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, September 16, 2011

Leading the Way

Aditi finds a determined group of ordinary citizens, who happen to be all women, determined to exercise their right yo vote (This is a dated story that was written before the Panchayat elections in J&K.)

(Ms. Aditi Bhaduri's bio sketch is available from the webmaster.)

Fair Resurgence in Kashmir

As I left the main road, all roads disappeared. There was nothing but dirt tracks that had turned slushy because of the recent rains. Baki Aker village in Handwara, Kupwara district, is only a two-hour drive from Srinagar but it seemed to inhabit another planet, with puddles in place of footpaths and electricity available for at most an hour per day.

I had come here to meet a special woman. At first glance, Sharifa Begum, 33, looked like any other Kashmiri village woman. Dressed in a khaki green phiran, a kangri close to her chest and the dupatta framing her face, she welcomed me warmly. She was one of the many brave women contesting the first panchayat polls held in the valley in more than a decade.

Sharifa decided to contest the polls, taking advantage of the 73rd amendment to the constitution, that mandates 33 percent reservation for women in local bodies, and she is doing this in difficult, conflict-marked times. Indeed, a couple of houses away lies the debris of a house that was blown apart a few months ago in an encounter between the security forces and a militant. More recently, just two days before I visited Sharifa, a letter had arrived at the local mosque during Friday prayers in the nearby Gulina village, asking the villagers to boycott the polls. And, there were many villagers too with hardened attitudes who wanted everybody to boycott the polls.

A mother of two small children, Sharifa, who has studied till Class X in this village is married to a cloth shop owner. She is well known in the village, having often counselled young girls on domestic matters. When I asked what motivated her to stand for elections, she explained that when she had voted for the first time in her life during the 2008 assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, she had liked the fact that her vote mattered. So when panchayat elections were announced this time, she was thrilled to know that she could be a candidate herself.

Her husband also encouraged her, as did the villagers when she began campaigning from house to house. Since most of the household heads are male, her husband accompanied her and did his bit to convince the men about his wife’s candidature. I asked her whether being a housewife left her unprepared for her role as a public figure. Sharifa answered slowly, “I am mentally prepared. I know my community well and we will sit together and make decisions on what needs to be done.”

It is fitting that Baki Aker village has been reserved for women. It has 150 voters, the majority of whom are women. While Kashmir has a number of high-profile women politicians, women’s political participation in the valley is still low. As Sharifa put it, “Women here will be able to approach a woman leader more easily with their particular problems. They cannot discuss everything with men.”

Sharifa’s opponent is Parveena Begum, who is in her early 50s. When Parveena campaigned, it was her husband, Peer Abdur Rasheed, who did most of the talking. He explained that Parveena had always wanted to “do something for the poor” and that’s why she decided to contest. Is Parveena not intimidated by the boycott calls, I asked. He immediately piped up, saying that local elections have nothing to do with politics. “We are not going to Delhi. We only want to improve the lot of the village,” Rasheed said.

In neighbouring Dudipora village, I met another candidate, Hasina Begum, 30, wife of Bashir Ahmed Mallik, a fruit vendor. The couple has three children. Hasina was supported not only by her husband and brother-in-law but also her mother-in-law. As the older lady put it, “We encouraged her to contest. Someone in the village has to become the local leader, after all. I am sure my daughter-in-law will do justice if elected.”

Who will do Hasina’s chores when she has to go out to attend meetings, and look after other matters, should she win? “We will. I have another daughter-in-law who can help,” chirped Hasina’s mother-in-law. What about her husband, I asked. “No,” she replied with a smile, “Men do not do housework in our culture.” Some things never change, it seems.

At a short distance was Rosie Begum’s home. Slight of frame, Rosie, 25, was all ready to take on Hasina for the reserved seat of Dudipora. Her husband is a driver for a local businessman and she has two children, aged five and three. Rosie has studied up to Class VIII and been twice to Srinagar.

What motivated her to contest the elections, given that she has had no prior experience, and that there had been boycott calls? Rosie dismissed these queries, but confessed that her husband is an activist with the People’s Democratic Party, and his colleagues were keen that she contested. Rosie claimed to be confident of securing 80 percent of the 200 votes expected to be cast in Dudipora.

Rosie had grown up in another village but moved to Dudipora six years ago after her marriage. She has since come to love the village. “There are no footpaths, no electricity and many of the men are unemployed,” she stated. She advised people to use their vote carefully to ensure genuine improvement.

Village after village in the valley cries for change. Unemployment is high among the youth, there is no electricity to speak of, and neither are there roads and toilets. Schools and health centres are substandard, and central schemes for rural welfare remain unimplemented. Added to that is the overriding cost of the ongoing conflict. Immediately after polling began in these panchayat elections, a woman candidate from Pakherpora in Budgam district was gunned down. With that a shroud of fear seemed to descend, causing many candidates to withdraw their nominations.

This makes the courage and determination of illiterate homemaker, Zeba Begum, 46, from Zuhama village, also in Budgam district, all the more commendable. Zeba, a mother of four, fought for one of the two seats reserved for women in this block despite the fear unleashed by potential assassins. Zeba has instinctively understood what women’s empowerment is about. As a member of a village self-help group for years, she engaged in crewel work and earned additional income, which translated into an increased clout within the family.

With some encouragement from her husband and the village committee, she jumped into the fray and filed her nomination. She was glad that there is reservation for women, so people like her have a chance to participate in politics. As she put it, “Women’s quotas have at least helped us become visible and make our problems known. The women here will get someone to talk to without embarrassment or fear. They can approach me in a way that they will never be able to approach a male panch.”

Like the others, Zeba too wants to “help the poor” and battle unemployment. She would also like to build proper roads and footpaths, and a place for the children to play in. The fact that another woman had to pay with her life for contesting the elections did not deter her. “Life and death are in god’s hands, and are not dependent on contesting elections. We are fed up of the violence, of the marginalisation of our people. We want change,” she said.

Zeba Begum, Sharifa Begum, Parveena Begum, Hasina Begum, Rosie Begum – they are all semi-literate ordinary village women, without any security cover, who are facing extraordinary dangers in order to transform the lives of others. They have become the face of a new Kashmir impatient for change.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Disposing Srinagar's Solid Waste

Ashraf treads where few have in the past - analyzing and evaluating the problem and potential solutions to solid waste generated in the Greater Srinagar area

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf Fazili, 68, was born in Srinagar. He received his early schooling from the Government Middle School, Nowhatta, Srinagar, and from M.P. High School, Baghi Dilawar Khan in Srinagar. Mr. Fazili completed his F.Sc. from the Sri Pratap College in Srinagar, and received his Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from the Annamalai University with honours grade. He joined the J&K government service upon graduation and steadily rose up the ranks to the position of Chief Engineer at his retirement. He managed a number of important infrastructure projects during his government service, including the Model Town Chrar-i-Sharif, Lower Jhelum Hydro Electric Project, Solid Waste Disposal Scheme Srinagar City, Circular Road Project Srinagar City, etc. He has numerous publications to his credit, including Srinagar the Sun City, Our Ancestors and Saints of Kashmir, etc., which were presented in seminar and symposia. He writes for various journals and is presently working on the Jhelum Valley Civilization.)

Solid Waste Management of Greater Srinagar City Lost in Records

Solid waste is the term used internationally to describe non-liquid waste material arising from domestic, commercial, industrial, agricultural and mining activities, and from public services. These include materials such as food waste, discarded packaging and other materials in the form of paper, metals, plastic or glass, leather, discarded clothing and furnishings, garden wastes, construction wastes, which are daily generated in homes, farms, factories and other establishments.

The total solid waste generated in 2000 AD in the Srinagar Town, including those from the fruit and vegetable market, would be about 550 tons/day i.e. about 0.5 kg/head/day. (In 2020 A.D it shall be about 880 tons/day).

The Urban Environment Engineering Department (UEED) engaged Delhi based Universal Environsience as consultants in 1981 for preparation of feasibility report on solid waste management of Greater Srinagar City that made the following recommendations besides suggesting improvement to the then existing collecting and transporting system.

The chemical analysis report revealed that the solid waste of Srinagar is amenable to composting as it contains appreciable amount of organic matter and that C/N ratio is within the desirable limits of 20:1 to 35:1.

The guiding approach for solid waste disposal should be to segregate as much as possible the reusable materials from the solid waste to be followed by the under mentioned methods of disposal as is the practice in other cities like Delhi etc.

I. Maximum possible quantity (which is readily decomposable) is to be disposed off by composting . This would involve construction of compost plant on Delhi pattern at Okhla.
II. The fraction which is hardly decomposable or inert is to be disposed off by sanitary land-fill.
III. The minimum necessary fraction like hospital waste is to be incinerated.
IV. In the congested areas of the city a separate system of night soil disposal to produce manure and also bio-gas need to be adopted, on the similar pattern as in the city of Tokyo (having same latitude and similar climatic conditions as Srinagar), which is having an effective system of collection, transportation of night soil and treatment and disposal in night soil digesters.
Besides, where space permits low cost pit type flush latrine could be popularized which has changed many towns/cities into clean ones? The experiment of Sulabh International for construction/maintenance of even community type latrines has proved to be success on pay-and-use-basis. This has been adopted by 21 UNDP countries.
V. Keep at least 200 meters distance on the banks of river Jhelum and lake fronts free from littering by introducing necessary prohibitive civic regulations (like the one that exists in Singapore). Violators of such regulation may be made to pay heavy penalty. This would immensely help to keep the city water front clean.
VI. For preventing water pollution caused by discharge of various solid wastes including night soil from the house boats and Donga boats, the following methods are recommended:
a) built in digester plant for such individual house boats (like Clovis digester developed in Sweden).
b) Providing two suitably placed containers, one each for garbage and night soil in each boat with the provision of regular collection of wastes by a scavenger boat for safe dry disposal at selected disposal site(s).
c) Providing collective water carrying system for the night soil of the boats and installation of treatment facility(s) in the land nearest to the boats before its disposal.

Alternative (b) was recommended feasible in the context of present arrangement and location of house boat and Donga boats in the lakes and river Jehlum and also due to practical constraints of rear arrangement/modification of the boats and non-availability of land area near the boat.

Kitchen waste could be converted into compost by digging underground pits of size 1M x 1M x 1. 5M duly covered with a wooden lid in which alternate layer of decomposable waste duly covered with a little lime and earth could be deposited. This compost can be used for Kitchen garden, where space permits.

Solid waste collection system could be improved by providing two plastic containers in each home with decomposable bags, in which decomposable and non- decomposable waste would be stored separately and carried away along with the replaceable bag by the service people, who would be paid for the same. This would avoid menace of stinking garbage sheds in the localities.

After exploring various sites it was desired that Syedpora near Idd-Gah may be used for solid waste dumping till the “compost plant” is ready at Waniyar Noorbagh (as an interim arrangement for about five years).

The project was proposed to be implemented in the next five years from 1981 with a capital expenditure of Rs. 5.00 crores, and it was expected that the Srinagar Municipality would be in a position to develop the required management infrastructure in a phased manner., which could be delineated after necessary schemes, designs and other components of the solid waste management system were worked out in the 2nd stage of the scope of the consultancy work.

The final project report may be available from UEED, SMC or Delhi based consultants M/S Universal Enviroscience (Pvt. Ltd.) New Delhi, wherefrom the thread could be picked up by Srinagar Municipality for implementation of the project in the coming years before it is too late. Alternatively consultancy of improved methods of collection and disposal could be obtained from the concerned agencies.

Waiting for the Drug Policy

Where is the State drug policy?

Spurious Medicines Risk Lives

Ishfaq Ahmad Shah (Rising Kashmir)

Srinagar: Despite the draft of the drug policy being ready for almost a year now, it is yet to be placed before the cabinet for review and approval, thanks largely to the lack of consensus between the Health and the Medical Education department over some provisions of the policy.

Meanwhile, in the absence of a drug policy, there is no check on the sale of spurious drugs in the state. The unscrupulous pharmaceutical companies in connivance with some doctors continue to risk the lives of people.

Reviewing the draft drug policy in November last year, Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah had called for the policy to be urgently placed before the cabinet for review and approval. Eight months have passed since then, but the policy seems to be held hostage to the wrangling between the Health and Medical Education department.

According to sources, even as the basic model of the drug policy is ready, the delay in putting it before the cabinet for approval has been due to some reservations of Health and Medical Education department.

“While as the state health department had proposed setting up of Directorate of Procurement, the health and medical education department demands that there should be an independent corporation that will look into the purchase and distribution of drugs,” sources said.

They further said the opposition to setting up of Directorate of Procurement seems to be influenced by the suppliers who don’t want a single systematic set up to regularize distribution and purchase of drugs in the state thereby giving the unscrupulous pharmaceutical companies a free hand to supply sub-standard drugs in the state.

“I am not against framing a drug policy for the state. My only reservation is with the Directorate of Procurement which, as per the draft policy, is supposed to function under the health department,” said Health and Medical Education Minister, R S Chib.

“I want that an independent body or a corporation should be formed instead, which should be kept away from any political interference. Rest I have no issues with the implementation of the policy,” he said.

Responding to Chib’s reservations, Minister for Health, Sham Lal Sharma said, “We have seen so many corporations here and we have also seen their fate. I will do away with Directorate of Procurement, but will work for speedy implementation of the drug policy.”

Speaking in favour of the directorate, Sharma said, “We cannot delay the policy for this single requirement (Directorate of Procurement). However, the directorate would have not only regularized the purchase and supply of drugs, but would have benefitted the state exchequer as well.”

According to sources in the state drug control department, absence of a drug policy has led to mushroom growth of pharmaceutical companies in J&K selling sub-standard drugs.

“Almost 1500 pharmaceutical manufacturing companies from different states of India are operating in the state and most of them sell sub-standard drugs. The absence of drug policy helps them to grow unabatedly,” they said.

Pertinently, according to the official figures, Jammu and Kashmir consumes medicines worth Rs 600 crore every year out of which medicines worth Rs 400 crore are taken in Kashmir valley alone. Besides, about 3000 wholesalers and 5000 medicine retailers operate in the valley. The annual government budget for the purchase of drugs is almost Rs 72 crores.

Among other things, the draft drug policy provides for procurement and supply of essential medicines as per the World Health Organization norms taking into account the health needs of people.

It also aims to provide for an essential drug list, quality assurance, prompt accessibility and availability of drugs at affordable prices, safety and efficiency of medicines, selection of essential medicines, procurement of generic drugs, setting up of Jan Asudhi Drug stores, management of materials and inventory control, sales and storage, quality assurance and regularization, monitoring and promoting rational use of drugs, creation of drug information centers, monitoring of pharma companies and hospital drug stores.

A senior official of the health department, wishing anonymity, said the nexus between the drug suppliers and doctors is a big hurdle in the implementation of the policy in the state.

“The policy favours prescription of drugs on salt names and not on the names of the companies. With a proper drug policy in place, the doctors cannot prescribe drugs of a particular pharmaceutical company which in turn will lessen their chances of receiving favours from the pharma companies,” the official said.

He said the drug policy will check influx of sub-standard drugs into the state and will also regulate functioning of pharmaceutical companies.

“There are only 350 essential drugs that are approved and included in the policy. All other drugs that are present in the market today will be automatically rejected and this is what the suppliers don’t want and they are influencing the approval of this policy,” he added.

Meanwhile, the health minister assured that the policy would be approved soon “despite the hurdles created by certain quarters of vested interests”.

“Suppliers cannot dictate terms to us. For the benefit of people and for the benefit of the overall health care system of the state, the policy will be approved within a month,” Sharma asserted.

Pertinently, the announcement to frame a drug policy for the state was made by the health minister soon after the formation of National Conference-Congress coalition government in J&K in 2009.

According to sources, the work on framing of the policy was started soon after the announcement and experts from World Health Organization, medical fraternity at national level and all the concerned departments from the state including people from Drug Control Department, Health Department and senior officials from both the medical colleges of the state were engaged for the task.

“Almost three years have passed, but nothing has happened,” they complained.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Missing Child

Sarosh opens a Pandora's Box

(Dr. Sarosh Ahmed Khan, MD, 48, was born in Srinagar. He pursued his initial schooling from the Victoria High School in Bombay (now called Mumbai), and matriculated from the New Era Public School in Srinagar. He completed his pre-medical college degree from the Sri Pratap College, Srinagar, and received his medical degrees (MBBS, MD) from the Government Medical College (GMC), Srinagar. He is a senior consulting physician st the Modern Hospital in Rajbagh, Srinagar. Dr. Khan is the editor-in-chief of the Physicians Academy, an online medical journal, and the Vice President of the Kashmir Academy of Private Physicians. He is actively involved with the "Chotay Taray" Foundation dedicated to educating mentally and physically challenging children. Dr. Khan in his leisure time enjoys cricket, internet and music.)

Female Feticide in Kashmir

In 2009 I was shocked when I was called to see a patient not willing to lactate her child just because the child was a female. Subsequently I saw similar things in my practice and realized that the malaise is deep. The society has started to rot and nobody is bothered.

The pagans in Arabia, before Islam arrived, used to kill the female child by burying her alive. The modern day man kills her in the womb. What is shocking is that the mother (herself a female) is most of the times responsible.

I have numerous cases of elder neglect of parents, especially of mothers by sons. Till the father is alive the situation is slightly better, but deteriorates fast once he dies. It is the same mother who has pampered the sons and almost neglected the daughters. Ironically most of these widows are brought to the hospitals by the daughters! She cries, but it is too late. As if not learning anything from this experience, the cycle gets repeated as the daughter who cares for her, herself again craves for a son. I have half a dozen cases of elder neglect of mothers whose gazetted officer sons take them in a Scorpio to the government office disbursing widow pension. She waits in the queue till evening to get a paltry sum for her expenses for the month.

The statistics of the last decade in Kashmir are disappointing. The Census 2011 shows drop of 82 points in the child sex ratio (ages 0-6) in J&K–from 941 to 859. The headlong decline has been worse in the Valley districts. Pulwama has come down more than 200 points from 1046 to 831, Kupwara to 854 from 1021, Budgam to 832 from 1004, Shopian to 883 from 1011, Kulgam to 882 from 1003 (1).

There are numerous factors contributing to this tragedy:

Social and moral rot. Unaccounted money and lavish spending by these people. Dowry.

J&K the second most corrupt state in India.

No accountability on any front.

Thousands of cases of rape in last two decades. Victims and their parents say no child is better than a girl child.

Adoption of western style two child model for families.

The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation & Prevention of Misuse) Act, came into effect in Kashmir as late as 2006, and allows a person to practice ultrasonography after six months of work experience. These inexperienced, less-reputed practitioners are often guilty of indulging in sexselection tests to earn fast money.

No punishment of the guilty. Unabated running of abortion clinics.

Promotion of the so called ‘liberal Islam” where abortion and other illegal activities are considered modern.

Areas like Kupwara, Leh, Kargil, Poonch, Rajouri — among Kashmir’s 11 districts that have witnessed the sharpest drop in sex ratio — are teeming with armed forces (2).

Lightweight, portable ultrasound machines mean tests can be carried out even in the most remote villages. Around 100 scanners had been seized in the initial crackdown (3), but long-term solutions are also needed which would need to be multi-pronged.

Your comments and suggestions are welcome.


1. Kashmir joins the all-India club of female foeticide. FirstPost. 28 June 2011.
2. A dream of freedom and the dead girls of Kashmir. The Telegraph June 23 2011.
3. Ultrasound scanners seized in bid to save unborn baby girls. Arab Times. 20 May 2011.

Pain and Tragedy Knows No Boundaries

Pervez investigates a terrorist act in Kashmir, and finds that victims are ordinary citizens of various faiths and shades

(Mr. Pervez Majeed Lone, 34, was born in Ashpora, a hamlet located in Handwara Tehsil in the Kupwara District. His primary schooling took place in government schools in his hometown, and he finished his higher secondary education from the Government Higher Secondary School, Kupwara. He graduated from the University of Kashmir as a Continuing Education student with Sociology, Philosophy and English Literature as major subjects. In 2004, he completed his Master's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Kashmir. He has worked in various local Urdu journals (Chattan, Pukar) and the Radio Kashmir (Sheharbeen) before joining the Sahara Time, a weekly national news magazine from the Sahara Group. He is passionate about the Urdu language and poetry, and loves to listen to music, read English literature and traveling. The following article has appeared previously in the Sahara Time, New Delhi.)

When a Chinar Burnt!

For the 45-year-old Khadija, treading on foot the one kilometer distance from her home in Khuja Yarbal mohalla of Saida Kadal in downtown Srinagar to the shrine of 15th century sufi saint Sultan-ul Arifeen Shaikh Hamza Makhdoomi, Kashmir’s one of the most revered saint, located on the Koh-e-Maraan hill, was like a worship. Like most of other Kashmiris, she was a devout believer of Makhdoom sahab and used to visit the shrine at least twice a week. On September 12, it was a routine spiritual journey for Khadija to the shrine. Despite the hunger and thirst because of fasting, the faithful lady walked to the shrine on that hot sunny day. She was returning her home with shrine’s Tabaruk (blessed eatables, like sweets etc brought from a holy place) for her family, which never reached them. Half a kilometer from her home, an IED blast tattered her body, as well as the dreams of her ‘fatherless’ children! After many efforts, Khadija’s mashed body was retrieved from the crumbled police bus after three hours.

From the busy Lal Chowk-Dargah Hazratbal road, at Saidakadal locality, a road on the left leads to Makhdoom sahab shrine, Govt Psychiatric Hospital and Srinagar Central Jail. On this road triangle is gurdwara Chattipadshahi, the biggest gurdwara of Kashmir valley. One of the branches of this road passes through a residential colony and takes one to Kashmir’s main jail, Srinagar Central Jail. On the fateful day, a police bus of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district was returning after dropping the prisoners at the jail, who had been taken to Pulwama for routine court hearing. At 5:52 pm, the bus, carrying 13 policemen including the driver, had just covered some 400 meters of its 40 km journey, was hit by a powerful IED explosion, which police says was kept in a Maruti-800 car parked on the road. The bus was torn into shreds. All those on board got injured. Two of them died. The lone passerby at that ominous time, Khadija died on spot. One of the seriously inured policemen Ali Muhammad, is battling for his life in a Srinagar hospital.

A day after the blast, as I walked in this area, I felt as if the deafening sound of the blast is still being heard in the area. Shopkeepers and people walking on the roads of this locality which is known as Kathidarwaza, are frightened. I saw anxious CRPF soldirers on this deserted road looking on every passer by with suspicion. The scene at the blast site was still gory. Bus shreds, ashes, burnt tree branches, clots of human blood, foul smell. Windowpanes of a nearby house were broken. Inmates were still traumatized. Some school children were fearfully looking at the scene. Their innocent, terrified faces seemed to be asking some questions.

There couldn’t have been more cruelty by perpetrators in choosing a place for the explosion! A Masjid is some yards away. The sounds of the shattering blast were heard by the devotees at Makhdoom sahab shrine, gurdwara Chattipadshahi and patients in the Psychiatric hospital. It disturbed the meditating devotees and distressed the already uneasy patients. The patch of road here has graveyard on both sides. Human blood spilled around the silent graves. The blast took place under a majestic Chinar tree. Half of the trunk of the 150-year-old Chinar and its branches were half-burnt. A nest of some bird was still tucked on a branch of Chinar. There was no moment seen there. The birds have either died or fled their abode. Chinar, the pride and identity of Kashmir is known for its grandeur and generous cool shade. Like the people of Kashmir, the tree was wailing on its ill-fate!

So did a 70-year-old old woman, who was passing there. “They be damned… they be cursed,” the woman with bent-back mumbled. “How many died,” she asked me. “Three,” I replied. “Ya Allah, they had no mercy in this holy month!” She told me. “People call me Sar Booba, I live in a nearby locality. Why they ravaged three families in this holy month?”

On the right of blast site, a narrow pathway leads to Khadija’s home. She was just to take the right turn from the road when the explosion killed her. I took this way to reach her home. After passing through narrow alleyways, dotted by clusters of houses, I reached her home. Wails of women and children greeted me. Khadija has lived an agonizing life, I was told by her family.

She was married in her locality. Her husband divorced her in 1993. She was provided shelter by her brother Abdul Rahman Bulla were she had been living separately with her children. “She was not a burden on us, she reared her children by making Vagav (mat made from a particular grass) and working on Charkha (spinning wheel),” said Bulla, 50, an auto driver. Khadija has four children, two sons and two daughters. Only one daughter Hanifa is married. “Our mother has lived a traumatic life. Now we were trying to earn and see her happy, but…,” wailed Yasin, 28,Khadija’s elder son, who is a labourer. Because of poverty and a disturbed life,Khadija couldn’t educate her children. Yasin studied up to 9th standard, others are illiterate. Younger daughter Rehana, 18, does needlework on shawls to help the wretched family. Another son Aafaq was working at an auto workshop. “He underwent spinal cord surgery so is unable to work now,” says a dejected Yasin. “Around 4 pm she left for the Makhdoom sahab shrine. As we were about to break fast, somebody told us a woman has also died in the blast, so we went out to search her” said Bulla. “In the hospital a police officer showed us a picture of a woman on his mobile phone. She was Khadija.”

As Bulla and Khadija’s grief-stricken children were talking to me, a young girl came in the room. She peeled off two bananas and affectionately gave them to Yasin and Aafaq. They were reluctant to take, but the girl forced them to eat them.

“What do you say about the explosion,” I asked to Bulla. Before he could reply, the young girl intervened. “We want an inquiry…government should ensure that no family is ravaged as we are…no one should suffer what we have to endure,” the emotional girl said with moist eyes. “Who will inquire, who cares,” Bulla rebuked the girl. “You know what phuphi (aunty) meant to me,” she said and broke down. So did Yasin, Aafaaq, and two kids whom I had not noticed there yet. The hardness of a reporter in me was caving in. I struggled to hold back my tears.

The young girl is Mahira, Bulla’s daughter, a 12th standard student. “Why shouldn’t anybody stop killing of innocents?” a sobbing Rehana asked. Little did the chap know that this is the biggest question of contemporary Kashmir.

As reached back at the Lal Chowk-Dargah Hazratbal road, I saw buses and flashy cars running as usual on the busy road. People are oblivious of what has befallen on a family just yards away from the road. For them, it was just another blast, another killing. For police it is another occurrence. And for the doctors it is yet another trauma patient. This is the tragic paradox of Kashmir.

Same is the story about south Kashmir villages of Pulwama and Kulgam districts were two killed policemen belonged. Sagar Singh was about to retire. He left behind his wife and five children. Three are unmarried. For another deceased cop Rakesh Kumar, 25, a Kashmiri pandit, his parents were searching a bride for him.

Bombs and bullets don’t differentiate religion, class or caste. The latest act of violence killed three people of three religions. But all the three hapless families share one thing in common. Pain and tragedy!

RTI is a Promise as Yet Undelivered in J&K

Raman exposes the shallow structure of the J&K RTI, and stonewalling by the J&K Bank supports his arguments

(Mr. Raman Sharma, 26, was born in Jammu city. He received his schooling in the Sri Ranbir Memorial School, Jammu, and graduated in political science and sociology from the Jammu University. Mr. Sharma is a free lance journalist and a social activist who has filed over 500 RTI applications with the Central and J&K governments.)

State Information Commission: Yet quarrelling with its tools.

After hundreds of requests and prayers from different sections of the society for constitution of State Information Commission, the state government in October 2009 issued an order for constitution of state information commission under the provisions of Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act 2009 (RTI).

With this order, the state government only constituted the commission, but did not appointed the commission members that are one Chief Information Commission and two Information Commissions. The stalemate sustained, and representations continued pouring in from different sections of the society now for the appointment of the state Information Commissioners. The RTI users on ground were feeling the adamant and ruthless treatment of the Public Information Officers/Bureaucrats in absence of the commission members, in short the J & K RTI Act 2009 remained in disarray as an orphan baby till Feb 28/2011 when Sh. GR Sufi took over as first Chief Information commission of the state.

The citizens, NGO’s and RTI users/activists whole heartedly welcomed the appointment with an optimism that their complaints regarding non-compliance of the provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act by the Public Information Officers would be dealt with iron hands. One more important aspect in this militancy affected state is that people are always afraid of exercising their democratic rights and there are a very few people or organizations that dare to make the government and officers accountable with the means of RTI Act. Submitting an RTI application for seeking information on a sensitive issue may be risky in other parts of the country but here in this part of the country even a simple RTI application may bring the RTI applicant on the radar of the vested interests and it is even riskier, every attempt is being made to desist and discourage the RTI users. Moreover the initial fees of Rs. 50/- takes RTI law away from the reach of poor people. But if anyhow when an individual or a group files RTI application along with hefty fees expecting to get the information in the stipulated period or to approach the commission in case he is unable to receive any information or he is being victimized for seeking information.

The role of the state information commission has remained very upsetting in the cases where the citizens have been victimized by the PIO’s or other vested interests and even where the applicant has written to the commission the apprehension of risk to their lives. It is pitiable that the commission did not take any initiative for the protection of the whistleblowers though the act is silent on this aspect but the commission at its own wisdom could have done a little to restore a sense of security amongst the citizens. The issue of whistleblowers security needs more attention because in the recent past we have seen around a dozen RTI activists have been killed across the country hence being the apex body the commission must play a significant role in this regard.

The RTI users and activists who had heartedly greeted the appointment of the first chief information commission are now feeling the reverse. The experience shared by many of these activists and appellate with the commission is not very appreciable. Some of them maintain that during the proceedings the complainant is subjected to so many questions in the commission but the respondent officer/PIO are given ample time unnecessarily. Some of the RTI users even told that they were asked to produce their original applications and copies of the Fees receipt. This is gross violation of the JK RTI ACT 2009, section 16(6) of the act states that “In any appeal proceedings, the onus to prove that a denial of a request was justified shall be on the Public Information Officer who denied the request”. Here also it is sufficiently expressed in the act that it is for the PIO to prove that his cause was justifiable for denying information and in no way the appellant can be made accountable.

Irony is that In order to enhance its ambit the commission has written to all the central government departments to designate PIO’s and Appellate Authority to oblige the provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information, it is necessary to mention here that the government departments situated in the state are already well oiled in the RTI matter under central RTI Act 2005. Contrary to this the state information commission has been failed to bring adamant State Public Authorities under the purview of JK RTI Act, Jammu and Kashmir Bank is one of the best example.

The other pretext of the commission for not imposing penalty on the erring PIO’s is that its penalty orders can be challenged in the court of law in absence of the full quorum of the commission (one CIC and Two IC’s). But the RTI rules are very articulated in this matter, rule 32(iii) of the JK RTI Rules states that “every such decision or order, whenever pronounced by a single information commissioner or by a divisional bench shall be deemed to be the decision or order by the commission under the act”. Hence the chair of the commission must explain the reason for not imposing penalty against the erring PIOs. The commission needs to realize the fact that if it continues to wait for the appointment of two other IC’s then it would be a setback for the transparency law and it will also discourage the regular RTI users and aspiring applicants. No law or rule can sustain unless a deterrent is exercised.

Some of the active RTI users who in are also government employees compliant that they are unofficially advised by the RTI Apex body to remain cautious while filing RTI queries, this is absolutely unacceptable because the Jammu and Kashmir RTI Act does not require any pre-qualification for any RTI applicant other than that he should be a resident of the state. Moreover the section 6(2) of the Jammu and Kashmir forbids any personal question from the RTI applicant, the relevant section states “ an applicant making request for information shall not be required to give any reason for requesting the information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him.” No matters an RTI applicant is a journalist, businessman or a policeman every citizen of the state can seek information under the provisions of the JK RTI Act 2009.

The commission has also done a very little for organizing RTI training and awareness programmes for the PIO’s and the citizens respectively. Every time the excuse is given that the act is in its infancy stage, but would anyone tell that for how long this act will remain in infancy because the RTI Act was incorporated in the state in year 2004 and since then we have seen three Chief Ministers of three different parties.

It is advice to the RTI apex body that now it should hit the nail on the head and stop giving excuses. It must recommend to the state government to make budgetary provisions for the RTI Act. The innocent people of this number two-corrupt state of the country want to see tangible changes. Instead of being seen as a weak and meek institution, the commission should behave as a responsible but powerful statuary body that does not only witness things helplessly but also dare to exercise its power judiciously.

Terminal Malignancy?

Majid wonders if corruption can ever be removed from the Kashmiri DNA?

(Dr. Abdul Miraj Siraj, 63, was born in Srinagar and went to C.M.S. Biscoe Memorial High School. He completed his medical degree from Patna University and his advanced fellowships (FRCS, MRCS, LRCP) from United Kingdom. Dr. Siraj received a degree in Peace Studies from the Bradford University. He worked as a consultant General Surgeon in England and Middle East. He has published three books, which are Kashmir Peace or Desolation (Minerva, London 1997), Towards Peace in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh (Manas, Delhi 2003), and Kashmir Caselaw (Scottapress, UK 2006). All books continue to be in circulation. He now lives mostly in Kashmir, and enjoys reading and writing.)

Corruption in Kashmir

In Kashmir corruption is the DNA that infuses life in day to day administration. Any attempt to denature the mould or transfigure the structure will kill the system. A Municipality rubbish collector receives Rs 50 a month from you. He does the most menial job ever and the little money he gets is in literal terms bribery that needs to be formalized as an essential payment.

At the other end of the scale a nice building plot in Gulmarg Bowl is usurped by a fat builder on the basis that he consummated a lucrative handshake with authority. These buildings cause ecological damage and cannot be an asset to the nation. In Pahalgam resources and time are now spent in demolishing illegal constructions that should not have been allowed to be built in the first place. Who will break this mould in the sleaze where every employee is involved. An earlier order banned new constructions in Gulmarg and Pahalgam. This resulted in underhand money demanded from those legitimate owners of existing hotels and huts who need materials for repairs.

Engineers, administrators, high-up civil servants and politicians make a vulgar show of money, luxurious property and affluent lifestyle in blatant daylight. Has this wealth ever been traced to their ancestral sources. If not, where has it come from? Even if the total national wealth was retrieved it will still leave the homeland bereft of good roads, lakes, public buildings and other infrastructure because the damage has already been done. Are investigations warranted under purview of criminal laws.

Quoting an interesting snippet from the field of corruption, a gentleman was seen preparing an estimate to rebuild the retaining wall that was washed away by the flood last year. There was no wall; retorted the questioner. True; replied the engineer, but the wall we are building now will bury evidence that the last year’s wall ever existed. Also this wall will only stand to the time of arrival of next flood. It will crumble and we start again. A similar fate is met in maintenance of roads, drains, public buildings and transformers. Emotive slogans like ‘save Dal Lake’ or ‘rehabilitate earthquake victims or bereaved children’ attracts politicians’ sermons and central funds. These funds are conditional and peace in the valley is one price. Albeit eyes open wide when funds arrive and anyone remotely concerned makes a nose dive. The consequences of this loot become manifest in the dying lakes, denuded forests, and crumbling infrastructure that remains a perpetual source of concern. This practice continues and is highlighted by the National Calamity Relief Fund scam. Sentiments generated cash for the Earthquake calamity of Oct. 8, 2005. The scam uncovered theft and broken schools. This culture of corruption is encouraged when political parties in Kashmir adopt ex-officials with checkered history of corruption as members, so they get their loyalty as a part of clientelism.

In Kashmir a predominantly Muslim State this DNA does not wrong their souls because for a Pardon from Him they have enough money to go for Pilgrimage or make a contribution to an orphanage but only God know that ‘Whatever happens To thee, is from thy (own) soul (S-1V-79 Quraan). The perpetrators’ conscience is clear because the money will serve well and provide good education to members of his family. The whole system of corruption in Kashmir will defeat Lokpal, Anamania or Lokayat culture. The Gandhian philosophy speared by Ahimsa will not work. The DNA is usually rooted in apical structures and the substance works as a bonding agent into the lower ranks in order to keep peace and political order.

The only Lokayat that will work in Kashmir is a Truth Commission appointed by the Supreme Court with extra-ordinary judicial powers to seize total assets of the incriminated individuals that will serve as a deterrent for others who enjoy the trust of the nation.

We Want Technocrats

Fida proposes that each government department should be headed by a knowlegeable specialist to get the most out of a public service

(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.)

No Misfits Please

Nepotism and preferential treatment in administration was rife during autocracy but in certain fields’ qualification, ability and merit was always given due consideration. This was not necessarily by choice but because of technical compulsion and requirements. In 1947, with high hopes, we ushered into new era of democracy, but almost a decade after relishing this cherished system of governance our administrative system became susceptible to epidemic of favoritism.

Governance, particularly the contemporary system of government consists mainly of two divisions; one, wide-ranging day to day administrative setup and the other, technical aspect of governance like healthcare, infrastructure development and scientific support for sustenance and overall growth. Currently as by the established rules and norms we have a well defined system in place for hiring and appointing human resource in both these components of administration. In general administration the appointments are made through ‘combined administrative services’, while as in case of technical engagement there are set rules with distinct qualification and eligibility parameters for every specialized field, that in no way can be altered or flouted. To run a modern and efficient government with a scientific approach the homogeneity of these two prominent facets of administration need to be maintained at any cost. Any infringement into any of the two domains will lead to incompetent administration, bereft of any professional touch.

Now, for the past many years we observe invasion of non-technical administrative human resource into scientific fields of administration and support system. Fields like Horticulture, Agriculture, Floriculture and their allied sectors are strictly technical and scientific in nature and require a scientific approach at all levels of administration and implementation. These sectors being the backbone of our economy and ultimately our subsistence and survival cannot afford laxity of any kind. From bottom to top every rank and file of these vital sectors have to be quite knowledgeable and proficient in their field of science and technical knowhow.

Unfortunately, for last more than a decade a sinister plan of encroachment into the administrative setup of these sectors is getting a clandestine patronage within the higher echelons of administration. In the first instance the onslaught of invasion was initiated into the marketing and grading divisions of these vital sectors by manipulating and flouting the set rules in mid-eighties. This invasion was multi pronged and at all levels of administration. Encouraged by these malicious administrative intrusions the invasive elements spread their tentacles into other subdivision of Agriculture production sector and thus started a chain of intrusions by nontechnical officers and officials into technical fields of farm production and its allied sectors.

How can an officer justify his services in agriculture or any of its allied sectors when he does not know even ‘ABC’ of applied science, leave alone the specialized branch of Agriculture or Horticulture science? How can a home science expert deliver as head of the department of Agriculture or law enforcement agency regarding provisions of Agriculture rules and norms? No serious and people’s friendly government will tolerate such gross violation of fundamentals of science and technology.Hope government will restore the status of scientific administration of technical organizations, particularly the Agriculture production sector for smooth and efficient management of these organizations purely on scientific lines and will restore the much eroded stature and status of technocrats.

Baring the Closet

Javid Rather from Baramulla discusses a very unfashionable topic in a society obsessed with politics

Mental Health in Kashmir

In Kashmir, the prolonged exposure to stress that the insecure situation has engendered means that the coping mechanism of individuals is impaired or dysfunctional. This raises the issue of structural support for the community. The substantial need for psychological and psychiatric support can only be addressed through a strong community - based mental health system.

Regretfully, though this type of service is clearly advocated in the Indian Mental Health Program, in Kashmir, community psychosocial services are absent and psychiatric services outside Srinagar remain almost non-existent. Culture certainly impacts how individuals from a given society perceive, communicate and manifest their symptoms; how they cope with the illness; how their family and community supports the individual; and finally how willing the individual is to seeking treatment. Source? Or is this an opinion from the writer? If so it should be clear that this is an opinion! Cultures also vary with respect to the meaning they impart to illness, their way of making sense of the subjective experience of illness and distress .The meaning of an illness refers to deep- seated attitudes and beliefs a culture holds about whether an illness is “ real” or “ imagined,” whether it is of the body or the mind ( or both), whether it warrants sympathy, how much stigma surrounds it, what might cause it, and what type of person might succumb to it.

Cultural meanings of illness have real consequences in terms of whether people are motivated to seek treatment, how they cope with their symptoms, how supportive their families and communities are, where they seek help ( mental health specialist, primary care provider, clergy, and/ or traditional healer), the pathways they take to get services, and how well they fare in treatment.Before the conflict in Kashmir erupted on to the main stage in the late 1980s, there was little awareness in the state of what mental health constituted or how this could impact on the individual’s physical well- being.

A good pointer would be the number of patients registered in the outpatient department of the only government psychiatric hospital in Srinagar. While before 1989, there were only a few hundred patients registered with the department, since the 1990s, this number has risen to several thousands. Mental health and physical well- being are deeply interwoven, affecting the functioning of the individual and his/ her place in society. In traditional societies, cultural influences often mean that the very idea of admitting to a psychological problem is anathema. A person suffering from a bipolar disorder or schizophrenia would more likely be dubbed as insane than as someone with a treatable mental disorder. Besides, mental illness is often stigmatised as bringing shame.

Shrinking Space for Wild Animals

An article in a Srinagar local newspaper places the blame for man-animal conflict on everything (including border fencing), but not on the two main reasons - shrinking forests and rapid urbanization

Man - Animal Conflict in Kashmir

The man - animal conflict in the valley of Kashmir has reached a point where conflict is leaving more casualties than before and has become a matter of concern for the people living this part of the world. Although this type of confrontation is not new to the places girded by the forests but never before had number of beastly attacks and consequent deaths crossed a limited count.

In Tangmarg area of the Baramulla district, four people have been mauled to death by the bears and leopards besides injuring 16 others during this year so far which by any measure is a huge number. Similarly in other parts of the valley more than a dozen persons have fallen prey to the wild beasts who are roaming in the habitations like never before. Just some days back, a gunner killed the man-eater leopard in Verinag area of south Kashmir Anantnag district that had mauled two persons to death and wounded several in the area adjoining the Mir Maidan forests. In man-animal conflict, barring Srinagar city and some townships, entire valley has become a roaming ground for the wild animals and in most of the cases the children bear the fatal brunt of their attacks. It has been observed that during the crop season in the summers and autumn, bears are on the prowl while as leopards do the job round the year. At many places wild life suffers loss as people hound the beast and then kill it to spare from its expected attacks.

J&K Government had created a separate department for not only nurturing the wildlife of our forests but also keep an eye on their movement out side their natural habitat. However, for decades the employees of the Wildlife department had little to do as far as tackling the activities of the wild animals outside their habitat is concerned. But with the shaving of the forest cover over a vast area, the natural habitat of these beastly animals got disturbed and they have no option but to roam around in the human habitations leading to man- animal conflict. It has been seen that so far the success rate of the Wildlife officials in capturing the stray beasts has been dismally low which has left the people at the mercy of the roaming and wandering beats.

There is one more reason to this confrontation. Wildlife experts opine that fencing of the line of actual control has disturbed the natural corridor of the wild animals across the dividing line which has sent them into tizzy, consequently they are heading to the human settlements bordering the forests. Not only this, they even come out many miles to the populated area which has so far been not curbed by the Wildlife department. And for the frenzied people who herd these animals out of their areas and mostly end up killing the beast, it is a matter of life and death. At some places people were implicated in cases of killing the wildlife without reason and rhyme. Government must pay immediate attention to the growing menace of wild animal entering the populated areas and harming humans and the crops. It must take the Wildlife department to the task for its negligence in handling the matter in such a way so that both human beings and wild animals remain safe. We already have a depleting wildlife resource and if it is left to roam around in populated areas only to kill and injure people and be killed by them in reciprocity, then the time is not far away when we will have no rich biodiversity here in the forests of valley.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Unabashed Sexism

Rubina find men, especially Kashmiri men, still in a state of denial on women's equality

(Dr.Rubina Lone, 36, was born in Handwara. She did her schooling first from Wood Lands High School and then Mallinson Girls Higher Secondary School, Srinagar. She completed her MBBS from the Government Medical College (GMC) Srinaga,r and then her MD from the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS). Dr. Lone did her fellowship in Molecular Microbiology and Genetics form CJIL, Agra, in 2003 and is currently working as Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology, SKIMS Medical College, Srinagar. Apart from her job, she is involved in many community based social issues and and writes a weekly column, Postmortem, for the Kashmir Images.)

Male Chauvinism

I have given the best of myself and the best work of my life to help obtain political freedom for women, knowing that upon this rests the hope not only for the freedom of men but of the onward civilization of the world” – Mary S. Anthony.

“Did you ever feel gender discrimination in your professional life?” I was asked in a television interview the other day. Superfluous question! Of course I did, but then every woman does. Isn’t it an axiom rather than an exception, happening everywhere and to all of us? A stark and recent example of sexism is Hina Rabani Khar, Foreign Minister from Pakistan, who visited India and was judged according to the clothes and bags she adorned, thereby belittling what she stood for intellectually. And there you have it, despite the emancipation of women in the West, there has not been a single woman President in the United States yet – what can be more telling!

Sexism is a mindset that has the potential of affecting practically every aspect of women’s lives, preventing them from accomplishing their full potential.Picture this: As the plane reached cruising speed, the captain's voice crackled to welcome us aboard and give us details about the flight ahead. Almost immediately the guy next to me began to shift nervously in his seat. Not because we were being told of impending turbulence or being given giddy-making statistics about our altitude and speed. What unsettled him was the voice coming over the loud speaker. Our captain was a woman. With a female pilot at the helm, some immediately made comment about women drivers.

Why do men get instant bruises in head the moment any woman tries to match her shoulders with them? Why it takes the wind out of their sails as soon as they realise women are no more show pieces to adorn the world, but are walking neck to neck with them? Why they feel fathoms deep in troubled waters every time a smart woman comes near them? Ask them, and they deny it vehemently.

To get a man’s perspective on this, I asked one male colleague, “Why are Kashmiri men such chauvinists’. His clichéd reply, ‘We are just more protective towards our women not MCPs'. Protective! A place where the female to male ratio has hit the absolute pits, where every 1 in 4 women is a victim of domestic violence, where women are regarded as unfit when they are unable to bring forth male children - I would hardly call that protective.

While social constructionalists argue that men and women are essentially same and roles played by them are largely constructed by society, the essentialists suggest that the differences are biological. What ever the out come of the debate, the fact remains that in this patriarchal world, women get an inferior status.

Discrimination and biases are hidden by a veneer of non-existence in the more advanced countries. Conversely, lesser advanced a society, the more visible and obvious are the manifestations in which gender biases prevail and predominate.In a world full of male chauvinists, muscling your way is not easy. We as women face many a glitches, be it home or the work place. Albeit we walk with our head held high designating ourselves socially and culturally toned to 21st century but the reality isn’t parallel. Rousseau's observation that men are born free, yet everywhere they are in chains, is an apt description for condition of women in our society.We are rich in allegories that dishonour women.

So the question is how riveting are talks about liberation of women and equality for women today? Many people support the diaphanous talk that role of women within the society has changed, more women work than even before & most of them have careers. I call it diaphanous, because as far as I can see it is just talk – flimsy, airy and gossamer thin. Gender equality is still the toughest battle we are fighting and things will not change overnight.

A thorough change in the mindset of people is the most required solution to give equal and respectable opportunity for women. That being said, until this generation takes flight, for the womenfolk in God’s own country, it is still a long road to independence.

Anarchy Redefined

Naveed finds peculiar bipolar attributes in Kashmiris having one sense of discipline inside their homes and a different one outside

(Mr. Naveed Tramboo, 24, was born in Rajbagh, Srinagar. He matriculated from the Burn hall School, Srinagar, and completed his Higher Secondary (12th grade)education from the Tyndale Biscoe School, Srinagar. He completed a Bachelor of Engineering degree from the University of Kashmir. Mr. Tramboo is currently working as a Public Relations and Placement Officer for the SSM College of Engineering & Technology group with multiple institutes in India, including a campus in Pattan. Previously, he was involved with the Mercy Corps, and has worked for the Prasar Bharti. He has received numerous awards as an outstanding student and in All-India debates, and played an exemplary role as student representative and editor in his school and college days. He is also active in social service, having volunteered for the Red Cross, and also raised public awareness about citizen responsibilities.)

Chaos, Chaos and Chaos

"Oh for shame, how the mortals put the blame on us Gods, for they say evils come from us, but it is they, rather, who by their own recklessness, win sorrow beyond what is given..." Homer, Odysseus. Homes, offices, roads, shops, markets! They may represent entirely different things. However, they all have one thing in common. Chaos! We are the children of chaos, wherever we go, chaos follows us. Observe people around you and you will realise that most of us have a fixed frown on our faces; symbolising irritation frustration and exasperation.

Let me be upfront about this write up. It is not one of those “advice- giving” or “we-should-do-this-and-that” write-ups. It is merely a reflection about the frowns on our faces and about some other things.

One of the best examples of chaos presently is the Hyderpora Chowk and the New Airport Road. Everyone plying on that road curses his or her luck and wish they could be at any other place in the world. That place is an epitome of absolute confusion and mess. The traffic police finds itself incapable of dealing with such a huge flow of traffic. The passengers are flustered at the state of work – always wondering why all the work cannot be done in night shifts or at least in an organised manner. The tourists visiting Kashmir get to know the demand for the paradise and the rush to enter it. Tourists leaving Kashmir experience the hospitality of Kashmiris, who make effort to hold them back and incidentally many of them miss their flights. I am not sure if they like this type of hospitality. One fails to understand why all the “development” here has to happen in such a slipshod manner bringing inconvenience and trouble to everyone. But then again we are the children of chaos. All this is bound to happen. A narrow road on which traffic flows both ways. And there you see cars trying to overtake. Bikes and autos miraculously fitting in the smallest gaps available. Common sense would suggest maintaining one line. That common sense is not present there. How inviting does the small gap, which gives you the opportunity to overtake, look. No matter the honking and whistles, every gap must be filled, every road must have multi-lanes. Everyone has some kind of passion. In this part of the world, one of our passions is to dig. Literally! One day the road gets fixed and metalled. The other day that same road is dug up again. We just cannot stop digging. It is almost as if we are on some treasure hunt and want to be sure that we haven't missed anything. The pavements and the footpaths bear the same fate. Forget the dilapidated ones, even the newly constructed ones are broken down, dug up and reconstructed. Try not to figure out why all this happens. It is more complicated than Daedalus' labyrinth.

Our work places, in particular the public offices and departments, are another places to meet chaos. Everyone loves discipline and order in one's home. However, the office is a different case. Too much order can have bad effects and hence, every effort is made to create disarray in the work place. Firstly, it is a lot of hard work to find the right person at the right time. He may be having a tea break or may be busy meditating. Then comes the task of looking for your records or processing them. One look at the dusty humongous mess of files and then thinking about the prospects of your search is enough to give you a heart attack. Of course, your file may not even be there. It may ultimately be in a different department. Alternatively, if you are very unlucky, then it will be in the intestines of insects. A pandemonium prevails everywhere. They say happiness is a psychological thing. I say no matter how psychologically fit you may be there cannot be any happiness after one futile hour in such a department.

The educational places have no different face. Students are full of energy. They require a very strong system, which can channelize their energies in the right direction. That system is seldom present anywhere. The teachers may be confused about the process to follow or disinterested by the response of the students. Students themselves are all over the place. Theoretical knowledge is like a glass of cold drink, which anyone can drink in one gulp. However, the application part is non-existent. Let alone the complex applications of knowledge, our education system does not even ensure the delivery of the practical knowledge. Most of the students like this mess. Who cares about it if one can secure good marks by just mugging up things. Why waste the energy of the mind on such thoughts. We may complain about it, write a bunch of articles in newspapers, but who moves beyond that?

There is so much mayhem everywhere around us. It is a surprise that we even exist as a society – a chaotic society that is. All it takes to establish order is the effort of a person at individual level. As Thomas Carlyle puts it, "Make yourself an honest man, and then you may be sure there is one less rascal in the world.” Our homes are such a good example of order. We do not like the pillows being moved to the wrong places, or the doors being left open, or garbage lying around. We make sure our lawns are mowed properly and free from weed. We like our houses to be clean and look like new ones. Too much order in fact. However, something happens as soon as we step outside our homes. Maybe a mass split personality! Or a complete sense of antipathy. We do not care about the garbage, as long as it is lying outside our walls. We do not care if we wash our cars on the roads, as long as it is the roads beyond our gates. And who really is concerned about the public property – we are not in the public.

Everyone here is a VIP. I wonder what must be the thoughts of a new born when he observes all this chaos. Does he imagine it as a reflection of hell or does he simply wishes to be unborn again. They say we require 50 muscles to frown. I guess here the only thing required to make a frown is to step outside our homes. All of us want a peaceful life. But no one wants to sacrifice personnel interests. We all want a change. However, no one wants to be the change. With such an outlook towards life, it is but obvious to have the present state of chaos.

When a Police Station Becomes a Shelter

Pervez finds women seeking safety and solace in a police station catering to women

(Mr. Pervez Majeed Lone, 34, was born in Ashpora, a hamlet located in Handwara Tehsil in the Kupwara District. His primary schooling took place in government schools in his hometown, and he finished his higher secondary education from the Government Higher Secondary School, Kupwara. He graduated from the University of Kashmir as a Continuing Education student with Sociology, Philosophy and English Literature as major subjects. In 2004, he completed his Master's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Kashmir. He has worked in various local Urdu journals (Chattan, Pukar) and the Radio Kashmir (Sheharbeen) before joining the Sahara Time, a weekly national news magazine from the Sahara Group. He is passionate about the Urdu language and poetry, and loves to listen to music, read English literature and traveling. The following article has appeared previously in the Sahara Time, New Delhi.)

Oasis of Hope

In the patriarchal Kashmir society, where males dominate almost every sphere of life, a female in a uniform seems an ‘aberration.’ But as the ruthless manifestations of the political conflict had their bearing mostly on womenfolk, the importance of females in police force began to be felt increasingly. This realisation prompted the establishment of Valley’s first and the only women’s police station in Srinagar in 1998. Though the primary purpose of it was to provide normal police help to women, but lately this police station has turned to be an oasis of hope for traumatized Kashmiri women, who largely face official and societal neglect in the turmoil-ridden Kashmir. During past two decades, Kashmir is witnessing unprecedentedcrimes against women, which many attribute to the ongoing political turmoil. Besides incidents of rape and molestation, domestic violence particularly at the hands of husbands and in-laws has seen a dreadful upsurge. What aggravates the situation is that many such incidents are unreported, thus guilty go unpunished. “In such a dismal scenario,” says Gulshan, station house officer of the women’s police station, “plays a major role in identifying, prosecuting and punishing the guilty.”

Situated in Rambagh locality of Srinagar, the police station is manned by around 28 women constables, who are assisted by six male constables. Almost every day, this two-storey building is visited by womenand their relatives with different complaints ranging from domestic violence to matrimonial disputes. Being the only women’s police station in Kashmir, it remains abuzz with complainants. Since its establishment in 1998 this police station has registered 237 FIRs after being approached by victim women or their guardians. “They mostly pertain to domestic violence,” informed Gulshan. She said that besides registering FIRs, there are many cases which the police station resolves amicably between the parties. “Most of these cases are about matrimonial discords.”

Women rights activists insist that with crimes against women are on rise in Kashmir, the deterrents are few. Birjees Nawab, state director of Human Rights Law Network which provides legal assistance to victimwomen, says that physical violence against women in domestic spheres has increased dangerously . “To address this grave issue, one women’s police station is too insufficient,” she maintains. Nawab, who has worked as a counsellor with State Commission for Women (SCW), stresses that there is need of a vigorous campaign to make women in Kashmir aware about their rights and help them seek police and legal help in need. “For that purpose we need more women police stations,” she said. Shameema Firdous MLA and chairperson of SCW says that the women’s police station in Srinagar has helped many victims to get justice. “The lack of awareness about their rights among women in Kashmir is an issue which needs immediate attention. For that purpose, we need women police stations at each district,” she told Sahara Time. Terming the women’s police station in Srinagar as a “very successful endeavour of police to curb thecrimes against women,”

A G Malik senior superintendent of police crime branch Kashmir said it has done tremendous job of helping the victims. “It serves as a potent deterrent as well because the perpetrators know their victims have convenient access to police in the form of women’s police stations,” he explained. Malik says that the women’s police station in Srinagar has become an ideal model for ensuring protection and justice for women in Kashmir. “So we need more such police stations to ensure police help to womenin times of need,” he stressed. To the demand of more women police stations, Kuldeep Khoda, director-general of J&K Police says it is in the future plans of the police. “We do realise the need because the two women police stations in Kashmir and Jammu have helped us in controlling the crimes against women. So we have plans to have atleast one women’s police station in all the districts,” he said.

Dreadful data

The magnitude of crimes against women can be gauged from the fact that according to an official survey, over 2000 women experience violence every year in Kashmir, with domestic violence being more rampant. Data compiled by police reveals that in past four years, 3944 cases of molestation took place in Kashmir, while as the police has registered 8260 cases of crimes against women. It includes 520 rape cases, 2536 kidnappings, six dowry deaths, 1103 eve teasing and 151 cases of cruelty at the hands of husbands. The State Commission for Women, since its establishment in March 2000, has registered 2072 cases of violence and crimes against women in the state, with around 1500 in Kashmir alone. Some 656 cases have been settled so far.

Fact sheet

The records at the police station suggest that in most of the cases registered, the investigations are completed and accused challaned. As a sample, the details of the cases since 2006 obtained by Sahara Time reveal that out of 113 registered cases, challans were produced against accused in 91 . This year so far, the police station has registered 27 cases, of which 12 have been challaned while as 13 are under investigation.

Grounding the CM

Muzaffar narrates the story of a poor illiterate man who grounded the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah by using the power of three words - RTI

(Dr. Raja Muzaffar Bhat, 36, was born in Wathoora village in the Budgam district and matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial High School in 1993. He completed his Bachelor's degree in Dental Surgery from from the Karnatka University in 2000. He has a private dental practice in Chandoora and is a social activist dedicated to educating public on the Right To Information (RTI) legislation. He is the Convener of the J&K RTI Movement and associated with the Commonwealth Human Rights Intitiative (CHRI) office in New Delhi.)

Empowering People

Recent news regarding misuse of state chopper by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah hit the media circles, not only in J&K but across India. Various New Delhi based news channels and news papers highlighted this issue more than we had expected. But what most of these news channels or news papers missed to mention is the role of this poor man living under Below Poverty Line (BPL) who actually sought information from Chief Minister’s office under Right to Information (RTI) Act.

In this whole story what strikes out is that an ordinary, illiterate, poor man - Aam Aadmi - living in a remote hamlet of Budgam district is questioning the Chief Minister of a state. For us, as advocates of Right to Information, better known as RTI Activists, the biggest achievement in this whole scenario is seeing a poor man like Bashir Malik (Information seeker) getting empowered by using his right under RTI law rather than making hue and cry over whooping twelve crore expenditure on state chopper for the last two and a half years by the Chief Minister.

I have known Bashir since one and a half years only but I could feel his passion for fighting against the misgovernance , nepotism, and corruption. One and a half year back Bashir could not even dare to enter into the office of a Tehsildar or a Block Development Officer (BDO); he was scared and even the attitude of Government officers was totally indifferent. But today this same person is asking the Chief Minister how much money he spends on his chopper trips? This is amazing! Who empowered Bashir so much ? The answer is RTI Act. This young man along with his friends have totally changed the style and functioning of Government offices in his area. Today there is much transparency in the allotment of money to houseless people under Indira Awas Yojna (IAY) in Bashir’s Drang village. The officials of CAPD or Revenue Department do not dare to ask for bribe for providing BPL ration cards to people, NREGA is being implemented properly, but still there are lots of problems and challenges ahead for this young band of activists.

After feeling the heat of RTI many corrupt officials are ganging up against RTI users calling them black mailers. But the question is who can be ‘blackmailed’? Can anybody blackmail an upright officer doing his work with dedication and honesty; the answer is no. Yes, there may be instances wherein RTI can be used as a “teasing tool” and there are chances of reverse corruption but that is only possible when very few people use RTI. If more and more people file RTI for the same subject or work, how Government officials can bribe all the RTI applicants ? We must try to understand this issue.

We must be thankful to the Government who strengthened J&K RTI Act 2004 by replacing it with J&K RTI Act 2009 and at the same time we must be grateful to opposition as well who for the first time enacted J&K RTI Act 2004 when even there was no such act at Centre. If RTI won’t have been in vogue it was only a dream for a person like Bashir to question a Chief Minister. We hope the Government won’t try to weaken the RTI Act in view of the recent developments. RTI is a pro people legislation which is not at all is going to weaken the administration, but will in turn strengthen the Government institutions by ensuring transparency, accountability and good governance at all fronts.

The Government must create more awareness about RTI law so that more and more people use RTI.

Anna and the Dal

Irfan does not know it, but even Americans think that Kashmir politics is filthy as the Dal Lake. First the extract from the WikiLeaks, followed by Irfan's commentary on corruption

Kashmir Politics as Filthy as Dal Lake: WikiLeaks

Srinagar: As the WikiLeaks exposé has already rattled the political leadership here, further disclosures are more shocking with Kashmir politics being described as ‘filthy as Dal lake.’ In a cable titled “Kashmiri politics as filthy as Dal lake”, US diplomats said corruption in the Valley cuts across party lines. “Most Kashmiris take it as an article of faith that politically-connected Kashmiris take money from both India and Pakistan,” says the cable. “Nor is the administration exempt from corruption. Rumour has it that some security force officers bribe their way into Kashmir assignments that give access to lucrative civil affairs and logistics contracts”.

Needed: An Anna Hazare of sorts

Irfan Naveed (Kashmir Images)

The politics of the politics is all that counts in Kashmir while as politics of economy has, seemingly, taken a back seat allowing free hand to a corrupt lot who sneak in and torment the poor and the middle-class people. Corruption, therefore, is a monster at the door and the need is to defeat it for a better tomorrow. Irfan Naveed writes…

Anna Hazare has emerged as the voice of the middle and the lower middle class in India and his campaign against corruption has seen tremendous support among the masses. Hazare, as such, has no towering charisma or political background which could have been a reason for his success as a campaigner. Instead it is the relevance of the issue - ‘CORRUPTION’ that made Anna famous. Whether he succeeds, and to what level, in a system which is partially run by corruption, it remains to be seen but one is tempted to think whether we too need an Anna Hazare of sorts.

The rampant corruption and soaring inflation has made the life of a common middle class Kashmiri person miserable. The conditions here for a common man are absolutely similar, in many ways, to any ordinary common person in any state of India or Pakistan. Here also, people demand bribe for almost everything. Be it the matter of seeking certificate, Ration Card, Pension documents, retirement papers or even a death certificate people will have to pay bribe. No job, particularly in a government office, is done without bribe while as the corrupt employees do not hesitate to be arrogant at the same time. They, thus, declare that Corruption has acquired a legal status, though informally.

The common middle-class people, without any influence, are badly trapped and caged into these practices of corruption while the rich have both influence and money to get their job done. In such a scenario people without the power of influence and money have to wait for months together for their works and, many a times, return frustrated.

There is also no such easy mechanism available to them to register their complaint against the defaulter officer (s). They, therefore, often end up dejected and lose hope in the system. The irony is that the Anti-Corruption wings of the government too have corrupt officials to taunt the poor and their complaints against the rich government officials.

People are compelled to bribe the concerned official, the only way to get something done. Average Kashmiri consumer is ill- treated everywhere, may he be in secretariat lawns or in any other government office, he has to first pay the concerned officer under the table, than only he can get his work done. The same malpractices are followed in almost all the state offices.

Influence, either political, bureaucratic or financial, help the rich to make quick deals and get their work done in every office while as the poor who lack the same have to struggle and loose all such battles. Besides this, the status of an individual or his/her family also matters when it comes to dealing with such a public work. Hard cash, by and large, is at the top when it comes to getting things done and unfortunately the thickest class of people, here, doesn’t have that and their works, therefore, remain unattended.

An ordinary gentleman is left with fewer options at hand and in such a scenario he loses hope and faith in such an administration and governance. He vows for a change but every time he faces similar situations, the same setup where influence, status and money matters above all other things. Finally he chooses to either be able to do what others are doing or becomes merely a common spectator of these ugly events.

Angered by such practices when rich afford to get their things done while as poor suffer the brunts of corruption, people often tend to come out onto the streets and raise slogans against corruption. They are, in rare cases, assured action by the governments and administrative officials. But most of the times, they would be cane-charged and dispersed painfully. They are taken as usual routine protestors and no serious measures are taken to look into their plight. This indicates, to them, the government’s dual stands vis-a-via eradicating corruption.

Ultimately neither poor man’s patience, nor his individual unrest are going to help him in such a situation and it seems that the magnitude of this evil practice demands a revolution and Anna Hazare has created a sort of a revolution in India. He has awakened the common man to stand for himself and fight corruption. People discuss the Jan Lokpal Bill and hope for a change.

In fact the poor Kashmiries are already trapped in worst ever political and administrative crises. Besides this rampant corruption, unaccountability and frequent price hikes have worsened his life with more challenges for survival at every juncture visible while as chances for success entirely bleak.

There is a common saying that whenever a misery strikes, it first knocks at the door of the poor. It is true in almost every situation and poor people have to suffer all sorts of ills. Corruption, as such, may appear to be a short-cut for those who are financially well off, but for those who struggle to earn their living it is a malignant disease that needs to be cured before it infects the whole body.

Now that we know that our state ranks among the top corrupt states, we must initiate and trigger a movement and search for people who would be ready to fight corruption. Someone who can keep fast for making his voice heard, someone like Anna Hazare of sorts.