“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

GREATER KASHMIR
24 November 2007

Serve Kashmir to save Kashmir
That is the only way we can do good to our people

WORDS WITHIN BY FIRDOUS SAYED

(Mr. Firdous Syed, 41, was born in Bhaderwah, Doda, and had his schooling in Jammu. He is currently the Chairman of the “Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Development Studies,” and associated with the J&K National Conference. Between 1989 and 1991, he led the Moslem Janbaaz Force, a militant group, and was jailed from 1991 through 1994. In 1996, he publicly renounced the gun culture, and has since joined mainstream politics and is an active member of the Kashmir civil society.)

The stunning beauty and scenic splendor of Kashmir which captivates the stranger at first glance has also planted a sense of superiority among the natives. The love for one’s soil is an indispensable part of human psychology even in case of the people coming from barren deserts; and in case of Kashmir, it is but natural for the people to feel ecstatic about the marvel of their abode. However, the Kashmir we all love, is also suffering because of our collective oversight and greed. The wretchedness one is enduring because of the prevailing political conditions aside, mere fascination for this land which holds people near to their roots is not enough. Possessing beautiful country is not enough unless people of the country are ready to serve it well so as to maintain its magnificence for all times to come.

For a long time we have been reading about the shrinking of Dal and Wullar lakes as also about the dangers faced by other water-bodies. The danger of Chinar tree becoming extinct and fast depleting forest cover are other issues that have been discussed since decades. However, the unfortunate reality remains that mere talking has not helped much in saving these natural assets. The Dal Lake, for instance is shrinking faster today then ever before. According to some reports, the rate at which silt enters the lake has gone up from 7,254 tones a year during 1998-2003 to 22,354 tones a year during 2003-2005. What remains of the Dal today is a stinking cesspool of not more than 10 kms in radius.

The number of Chinar trees is also decreasing fast. While there were 70,000 Chinar trees in1970’s, now there are less than 14000 left. The forest cover has not been rejuvenated either. According to some estimates, in 1980 the forests of the state had shrunk from, 21,000 sq.kms to 13,000 sq.kms in about 50 years. In March 2004, then Minister for Environment and Forests had said “the forest cover has come down by 20 percent in last two decades.” The situation of nature’s other bounties too is as disheartening as is the case with lakes and forests.

It will be totally wrong to blame global warming alone for the destruction of our nature. We, the majority of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, have proved irresponsible and callous at times towards our natural assets of national importance. While some among us have been directly responsible for the plunder and destruction of these assets for their own petty individual interests, others can be blamed for being mute spectators to this loot.

The way the urbanization is eating up the village life, one can only confess with great pain and astonishment that villages of Kashmir are set to be lost forever. The green patches are being converted in the concrete jungles in utter disregard to the traditional architecture and local heritage. This haphazard and unplanned construction boom is not only an eye-sore on the beautiful landscape but is also unfit for habitation in view of the local climatic conditions. But who cares as the element of prospective planning is a missing dimension when it comes to construction activity here!

The land-use is most indiscriminate and mean. The rich paddy lands are being converted into housing colonies here at a very fast pace. Kashmir’s legendary pastures and meadows are losing ground to the unplanned and myopic development. Natural springs and small water channels have almost vanished. Only couple of decades back, people of the villages would draw water not only for agriculture but also for household use from the nearby springs and channels (‘kohls’), but today what these water-bodies have been turned into open severs and drains with all kinds of filth and refuge including even the human excreta finding its way into them. People spend millions for building or renovating houses, but don’t bother to spend a few more bucks to remove the old debris of these houses, which is instead left scattered in the lanes and by-lanes. While homes are kept clean and tidy with great pains the surroundings are splattered with all kinds of filth and rubbish.

This reflects the individualistic and self-centered behavior and mindset of the people who show no concern for the collective welfare of people, their surroundings and environment. If the collective environment deteriorates, it shall certainly impact the individual also, for when a ship sinks, with it also sink the people on board.

It is a known fact that the diminishing forest cover is mainly responsible for changing weather patterns, for incessant rains and floods and at times even the prolonged dry spells. Our rivers and water-bodies are choking and subsequently dying due to silt. But nobody seems to care. Such is the height of our collective heartlessness and numbness that it matters very little if the cool and green Kashmir of today turns into a half-baked barren desert tomorrow!

No doubt global warming and climatic changes are world-wide phenomena, but communities across the globe are not only aware of the risks of the looming environmental disasters but are also trying and contributing in there own way to avert such an eventuality. However, here in Jammu and Kashmir, more than peoples’ ignorance, it is their collective neglect for the environment that is the major cause of worry.

In the heat of present surcharged political atmosphere, it is true that issues of survival have taken precedence over all other important impending problems. But how can one justify, unending lure for personal comfort and abnormal mad rush for materiel possession when death has come to be so cheap here and life had become completely unstable?

As a people we may desire a lot, do we actually also deserve what we desire? We seek rights and privileges for ourselves, but are we prepared to discharge the responsibilities also?

We are not concerned and ready to mend our ways vis-a- vis some bad habits which are widespread here. Agreed all these traits are not unique to us only as something awful is prevalent elsewhere in other societies as well. But then what makes other societies different is that they are at least informed about the wrongs plaguing them and strive for ridding their societies from them, which unfortunately is not true with us.

Moreover, in the journey towards political empowerment, political issues are obviously critical, but issues related to nature and environment too cannot be relegated as non-issues. Rights are for the people and independence for the land; if the quest for freedom is not sheer rhetoric, then protection of life and honor of fellow Kashmiris as well as conservation and protection of the nature also becomes of paramount importance.

True love demands sacrifice and selfless service. Freedom never comes cheap. Any person espousing the cause of freedom for Kashmir will have not only to cherish but respect and safeguard all the elements of Kashmir — its people, land, culture, heritage, language, literature, flora and fauna et al. People in the political realm may continue to strive in the freedom struggle, and the masses who support the cause shall continue to do their bit as well. But it is imperative upon both the “freedom fighters” and the common people to develop a self-corrective mechanism when it comes to preserving things that form our collective identity. It is very important to understand that in the process of search for political identity, we must ensure that our collective identity does not get eroded. The notion of independence in Kashmir is anchored in the unique character of Kashmir. If somehow this unique character gets diluted, this will, in the long run, ultimately weaken the movement for free Kashmir.