Thursday, April 12, 2018

David and Goliath!

(The recent security forces anti-insurgency operations appear like the biblical giant Goliath chasing the miniscule David with lot of collateral damage)

David and Goliath!

The “Bloody Sunday” which resulted in the death of 20 persons (militants, soldiers and civilians) and injuries to over 150 persons including pellet injuries in the eyes to over 40 persons has been the worst episode of all round violence in recent times. According to the estimates given by the State Police there are no more than 200 militants in Kashmir at present. Most of these are said to be local boys some even in their early teens. It is also alleged that these boys have been driven to the extremes of militancy due to the continued harassment by the Police and the Security Agencies. In fact, even in earlier times allegedly the harassment of these teens had driven them to desperation and reportedly this had become a lucrative business for the security agencies. In nineties of the last century, the killing of a militant was very lucrative for the Army and the Police who would get huge amounts of reward money for such actions. In fact, a number of fake encounters were because of the booty which the killers of the militants would get. Kishalay Bhattacharjee in his book, “Blood on My hands” has given detailed account of the confessions of some Army Officers on the subject of fake encounters.
During last 70 years or so Kashmir has seen many conflicts and upheavals. The very first one was in 1947 at the time of the partition of the sub-continent when Kashmir got sucked into the vortex of the sub-continental mayhem and got split into two parts with a bloody ceasefire line dividing these! The next was the Indo-Pak war of 1965 which caused lot of destruction. Kashmir suffered because of a proxy war being raged in the valley. Then we had the upheaval of 1990 which was most damaging for the local people. This upheaval according to official figures resulted in the death of over 50,000 people. Thousands were injured and maimed.  All these upheavals could be called proxy wars between two perennially antagonistic neighbours built round local discontent. The moot point is that there has always been local discontent because of the unsolved basic political problem of Kashmir. This has been the starting point and the nucleus of all uprisings. Having failed to make their point known through peaceful expression which has always been suppressed, the youth after being driven to a wall, have been going for militancy.
In countering such violent activities which may be taken to be the last resort of Kashmiri militants, the security forces are trying to kill a flea with a sledge hammer causing extensive collateral damage. It must be the only place in the world where armed militants are being helped by hordes of unarmed civilians to escape when surrounded by security forces. They are being provided more and more popular support with every action of the counter insurgency forces. This shows the extent of alienation of the local people because of the actions of the security forces. Apparently, it looks very odd. Just 200 or so mostly juvenile, ill equipped and not well-trained militants against the third largest army of the world almost half of which is in Kashmir! It is truly turning into the biblical story of the small David fighting the mighty Goliath!
Goliath of Gath (one of the five city-states of the Philistines) was the large biblical warrior defeated by the young David in the Book of Samuel. The phrase “David and Goliath” or (David versus Goliath) has taken on a more popular meaning, denoting an underdog situation, a contest where a smaller, weaker opponent faces a much bigger, stronger adversary. Like David the local kids are also using stones and sometimes even with sling shots! Had there been a single Goliath, may be the ace Kashmiri stone pelters would have taken an accurate sling shot to knock him out. But they are facing huge army of Goliaths, the third largest in the world! However, this virtually a symbolic fight between David and Goliath is not going to solve the problem. Kashmir’s two generations have already been consumed by the conflict and the third generation is being at present slowly decimated. Kashmir can no longer afford this suicidal loss of these budding youth, most of them in their teens. On the part of the security forces, this all out search and destroy operation is not going to end militancy. On the contrary it is alienating the entire population beyond redemption. A well-known columnist in a recent article has put the solution very succinctly, “A breakthrough in Kashmir will come out not from a body count but through dialogue whether it is within Kashmir or with Pakistan. This is a reality New Delhi has to face up to.” The sooner it is done, the better it will be for all stakeholders!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Revising Tourism Marketing Targets

(Tourism Department needs to direct increased marketing efforts on South India and South East Asia which are emerging as potential Tourism markets for Kashmir)

The 64th Convention of the Travel agents Association of India has just concluded in Srinagar. The Convention was attended by over 600 delegates from all over the country. The Convention was held in Srinagar after 31 years. A large number of delegates came from South India including Kerala, known as “God’s Own Country”. The delegates including some top doyens of Travel, Hospitality, Airline and Travel media such as Aditya Gosh, CEO, Indigo Airlines; Nukul Anand, CEO, ITC Hotels; Kapil Kak, CEO, CAPA; Yossi Fatael, Vice-President UFTAA; Rodeney D’Cruz, Assistant Director IATA, India; Praveen Chugh, President, TAFI; Rajendran Vellapalath, CEO, TP Connect, Dubai and Yogesh Gondal, Editor New India Publications. From “God’s Own Country”, Najeeb, the President of Kerala Tourism Federation was there. This is in addition to the Chairmen of all the State Chapters of TAAI and so many other prominent Travel Agents, Hoteliers and Airline representatives. The mere fact that such an high profile Travel Conference was held here is enough marketing initiative to attract tourists not only from all over the country but abroad also. The credit for this goes to the State Tourism Secretary Sarmad Hafeez, Director Tourism, Mehmud Shah and the most dynamic and helpful TAAI President Sunil Kumar and his team.
An important part of the convention were the knowledge sessions on different topics related to Tourism promotion, use of technology, innovations of digitization, and the impact of media on Tourism promotion etc. Different experts in the relevant fields spoke during these sessions. Regarding the role of the media, there were strong reservations regarding over exaggerated reports with very scary pictures and videos circulated all over. It was felt that such reports discouraged potential tourists as the impression went around that the situation was dangerous and out of control even though actually on ground it was not so bad. It was disclosed that the Government had set up a crisis management group in the Ministry of Tourism to counter the negative publicity sometime back. However, as informed in the meeting, the group failed to deliver and it was wound up. There were suggestions for having crisis groups in the area of every chapter of TAAI for giving exact situation for the benefit of potential tourists. Some people opined that it was no use contacting media in general to play down negative news as they will not listen because every unusual happening is news for them. On the contrary, some media experts opined that every negative event should be countered by the Travel Trade through Travel Media with positive happenings in the concerned areas at the same time. Kashmir was being painted as a dangerous and unstable area by the media. However, the very holding of the convention successfully with such a large attendance in Srinagar counters that view. 
One important announcement in the convention was declaration of year 2018 as the “Visit Kashmir Year” by the Travel Agents Association of India. Mr. Sunil Kumar, the President of TAAI announced that the TAAI Managing Committee had decided to promote tourism to Kashmir by announcing through all the member websites and printed literature the celebration of the year 2018 as the “Visit Kashmir Year”! According to him all the members would package Kashmir beautifully so that the valley witnesses a bumper tourist season. An interesting sidelight of the convention was a large presence of delegates from the South Indian states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and so on. Also there were travel agents from South East Asia. It was felt that there is a lot of scope for generating traffic to Kashmir from the Southern States. Tourists have been coming from these parts earlier also. However, an important aspect was that the Southern States were not so much affected by the biased negative propaganda of the mainstream channels of the North. These were hardly watched in the South! Kerala was a good example from the South which had many water bodies and houseboats. Najeeb, the President of the Kerala Tourism Federation offered to help in marketing Kashmir on a reciprocal basis. Kerala Tourism apart from marketing Kashmir Holidays for the Keralites would also promote Kashmir among the foreigners visiting Kerala. Similarly, Kashmir Tourism would promote visits by Kashmiri travellers to Kerala and also market Kerala among the foreigners visiting Kashmir. He called it from “God’s Own Country” to “Paradise on Earth”! Something worth experimenting as Tourism Promotion!
It may be worthwhile for local travel agents to explore taking of groups from Kashmir to Kerala. There are direct flights from Delhi to Kochi. Incidentally, Kerala has the first mosque built in India. Cheraman Jum'ah Masjid in Kodungallur town, in central Kerala, just 30 km north of Kochi, is not just the oldest in India and the subcontinent but one built during the lifetime of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in 629 AD by an Arab propagator of Islam, Malik Ibn Dinar. It is also testimony to two facts. One, Islam came to India long before the Mughals came in from the northwest. Two, the entry of Islam was smooth and Muslims enjoyed the full patronage of the locals irrespective of their religions - a facet that is still visible and cherished here. Incidentally, Kashmir’s historical tolerance gels with the Keralite non-communal life style! From “God’s Own Country” to “Paradise on Earth” really clicks!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Digitisation for selling Privacy!

(Even though digitisation of various services has helped a lot yet it has adversely affected personal privacy)

Image result for 1984 george orwell

The Facebook/Analytical scam has shaken the digital world. There are allegations about the use of personal data during last US elections. According to the expose the information about people is being collected, stored and processed to produce psychographic profiles that can judge peoples’ thoughts and personalities almost accurately and these are offered to clients for business or electoral purposes. There were also reports about the Facebook selling personal data of the users to various commercial organizations though advertisements. In fact, Google too has been accused of using personal data of its users for commercial purposes. It is a fact that with the progress of digitization and especially the information highway of internet, the individual privacy has taken a direct hit. Fred Cate in his book “Privacy in the Information Age” says, “Electronic information networks offer extraordinary advantages to business, government, and individuals in terms of power, capacity, speed, accessibility, and cost. But these same capabilities present substantial privacy issues. With an unprecedented amount of data available in digital format–which is easier and less expensive to access, manipulate, and store–others know more about you than ever before. Consider this: data routinely collected about you includes your health, credit, marital, educational, and employment histories; the times and telephone numbers of every call you make and receive; the magazines you subscribe to and the books your borrow from the library; your cash withdrawals; your purchases by credit card or check; your electronic mail and telephone messages; where you go on the World Wide Web. The ramifications of such a readily accessible storehouse of information are astonishing.”
Parminder Jeet Singh in an article in Hindu says. “The current focus on the right to privacy is based on some new realities of the digital age. Personal spaces and safeties that were previously granted simply by physical separation are no longer protected. The digital network enters the most proximate spaces and challenges the normally accepted notions of the private. It brings into focus new means of exercising social, economic, and political power, and reducing of autonomies”.
Thus the digital revolution has adversely affected the personal privacy all over the world. It is said that Google and Facebook do not sell the personal data but they use the same to advance their commercial interests through advertisements. It has been established now that companies are making money from the personal data of people. They share the data among themselves. Harvesting of data and its sharing for commercial purposes has been admitted by the companies themselves. Recently, there was a humorous clip on WhatsApp in which a man orders a Pizza to a well-known Pizza joint of which the man had the phone number. However, a man responds saying it is Google Pizza and what he would like. The guy says that he did not call Google Pizza. The man answers that the Google has bought the Pizza joint. Then he asks suggestions for various ingredients. When the man asks for meat and other things, the Pizza man says he cannot take meat as his cholesterol was high in the last tests. On being asked how he knows that, the Pizza guy says we have all your tests for the whole year!
Apart from demolition of individual privacy, the digitization has given rise to accurate and incredible electronic surveillance. Sometime back there was a Hollywood movie, “The Enemy of the State”. It related to a video tape of a crime committed on the instance of a senator. The electronic surveillance shown in the movie was incredible. A person supposed to be holding the tape is followed through satellites. His every movement is monitored. Recently, there was a scare in Kashmir that the LED Bulbs being given free have camera chips inside! The quick location of militants is also attributed to electronic surveillance through drones and chips in mobile phone sim cards. Some people allege that the SIM cards of a particular company distributed freely did also have chip for easy location! Nothing seems to be hidden now!
Now, coming back home, the greatest privacy demolisher is the Aadhaar Card. It carries information which can be shared. There have been allegations about the leakage of data against consideration. UIDAI is a central body and it had outsourced the responsibility of collecting the data to 556 private agencies. There have been 1,390 complaints against them. In addition, the entire data is reported to be stored on servers in the Silicon Valley of USA! However, in comparison to personal data available in various social sites and search engines like google, the Aadhaar Card carries the entire biometric information of a person. Finger prints, pupil scans, and may be even genetic information and so on. There are umpteen chances of misuse of this data for banking frauds, impersonation and so on. Such instances have already taken place. In Mumbai some people have been using finger prints taken on nylon strips to mark attendance etc. Some people say that this digitization has helped more than 80% of the population which is poor especially in regard to subsidies etc. According to them only 1 or 2% people who are net savvy get adversely affected sometimes. In any case, the digitization has ended the privacy in all societies. In fact one is reminded of George Orwell’s famous book, 1984. “The Big Brother Is Watching You”, all the time!