Introduction to Blog

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

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

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

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

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

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Delayed Marriages Add to Mental Anguish

Salman looks at the societal data collected by a University of Kashmir scholar, whose research attributed late marriages to a number of factors, and suggests that gender based violence brings additional complexity to the issue. While highlighting violence perpetuated by security forces, Salman conveniently ignores violence unleashed by militants and Jihadis who recently renewed their murderous campaign against women

(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.)

Eve's Daughters Suffering Silently...

In modern times, Kashmir is known more for violence less for scenic beauty. Two decades conflict has not only done irreparable loss to life and property but has done unimaginable harm to the women folk, who are at the receiving end directly and indirectly.

The state authorities in a combat situation used strict measures which include curfew, search operations, arrests and third degree torture which caused a great harmed to native population, particularly on women community. It has been estimated that around one lakh people mostly youth have lost their lives in conflict and 10 lakh have been injured. It has also been estimated that about 50,000 women has lost their partners. The number of persons disappeared is 4000. Sexual violence against women not only occurs but is an essential aspect of conflict history. In Kashmir security forces have used it to punish, intimidate, coerce, humiliate and degrade the women folk. However most of the crimes committed in Kashmir through security agencies went unnoticed because the victims used to face intimidation and social stigma. Conflict caused disruption in their education, job opportunities, and over all development, besides mental disorders assumed considerable importance among women in Kashmir due to on going conflict.

According to studies, the psychiatric morbidity in patients increased from 9 to 25 per cent in 1995. However, there were no comparable statistics available on the number of crackdowns, killings, disappearances, bomb blasts, injured persons at the village level. However, the worst hit villages, according to the District Administration, were the two districts of Kupwara and Pulwama. From this list I selected five villages in each of the districts based on systematic random sampling procedure. While visiting the villages I collected information from the village sarpanches about the number of deaths associated with conflict, number of youths killed, number of widows. I also prepared a list of all households in the villages and selected 30 households randomly from each village.

I used two types of questionnaires: Household and Women’s questionnaire. The household questionnaire helped me to identify eligible women with whom I wanted to have in-depth interviews. The criterion for eligible women was that she should be married age 18-54 years. The household questionnaire helped us to identify 256 eligible women but interviews were conducted with 220 women only. Of these 220 women I identified 28 women who had conceived during 1995-2000, the peak period of terrorism and in depth interviews were conducted with 28 women to get detailed information regarding the reason of their late marriages. Insecurity was the biggest problem for women. Life had become uncertain as it has became so insecure that people were not sure if they would return home safely in the evening after a day’s work or reaching their destinations once set out. The sense of insecurity was greater among girls and young women who became virtual prisoners in their houses because of the threat of abduction and sexual abuse.

Marriage system changed from night to day. Due to killings, disappearance and unemployment girls have become a burden on the shoulder of parents. However, due to the collapse of the education, mass copying and mass promotions in the examinations led to an increase in the age at marriage for both boys and girls. A study by the sociology department of University of Kashmir – “Emergence of late marriages in Kashmir” says that the average marrying age has increased from 24 to 32 years in boys and for Females 21 to 28 years. The socio-economic, educational and political developments in the J&K state have affected the practices, rituals, values and norms of marriage, the study says adding, conflict, poverty, modern education, dowry, unemployment, caste consideration as the major reasons for late marriages in Kashmir.

Many people believe advent of modernization, unhealthy customs and traditions, and “irreligious” attitude in the society have played their part in pushing up the average marrying age. “This two decade long insurgency had to leave a distinct mark on the social and cultural structure of the society apart from politics,” says Professor Bashir Ahmad Dabla, the supervisor of the research. “Marriage is already delayed by many years when the employed person starts looking for a suitable spouse. A highly educated person looks for relevant match that delays the process further,” said Jabeena Begam, a mother of four. “Late marriages are taking a heavy toll on the mental health of Kashmiri youth. When a person has no one to share his feelings with, frustration is likely to occur; whether it is physiological or psychological.

Many unmarried patients come to us with complaints of depression; half of their problem is solved when they are being listened to patiently,” says senior psychiatrist, Dr Aijaz Ahmad Khan. “One out of every 700 children is born with Down’s syndrome. But when the mother is in her late 30s and early 40s chances of birth of mentally retarded child increase manifold,” says Dr Khan. Late marriages alter social fabric with pre-marital and extra-marital affairs creeping into the society. “Late marriage and sexual promiscuity cannot be avoided in a conflict situation,” says Professor Dabla. “Modernization gave rise to materialistic outlook and highlighted the ill effects of early marriage. But absence of a partner results in the crimes, immoral activities and drug addiction,” says Dabla.

Apart from financial uncertainty and political instability, many young boys and girls hold their parents responsible for their delayed marriage by compelling them to go for extravagance. “Every person needs someone to be with and rely on. Life seems worthless when you have none. But when your own parents commit sin and make you suffer for their desire of your extravagant marriage, you cannot help it but wait,” laments Shabir Ahmad, 29. The huge amount of money needed in a traditional Kashmiri marriage has turned it into a burden, says Dilshada, a housewife. “An average person spends around Rs 10 lakh in a marriage; almost a decade rolls by till all the money is gathered,” she adds. Besides dowry and pomp and show, the traditional wazwan - local multi-cuisine feast - has become expensive and unaffordable for many people.

To make marriages simpler and affordable, Humsafar Marriage Counseling Cell was established by Islamic Dawa Centre in 2005. The bureau organises marriages in austere and religious manner and discourages extravagance.

In a place, like Kashmir, where women still are not considered as the bread winners of the family, those with government jobs are preferred for marriage pulling many women towards higher education. With the warnings like decrease in population, mental depression and suicidal tendencies; solutions suggested by the experts include guest control and legal ban on dowry practice, and marrying children at early age without extravagance.

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