Author: Saadut
•10:30 PM

There is a different kind of terror prowling the streets of Srinagar now, that of dogs. Residents of Srinagar have been frustrated by the alarming number of street dogs and over the past few years their numbers have been multiplying manifold. The reported cases of dog bites and attack on humans have also seen a steep rise here. In year 2006, 4500 dog bite cases were recorded by the main SMHS hospital of Srinagar which rose to 9000 cases in 2010. On March 14 this year 10-year-old Omar Farooq Sheikh lost his life after he slipped and downed in the Jhelum being chased and attacked by stray dogs near Zaina Kadal in downtown Srinagar. Some days earlier to this incident two more boys had lost their lives to stray dog attacks: a boy in north Kashmir Uri and another in the suburb town of Pampore were mauled by street dogs. Most of the victims of bog bites are reported to have been bitten by rabid dogs. Adding to this chaos is the deficiency of anti-rabies vaccines in Kashmir.

As per reports the stray dog population in Srinagar could reach 2 million by 2015, overtaking the population of humans in this city. These stray dogs sustain on the open garbage dumps in the city, waste disposals by the local municipal authorities having been utterly mismanaged. Localities also have been littering garbage openly providing enough food for these stray packs. In most of the cases it has been the vulnerable school going kids who have become the prime targets of these stray dogs. The threat of dogs is so serious that some localities become virtually out of bounds during evening hours when stray dog packs take over and patrol main roads in big groups. Strangely enough stray dogs have been seen to have made even the premier government hospitals of Srinagar as their dwellings, not to speak of local inhabitations where they already rule the roost. These ferocious canines have created fear psychosis among all sections of society, the morning walkers and the faithful who want to attend morning or evening prayers or the school children who seem to have become easy prey to these canines. Since the municipality garbage points in Srinagar are mostly open areas, in many such areas packs of 100 or more dogs are seen to feast around these uncovered garbage mounds.

Some years back a dog sterilization program to limit the population stray dogs was started by the municipal authorities here but the same was stopped immediately without any success. Residents have been aghast at the irresponsible attitude shown by the municipal authorities not only for waste disposal but also in controlling the stray dog population in Srinagar in particular and Kashmir in general. Strangely many here are not sure whether the central ‘animal birth control dogs' act is applicable to Jammu and Kashmir as it is elsewhere in India, since under article 370 central laws are only applicable to Jammu and Kashmir after these are adopted by the state legislature. A local resident quipped “'Strange irony that the state laws are very soft when it comes to shooting and killing the local humans here, but these laws side with the canines when dogs attack humans having become a threat to human life here'.

Civil Society Voices Concern

The dog menace became such a nuisance for Kashmir that on February this year the Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir Dr Asgar Samoon voiced concern on social networking site Facebook by posting “Large packs of stray dogs move on Sgr (Srinagar) city roads”. He even asked his OSD to call a meeting of Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) and other concerned organizations. This post started a huge debate on social media about the need to curb it urgently. Many netizens shared their horrific experiences with stray dogs on the site, with the Divisional Commissioner Dr Samoon also commenting “True my heart goes for the young boy we lost recently in Uri due to dog bite. I agree all rabid dogs or those suspect be put to rest. Rest of stray population needs to be sterilized and scavenging minimized by SMC and other local bodies by better disposal of waste.”  Even after generating much debate and observations, not much was achieved on the ground by the concerned departments.

Judiciary intervenes

A PIL was moved on 1st April 2011 in the J&K High against growing dog menace in Srinagar. The PIL prayed for the court to issue appropriate directions to State government as well the municipal authorities for controlling the menace of stray dogs in the J&K and particularly in the capital cities of Srinagar & Jammu. The High Court on 28th April 2011 directed the state government to provide funds for construction of dog ponds on the outskirts of Srinagar and directed the concerned Municipal authorities to complete the task within four weeks. The court also directed the concerned authorities to start sterilization program in phased manner after the canines were shifted to these dog ponds. Action on ground by the concerned municipal authorities is still awaited.

No respite in place

With no respite in place, the residents of Srinagar have been repeatedly demanding action from the municipal authorities and government but without any success. With growing piles of open garbage across the city and the municipal authorities failing miserably in effective garbage disposal that provide excellent breeding grounds to these ferocious canines, this menace is sure not to go away so soon. Such is the fear of these stray canines that in many cases parents have to depute an elder along with children to tuitions or schools and in many cases children have been limiting their outdoor activities for the fear of getting mauled by these animals. Even lesser people dare to venture out in the evenings either for prayers in mosques or for other jobs for the fear of these stray dogs.

Before the 1.4 million population of Srinagar is overwhelmed and taken over completely by the expected 2 million dog numbers in a few years the authorities need to take immediate and effective steps to make Srinagar a human inhabited city.

As a local resident commented “the city has now gone to dogs and if authorities don’t take immediate steps, will be soon eaten up by dogs”.

July 04, 2011 

Author: Saadut
•12:37 PM

In the recently concluded Panchayat elections in Kashmir while most of commentators reported the percentage of voters participating and the relatively incident free lower level elections, some small news made a big impact on presenting Kashmir. In Wusan village which has almost 99% Kashmiri Muslim population, a Kashmiri Pandit lady won the Pachayat elections. 51-year-old Asha Bhat wife of Radha Krishan of Wussan Village, Kunzer situated on the picturesque Srinagar-Gulmarg road, defeated her neighbor Sarwa Begum to become the first Pandit woman Panch of Kashmir.

Married to Radha Krishan Bhat in 1984, a village farmer who also runs a small grocery shop nearby, Asha Ji’s family did not migrate during the Kashmir turmoil and never did they regret their decision of staying back in Kashmir. "During the last 20 years we faced the same kind of problems which my Muslim neighbors had to encounter. During crackdowns by security forces, if their children were taken out, my children too were not spared," Asha Ji said to the local media. She has two sons, one of whom works in the police department. Villagers claim that there were ten Pandit families in the village out of which only five migrated and five decided to stay back. But interestingly none of the migrated families ever sold their land and the properties are intact. 

This election of a Kashmiri Pandit lady was not a one-off event in Kashmir, in Tahab village of Pulwama district another Kashmiri Pandit, Makhan Lal Zutshi won uncontested as Panch in the Panchayat elections. Pertinent to mention that South Kashmir has witnessed the worst of Kashmir turmoil, and also in this village the overwhelming majority of population is Muslim. Buoyed by the overwhelming support of his Kashmiri Muslim voters, Pandit Makhan Lal Zutsi has his eyes on the Sarpanch position now.  He filed his papers from Tahab Village after a Muslim acquaintance persuaded him to do so keeping in view his social commitment. There are 3300 voters in his village and even though there could have been many contenders for the Panchayat seat, still the village decided to elect him unopposed. Pandit Makhan Lal earlier worked as an employee in the government PDD (Power development department) and even after retiring in 2000 he and his family did not leave or migrate from the valley.

While speaking to local media Pandit Makhan Lal said “We have been living together since centuries and have collectively faced the problems and cherished happiness.” Adding further “We never left the Tahab village even during the peak of militancy. My conscience and sense of roots did not allow me to leave my home.  Nobody came here to harm us. The villagers took care of us. We never felt threatened,” Zutshi said.  “That brotherhood persists in Kashmir. There is no security threat. I appeal the Pandit community living outside to return.”

Many would argue ‘how does election of a couple of Sarpanshes from minority community matter among hundreds of them elected”. But the doomsayers forget that it is not the numbers that should be looked as the only positive indicators but the will of those Pandit’s who stayed back and the trust, goodwill between the two communities in remote hamlets of Kashmir where turmoil has otherwise left deep scars.  

There are numerous unreported stories of Kashmir Pandits who never left or migrated from the valley, only that they have never been highlighted by the media. One of the most prominent educationalists of Kashmir Dr. C. L Vishen who runs a group of educational institutions in Kashmir never migrated from the valley and his institutions operated even in the worst of turmoil period. His educational institutions have produced exemplary citizens, some of whom making it to prestigious civil services. Dr. Vishin continues to stay in Srinagar and contribute to the local society.

Last year the employees appointed by J&K government under Kashmiri Pandit migrant quota were welcomed in their respective villages by local Kashmir’s with open arms. In many cases it was the local Kashmiri Muslims who supported them and provided them accommodation till the Kashmiri Pandits could arrange for their own. Some of the young Kashmiri Pandits who had never earlier been to their homeland were astonished to see a different picture of Kashmir than they had been presented to them outside of valley.  

Kashmir Pandits are also finding space in the main political scene of Kashmir. The main opposition party of J&K, PDP (People Democratic Party) early this year appointed leading cancer surgeon Dr Sameer Kaul as the spokesman of the party. Dr Kaul originally hails from village Chakoora in Pulwama district of south Kashmir and is presently senior consultant surgical and clinical oncology at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi.

Such stories of Kashmiri Pandits choosing to stay back and live alongside Kashmiri Muslims and the support they received could give a boost to efforts of civil society to bring the other migrants back to homeland. There have been many efforts at the social level to create connections between various communities of Kashmir who migrated or were displaced during peak of turmoil.

Social networks have been extensively used for some time to search for friends and acquaintances lost during turmoil and in most of these cases reunions have been deeply emotional between the two communities. An initiative for connecting to school mates from a local school led to a chain of connections between Kashmiri Muslim and Kashmiri Pandit ex-school friends who had not been in contact for decades and subsequently materialized in mini alumni meets. There have been various efforts on social networks to connect and get together the two communities and one such effort is a Facebook group ‘Saariy Samav Aksey Razi Lamav’ (after a line from a verse by the Kashmiri poetess Lal Ded, which means “Let us pull the common rope together”). The group already boasts of more than 1000 members and has been arranging meetings between many of the members between the two communities. 

There have been other efforts on Twitter also by social activists to bridge the divide between the two communities and it can be only by the will and participation of civil society that these distances can be shortened.

June 20th 2011

Author: Saadut
•9:14 PM

During the start of last year summer turmoil, on 07th July 2010 the Indian army did a flag march through Srinagar.  The flag march started earlier in the day at Srinagar Airport and later on the march was conducted through Lal Chowk, Batamaloo, Bemina and Qamarwari areas. The marching Army columns were broadcast live by some national media, clearly scoring their point of infusing terror in the hearts of residents. Lal chowk’s roads which otherwise are jammed by public transport on normal days looked like the peripheral edge of a desert dotted with green shrubs in a queue formation with these army convoys. The camouflage jacketed, trigger clenched men in fatigues atop these metal monster, noisy engine convoys were supposed to convey the extent of the might that could be used against the civilians.

"We are out to give support to the state machinery. We are ready to move anywhere, anytime," the Associated Press news agency quoted army spokesman Col Vineet Sood as saying. (Source BBC). The fears not withstanding defiance of curfews were still being reported from many areas of Kashmir.

Even thought the army may not have confronted directly with protesting civilians during the turmoil of last year, the paramilitary forces having taken the responsibility of using the bullet, baton and boot against the civilians, but the sheer impact of having an army flag march in central Srinagar was to be psychological in nature.

Exactly a fortnight short of one year to that ‘flag march’ there was another kind of march yesterday in Srinagar. Indian home minister P Chidambaram conducted tour of some parts of Srinagar city including areas what the media loves to call “volatile” downtown. The Indian HM and his cavalcade had an uninterrupted drive along the old city, a tour which concluded at 10.30 PM.

 If he was there to gauge the situation in these areas, he was greeted by indifference of the routine business and daily life of this “volatile” part. The morbid silence of these areas, the quietude of the winding roads wore a melancholic mask over it which unfortunately was presented to P Chidambaram as peace. The indifference of the local population should have conveyed their resilience and their adaptability to the Indian Home Minister but unfortunately he was presently the “all is well” syndrome by his hosts in Kashmir. If he was here for any peace making mission, he made none of it and if it was a law and order assessment tour he was presented masks of oblivion in the dimming light of evenings. But then his tour presented itself as more of a “conquest trumpet’ blowing exercise across this lanes and rough, bumpy roads of this battered and wounded land, than any goodwill exercise. The Indian Home minister on his way must have passed the homes of Tufail Matto (17 yr old killed on June 11), Muhammad Rafiq Bangroo (24, injured killed on June 12, succumbed on June 20), Javed Ahmed Malla (19 killed on June 20) and countless others killed in 2010, but did not want to see the desolation that this agony has driven the families to; no hope of justice offered. He did not bother to offer any kind words to dwellers of the “attot ang”, parts of which have been left deliberately to rot, wounds on which have been left open susceptible to getting septic over time.

If he was a keen observer he would have noticed that the chain of broken windowpanes, unconcerned faces here and continuity of normal life in calamity speak of defiance not any weakness. He could have read that the silence of these dwellings was holding to its bosom a tempest. Did he see all this?

He definitely did not want to see beyond the peace painting presented to him by his hosts, a painting so glossy and yet so untrue.

He came, he drove in twilight and he kicked some dust.

P.S: Next time when you want to see the ‘real Kashmir’ please do away with your present state hosts and be our guest, we will have no veils and no cloaks between you and the real view. Kashmiri’s promise to be wonderful hosts to you, in fact far better hosts than you ever have been as guests in Kashmir.

21st June 2010