Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

Please send your personal suggestions or relevant news clips by clicking here and these will be posted at the earliest opportunity. Differing points of view are welcome and encouraged. Thank you.

Vijay Sazawal

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Repository Like No Other

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Revolution Among the Young

Pervez explores a growing trend among youth in the valley that is both path-breaking and encouraging. He sees the growing participation by Kashmiri youth in the Indian civil service examination as a positive trend. The separate write-ups below were published as a "cover story" in the June 2013 edition of the English weekly Sahara Time, Delhi.

(Mr. Pervez Majeed Lone, 37, was born in Ashpora, a hamlet located in Handwara Tehsil in the Kupwara District. His primary schooling took place in government schools in his hometown, and he finished his higher secondary education from the Government Higher Secondary School, Kupwara. He graduated from the University of Kashmir as a Continuing Education student with Sociology, Philosophy and English Literature as major subjects. In 2004, he completed his Master's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Kashmir. He has worked in various local Urdu journals (Chattan, Pukar) and the Radio Kashmir (Sheharbeen) before joining the Sahara Time, a weekly national news magazine from the Sahara Group. He is passionate about the Urdu language and poetry, and loves to listen to music, read English literature and traveling.)

Valley’s Phenomenal Renaissance

After decades of desperation, Kashmir sees its youth enthusiastically competing and getting through the elite civil service examination. There is a phenomenal change in the mindsets of Kashmiri youth, who are seeing a whole new world of hope and opportunity in the CSE. Sahara Time correspondent in Srinagar Pervez Majeed brings forth the new emerging scenario of the Valley

Till 2009, Kashmiris proudly yet longingly used to count on fingers the names of those who had qualified the Civil Services Examination (CSE) of the UPSC. They fondly recalled how Muhammad Shafi Pandit became the first Kashmiri Muslim to qualify the coveted competitive examination in 1969. They boastfully talked about Abdul Gani Mir and Javid Gilani, that time the last Kashmiris to qualify the CSE and become IPS officers. The dominant impression about Kashmiri youth not trying for, and getting into CSE had more psychological than rational reasons. They either deemed it something too higher to reach at, or too tough to pass through. Moreover, arguably, the turbulent situation, of which youth bore the major brunt, had fatigued and probably demoralised them too much to consider a highly competitive examination like that of the CSE.

This phase of desperation and deprivation continued for 15 years, till 2009. In May that year, the qualifying of CSE by two youth from the state, one from Jammu province and another from Kashmir, came as much-need morale lifter. Shahid Iqbal Choudhary and Imtiaz Ismail Parray became the first youth of J&K in 15 years to crack the CSE. While Shahid got 51st rank making his place in the IAS, Imtiaz at 134th rank became an IPS officer. The selection of the two youth from two regions of the state to the highest administrative set-up served as a practical encouragement and inspiration for youth of the troubled state. In the subsequent year 2010, five youth from the Valley qualified the CSE, with the historical event of Shah Faesal becoming the first from J&K to top the prestigious examination. In 2011, nine candidates from J&K qualified the CSE, whileas three cracked the Indian Forest Service examination. In 2012 a record 11 youth from J&K qualified the CSE, seven of them belonging to Valley. This year,14 from the state cracked the exam, eight of them from the Valley. Among the four Muslims who figure in the top 100 list, three are from J&K. Ruveda Salam became the first Muslim female from Valley to qualify the CSE. Highly motivated

Since 2009 when two J&K youth passed the CSE, and particularly after Shah Faesal’s historic feat of topping the exam, the youth of Kashmir are highly motivated and enthusiastic to crack the CSE. And the encouraging results of more and more youth from the state making it to the highest echelon of civil service makes them more motivated and impassioned toward the exam. Nowadays, parents and the students have found qualifying the CSE a promising new career option, which brings with it more lustre than other professions. With the increasing interest of young boys and girls toward CSE, the number of coaching and counselling centres as growing as well. Engineer Ghulam Nabi War, who runs one of the first civil service coaching centres in Kashmir, says the increased awareness among Kashmiri youth about civil services is resulting in more and more qualifying every year. “Earlier, appearing in civil services exams used to be domain of the youth of high-strata of the society, but nowadays students from lower-middle class and poor families are well informed about it and they excel as well,” he explains. War informs that even 12th standard and under-graduate have enrolled themselves at his coaching institute. “We have boys and girls from far-off areas who are our regular students and stay at our hostels,” War said. The University of Kashmir which has established Centre for Career Planning and Counselling for the civil services aspirants, is planning to come up with a residential coaching centre for the civil service aspirants of the state. "The centre is running with a goal to inspire more and more people for civil services,” said Prof Talat Ahmad, Vice-Chancellor of the University. Labour of motivation Noted broadcaster Syed Humayun Qaisar, incharge of youth, sports and education programmes at Radio Kashmir Srinagar is credited with creating awareness and motivation among youth toward the state and national-level civil service exams through his programmes. Terming the huge interest of Kashmiri youth for CSE as reflection of positive frame of mind for competition, Qaisar says: “It has taken Radio Kashmir Srinagar around 15 years of counselling and hundreds of hours of broadcast time to bring in a change in attitude of parents and children alike. We have succeeded in changing mind set of parents since they, previously, thought CSE to be waste of time.” Commenting on the phenomenal trend, senior journalist Shujaat Bukhari says that though getting into IAS may not change the political destiny of Kashmir but it surely places its youngsters in a competitive world which holds out more hope.

Odysseys of accomplishment

They are from far-off, mountainous regions, small, non-descript villages and towns; they endured ordeals of sorts to make it to the country’s prestigious examination. Meet the new young brigade of Jammu & Kashmir who represent a new determination and yearning of a whole new generation of youth of the politically-troubled state. Pervez Majeed tells their stories of confidence, hard-work and perseverance

Ruveda Salam

Her resolve is as strong as the hills surrounding her village. Ruveda belongs to Farken, a secluded hamlet in the frontier district of Kupwara, which is known as the gateway of militancy in Kashmir, owing to it nearness with the LoC. At the age of 27, Ruveda achieved something which not only brought laurels to her home-district, but also to whole Kashmir, as she became the first Valley Muslim girl to qualify the civil services, as other female qualifiers, Ovessa and Sehrish belong to Ladakh and Jammu regions respectively. When Ruveda qualified the stiff government-conducted entrance examination for MBBS, she took it as a first step of the journey, rather a destination. After becoming a doctor in 2009, during her internship, she started preparations for the KAS, the state- level civil service exam. In 2011, she became one of the few girls from Gujjar community and very few Kupwara district to qualify the KAS. For two years, she worked in different capacities in the government and simultaneously prepared for the CSE. “I didn’t join any coaching classes, rather many colleagues and friends who are CSE qualifiers helped and guided me,” she says. As being in a job left her with little time for preparations, yet she managed 4-5 hours of study every day. As the news of her cracking the CSE broke, people of her home district celebrated the feat of “daughter of the soil.” “I am most happy about this fact as it will inspire girls in J&K, particularly in the Valley, to pursue their dreams of making it big not just in civil services but also in other fields of their choice,” she said adding that she is going to re-appear in the CSE to improve her rank which is 820.

Showkat Ahmad Parray

howkat’s saga of achieving the feat of getting into IAS is as awful as it is inspiring. Belonging to a typical poor family of backward Vizar village of Baramulla district, he seemingly had limited resources and avenues to cherish the dream of competing in the CSE. However, equipped with tremendous grit and determination, he embarked on a path, destination of which he reached this year. With his schooling in his native village, Showkat became a veterinary doctor, after competing through the stiff state level competition for professional courses. He served in the Department of Animal Husbandry for eight months. Despite having a promising job as a vet, he continued to cherish his dream-IAS. In 2010 Showkat qualified the CSE with 256 rank. He is posted was Assistant Chief Accounts Officer in the postal department. Despite this accomplishment, he was not contended. He re-appeared in the examination and this year got 41st rank, making him the first IAS of his district, which has very few CSE qualifiers. Showket is from has a very humble family background. His father Bashir Ahmad is an employee of Power Development Department and mother a housewife. Till recently Ahmad had to alone feed a family of eight, which included education to his four children. As a student Showkat had been doing different small jobs to support his studies. As Showkat prepares to leave for the training for the prestigious IAS, he meets hordes of friends, relatives and neighbours at his home with gratitude. “I am humbled by the love and admiration of people; my aim will be to help and guide the aspirants and make them believe that they have the potential to make it big,” Showkat said. His friend and neighbour Kashif says that people still approach him to treat their domestic animals and he happily does so.

Muhammad Aijaz

Aijaz’s is a story of hardwork, passion and self-confidence. Hailing from Dharana village in the border district of Poonch along the LoC, he had nurtured the dream of becoming an IAS officer since his childhood. Like any other village in Poonch, once the hotbed of militancy, Dharana has lived through gunfights and croos-LoC shelling. It is in this atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that Aijaz had his schooling. After passing 10th standard from Jammu he did BTech in mechanical engineering at IIT-Delhi. “Eventhough I got a good job, but the dream of becoming an IAS officer had made me restless,” he says. He qualified the state-level civil service examination-Kashmir Administrative Service (KAS) “ but I have closely seen the pathetic life of people of my area; I wanted to do something for them and there is no better way than IAS,” he maintains. In 2011, Aijaz became the third person from Poonch to qualify CSE. He got the Indian Revenue Service, but still Aijaz’s dream of becoming an IAS officer didn’t give him contentment. The dream, which he had nurtured while living in the hilly terrain of his native place was realised this year, when he re-appeared in the CSE and got the 168 rank, thus getting the IAS. “I am fortunate that I have got the J&K cadre; I am hopeful I will go back to my border village to serve my people with whom I have made a commitment when I had left it for CSE preparations,” jubilant Aijaz said.

Gulzar Ahmad Wani

The journey of this village boy, from his far-flung, backward hamlet to a flashy office chamber of income tax department in the fashionable modern city of Chandigarh, is a tale of courage and hard-work. After completing his schooling from his home district, he left his home for Delhi. As a young boy he endured the ordeals of homesickness and paucity of money while pursuing his BA, LLB honours course at the Jammia Millia Islamia University in Delhi. It is there that the ambition of qualifying the CSE grew stronger. He structured his studies for the examination, and cracked it in the very first attempt in 2011, at the age of 23. Gulzar is now posted in the Income Tax Department as Assistant Commissioner in Chandigarh. Hailing from Darwa village of Baramulla district, 65 kms from Srinagar, Gulzar belongs to a humble family. His father has been eking out a living from the agricultural land of the family, while as mother is a housewife. About his feat, Gulzar says: “As a village boy I have seen life very closely and I know the issues at the ground level. So I hope village boys will prove to be the better administrators and decision-maker.”

Ovessa Iqbal

Ladakh remains cut-off from rest of the world for atleast six months during winters due to snowfall. In its non-descript hamlet Chachot Shamma of Leh district , not many knew its resident Ovessa Iqbal is going to make history by becoming the first Muslim from J&K to qualify the CSE, after several decades. Belonging to a middle-class family, her father is a farmer while she lost her mother in an accident. She has her schooling in her village, later doing Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering from Punjab University. Ovessa, 27, exemplifies unrelenting determination. She failed in two attempts but didn’t give up, finally qualifying in 2011. Though she had already qualified the state-level civil services examination, but she was passionate about the IAS. “I always wanted to have a place at the decision-making level to contribute in making peoples’ lives better,” she says. Ovessa got the Indian Foreign Service and presently is posted with the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi. She continues to encourage girls from her state to go for the CSE. Her success encouraged other girls from the state, as two other girls, Syed Sehrish and Ruveda Salam too cracked the coveted national level examination in later years.

Khursheed Ali Qadri

When Khursheed, 29 qualified the CSE in 2011, his self-confidence grew stronger. He didn’t join the services, as he had got 920 rank putting him in non-IAS category. The village boy wanted to do it bigger. An MSc in Botany, he chose Botany and Geography as optional subjects, and again did extensive preparations for the CSE. This year, he qualified the coveted examination with 95th rank, making him the second IAS of Baramula district. His village Poshwan ,26 kms from Srinagar, is like any other Kashmiri village. Even though his father was an executive magistrate, yet he had no immediate motivating force around. Rather “I believe that motivation should come from within; rest are enabling or guiding factors,” he says. Khursheed has met renowned social activist Harsh Mandar (IAS) in 2006 and it’s that meeting which flipped his imagination toward the CSE. Presently, he is posted as Assistant Director of the Consumer affairs & Public Distribution Department in Srinagar. If he already had a promising career as the state-level civil service officer, what prompted you to take another arduous course of studies for the CSE? “IAS provides you much larger platform to do something for the society. I feel motivated by this fact that being an IAS I can use myself more constructively,” he explains.

Shahid Iqbal Chowdhary

Shahid has many firsts to his credit, including that of breaking the jinx vis-a-vis the disinterest of J&K youth toward CSE. In 2009 when Shahid qualified the CSE, it was after a gap of about 15 years that anybody from J&K became an IAS officer. Shahid hails from Rehan, Budhal village of mountainous Rajouri district of the state. After schooling from his native village, he qualified for the course of veterinary sciences and later also the Indian Forest Service examination. But his passion for IAS kept him going, and he finally qualified CSE in 2009, with 51 rank and getting into IAS. Shahid is first from state’s Gujjar community to qualify for the IAS. Presently he is posted as deputy commissioner Reasi, Jammu. Rajouri is one of the far-flung districts which bore the severe brunt of the two decades of militancy. “My success story is that of an ordinary student in a remote village studying under a tree with stone as bench and then reaching to the country’s top service,” he says with all humbleness.

Mir Umair

Umair was already in a job many envy-medical doctor. But he was passionate about the civil services. Belonging to an affluent family, he visibly had no need for material pursuits. Then why did he toil to get through the tough CSE? “I was self motivated to realize the essence of civil services, and of course a strong sense of empathy for serving the people,” he explains. Hailing from Arigam, a sleepy hamlet of central Kashmir’s Budgam district, Umair as a doctor had already achieved what most of the youth of his area still dream about. But to get through the CSE was his new mission to be accomplished. And he did it in 2010 when he was one among the five Valley youth to crack the CSE. And he became the first from Budgam district to qualify the CSE. Umair says that though he was primarily inspired by G R Sufi, the current Chief Information Commissioner of J&K , (who qualified CSE in 1975), “but my greatest inspiration came from the failures I had experienced in life.. I was only competing with me, myself and I!” Today, while sitting in his plush office chambers as Assistant Commissioner, Service Tax in Mumbai, Umair wants Kashmiri youth to muster up the courage and prove their mettle, the way he and many others did.

Syed Sehrish

Sehrish, 27, re-asserted the capability and determination of girls from J&K to excel in the country’s elite competitive examination. Hailing from mountainous Kishtwar district, she got trained as a medical doctor in 2009. Sehrish topped state-level civil service examination in 2011. While she was undergoing probation, she started her preparations for the CSE. In 2012, she became the second Muslim girl, to qualify the CSE after Ovessa Iqbal. However, with 118 rank she got the IPS. “But I wanted to be into IAS and with all my zest, I continued my preparations even as I was undergoing probation as an IPS officer,” she said. This year, with rank 23, Sehrish became the first Muslim form J&K to become an IAS officer. Sehrish has this observation for young boys and girsl of J&K. “The people of J&K are by nature resilient and have great potential to succeed in the toughest of competitions at the national level. This is all the more required of the youth from the Valley so that they become agents of positive change and usher in a new era of growth and development for all in the society.”

Shah Faesal-Precursor to a watershed phenomenon

When Shah Faesal became first ever topper of the CSE from J&K, his people didn’t celebrate just because it was their compatriot who had the feat, but more because he defeated a personal trauma on the path of this historical achievement. Hailing from Sogam village of border district of Kupwara, Faesal lost his father to militant violence at a tender age. Then his mother left the village alongwith Faesal and other siblings. Though benumbed by her husband’s death, she endured all hardships to educate her children while living with relatives and rented accommodations in Srinagar. Faesal worked hard and overcame the tribulations of fatherlessness and scarcity of resources; he topped the government-conducted entrance examination for the MBBS course, and then topped the final year examination as well. Even if he became a doctor, something youth of his area dream of, Faesal continued his pursuit for excellence with remarkable endurance. “That tragedy shattered us. Initially, it seemed to me as if I couldn’t continue my studies. As I was the eldest, I thought I should shoulder my family’s responsibilities. But my mother endured all hardships and provided every support to me and other two children,” Faesal says.

The young boy and his struggling life were obscure from his people till he surprised and gladdened them simultaneously in May 2010, when he topped coveted examination of the country. Today he is a youth icon of Kashmir, one who personifies hard-work and perseverance. This was a watershed phenomena which encouraged and motivated many more Kashmiri youth for CSE, and more than two dozen have qualified since then. Faesal who is presently posted as Assistant Commissioner of South Kashmir’s Pulwama district, is personally encouraging and guiding youth for the CSE. “My success is just a re-assertion of Kashmiri youth that despite all the tragedies and trauma we witnessed over past two decades, we are capable of making it big,” he asserts.

Achievers’ views and advices 

With varied backgrounds, they were motivated by varied factors; but the common refrain of the J&K’s CSE qualifiers is dejection because of the ongoing political turmoil. In a common set of questions posed by Pervez Majeed, they insist that Kashmiri youth have tremendous potential to compete in CSE with their counterparts of the country

What significance your success has for Kashmir?

Khursheed Ali Qadri: May be my success will infuse confidence among the youth that they are second to none. I am an average student, when I can make it why not others? Mir Umair: Instilling the belief among the Kashmiri youth to compete at the national level. It was a watershed moment when four of us qualified the civils from the valley in 2010 which had never happened before...from there on we have never looked back, we can only do better.

Muhammad Aijaz: Kashmir needs dedicated and honest administrators to remove decades of governance deficit and alienation of people which has been a very unfortunate phenomenon. I think with more youth getting into IAS/IPS or other allied services people of J & K will be served more compassionately and provide a healing touch in the administration.

Showkat Ahmad Parray: My success and that of the others is a sign and a message of change. A change in the attitude of state’s CSE aspirants that we have the potential to compete at any level. A message that there is no discrimination against Kashmiris when it comes to selection for the elite posts. It signifies hope of a better tomorrow with more efficient, effective and responsive system as local residents, more aware of the local problems, become a part of upper administrative set up.

Ovessa Iqbal: My success will be significant only when youths of Kashmir dare to venture out of their comfort zones and make a difference in their lives and the lives of people around them. I feel blessed when students say they are inspired, and my real success will be when these students translate this inspiration into a success story and thereby inspiring more students.

After several decades, Kashmiri youth are showing keenness toward CSE. Does it have any political connotations?

Khursheed Ali Qadri: I feel that this is a healthy trend and students from J&K are proving their ability, I feel that it should not be linked with any other issue. Mir Umair: Keenness towards CSE should be devoid of political connotation in the literal sense of the word..A civil servant should only follow the economic, social and other aspects. Having said that, political connotations are always aligned with the betterment of the people and society.

Muhammad Aijaz: Well I don't add any political connotations to it. In the recent years, Kashmiri youth have developed a craze towards civil services which is very good for our state. Being blessed with fertile minds candidates from J & K are bringing very good results in the UPSC exam.

Showkat Ahmad Parray: I believe that this change has to do with the personal desire for excellence, a way out of unemployment, a felt need for bringing about change in the delivery of public services and making system more responsive to bring quick disposal of people's problems. It will be unwise to associate any political meaning to this and, regardless of the political ideology.

Ovessa Iqbal: Several years ago, medical science and engineering used to be the only two preferred career options. I am myself an engineering graduate. Today's youth are exploring other diverse career options and CSE is one of them and they are doing well in every field.

Message to youth:

Khursheed Ali Qadri: Efforts may fail but never fail to make efforts, understand the design of this exam and be effective learner Mir Umair: Be yourself , there is no one better !

Muhammad Aijaz: Grasp the fundamentals strongly, study smart in a strategized manner. Never be afraid of UPSC Exam. Remember what Christopher Columbus had said: “You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore”.So accept challenges and embark on a bigger voyage of life. 

Showkat Ahmad Parray: My message to the aspirants will be to stay focussed and committed to the goal. The exam stretches for over a year so be patient. Assess your strengths and weaknesses and meet a few successful candidates to receive proper guidance.

Ovessa Iqbal: Believe in yourself and never shy away from hard work.

Kashmiri Youth See Enlightenment Beyond the Tunnel

Bashir feels that increasing trend among Kashmiri youth to cross the jawahar Tunnel in order to seek knowledge and related opportunities is empowering them for a bright future

(Mr. Bashir Manzar, 55, was born in Chack Ferozpora, near Tangmarg in Baramulla district. He matriculated from the Government High School in Chandilora, Tangmarg, and received his Master's degree in English from the Kashmir University. He is publisher of the English daily newspaper, Kashmir Images, Kashmir's only multi-edition daily newspaper. Mr. Manzar is a poet and has published a collection of poems in Urdu - gazals and nazams - 1n 1996 under the title, "Daire Ka Safar." His interests are reading, writing, poetry, music, travel, and of course, politics.)

New Horizons Beckon Youth

Past few years have witnessed youths of Jammu and Kashmir, particularly those of Kashmir Valley, abandoning the beaten tracks, as for as pursuing career is concerned, and looking for more competitive and broader horizons. Sitting in scores for Indian Civil Service examinations and cracking these in dozens indicates how the trend has been attracting more and more youths. Now the question is why? Why the trend has started so suddenly? What motivates Kashmiri youths to look beyond the mountains surrounding Kashmir Valley? Is this trend having some political message in it or is it simply the outcome of academic exposure?

An in depth analysis of the trend indicates that there is nothing “sudden” in it. It has been a gradual process which evolved into what now looks like a sudden change. Kashmiri youths started moving out of Valley in late 90’s towards mainland India for pursuing education. Where on one hand some youths were up in arms against New Delhi, an army of Kashmiri youths had started looking towards New Delhi as their destination.

The trouble and turbulence in Valley had its toll on the overall educational scenario here and youths, who could afford, packed their bags and decided to cross Jawahar Tunnel to spread all over India to seek education. It was for the first time that Kashmiri youths, in such big numbers, came face to face with ‘outer world’ and thus got exposed to variety of career options.

The youths who returned after getting educated outside had a positive influence over the students who couldn’t move out but were studying here. It opened up Kashmiri youths to a new world and they started thinking of themselves not in isolation but globally. They convinced themselves that there was a huge and vast world beyond Kashmir which had a great promise for them.

The information revolution in the world too had its impact on Kashmiri youths. Internet opened a new world for Kashmiri youth that convinced them to look beyond medicine and engineering (two favourite career options otherwise). Growing up in conflict zone generally results into victim mentality wherein people, particularly youths, see the entire world pitched against themselves. However, exposure to the outer world helped change this mindset to some extent as the Kashmiri youths started understanding that such a mentality would further push them into their respective cocoons and shut the doors of outer world on them. And therefore they decided to break these cocoons for good.

Then comes the success story of Shah Faisal, a youth from a middle class family of a remote north Kashmir village. He topped in Civil Service competitive examination on national level and thus emerged as an iconic figure for rest of the youth here. Kashmiri youths are genetically talented but what they lacked in was some ideal, some icon, some hero who could inspire them and undoubtedly Faisul emerged as an answer. Result: following Faisul’s success, more and more Kashmiri youths are looking towards these competitive examinations worth giving a try.

As for as political connotation of this new trend is concerned, the development will undoubtedly help Kashmiri youths feel empowered. Their cracking these competitive examinations and then holding important postings in their own state will change the conception that J&K is ruled by New Delhi. Till date most of the people heading important posts in civil administration and police have been non locals thus strengthening the concept of ‘outside rule.’ Now that Kashmiri youths are in for competition and have started making it, this concept may get neutralized in coming years and that would be politically correct for Kashmir as well as New Delhi.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Hero By Any Calling

Pervez writes about a remarkable and a resilient Kashmiri young man named Javed Tak, rendered disable in a militant attack, who fights for the rights and welfare of physically challenged people in Kashmir

(Mr. Pervez Majeed Lone, 37, was born in Ashpora, a hamlet located in Handwara Tehsil in the Kupwara District. His primary schooling took place in government schools in his hometown, and he finished his higher secondary education from the Government Higher Secondary School, Kupwara. He graduated from the University of Kashmir as a Continuing Education student with Sociology, Philosophy and English Literature as major subjects. In 2004, he completed his Master's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Kashmir. He has worked in various local Urdu journals (Chattan, Pukar) and the Radio Kashmir (Sheharbeen) before joining the Sahara Time, a weekly national news magazine from the Sahara Group. He is passionate about the Urdu language and poetry, and loves to listen to music, read English literature and traveling.)

Standing on His Own Feet

He was like any other enthusiastic boy of the times; keen on studies while nurturing a dream to become a lawyer. But a fatal attack by militants crushed his body, yet not the dreams. Today Javed Ahmad Tak is an embodiment of determination, courage and hardwork. He overcame the physical trauma by his sheer imagination and grit, and changed not only his own life, but many of his ilks around.

On 21st March 1996, Javed, then 21 and a BSc final year student was fatally injured in midnight attack by militant in his uncle’s house. His spinal cord, liver, kidney, pancreas, spleen and intestine got injured. After multiple surgeries his right kidney, spleen, a part of the liver and intestines were removed while as a spinal fixation was done. “It is a miracle I am alive,” Javed says as he reminisces that gory night. 

Sixteen years after that bloody episode, Javed has come a long way of hard work and preservation. “After remaining gloomy for sometime, two episodes changed gave me impetus to stand up and work,” he says: “When a reputed orthopaedic surgeon said my injury is so grievous that it will take years to heal, and another surgeon specialist said, ‘God helps those who help themselves,’ I took my life in my hands and started to live and make the most of my present,” he maintains.

Despite being wheel-chair bound with hundred percent disabilities, Javed qualified a number of academic and professional courses including masters in social work and certificate course in human rights from The University of Kashmir. He took up cause of the disable and various social service initiatives and today he is known for his charity work, social advocacy and community work in Kashmir. Appalled by the pathetic state of disable in Kashmir, Javed formed “Humanity Welfare Organization Helpline (HWOHL)” an NGO working for the rights of persons with disabilities in the Valley. Besides HWOHL has established a school for the poor and differently-abled children where physiotherapy, speech therapy and special education is provided to the 75 enrolled students.

He is active as a defender of the rights of disable and has filed several PILs and suits in J&K High Court and State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) which resulted in immense relief to disable. His PIL in J&K High Court resulted in formulation of Draft policy for the persons with disabilities in Jammu and Kashmir. With his efforts various government institutions including office of Divisional Commissioner Kashmir office, Raj Bhawan Srinagar and The University of Kashmir established ramps for the disable employees and visitors.

 Javed has received nearly a dozen awards and honours for his social service including national award for working for “Welfare of Persons with Disabilities in2004 and J&K State Award for Empowerment and upliftment of Disabled People in2007. He was also part of the youth delegation to China under “Understanding and friendship program” in 2007.

“Today, I consider myself blessed for what happened to me. Despite my disability I have found a place in society at the academic and professional level. I am privileged to help the needy and disables like me,” he says with all humility and confidence.

Editor's Note: You can read about Mr. Javed Tak elsewhere on this Blog.

An Era Gone For Good

Fazili laments about the times and recall glory days that will never return

(Er. Mohammad Ashraf Fazili, 69, was born in Srinagar. He received his early schooling from the Government Middle School, Nowhatta, Srinagar, and from M.P. High School, Baghi Dilawar Khan in Srinagar. Mr. Fazili completed his F.Sc. from the Sri Pratap College in Srinagar, and received his Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from the Annamalai University with honours grade. He joined the J&K government service upon graduation and steadily rose up the ranks to the position of Chief Engineer at his retirement. He managed a number of important infrastructure projects during his government service, including the Model Town Chrar-i-Sharif, Lower Jhelum Hydro Electric Project, Solid Waste Disposal Scheme Srinagar City, Circular Road Project Srinagar City, etc. He has numerous publications to his credit, including Srinagar the Sun City, Our Ancestors and Saints of Kashmir, etc., which were presented in seminar and symposia. He writes for various journals and is presently working on the Jhelum Valley Civilization.) 


Ministers, Bureaucrats, Preachers etc. found in the same dock. Every now and then some kind of scandal is reported in the media either from the quarters of the top brass like ministers-(the so-called elected but not selected public representatives) or the top bureaucrats – (the educated elite of the society) or the common hooligans. Although the treatment to this disease prevailing among human beings has been devised by many doctors of morality over the years, yet the same seems to be failing now-a-days, for which root cause needs to be found and treated permanently; instead of slip-shod methods or spot treatments, used by the present set-up at the helm.

There is a lacuna in our education system, where children in very early age are loaded with heavy bags of books exceeding their own weight, but not carrying a single book on real moral education. Before the introduction of modern system of education, the child was sent to learn Quran, Shaikh Sadi’s Karima-Nami Haq and then Gulistan Bostan, Ikhlaq-i-Mohsini, which are based on stories with a moral end, and the same would remain inscribed in the child’s mind throughout his life. Later on, even the subject of Dinyat- taught till 5th primary was also removed from the curriculum with sinister designs. It appears that Iblis has succeeded in his mission in distracting the people from their moral path. All this is responsible for the present day moral bankruptcy that we face at the level of ministers supposed to be the law-makers, but functioning as law-breakers and also at the level of bureaucrats reared in a system devoid of moral education.

In earlier days, the common man would inculcate fear of punishment of judgment-day through the sermons of Imams on Friday prayers, which too has lost its effect as many religious heads too have reportedly indulged in immoral activities. The respect and fear of elders too has been lost. The process of the building of morals starts from mother’s lap, so first of all, the parents have to set up an example- a role model, for the child to follow; next the proper moral education needs to be introduced in the curricula for all the classes; besides dire legal punishments need to be imposed in public to the culprits to serve as a deter for others. The present situation has been predicted by Shaikh-ul-Alam about eight centuries back as:

 "Ether is khan hendhar grezan-gold braid aasi property wandahar raj" i.e. The rivers will dry up and the polluted drains will gush forth; that time the apes shall be the rulers.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Slow Death of a Yet Another Water Body in Kashmir

Majeed says that a vast water body once considered as the pride of the city for its crystal clear waters is about to perish

(Dr. Abdul Majeed Kak, 62, was born and in Nowhatta, Srinagar. He received his primary education from the Government Middle School in Nowhatta and his secondary school education from Bagi Dilawar Khan Higher Secondary School in Fateh Kadal. He completed his college education at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. In 1977 he was the first candidate from the University of Kashmir to be selected by the University Grants Commission (UGC) of the Government of India for a doctoral research scholarship at the university leading to a Ph.D. in Botany in 1980. He is currently the Research Coordinator in the Department of Botany at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. Dr. Kak has over 35 years of teaching experience and research experience of over 25 years. He has received numerous research awards resulting in publication of 70 research papers and has authored two books on Botany. He completed a novelty ethno-botanical museum with about 600 antique and extinct wooden artifacts of Kashmir that has been created in the Islamia College of Science and Commerce (ICSC), a project supported by a grant from the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi. Presently the Ministry of Environment and Foresta of the Government of India, New Delhi, has awarded him a major prestigious research project along with a team of four highly qualified scholars that are working on the impact of anthropogenic activities on Himalayan lakes.)

Khushal Sar: Breathing its Last!

Khushal Sar is within Shehri Khas between Hawal and Zadibal Just 5 km away from Srinagar city.It is demarcated from Gill Sar (another ailing water body) near Gill Kadal. Once Khushal Sar stretched up to Zoonimar, Aali Masjid and was linked up with Anchar Lake. Unfortunately due to negligence of State government and the concerned authorities it has squeezed to its half and the practice is still continued on war footing without any panic or terror. The name of the lake itself refers to most healthy, prismatic, glittering, lustrous and prosperous water body. This vast, alive and thriving water body was considered as the pride of the city for its limpid, crystal clear waters, without contamination and effluents, used as portable water by the locals both for drinking and other domestic purposes. This healthy and flourishing lake was famous for its scenic beauty, cool breeze and picturesque. Lake products were delicious, so tasty and mouthwatering. Fish, Nadru and other lake products were produced in huge quantity. Boats, Shikaras and house boats were present. People both young and adult bathed and swam in the lake for the whole day both in summer and in winter. There used to be great activities in this lake like what we see in present days in the famous Dal Lake. Zadibal Nadru, was highly preferred by the locals. Besides fish and fodder along with other lake products were palatable. The lake was deep and pellucid with no sign of eutrophication or excess weeds. Population surrounding the lake was meager, till Dr. Ali Jan road was constructed by the State Government, obliterating Khushal Sar, erasing most of its part from Idgah and Aali Masjid upto Bahlachipora, Soura side. This was a devastating step which obliterated the overall shape and structure of the lake. Locals started grabbing land from all sides because of the approachable road for filling water and depositing construction material. Constructions on grabbed land started on war footing basis due to lack of surveillance by the concerned authorities and the state government. Sewage and trash from the fast growing population around the lake and innumerable constructions wreaked havoc. All effluents and garbage were directly dumped in it. Polythene and garbage chocked it entirely. Floating and decomposing carcasses are seen everywhere emitting unpleasant odour. This has made the lake a complete cesspool. Noxious weeds Azolla and Alligator grasses are abundantly growing in thick layers, suffocating and eradicating underwater life including fish.

Surrounding areas of the lake like Zadibal, Sazagari pora, Aali Masjid, Saidapora, Donipora, Tengpora, Zoonimar, Mandibal, Batakpore are becoming densely populated and whole of sewage is directly poured in it. Nallah Amir Khan coming from Nigeen and Dal lakes also joins Khushal Sar near Nallabal, supplementing it with all the effluents of its journey through Pukhribal area. Nallah Aamir Khan has also been squeezed from both sides and is reduced to a narrow passage, which too is completely chocked with thick layers of noxious weeds that hinder the free movement of water in these interconnected lakes. It is on record, that tourists in houseboats from Dal and Nageen lakes used to scull through Nalla Aamir Khan into Anchar Lake, via Khushal sar. Today even a small ordinary boat cannot pass through it.

Khushal Sar is a neglected lake without any supervision by the government, neither there is any authority that owns it. It is under the supervision of SMC along with Anchar Lake and Gill Sar Lake. They are totally ignorant about the methods of conservation and maintenance of these water bodies. It is a burden on their shoulders and they are unable to take care of it, with the result influential and wealthy locals are busy in grabbing the water by filling it for the construction of factories, other establishments and also for construction of residential houses resulting in the shrinkage and extinction of this glorious water body. Some locals allege that there is a mutual understanding between some SMC officials and the land grabbers, saying that in the broad day light people fill the lake and are fearlessly constructing houses. No restriction or any action has been initiated against them. The government is sleeping, it should initiate high level enquiry on the number of constructions that have come up around this lake illegally. Normally it is not possible for anyone to undertake construction without getting building permission from the SMC.

Formation of floating islands both from the peripheries and in the centre is one of the severe problems that have totally changed its shape. Observing such a worst and deteriorated condition while exploring the lake, one gets severely suffocated and hurt to see its pathetic condition and irritating smell. SMC officials were apprised many a times about the extinctive condition of this beautiful lake but no attention was paid. Simply vague promises were made that a severe action will be taken against the culprits and the officials involved. Unfortunately no official has ever visited nor has any action been taken. Instead influential people are busy in covering the water at a swift pace. The lake is being filled throughout day and night from Eidgah to Bolachipora, Soura by encroachers while the State Government despite being aware of what is happening around is not willing to go against the bureaucrats who are helping these encroachers to fill this urban lake. Encroachers with the help of Municipality officials have constructed Palaceous houses, shops, automobile workshops, and saw mills.

Government’s slack approach has not only encouraged encroachers but has also given birth to numerous questions regarding the protection of water bodies in the valley. Khushal Sar despite being desiccated is still a wonderful tourist destination. Regarding the deteriorated condition of the lake it seems that government is not at all interested in the safeguard of these precious water bodies. More than two kilometer length of the lake from Eidgah to Bolachipora has been totally grabbed I don’t know as to why the authorities despite being aware of everything are not reacting firmly. On the one hand the government’s promises and claims that water bodies are to be saved at any cost while on the other hand encroachers with the help of corrupt bureaucrats are looting these precious water assets.


While most of the thousands of girl orphans of Kashmir militancy live a wretched life, Pervez reports of an orphanage in Handwara, town of border district Kupwara, that has given shelter and hope to some

(Mr. Pervez Majeed Lone, 36, was born in Ashpora, a hamlet located in Handwara Tehsil in the Kupwara District. His primary schooling took place in government schools in his hometown, and he finished his higher secondary education from the Government Higher Secondary School, Kupwara. He graduated from the University of Kashmir as a Continuing Education student with Sociology, Philosophy and English Literature as major subjects. In 2004, he completed his Master's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Kashmir. He has worked in various local Urdu journals (Chattan, Pukar) and the Radio Kashmir (Sheharbeen) before joining the Sahara Time, a weekly national news magazine from the Sahara Group. He is passionate about the Urdu language and poetry, and loves to listen to music, read English literature and traveling. The following article has appeared previously in the Sahara Time, New Delhi.) 

Blooming Garden of Daughters

The babbling and laughter inside this building is actually a grim reminder of the lost childhood of the orphans of conflict in Kashmir. Had there not been Gulistan-e-Banat (garden of daughters), these forty odd small girls too would have been living in abject neglect like thousands of other orphans have to. But for this orphanage, these kids have a reason to laugh and rejoice, for it has provided them not only shelter and food, but education and a hopeful future too.

Situated in a residential colony of Handwara town in North Kashmir’s border district Kupwara , this orphanage for the girls is run by Jammu & Kashmir Yateem Trust (JKYT), a respected charitable organisation founded in 1973. JKYT could establish this badly-needed orphanage here only because of the eagerness and selfless service of the organisation’s head of the Handwara unit, Master Ghulam Ahmad Kumar, who is the administrator of Gulistan-e-Banat.

JKYT decided to establish an orphanage for girls in Kupwara district given the fact that this border district bore the most brunt of the conflict in Kashmir. Known as the “gateway of militancy,” this backward and majorly hilly district has more than four thousand orphans, most of whom live a wretched life. Once a hotbed of militancy, the fighting between security forces and militants, like elsewhere in Kashmir, robbed thousands of children of their childhood innocence. Most of this army of orphans are those children whose fathers were killed either by security forces or militants. While some were militants and got killed in gunfights with security forces, or disappeared in their custody, many fell to the bullets of militants for being the ‘informers of the enemy.’

JKYT runs a number of orphanages in the state, only three among them being exclusively for the girls. The other two are in Tral and Chadoora area of Pulwama and Budgam districts respectively. When the organisation decided to built an orphanage for girls in Kupwara district, they chose Handwara town for the purpose, because Kumar was enthusiastic to shoulder the responsibility. After around one year’s of construction, Gulistan-e-Banat started admissions in May 2005. Beginning with ten admissions, the orphanage shelters forty girls at this time. They are as young as four-year-olds and hail from various parts of the district, as far as Karnah near the Line of Control. Even one Farhat is from the neighbouring district of Bandipore.

Kumar says Gulistan-e-Banat is an effort of JKYT to draw society’s attention towards the plight of orphans particularly the girls. “There are thousands of such orphan girls living a wretched life. This orphanage is just a sample of this ill-fated lot,” he laments. “We have set up this orphanage to motivate our people to raise upto the occasion and care for the orphans. If relatives and society perform their duty of taking care of orphans, then we don’t need to have orphanages. They can’t get that love and warmth of families in orphanages,” he maintains adding, “we have just lit a lamp of hope for these orphaned girls, this should not be an end but a beginning.”

Abode of Hope

For these orphaned girls, Gulistan-e-Banat is their world. They eat and sleep here, play and jostle in its premises. There is no dad and mom to cuddle them or sing them a lullaby. Whether they have any complaint or a demand, they do it with Abbajan, as Kumar is being lovingly called by them. Kumar says, “Our focus here is on their shelter, upbringing and education; our job would have been easier if we could a school of our own.” Gulistan-e-Banat is a model boarding and lodging facility for girls. The two-storey building has 17 rooms and seven bathrooms. The kitchen menu is like any standard boarding school, timetable is being strictly followed, rooms and surroundings are neat and clean, and everything is in order despite the fact that the inmates are too young to follow rules and schedules. Five young women have been appointed to serve as cooks and wardens and watch and ward staff. “For us this is more worship than a mere job,” they said. They not only cook, wash and care for the children, but also help them in their studies. Not only the rearing but education of kids is a focus of Gulistan-e-Banat. All the girls go to schools and study like any other child of the town. Kumar has ensured their quality education by admitting them in more than dozen private schools of the Handwara town. “The schools are kind enough not to charge fees from us, however we provide all other facilities like books and uniform to the students,” Kumar said. After their return from schools, the girls do their homework or play at their common home, Gulistan-e-Banat. The orphanage has a computer lab for the children, having eight computers. Worrying that these girls should not lag behind in computer education, Kumar was anxious for the computer lab. However, Zahoor Ahmad Sofi, a Chandigarh-based corporate professional belonging to Handwara town, donated six computers to help orphanage establish a computer lab. Shared tragedy The inmates of Gulistan-e-Banat are victims of different guns, different ideologies. But they share a common tragedy, common pain of losing the love and compassion of their parents. Their parents might have fought and killed each other, but here their wards are living under a single roof. These tiny tots are too small to understand the intricacies of politics. A peep inside their lives gives a hint of what they have went through.

Asiya, 13, lost her both parents in the turmoil. Her father Ghulam Hassan Magray, a fruit vendor died when army cordoned his house and the frightened Magray went to second storey and fell down to death in 2003. Years later, her mother was gunned down by militants. She is one of the six orphaned children of the deceased couple. Its her sixth year at Gulistan-e-Banat. There is nobody except Abbajan she identifies himself with. Saima studying in 3rd standard has not seen her father. He was allegedly subjected to enforced disappearance by security forces eight years ago. Later her mother too passed away. She is in this orphanage since five years. “Dadi visits me here sometimes,” she said.

Safeena’s father Mushtaq Ahmad Mir of Kralgund village was a militant and killed in a gunfight with militants. Her mother abandoned her three children and remarried in a nearby village. Safeena was sent to this orphanage while as her elder siblings, brother and sister live with grandparents. She doesn’t remember if she has ever seen her father. “Ma ne suna voh shaheed hua hai ( I have heard he was martyred),” this is all she knows about her father. And she has a faint memory of seeing her mother, because she abandoned her when Safeena was an infant. Studying in 6th standard, she is a bright student. In the last examination she stood second in her class with 94.9 percent marks. “Do you go to home?” She chuckles, “twice a year.” Azra’s father Abdul Ahad Mir was an Intelligence Bureau operative and mysteriously went missing in 2006 from Kupwara town. Some people of his village Trehgam say he was sent across LoC on some ‘mission,’ arrested there and returned Kashmir after his release. Prevalent speculation in his village is that he was ‘disappeared’ by his employers. Mir has three children, one son and two daughters. Azra is one of the first inmates of Gulistan-e-Banat.

The orphanage admits other girls too who are orphaned for non-conflict situations. Shaista Jan of Lach Mawer village, lost her father Ghulam Mohi-u Din War some years back. She is youngest of War’s three daughters. Her mother occasionally visits her. “She is a loyal of this institution. Last time she brought hand-made rotis for us,” Kumar said. Two sisters of Karnah area (near the Line of Control), Yasmeen and Kulsoom lost their father in the devastating earthquake of 2005. Later mother died to asthma. There was nobody to care for them and a relative brought them to Gulistan-e-Banat. Infact, requests for new admissions continue. Kumar shows two four-year-olds, Shabnam and Asmat, both hailing from Yamrad Rajwar village. They have lost both parents due to natural deaths. They are the fresh entrants to the orphanage, he said. (Box Items)

Excellence in Studies

These innocent victims of violence have proved that if provided the requisite care and opportunities, they can prove their mettle. Overcoming their trauma of losing the parents, they have excelled in their studies. The latest results of various classes speak about their hard work and intelligence. Almost all of them have secured not less than 70 percent marks. Ulfat Mukhtar of 2nd standard topped in her school with 99.8 percent marks. Shaheena Raheem (3rd standard) and Ulfat Manzoor (4th standard) topped their classes securing 80.85 and 96.27 percent marks respectively. Enthused by the girls’ academic performance, Kumar has a dream, “I wish we had resources to establish our own school!”

Callous Representatives

Handwara is known for hot politics. Be it the mainstream or separatist politics, both camps have ‘famous’ leaders and ‘ardent’ followers from here. Though both camps claim to represent and fight for the people, no leader has been generous towards Gulistan-e-Banat. Local MLA Muhammad Ramzan Chowdhry, a two time minister and senior leader of ruling National Conference, whose palatial house is less than half a kilometre away, has never visited the orphanage. However, he has once sent some grocery items to it. Sharif-din Shariq, who has been elected to Parliament the third time in 2009, too has never visited the orphanage of his hometown. “I even invited him once but still he didn’t come here,” rues Kumar. Separatist leaders, the brother duo Sajjad Lone and Bilal Lone have once visited the orphanage separately. “Sajjad provided some help during its construction, while as Bilal had promised to provide a generator set during a visit here a year back, but till date we have not heard from him,” Kumar said.

The Saviour

Master Ghulam Ahmad Kumar epitomises philanthropy. He is associated with JKYT since 1975, the days of its founder late Tak Zainagiri. A resident of Wadipora Rajwar, he retired as vice-principal of Govt Boys Higher Secondary School Handwara in 1998. After retirement, he devoted himself as a full-time worker of JKYT. He is one of the seven permanent trustees of JKYT, and like his colleagues doesn’t receive any remuneration for his work. As administrator of Gulistan-e-Banat, he has to remain available round the clock. “I have to reach here even during night time in case anyone falls ill,” he said and added, “but this is my garden and am happy to see it blossom.” His elder daughter Fareeda Shouq assists her father in his work and the girls call her Behanji. Kumar is known as a teacher and has received “Best Teacher award” from the government in 1978. Since past 28 years, he is chairman of a public school owned by people of his village. “Kumar sahib is an inspiration for self-less and charitable service,” says Abdul Majid Banday of Handwara.

 (NOTE: This story was published as a special report in 2011 in Sahara Time, Delhi.)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Leaving Legacy of a Wasteland

Majeed is convinced that our coming generations will soon crave for a drop of water and curse us (the present generation) when they locate our vast natural resources of water only in the books and photographs

(Dr. Abdul Majeed Kak, 62, was born and in Nowhatta, Srinagar. He received his primary education from the Government Middle School in Nowhatta and his secondary school education from Bagi Dilawar Khan Higher Secondary School in Fateh Kadal. He completed his college education at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. In 1977 he was the first candidate from the University of Kashmir to be selected by the University Grants Commission (UGC) of the Government of India for a doctoral research scholarship at the university leading to a Ph.D. in Botany in 1980. He is currently the Research Coordinator in the Department of Botany at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. Dr. Kak has over 35 years of teaching experience and research experience of over 25 years. He has received numerous research awards resulting in publication of 70 research papers and has authored two books on Botany. He completed a novelty ethno-botanical museum with about 600 antique and extinct wooden artifacts of Kashmir that has been created in the Islamia College of Science and Commerce (ICSC), a project supported by a grant from the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi. Presently the Ministry of Environment and Foresta of the Government of India, New Delhi, has awarded him a major prestigious research project along with a team of four highly qualified scholars that are working on the impact of anthropogenic activities on Himalayan lakes.)

The Destruction of Gill Sar

One amongst many of the neglected and endangered urban lakes, Gill Sar is just 5 Km away from Srinagar city, in between Soura and Nalabal Nowshehra. Lake “Gill Sar” was once rich in Lotus cultivation (Nelumbium nuciferum) adorning the entire lake. King Zain ul Abidin (Badshah) named this scenic lake as Gul Sar (A lake with numerous lotus flowers; Gul is a Persian name for flowers). This name later on got gradually distorted to “Gill Sar” by illiterate boat men and locals. Lake products like Nadur and fish were in abundance, sustaining whole populations of boatmen. Nudur (lotus rhizome) of this magnificent lake was considered among delicacies. Locally its fruit is called as Pambach, flowers as Pumposh, leaf as Khilwathur and rhizome (vegetative part) which is edible is called as Nadur (drum stick).

Recent exploration of Gill Sar Lake has revealed all those serious threats caused due to human greed and negligence of the state authorities. Unfortunately human population around these lakes increased tremendously; there were no restrictions or prohibition from any quarters. Political conditions in the state were unstable, nobody bothered for laws or Court orders, that made a havoc and mess of Gill sar lake. Lake dwellers depended on free lake products that sustained their life started gradually grabbing land margins for both construction purposes as well for the agricultural production, resulting the drastic anthropogenic activities that resulted ultimately reduction and near extinction of this Lake. Due to the unchecked encroachment and the growth of obnoxious vegetation that infiltrated in these water bodies propelled by sewage from the catchments, Gill sar waters became stagnant and stinking. The pollution have reached to such an alarming level that its waters, fish, Nadru and other products are declared harmful for human consumption. The water deterioration and weed infestation have posed number of problems to the lake dwellers, particularly fishermen and their children. Most of them suffer from waterborne diseases like Amoebiasis, Hepatitis and Gastro- intestinal problems besides skin and eye diseases.

Gill sar is connected to the famous Dal lake and Nageen lake through a watercourse called Nallah Aamir Khan, and from the other side it pours in Khushal sar, which in turn is connected to Anchar lake. All these lakes are called interconnected lakes. Unfortunately human interference has destroyed these water resources for his selfishness and greed. Revenue generating world famous lakes like Dal and Nigeen Lakes are dying because of the severe anthropogenic activities, heavy pressure due to land grabbing and construction of 5-7 star hotels, restaurants, increased number of houseboats and Tourist shikaras, besides formation of floating islands for the cultivation of commercial vegetables. Water supply from Dal and Nageen lakes to Gilisar, Khushalsar and Anchar sar lakes, is gradually ceased and blocked due to formation of floating islands and residential constructions. Scores of springs in all the three lakes also get filled up because of the deposition of filth, garbage etc. Besides Nalla Amir Khan through which water used to flow from Dal and Nageen to Gill sar has been squeezed from both sides, has turned into a narrow stream. It is on records that house boats with tourists used to move from famous Dal Lake to the Anchar Lake through Nallah Aamir khan, Gill Sar, and Khushal sar. Presently even a small boat cannot pass through it. It is chocked by noxious aquatic weeds; piles of polythene, trash and other non degradable items. Three decades before Gill sar water was portable, used by inhabitants for drinking and other domestic purpose. It was crystal clear and hygienic. Presently it has turned poisonous one cannot touch it with naked hands. Two decades before lake was fed by a number of springs, from its adjacent areas, many of them have been filled up and encroached for residential buildings. Presently only a few springs locally called Mukhta Pokhar and famous Vichar Nag springs, all are in pathetic condition over sighted, ignored, covered over and totally hidden by dense aquatic weeds. These springs still are feeding Gill Sar through a canal passing through Nowshera, Channa Mohalla, Renzoo sathu, accumulating all effluents, surface drains, garbage, polythene along with non degradable items and depositing directly in Gill Sar, besides it is fed by its own numerous springs. A bridge named after Gill Sar Lake locally called Gill Kadal separates and differentiates two lakes Gill Sar and Khushal Sar. Area Zoonimar was named by King Zain ul Abidin (Badshah) in his reign after his name. It is also said that Queen “Noor Jehan” used to stay in this area to enjoy the scenic beauty of Gill sar and Khushal sar. Remains of ancient building still exist in Zoonimar area. She used to stay during summer nights to watch natural beauty; reflection of high mountains in the crystal clear water. Gill sar was rich in springs, with cold water in summer and warm water in winter. It is connected to Anchar Lake through Khushal sar, and drains out water from Dal lake and Nageen lakes into it. Lake Anchar also gets water from Ganderbal (River Sind) via Nagbal, Ganderbal and finally joins River Jhelum through Rakhe Shalbugh at Shadipora, Sumbal. These interconnected lakes were good for the economy of the people and the state. They were nature’s best gifts to the valley. Their past was glorious, but their present looks bleak. These lakes were spread over vast areas, but today due to encroachments, they have become cesspools, and resemble small pools. Their water has become poisonous and polluted. Our ancestors kept all these lakes preserved for we people. They were God fearing and eco-friendly, though uneducated, they took care, and preserved them. They were of the view that these natural gifts are for their prosperity. They lived a simple life. Their bathroom and kitchen wastes never went directly dumped in these precious lakes. Now things have changed due to modernization. Encroachments have started on war footing basis, and these lakes have shrunk. All types of wastes through drains and effluents are flowing in them. People living around these water bodies are literate but uneducated as compared to their ancestors. They are selfish and lack aesthetic sense, They are not eco-friendly resulting ultimately purity deterioration and weed infestation, that have ultimately posed number of problems to them and particularly fishermen and their children. Most of them suffer from number of waterborne diseases. Due to increase in water nutrients number of noxious weeds liked Azolla and Alligator grass are growing in thickets. Whole lake looks like a turf with thick boundaries of Alligator grass. No conservation plans have sofar been formulated for these neglected lakes like Gill Sar, Khushal Sar and Anchar sar.

Number of suggestions have been put forth for the restoration measures of some of these urban neglected lakes but the authorities have always paid deaf ear. Strict actions are needed to be taken against influential land grabbers having nexus with Srinagar Municipal Corporation, (SMC) officials, demarcation of the lake may be seriously and immediately undertaken, regular monitoring of water quality bio-diversity changes may be done and publicly published. Drugging for removal of excess aquatic weeds and noxious plants should be undertaken periodically. Diversion of all surface drains and settlement tanks should be constructed; springs that are filled up or encroached should be revived. Still it is the time that the state Government should frame a policy based on beneficial measures for the protection of all our natural resources particularly lakes and other wetlands of Kashmir.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Shaame-e-Mehfil Like No Other

Amin separates real concerns from bogus rants and in the process shows how the civil society got it wrong

(Dr. Mohammed Amin Sofi, 59, was born in Handwara. He received his early education from the Higher Secondary School in Handwara, and his B.Sc. from the Government Degree College in Baramulla. He subsequently received a Master's degree in Mathematics from the Aligarh Muslim University, and a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur. Prof. Sofi teaches and conducts research in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Kashmir. In his leisure time, he enjoys reading books, listening to classical western music, Urdu ghazals and Bollywood music (pre-1980's), and reading newspapers and journals.)


I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears when I learnt, for the first time, that a grand musical extravaganza was being organized at the historic Shalimar garden in the outskirts of Srinagar where the great musical maestro Mr Zubin Mehta would conduct the timeless symphonies of Beethoven, Bach, Hayden and Tchaikovsky. It was indeed a longcherished dream come true as it would provide a life-time opportunity to witness an event that I had attended a number of times, but always away from my homeland in the elegant and sophisticated ambience of a Berliner Philharmonie Orchestra in Berlin and elsewhere in Europe. It is one thing to listen to the soulful symphonies of Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert at home but being treated to a live show that would feature the great maestro Zubin Mehta and that too in my own backyard was going to be very special. In my keenness to grab the first opportunity to attend this event, I immediately reached out for my friends and sources in the state administration-especially those directly concerned with this event- to enquire about the logistics involving Govt-issued passes or tickets being made available to those wishing to be part of this occasion.

Up to this point, I was completely unfazed by the shrill cacophonies of support and protest for and against this event by both sections of the political divide and of the civil society on grounds which to me sounded banal and lacking in content. This despite Idreesa Pandit’s exasperation “Will the audience know when to clap” voiced in her writeup “Symphonies of Oppression” that had appeared in today’s issue of Greater Kashmir. I am also unimpressed by the brand of logic proffered by a section of the press that the concert had to be boycotted on the grounds of Zubin Mehta’s political predilections and his hardcore Zionist ideology which has earned him a lifelong stint as director at the Israeli philharmonic orchestra in Tel Aviv. In fact, by the same logic, we shall have to close our eyes to the fascinating world of science and mathematics where the sheer bulk of the many spectacular achievements have been occasioned by scientists and mathematicians of Jewish origin- Einstein’s revolutionary theory of General Relativity and Andre Weil’s deep breakthroughs in Algebraic Geometry are amongst the chief examples. The fact is that whether it is science or art in the form of music, these are essentially secular in nature and it doesn’t behoove reading too much into a piece of art or science as being a lesser piece of creative work, just because it has been conceived by someone who holds a contrary worldview.

This euphoria of expecting to be part of this event, however, soon evaporated until, to my utter dismay and astonishment, I was told that there were no passes or permits or even tickets being made available for the purpose and that the entry was restricted to the crème de la crème of the Kashmir society, comprising mainly the ministers and bureaucrats of the state administration and those flown in from Delhi and other parts of the country, while keeping at bay those who should have been granted a glimpse of this fascinating spectacle even if they were required to shell out exorbitant amounts of money to buy a ticket for the concert! Let me hasten to add that it’s still possible to use personal contacts to arrange a ticket or a pass for myself to attend this event, but that is of no consequence and no reason to plead that ‘all is well’ as long as the local population is sought to be kept away from what could actually be a once in a lifetime event. This together with the fact that in the run up to the event, all the roads leading to and from the venue have either been closed or declared out of bounds for the general public amounts to enacting a farce on the people of Kashmir in the form of a concert which is supposed to be too sublime to be dragged into such unseemly controversies.

Notwithstanding his lofty intentions of presenting Kashmir and its culture to the rest of the world which had informed his conception of the idea to organize this show in Srinagar, it seems that Mr Michael Steiner is oblivious to the ways in which this event has been allowed to be hijacked and exploited by certain quarters to advance their designs in presenting a picture that is not there. As such, Mr. Steiner’s refrain that this concert is for the people of Kashmir and for their rich cultural heritage sounds a trifle hollow. How on earth can that be if those for whom this event has been conceptualized in the first place, have been kept out of bounds of this event as bulls in a china shop! That certainly betrays a devious streak in the thinking of those who have provided the necessary wherewithal for the ‘successful’ organization and culmination of this event, never mind the mindless vandalization of the area surrounding the venue which has been declared a heritage site. To those who scoff at the idea of connoisseurs of classical western music grabbing their first opportunity to attend a concert in Berlin or in Vienna while boycotting the one being held in Srinagar as being hypocritical-as a TV anchor had decreed in a recent news show- let it be told to him that such shows conducted elsewhere are purely for reasons of entertainment and are by no means sullied by the prospect of political games being played in the name of entertainment.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Parsees Enrich Kashmir's Heritage ... but you would not know it from the narrative gripping the valley today

Zubin Mehta, a Parsee, is bringing his orchestra to Kashmir for a special concert in the Shalimar Garden on Saturday, September 7, 2013. The 90-minute concert, reminiscent of musical programs in the garden from the days of Mughals, will be telecast live in over 50 countries. While the entire civil society of Kashmir has exposed its myopic character by denigrating the musical concert organized by the German Government, thank heavens for people like Saleem who look into the same canvas and recall the connection of Parsees with the valley

(Mr. Mohammad Saleem Beg, 62, was born and raised in Srinagar. He was educated at the S.P. College and the Gandhi Memorial College, receiving his Bachelor's degree from the latter. He was awarded a EEC fellowship in 1998 which allowed him to attend study courses at Universities of Luven, Belgium, and Trinity College, Dublin. Mr. Beg entered the State government service in 1975 and retired in 2006 as the Director General of Tourism. In the 31 years of public service (which included two deputation assignments in New Delhi), Mr. Beg promoted local arts and crafts, and raised public awareness of Kashmir's rich heritage and architecture. He was a leading figure in getting Srinagar listed as one of the 100 most threatened heritage cities by the World Monument Fund in 2008. Mr. Beg has traveled extensively and has attended numerous conferences, including the 1997 UN Special Session on Environment in New York, and the 1997 Kyoto Convention on Climate Change in Japan. His articles and essays have been published in various publications. Since retirement, he has remained active as the Convener of the J&K Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage - INTACH.)

Parsis and Kashmir

The forth-coming performance of Zubin Mehta, born in 1936 in a Parsi family in Mumbai, has rekindled our interest in a very rich but lesser known Parsi presence in Kashmir. Parsis or Zoroastrians are the followers of Zoaraster known as Zartusht in the Islamic world. Muslims are intimately acquainted with this religion as it is the only non Arab belief that finds honourable mention in Holy Quran. Islam equates pious followers of zartush, mentioned by Arab name Majusi, to the men of piety from semitic religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Zartusht lived some time in 6th century BC in Middle Asia, then comprising Iran and Afghanistan with a lineage tracing to a spiritual family from Balkh, Afghanistan.

The close affinity of Zoarastrians with the semitic religions, especially Islam is well documented in the literature of the two religions. Majusis, like Muslims, believe in one ness of God, Ahur Mazda, and offer prayers five times a day. The only surviving monotheistic belief at the time of prophet of Islam (pbuh), it therefore evoked keen interest in this religion from the Muslim saints and scholars. The first Majusi who came in contact with the prophet (pbuh) and converted to Islam was Hazrat Salman Farsi. Recognizing his superior spiritual prowess and piety amongst the believers, Prophet (pbuh) showed great affection towards him and called him among the Ahl bait, a distinction bestowed to no other Muslim. Salman Farsi made great contribution towards establishing a just, honest and egalitarian society in the formative years of Islam. The Zoarastrian thought and philosophy was integrated into the larger fabric of Muslim society in the form of what is known in history as the Iranian influence. This subsuming gave Islam and the world the great Abassi empire, the zenith of Islamic faith, art, and culture.

The research on the forgotten parsi presence in Kashmir has an interesting and revealing backdrop. In 17th century a pathbreaking book surfaced which took the religious and temporal scholarly world by storm. The persian book was known as Dabistan or Dabistan-i- Mazahib (treatise of religions). This book gave a fair and unbiased description of the faiths of the time, the details of which were mostly obtained from the followers of the respective faiths. At a time when the religious scholarship was plagued with contestations, this book evoked tremendous interest. The book was attributed to Mulla Mohsin Fani (d 1671), a poet, renowned Islamic scholar and a popular figure in Kashmiri literary world. Fani seems to have been much ahead of his time and must have gone against the then prevailing traditional ethos. He was declared murtad for committing blasphemy by his co religionists (Sufi, Kashir). Subsequent historic writings attributed his being declared murtad to the book, Dabistan-i. mazahib, purported to have been authored by him. The book was first published in Calcatta in 1809 followed by a lithographed reprint by Ibrahim ibn Noor Muhamad, Bombay in 1875. This historic fallacy needs separate treatment by someone who is more into the concept of irtidad and the persian scholarship in Kashmir, a subject that has received scant attention from our historians.
Dabistan, for reasons of its great importance in understanding the religio-political environment of 17th century, has been put to some genuine scholarly scrutiny. Professor Athar Ali, Prof. Of History AMU, Wilson fellow, Wilson Woodrow centre for scholars (d 1998) took up this honorific task. He has come up with astounding facts about the authorship of the book. He has categorically established that Dabistan was authored by a parsi, Mobad, a disciple of Mobad Hoshyar, a parsi spiritual personality who lived in the company of other saints and mystagogues of his time. Here we enter into a hitherto lesser known world of parsi mystics of Kashmir. The author comes to Kashmir some time in 1630, where he records intellectual contacts exclusively with parsi priests who were living as a community in sects and sub-sects in Kashmir. This revelation has also opened up vistas for further research about our parsi heritage. He records his meetings with another mobad Hoshyer, mobad Sarosh, Pilazar, a follower of Shidragi sect of Parsis; Raham of paikari sect, and Andariman belonging to Alari sect and Shaidab of akhshi sect. He also meets yogi Ishar kar. Interestingly his first contact with a muslim mystic has been when journeying out of Kashmir, Arif Subhani in NWEP. Later on he meets Mahmud fal Hasiri in Kashmir who narrates a story about a parsi saint, disciple of farshad who again had lived in kashmir and who was known to Hasiri. He also meets ashur Beg, a sufi, who narrated a personal encounter with a parsi divine, Farzana Bahram.

We all know that Mian Mir whose disciple, Mulla akhoon was the spiritual master of Dara Shokoh for whom Dara built a sarai, madrasa and a hammam in the mughal city in Srinagar, Nagar Naagar. Mobad also meets Mulla Ismail sufi, another disciple of Mian Mir in Kashmir. While in Kashmir he also meets followers of Akhshi, a parsi sect whose followers had assumed muslim names. These saints were well versed in persian and Arabic and had extensive knowledge of persian literature, Islamic beliefs and mystic thought. Dabistan reveals substantial presence of parsi saints from different sects who found this land conducive to their spritual amd mystic urges revolving round the tenets of their indivisual faith and belief. These revelations, brought to light by Prof. Athar Ali, open up new vistas and a need for delving deep into the period literature using Dabistan as reference point. A new definition for resh waer, the land of saints as kashmiris call their country,is awaiting some masterly treatment so that this rich mosaic is exposed and presented to the world at large in the form in which it evolved and flourished here.

Reverting to the concert of Zubin Mehta at Shalimar on 7th Sept, it is very well known that the spirit and influence of music patronized by sufis and mystics resulted in music becoming the integral part of all flourishing muslim societies. Many great philosophers of Islam, including al –Kindi (d866), Al-Farabi(d950), Ibn Sina(d1037) wrote profusely on the theory of music and encouraged its performance. Al-Kindi argues that music can turn anger into calm, grief into joy, avarice into generosity and cowardice into bravery.

One is reminded of this treatise when one looks at the great work Zubin and his brother are doing in occupied territories of Isreal where they are lighting the tender hearts and souls of Palestinian children in villages like Nazareth and Shawaram by treating them to music therapy. The concert has been named Ehsaas-i-Kashmir. We hope it will measure up to its title and present the feelings of Kashmir through the medium of music.

The following urdu couplet points towards the expectations from the concert.

 ‘Kya zulmatoon main geet gaye jayein gey Haan, zulmatoon main zulmatoon ke geet gaye jayein gey’