(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 68, was born and raised in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. High School and the S.P College before joining the Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Civil Engineering. However, he changed his career to adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing, completing his training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and Gulmarg. He also completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Française in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.)
The Callous Kashmiri
Many foreign authors who have had the chance of staying in Kashmir and working here for substantial period of time have written about the character of Kashmiris. Quite a few have commented upon the weaknesses of our character. Kashmiris have been called timid, cowards, cheats, liars and greedy. Sir Walter Lawrence in the “Valley of Kashmir”, though mentioning the bad traits of Kashmiris states that these weaknesses are not by nature but due to an extremely long period of external suppression. According to him Kashmiris are good at heart and it is the survival instinct which has made them timid and cowardly. According to him after a couple of generations live in an era of freedom, the real characteristics of honesty and bravery of the people will get restored. However, Kashmiris have yet to get that era of freedom where the future generations could grow unmolested and bring out the best of their character. Similarly, Canon Tyndale Biscoe in his book “Kashmir in sunlight and shade” has also remarked about the resilience of the Kashmiris in the face of the adverse conditions. According to him if the British had faced what Kashmiris have gone through, they would have lost their manhood!
In spite of all the bad things said by some of these foreign authors about the character of Kashmiris, almost all have highlighted his compassion. Kashmiri is supposed to be very emotional and sentimental. According to one British author, a Kashmiri is always suspicious of outsiders and never reveals his true heart to any foreigner. He further says that a kind word and a joke can get the best out of a Kashmiri. The valley is called in Kashmiri the bowl of saints. One of the reasons for compassion has been the teaching of these mystics and saints. They not only preached compassion and humanity but themselves led a life of simplicity.
However, the last two decades have completely changed the scene. The violence all round has made a Kashmiri totally callous. He seems to have apparently lost that feeling of compassion. Killings do not move him. Too much bloodshed everywhere has dehumanised and brutalised him. Material greed has grown so much that all other finer values have taken a back seat. In earlier times, a single killing would shut down the whole city and people would be in mourning all over the place. Not now! People are lying dead or injured in one street and the life is completely normal on the neighbouring one!
Corruption has seeped into our blood and it is not frowned upon at all but taken as a normal way of life. Not only material but even moral corruption is at its height. The worst part is the proliferation of ill gotten wealth which has given rise to a class of nouveau riches! These people go to any lengths to display their dubious wealth which has shattered the values of the society and the have-nots feel dejected and helpless. Modernisation and globalisation have shattered the traditional way of life. Joint family system which was a strong pillar of the society is breaking up fast. In the upper middle class it is virtually gone due to nuclear families created by jobs all over the world. One finds children going to every place on this globe for better prospects with parents left behind alone in huge houses spending their last days in virtual solitary confinement. In the west it has been a way of life for quite sometime. Additionally, they have old age homes and citizens’ groups to look after the needs of the old. After some bitter experiences even they in the west are now trying to return to joint family system, while we are breaking it up! Unfortunately, we always pick up the flashy and jazzy things from the west and leave their stronger values. Honesty, truth, respect for normal laws, and the care of the aged taken as routine in the west are missing in our part of the world. For us the material greed is more than the human love and affection.
Apart from the break up of joint family, even the normal social interactions have been severely affected. People very rarely visit relations and friends and have become some sort of islands in themselves. Everybody claims to be busy in various chores. However, the reality is that the people have become callous. There are only two occasions these days when people especially friends and relatives meet each other. Marriages or funerals! On many such occasions one gets a shock on seeing a friend after a long gap of time. People change! All are aged, some have grown beards, some have become thinner and some more bulky!
Another important trait which has come up starkly among most of us is impatience. We all seem to be in a hurry. Whether on the roads, in a store, or in any other public facility we seem to be in a mad rush. We have no patience to wait for our turn! The worst part is that apart from being impatient, we are arrogant. We never admit our mistakes but try to brow beat others. Unfortunately, the situation of uncertainty has been managed deliberately in such a way so as to bring out the worst in our character. There is encouragement from all sides for bringing out the worst part and the best part of the character is choked by all means. There is no escape by putting blame on others for our own weaknesses. One has to boldly face the reality and take corrective steps lest we perish altogether as a civilised people. Someone has to begin the process. We need leaders who set examples to follow and not deliver sermons which they themselves do not adhere to! Will someone please take the initiative to bring back compassion and civility in our society?