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.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Civil Society Wakes up - But is it for Real?

Javid reports on the KCSDS Roundtable

(Dr. Javid Iqbal, 65, was born in Srinagar. He attended the D.A.V. School, Srinagar, and graduated in Medicine from the Government Medical College (GMC). His professional service in medicine includes work in the Middle East for three decades. During his days at the GMC, he captained the cricket team. He enjoys writing and staying close to his children in far away lands.)

Getting Serious About HERITAGE

(Kashmir Center For Social And Development Studies, a research and advocacy center, conducted a round table conference recently to promote the concerns about our heritage. It was in the backdrop of tragic incidents in which Kashmir lost some of its glorious heritage signposts. In this roundtable conference KCSDS brought the question of the safety of heritage buildings to fore; expert opinion was also invoked on the question of the proposed skewed bridge on Jhelum.)

Heritage accounts for whatever has been bequeathed from generation before to the existent one. Many a face looked sullen— concerned - as the citizens gathered around a roundtable to discuss safeguard of places ranging from venerated to valued in the vale of Kashmir. The citizens - cademics, legal consultants, doctors, engineers, columnists and writers, businessmen from chamber of commerce and industry - heeded the call of Kashmir Center for social and development studies (a research and advocacy center) to express concern and suggest remedial measures. Measures which could be suggested to the concerned officials and the public in general in order to arrest the trend of fiddling with or taking a lighter view of physical and non-physical assets of our cultural heritage. And of natural heritage as well…a gift of nature provided to the most charming of the vales around the globe. The vale which has attracted the saints, the seers, the poets like Ghani Kashmiri…who left his native Khorasan to settle in and say of the vale:

Husan-e-sabzai baa khat-e-sabz kardah mara aseer

Daam hum rang’e zameen bodh giraftar shudam

It could be read as:

Green glow of green land captivated me

Net with the same shade enmeshed me

Heritage has multiple shades; given that the prior generations lived a multi-sided life in much more relaxed a manner with a lesser stress level than the present one. A part of what they left has a physical presence…the buildings, the artifacts, machines related to the age denoting the industrial attainment, books etc, what is labeled as tangible. Much of what was left may not have a physical presence…non-physical in essence, yet a part of our being—intangible though, the linguistic essence, the customs, the traditions, the behaviour pattern…holistically constitute our cultural basis, beliefs and aesthetics. The intangible needs greater guarding, as it is constantly subjected to cross cultural trends, which may either be healthy or unhealthy. The safeguard concerns resisting efforts aimed at diluting non-physical cultural assets. Healthier trends may be imbibed to enrich the cultural traits, however the sorting out is easier said than done. Knowledge is another heritage feature that requires added value with every passing generation to develop a pool with a utility value.

Physical assets extend from places venerated to valued. In some recent instances, places held sacred for generations…the mausoleums of Sufi saints have been gutted by fire. Episode after episode concerning sacred places raises an alarm that needs to be addressed, before such episodes are constructed to be an inexplicable pattern. The concern multiplies, as most of the constructed buildings of Muslim period of Kashmir history, forming a part of our heritage have an abundance of timber. Experts, analysts and historians have ascribed reasons, the consensus however remains that a rapidly expanding faith 14th century onwards needed multiple places of worship, easy availability of timber provided the needful. This is in contrast with the Hindu period; the earlier physical assets are stone buildings. Wooden structures served another purpose, providing the needed warmth in the cold of the vale. The emphasis also apparently was on aesthetics. Timber could easily be worked out into finest of designs, a marked feature of wood used in the halls of venerated places is the intimacy and delicacy of detailed work of architectural art.

Sir John Marshall notes “Well finished timber work of walls, with its pleasing diaper of headers and stretchers, the magnificent pillars of deodar in large halls, and the delicate open work traceries of window screens and balustrades, skillfully put together out of innumerable small pieces of wood, all help to enhance the charm and the stylishness of architecture”. Sir John continues “As a protection against heavy rain and snows of Kashmir, the use of birch bark nailed in multiple layers above roofs and overspread, in turn with turf and flowers, could hardly have been improved upon; and planting of irises and tulips on the roofs was a singularly happy inspiration, not only because of their own intrinsic beauty, but because their tenacious roots gave added strength to the roof covering” (quoted by G.M.D Sufi in ‘Kashir’ Volume: II, page: 509).

This is what we are bequeathed with and that is what we need to treat as a sacred trust, instead of linking these religo-historical monuments with concrete structures build in the vicinity. The net result of these needless additional structures is merely an attempt to minimize the magnificence of what we are endowed with. And such attempts may prove historically insignificant. The name and fame of sacred saints and seers may not be fiddled with, by adding names which may not stand historical scrutiny. Yet, the fiddling goes on with the citizenry in deep slumber. The insensitivity is marked. And only a shaking and shocking event like the recent one of fire consuming one of holiest of holy places—the ziarat-e-sharief of Peer Dastgeer in the heart of Srinagar, the capital city, provide the wake-up call. With the episode recurring in Lawaypora and Budgam, as two more venerated places were gutted down, the concern multiplied.

The question remains…do we have to have only shaking and shocking events wake us up and deliberate. The faulty electrical connections, the open wiring, other hazards that our heritage buildings of religo-historical significance are exposed to has to be seen to be believed. Power point presentation of Mr. Salim Beg…the heritage luminary of the vale paints a scenario of insensitivity…collective insensitivity, where the erring official, the up-keepers of sacred places, the average citizens may not escape blame. Collective insensitivity could only be remedied by collective effort with holistic involvement and total commitment of the officials, the citizens and the up-keepers of the holy places. What the British call conservation and Americans call preservation should be the abiding concern, which entails expert advice in its various aspects.

Vis-à-vis the natural heritage concerning the flora and fauna…the bio-diversity, as also the geo-diversity---covering the mineralogical, geo-morphological (covering the form of things) and palentological (study of life in the geological past) aspects, the propensity to undo what nature has endowed the valley with is beyond description. Forests might have shrunk beyond biological rejuvenation, say some experts. The human habitations on water bodies have squeezed their biological space to a level where mere survival has a question mark over it. Anchar Lake is a tale of past, Dal Lake and Wular Lake stand testimony to our insensitivity. Laws are in place for preserving our natural assets, however they are more pronounced in violation than in implementation. Take the state laws or national laws for preserving national parks and look at Dachigam. Way back in 1980s, it was declared a ‘National Park’ yet the V.I.P facilities remain with the needed security cover. VIP’s do need recreation, the American President has a retreat in Camp David, and so has the British Premier in Chequers. However, there are enough places in the valley apart from Dachigam, where our VIP’s could unwind and enjoy a free period, burdened as they remain with the affairs of the state.

Skewed Bridge on the bund formed a part of round table debate. There were several engineers who have served the state with distinction in the past, rising to highest ranks in the profession providing the needed input. The roundtable discussion took cognizance of the problems that the citizens face in Rajbagh, Gogjibagh, Jawahar-nagar areas. Given the jams witnessed on and around Abdullah Bridge, some of them want remedy, any remedy that could take them across Jhelum; in order to get to their businesses, attend offices. Buses plying with school going kids attending Burn Hall or Delhi Public School find it difficult to get across in time. However, the consensus that emerged was against Skewed Bridge on technical grounds, as well as on heritage concern. Bund, a famous landmark of Kashmir may not be disturbed, the consensus implied. It has remained for long a place of exhibition of the delicate art of Kashmir, besides providing a riverbank serene walk. The people are reacting adversely as would a Londoner do, if the Thames bank is fiddled with or a Parisian, if Seine bank is disturbed.

The expert opinion of several former Chief Engineers deliberating in the roundtable, in its concise form ruled the site selected for the proposed skewed bridge as technically not feasible, besides being an environmental and aesthetical hazard and an eyesore in the most fashionable part of the city. It was stated that the present road on the left protection bund of river Jhelum from Abdullah Bridge to Lalded Hospital junction and onwards is a very important arterial road parallel to Residency Road and Maulana Azad road which are already optimized to heavy intensity of traffic. The proposed bridge, either a hunchback design like that of infamous Amira Kadal [bridge] or even in through type super structure shall be directly at right angels on this road without any approach length, which is not technically desirable and shall entail initial raising of this road for some length thereby causing an ugly hump near the bridge site.

Keeping into consideration the highest flood level in the river and clearance for inland water transport, the deck level of multigirder bridge shall be approximately same as that of Abdullah Bridge, which shall necessitate construction of approach with permissible gradients on either bank and a viaduct (under Passage) for the left protection bund road, which my further raise the deck level. This approach on right bank to connect with the residency road in the limited space shall have a steep gradient; hence it is technically not feasible. Besides, it was made out that the approach on the right bank shall block the access to Residency quarters, J&K Arts emporium, General Post office and Sher-i-Kashmir Park. It was deemed to be a disaster for Chinars dotting the residency road. Even the proposed construction of this third bridge within a distance of half a kilometer [unheard of anywhere in the world, said the experts] shall not ease the traffic problem, as traffic shall any how converge towards Tourist Reception Centre [TRC] J&K bank road, opined the engineers.

Consensus on the bridge apart, a technically sound alternative needs to be worked out to ease the pressure on Abdullah Bridge. Zero Bridge could be rebuilt as an alternative. The present wooden structure, opine the engineers, may not last. Hence, a concrete three lane bridge could be provided to ease the pressure on Abdullah Bridge, with an alternative road to the present J&K Bank/TRC link-up. Whatever is ultimately decided would need pooling of opinions on a wider scale than the limited advisory pool governments resort to. The civil society may remain on board, ever and always. It is the right of citizens to be consulted on matters which concern all and sundry…consensus is the name of the game.

KCSDS constitutes committee to Investigate Dastgeer Sahib (RA) Shrine Fire

Arjimand's team wants to make an independent assessment

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 37, is from Srinagar and matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering from Bangalore University. He is also an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany. Arjimand writes regular weekly columns for the Greater Kashmir and The Kashmir Times since 2000 on diverse issues of political economy, development, environment and social change and has over 450 published articles to his credit. His books include: " Kashmir: Towards a New Political Economy", and "Water: Spark for another Indo-Pak War?")

Srinagar: A Civil Society Group Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies (KCSDS) on Wednesday constituted a committee to look into the circumstances of the fire at the Ziyarat-i-Dastgeer Sahab (RA) at Khanayar in old city here.

The Committee comprising Abdul Majeed Zargar, Arjimand Hussain Talib, Dr Hamida Nayeem, Dr Javed Iqbal, Shakeel Qalander, Z G Muhammad, Zareef Ahmed Zareef would study the circumstances which led to the outbreak of fire and prepare a report which shall include recommendations for the preservation and conservation of state’s heritage monuments, including Dargahs and Khankahs.

The KCSDS organized a round table conference here to discuss the recent fire incidents at some of Kashmir’s prized heritage sites, particularly at Ziyarat-i-Dastgeer Sahab (RA).

Speaking on the occasion participants called for inclusion of localized heritage literacy programs in the school education system to promote heritage literacy. Expressing deep concern over a lack of disaster prevention systems and protocols at the heritage sites, particularly at fire-vulnerable Dargahs and Khankahs, the participants called for immediate and time-bound implementation of the J&K Heritage Conservation Act 2010, and notification of heritage sites as per the laid down criteria.

Participants, representing diverse fields like heritage conservation, environmental protection, media, activism, education, business, etc. discussed at length the possible ways and means for the preservation of Kashmir’s heritage sites, including Dargahs and Ziyarats.

Saleem Beg, director INTACH (J&K chapter) made a detailed Power point presentation about the current state of conservation of heritage sites in Kashmir and the steps required for their preservation. The presentation was followed by a discussion in which participants maintained that drastic steps are required to be taken at governmental and non-governmental levels for the protection of the state’s heritage sites.

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