the late prime minister Smt Indira Gandhi asserted that curfew should be imposed upon men and not upon women because it is men who are assaulting and harassing women. On account of this logical argument the proposal was dropped.

No religion in the world allows the killing of the female foetus. Islam gives equal weightage to boys as well as girls. Our prophet (P.B.U.H) elevated the status of women in Islam by giving equal rights to men as well as women. Before the advent of Islam, the practice of killing girls was rampant in Saudi Arabia. The daughters were brutalized and buried alive. Our prophet (P.B.U.H) banned this evil practice and made people realise the importance of daughters. Daughter is the blessing of almighty Allah and deserves equal love and care. According to Islam, a man who brings up 4 daughters is promised a place in paradise. According to Qur’an to abort a foetus is a murder. Therefore, parents should not treat their daughters as a burden or disgrace but they should equally contribute in their welfare and education. They should not analyse the investment in the daughters in terms of the returns they yield but take it as an investment in future generations.

By and large, girls are discriminated and devalued from the day they are born. Millions of girls are raised in an environment of neglect, overwork and other abuses simply because they are females. In many places girls are fed less, forced to work harder, provided less schooling and denied equal access to medical care. Out of world’s one billion illiterates, two-third is women. Girls receive differential feeding and healthcare which have serious implications on their health. A study has revealed that 57% of boys were breast fed as compared to 30% of girls. Iron deficiency and anaemia is a common problem found in girls. It is responsible for 20% of maternity related deaths. Records of some Indian hospitals show that more boys (42%) are brought in for treatment than girls (37%) who are usually brought to the hospitals only when their illness becomes critical. Studies also reveal that expenditure on health of boys is more than that of girls. It is estimated that a girl works on an average for 10 hours a day and provides her family free and full time labour. In spite of such a great contribution of a girl child, she is considered a liability and a drain on the family resources at the time of her marriage. She is not even considered a permanent member of her family and is only considered a parayadhan, (other’s property). She is made to work hard for the family and thus trained for future slavery. She always remains under pressure and never enjoys a free life.

In spite of the serious efforts made by the government and framing up of many laws for banning the female infanticide, this crime is still prevailing. Therefore, it should be taken as a matter of serious concern by the government as well as the civil society. A positive image of the girl child has to be promoted. All planners, policy makers, administrators, media, enforcement machinery and religious leaders should come forward and work towards the holistic development of girl child. The real empowerment of women is totally meaningless unless women are empowered before birth. In order to grow a girl child into an active skilled and a confident woman, she should be nurtured in an environment of dignity and opportunity. Women need to be given the power and authority to decide their own destiny and the destiny of their children. The P.N.D.T Act needs to be implemented in letter and spirit. NGOs also need to be sensitised to make people aware about the evil affects of female foeticide. There is an immediate need to have more women involved in the effective implementation of women related laws for which adequate training needs to be ensured so that women themselves handle the implementation of various women related laws to avoid discrimination and harassment on account of termination of pregnancy etc.

The State Commission for Women needs to be strengthened further and National Commission for Women has to play an active role. Women’s commissions have to play a proactive role in educating, equipping and empowering women and stopping their rights violations. Women’s voluntary organizations have to come forward to help their society in fighting for their rights. Let all of us come together; crossing all the boundaries of caste, creed and colour, and welcome and celebrate the birth of daughters at par with sons. Let us change ourselves first and be the agents of change for others also.

Hoping for the Return of the Native

Fida sees Asha's election victory a milestone in the restoration of the Kashmiriyat

(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.)

A Hope Called Asha

In serence wausan hamlet within administrative block Kunzar in north Kashmir, simple but politically vigilant and socially well aware villagers are continually felicitating middle aged ‘Asha Ji’ a Kashmiri Pandith lady for her being elected as their representative to village Panchayat. In trouble torn valley of Kashmir were politics is dragged in almost every sphere of life and every crucial issue gets garnished with political plots, elevation of a minority Kashmiri Pandith lady to the position of Panch is a comprehensible message of everlasting brotherhood and amity embedded in the social structure of Kashmir. Existence of sagacious sense of harmony within Kashmiri mindset irrespective of faith they practice is essence of Kashmiriyat and ‘Asha-Ji’s’ selection as representative of her fellow villagers is symbol of Kashmiriyat. Many critics of Kashmir and its people will portray this gesture of maturity and righteousness as an act of pretense, but the way People of Wausan preferred ‘Asha –Ji’ over Muslim contestant Sarwa Begum by a thin margin of votes, the conduct of villagers can no be termed as pretentious behavior.

Migration of Kashmiri Pandiths from Kashmir was the most tragic episode in the turbulent history of Kashmir, and ever political school of thought and societal leadership in Kashmir have been loudly and openly condemning distressing exodus of Pandiths. In the past Kashmir had witnessed many migrations but the existing exodus of Kashmiri brethren was catastrophic. This tragedy of social disaster was never acceptable to majority of Kashmiri people but circumstances some times make the strong and potent beings to face the hard realities of political maneuvering orchestrated by powerful vested interests. No one can invalidate the just and genuine aspirations of people of Kashmir and disagree with the sufferings faced by them while pursuing their agenda of justice, but even in times of extreme hardships a common Kashmiri never approved of any violation of set rules of harmony and amity within its community system . And ‘Asha-Ji’ as her name depicts is hope of future of amity within the different social and religious components of our society and she has become icon of Kashmiriyat we are proud of.

Kashmir and Kashmiris have suffered a lot. Ever home in Kashmir got affected; death, destruction and desperation engulfed this vale of beauty, love and amity. In every part of Kashmir we face the hard facts of mayhem. After so much of devastation widows, half widows, orphans and other features and facets of disorder are now part of our social order. Situation in Kashmir was incessantly precarious especially for last two decades the situation was by no means worth living for any civilized people. We all suffered in this situation of quandary irrespective of cast, colour, creed and the faith we follow. Hopefully, either we have reconciled with the situation of turmoil or our prayers for honorable peace are showing some positive results. As death keeps no calendar, so does the destruction and gloom; and people of Kashmir faced the worst phase of death, destruction and gloom largely during last two decades. Who was responsible for this predicament and who perpetuated the situation of impasse? No conclusions are valid.

Pandiths were wooed into situation of stalemate; a sinister approach of whipping fanatical hostility out of their innocence and religious sentiments was tailored to create a wedge. Ever Kashmiri by nature and by genetic state of creation is sentimental and can easily be tutored to exploitation even after possessing high levels of intelligence and understanding of political matters. Kashmiri Pandiths being largely educated lot became victim of machination of dividing people of Kashmir at the hands of few vested interests. Traditional leaders in Kashmir at the time of sham migration were either fearing for their lives or were party to sinister plot of dividing people of Kashmir on religious and ethnic lines and at that point of time very few people within the community braved the tide of exodus but ultimately yielded (or more reasonably saying, succumbed under pressure) to the hidden ominous plot of divide and rule. Thus history of ‘Kashmiri brotherhood’ was redrawn with black linings of hatred and hostility. In the heart of hearts every Kashmiri, particularly the majority community of Muslims feel embarrassed as they could not help holding this madness of alienation.

Hamlet of Wausan is the innovative canvas of aspirations of the people of Kashmir and ‘Asha-Ji’, the invaluable portrait of Kashmiri hope. Wausan vote will turn out to be the real face of Kashmiriyat and the true story of sentiments of generous people of Kashmir. This canvas of renewed brotherhood painted in the remote rural landscape of Kashmir is bereft of any machinating intentions and can usher people of Kashmir as a whole into a new era of kinship and closeness. This apparently small endeavor of inhabitants of Wausan village in real sense is a Himalayan effort to bridge the gap between estranged brothers of same ancestry. But this message of amity needs to be taken well without any malice and conclusions of choice. Every relation is symbiotic in behavior and requires utmost sense of belonging with strokes of harmony and mutual trust. Much water has flown down the vetesta with much of Kashmiri blood and wishes to come out of the oblivions of subjugation. Time has arrived that every Kashmiri should join hands, first to strengthen the bonds of Kashmiriyat and then move forward hand in hand to strive for their genuine objective of emancipation, empowerment and peace.

Our Kashmiri Pandith brethren should read the clear message between the lines, sense the feeling of ‘Asha’ in Asha-Ji’s election and try to assert the factual state of affairs in Kashmir. Heavy hearts, moist eyes, broader minds and open arms are waiting in the land of Kashyap Reshi and Sheikh-ul- Alam to welcome them. They should see the beacon light of harmony emanating from the land of Baba Reshi and follow the footsteps of large hearted people of Kashmir by reciprocating the gesture of solidarity with their journey back home.

Does the Election of Mrs. Asha Bhat Portend a New Future?

Srinagar's elder journalist and a seasoned political analyst sees the bright side

(Syed Rafiuddin Bukhari, 73, was born in Kreri in Baramulla District. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Kashmir Media Group that publishes the English daily, Rising Kashmir, and soon-to-be launched Urdu daily, Bulund Kashmir. He had his early education in Sopore, Beerwah and then in Srinagar where from he got his post-graduate degree in English from the University of Jammu and Kashmir, and took up job as a teacher in higher education department. He taught English in various colleges in Kashmir took voluntary retirement in 1995 as Professor. Even though not a professional journalist by training, he has been extremely successful in the field, launching SANGARMAL, the first ever multi-coloured Kashmiri newspaper from Srinagar which is now in its fourth year. Later in 2008, he created the Kashmir Media Group. His interests are reading and writing and building value based institutions.)

Bringing Hope to Kashmir

Apart from being held for the first time in 30 years, the ongoing Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir could bring something more to cheer about. Election of Aasha Jee, a Kashmiri Pandit woman from Wussan village in Tangmarg, threw up a reason for celebrations for both communities given the widening gulf that has been created for past 20 years.

Her election to the lowest body of governance in Kashmir may not change many things at the grassroots level but it signifies the reality that the majority community recognises Pandits as an important part of social fabric in Valley. The elections for the Panchayats are being held on non-party basis though the political parties would not stay away from fielding their candidates. But Aasha Jee’s candidature and then ensuring that she would enter the Panchayat makes it abundantly clear that how the majority community wanted to add colour to whole exercise. Agriculture Minister and MLA Tangmarg Ghulam Hassan Mir made an interesting observation while reacting to this particular election results. “I do welcome it as a harbinger of hope but I think there is nothing new given our rich cultural ethos which embodies a high level of tolerance in living together,” he said adding that another Kashmiri Pandit woman in a neighbouring village got same amount of support but lost. Likewise a Sikh candidate in Bewa area of Pattan won the elections.

It is a fact that the larger portion of Pandit community has moved out and it is hard to fix the responsibility amid the blames and counter blames from both communities. Whatever may the truth, one has to accept that an unfavourable atmosphere in early 1990 forced them to leave notwithstanding the fact that the government at that time did not do enough to stop them.

Today we have a handful number of Kashmiri Pandits living Kashmir. During the past decade the successive governments have made repeated assurances to bring them back to their homes. However, it is in contrast to those efforts of government by which KP’s are being settled almost permanently in migrant townships like the one, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in March at Jagti near Jammu. One cannot turn a blind eye to reality that most of the KP’s have sold their properties in valley and majority of them did so willingly. There are, of course, some Pandits who have rural backgrounds and want to return to their roots. One has to compliment them for not selling their properties despite harsh realities they faced in migrant camps amid scorching heat of Jammu.

Recently the Hurriyat (G) Chairman Syed Ali Geelani visited KP families and assured them support and protection. Shabir Shah and Yasin Malik have been regularly visiting them and extending solidarity with them. But will this all-political manoeuvring help the return of Kashmiri Pandits, is the million dollar question. Safety and security is the pre-requisite for return of all Kashmir Pandits back to Valley. And in the given circumstances it is hard to believe that even government to ensure a safety measure with vested interests taking permanent space in all spheres of life. Then the real question is that how many KP’s want to return.

Before Aasha Jee’s election the hopes of reconciliation between two communities revived when government appointed a few thousand KP boys and girls under a special recruitment drive. When many of them arrived in Valley to pick up the jobs they refused to stay in government accommodations and instead chose to stay with their erstwhile Muslim neighbours. This may not be an overwhelming situation but the fact is that hope of living together had not died at all.

Kashmir Pandit Sangarsh Samiti, (KPSS) a frontline organisation of Kashmir Pandits living in valley has rightly acknowledged the gesture. “We are overwhelmed by the response, trust and confidence that has been shown by the majority community of a village in Baramulla district. It is a milestone and has strengthened and has paved the way for the process of re-conciliation in this turmoil-hit place” it said in a statement. “The Kashmir Valley is seen and portrayed as a place not fit for non-Muslims especially Kashmiri Pandits. But the victory of Aasha Jee as Sarpanch in her village has broken this myth.”

With many indications that Kashmir’s unique brotherhood had not taken such a heavy beating, both communities are still struggling hard to come out of the stories of victimhood. There is no end to claims and counter claims on how many Kashmir Pandits were killed and what was the number of those who left the valley. For example the Minister for Revenue Raman Bhalla told the state assembly on March 23, 2010 that “219 Pandits were killed in Kashmir from 1989 to 2004. From 2004, no killing of any person from the community [Kashmiri Pandits] took place till now,” He further mentioned that a total number of 38,119 families comprising 1, 42, 042 Kashmiri migrants were registered with the Revenue and Relief Ministry till now.

On the Contrary, KPSS said that the statistics were not correct. In a rebuttal the organisation put the number of deaths at 403 but did not issue the list. Similarly it mentioned that only 651 families were living in Kashmir now as against 808 as revealed by the government. The KP organisations working outside went far ahead in saying that thousands of Kashmiri Pandits killed but all these statements lacked authenticity.

While the things like election of Aasha Jee bring hope to Kashmir, there is urgent need for both communities (at civil society level) to forge an understanding to save the thin thread from breaking further. Politicians and activists would continue to exploit the emotions but the real answer lies in the steps like election of Aasha Jee who enlivens “Aash” (Umeed) for lakhs of Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits.

A Funny Thing Happened on Way to the Panchayat Election ....

Mrs. Asha Bhat, wife of Mr. Radha Krishan Bhat, mother of two grown-ups, Suresh and Ashok, and resident of Wussan village, once a "liberated zone" in Kashmir, is elected by her peers as their new Panch. (A Pandit women candidate in a neighboring village was defeated.)

Victory of Aasha, Hope for Harmony

Tejinder Singh Sodhi
(Tribune News Service)

Srinagar: In what was a closely contested election, a 52-year-old Kashmiri Pandit housewife Aasha Ji Bhat defeated her closest rival, a Muslim woman Sarwah Begum, with a margin of 11 votes in the seventh phase of panchayat elections held on Sunday. She became the first non-Muslim to be elected as a sarpanch.

Aasha, the first Kashmiri Pandit woman to win the panchayat elections to become the sarpanch of Muslim-dominated Wussan village in the Kunzar block of Baramulla district, defeated her lone rival Sarwah Begum by a margin of 11 votes. During the onset of turmoil in the Kashmir valley two decades ago, Aasha and her family, along with three other Kashmiri Pandit families in the village, decided against migration and stayed put in the village.

“We saw the worst days of turmoil in the Valley, but decided against migration and stood shoulder to shoulder with our Muslim brethren and now they showed their faith in me by electing me,” she told The Tribune.

She is all praise for the Muslim nambardar of the village Abdul Hamid Wani who encouraged her to contest the elections. “He supported me and encouraged me to contest the elections. He bestowed his faith in me so that I can do some development work for my village,” she said. On his part, Wani says while there was no deliberate intention of making a statement through Aasha’s election, it should remind people that “humanity is still the best virtue.”

Aasha, who lives in the village with her husband Radha Krishan and two sons, said that her victory would send a positive signal to the Kashmiri Pandits who had migrated from the Valley.

“It is a message to the Kashmiri Pandit families living in exile that camaraderie still prevails in Kashmir and that they should return to their roots as things have turned normal here,” she said.

Soon after she was declared the winner, Muslims garlanded her and took her to her house in a big procession, shouting slogans in her praise.

“We voted for her as we knew that she is an energetic lady and would work for the development of our village. We never considered that she was a non-Muslim and we should not vote for her. Our aim was to elect a representative who could help us to focus on development in our village where we face problems like damaged roads, scarcity of potable water and electricity,” said Khursheed Ahmed, a resident of the village.

The villagers in the block said that the four Pandit families who did not migrate from the Kashmir valley had stood with the majority community during the hour of need and now it was their duty to do something in return for them.

Aisha’s elder son Suresh Kumar is a police constable and her younger son helps his father at his grocery shop in the village.