Thursday, April 26, 2012
As recently highlighted by the players of tourism industry in Kashmir, there is going to be another setback to tourism to the valley. This is the uncontrolled airfare hike by almost all airlines flying into the valley. The fares are virtually going through the roof! Apart from the fact that the tourism industry is getting adversely affected, the local people are getting fleeced for their genuine normal travel. The air travel is a facility used by people to save time or sometimes in emergency situations especially of medical nature. Tourism activity is welcome by all as it contributes to the economy especially by providing employment during the tourist season. There is no doubt that the airlines too have faced some hard times especially due to hike in aviation turbine fuel. However, a new competition among these has been lately assuming ugly proportions. Either they offer dirt cheap fares or they hike these to unreasonable limits. Even safety has been given a go by sometimes. In fact, the recent air crash of an aircraft near Islamabad in Pakistan is an example of this ugly competition going beyond safety considerations. The main aim of the government in throwing open the aviation sector to private players has been to give more choice to the public as well as to have a healthy competition in stabilising prices to the extent of offering reasonable fares to the consumers. While this has become true on the main metro sectors like Delhi-Mumbai at the same time it is assuming ugly forms on sectors ending in Kashmir. The tickets on Delhi-Srinagar sector are going beyond rupees twenty thousand one way. In fact, some of the people planning to travel to Kashmir from abroad have informed that they are getting cheaper business class fares from various destinations abroad to Delhi than the fares being offered on Delhi-Srinagar sector. It is cheaper to travel from Dubai or even London to Delhi than between Delhi and Srinagar! Interestingly, it has been revealed that the unreasonable fare hikeis due to block bookings by many travel houses owned by corporates. They are reported to have purchased tickets in bulk and combined these with hotel accommodation and local transport for sightseeing thereby giving complete packages. It is virtually cheaper to buy a package than to simply by a return air ticket! One has no objection to various travel houses and tour operators offering reasonably priced packages to Kashmir. In fact, mass tourism is always in the form of organised group travel through travel agencies.Free Independent Travellers (FITs) do not constitute the bulk of traffic. However, one cannot blackmail the regular traveller because of the bulk purchase of tickets by travel houses and tour operators. This is especially so in case of Kashmir where people decide to travel at a short notice due to uncertain conditions. Thus, the hike in prices is not really helping tourism but rather dissuading potential travellers who may choose other destinations not only within the country but even abroad. Government has been taking many initiatives to boost tourism to the state and these efforts all over the world have borne fruit. The number of tourists is reported to have exceeded a million. Promotion of tourism all over the world through participation in various travel marts becomes meaningless if the potential travellers find it cheaper to fly to other destinations equally good as Kashmir. No doubt Kashmir is unique and has certain qualities and attributes which no other destination within the country or abroad has, yet there are always economic considerations in making a decision to travel to a particular destination for leisure. This is especially so far the middle class traveller. High end tourist, as stated by the head of the tourism organisation in Kashmir, still shies away from here. In order to keep the flow on and encourage travellers to Kashmir, it is imperative on the government including the Chief Executive to take up this issue at the highest level. It is not only for the promotion of tourism but for the relief of the normal travellers that there needs to be some sort of capping of the airfares. There should be a reasonable upper limit beyond which the fares cannot go. Apart from taking up the issue with the concerned Civil Aviation authorities, one can even approach, Tony Tyler, Director General and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in Geneva or Montreal. They would definitely have some regulations for controlling the fares especially the upper limit of these!
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
The blood bath given by the prowling dogs has created a scare never witnessed before. How is the menace going to end and who will save people from this newest kind of harassment? Last year when the prowling dogs had created a scare there were many offers for getting rid of the menace. One of these offers was made by somebody named as the “Pied Piper” of the dogs. He had reportedly offered to get rid of the menace against some fee. However, after sometime he disappeared from the scene. Recently, he is reported to have stated that there is a deep rooted conspiracy behind this menace which has made the life of citizen miserable. Especially the young children are facing the brunt of the canine attacks. People are mortally afraid to go out during night. According to him it is to be established whether all the dogs prowling on the streets are of Kashmiri origin only! This implies that he feels these are being brought from somewhere else and let loose on the hapless Kashmiris. It is a point worth looking into. The extreme proliferation of these dogs has occurred only in last few years. Another interesting episode was the pleading of the cases of dogs in the courts by a battery of lawyers heavily paid by some outside agencies concerned with the welfare of animals. Ironically, the humans being mercilessly attacked by these ferocious canines were being represented by a single lawyer! Very strangely the Bar Association expressed its inability to stand for humans as no one had preferred a complaint! As if they were barred from taking a suo moto notice of the matter in spite of being humans themselves. One hopes the dog protection act is not as draconian as the AFSPA? Even if the allegations levelled by the “Pied Pier” have some truth what about the attitude of the authorities supposed to protect the human life? They seem to be absolutely paralysed. In earlier times, the Municipal authorities used to be extra vigilant and would never allow the dogs to grow to such a menacing proportion. At present they are somehow not only tongue tied but are being physically held back supposedly under some unknown legislation. It is not known whether the legislation or the court direction has been made applicable to J & K? The civil society itself has become totally impotent. They only make a lot of noise without any productive action. Their intervention is limited to press statements, press conferences, and seminars as though the menace is not starkly visible to everyone. It is the primary duty of the state to protect the human life and not the reverse. Animals cannot be protected at the cost of the human life especially when these threaten the very existence of the human beings. In case of rodents, the government itself distributes anti-rodent poison to save the crops. One is surprised why this dog menace has not grown to such unmanageable proportions in Jammu or in some other states. Why only Kashmiris have to be sacrificed at the altar of dog lovers? Kashmiris have been facing harassments of different types for quite sometime. During the peak of militancy, they had to undergo humiliation and physical harassment. With the easing of violence and decline in militancy, this harassment has been considerably reduced. The uniform is not so much dreaded now. However, a new type of harassment has replaced the earlier ones. Packs of stray dogs, sometimes numbering a hundred or so, prowling all over. The time is not far off when these packs of ferocious dogs would start going inside homes to attack the humans. Self-defence is also a basic human right. Even in law if someone is attacked, he has every right to defend himself. Why not in the case of dogs? There is loud talk going on that the whole dog episode has a big conspiracy behind it. The sterilisation programme is supposed to cost a thousand crores but there is no surety for its success. Some people with a lot of clout in Srinagar and Delhi are supposed to be involved in it. In the meantime, there is a moot point even raised by a judge that these canines will not stop biting after sterilisation. By the time a portion of these dogs is sterilised, there will be many times more prowling on the roads. The other interesting angle is that the dog menace has grown to such proportions that it has made people forget everything. Even AFSPA is going into background. In fact, a well known columnist tweeted, “Forget about Delhi-Kashmir Accord”, tell us about the “Dog-Government Accord”! Soon, there may be a refrain, for God’s sake, forget Azadi, save us from these menacing dogs, Kashmiri or otherwise! (Comments at email@example.com)
Saturday, April 21, 2012
The Institute of Research on Indian and International Studies survey report on the topic of “Media impact on Kashmiri youth” apparently creates a very scary feeling about the recommendations made to change the social milieu in Kashmir. It is about changing the entire outlook of the youth by virtually brainwashing them. However, one need not be panicky about the report and the recommendations therein. It is not the first ever attempt to change the Kashmiri mind. In fact, in 1948 itself Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru had started the process by engaging some communists through BPL Bedi. Rajinder Singh Bedi was appointed as in charge counter propaganda cell. He started Radio Kashmir in Jammu. Listening to radio Pakistan was banned. Community Radio System tuned to one station was started. Scores of writers were engaged and paid hefty sums to convert them to the official thinking. Huge budget was kept at the disposal of Dehat Sudhar. Incidentally, Nehru used to keep Kautaliya’s Arthshashtra by his bedside! There is no better guide for manipulating people in a colonized territory than the Arthshashtra. Nehru made his best efforts to win over Sheikh Abdullah which he initially succeeded in doing. In fact, his repeated declarations to hold plebiscite were based on the assurance that Sheikh Abdullah would be able to carry all Kashmiris with him in favour of India. However, this change of mind did not hold even in case of Sheikh Abdullah. The tallest Kashmiri leader turned against Nehru and he had to be jailed for over 22 years. Towards his last days Sheikh Abdullah is reported to have been repentant of his role in bringing Kashmir closer to India. So much for changing the mind of a Kashmiri! There were many other attempts at winning over and controlling the Kashmiri mind. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad introduced the permit and subsidy raj. Money flowed in to buy Kashmiri loyalty. He introduced the Jashan-e-Kashmir, the festival of Kashmir. There was apparent peace for almost 10 years!But lo and behold, everything turned upside down during the holy relic agitation of 1963-64. Shashtri came with trunk loads of notes and bought temporary peace but they had to release Sheikh Abdullah from incarceration. A youth movement ensued but it was drowned in the massive infiltration of regulars from the other part which resulted in 1965 Indo-Pak war. There were many other attempts at changing the mind of the Kashmiri youth. However, the youth also learnt the rules of these games and decided to go for “Azadi” through the ballot. They fought 1987 elections under the banner of Muslim United Front. The Front was virtually sweeping the polls in the valley but Delhi committed the blunder of rigging and the result was 1990 upheaval which was a true Kashmiri uprising and might have delivered something had not the other side hijacked it! The movement was brutally crushed. However, in spite of the militancy being virtually wiped out, the underlying unrest simmers and bursts out from time to time. The examples are the massive agitations of 2008 and 2010 which were led by the youth all over the valley. In fact, even the traditional leaders were following the youth and not leading them! These two decades have alienated the Kashmiri youth to an extreme level. It is a generation born and bred in the midst of conflict. During last few years attempts have been made to make the youth forget their history and also deprive them of their basic identity which for every nation is the mother tongue. Unfortunately, leaders from both sides refer to a limited period of history. For pro-movement people the history starts in 1931 and for the mainstream followers it starts in 1947. Both need to go back centuries to really understand the Kashmiri mind. A Kashmiri has never in the heart accepted external rule. He has only kept quiet for his own survival. For quite some time now there have been continuous attempts at winning over this generation through Sadbhavana programmes. Hundreds of non-governmental organisations have been set up to involve the youth in varied activities and programmes. The main aim is to wean away the youth from the “Azadi” syndrome. The people who are proposing such programmes and the ones who implement these are either unaware about the character of a Kashmiri or have forgotten the history especially what a Kashmiri has gone through during last few centuries. They are probably unaware that the concept of “Azadi” is in the DNA of a Kashmiri. In order to change his mind they would have to undertake genetic engineering rather than go in for the methods described in George Orwell’s 1984! Thus one need not be scary or panicky about what is being proposed to be done to change the mind of the Kashmiri youth. In spite of all efforts, in the end he will again ask for “Azadi”!
Friday, April 20, 2012
One of the most common fallacies used by one and all in Kashmir is that the Tourism is the back bone of Kashmir’s economy. There are no two opinions that Kashmir is one of the best year round tourism destinations. The potential for the development of all types of tourism activities is immense. However, at the present moment it is merely an additional income generating resource and gives temporary seasonal employment to people in tourist areas. It does not constitute even 10% of the state GDP. One has to remember that the very basic essential criterion for development of any leisure activity is peace. Once peace prevails in Kashmir, tourism could be the most important sector of the economy provided other inputs to develop the industry are also freely available. There are three main criteria for development of tourism to a particular area. Potential, accessibility, and infrastructure. Firstly, an area has to have the requisite potential such as environment, heritage, pilgrimage, and so on. Next, the area has to be accessible both physically and politically. Finally, it has to possess requisite infrastructure to be promoted as a tourist destination. The potential of Kashmir for development of all varieties of tourism, such as leisure tourism, adventure tourism, heritage tourism and even the health tourism are unmatched. Every part of the valley is a potential tourist destination. However, the catch is the accessibility. Both the physical and the political accessibility. Some of our best potential tourist areas are politically inaccessible being near the line of control. These include Bangus, parts of Lolab, Gurez, Tulail and so on. Physical accessibility of the valley itself is limited to a single exit and entry point through the national highway. All other routes which were used for trade and tourism before 1947 are closed. The easiest traditional route of Jhelum Valley Road too is closed for tourism even though it has been partially opened for travel of blood relations and barter trade. These days one cannot think of real tourism without an international air connection. We do have an international airport but without any international flights! Finally, comes the question of infrastructure. We are terribly lacking in international standard infrastructure in accommodation, food, and transport. We have enough facilities available for budgeted and middle level tourists but are absolutely low on high end tourism. In spite of being in the tourism business for over half a century, we are now framing a tourism policy and a vision document with a 15 year perspective plan! Tourism is a double edged sword. It can bring prosperity to an area but can at the same time destroy it by irretrievably damaging the environment. Tourism and environment are everywhere in conflict unless one is careful to go for sustainable tourism only. Many tourist destinations in the world have faced damage to the environment because of the excessive tourist arrivals. One has to assess the carrying capacity of a potential area and then take measures to restrict the arrivals to ensure preservation of the main attraction which in our case is the environment. After having failed to control the mushroom growth in existing resorts which are getting virtually urbanised, we are destroying new potential areas by following the same procedure. It is time for the Government to get out of the commercial side of tourism and act strictly as a promoter and a regulator of the industry. Somehow, the vested interests have created an impression that the tourism is a queen with a magical wand wherever she goes the area gets economic boost. It may be temporarily true but in the long run the area gets tremendous environmental damage. We end up killing the golden goose! One of the prime examples is the Amarnath Pilgrimage. The uncontrolled rush has caused tremendous damage to the fragile ecology of the area both from Pahalgam and Sonamarg side. If one can limit the numbers to Rishikesh, why not to Amarnath? Again politics comes in. The pilgrimage is espoused as the ancient Kashmir’s religious link to India! Apart from the vested interests bent upon destroying our ecology for some easy quick bucks, the tourism refrain has political connotations. It suits politicians both in the state and the centre to use tourism as a barometer of political normalcy. Both claim Kashmir is normal because hundreds of thousands of tourists are flocking to it. Tourism is not the real indicator of the ground situation especially the extreme alienation of the people which bursts out from time to time. This all round out of proportion espousal of Tourism to the level of a mania is also responsible for neglecting other important sectors of the economy. In fact, even in tourism the amount of noise made is not in proportion to the attention actually given to its planned development. One is not against tourism development. The state department of tourism has been taking many major initiatives to develop adventure and heritage tourism. Again they are handicapped by non-availability of funds where actually needed. In fact, more focused attention needs to be paid to certain critical aspects such as physical accessibility and infrastructure. Political accessibility will have to wait the return of peace. While espousing the cause of tourism, it must be remembered that certain critical areas need urgent attention not only because these are tourist attractions but because these represent the very life of the valley. For instance Dal Lake is to be saved not only because it is a tourist destination but because it is the very heart of Kashmir. If Dal stops living, the whole Kashmir is dead! Similarly, we need to protect our heritage and our history not for tourists but for our own future generations. It is a pity that the departments meant to protect our heritage and preserve our culture are in a mess and the tourism department has to step in to save the both! It is time to give up the obsessive attachment to the word tourism for mostly political lip service and take practical steps to give due and focused attention not only to this industry but all other sectors like agriculture, horticulture, floriculture, and fisheries. If we desire a sustainable economy then we have to rise above the political gimmickry and be realistic and practical in our approach. Mere slogans for media coverage will not do!
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Pandit Kalhana in Raj Tarangani speaks about the King makers of ancient Kashmir which he calls, the “Damaras”. Because of their agility and ingenuity, these people have survived all the historical upheavals and continue to play their role of King making even now! On the unveiling of the statue of Maharaja Hari Singh in Jammu, a columnist posed a question whether Kashmir had really got rid of the monarchy in 1947? The event shows that Maharaja Hari Singh continues to be regarded as the beloved King of Jammu & Kashmir by one part of the state even though he had an ignominious exit and died in exile in Mumbai! The present day monarchy has a different connotation. It is the dynastic rule of a single family for almost half a century. We have given birth to new line of maharajas. Similarly, we did not get rid of the feudal lords in 1947 in spite of the revolutionary land reforms but gave birth to a new breed. Earlier the Brahmins used to be the feudal lords but now we have “Muslim Brahmins”! Aristocracy has been part of the Kashmir Society from the earliest times. Kalhana mentions Damaras as the powerful semi-independent feudal lords who controlled the Royalty of ancient Kashmir. Damaras were feudal land-owners or barons. They mostly lived in the fertile cultivated portions of the valley and their seats formed strong-holds capable of defence. These territorial lords were the true king makers. These earliest aristocrats or nobles continued to be an influential element even under the Sultans of Kashmir. The advent of Islam in the valley introduced a new element. These were the Sayyids who had accompanied Shah-i-Hamadan from Iran. They considered themselves to be superior to the local converts to Islam. Their progeny started a new class of aristocracy. Mughals patronised some of these aristocrats who had sided with them during the capture of Kashmir. However, the rule of Afghans and Sikhs was so harsh that nothing of aristocracy or sophistication survived. They were uncouth and ruthless rulers. Dogras created new land barons by importing Rajputs from Jammu as also patronised the erstwhile Damaras. In ancient Kashmir, Damaras played a very significant role in making and sustaining of Kings. Some of these barons were very powerful and no King could survive without their support. The Dogra Maharajas also got support from the feudal landlords which they had created. The Kashmir’s first movement in 1931 was mainly against the oppression of these landlords and the peasantry supported it whole heartedly. Even the manifesto of the party leading the movement was quite revolutionary based on Communist ideology. In fact, the manifesto of Naya Kashmir was also formulated by BPL and Freda Bedi, two staunch communists. Ironically, the party flag was red with a plough on it like the sickle and hammer red flag of the Russian communist party. The main spot where gatherings took place was also named Lal Chowk, the Urdu rendering of the Red Square of Moscow! Incidentally, the uprising was hailed in Moscow papers as the awakening of the proletariat in Kashmir. The new dispensation led by Sheikh Abdullah after coming to power did take the most revolutionary step of the land to the tiller which is unique in the whole sub-continent. All the land barons or the Maharaja’s Damaras disappeared overnight by this unique act! However, there are two significant dates which completely changed the character of Kashmir’s progressive movement and resulted in the recreation of monarchy with the contagious feudal lords though without land but with tons of money clout. These are 1953 and 1975. Sheikh Abdullah during his earlier stint as the Prime Minister of Kashmir did initiate a number of steps to try to make the state self-sufficient and economically independent. However, the events of 1953 put a stop to this movement and money flowed in from Delhi like water to buy the loyalty of Kashmiris. Every pretence of getting self-sufficiency by being frugal was given up and the notorious measure of “subsidy” on almost everything was introduced. That was literally the end of the Naya Kashmir manifesto. That was the first initiation for the creation of a new breed of Damaras. At the same time, the neighbouring country also pumped in tons of money to prevent Kashmiris from extending their loyalty to Delhi. This money too led to the creation of another breed of moneyed people as all the money received was not spent on the purpose for which it was given. It went into real estate and many other businesses. Thus the two neighbouring countries helped in the creation of a new aristocracy in Kashmir. In 1975, we again had the re-installation of a virtual monarch who continued the dynastic rule by imposing his progeny on the people. His close associates and followers too tried to make up for the lost time and collected tons of money which they too have invested in real estate and various businesses within the state and outside. Incidentally, Kashmir has also seen growth of honest and genuine people who have earned lot of money. These are the non-resident Kashmiris who migrated abroad for various jobs. They too have unfortunately invested the bulk of their money in unproductive real estate. However, some of them have been pinning for investing in a number of productive sectors like the healthcare but feel helpless in front of the new “Damaras”! Thus the question posed by the columnist whether Kashmir really got rid of the monarchy in 1947 can be answered by saying, no not at all but at the same time we have not been also able to get rid of even the ancient “Damaras” who still hold sway over everything! (Comments at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Saturday, April 14, 2012
The setting up of the now world famous Tulip garden has achieved much more than it was intended to achieve. It was proposed to be a new attraction for tourists visiting Kashmir. It has become an important stop on the itinerary of any tourist visiting Kashmir during the short life span (about a month) of these flowers. In fact, the Tulip garden itself has helped in the early start of the tourist season. Apart from tourists, the garden has drawn the attention of the local population in a significant way. In fact, the Tulips have made locals also flower conscious. No doubt the valley itself is a big garden. We have all varieties of flowers growing naturally all over the place yet being there all the time, we hardly notice these! Tulips made us notice the flowers. This feeling needs to be cashed now. Tulip garden is a means and not an end in itself. Generally, in the past Kashmiris welcomed spring with the Almond blossoms in Badamwari. However, now spring is also associated with the Tulips. The most dramatic sight of Washington which I witnessed during my visit to USA in 1998 was the National Cherry Blossom Festival. It is a very important annual event which takes place in March-April. The Festival has an interesting history. In 1912, an incredible gift of 3,000 cherry blossom trees was bestowed on Washington, DC by Tokyo, Japan. Rooted strongly and surviving outside elements, the trees have withstood the test of time and are a treat for everyone, especially the Japanese who come in large numbers to see it. The National Cherry Blossom Festival is preparing for an unprecedented and once-in-a-lifetime celebration, the centenary event! The epic 5-week spectacular, from March 20 – April 27, 2012, will unify and electrify the city, Washington, DC and the region will be abuzz with excitement. At that time I wished we too had an event like that! As already mentioned our Badamwari Festival centred on the Almond Blossoms has been a good local event. However, the blossoming of the Tulips has created an event similar to Washington Cherry Blossom Festival. We could also obtain few thousand Japanese ornamental cherry trees and create a similar festival in some other spot! It would be another attraction for tourists especially the Japanese who think they alone have cherry blossoms! It is good to have prestigious gardens like the Tulip Garden, Badamwari and historical Mughal Gardens but there is also need to rejuvenate and revitalise dozens of parks all over the city and other parts of the valley. Though a number of parks have been set up in many places for the benefit of the local population, yet quite a few of these are defunct and have become garbage dumps. The main reason is the lack of man power. The Floriculture department has been handed over the maintenance of all parks of various departments like the Hospitality and Protocol and others. According to norms fixed by Government of India, their staff for the gardens should be more than 6,000 but they do not even have 2,000 people. They have an army of daily-wagers some even 18 years on casual basis. Recently they had gone on strike for regularisation and the whole department had come to a standstill. Higher authorities need to pay attention to this aspect and not only concentrate on Tulip or Mughal Gardens. Apart from being a tourist attraction, the flowers have a tremendous commercial potential. Kashmir has the capacity to become one of the largest flower growing hubs in the region especially the cut flower variety like tulips, gladiolas, carnations, lilies, and so on. The cut flower project had been in the pipeline for a pretty long time. Reportedly it has taken off during last couple of years. There are reported to be over 1,000 private growers registered with the department. Some young entrepreneurs like one Zakir of Shangus are exporting over couple of hundred thousand bulbs to Delhi and other places. Some others have grown even Tulips under controlled conditions. Department is supposed to have set up walk in cold stores and is currently preparing refrigerated vans for the transportation of cut flowers. A flower mandi is also expected to be made operational soon. The private registered growers get assistance from the centre but there is need for the state to also step in if commercial floriculture is to be made attractive to local youth. Once these ventures take off, they would be making sufficient profit on their own. From the marketing side also the state needs to encourage big houses exporting flowers to foreign countries especially Middle East to step in to pick up products from Kashmir in a big way. In fact, one of the tasks of the prematurely shut down Srinagar-Dubai flight was to carry flowers, agriculture products, and trout from Kashmir to the Gulf region. Restarting of that flight may provide a big outlet for these Kashmiri products. When Kashmir needs a person like Badshah, it gives birth to a Jehangir! Let us hope our new Jehangir’s go beyond ornamental flowers. Now that the Tulips are in fashion, it would be a real boon if the concerned think and go beyond the Tulips! Comments at: email@example.com
Saturday, April 7, 2012
(Kashmiris have faced difficult periods in the past. The worst of all have been the Sikh and Afghan rule. However, the happenings of the last sixty years seem to exceed all earlier bad spells!) Any student of history would be quite familiar with the word “Sikhashahi”. It was the total anarchy and the untold oppression which Kashmiris faced during the Sikh rule. Hameed-ullah Shahabadi called this period as “Sher-i-Napursan” (the neglected city) which Dr. Abdul Ahad has rendered as the “Bebooj Raj” (Unaccountable Rule), an era of unforgettable brazen savagery! The value of a Kashmiri during Sikh rule was twenty five rupees! Any Sikh who would kill a Kashmiri would be fined twenty five rupees. Out of this, sixteen rupees would be paid to the next of kin if a Hindu and four rupees if a Muslim. The balance would go to the government treasury. If a Kashmiri would kill a Sikh, he would be hanged! Kashmiris everywhere were taken for unpaid forced labour called “Begaar”. During Sikh rule many mosques including the Jama Masjid, were closed for worship and the famous Pathar Masjid was turned into a store. In fact, one of the Sikh governors fixed cannon near Mujahid Manzil to blast the shrine of Shah-i-Hamadan on the opposite bank of Jhelum. It was only the intervention of Birbal Dhar, an advisor to Sikh governor that the mosque was saved. There were many other atrocities committed during this period. During the Afghan rule, Kashmiris had to pay a number of taxes such as Zari-i-Askhas (Protection tax); Zari-i-habubut (land tax); Zar-i-Dood (smoke tax). The smoke tax, Zari-i-Dood was imposed on Pandit community as punishment for evading taxes. Haji Karim Dad, the Afghan governor gathered prominent members of the community and suffocated them with cow dung smoke. To escape they agreed to pay the tax which was called Zari-i-Dood or smoke tax. There was a tax on shawls called the dagh-i-shawl (stamp tax on shawls). Even the marriages were taxed through Zari-i-nikah! During the Afghan rule, Kashmir witnessed some of the cruellest governors. Jabbar Khan changed the date for observance of Shivratri by Hindus. On being told that it invariably snows on this occasion, he ordered celebration of this festival in early autumn instead of mid-winter. Lo and behold!, it snowed on that day in autumn which gave rise to a Kashmiri saying, “ Wooch taun ih Jabbar Jandeh, haarus te korun wandeh!” Look at this Jabbar wretch, he turned autumn into winter! Among Muslims, Afghan rule gave rise to child marriages as the Afghans would not touch a married woman. Another self-inflicted ironic cruelty is the bringing of Kakkar Khan from Kabul by Kashmiris themselves as the governor of Kashmir. A delegation from Kashmir went to Kabul to plead for a gentle and soft governor. The King asked them to choose from among his courtiers. They choose the most pious and gentle looking Kakkar Khan. When they were crossing Baramulla with the governor, a funeral procession passed by. He asked them to stop and descended from the palanquin. Kashmiris thought he is going to offer fateh. However, he asked them to open the coffin and bit the ear of the corpse and shouted, “Tell the dead that Kakkar Khan is in Kashmir!” One could imagine the fate of the living! The fate of Kashmiris for last 60 years or so has been worse. They have suffered continuously innumerable atrocities and upheavals. Thousands have been killed in various uprisings and conflicts including the three wars fought by our neighbours since 1947. For last couple of decades there has been no real peace. In fact, the present turmoil which started in 1990 has created such a situation of uncertainty and unaccountability that one can compare it with the “Bebooj Raj”. There is absolutely no accountability in every sphere of life. Rather the very right to life is suspended. There are thousands of widows and orphans. Over a hundred thousand people mostly youth have been killed. Thousands have been maimed. Thousands have disappeared without trace. In earlier bad periods there was some discipline and accountability among the forces. Those days there was no AFSPA, PSA or DDA. Soldiers were answerable for their actions. There were no fake encounters, mass graves, and disappearances without trace. Since 1990, the situation in regard to human rights especially the right to life is scary! As regards other spheres of daily life, the less said, the better. Corruption is at the peak. Accountability from top to bottom is virtually zero. People having committed serious human rights violations brazenly are protected by the state. All these events make one ponder whether those old times were really the worst times? No one knows what future holds for Kashmiris in view of the situation in our neighbourhood? Ironically, in those earlier bad times most of the exactions were done by outsiders on the bidding of their local advisors. This holds good even in the present times. It is described best in the Kashmiri proverb, “Daro kumyu phatwuk, panni peun!” (O log of wood who split you, my own peg!). Thus the logs would go on splitting as long as the pegs from their own wood get used to do the job and the “Bebooj Raj” would continue to be the fate of poor Kashmiris! *************************************** Comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, April 5, 2012
There are many aspects of life in Kashmir which reflect the utter negligence of local people by the authorities both in Srinagar and Delhi. It is a fact that in spite of sixty years or so the Indian Government has failed to earn the trust and loyalty of common Kashmiris. Even though thousands of crores have been pumped in (unfortunately through wrong channels involving colossal transmission losses), to some how placate the people, yet it has not earned the love of the common masses. The most troubling aspect is the total alienation of the new generation brought up in the conflict of last two decades. During all these years the worst nightmare of a Kashmiri has been his daily confrontation with the security forces. Bunkers, pill-boxes, barriers, barbed and concertina wire rolls. The cordon, and search and numerous sudden checks on roadside have been a routine during the last two decades of turmoil. Thousands have been killed, injured, maimed, and have even disappeared without a trace! There are thousands of widows and orphans. Kashmiris have virtually lived through hell. As if these miseries were not enough, they have now another menace unleashed on them, the stray dogs! Stray dogs are not a new phenomenon. These have been there for ages. However, their number had remained low because of the measures taken by the municipal authorities from time to time to restrict it. The problem has started only in last few years after the authorities were stopped from limiting their uncontrolled growth by culling. The stoppage of this procedure of limiting their numbers has been ostensibly because of the intervention by the so called “Animal Lovers”! One fails to understand why these people have developed such strong love for stray dogs only? There seems to be something more sinister behind this move of allowing uncontrolled growth of stray dogs. Thousands of sheep are slaughtered in Kashmir every day. Over tens of thousands of chickens meet the same fate. Same is the case with the different varieties of fish eaten all over the state. Why don’t the animal lovers feel any pain about the slaughtering of these animals? One does not see any sheep lovers or any chicken or fish lovers agitating for stopping their killing. These so called lovers may even themselves be enjoying various food delicacies prepared from the slaughtered sheep and chickens! A stark instance of the apathy of “dog lovers” is their total unconcern towards carcasses of dogs crushed by speeding trucks on highways. In some instances these remain on the roads for weeks! So much for the love of “dog lovers”! There are laws for the protection of wild animals. However, whenever these animals pose a threat to human population, the same laws allow their killing. Take for instance the black bear, leopards, and so on. Whenever these animals attack human beings or in the case of leopards become man eaters, these are hunted down and killed. Why not the same procedure for the stray dogs especially the ones attacking people in different parts of the valley? The entire administration involved in tacking this menace seems to be either too scared or somehow paralysed. A number of plans are being floated for creating dog ponds and undertaking sterilisation which involve an expenditure of over one thousand crore rupees. There appears to be another scam in the making. One fails to understand how other states have tackled the problem? Even in Jammu one does not see such an uncontrolled growth of stray dogs. Why is this menace progressively increasing in Kashmir only? There is a sinister connection of the present menace to the agitations of mid sixties. Those days the word “dogs” was extensively used in some other context. The nature has meted out poetic justice to Kashmiris who want to somehow get rid of these prowling “Kashmiri dogs” now! People who are aware of the situation of mid sixties would understand that probably some people must be feeling sadistic pleasure over the discomfiture of present day Kashmiris. Someone must be somewhere saying “Let Kashmiris go to dogs”! Literally the same thing is happening and the common people are unable to get rid of the menace. Even the so called “Civil Society” appears to be totally impotent in getting the common people rid of the menace. Strangely, people spend more time in seminars, conferences, and press meets than in taking any practical steps on the ground. Lot of pinning but no productive work! Someone has to come to the rescue of the people. Dachigam sanctuary was rid of the menace within twenty four hours under the orders of the Governor. The dogs there had been patronised by the Central Reserve Police Force who were ordered by the Governor to throw these out within twenty four hours. One wishes similar orders are passed to rid the general population of this menace! That would earn more good will than thousands of crores pumped in on some of the totally unproductive schemes. AS the canine attacks especially on kids grow more gruesome, people are bound come out on their own to protect their lives. That would start another phase of unrest with people coming out en masse on the streets to demand “Azadi” from the killer dogs!
Sunday, April 1, 2012
Sometime back a senior Army general declared that by sending infiltrators across LOC, Pakistanis want to keep the “Pot” boiling in Kashmir. There are many such statements and declarations made by various people in India about the situation in Kashmir attributing the cause of turmoil to outside agencies.The blame for any trouble especially violent incidents isusually attributed to intelligence agencies of the neighbouring country who are supposed to use some local outfits to carry out their plans. There are no two opinions that the neighbouring country is involved in many ways in fuelling uncertainty in Kashmir. In fact, Kashmiris have been used by both the countries to settle their own scores. However, one has to face the reality that the “Pot” of Kashmir contains a concoction which can remain boiling on its own. The concoction has been in making since 1947, the very year of creation of these two countries. It has been helped by the western countries who also wanted to keep their fingers in the pie in their own strategic interests. One wonders why does not the other side accuse India of keeping their “Pots” in Pak Administered Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan boiling even though those people are not very happy with the set ups there? The most probable reason is that their concoctions, if any are not so prone to boiling while as the concoction on this side just boils over with the slightest heat! The only boiling “Pot” in that part is Baluchistan which has lot of tendency to boil over. The US Congress has recently added some spice in this “Pot”! The other side accuses India often of keeping it boiling through their numerous consulates on its border in Afghanistan ostensibly opened for the Indians working on various projects there. Thus the story of keeping each other’s’ “Pots” boiling goes on.The entire process has now turned into a vast commercial enterprise involving massive amounts of money gobbled on both sides by the vested interests. Added to this is the perennial mistrust between the two neighbours which refuses to go away in spite of umpteen embraces and handshakes mostly between the elite in five star luxury hotels. On our side, the Indians instead of realising that the basic concoction is prone to boil over on its own, have been adding spice to it from time to time. In fact, the very ingredients on our side have a tendency to boil over without any external aid. The problem is that no one is prepared to admit the reality of the situation. It became starkly evident sometime back when the debate about AFSPA removal gathered pace. The Army itself admitted that the withdrawal of this draconian legislation which even the UN Rapporteur has termed as a violation of the international law, would mean giving independence to Kashmir. Thereby implying that it is being held solely by the force of arms! AFSPA is not the major illness of Kashmir but only a symptom. The disease is deeper. However, relieving the symptom could enable the patient to take a full course of medicine which could ultimately cure him. Unfortunately, people are not even ready to give symptomatic relief but are on the other hand accusing outsiders of keeping the “Pot” boiling! That is the worst tragedy of our times.