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.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Pioneering Effort

Ashraf describes the opening of a new hotel that could be the first new step in attracting high end tourists to Kashmir

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 69, 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 Fran├žaise 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 Khyber Initiative

It has been repeatedly pointed out that the most important criterion for tourism to have impact on the local economy is to attract the high spending tourists rather than millions of budget tourists. The main handicaps in attracting this type of tourism are the absence of international air connectivity and the lack of world class infrastructure suitable for that class of tourists. We are unable to do anything about air connectivity as it remains under the purview of the central government. They have their own scales to judge its advantages and disadvantages especially from the security angle. It had been given out that the sole weekly flight started to Dubai was not economically viable as Pakistan has refused to give permission to overfly its territory for flights going to or originating from Srinagar. Recently a delegation of some leaders has gone to Pakistan to plead for inclusion of Kashmiris as the third party in the Indo-Pak negotiations on the subject of Kashmir. That may seem a tall order keeping in view the Indian stand on the issue. However, these people could plead for granting at least the minor concessions of over flight and even the permission for Wullar Barrage to improve power generation for Kashmiris during winter. One hopes that these people do think of the day to day mundane matters apart from the ultimate goal of “AZADI”!

The other alternative to improve air connectivity is to promote charters which could come via Delhi after completing immigration formalities. It is not a difficult proposition as we already had such flights from Singapore via Delhi operated by Air India. This should not be difficult for the mainstream leaders to achieve if they really mean to do a good turn to Kashmir’s economy especially the tourism sector! The least they can do is to emphasise the necessity of such a connection before the Civil Aviation Minister and if need be, before the Prime Minister. Nobody is going to take away Kashmir if it has international air connections. In fact, it will help people throughout the world to see for themselves that the situation is conducive for development of high end international tourism.

Regarding the other handicap of world class infrastructure, the Khyber Resort developers have shown the way. The main bottle neck in inviting the global players in star category accommodation has been the ownership of land. The government had earlier made many attempts but all those boomeranged because of the land problem. The one attempt during the PDP rule to sell 50 plots in Gulmarg for setting up of hotels misfired and the government had to eat a humble pie. In fact, during the same period, the grandson of Henry Ford had approached the state government for collaboration in setting up of a world class ski resort but he was totally cold shouldered. As a result he went to Himachal where he was welcomed with open arms. There has also been a misplaced apprehension among the local hoteliers that if the five star chains come to Kashmir, they will lose their business. The people using those facilities are of a different kind and will not come here unless they have a choice of their own. The best alternative will always be setting up of infrastructure with local partnership or even with totally independent local initiative. The Khyber Resort development has shown that the top class accommodation can be set up in all the resorts of Kashmir provided there is local initiative by young and dedicated entrepreneurs.

One thing to be remembered in setting up such projects is to ensure expertise in management and maintenance. It has been observed that many local entrepreneurs spend crores in setting up properties but when it comes to management and maintenance, they are very reluctant to spend couple of lakhs or so. Such a state of affairs is common in the public sector where to quote an example the government spent over 50 crores in creating a world class golf course but hesitated in spending few lakhs to engage an international level golf superintendent! They may have had some political compulsions! However, the private sector should have no such compulsions. On the question of management, one is reminded of the Highland Park Hotel of Gulmarg. The late Benjie Nedou used to personally supervise everything in the hotel and for a long time it was the best address in the resort. May be it was due to his training in the army as he was a colonel in the Guards? One hopes that the Khyber Resort management will not only follow Benjie’s tradition but take it to perfection if they have to keep it as the best address in the resort!

Preserving Kashmir's Architectural Legacy

Iqbal dwells on Kashmir's architectural heritage

(Mr. Iqbal Ahmad, 51, was born in Parigam Chek, Kulgam. He is a graduate with Diploma in Numastics, Archaeology and Heritage. He is an archaeologist, writer, and a cultural historian. Mr. Iqbal Ahmad has published 12 reference books on Kashmir archaeology and heritage.)

Preserving Wooden Structures

One of the outstanding contributions to Kashmiri architectures of Muslims period was the introduction of wood that too in brilliant carving and lattice designs. Earlier it were rubble stones that had occupied a permanent and long place in Kashmir architecture but with the transfer of power from Hindu Rajas to Muslim Sultans in 14th century AD, Kashmiri art and architecture also got influenced. Sultans especially Sultan Zain-ul-Abadine invited Persian artists granted lands and other perks to them. These artists introduced Persian styles in domestic as well as in religious shrines and preferred wood over the massive stones that were already in vogue in Kashmir. The usage of massive rubble stones is clearly evident in the temple ruins of Martand, Avantipora, Pattan and other constructions built upto 14th century AD.

The new initiative of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidine got further promotion during the reign of his successors and gradually wood became an important and common material used in the constructions of Kashmir. Later Mughals, Durrani and even Sikh rulers preserved and promoted wooden architecture at Kashmir.

When Nicholas, visited Kashmir he was fascinated while seeing Kashmiri woodcarvings and lattice work. It was walnut wood that was found sound for making of carvings and lattice panels. The massive stone columns were replaced by brilliantly carved wooden colonnades. Ceilings came to be formed of Khatamband and consisting of small piece types and even doors, windows and arcades of the shrines got filled up with five types of latticework designs. Besides walnut Deodar, Kavior and other woods got used in later periods.

The handsome wooden works are not seen only in classical Muslim shrine but even in olden houses too. Although we could not preserve all such memories but still there are many Muslims monuments, which have preserved their wooden designs. However the modern tastes and new architectural trends have posed a threat to these structures, and at many places even in Muslim shrines wooden columns and lattice panels are being replaced by concrete cement pillars and glass panels. This new practice needs to be discouraged, otherwise we would lost many masterpieces of wooden art. At official level no concrete steps are being initiated to preserve the brilliant wooden designs. If the present state of affair continues, these things would be seen only in the cabins of museums.

Demand For Better Education

Naveed pitches for giving students the most important asset in their development

(Mr. Naveed Qazi, 23, did his schooling from Burn Hall School and Tyndale Biscoe, and eventually graduated in Commerce from the University of Kashmir. Naveed is a blogger and activist from Kashmir, and head of intellectual activism group, Insights: Kashmir. His blogs have been published on local and international journals like Open Democracy UK, The Nation, Pakistan and Muslim Institute, London. Naveed lives in Srinagar, and writes on current affairs, politics and society.)

Disparities in Education

Kashmiri people in pursuit of education have ventured out to different countries. Most popular countries of them include United Kingdom, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, United States, Australia and New Zealand to name a few. In pursuit of a better job prospects, higher industrial exposure and reputed qualifications, many of our Kashmiri youth have realized that it’s no longer good to confine themselves to universities in India or in Kashmir itself because the amount of tuition fee for many popular courses, the lack of modern curriculum, the less brand equity of universities in Kashmir and very high competition amongst students for competitive courses have made matters very stressful for Kashmiri students.

Many Kashmiri students have developed this psychological tendency of studying outside of Kashmir due to emulations for a better future. We have universities, we have degree conferments, we have able professors, but what we lack is the ‘brighter future’ for students starting from the school level to the university level education. We also lack high class infrastructure that we find in the universities abroad. The tier of ‘non-professional’ degree courses namely BSc, BCom and BA which maximum number of Kashmiri students adhere to, have a very low demand in the domestic recruitment sector. The professional degree courses like B.E, M.E, BBA, MBA, BCA, MCA, MBBS and MD are rooted in high competition and merit, where very few qualify. For them, some placements get opened up through local banks, hospitals, some IT firms and manufacturing departments in the government or private sector, but the overall position of employment in Kashmir is very appalling. The reason for that is simply the stagnation in job generation due to lack of proper infrastructure. We also need financial investments from outside of Kashmir and domestic investments through local private companies and entrepreneurs, but the structure of our legal constitution, the militarized borders and the political bankruptcies, have directly impacted the outcomes of degrees conferred upon these upcoming graduates, because they have lesser means to work here, or prosper for that matter.

Emancipation through education is one of the most important components a nation could have to elevate generations, but it has always been a problem in Kashmir. We, as a community, also lack extra circular intellectual activities. Whenever I surf newspapers online, be it Karachi, London or Delhi, I witness a reading routine on these online forums, and a sense of reasoned criticism. Community libraries are very few and desolated without readers. Why are the chambers in our universities not focusing on all core issues like these? Then how will we be implementing good? One of the primal problems in Kashmir is improvement of education standards and the need of converting this unemployed youth to work, with proper infrastructure through economic prosperity. These tentative suggestions are very easy to write, but in reality, it takes years or even decades to emancipate people via passionate and responsible leadership through imparting education and by giving them welfare through jobs and gratuities. Why can’t our politicians try and start now?

During the last seven to eight years, a large pool of graduates have gone to study post graduate studies in the west. In a few interactions with my senior peers, most of them had the same viewpoint. Some of them have even produced ludicrous careers in Middle East and other countries. With the advent of post study work route in United Kingdom (a scheme that has been scrapped now), many Kashmiri students used to earn a living or achieve some kind of work experience for two years, to launch a successful job in the years to come.

After returning from my post graduate studies from England, I began to retrospect what I learned in my college days here and what I learnt abroad. My experience was more than satisfactory and exceeded expectations. First of all, I started to realize that aptitude development and its encouragement carries outmost importance in a western education system. Competitive exams for entering into degrees are not mandatory in most of the courses, and admission is mostly granted on high school grades. The research content, presentations, case study analysis, lab work and group debates carry equal weightage as written examinations. In fact, these entire elements together make up the overall grading criteria, whether at bachelors or at masters level. Even open book written examinations are encouraged where a student is expected to carry significant research to answer questions in theoretical exams. There are research database servers that connect hundreds of British universities, which are loaded with newsletters, journals, newspapers and eBooks that make study bliss for researchers. Group or individual presentations go even up to 45 minutes in some universities, especially in post graduate studies, with a less researched topic. The other thing which I learned was the need of cultural adaption while progressing on a specific group project – at the end, a student benefits from these advantages only when they study in a multi-cultural environment and in countries where imparting education is not done for business, but for cross cultural global interests.

The other important thing to remove education disparities in Kashmir, apart from increasing readership and intellect on various cacophonies surrounding us, is institutionalizing a debate culture right from schools to universities. Our study of history is hijacked by bias. Young students should be exposed more to debating on societal, philosophical, religious or even political issues that are surrounding their lives, apart from academic and extra-circular activities. It will help the students especially from schools to nurture pathways of their future careers. The above suggestions may sound idealistic because there are places in our land where there is not even a proper infrastructure for schools and colleges, but well established institutions should start this practice, in order to develop some kind of efficiency. They should scout investments. Why should Kashmiris stagnate on these crude policies implemented by these non-progressive oligarchs leading us?

If there needs to be an education reform in Kashmir, policy makers should realize the need of quality inflation the so called ‘non-professional courses’. It is ironic that ‘honours degrees’ haven’t been a reality in Kashmir since decades and there is no consultancy on the need for introducing various specialisms’s at the bachelors or masters level. Virtual learning is not preferred to traditional lectures in most of the functioning courses in universities. Why don’t our educationists learn from more civilized countries? And if universities in Kashmir introduce international student exchanges, or rapid industrial exposures, it will be a stepping stone in institutionalizing international cultural interactions.

RTI Exposes Politicians

The Right to Information (RTI) exposes politicians unwilling to pay their fair share for consuming electricity in their private homes

Pay Paltry Bills For Pvt Houses, Huge Amounts For Govt Bungalows 

Akshay Azad (Greater Kashmir)

Jammu: The information furnished in response to a Right to Information (RTI) application has revealed shocking inconsistencies in the tariff and power consumption of the private and official residences of the ministers, legislators and the functionaries of the Power Development Department (PDD), who pay paltry bills for private houses.

Explicitly showing how the political bosses and the PDD functionaries are indulging in power pilferage, the power consumption at their private houses ranges between 0.5 Kilo Watts (KW) to 2 KWs with annual tariff bills in thousands, while for official residences it is between 10 to 30 k watts with the bills running in lakhs.

Starting from Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who holds the PDD portfolio, has consumed 190512 units of power worth Rs. 5,88540 at his official bungalow in two years, between 1-4-2010 to 31-3-2012, but at his private residence the annual consumption is 6545 units.

The convener of the RTI Movement Balvinder Singh told a news conference here that these figures were furnished by PDD in response to an RTI application filed by Sangarsh RTI Movement.

The power connection for private house of the minister for Social Welfare, Sakina Itoo, has only 0.7 KW load with a flat rate of Rs 317 per month, but at her government accommodation she has paid Rs 4,47210 for consuming 1,45248 units of power during past two years.

Similarly, the Minister for Public Enterprises, Peerzada Muhammad Sayeed has a load of 0.5 KW for his private house and has paid Rs 3166 as tariff for two years, but at his government Bungalow, the load shown is 30 KW with a consumption of 1,90512 units worth Rs 5,88540, during the same period.

The RTI reply further reveals that Ghulam Hassan Mir has 2 KW’s load and has paid only Rs. 1446 for consuming power at his private house, presently with CRPF, but when it comes to government accommodation, he has consumed 1,45248 units of power worth Rs. 4,47210.

Likewise, the Minister Aga Syed Rahullah has shown a load of 1 KW at his private residence, while it is 18 KW at government bungalow and has consumed 1,12920 units of power worth Rs. 3,46266,the reply revealed. The reply further maintains that speaker Legislative Assembly Muhammad Akbar Lone pays flat rate at his private residence , while he has consumed 1,19400 units of power worth Rs. 3,66468 at his government bungalow.

For MLA Hakim Muhammad Yasin, the actual load at his private residence is 1 KW but at government bungalow the load shown is 10 KWs with 1,33500 units consumption worth Rs. 3,47200.

Likewise majority of legislators have shown meager load at their private houses and in papers majority of them were not using any geysers and air conditioners, while some of the ministers are also having two connections against the policy of PDD.

“Legislator Moulvi Iftihkar Hussain has shown using 5 geysers and 8 ACs, Jagdish Raj Spolia one AC, Bashir Ahmed Lone one geyser, Ali Muhammad Sagar two ACs, Balwant Singh Mankotia one each AC and geyser, MLC Subash Chander one AC” the reply revealed. Surprisingly, except these legislators others have not mentioned anything about the ACs and the Geysers they use.

The RTI activists, appealed Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to give one time amnesty or some concessions to citizens to settle their power bills and in future ensure proper realization of power tariff.

A Self-Fulfilling Phophecy

Sameer recalls words of his grandmother who had a premonition that Kashmir will self-destruct someday 

Infant Deaths

Dr. Sameer Kaul (Greater Kashmir)

This evening while watching the evening news on national television, I was rudely shocked by the reportage of the 3867th infant death at Srinagar's only- and most infamous - children’s hospital, in the last four years. This is not my PDP avatar at work. These are stark figures uploaded by a governmental agency on the Net. The horrible memory of the spate of infant deaths that hit the headlines a couple of months back has barely receded in the subconscious mind and yet, shameful medical and administrative negligence has reared its ugly head and is staring us in the face yet again.

Is the Kashmiri nation on auto-destruct mode? After having seen more than a hundred young men killed on the streets of Srinagar in 2010, have we now sworn to murder our newborns?

My late grandmother Radhai's words ring in my ears. Pralay will come, she would morosely remind me as a child, when Kashmiris draw the blood of Kashmiris. She was no Nostradamus. But I ask: are we passing through those ill-fated times?

Of course I am aware that civil society groups comprising educated citizens like lawyers, doctors, teachers, bankers, entrepreneurs, engineers, civil servants are, by and large, responsive to social aberrations in Kashmir. But they have either decided to henceforth respond only to political and religious events, or, their sensibilities, too, have suffered so grievously over two decades of conflict that they are stunned into woeful silence. Am I to now re-classify them as mere restaurant-seated, chattering classes, for their criminal silence in the wake of this infant killing spree at GB Pant hospital a la Maut Manzil? It saddens me immensely.

The democratic right of civic protest has long been snubbed out of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh societies by the unfortunate, hyper-security-tinted-viewing -glass of the insecure ruling classes. National security is a convenient garb to crush dissent.

Since Nilmatpurana, Kashmiri history bears testimony to the sad fact that an overwhelming majority of our rulers has been self-absorbed, tyrannical and oppressive. Scan the Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Sikh or Dogra periods for unbiased evidence of good governance and just rule. Only a handful, like Nila, Lalitaditya and Badshah will qualify. In this coveted line-up, I am willing to concede a place to Sheikh Abdullah but: to the persona of this contemporary political leader before his first incarceration. Later and towards the second half of his innings, he was to succumb to the seduction of fatalistic expediency.

There were plenty of early examples of selfless medical leadership. In mission hospitals and against all odds, the likes of Drs Arthur Neve and Edmund Downes slogged to provide much needed succor to our ancestors. In this respect, we have suffered a tragic reversal of fortunes. It is said that the future of a nation depends on the health of its constituents. Given that medical affairs are today in the hands of politicians who are either incapable or unwilling or both, today’s situation is a travesty of that old adage.

In the wake of the terrible human tragedy that has struck the most vulnerable among us, action at national and state level has comprised of a few highly-publicized, hurriedly-conducted ministerial visits. At media conferences, a slew of promises were made for a healthy tomorrow, one which will never come.

The final insult to our sensibilities was delivered when the Chief Minister of our state, in his role as chief administrative officer, brazenly accepted a trophy for excellence in medical care delivery at a conclave held recently by a prominent national magazine in New Delhi. What supreme irony

Growing City With Questionable Future

Srinagar is bustling city that cries out for development to keep pace with its phenomenal growth

City Expansion

Abdul Hamid Mir (Rising Kashmir)

Srinagar City is not only the heart, but coronary artery of Kashmir. The city is famous since times immemorial and was quite famous during the Mughal rule. Ranging from slum dwellers to business giants, from a cart puller to a political, the city has been welcoming everyone with a smiling face for centuries. Now due to population stress, the city seems to be inflated, so a well planned expansion is sought. Horizontal expansion (well planned) is inevitable given the unchecked migration of rural population into the city outskirts and given the limited space available for a growing population.

A comprehensive Srinagar Master plan should be aimed at augmenting the standard of physical infrastructure in the summer capital without perturbing the historical significance of Srinagar. During peak years of turmoil, Jammu witnessed surplus developments, now it is time to focus on Srinagar. The historical city needs an overhaul while maintaining its glory.

Lal Chowk, the city main centre always remains flooded with people and transport vehicles. A mechanism should be put in place so that the crowded place do no longer becomes impermeable during peak hours. For God’s sake, the footpaths should be cleared for pedestrians. Old city roads are narrower than streets, they need to be widened. Delay in implementing the rehabilitation plan of houseboat dwellers is slowly making the world famous Dal Lake succumb to extreme pollution.

 Green Belt should have been ‘Red’ Zone for further constructions even for the elite class, irrespective of the status. A flyover at Shalteng (HMT) crossing should have been a decade old. Roads, commercial buildings, and tourist spots etc require a face-lifting. Dog fear and Traffic Jams are equally worrying the city dwellers which need attention of authorities. Illegal encroachments should be completely dismantled with suitable compensation wherever required. Likewise Metro cities, construction of residential colonies should be done in a planned manner.