Author: Saadut
•8:26 PM

The presence of military fatigues was overwhelming across the city and a return to home for those Kashmiri’s who left for the daily grind was guaranteed no more. Mehraj , a tall man of fair complexion and a longish face worked as a carpenter at a construction site on eastern shores of the Dal Lake, near Nishat. Would start early to commute to work from his residence in Downtown Srinagar, transverse via the interiors of the lake to avoid the main roads where many days back one of his friends had been picked up by forces and was yet to return home.

The spring sun had risen early on this Thursday, life returns early to the lake after the freeze of the winter chill has faded past. He had been working on this construction site for the past two months after being out of work for pretty long. Thursdays in Kashmir are the weekly wages disbursement time for the basic worker class, and Mehraj had not availed his weekly wages for the past three weeks, hoping to save and take home enough to pay for some of the debt accumulated during his no-work periods, and some to pay for his daughters school ‘new term’ fees. From a family of skilled craftsmen, who had specialized in making those beautiful ‘kahatmband’ ceilings, Mehraj would now take any odd carpentry job as a human survival necessity. During the lean periods when work was scarce and the number of feeding stomach many, necessity had become a luxury.

This was one of those few days that Mehraj had reveled in the beauty of the early morning lake, been enchanted by the different hues of azure, green or blue that the sunlight had majestically created in these waters. When the heart is happy, the world seems beautiful.
At work the day seemed to be winding into endlessness, on the rooftop of the construction site where Mehraj was working, even the spring sun seemed to burn like the summer furnace. Today he wanted the day to end fast, for the evening to close in briskly, for this Thursday to lighten his debt, to open the doors of a school for the little girl back home.

The sun was embracing the western mountains, a golden glow fast receding over the horizon and the work day had come to an end. Mehraj tucked away the ‘three weeks’ of wages in his inner waistcoat, into a pocket that felt close over his skin. Thursdays he used to take along his bag of carpentry tools from the work site to his home, just in case any odd work landed on the Friday weekly holiday. Retracing his steps back home, he was trying to march but his steps seemed unable to match his desired pace. Multitudes of thoughts were running parallel in his mind, about how many of his priorities would be able to squeeze within the waist coat inner pocket that clung close to his skin, about the waiting faces back home, about lost smiles.  From the eastern shores of the lake ran the big water pipes, centrally across the breadth of the lake and ended right into the city. On these water pipes by the shores of the lake, men in fatigues were seen in the evening. A posse of gun wielding uniforms had spread across some part of the road, their vehicles lay parked in a cluster closeby. Locals were being stopped and quizzed randomly, and Mehraj was next

“Kya naam hai?”              “Jinaab Mehraj”,
“kahan thaa?”                 “Jinaab kaam pe”,
“Kya karta tha’a wahan”  “Jinaab baam lagata thaa makan pe”

It was only after almost 20 days that Mehraj was released and came back home, crushed to pulp, battered, stripped, demolished and bed ridden.

Debt had grown behemothic; the gates of school for the little girl still closed and for many years to come there were no hands for his tools.

31st December 2011

Legend: ‘Baam’ in Kashmiri is a part of the roof
“Khatamband’ is a ceiling of geometrical designs made of wood by master craftsmen   from Kashmir

Author: Saadut
•8:18 PM

A Pheran is just a Pheran you might say, a long robe that has been passed on for generations and over centuries in Kashmir, a garment worn to warm. But every Pheran has some story behind it. As a rule the Pheran goes right over the knees and is loose enough to create your own warm space, Pheran having survived all winters of vogue & trend; but look closely and there is more to than just a garment in this Pheran.

Women’s Pride : The one preferred by Kashmiri Muslim ladies would have their sleeves folded midway through a half opening, edged with embroidery of ‘silver or gold thread’ (the tilla). Such sleeves are called the ‘qourab’e naerr’ (the qouraab’e sleeve). Such a Pheran would also have the embroidery patterns extended to the borders and spread motifs at the neck opening. Kashmiri Pandit women on the contrary would wear a long Pheran (tied at the waist with folded material called lhungi) that would almost go up to their feet, with narrower sleeves, more often of grayish dull colors. I have heard that the non-embroidered length and color of Pandit ladies pheran was linked to the economics and practicality of it, but I leave the reason to open interpretation. I have always marveled at the way my Pandit teacher's mother looked in her attire, so magical, so Romanesque.

Necessity: The workman is characterized by his Pheran usually made of rough and dull wool, very loose and likely to be worn to the end of fabric life, may be even beyond. The rich man’s Pheran on the other end of the social net, prefers a softer fabric often of subtle colors, a garment that gets replaced mostly because of vogue rather than necessity.

I am a class apart: Some novice ‘khojjas’ (neo rich ) who migrated to the newly clustered peripheries of Srinagar seem to have done away with this koshur garment, instead donning a cross between a shawl and a blanket. This garment often imitates the appearance of wool puffed sheep skin. But by doing away with the traditional Pheran, you don’t become a different social class; you are only likely to become a human icicle in harsh Kashmir winters.

Postcard Bright’s: Then there are the all weather Pherans made of ‘terry cots’ in bright colors offered to tourists in the gardens of Srinagar, for those photo clicks. Such flashy Pherans are complimented by fake headgear that is just as real as the current peace in Kashmir.

Political Convenience: The politician has also learnt to wear this Pheran for opportunities. On those occasions of addressing  political rallies or in those rare attempts to be seen as one among the ‘commoners’ a ‘political Pheran’ is conveniently worn over his Pierre Cardin’s, Ralph Lauren’s and Polo’s. The occasional ‘political robe’ is as misfit and as loose as his political promises and rhetoric. His only real connection with The 'Pheran' is his 'phiryeth Pheran naael tchunun' actions, which he has adopted as the preamble of his survival rule book.

Like the poor who use the Pheran to hide the defects of their old garments that they may be wearing underneath the robe, the politician also attempts to use this Pheran to hide his political infirmity and frailty, his ambition and malady, but having donned Pheran for centuries Kashmiri’s know how to see through this cloak. This political Pheran is riddled with holes of disconnect and anarchy, but ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ would not have any self realization. It only takes a child to see through his robe.

Our Pherans are a seasonal necessity, his Pheran is power convenience.


Author: Saadut
•12:08 PM
Where did the promised Kashmir 'summer' go, the solider freezing in the obnoxious sandbag bunker wonders?

Watching the deserted streets he longs for home, for his family that he carried as passport size photographs in his wallet.

Two summers back he had held his children to a tight embrace, walked them in the plain fields, raced their little steps.

He has caressed his wife, but hid his hands that still had stains of blood, that refused to wash off.

These hands carried scars from the mountains where they had split some young into two; handed the pieces to an old grave digger, put them into pits without names.

It was these scarred hands that trembled when his own son darted for a hug, for the cuddle of his father, for a sought emotion.

Back in the bunker, flares from a dark bukhari glowed in the dark, reminded him of the inglenook and his wife. Had the children had food, he was wondering in the dark?

From the rear edge of the bunker starts the expanse of the graveyard, unmarked stones for epitaphs, more than one cadaver in many markings.

Innocent been sleeping for long here, back home people are unaware, still in wait.

Mother has been waiting for the young of mountains, whose innocence scarred the soldier’s hand; she hopes he will walk back, someday, one day.

She could never hug him when he was home; her hands want to caress him, her hands want to cuddle, to an embrace so tight, never to leave again.

The fire in her kitchen no more burns bright, the flames burn her but warm nothing. She waits for him every night, every supper, every morsel.

In the cold of the night she keeps a window open, anticipating a knock, in wait for a return. With drained hope she looks out to the blank winter sky.

The solider stares in the dark of the night, the graveyard stares at the solider. Winter is really setting in, winter is already here.

When will the spring come?

 20th Dec 2011
Author: Saadut
•9:42 PM

Long before Facebook existed, the local social networks of Kashmir ran an extensive web of updates, discussions and social inclusiveness. In Kashmir when most of the basic services and occupations were still ‘Kosher’ you had the local native barber whose joint would be the hub of all political and news discussions. The local ‘navied’ would be a political expert who would rhyme his fingers over haircuts with political discussions, opinions and economic discourse. His expertise would encompass both local and the world beyond the state from whatever latency prone news that seeped in those days of a ‘non public internet’ world.

My earliest childhood recollection was Aziz Joo who was a regular at our house for attending the barber services of my father. Aziz Joo wore a white ‘dastaar’ (turban) which was more roundish than ovalish and perfectly matched with his fair face. His long ‘pheran’ had a loose fit with an almost left of corner opening at the top with no buttons, his ‘pheran’ often meticulously clean and ironed. His ‘arsenal’ would be arranged in a wooden box that had black leather straps, which he carried along always. He would not only carry with him his barber services but also news and happenings from across the dwellings. I later heard he would also be sought in other parts to care blemishes or boils, the local dermatologist kind of, his primary prescription would be the ‘malhaam’ a strong variant of the belladonna patch. A man of medium height with dark eyebrows and wide eyes, his pace would be fast for his feet size, often brisk for those calculated timings of his work and attendance. He carried with him a great sense of wit that rarely came to fore in the presence of Dad, he would be of restricted speak in front of him, but would have quick replies to Dad’s inquests. Dad respected Aziz Joo for the wisdom he carried and the knowledge he exhibited, he understood more of the Kashmir political scene that some of the current dynasty political heirs could ever know. Dad narrated an incident that Aziz Joo had been witness to very early. When Sheikh had been dethroned and Bakshi took over in Kashmir, J&K Armed Police had been deployed in parts of internal Srinagar, who were restricting movements of civilians in the city. Kabir’e an old bachelor used to live with his brothers family (his brother’s wife was named Bakhti). On this particular day Kabir’e had ventured out and was stopped near Khanyar by the Armed Police, the lathis were up and the blows were next to fall in place ‘Kouan hai’ (Who are you) shouted the Armed Police, ‘Main Bakhti ka droui houn’ (I am the brother In-law of Bakhti). The policemen who were from Jammu would not comprehend much of Kashmiri understood ‘Bakhti’ to be ‘Bakshi’ and gave him easy passage.

When I grew up the ‘not so far away’ barber Manzoor was the style haunt for local boys; that is before I had been sent to the boarding school. His own hair style was a peculiar mix of two Hindi film heroes; you could not be sure which two although.  But that mix and match was not what he did with the hair styles of boys, his finger created almost that perfect cut you demanded, but not before he had given you an overdose of his recommendations. A slim man of medium height, he would always dress business like, from old bell bottoms to the then in rage parallels, you could not help but marvel his sense of style. Manzoor was well versed with the happenings and ‘puppet mechanizations’’ of the state’s political scene, all the deceit and repertoire and more of it were familiar with him. His shop was the Facebook wall for the local boys, where status updates were posted more frequently, where the RSS feeds would run nonstop for the ‘who and where’ of this small closely knit local society. The newspapers on his shop would change more hands, would get more hits then than a small web page would get in present times. The colour of these newspaper edges would go brownish dark by the evening, by the shuffling of multiple readers who devoured on them. But more than the news that was written on these newspapers were the narratives held on and by this barber shop. It knew the local social trends, was aware of the social pursuits and kept the secrets of many households in these dwellings. It was the virtual local google then. His shop had wide mirrors, stacked with shelves on either side that had genuine ‘Old Spice’ unlike ‘Old Skice’ the fake cousin of this after shave that adorns the UP bhaiyaa run barber shops now in Srinagar. The present barber shops know nothing of our societies, so disconnected from this land they are that they don’t even know how to pronounce the names of local places, the ‘e in Noet’e (Nowhatta) or the Habb’e Kadal often missed by them. The modern barber shops have been reduced to automated scissors that treat all human specimens as to be sheared sheep, subject to the same geometric compass cut.  

During my once in a year holidays from boarding, I would never miss an opportunity to get Manzoor do the hair honors, back there we had be forced to do a ‘no hair must grasp in hand’ student haircut in school.  It was in one of these visits that I found out that Manzoor had also become the local database for the torments of conflict in this area. He had infact even kept a copy of an old ‘India Today’ magazine which had announced the arrival of armed rebellion in Kashmir. He kept the virtual ‘pain, migration, survival and death’ count during the conflict. In good old days, I heard, he would also act as the part time match maker, more often as a social service with some economic benefits. But now the match making scene was dismal, with most of the boys either already been lost to conflict or the living boys lost to joblessness and economic deprivation. With conflict migration taking precedence, families migrated from villages to cities and from central city to suburbs, the brokerage business for new and rental property came into vogue, an opportunity he grasped soon. He soon converted into the local ‘Yellow Pages’ indexing most of the migrations and ‘to let’ positions in nearby vicinities.  But soon this conflict left deep scars on him too. Mid conflict renegade culture came to fore in Kashmir, where a shielded and cloaked armed to teeth force was unleashed upon the local habitations. Manzoor had been identified as a potential prey and from demands of ransom to frequent threats, he soon withdrew into reclusiveness. Ransoms had been paid, but the nocturnal knocks had not ceased. The local social network had soon shut shop.

Now the city has imported workforce, bollywood poster beaming salons filled with the smell of cheap cologne, but you will see no connections to this land, to this society coming from these shops. They have now tagged the local customers by wallet count, names are not remembered, and the old human social networks exist no more.  

18th Dec 2011

Author: Saadut
•8:47 PM

‘Liquor shops should reopen in Kashmir to boost tourism industry in the state’, which is what was advocated by a main stream politician recently in Srinagar. On expected lines within Kashmir soon there were voices against this statement, but more surprising was the fervor shown by Indian media and people on social networks to grab the bait and customize the issue. Many claimed banning liquor was ‘against secular and democratic credentials’ while others termed it as religious extremism. Journalist @tavleen_singh went even a step further tweeting ‘How sad for Kashmir that it has become the centre of such intolerant Islam. It once was a place where women prayed in mosques.’ Were people like her trying to bake their bread in the controversy or are they really ignorant about the facts in Kashmir? Not only are women in Kashmir still praying in Mosques, have an equal place in Kashmiri society but they are also the most traumatized of all, in decades of conflict having lost husbands, sons and fathers to this turmoil. What was the relationship that these experts were trying to forge between demands for ‘ban on liquor’ and ‘women praying in mosques’ in Kashmir? Incidents of women campaigning for ‘prohibition’ in Punjab or rural Maharashtra have not been linked till date to any ‘conservative religion’ criticism or declaration of ‘democracy in danger’ by these social champions.

Liquor and cinema were never banned in Kashmir. In fact even during the turmoil years, two cinema halls were operational in Kashmir, ‘Neelam’ cinema in the heart of Srinagar and ‘Broadway’ theatre near the cantonment area, but most people avoided these places out of personal choices. In addition to the prevalent sense of insecurity looming large in Kashmir during the turmoil, where days folded up early and evenings were full of lurking danger, people were more concerned about securing their safety at homes rather than daring to venture out. Also these cinemas were seen as likely soft targets for violence. For all the years that it continued to operate in Kashmir, not able to sustain the show biz business model here, ‘Broadway’ theatre shutdown and changed the line of activity. This was purely for commercial reasons, rather than for any ‘nationalistic’ or ‘religious’ containment.

For those who were suggesting that ‘resistance of locals to opening of liquor shops in Kashmir’ had to do something with religious intolerance, such pathetic thought pointed to their mental fatigue. Liquor was never banned in the state and many liquor shops still exist in Srinagar. In mainland India prohibition is in place in Gujarat but we are yet to hear these experts point out to ‘prohibition in Gujarat’ as a result of religious intolerance or seen as a ‘threat to democratic and secular credentials’. The ‘prohibition’ not notwithstanding, fact is that Gujarat recorded 1.8 crore tourists in 2010 which included 3.2 lac foreign tourists. The government of Gujurat understanding the needs of tourism sector planned to spend Rupees 635 crore for developing related infrastructure over the next three years, setting targets of 2 crore tourists this year, including 4 lac foreign visitors. Incidentally the share of tourism revenue in the GDP of Gujarat was only about 1 per cent. In comparison, the tourist arrivals in Kashmir Valley this year had almost surpassed its pre militancy records of seven lac including almost 21,000 foreigners (some estimates put the figure at one million). Clearly J&K does not have a ‘tourism’ investment policy in place; in fact this June the chairperson of FCCI (Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry), during a tourism conference held in Srinagar urged the state government to come up with an ‘Investment Policy’ in J&K. The local industry has been pleading with the government since long to improve tourist infrastructure and resume many events in Kashmir, like the ‘sound and light show’ of Shalimar gardens, but not much headway has been achieved on this front till date. Of late the tourism sector in Kashmir has started showing significant resurgence, but this revival would fail in its tracks for want of required infrastructure and policy initiatives.  Contrast this to the fact that natural spots have been vandalized by unplanned and reckless constructions, arterial approaches that need upgradation and environmental degradation that is playing havoc with these natural resorts. In fact the authorities had turned such a blind eye to illegal constructions and forest grabbing in these hill spots that it took the High Court to impose a ban on constructions in Pahalgam in response to a PIL (Public Interest Litigation). 

With crippling infrastructure across the valley you don’t expect tourism to turn around by just wishful thinking. It surely needs more practical work on ground than any political speak. When you think of Kashmir what comes to your mind, lofty peaks, gushing rivers, clear lakes and blooming meadows. How many tourists conjure images of pubs and bars when they think of Kashmir? None I think. Kashmir is all about nature, but what has been left of these bounties of nature? The rivers are polluted downstream, constructions invaded right upto the river banks upstream, meadows collapsing and ever shrinking, the lakes dying a slow human engineered death.  The jewels of Srinagar, Dal and Nigeen lakes have succumbed to decades of human invasion and bureaucratic greed. It is these assets of the valley that drew tourists over centuries and it is here where the state has utterly failed. Years of half hearted efforts and billions of rupees for lake conservation could achieve nothing but accelerate the death of these water bodies. With unabated encroachment going on and thousands of tones of sewage dumped directly into the lake, the Dal Lake is reported to have shrunk from 25 sq kms to 10.56 sq km and its depth has decreased by four meters. In the interiors of the lake and more obvious towards Ashai Bagh Bridge, the government has left the lake to its own death with absolutely no conservation or cleaning efforts by the authorities. So much for the rhetoric of drawing tourists to Kashmir. And if Dal & Nigeen were no exceptions to rule, other lakes of Kashmir like the Wular and Manasbal are also staring at extinction.  When these attractions are gone, no amount of pubs and bars in Kashmir will be able to draw any tourists. What the tourism industry in Kashmir needs are sustained and honest efforts for conserving nature and rebuilding infrastructure that supports the industry. Approach roads that get choked by a slight increase in traffic, a national highway that blocks with a sudden sneeze of nature and an airport  that takes more hours to clear the drop gate than it takes to fly to Delhi are surely not ‘tourism friendly’. Incidentally the double laning of Pahalgam - Khanabal road started earnestly during the Chief Ministerial tenure of PDP’s Mufti Syed has still not been completed, 3 governments having changed since. No wonder traffic to Pahalgam struggles and snarls for miles on holidays. Not to speak of the two laning of Srinagar city, Dalgate – Zakura road (which also takes the traffic of Amarnath yatris on the Sonamarg route) that has been pending for decades in spite of clear plan earmarked for the same. The condition of other tourist places in Kashmir is surely no better.

Some years back I was travelling to Delhi and the then CM of Kashmir Ghulam Nabi Azad happened to travel in the same low cost airline to Delhi (Yes the CM was not using the state aircraft here, in fact was travelling economy class). While he was seated with his wife in the first row, I was seated in the second row. As the plane touched down in Delhi and Mr. Azad prepared to leave the aircraft he turned to some tourists who were seated in the front rows on the other side, greetings were exchanged and the visitors honestly replied ‘Kashmir gaye th’e Dal dekkhne, dekha Dull lake’ (We had gone to Kashmir to see the Dal lake but all we saw was a Dull Lake). Their emphasis on ‘dULL’ conveyed it all.   The dullness seems to have since spread to other natural spots of Kashmir too with the government inaction and apathy accelerating their erosion.

Kashmir needs to secure these natural bounties; it is a protected and rejuvenated nature alone with adequate supporting infrastructure that can sustain the local tourism industry.

When the tourists start marking their itinerary by the liquor joints available in Kashmir, it surely will mark the death of destination Kashmir. Then the natural ‘Paradise’ will exist no more.

9, November 2011
Author: Saadut
•8:49 PM

Recently there was row over conversions in Kashmir wherein a Christian pastor was accused of converting eight Muslim youth to Christianity by luring them with money. The row came into focus with the circulation of the Kashmir conversion video on internet and soon outrage and resentment was expressed locally prompting a senior religious leader of Kashmir Mufti Mohd Bashir-ud-din to seek an explanation from the accused Pastor C M Khanna of All Saints Church Srinagar. After some time the Pastor met him and according to the Grand Mufti, being confronted with proof the Pastor ‘confessed’ his role in conversions. The Grand Mufti further claimed that the Pastor had confessed having converted 15 boys so far adding that according to the Pastor “some NGO and intellectuals were with him in this mission and some of them had accompanied him to South Africa to preach Christianity”

Soon the local police took suo-motu notice of the issue and filed an FIR in Srinagar’s Rammunshi Bagh police station (FIR No 186 0f 2011 under section 153 A and 295 A) against Pastor Khanna. Local sources say that the conversions had taken place for paltry monetary gains; one of the youth is reported to have converted for a sum of Rs 5000. The poor laborer is reported to have converted in the hope of a financial aid but was shocked after being paid only 5000 Rupees (about 100$). According to local newspaper reports, other converts could have been paid between 5000 to 10,000 Rupees and after the news of conversions broke out, protests were held in some parts of Srinagar. Sensing the gravity of the situation and the likelihood of this conversion snowballing into a major controversy police detained all the eight converts. 

Hurriyat leader and a senior religious figure of Kashmir, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq called the issue of luring Muslim youths to conversion as grave "(The conversion of Muslim youth to Christianity) is a grave issue. Being the religious head and Mirwaiz, I am fully aware of my responsibilities” He further announced the formation of a committee to look into the matter.

If a person could convert his religion for 5000 Rupees, what would he do for the sake of 10,000 rupees? The ‘conversions for money’ has bought to fore the neglect of the Kashmiri society of its own morals. There was more condemnation of the social rot that the Kashmiri society has fallen to than there was of the Christian missionaries in Kashmir. Ironically the society has been allowed to slip into a materialistic coma, where all ethics have been antiquated, relegated to museums of past. This degradation of society did surely not happen overnight, it has been in the making for decades together, even much before the onset of insurgency in Kashmir. Although everybody in the society has to share the blame for such affairs of the society, majorly the blame is placed on the political and religious leaders of Kashmir. Most of the religious leaders have been known to use religion as a tool for self prosperity, often ignoring the collective welfare of the society and most of the politicians have been known to invoke religion for selfish political goals only. Not only have corrupt practices taken over the ethical structure of the society, the society has neglected the poor and downtrodden sections thereby leaving them exposed to search for means and ways for survival. While we may be on the forefront in denouncing these poor people for selling their faith, the society on its own has to own the responsibility to having neglected such sections of our society. The turmoil in Kashmir not only affected the economic structure of this place it also created conflict causalities, families of victims who were left to defend for themselves. Such families could either have lost an earning member or the opportunity to a livelihood, and the society hardly bothered about such families. Social care for the affected was minimal as the social safety net for the deprived did not exist in Kashmir and whatever existed of was eroded gradually.

Missionary work in Kashmir was promoted through education and often these institutions have proved to be good academic institutions. How many local institutions have been patronized by the society or local religious leaders to grow into such strong educational institutions? Fact is that the local society has failed in creating or developing institutes of excellence in basic elementary education, making admissions to missionary institutions sought after (only for academic sake). Excellent local academic institutions groomed by locals (Muslims) of yesteryears were neglected by both patrons and government, as a result of which they failed to keep pace with changing times.

Islam in Kashmir was propagated by preachers like Shah-e-Hamadan (came to Kashmir in 1372) who not only preached social equality but also bought along numerous craftsman to teach the locals craftsmanship thereby introducing many skills in the local economy. Some of these skills and artisanship that were handed over through generations stand at the verge of extinction mainly due to social and state neglect, affecting the very basic economic structure of the society.

Moral education, training on trade skills that survived generations and a social safety net for the under privileged were lost to collective apathy, making our weaker sections more vulnerable than ever. Ironically it is the weakest sections of our society that missionaries have been known to approach. And the state also did its bit by failing to promote avenues for the local crafts, accelerating the collapse of the work structure at the artisan levels. Not only did the state fail in implementing business continuity plans for the basic levels of society, they also contributed to the neglect of skill up gradation and education opportunities in Kashmir. Efforts by a Kashmir based religious group ‘Jamiate-Ahl-Hadees’ for creation of Trans-World University in Kashmir have still not borne fruit with the bill for setting up of the university pending with the state government for long. The idea of setting up the Trans World Muslim University was conceived in 1990 and in its present form the University envisages to be a modern learning centre offering courses in science and arts including a School of Designing aimed at helping the local handicraft sector in skill development and design creation. Pertinently in Jammu Mata Vaishnav Devi University is already running successfully under the aegis of Shri Mata Vaisnav Dev Trust. Locals in Kashmir have been accusing the present state government for accelerating the issuance of licenses for liquor shops in Kashmir but ironically withholding the permission for institutions of higher learning for the locals.

The biggest religious trust in Kashmir ‘Muslim Auqaf trust’ has also been accused to being used as a political tool by the parties in power. The ‘Muslim Auqaf Trust’ (now the Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Waqf Board) is not only the custodian of all major Muslim properties in Kashmir but also manages most of the shrines here. The assets of this trust are estimated to exceed 2000 crores with the potential to generate huge revenues, but ironically the major part of its revenue (whatever is generated) is spend on the salary bill of its ever growing number of employees and the remaining part spend on maintenance and renovation of shrines (60 % on salaries and 35 % on maintenance), the social cause that should have the primary aim of any Muslim trust conveniently forgotten. Incidentally ‘Muslim Auqaf Trust’ was setup in the 1930’s with the primary aim of social development and major part of the income from these properties were envisaged to be earmarked for social causes like educational development, helping the destitute and betterment of society. Over the years the Trust worked like a fortress and National Conference gained absolute control over it. Late Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah used ‘Muslim Auqaf Trust’ as a political tool and the Hazratbal Shrine as a political pulpit for decades. Such was the government intertwined into Auqaf that when Shiekh Abdullah was dethroned Bakshi took over, not only the state power but he also inherited the affairs of Auqaf. After Sheikh came back to power, the reigns of ‘Muslim Auqaf Trust’ also were taken back. During all these decades of Political rule in “Auqaf Trust” accountability was unheard of and the “Trust” from “Auqaf” had slipped closer to power seats and farter from the society. The trust is often accused of recruiting more than the sanctioned number of staff, mismanaging properties, incurring excess expenditure and deviating from its basic aim of social service. This is a typical case of exploiting a religious institution for petty political gains. Had the trust been run efficiently and independent of political interference it could have really have ushered in a social renaissance and created support systems within our society.

Many in the state also believe if the concept of ‘zakaat’ was followed in principle by all, the downtrodden of the society could have been easily rescued. On the religious front the selflessness and the devotion to their religion shown by Christian Missionaries is found wanting from the religious leaders here. Most of them are seen to survive on some political patronage and with the exception of a few, many religious trusts have seen to have failed in addressing social concerns.

In a society where the new status symbol is ill-gotten wealth, where corruption has become a way of life, the politician and the preacher both cash in on this social anarchy, resulting is a gradual decline of moral ethics where faith can be sold for 5000 Rupees. The ‘conversion for money’ by these missionaries is deplorable but more condemnable is the self destruction mode that the society as a whole has been thrust towards. The onus for reform lies within the society itself. No amount of religious sermons will help when the claims of compassion for social change unless they are not translated into action.

Till that time the deprived and the denied will be exposed to selling their faith.

30th November 2011

Author: Saadut
•10:47 PM

The state government recently unveiled a new recruitment policy according to which non-gazetted recruits in J&K will be paid a fixed monthly salary equivalent to 50 per cent of the basic pay for the first two years. For the next three years the new non gazetted employees would be entitled to a fixed salary of 75 per cent of the basic pay. Only after completion of five years in stipendiary mode will the employee be entitled to a prescribed pay band and all other allowances as applicable to government employees, subject to "good performance, conduct and the vigilance clearance".

Even as the policy was announced it faced a lot of criticism on the ground, the stipend of 3000 to 5000 for a government employee was seen as a crude joke for job aspirants. Political parties were also seen raising a pitch against the new job policy. How much is Rs 3000 for a family these days and how much sustenance can you expect for such an amount? Many youth have questioned the government in adopting dual standards for keeping the gazetted posts out of the stipendiary policy. Incidentally the government has already done away with the full pension scheme since January, 2010.

On Saturday 5th November 2011, Jammu and Kashmir High Court Saturday stayed the government order, observing that the new recruitment policy “exploits the human talent”, and asked the state to file objections within three weeks. The court was hearing a writ petition against the new job policy of the state.

Incidentally an earlier policy of recruiting employees under the ‘Rehbar’ scheme stands already implemented where government teachers were appointed as ‘Rehbar-e-Taleem’ for a paltry 1500 per month for 2 years and after 2 years for 2000 for the next 3 years. A similar scheme also stands implemented in the Agriculture department as ‘Rehbar-e-Ziraat’. Irony is that the five years of service of these ‘Rehbars’ may not be counted as part of their service period at all.

Accumulating Unemployment

According to a survey conducted by the Chatham House (UK) sometime back, 96 per cent of respondents from the Kashmir Valley identified unemployment as one of the main problems facing the state, along with conflict and mounting corruption. Add to this the 2008 survey conducted by Transparency International where Jammu & Kashmir was put in the “alarmingly corrupt” category.  A report by US based NGO notices that “Jobs are few, and those that are available are often filled through elite connections and nepotism measures”. As of December 2010 the number of officially registered unemployed youth touched almost 6,00,000 (The Jammu and Kashmir government official  figures of December 2010 were 5,97,332). The actual number is much higher than reported in these government figures, considering the fact that many of the unemployed youth may not have registered with the government employment exchange. With more and more educated youth entering the job market in Kashmir, the situation is moving from bad to worse. It is not only the college graduates that are in the waiting for a job now, many of the jobless in the state now are highly specialized professionals with PhD’s, medical doctors and technical specialists. As per a report an estimated 48 % of the employable youth are currently unemployed, a figure which is alarmingly high considering that this youth bracket (of 18 to 30 years) forms the 71% of the population (census 2001). As per the report, the average number of earners in the families of unemployed persons was two while the average number of dependents was six, clearly signifying that the dependents to earners ratio in families was 1:3.

Unemployment stress:

Many of the unemployed youth in Kashmir are victims of stress and depression. According to a survey conducted by Action Aid International in Srinagar, Budgam and Pulwama districts of Kashmir valley nearly 29 per cent of the unemployed youth (male) surveyed smoke cigarettes in order to reduce anxiety and tension. There have been reported incidents of youth taking refuge in sedative drugs in the valley. According to the same survey as many as 12 per cent of the respondents, (including females) took sleeping pills to overcome stress. The high levels of unemployment and stress in the valley have also affected upon the marriage prospects of these youth creating more problems in the social setup.

Private Sector?

The private sector in Kashmir has never been a dominating force, while pre 90’s it was trying to gather some strength, post 90’s it collapsed due to the turmoil and the state apathy towards it. Soon industrial estates became camps for security forces and infrastructure crumbled. State industrial focus shifted to Jammu and with it also shifted massive capital influx and infrastructure development; Kashmir remained a ghost house. As of today majority of market products sold in Kashmir are manufactured outside of the valley, mostly in Jammu. The local industry has not been able to get a hold on its own, its reach is limited and employability is negligible. In the absence of a vibrant private sector in Kashmir, the government has always been seen as the employer of first preference and the last resort by the youth. There have been success stories of entrepreneurs in Kashmir, but they have been few and such success has come in spite of decades of state apathy towards this sector.

The state governments own experience with corporations has not been good with negative revenue. Most of it corporations are loss making which include J&K Handicrafts (S&E) Corporation ltd, JK Handloom Development Corporation Ltd , JK Industries Ltd , State Industrial Development Corporation, Small Scale Industries Development Corporation Ltd, JK Minerals Ltd, JK Horticulture Production and Processing Ltd, JK Agro Industries Development Corporation Ltd and J&KSRTC. Hence any hope of employment generation in these corporations is virtually nonexistent, except for a few ‘government nominated’ post fillings. Not only are the sick corporations eating into the state’s economic health, they have become a drain on the exchequer. The health of state finances could be gauged by the fact that the fiscal liabilities of the state increased from Rs 13,038 crore in 2003-04 to Rs 24,287 crore in 2008-09 and 28,735 crore in 2009-10 (CAG report for the year ended March 31, 2010). The call for disinvestment of loss making PSU’s grew stronger, for such disinvestment would not only help to generate much needed resources for the state but also make them economically viable and allow them to generate more employment avenues. But till date the government seems to be holding these corporations close to its own chest, letting the loss of these entities bleed its own purse.

National corporations like NHPC in Kashmir have also been denying locals their rightful share in employment. As per agreement between NHPC and Jammu and Kashmir government (1975), NHPC is bound to employ 50 per cent of its employees from the state in its projects in Jammu and Kashmir. But this agreement has not been followed by NHPC who have employed majority of non local employees in their projects in the state. According to sources 90% of engineers appointed by NHPC during 1999-2010 are from outside state.(The loot by NHPC of Kashmir natural resources has already been detailed in an earlier blog)

Minuscule number of Kashmiri youth have been trying careers outside the state, but more often than not most of these are the ones who might have initially ventured out for educational purposes and then continued there with career advancements.

A seed capital fund scheme launched by the state government for promoting SME among the unemployed youth has not been able to generate much enthusiasm in the state. The MSME sector may not have picked up to that extent partly because of lack of entrepreneur training with the unemployed youth, lack of market support for local products and dismal infrastructure in the valley which has been hampering industrial growth.

While the government cannot be the only employer hope for the aspirants, it lacks positive steps for mitigating this problem. The key to this problem could lie in creating financial self sustenance in the state, by which the local economy could create its own employment avenues. Kashmir civil society has already been demanding the return of power projects to the state which could turn the financial imbalance in favor of the common people. In fact Kashmir has turned into a consuming state where most of its needs are fed by products imported from outside the state. For creating a self sustaining model the government has to lay focus on production avenues in Kashmir. The government has also not succeeded in persuading any major business house to set base and tap the human capital of Kashmir in a big way. On the contrary some IT SME’s shifted base from Srinagar to Jammu in the last few years.

Unless the government does not do away with the ‘look up to Delhi for funds’ and create capacities in the local market for sustenance, no job schemes will work here. Trade and craftsmanship that survived centuries in Kashmir are dying due to state neglect; modern technology does not yield here due to crumbling infrastructure and failure to create human skill sets and product marketing opportunities. The neglect to the local economy has been for long; it will take more than a mere symbolic scheme or plan to recover.

But is the government really interested in letting Kashmir be economically self-sufficient? May be the political rhetoric does not want to see translated into practice. 
As Nehru once famously said in Parliament "I'll bind Kashmiri’s in chains of gold."

16th November 2011