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

Ashraf feels that Kashmiris are suffering from money possession mania and all that matters is making money, by hook or by crook!

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 69, was born and raised in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. High School and the S.P College before joining the Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Civil Engineering. However, he changed his career to adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing, completing his training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and Gulmarg. He also completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Française in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.) 

Money, Money and Money!

During the last decade or so when Kashmir had been coming out of the turmoil of nineties, one noticed innumerable constructions all over the valley. The city of Srinagar has seen an unprecedented boom in construction of palatial private residences and shopping complexes. The number of vehicles in the valley exceeds a million and Srinagar alone has over a quarter million of these! The land prices are soaring sky high. The value of rupees one crore has now been reduced to almost a hundred thousand rupees. The property and land sales which people used to discuss just a decade back in lakhs are now discussed in crores! It is crazy to think that just a piece of land good enough to build a nice house with an attached lawn would cost more than couple of crores!

Where from is the money coming? During recent years very rich agricultural land has been converted into houses, shops, and so on in violation of all laws forbidding conversion of agricultural land. The government itself was the first violator. The worst was the railway line running through the heart of the valley. People got money as compensation of their lands. They bought tippers from this money to ferry earth for the railway line by chopping off all the beautiful hills in different areas. In the urban areas especially Srinagar, people have virtually gone berserk. There is construction activity everywhere. Palatial houses, huge shopping complexes, and dozens of hotels and guest houses. Kashmiris have developed a typical sheep mentality. If a sheep takes a particular mountain trail, the entire flock follows it regardless of the fact that the trail my lead to their ultimate doom!
In most of these constructions, the Master Plan, the municipal laws, the environmental considerations have been given a go by.

We have some of the strictest legislations regarding land use and building bye laws but the “money” has softened all these. The only requirement for getting permission is “money”. It is like a magic wand. It opens all doors. As already stated, the worst tragedy is that the framers of these laws and the people responsible for their enforcement are themselves the first violators of these regulations! Government Departments and other organisations are supposed to be planners, motivators, and regulators of the private entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, they are entering into business themselves simply to make money for the people manning these at different travels. As Margaret Thatcher once said, “Government has no business to be in business!” But no one follows this advice here.

The money entered into Kashmiri enterprise right from the start of its movement for emancipation from the centuries old oppression. After having been suppressed and treated brutally for centuries, Kashmiri Muslims who were the main sufferers under the Dogra rule, rose up in 1931. However, the movement got corrupted in 1938 itself by the ideologies which were coming up at that time in our neighbourhood. After 1947, the newly created two countries tried their best to corrupt us in every possible way. On two sides of the divide edifices based on every type of corruption have been created. The worst traits of our character have been encouraged in every possible way. The good traits like honesty, boldness, and uprightness, if ever these were there, have been drowned in the sea of corruption. Giving or taking a bribe is not frowned upon at all. In fact, it is quite normal everywhere. People do not mind it at all. Corruption has seeped into the blood stream of Kashmiris! There is no place for an honest and upright person in the present society.

Quite often the development and growth of these worst traits of our character are blamed on outsiders who have tried their best to exploit these to their advantage. That may be true but the basic fact remains that we do have serious flaws in our character and none of our leaders have made any attempt to set these right. Rather they have all tried to exploit these to achieve their own short term goals. Again it is a universal truth that the character of a person can be reformed by example rather than by preaching. We have yet to find such preachers who practice what they preach! Is there any chance of our getting out of this web of money, money, and money? There is only one possibility and that is to reform our basic character. How that can be done? Sir Walter Lawrence in his book, the “Valley of Kashmir”, observes, “The Kashmiri is what his rulers have made him, but I believe and hope that two generations of a just and strong rule will transform him into a useful, intelligent, and fairly honest man”. The million dollar question is how and when will we get those two generations of just and strong rule? Anybody having any answers please?