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.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

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.

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