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Out but not down

Time for social action and volunteerism
01:00 AM Dec 21, 2023 IST | KHURSHID A GANAI
out but not down

In my article titled Reconstructing Kashmir Society in Greater Kashmir on August 8th, 2023, I pinpointed many areas where we in Kashmir need to improve as people and society. If politics has been roller coaster for us over the last many decades and heart breaking over the last four years, and now the last blow having been dealt on December 11, it is also time for us to stand up and gather ourselves to not flounder and fall. After all, politics is not the end all and be all of societies, however important it may be. Decidedly, politics will always remain most important for societies, but there is also life besides politics.


Let us leave politics at that and instead turn to social action and volunteerism because in times of relative political vacuum, the way to our redemption is only through social action and volunteerism.
In my article in August, I wrote that we in Kashmir do not have a vibrant and well developed culture of non-governmental action and volunteerism. I was partly right but what needs also to be told is that we do have some outstanding activists, limited in number though, working on issues of vital public interest on ground and making a difference.


Manzoor Ahmed Wangnoo of Nigeen Lake Conservation Organisation (NLCO) and Mission Ehsaas is busy cleaning up and restoring neglected lakes in Srinagar city and reviving dried springs elsewhere. He eminently deserves the epithet ‘Kashmir’s lake man’. We hope he and his colleagues continue their good work and restore rest of our dying lakes in Srinagar city. Then there is this talented writer and speaker Dr. Raja Muzaffar Bhat who keeps highlighting issues of immense public importance including solid waste management, rural sanitation, illegal sand mining, pollution, Doodganga, state of implementation of government schemes etc.

Originally an RTI activist and pioneer in that regard, he has won many a legal battle to procure relief from the courts for hundreds of petitioners. His success at the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2022 securing directions to the government for stopping pollution and funding clean up of Doodganga canal along with a penalty of Rs 35 crore for allowing pollution was unprecedented. Then there is this Green Citizens Council (GCC) of over hundred members led and tended by that indefatigable pro-environment die hard Faiz Ahmed Bakshi and having among them professionals like Advocate Nadeem Qadri, a young lawyer who files court cases to seek environmental justice, Engineer Aijaz Rasool, an expert in hydraulics and management of water bodies, Engineer Iftikhar Drabu, expert on hydroelectric projects, retired Forest officer Mian Javaid Hussein with experience of Wular lake conservation, retired Sessions Judge Khaliq ul Zaman, a passionate social activist and environmentalist, field level volunteers like Reyan Sofi and Javed Ahmed Ganie of Hokersar who keep a close watch on the maintenance and upkeep of Hokersar Wetland and Aijaz Ahmed Dar of Tarzoo, Sopore who does the same for Hygam Wetland. Arif Shafi Wani of Greater Kashmir, also a member, is continuously highlighting Kashmir’s environmental issues through his regular, well researched and articulated write ups.


Then there are other passionate activists namely Dr M.M. Shuja, Dr. Tauseef Bhat, Mushtaq Ahmed Wani of Beerwah, Syed Farhat of Badgam, Syed Adil of Ganderbal who are doing outstanding work as members of GCC and making a difference. Unfortunately, GCC lost its oldest and best crusader last year Syed Nassarullah Shah of Zoonimar. His untimely death was widely mourned by his colleagues and the civil society and is being sorely missed.


We need more and more such outstanding activists and volunteers to not only pinpoint the problem areas but also give vital inputs and feedback to the concerned authorities for course correction. In the absence of elected representatives at all levels which is the situation presently, activists and volunteers need to come forward to work for the public cause.


We have other good stories that should cheer us. Last year, there was news about a lady named Nasira Akhtar from Kulgam who has discovered a herb that converts polythene into ashes for which she received the Nari Shakti Puraskar from the President of India. We have just heard about Tariq Ahmed Ganie of Gadihama, Kulgam who has set up a small scale unit crushing and shredding plastic waste, a first of its kind in the valley outside Srinagar. If he succeeds in this venture, his success would motivate others to take on the plastic menace in the valley.


Among the industry entrepreneurs, Zia Ashai, who has a fabrication unit at Shalteng pioneered the first kerosene bukhari (heating stove) about twenty five years back using German technology. Kerosene bukhari provided great relief in electricity deficient cold winter season in Kashmir and also came to be in big demand with Army and Paramilitary forces for use by troops deployed on high altitudes. Zia Ashai’s unit has since come a long way and is now fabricating fully automatic gas bukharis and cast iron wood bukharis.

Similarly, many innovative and enterprising units have come up at Lassipora and other industrial estates in Kashmir that are doing good business and helping add value to farm produce and to the farmer
income. Mir Khurram of Shopian in many ways was the first to introduce and set up a CA store for apple at Lassipora in 2009 and can be regarded as the pioneer and trend setter. Since then many CA stores have been set up there and elsewhere in the valley which have enabled remunerative prices to the apple orchardists in off season, something not available previously. Reportedly, he had also taken the lead in setting up a large sized high density apple orchard.

When mental health problems had assumed epidemic proportions in Kashmir in the nineties, the untiring work of that brilliant Psychiatrist Dr Mushtaq Marghoob saved hundreds of affected persons from derailment and as many families. As head of the only Psychiatry hospital in Kashmir at that time, Dr Mushtaq Marghoob had to travel the length and breadth of the valley to offer professional advice and treatment to patients suffering from anxiety, depression and post trauma stress disorder (PTSD). He is still active in his work and counseling and treating drug abuse patients and saving lives.

There are many more stories of good work being done on ground which we must all tell, support and encourage with fulsome praise. Politics alone will not provide grist to the mill of development of a society and when there is political vacuum, social action, volunteerism and entrepreneurship become the only alternatives. And these must follow the governmental schemes and complement them.

It is important for people not to get unduly distracted by political setbacks because after all life has to be lived. But for those in politics, they must be full time in it and strive for the best deal for their people. Some days back, one middle rung leader of a major political party was asked by a TV channel reporter at Srinagar ‘what next after the supreme court Judgment’, he, either ignorantly or nonchalantly replied that ‘legal remedies still existed’. Now, this is laughable. After all everyone knows that the legal option is permanently shut, at least for now. The disturbing part, however, is that we have leaders whose comprehension and understanding of vital political issues is so dangerously faulty.

The December 11 judgment will be analysed, discussed and debated for a long time till something different comes from the Supreme Court to trigger fresh discussion and debate. And that may happen after years , if not decades, as this judgment also came long after the last big bench judgment holding article 370 to be an untinkerable constitutional provision.

Some cheer has unexpectedly come from Jammu with the news that leaders of three or four Jammu parties have, couple of days back, demanded safeguards for jobs and land for locals under article 371 of the Constitution which article already has special provisions for certain other states and areas in the country.

Although our political leaders are already at the receiving end from all sides including from the local political commentators who hold them and their predecessors responsible for having brought the erstwhile state to where it stands now, the fact of the matter is that they are more sinned than sinning. Undeniably, there are many bright minds among the existing lot who have everything to deserve another chance. And undeniably, there are many among the existing lot who must now yield place to new leaders; young, intelligent, informed, knowledgeable but more importantly, dedicated, sincere and who will not sell their souls.

In the name of new leaders at the helm, Jammu and Kashmir does not need turn coats or lumpen elements to sensationalize and hyper an already scarred political situation. Such kinds do not deserve any attention which they may try to seek from an unsuspecting population in search of saviours and messiahs. But who knows what turn politics will take from here. Let us hope and pray that it takes a turn for the better.

Khurshid Ahmed Ganai is a retired IAS officer of erstwhile J&K cadre and former Advisor to Governor, J&K.