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.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Native's Agony

Fayyaz and his fellow residents of Budgam have thoughts of Azadi - but it is the day to day Azadi they have in mind

(Mr. Ahmed Ali Fayyaz, 49, was born in Bodina, Budgam, and received his primary and secondary education in Budgam and later at Amar Singh College, Srinagar. He completed his Master's degree in Kashmiri language and literature from the University of Kashmir in 1987. After working with Rashtriya Sahara and Kashmir Times in 1993-94, and later for 13 years as Srinagar Bureau Chief of Daily Excelsior, he is woking as Resident Editor/ Srinagar Bureau Chief of Jammu-based English daily Early Times since April 2009. He is also a filmmaker whose forte in audio-visual media is Kashmir's composite culture, heritage, ecology and social issues. Since February 2008, he has been regularly anchoring Take One Television's bi-weekly hard talk show "Face To Face With Ahmed Ali Fayyaz" which is watched by more than three million viewers in Srinagar, Jammu and other urban areas of Jammu & Kashmir.)

Peace Gave Budgam Neither Development nor Rule of Law

Residents want Azadi from rape of ecology, callous administrators; they won't listen to Omar's musings on AFSPA and NCTC

Budgam: Budgam has a history of loving peace and the insurgency has died its death in this Central Kashmir district as long back as in 1996. Parallel to Kupwara district, it ranked high in turnout of voters in all Assembly, Lok Sabha, Local Body and Panchayat elections in the last 14 years. High profile gunbattles, separatist demonstrations, and an incident of firing on the Muslims protesting desecration of holy Quran in USA, have proved to be aberrations and the masses in general have forgotten them like bad dreams.

So, it is not for nothing that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has chosen this Shia-dominated district headquarters as the first venue of his Durbar season public appearance on Tuesday. His schedules include inauguration of a power grid that has been already inaugurated four months back and has been functional since last year-end.

Notwithstanding the fact that the top icons of Kashmir's separatist movement---Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Salahuddin and Chairman of the radical faction of Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, included---have been residents of Budgam district, people in general here have been lukewarm to their political ideology and activism. Carved out of the capital district of Srinagar in 1979, Budgam has a slew of distinctions to its credit during the era of insurgency. It was the only district in Valley where counter-insurgent irregular militias were not allowed to raise their head post-1996.

Not that the separatist movement was weak. The most formidable guerrilla group, Hizbul Mujahideen, was floated here in a meeting of Jamaat-e-Islami leaders at Dooru-Sebdan in December 1989. It maintained its headquarters at Salahuddin's Soibug village for over a decade. Historic million-strong rally in favour of Azadi and against the Indian "occupation" came out from here in March 1990. First MLA, Mir Mustafa, and Vice Chancellor of Kashmir University, Prof Mushirul Haq, were kidnapped and gunned down in this district. After imposition of AFSPA with effect from July 5th, 1990, Valley's first village---Adina, Watamagam---was burnt down to ashes in the same district. Devastation of the holy shrine of Sheikh-ul-Aalam Sheikh Nooruddin Noorani, that proved to be the proverbial last nail in the militancy's coffin, happened here at Chrar-e-Sharief on May 11th, 1995. Massacre of Kashmiri Pandits took place here at Sangrampora village in March 1997.

However, the situation changed dramatically after devastation of Chrar-e-Sharief. Within years, Dr Farooq Abdullah's government reconstructed the shrine and rehabilitated over 1,000 families whose houses had been razed to rubble. Years later, Budgam got the distinction of creating the Valley's first rehabilitation settlement for the displaced KPs at Sheikhpora.

Since rapes and murders have not happened here for years, nobody seems interested in Omar Abdullah's and Mehbooba Mufti's rhetorical speeches on revocation of AFSPA. With nearly zero-presence of militants for over a decade now, nobody discusses NCTC in a passenger bus or a wayside restaurant. On the other hand, development, employment, better human resource and infrastructure at hospitals, safe drinking water, wider macadamized roads, electric supply of lesser interruption, safe power distribution system, more fertilizers, better education, preservation of ecology and a responsive administration invariably seem to be the dominating aspirations of masses irrespective of their political ideology.

Illegal brick kilns had sprouted like mushrooms during Farooq Abdullah's, Mufti Sayeed's and Ghulam Nabi Azad's regimes. However, it was only in Omar Abdullah's regime that Budgam achieved the dubious title of "Bathgam" (the village of brick kilns). Official statistics put the number at 100 but residents count 200 of such kilns that have been laid in brazen violation of all laws and rules, mostly on either side of major arteries. As many as 30 compoletely unauthorized and illegal kilns are operating today on either side of Budgam-Nasrullahpora-Beerwah Road. Thirty more exist on Budgam-Chadoura Road. Over 50 have been identified in Rakh Shalina belt.

While as over 1,000 tippers are estimated to be engaged with these brick kilns, over 2,000 more are believed to be working with nearly 100 JCBs. Most of these JCBs have denuded orchards, uprooted all kinds of protected trees and leveled lofty karewas. None of the Deputy Commissioners or Tesildars has asserted to regulate mushroom growth of brick kilns, tippers and JCBs in the last nearly 10 years. Hundreds of these clay-laden tippers do pass through the district headquarters daily, without any checking by the concerned authorities. This has led not only to high level of air pollution and emission of toxic gases but also to numerous road accidents at the district headquarters. Officers of various departments just taking bribes and facilitating the ecological vandalism has become an open secret in entire Budgam district.

Road connectivity is excellent in Chrar-e-Sharief and Khanmsahab constituencies but a sham in Budgam, Chadoura and Beerwah. Authorities have had no shame in choking development in Salahuddin's Soibug area which has medieval surface communication. Worse is the condition of Soibug-Narbal and Soibug-Beerwah roads. Drinking water is a luxury in over 60% of the villages. Despite then Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad's and incumbent Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's serious instructions, PWD has failed to take up laying a link road between Sebdan and Pirbagh, via Narkara Numbal.

Going by the progress on construction of a hospital at Rishipora, former Chief Minister Azad is right in his complaint that the foundation stones he had laid in 2007 are still intact. It was Azad's government that had decided to raise a major hospital at Rishipora, in periphery of Budgam town, in 2007. Residents of three villages donated 78 Kanals of land free of cost, Then Divisional Commissioner, Mehboob Iqbal, and then DC of Budgam, Farooq Reenzu, drove all the way to the site alongwith almost all District Officers five years back, took possession of the area and installed a board. Not a stone has been laid in the last five years.

With successive district administrations surrendering before undesirable elements, politicians and religious leaders of strong vested interest, Government has failed to implement its decision of shifting the old bus-stand to the newly acquired site for a bigger bus-stand at Budgam.

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