Our Society and Culture

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As I was travelling in an auto-rickshaw yesterday, Big FM 92 radio carried a program on how autorickshawallahs “fleeced” people by charging exorbitant rates. The autorickshawallah turned to me and said, “Sir: why are they fixated on us? And why are they singling us out? Who in Kashmir is straight?”. While the moral equivalence that the autorickshawallah was and is wrong, but the man had a point. In all our day today dealings- whether it be with the sabzi or redi wallah,  the mewa walla, the bus conductor- and in our dealings with the officialdom-the petty clerk, or the mighty “sahib”- the all powerful bureaucrat,  the police or our doctor folk and other like such instances, we the public are at the receiving end.The irony is that we are ALL implicated in this. It is just a matter of role reversal that we find ourselves as powerful, rent seeking agents or the victims of the power of our fellow Kashmiris. Say , for instance, when a person A has power over person B, he exploits or mistreats person B, but instead of taking a moral lesson from this, person B then goes onto exploit and mistreat person C , if person C is under his power or when the power dynamic favors person B and disfavors person B. What explains this bad and ungainly behavior? Politics or the historical political condition of Kashmiris where real power has always eluded us and we get a kick when we get or feel an “illusion’’ of power- say for , instance, the politician with his laal bati entourage and fleet of cars and accompanying police wallah’s to boost the politician’s ego- all temporary and ephemeral.

•Who is responsible for the slow death of our handicrafts industry?

Last night, a friend who conducts business in Dubai, called me. He said , he was on his way to Srinagar but was in Amritsar for a stop-over and “business”. I understood immediately what he meant and why he was in Amritsar. He like, most if not all,  Kashmiri businesspersons in the Handicrafts trade/business would be in Amritsar to buy very cheap imitations of Kashmiri handicrafts like shawls, etc and then sell it as “ original” Kashmiri stuff to unwary and unsuspecting buyers in Dubai. This behavior is now the norm in Kashmir. Almost all Kashmiri businesspersons resort to this unethical and unscrupulous business practice(s). These practices are not only unethical but also in the nature of spoiler’ for our handicrafts industry- once the mainstay of our economy. Essentially, Kashmir handicrafts were famous and sold even at niche product rates because of the”brand pull” association of products from Kashmir. A whole supply chain of artisans, farmers who would work on these products in winter, the business people, traders and exporters drew sustenance from this. But alas, this supply chain is now broken with Kashmir handicraft products merely a replica of the original. This will have long term consequences and repercussions but by then it will be too late. The business community of Kashmir instead of short term profits or even supernormal profits must and should take serious note of these bad and unethical business practices and take steps to stop it. The state must also step in and do its bit. The future of a famed and famous industry is at stake and so is the survival of all those associated with it.

•The Disconnect between Government, governance and the “ Governed” in Kashmir:

I overheard a pedestrian on the street saying that people are hardly concerned about who “governs” Kashmir.” Only those who have “interest(s) with and in the Government are bothered”, he added. This person may well be right. It will soon be a month since the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been placed under Governor’s rule. But, insofar, as Kashmir division of the state is concerned, the political governance vacuum at the top hardly appears to have made a difference. Life continues to its broken rhythm in Kashmir. In  this sense, as opposed to the “Big Government” that has usually been the bane of Governance in other states or even countries, Kashmir’s Government and Governance paradigm is unique in terms of under provision or even minimal provision of public goods. This is a theme that cuts across administrations and regimes. Be it the PDP, the Congress or the National Conference, or a combination thereof, all are implicated in this “non Governnance Government paradigm”.  This is a travesty because it amongst other things means that people have only a functional and instrumental relationship with the Government which is reciprocated by the government or the Governing class in the same idiom. The cynicism that obtains in the streets of Kashmir towards the government is then no surprise,

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