Monday, April 29, 2013

Character before “Azadi”!

“Azadi” is the most common slogan in Kashmir. Earlier one used to hear about plebiscite, referendum, UN resolutions about the right of self-determination, and so on. People were not clear about the way they wanted to go. Merger with Pakistan or total independence. There were two conflicting schools of thought. Accession was considered something forced against the popular will by the dominating leader of forties. In fact, people used to say in Kashmiri, one would give body and soul for India but the heart was with Pakistan! However, over a period of time, the peoples’ perception of Pakistan as the land of the pure and the Islamic Republic changed drastically. Even though Kashmiris still have sympathy for Pakistan, yet majority would not like to merge with it. They would prefer, “Azadi” or total freedom. However, the main problem is that no one has so far defined “Azadi” in concrete and specific terms. What would total freedom entail? An independent sovereign state of Kashmiri speaking people? An independent sovereign state of Jammu & Kashmir? A division of the state with two parts merging completely into the two neighbouring countries? If one dispassionately examines the alternatives and the present situation in the entire state it would appear that the main problem is within the Kashmiri speaking valley and its periphery. The two and a half districts of Jammu and the Ladakhis except Kargil area would prefer to stay with India. In fact, the way things are being handled by Delhi in Leh district and Jammu makes one think that these places are being already fully merged into India! Pakistan Administered Kashmir including the former Northern Areas may prefer to stay with Pakistan with more autonomy or provincial status as given to other provinces. This leaves the Kashmiri speaking valley and its periphery. It may have been ideal for this area to be declared an independent state of Kashmir as it existed centuries back. For such an entity people always raise the question of viability. Well, there is no problem for this entity to stand on its own economically. However, the million dollar question is can it exist politically without any agreement between its three neighbouring super giants of China, India and Pakistan to guarantee its independent status? Could it really become the Switzerland of Asia and survive like the Swiss who could do so through two world wars? There is only one possibility of such a thing happening. The three neighbours especially the two immediate ones get tired and spent out by the continuous conflict hampering their own growth! They may one fine morning decide to get rid of the troublesome Kashmiris! Well, whatever be the final disposition, the most important thing right now is whether the people have an urge to reach that goal? That seems to be absent right now. The most one can say is that people aspire for emancipation but do not have the urge for it. They are in a way balancing the major concern with other day to day concerns. The urge for total emancipation can only develop if in the first place the people have the right kind of character to give rise to it. Webster defines character as, “one of the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual” and “the complex of mental and ethical traits marking and often individualizing a person, group, or nation”. It is often said by many that Kashmiris have no character. That is not true. In fact, Kashmiris have a number of attributes which characterise a person or a nation. However, in the moral sense one can say that Kashmiris do not have the strength of the character to distinguish between the right and the wrong and then stand by what is right regardless of the consequences. They compromise easily. Most of the foreign authors who have lived in Kashmir and observed the local people have commented on the character of Kashmiris. Quite a few have said that Kashmiris are cunning and dishonest. However, some authors including Sir Walter Lawrence have said that if any other race had gone through generations of external oppression like what Kashmiris have gone through, they may have been more cunning and dishonest than Kashmiris! According to him, two generations of a just and strong rule will change the character of Kashmiris. Well, they have been waiting for such a rule since the time of Lawrence and have yet to get that! No doubt the oppressors always try to promote and strengthen the worst traits of character in the colonised people to keep their hold on them but it depends upon the inherent good in the people which can overcome such machinations. One cannot wait for the just and strong rule to improve the character. It has to be changed right now by bringing out the good qualities of honesty and truth. This can be done by the leaders giving practical examples in their daily life. Unfortunately, the leaders of the people themselves need to first inculcate these qualities. They have not been able to even sit on one table because of their bloated egos. How can the people change and improve their basic character when they see the leaders supposed to lead them to emancipation not even meeting each other to give a single common programme and one road map? All of them seem to be confused and disoriented. Thus before aspiring for freedom, we have to free our character from all the ills and weaknesses. Unless a nation has a character without a blemish as regards its existence as a group of dignified and self-respecting people, it cannot survive and will always be overwhelmed and oppressed by outsiders. There is a saying that, “God never changes the destiny of a nation which does not have the urge to change it by itself”. That urge comes out of the character of a nation. “Azadi” will not give us the character but the uncompromising character will get us the “Azadi”!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Raiyih Padshah!

There is a well-known Kashmiri saying about someone being a “Raiyih Padshah” or the Ants’ King! It is said about a person who does not have to work but just live on others’ toil. The Kingdom of Ants is a very interesting set up. The Ants do not have a King but a Queen. The only job of the Queen is to mate and then lay eggs in thousands. Interestingly, after the Queen mates, the male dies, and the Queen then starts laying eggs in thousands to continue the future generation of ants. So the survival of the generation of ants depends on the Queen who lives for a long time. The ants work laboriously to feed the Queen who has just to sit in the nest and live on. She lives for a long-time. Kashmir’s leaders have most of the time been living like Ant Queens. One of the dynasties has proved the saying totally right! They started with the first Padshah who enamoured people so much that they left their whole fate to him. The popular slogan was “Alle kari wangan kari Bab kari” which translates into “Whether we are turned into Gourd or Brinjal, only the Bab (father) will do it”. He in fact ultimately turned people into Gourd and Brinjal by his numerous somersaults. Like the Ant Queen, he had a long life and on his death, the people really accompanied his funeral procession like the proverbial ants. Almost a million of them were there. He was lowered into the grave by the uniformed Generals of the Army which he is alleged to have invited here even though historically he did not play any significant role in this episode except giving it local support. This fact he is reported to have regretted till his death. The next Padshah too lived on the toil of the common people. The slogan that time was, “Assi choo babas wadeh kormut, mott banawone badshah” which translates, “we have promised the Bab (father) that we will make the eccentric our king”! Dr. Farooq Abdullah was popularly known as an eccentric because of his unpredictable behaviour. He would sometimes ride a motorbike taking popular actress Shabana Azmi on the pillion. Sometimes he would go and sit with the people in the lanes and by lanes. However, the eccentric behaviour was only a cover and he would know everything that was happening all round. He did gain lot of popularityby his behaviour. He also had a very good sense of humour and truly believed in the saying that a kind word and a joke would get the best out of a Kashmiri. He succeeded in running the administration in a better way because of his two excellent advisors totally loyal to him. Due to his eccentric behaviour, the Central Government did not trust him fully. This was evident at the end of 2008 elections which the National Conference had fought with him being the next Chief Minister. However, the Central Government ditched him and forced him to make way for his son who had lost the previous election. The present Padshah seems to be lost and confused. In fact, he did not earn his crown but he got it thrust upon him by outside intervention. No doubt he is very presentable, young and smart and has the knack of speaking emotionally bordering sometimes on histrionics. As Kautilya says in Arthshastra, a King is either a born King and knows how to run the kingdom or he is a king by accident in which case he needs good advisors to run the kingdom. Omar seems to fall in the second category but he has made a mess of the kingdom because of his most incompetent advisors! He is truly living like a Raiyih Padshah doing nothing. He only makes promises and promises which he knows he will be never able to keep even though he may have miles to go. This Ant Kingdom is not unique to Kashmir only but the entire South Asia is full of Ant Kings and Queens be it Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan or even India. Nepotism and dynastic rule is prevalent in many places. However, Kashmir has had probably the longest stint of these Ant Kings and Queens in the recent times. A friend recently remarked that “the Abdullahs are a sad case. They have no interest in the people or the state. It is a dedicated family enterprise. It has come apart now and this is positively the last time that an Abdullah will rule”. Kashmir may at last be rid of the Ant Kings and Queens provided the people do not go back to the slogan of the Gourd and Brinjal story and the eccentric becoming the king!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Kashmir’s Contradictions

A British author in his book on Kashmir had remarked that the most difficult thing for an outsider was to know what is really in the heart of a Kashmiri. According to him a Kashmiri never opens his heart to an outsider. He mistrusts all foreigners who have been his oppressors for centuries. According to him, a kind word and a joke would get the best out of a Kashmiri. Apart from the anomalies in the behaviour of a Kashmiri, the valley itself is full of contradictions in many ways. The first glaring contradiction in the dark Kashmir is in the field of electric power. The contradictions here areworse than those seen in the political field where people change sides like changing of clothes. Kashmir is supposed to be one of the most potential areas for generation of hydro-electric power. The potential is now estimated to be 30,000 megawatts. However, in spite of this water, water everywhere, there is not a drop to drink for the locals. It has been shared by its two neighbours without giving a damn to the poor Kashmiris through whose land it flows! The other side across the line of control is still better off with their micro-hydroelectric projects and lesser demand because of the absence of any major industrial units and so on. On this side the most industrialised area is across Bannihal but the worst shortage in on the valley side. The most tragic part is that the power generated from the rivers in Kashmir has to be bought back at exorbitant rates from the northern grid. Well, the main culprits are the Kashmir’s ruling families who have always signed on the dotted line for their own selfish interests leaving the people in the lurch. Next come the glaring contradictions in preservation of environment. On one hand we have crated what we claim to be Asia’s largest Tulip Garden while as on the other few hundred metres away, the heart of Kashmir, the Dal Lake is in throes of death. One fails to understand why we have to cater to tourists only. Why can’t we think of our own requirements both for the present and the future generations? The Srinagar’s backdrop, the Zabarwan range of mountains have been disfigured by the security forces by taking a road up and putting various slogans. Stone quarrying in many places have totally disfigured the mountains and just on reaching Srinagar, the outsiders have an awful view of these disfigured mountain sides. Wular Lake is almost disappeared under willow and other plantations. It was once considered to be next only to the Lake Baikal, the largest sweet water lake in Asia. The River Jhelum, once considered to be the lifeline of Kashmir, is totally silted, with its banks disfigured and encroached upon by the greedy people all over. It is like a sewer now! No one realises that the environment is not only our precious tourism potential but very basis of life in this Himalayan valley called the Paradise on Earth. In the garb of developing new areas for tourism we have spoiled our most beautiful spots through numerous Tourism Authorities by creating permanent structures as infrastructure. No one realises that greatest attraction of these spots could be saved by going for environment friendly ecotourism. But there is not much money involved in developing ecotourism! In recent times, a pilgrimage has become uncontrollable as no one has the courage to bell the cat and say that this unregulated crowd is destroying Kashmir’s fragile and delicate mountain environment. Only an outsider of the same religion had the courage to speak out the truth! Let us look at unemployment. There are supposed to be more than half a million educated youth registered with the employment department. In addition, there are thousands more working as casual or daily wagers in various government departments. However, no one is prepared to do any work with ones’ own hands. There is no dignity for manual labour. Everyone wants a government job at the lowest level regardless of the qualifications. It is a sort of social security in these uncertain times. On the other hand we have more than half a million Biharis, Bengalis, Jharkhandis, both men and women working all over Kashmir. In western countries especially in USA, a large number of students going for higher education work as manual hands in many places including for dish washing to pay for their expenses. Manual jobs are paid on hourly basis and one can make sufficient money. There is no disrespect shown to manual workers. Here we have been groomed to be only babus sitting on a chair with a table without bothering to do any work with our hands. In the field of education there is a mess. On one hand the government run schools are supposed to be virtually in shambles in many places especially in rural areas. On the other hand there is a mushroom growth of private western medium schools and coaching centres. Even though we claim to cherish our Islamic values yet most of these western medium schools borrow names of all the Christian saints and convents! Interestingly, some of the top religious clerics get their wards admitted in English medium Christian Missionary Schools and Convents. While sitting with the Principal of a Christian School, he got repeated phone calls. On being asked who was he talking to, he said it was the top most religious priest recommending for the admission of a kid in the school. He remarked, why with all that money, Muslims could not set up some top class modern boarding schools in the valley. They are setting up instead hotels with that money. There was no answer to his question! It was a glaring contradiction. Tourism field has had many contradictions. Firstly, it is touted as the backbone of the economy. This claim has been refuted many a times by prominent economists and others. Recently, Arsalan Yousaf, in his article, “Of Tourism and Occupation” has shattered the myth by giving specific facts and figures. According to him, “Tourism contributes only 7.93 % to the gross domestic product (GSDP) of Kashmir and provides livelihood to only about 2% of its population. In contrast, agriculture constitutes an important sector of Kashmir’s economy as around 70% of the population derives its income directly or indirectly from this sector. Agriculture also absorbs 49% of the total work force of the state with 42% as cultivators and 7% as agricultural labourers depending directly on agriculture for their livelihood”. No doubt, we have tremendous potential for Tourism development and it could become an important contributor to the economy but first requirement for that is peace which has been eluding us for long. Unfortunately, both the governments at Delhi and Srinagar are using Tourism as a barometer of political normalcy which has created uncertainty even in this sector. Apart from all these contradictions, there are many more in different sectors and sections of our society including the social customs and so on. The only conclusion from these contradictions is that we have become total hypocrites. We will not get the salvation unless we are prepared to shun the hypocrisy and face the truth regardless of consequences. Will it ever happen, that is a debatable point!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Power blackmail!

For almost a month now the Power Development Department has subjected the valley dwellers to the worst power scenario seen in recent times. One would accept the inevitability of power shortage in severe winters due to lesser discharge in our run of the river schemes and a strict regulation of the northern grid to over draw power. Always, one would heave a sigh of relief with the advent of spring in regard to power supply. However, this time the valleyites are being virtually blackmailed. On one hand there is a proposal to hike the tariff and on the other hand we have a scenario which is even worse than the notorious Pakistan power crisis. May be the power people have more affinity to Pakistan than to even Jammu, very much a part of the “atoot ang”! It could also be a punishment to the valley dwellers for demanding “Azadi”. Jammu of course does not want “Azadi” but total merger and in fact in many ways they enjoy fully the rights and privileges enjoyed by the citizens in other parts of India! There are many stories circulating about this power mess. First it was given out that the department is trying to stabilize connection to northern grid which cuts off power due to over drawl or fluctuations in frequency caused by overloading. However, the northern grid officials flatly denied this and stated that J & K was free to draw as much power as they needed and there was no problem from their side. Only, the J & K had to pay for it. Then came the story that the power development department had been put under a strict embargo by the state government on import of power from the northern grid. They could not go beyond rupees three thousand five hundred crore. The department resorted to worst ever type of load shedding. Power for one hour and curtailment for next hour in metered areas and no power for hours together in non-metered areas. But there was no such curtailment in Jammu where the “new Maharajas” of Kashmir with their “new Damaras” enjoy life in winter. Probably the top brass of the department, many of whom are on the verge of retirement and some are enjoying re-employment want to impress the rulers that they are doing their best to save money for the state exchequerto enable the “Maharajas” to indulge in frivolous festivals, unproductive recreational jaunts and so on at the cost of the poor suffering Kashmiris. They probably think that the poor valleyites can be subjected to all sorts of travails till the “Maharajas” move back here. By the time they arrive here in first week of May, the Kashmiris would have been blackmailed to accept this totally inhuman treatment regardless of being in metered or unmetered areas. The officers will then impress the authorities that they have saved a couple of hundred crores at the cost of the local people. The “Maharajas” would be pleased to grant them further extensions and re-employment! The most pathetic and tragic part of the whole drama is the regulatory authority constituted by the government to oversee the power scenario. It is in all respects an extension of the government even though it is claimed to have quasi-judicial powers. The authority is being headed by a former bureaucrat who makes it move in the traditional tortoise fashion. Probably it might have moved faster and in a more judicial fashion had it been headed by a former judge or a non-bureaucrat. The authority can pass only recommendatory orders and not any mandatory orders. Last year they had issued orders to the power department that it should not indulge in unannounced power curtailment. The department not only threw the orders in a waste paper basket but went beyond the schedules announced in earlier winters. The entire valley was subjected to unscheduled power cuts of the worst kind. There was total disregard of the orders of the authority which did not wake up from its slumber. The rulers who do not miss any chance to proclaim tourism as the backbone of the economy completely forget that no tourist would like to visit an area subjected to such unscheduled power interruptions. Kashmir seems to have become a bundle of contradictions. On one hand we claim to be prospering with the arrival of millions of tourists while on the other the local people are deprived of the very basic necessities of life be it the LPG, the pot-holed roads, spiralling prices of essential commodities and the worst ever power supply. Not to forget the deteriorating situation of environment. We celebrate the ownership of the largest Tulip Garden of Asia while the very heart of Kashmir, the Dal Lake is dying rapidly. Will we ever get out of this mess? That is the million dollar question!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Kashmir’s Political Parasites

Kashmiris have been under the rule of outsiders for more than four centuries now. There have been many attempts at rebellion to get rid of the foreign occupation but most were unsuccessful. Many people gave sacrifices to redeem the place of honour and dignity lost in 1586. In the recent times, the movement for emancipation started in early part of the twentieth century. Generally, 1931 is taken to be the decisive date from which the present movement started in real terms for total emancipation from the Dogra rule. In spite of the struggle of more than 72 years, they have yet to reach the goal of getting a place of honour and dignity promised by the leaders that have been heading the struggle from time to time. The most unfortunate tragedy has been that these leaders have quite often misled the people for their own personal interests. They were thrown up by the people and nourished with their innumerable sacrifices but they used these sacrifices to bargain for power and material gains instead of taking the people to their cherished goal. The tallest leader among them all proved to be what Dr. Joseph Korbel in his book, “Danger in Kashmir” calls a “shallow patriot”. According to him he rose like the morning star but ultimately fell like a meteor! Since that time we have had a plethora of leaders vying with each other to proclaim to be the saviours of the people but in reality competing with each other to usurp the power bestowed by the masters from outside the state on two sides of the divide. They have stuck to the bodies of the common people like parasites. In fact they are virtually like the leeches sucking the blood of the common people to fatten themselves and have fallen from the body by the weight of their own greed from time to time. Unfortunately, the people have been picking up these leeches to put them back on their bodies to suck more blood. In recent times there is a race among some of these leaders to take credit for certain measures which were in fact initiated by the sacrifice of the masses and not by the efforts of these parasitical leaders. The so called confidence building measures were instituted after people gave umpteen sacrifices and not because of these parasites. The powers that be were alarmed due to the extreme alienation of the people and were forced to initiate certain measures to win over their confidence. However, all these measures have remained very symbolic in nature and have not been initiated truly with the spirit of winning over the confidence of the people. If these leaders were truly the authors and initiators of these measures, they would not have rested till these measures had been initiated on the ground in their full measure. On the other hand there are leaders who have been declaring like a gramophone record whose needle is stuck about giving relief to the people from the harassment of the oppressive security measures depriving people of their fundamental rights. The only quality these leaders have is the expertise in histrionics used by them to fool the people again and again. It is very interesting to watch these leaders from time to time. When they are out of power, they appear lean and frail in very ordinary outfits. However, as soon as they usurp the chair with the help of their outside masters, they really fatten both physically and materially and become totally unrecognizable. They start wearing designer clothes and put on karakul caps of different sizes, shapes and colours. Again, once they lose these chairs, they turn back into lean and frail creatures! Similar situation prevails among some of the so called leaders of the other camp proclaiming to be continuing the original movement for total emancipation. Although many of these leaders have served long time in incarceration and some are even now in jails for more than two decades or so, yet some of them carry on like the ones fighting to maintain the status quo. Some of them too wear designer apparel and move round in expensive vehicles. Here again the movement is being led to create the perennial problem of Kashmir of the damaging personality cult! Convictions take the back seat. However, the most satisfying silver lining is that the new generation of Kashmiris does not need a symbolic or a charismatic leader. They appear to be down to earth people. They know the goal very well and know how to reach it. They are not swayed by the charisma or the histrionics of the so called leaders but follow their own convictions. The most frustrating job for the oppressors has been to identify and control the leaders of this generation. However, to their dismay there are none which can be tackled to liquidate the movement. Each young man in himself is a leader. The most difficult and frustrating job is to control a leaderless movement based on convictions and the guarantee for its success too is its being leaderless. May be this proves to be the nemesis for the Kashmir’s political parasites?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The “Middlemen” and the “Brokers”!

Most of the marriages in Kashmir till recently were arranged by the “Middlemen” or the “Middle women” known in Kashmiri as “Manzimyore”. This is a very old institution in which both men and women took part in bringing together families for marriage. These people would be surveying all the localities and would prepare lists of eligible boys and girls for marriage. They would collect bio-data of these persons, sometimes with photographs and detailed family background. Then they would visit various families and present a list of eligible matches for their sons or daughters. The process would go on till the two families finally agreed for a suitable match. Then there would be exchange of gifts and so on till the marriage finally took place. These middle people would be handsomely rewarded. With the coming of the modern IT savvy world, the institution is sort of going into oblivion. We have now dozens of websites and even match making agencies operating everywhere. In addition, many a times the well to do families use friends and relations for match making.In fact, now instead of photographs there are arranged meetings in posh hotels between the boy and the girl before the marriages are fixed and solemnised. Similarly, we have had the property “Brokers” called the “Drawl”, who would be surveying available lands and houses for sale and would then fix various property deals against a commission. They continue to thrive but now we have a number of agencies dealing in properties including land sales. There are companies setting up housing colonies. However, the “Brokers” continue to be there. They now fix everything from sale deed to transfer through various government departments against a fee. In normal course one may take months or even years to get all legal formalities completed through various government agencies. However, these people have a network of connections and can get things done in a matter of days or weeks by greasing the palms of all concerned. The most common thing among all these service providers has been their tremendous ability to lie. They tell lies so neatly that one can never suspect that they are lying. One only realises that after seeing the ground situation which is really frustrating but one is helpless and has to go along. Direct approach is more difficult especially in case of properties and land deals. It is more difficult than climbing the Everest as the entire system is networked with the service providers for their share of the booty. Well, these “Middlemen” and “Brokers” have been the traditional part of the system but for the specific tasks of match making and property deals. However, now these tribes have infiltrated each and every part of the system both on the government side and in the civil society. They have now become what may be called the “Unethical Service Providers”! They provide their services in total disregard of ethics, morality, and honesty. Integrity and honesty have ceased to be a part of any deals in the present set up. The material greed has surpassed everything. The most humanitarian services like the healthcare have been totally commercialised. Unethical nexuses have developed between various service providers with the sole consideration of making money. The worst tragedy is that giving and taking bribes is considered absolutely normal. Nobody has any pangs of conscience in indulging in it. Of course, the givers feel they have no choice as without greasing the palms of officials and the rulers including the ministers, nothing gets done. One needs tremendous stamina, energy, and patience to get things done in normal routine and it takes not months but sometimes years! Quite often the papers get misplaced at some stage and one has to start from the beginning again. On the political side there are high profile “Middlemen” and “Fixers” who can negotiate and fix any deals with the concerned ministers and politicians. These services include nominations for assembly seats, getting of ministerial berths, and important public offices. There is always lobbying through “fixers” needed to procure these offices. Sometimes the “fixers” fail to get the promised services and have to return the fees paid in advance and refusal to do that may end in violence as happened sometime back. Securing of government jobs even at the lowest level of a daily wager needs payment of “fees” to the “fixers” who are connected with the network right to the top. Transfers in all departments at the highest and the middle level especially securing of plum postings are services available through the “fixers”. These are also done often on the basis of political considerations. Even after demitting office, quite a few administrative officers even at the highest level get into the political stream of the parties which they have obliged during their tenure. Will we ever get rid of these “Unethical Service Providers”? There seems no hope! It would need a change in our basic character. We are not ready for a sacrifice which needs patience, time and energy. We want things to be done straightway regardless of the price we have to pay apart from money in morality and ethics. We are destined to live in this rule of the “Middlemen” and the “Brokers” in the age which Sheikh Noor-ud-din Wali also known as the Alum Dar-i-Kashmir, called the “Vander Raj” (the rule of the Langurs).