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, November 2, 2013

Slow Death of a Yet Another Water Body in Kashmir

Majeed says that a vast water body once considered as the pride of the city for its crystal clear waters is about to perish

(Dr. Abdul Majeed Kak, 62, was born and in Nowhatta, Srinagar. He received his primary education from the Government Middle School in Nowhatta and his secondary school education from Bagi Dilawar Khan Higher Secondary School in Fateh Kadal. He completed his college education at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. In 1977 he was the first candidate from the University of Kashmir to be selected by the University Grants Commission (UGC) of the Government of India for a doctoral research scholarship at the university leading to a Ph.D. in Botany in 1980. He is currently the Research Coordinator in the Department of Botany at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. Dr. Kak has over 35 years of teaching experience and research experience of over 25 years. He has received numerous research awards resulting in publication of 70 research papers and has authored two books on Botany. He completed a novelty ethno-botanical museum with about 600 antique and extinct wooden artifacts of Kashmir that has been created in the Islamia College of Science and Commerce (ICSC), a project supported by a grant from the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi. Presently the Ministry of Environment and Foresta of the Government of India, New Delhi, has awarded him a major prestigious research project along with a team of four highly qualified scholars that are working on the impact of anthropogenic activities on Himalayan lakes.)

Khushal Sar: Breathing its Last!

Khushal Sar is within Shehri Khas between Hawal and Zadibal Just 5 km away from Srinagar city.It is demarcated from Gill Sar (another ailing water body) near Gill Kadal. Once Khushal Sar stretched up to Zoonimar, Aali Masjid and was linked up with Anchar Lake. Unfortunately due to negligence of State government and the concerned authorities it has squeezed to its half and the practice is still continued on war footing without any panic or terror. The name of the lake itself refers to most healthy, prismatic, glittering, lustrous and prosperous water body. This vast, alive and thriving water body was considered as the pride of the city for its limpid, crystal clear waters, without contamination and effluents, used as portable water by the locals both for drinking and other domestic purposes. This healthy and flourishing lake was famous for its scenic beauty, cool breeze and picturesque. Lake products were delicious, so tasty and mouthwatering. Fish, Nadru and other lake products were produced in huge quantity. Boats, Shikaras and house boats were present. People both young and adult bathed and swam in the lake for the whole day both in summer and in winter. There used to be great activities in this lake like what we see in present days in the famous Dal Lake. Zadibal Nadru, was highly preferred by the locals. Besides fish and fodder along with other lake products were palatable. The lake was deep and pellucid with no sign of eutrophication or excess weeds. Population surrounding the lake was meager, till Dr. Ali Jan road was constructed by the State Government, obliterating Khushal Sar, erasing most of its part from Idgah and Aali Masjid upto Bahlachipora, Soura side. This was a devastating step which obliterated the overall shape and structure of the lake. Locals started grabbing land from all sides because of the approachable road for filling water and depositing construction material. Constructions on grabbed land started on war footing basis due to lack of surveillance by the concerned authorities and the state government. Sewage and trash from the fast growing population around the lake and innumerable constructions wreaked havoc. All effluents and garbage were directly dumped in it. Polythene and garbage chocked it entirely. Floating and decomposing carcasses are seen everywhere emitting unpleasant odour. This has made the lake a complete cesspool. Noxious weeds Azolla and Alligator grasses are abundantly growing in thick layers, suffocating and eradicating underwater life including fish.

Surrounding areas of the lake like Zadibal, Sazagari pora, Aali Masjid, Saidapora, Donipora, Tengpora, Zoonimar, Mandibal, Batakpore are becoming densely populated and whole of sewage is directly poured in it. Nallah Amir Khan coming from Nigeen and Dal lakes also joins Khushal Sar near Nallabal, supplementing it with all the effluents of its journey through Pukhribal area. Nallah Aamir Khan has also been squeezed from both sides and is reduced to a narrow passage, which too is completely chocked with thick layers of noxious weeds that hinder the free movement of water in these interconnected lakes. It is on record, that tourists in houseboats from Dal and Nageen lakes used to scull through Nalla Aamir Khan into Anchar Lake, via Khushal sar. Today even a small ordinary boat cannot pass through it.

Khushal Sar is a neglected lake without any supervision by the government, neither there is any authority that owns it. It is under the supervision of SMC along with Anchar Lake and Gill Sar Lake. They are totally ignorant about the methods of conservation and maintenance of these water bodies. It is a burden on their shoulders and they are unable to take care of it, with the result influential and wealthy locals are busy in grabbing the water by filling it for the construction of factories, other establishments and also for construction of residential houses resulting in the shrinkage and extinction of this glorious water body. Some locals allege that there is a mutual understanding between some SMC officials and the land grabbers, saying that in the broad day light people fill the lake and are fearlessly constructing houses. No restriction or any action has been initiated against them. The government is sleeping, it should initiate high level enquiry on the number of constructions that have come up around this lake illegally. Normally it is not possible for anyone to undertake construction without getting building permission from the SMC.

Formation of floating islands both from the peripheries and in the centre is one of the severe problems that have totally changed its shape. Observing such a worst and deteriorated condition while exploring the lake, one gets severely suffocated and hurt to see its pathetic condition and irritating smell. SMC officials were apprised many a times about the extinctive condition of this beautiful lake but no attention was paid. Simply vague promises were made that a severe action will be taken against the culprits and the officials involved. Unfortunately no official has ever visited nor has any action been taken. Instead influential people are busy in covering the water at a swift pace. The lake is being filled throughout day and night from Eidgah to Bolachipora, Soura by encroachers while the State Government despite being aware of what is happening around is not willing to go against the bureaucrats who are helping these encroachers to fill this urban lake. Encroachers with the help of Municipality officials have constructed Palaceous houses, shops, automobile workshops, and saw mills.

Government’s slack approach has not only encouraged encroachers but has also given birth to numerous questions regarding the protection of water bodies in the valley. Khushal Sar despite being desiccated is still a wonderful tourist destination. Regarding the deteriorated condition of the lake it seems that government is not at all interested in the safeguard of these precious water bodies. More than two kilometer length of the lake from Eidgah to Bolachipora has been totally grabbed I don’t know as to why the authorities despite being aware of everything are not reacting firmly. On the one hand the government’s promises and claims that water bodies are to be saved at any cost while on the other hand encroachers with the help of corrupt bureaucrats are looting these precious water assets.


While most of the thousands of girl orphans of Kashmir militancy live a wretched life, Pervez reports of an orphanage in Handwara, town of border district Kupwara, that has given shelter and hope to some

(Mr. Pervez Majeed Lone, 36, 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.) 

Blooming Garden of Daughters

The babbling and laughter inside this building is actually a grim reminder of the lost childhood of the orphans of conflict in Kashmir. Had there not been Gulistan-e-Banat (garden of daughters), these forty odd small girls too would have been living in abject neglect like thousands of other orphans have to. But for this orphanage, these kids have a reason to laugh and rejoice, for it has provided them not only shelter and food, but education and a hopeful future too.

Situated in a residential colony of Handwara town in North Kashmir’s border district Kupwara , this orphanage for the girls is run by Jammu & Kashmir Yateem Trust (JKYT), a respected charitable organisation founded in 1973. JKYT could establish this badly-needed orphanage here only because of the eagerness and selfless service of the organisation’s head of the Handwara unit, Master Ghulam Ahmad Kumar, who is the administrator of Gulistan-e-Banat.

JKYT decided to establish an orphanage for girls in Kupwara district given the fact that this border district bore the most brunt of the conflict in Kashmir. Known as the “gateway of militancy,” this backward and majorly hilly district has more than four thousand orphans, most of whom live a wretched life. Once a hotbed of militancy, the fighting between security forces and militants, like elsewhere in Kashmir, robbed thousands of children of their childhood innocence. Most of this army of orphans are those children whose fathers were killed either by security forces or militants. While some were militants and got killed in gunfights with security forces, or disappeared in their custody, many fell to the bullets of militants for being the ‘informers of the enemy.’

JKYT runs a number of orphanages in the state, only three among them being exclusively for the girls. The other two are in Tral and Chadoora area of Pulwama and Budgam districts respectively. When the organisation decided to built an orphanage for girls in Kupwara district, they chose Handwara town for the purpose, because Kumar was enthusiastic to shoulder the responsibility. After around one year’s of construction, Gulistan-e-Banat started admissions in May 2005. Beginning with ten admissions, the orphanage shelters forty girls at this time. They are as young as four-year-olds and hail from various parts of the district, as far as Karnah near the Line of Control. Even one Farhat is from the neighbouring district of Bandipore.

Kumar says Gulistan-e-Banat is an effort of JKYT to draw society’s attention towards the plight of orphans particularly the girls. “There are thousands of such orphan girls living a wretched life. This orphanage is just a sample of this ill-fated lot,” he laments. “We have set up this orphanage to motivate our people to raise upto the occasion and care for the orphans. If relatives and society perform their duty of taking care of orphans, then we don’t need to have orphanages. They can’t get that love and warmth of families in orphanages,” he maintains adding, “we have just lit a lamp of hope for these orphaned girls, this should not be an end but a beginning.”

Abode of Hope

For these orphaned girls, Gulistan-e-Banat is their world. They eat and sleep here, play and jostle in its premises. There is no dad and mom to cuddle them or sing them a lullaby. Whether they have any complaint or a demand, they do it with Abbajan, as Kumar is being lovingly called by them. Kumar says, “Our focus here is on their shelter, upbringing and education; our job would have been easier if we could a school of our own.” Gulistan-e-Banat is a model boarding and lodging facility for girls. The two-storey building has 17 rooms and seven bathrooms. The kitchen menu is like any standard boarding school, timetable is being strictly followed, rooms and surroundings are neat and clean, and everything is in order despite the fact that the inmates are too young to follow rules and schedules. Five young women have been appointed to serve as cooks and wardens and watch and ward staff. “For us this is more worship than a mere job,” they said. They not only cook, wash and care for the children, but also help them in their studies. Not only the rearing but education of kids is a focus of Gulistan-e-Banat. All the girls go to schools and study like any other child of the town. Kumar has ensured their quality education by admitting them in more than dozen private schools of the Handwara town. “The schools are kind enough not to charge fees from us, however we provide all other facilities like books and uniform to the students,” Kumar said. After their return from schools, the girls do their homework or play at their common home, Gulistan-e-Banat. The orphanage has a computer lab for the children, having eight computers. Worrying that these girls should not lag behind in computer education, Kumar was anxious for the computer lab. However, Zahoor Ahmad Sofi, a Chandigarh-based corporate professional belonging to Handwara town, donated six computers to help orphanage establish a computer lab. Shared tragedy The inmates of Gulistan-e-Banat are victims of different guns, different ideologies. But they share a common tragedy, common pain of losing the love and compassion of their parents. Their parents might have fought and killed each other, but here their wards are living under a single roof. These tiny tots are too small to understand the intricacies of politics. A peep inside their lives gives a hint of what they have went through.

Asiya, 13, lost her both parents in the turmoil. Her father Ghulam Hassan Magray, a fruit vendor died when army cordoned his house and the frightened Magray went to second storey and fell down to death in 2003. Years later, her mother was gunned down by militants. She is one of the six orphaned children of the deceased couple. Its her sixth year at Gulistan-e-Banat. There is nobody except Abbajan she identifies himself with. Saima studying in 3rd standard has not seen her father. He was allegedly subjected to enforced disappearance by security forces eight years ago. Later her mother too passed away. She is in this orphanage since five years. “Dadi visits me here sometimes,” she said.

Safeena’s father Mushtaq Ahmad Mir of Kralgund village was a militant and killed in a gunfight with militants. Her mother abandoned her three children and remarried in a nearby village. Safeena was sent to this orphanage while as her elder siblings, brother and sister live with grandparents. She doesn’t remember if she has ever seen her father. “Ma ne suna voh shaheed hua hai ( I have heard he was martyred),” this is all she knows about her father. And she has a faint memory of seeing her mother, because she abandoned her when Safeena was an infant. Studying in 6th standard, she is a bright student. In the last examination she stood second in her class with 94.9 percent marks. “Do you go to home?” She chuckles, “twice a year.” Azra’s father Abdul Ahad Mir was an Intelligence Bureau operative and mysteriously went missing in 2006 from Kupwara town. Some people of his village Trehgam say he was sent across LoC on some ‘mission,’ arrested there and returned Kashmir after his release. Prevalent speculation in his village is that he was ‘disappeared’ by his employers. Mir has three children, one son and two daughters. Azra is one of the first inmates of Gulistan-e-Banat.

The orphanage admits other girls too who are orphaned for non-conflict situations. Shaista Jan of Lach Mawer village, lost her father Ghulam Mohi-u Din War some years back. She is youngest of War’s three daughters. Her mother occasionally visits her. “She is a loyal of this institution. Last time she brought hand-made rotis for us,” Kumar said. Two sisters of Karnah area (near the Line of Control), Yasmeen and Kulsoom lost their father in the devastating earthquake of 2005. Later mother died to asthma. There was nobody to care for them and a relative brought them to Gulistan-e-Banat. Infact, requests for new admissions continue. Kumar shows two four-year-olds, Shabnam and Asmat, both hailing from Yamrad Rajwar village. They have lost both parents due to natural deaths. They are the fresh entrants to the orphanage, he said. (Box Items)

Excellence in Studies

These innocent victims of violence have proved that if provided the requisite care and opportunities, they can prove their mettle. Overcoming their trauma of losing the parents, they have excelled in their studies. The latest results of various classes speak about their hard work and intelligence. Almost all of them have secured not less than 70 percent marks. Ulfat Mukhtar of 2nd standard topped in her school with 99.8 percent marks. Shaheena Raheem (3rd standard) and Ulfat Manzoor (4th standard) topped their classes securing 80.85 and 96.27 percent marks respectively. Enthused by the girls’ academic performance, Kumar has a dream, “I wish we had resources to establish our own school!”

Callous Representatives

Handwara is known for hot politics. Be it the mainstream or separatist politics, both camps have ‘famous’ leaders and ‘ardent’ followers from here. Though both camps claim to represent and fight for the people, no leader has been generous towards Gulistan-e-Banat. Local MLA Muhammad Ramzan Chowdhry, a two time minister and senior leader of ruling National Conference, whose palatial house is less than half a kilometre away, has never visited the orphanage. However, he has once sent some grocery items to it. Sharif-din Shariq, who has been elected to Parliament the third time in 2009, too has never visited the orphanage of his hometown. “I even invited him once but still he didn’t come here,” rues Kumar. Separatist leaders, the brother duo Sajjad Lone and Bilal Lone have once visited the orphanage separately. “Sajjad provided some help during its construction, while as Bilal had promised to provide a generator set during a visit here a year back, but till date we have not heard from him,” Kumar said.

The Saviour

Master Ghulam Ahmad Kumar epitomises philanthropy. He is associated with JKYT since 1975, the days of its founder late Tak Zainagiri. A resident of Wadipora Rajwar, he retired as vice-principal of Govt Boys Higher Secondary School Handwara in 1998. After retirement, he devoted himself as a full-time worker of JKYT. He is one of the seven permanent trustees of JKYT, and like his colleagues doesn’t receive any remuneration for his work. As administrator of Gulistan-e-Banat, he has to remain available round the clock. “I have to reach here even during night time in case anyone falls ill,” he said and added, “but this is my garden and am happy to see it blossom.” His elder daughter Fareeda Shouq assists her father in his work and the girls call her Behanji. Kumar is known as a teacher and has received “Best Teacher award” from the government in 1978. Since past 28 years, he is chairman of a public school owned by people of his village. “Kumar sahib is an inspiration for self-less and charitable service,” says Abdul Majid Banday of Handwara.

 (NOTE: This story was published as a special report in 2011 in Sahara Time, Delhi.)