Winter: A Season of Merry or Misery?

KO File Photo: Abid Bhat

By Sama Zehra

JEHANGIR’SFirdaus” and “Behisht” of all poets and philosophers, blanketed in a thick layer of snow, illuminating the brightest colors of nature is undoubted, a sight for sore eyes. Starting the day with the delicious Kashmiri delicacy “Harisa”, warming yourself up using “Kangris” or the “Hammam”, and listening to the melody of nature while spending time with your loved ones, is a sugarcoated glance of Winters in Kashmir.

The reality is, that the envelope of snow, other than beauty brings with it an unwelcomed state of misery, and struggle for Kashmiris, one short glimpse of which was recently shared with us via different social media platforms. Two pregnant women, in different cities of Kashmir, were carried on cot for several Km’s to the neighboring hospitals, one of them delivered a baby midway. Locals asserted that the lax attitude of the administration towards de-icing of roads is the cause of the problem.

De-icing of roads has never been given the required importance. For almost half of the winter, the roads remain blocked, the Srinagar-Jammu highway remains closed for vehicular traffic, therefore, bringing the lives of people to a standstill. The poor and in-efficient drainage system has added fuel to the fire. A few inches of snow leads to waterlogging in all of the major roadways of Srinagar, water from drains overflows into the roads, therefore, turning them into a “cesspool”. People have made Innumerable requests and protests to the administration, demanding a modern drainage system, however, the current administration as well as all the preceding governments turned a blind eye towards the issue. In 2019, a senior official at SMC stated that the carrying capacity of drains has decreased considerably due to the silt accumulation during the 2014 floods. He further stated that tenders were issued in this regard however, SMC received no proper response.

Draining out of clogged water from roadways comes with collateral damage i.e., “damaging of roads”. A few inches of snow or rain drastically damages the roads and the government dubiously argues that the “macadam” used is incapable of withstanding elements of rain or snow. Thereby, contradicting their boastful statements about the “excellent quality” of material used in the construction of roads.

The subzero temperature of Kashmir accompanied by unprecedented power cuts, continuous blackouts, shortage of essentials and traffic snarls is not a favorable combination. The issue of power cuts is one of the longest unsolved crises of the valley. Despite having the potential to produce 20,000 megawatts of hydropower, currently, the state only produces 3,263 MW, of which 2900 MW is generated by the NHPC (National Hydro Power Corporation). Merely 13% of the power generated by the NHPC is shared with Kashmir, and the power requirements of the state are met by purchasing electricity at sky-high rates from the northern grid of India. Nonetheless, Kashmiris are left with less than 9hrs of electricity per day.

Even though everyone in Kashmir is affected by the same difficulties, the upper class still manages to keep a safe distance from them. Poverty fuels the hardships faced by people, some struggles in winters are poor-centric and “Government initiatives”, are not strong enough to prevent the harsh weather from reaching the poor families. Winters highlight the abyss of gulf between different classes, an exorbitant difference of perspectives between various social groups becomes evident. While an elite enjoys the chilly weather, the poor living on boulevards of Dal Lake struggles due to waterlogging and freezing temperatures. When forecasts predict harsh weather, people begin stocking up essentials ahead of time. But, if resources are scarce, the option of hoarding is not available to people.  Furthermore, the snowfall extensively damages the apple orchards, uproots and damages trees as a result, jeopardizing the livelihood of people living in the outskirts of Kashmir. Last year, untimely snowfall led to extensive damaging of apple orchards, the government decided to compensate however, many haven’t still received any reimbursement. The government fixed a modest compensation rate of Rs. 2800 per Kanal, and surprisingly, failed to pay it.

In the olden times, winters were welcomed and celebrated by people. However, since the ’90s, winters have marked the inception of a loop of miseries and struggle for the Kashmiri people. The arrival of winters is no more marked by the foliage of autumn leaves instead, it has been replaced by frequent power outages. Day in and out, the valley plunges into blackouts and residents are forced to endure long, harsh winter days without electricity. The government usually flaunts about the developments in Kashmir or about the construction of roads, however, on the realistic ground, nothing really has changed. A drizzle of rain makes Kashmir vulnerable to floods, snowfall disrupts normal life, causes fatalities, accidents and whatnot. The unpreparedness of government, their lackadaisical attitude towards miseries of people worsens the already harsh condition faced by people. Kashmiris still live in a time where developments are rare, connections are scarce and facilities uncommon.

With time, it seems like the idea of Winters being a “season of merry and blessings” will only remain constricted to poets and philosophers. The onset of winters cannot be celebrated until and unless the grievances and concerns of people are heard. Truly, Winter is a season of blessings, a season that displays the true beauty of nature and has a magical effect of resurrecting our dead spirits. In the words of Agha Shahid Ali,

“Snow gleams as if a lover’s gaze has fallen to earth. How the season whitens! Even the evergreens are peppered with salt, and only love can take the place of the mountain”.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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