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, August 5, 2011

It is a Kashmiri Thing

Tajamul speaks of a fear that lurks in hearts of those visiting Muslim Kashmiri religious sites, but it is no different at Pandit religious sites either - proof that DNA trumps over parochialism

(Mr. Tajamul Hussain, 53, was born in Srinagar. He went to the Government Higher Secondary School in Nawakadal, Srinagar, and the S.P. College, Srinagar. He attended the College of Engineering, Andhra University, Waltair, the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT), New Delhi, and the Forest Research Institute. He is a freelance writer.)

Fear of Losing Shoes

For anyone who goes to masjid and knows about leaving his shoes in the little wooden cubby-holes, this is enough to strike fear into the heart. As and when I visit masjid, believe me, the hangover of shoe-being-stolen would annoy me all through my nimaz.

Although I should not, but this is a mere fact that while praying I keep wondering whether I will find my shoes where I left them. I for one also make sure I cast frequent glances back at my shoes. Imagine you have lost expensive pairs of shoes that you had purchased only a day before and you had to come out of the masjid to walk bare foot either to rush home to wear another pair of shoes or else walk wearing a pair of old, used, torn chappals to the nearby market place to buy a new pair of shoes. Like any other person I would also normally visit local masjid in a pair of cheap, old shoes/chappals.

Shoe stealing is relatively common during Friday prayers when the congregations are huge. It’s a kind of treasure trove for shoe stealers to make choice from a huge collection of shoes. A person who usually leaves for Friday prayers as a happy man finds his post-Juma happiness streak abruptly ended when his shoes go missing. Someone, who has had a sentimental attachment to his Reebok Pumps, which he found to be ‘cool’, after the same go missing, he panics and runs home in his socks in the rain, something that is the most excruciating thing he has ever done in his entire life. But then once in coon’s age, for a shoe victim that doesn’t mind it when people take his shoes because he just steals another pair from someone else, the prize find is certainly better than the one he lost. Way back in 1980s a couple of us friends visiting Delhi were on a shopping spree when I invited my friend to join me for Friday prayers at a masjid in Connaught Place. I was wonderstruck at the panoply of copouts posited by him. ‘I will lose my shoes if I offer Juma nimaz’. I jeered at the scuzzbag for the bogey conjured by him and dug heals. He soon threw in his towels to join me in the nimaz. I finished with nimaz and came out of the masjid to be shell-shocked to learn that the shoes of my refusnik friend had actually been stolen.

Because nobody takes the trouble to report stolen shoes to police, people make all attempts to ensure safety of their footwear while attending prayers in the masjid. Some of the visitors would keep them at two different places in the cubby hole. They who keep casting frequent glances back at their shoes won’t hesitate to catch the thief red handed while they are still reading their nimaz. Some would claim to bring their non-Muslim friends in the shoe area to keep an eye on their shoes during the prayer. A section of faithful on pilgrimage to Masjid-e-Nabvi won’t hesitate to carry shoes while standing in front of Rozatul-aqdas.

Visiting a shrine could also be the cause of losing your best shoes, when they are left outside. Footwear is stolen from all the known shrines, including the dargah of Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer, Shirdi, Siddhivinayak and Ganesh temple in Titwala. Shoe stealing does take place at mourning places, marriage ceremonies and the like. The major shoe bazaars in India are in Kurla or Dedh Gulli. The bazaars teem with bargain hunters as they search through the stolen wares of more than 20 hawkers, in Kurla alone. The thriving stolen shoe-markets flourish under the nose of police, because people in India do not take the trouble to report stolen shoes. With no complaints, the police merely fine the hawkers of the boot bazaar under Bombay Police Act for creating chaos in the area. This is in spite of legal shoe-shop owners doing everything they can to get the hawkers closed down. The hawkers work in partnership with tour operators running long distance luxury buses, which are used to smuggle the stolen shoes from around the country. Every agent manages to steal five to ten chappals and shoes a day from the shrines he visits. Every Wednesday, the stolen shoes and chappals are dispatched to the bazaars via luxury buses.

Shoe stealing in South Korea is practiced in mourning ceremonies. People take advantage of the custom to remove shoes when entering mourning rooms. An immense number of shoes would be stolen at the Al-Azhar despite innumerable notices posted on the walls round the court announcing the loss of a pair of shoes and calling upon the person who had got hold of them to return them to their owner with the promise of a reward and threats of expulsion to anyone who kept them unlawfully. More and more Dubai's well-heeled Muslim men, when they exit after finishing with prayers, discover that their shoes have been stolen. The problem is spread in the emirate of Sharjah too. Imams in both emirates stand instructed to arrange closets with locks at mosque entrances and to advise worshippers not to wear expensive shoes when coming to pray.

Why do people steal shoes and that too in the holy place like masjid (zalaan deydi tal charas)? May be for commercial interests or for some kind of thrill or enjoyment or to give one a feeling of something been achieved without much effort. Or else merely to reunite them to their rightful owner, the obsessive, strong, illogical desires don’t allow one to think that items are stolen but belong to him in some way. Monkeys and toddlers always seem to want what someone else has; it makes it more attractive if someone else has it. The feelings of jealousy and envy don’t let them know that they can't just walk up taking something from another. Monkeys may never learn the rule that we humans learn as in their worlds, the strongest get what they want. The biggest monkey gets all the bananas, and that's just how it is in their world. Our caveman ancestors, like monkeys fought for food and stole it from others with zero remorse for doing so. It’s the society and religion that must prompt us to defy our instincts and thus not to steal, particularly in holy places.

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