State sets example in voter participation
Dinesh Manhotra
Tribune News Service

Reasi, December 12
The involvement of all sections of society in the electoral process is must to legitimise democracy and democratic institutions.

However, low voter turnout, especially among the youth, has reached a worrying low level and political analysts have been thinking to identify reasons behind this.

While declining voter participation is a major concern in the country, Jammu and Kashmir has become a trendsetter with huge participation of people in the democratic process, despite threat from militants and other groups.

Unlike other parts of the country, this violence-plagued state is witnessing unprecedented and historic turnout in the ongoing Assembly elections.

Not only young voters are coming out in large numbers, elderly are even more enthusiastic about their role in the formation of their own government.

Like active citizens, a large number of centenarians this time participated in the electoral process to make the democratic institutions in Jammu and Kashmir more participatory and legitimised.

Ambo Devi, 102, was looking satisfied while casting her vote at a polling station in Katra. Assisted by her family members, Ambo Devi exercised her right to franchise.

"I have not missed any elections,” she said, adding that like her great granddaughter, she is also enthusiastic to vote.

Although Ambo Devi is not highly qualified yet she is aware of the importance of her vote. She recounted when she had first time exercised her right to franchise.

Enthusiasm of another centenarian Narayan Dutt Sharma, who was casting vote at the same polling station, can be gauged from the fact that he forced his grandson to take him to the polling booth early morning so that he could cast his vote as early as possible.

"Since 1957, I have been participating in this democratic process. I have never missed any election as it is our duty to vote,” Sharma said.

Rahul, grandson of Dayanand, who had cast his vote at Town Hall, Reasi, said his grandfather was anxiously waiting for the polling day.

"My grandfather discussed every aspect before taking final decision on which party to cast his vote,” Rahul said.

Not only in towns, the remotest Gool area also witnessed over enthusiastic participation of the aged in elections.

Janam Begum, 104, wife of late Jamal Din, could not stand due to weakness but she was desperate to cast her vote. With the help of her grandchildren, she went to exercise her right to franchise.



Stink in maternity ward
Tejinder Singh Sodhi
Tribune News Service

Jammu, December 12
Though the doctors say that a newborn needs proper sanitation to stay healthy and free from diseases, but a glimpse of the maternity section of government-run Shri Maharaja Gulab Singh Hospital (SMGS) shows the condition in which hundreds of newly born are kept.

According to official figures, on an average more than 200 children are born daily in the hospital, but the sanitation provided by the hospital administration exposes these newly born to various infections.

A view inside the maternity wards is enough to expose the tall claims of the hospital administration, stinking and over crowded corridors, walls with spitting marks, overflowing dustbins, stinking toilets, leaking taps and it seems that the cockroaches are always “out to play” with the newborn babies.

Adding to the woes of attendants and expecting mothers is the indifferent attitude of the hospital staff, especially the paramedical staff.

“Since a baby boy was born to my wife two days ago, all staff members have been asking for gifts, I had paid more than Rs 4,000 to them for the past two days,” said Swaroop Rana.

Adding, he said, “Even as it was a premature delivery and the condition of the child and mother was not good, the paramedical staff kept asking for money”.

The miseries of the Rana family did not end here, as two days later a paramedical staff refused to change the dressing of his wife as they were seeking a “big party”.

“Doctor had asked the paramedic to change the dressing of the stitches and my husband had gone out, the paramedic came and asked for money and he refused to change the dressing,” said Anjana Rana, wife of Swaroop Rana.

Later, when Swaroop questioned the paramedic as why he had refused to change the dressing of his wife, the latter entered in a brawl with him.

The Rana family is not the only one but almost everyone who gets admitted to the hospital's maternity ward has a similar story to tell.

“The sanitation of this ward is so bad that it becomes difficult to stay inside for few minutes. Adding to this is the attitude of the staff who keep asking for money every now and then,” said an attendant with an expecting mother.

Meanwhile, deputy superintendent of the hospital Satish Sharma said, “We take strict action when anything of this sort is brought to our notice. Accepting or demanding money is illegal and the administration encourages people to come to us with their complaints”.



‘Gada batta’ fortnight begins on December 15
Kashmiri Pandits to offer food to deity
Rajesh Bhat

Jammu, December 12
The coming fortnight has a unique cultural significance for Kashmiri Pandits. Even away from the valley, they have been following the age-old practice of pleasing their deities by offering them rice, fish and khichdi every winter around this time.

This year being no exception, the ritual of “gada batta” begins from December 15 to December 30, when fish (gada) and rice (batta) will be served to the deities on Tuesdays or Saturdays.

Similarly, Khichdi will be cooked and served on December 27 on the occasion of
“Yaksha Amavas".

While Onkar Nath Shastri, editor of Vijeshwar Panchang, opines that such rituals have nothing to do with religion, legend has it that Kashmiris have carried on with the tradition of consuming fish and artfully serving it too to their deities since the times of "nagas" and "pichashas".

The aborigines had a reason to do so and be dependent on fish, since Kashmir was “satisar” and there was no visible vegetation.

And now when the vegetables are available in abundance, the present generation has still been carrying on with the rituals so dear to them.

Ramesh Hangloo, president of the Pir Panchal Cultural Organisation, while tracing the roots of this unique function of serving the deities, says fish is specially prepared in Kashmiri Pandit families on the dark fortnight in the lunar month of “Pausha” and near ones are invited to dinner.

A plateful of rice and fish is arranged and placed at a clean spot on the rooftop. This is meant for the deity of the house referred to as "Ghar Devata".

Hangloo says the plate is properly covered with an upturned basket and a glass of water is also placed nearby.

Some households even serve raw fish. This tradition continues even today in several cities across the world where Kashmiri Pandits live, says Hangloo.

Similarly, during the same period, a special dish of "moong", mixed with rice, is prepared for the deities by placing an earthen plate on top of the compound wall.

“During our childhood, we were told that a ‘yati’ would be wearing a cap while partaking of this khichdi and whosoever is able to snatch the cap will get riches,” recalls an octogenarian, Sham Lal of Muthi migrant camp, waiting for the night of December 27 to cherish khichdi with the pickle of saag.

Sham Lal is now no longer interested in the cap but deeply concerned about the exorbitant rates of fish in Jammu markets.

"To keep the tradition of my foregathers, I purchase around 4 kg of fish every year from Below Gumat or Satwari markets of the city, but there is no check on the rates that shoot up as the festival approaches," he complains.

Kanwal Krishan, programme executive at Radio Kashmir Jammu, says the non-availability of fish in Jammu at times forces people to visit the nearby town of Akhnoor located on the Chenab.

"Further, in Jammu, there is a limited variety of fish, while as varities like Trout, Chhriw, Sattar Gaad, Mirror Carp, Ail Gaad, Parim Gaad and Ruma Guran were easily available from the rivers and lakes of Kashmir," says Kanwal.

He recalls that fisherwomen would visit every house of Kashmiri Pandits and also recite some satirical folklores.



Jammu bus stand
Rain adds to commuters’ woes
Sunaina Kaul
Tribune News Service

Jammu, December 12
The first spell of shower in winter season has exposed the pathetic condition of the General Bus Stand here.

The morning rain led to waterlogging of the road leading to the bus stand as well as its premises, making it difficult for commuters to board the buses to different destinations.

Leaking drains, stinking public toilets, garbage dumps and encroachment by hawkers at the bus stand are the other difficulties faced the passengers.

“I came here along with my family to pay obeisance at Mata Vashno Devi Shrine in Katra. The condition of the bus stand is terrible and I would never like to board the bus from here again," said Renu Mahajan, a commuter.

“No one can stand here even for five minutes. Its poor condition leaves a bad impression of the city among the people coming from other states.”

“The congestion caused by buses leaves no space for passengers to move freely,” lamented Aditya Chauhan, a local resident.



Underground aquarium a crowd-puller
Tribune News Service

Jammu, December 12
The subcontinent’s largest underground aquarium built adjoining the historic Bahu Fort here has become a must-visit spot in the itinerary of the tourists visiting the City of Temples over the last couple of years.

Constructed at a cost of Rs 8.5 crore, the aquarium has fast become a centre of attraction for tourists.

It comprises 24 aquarium caves, including 13 small caves for holding freshwater fishes, two large caves for holding marine water fishes and nine medium-sized aquariums for holding marine and fresh water fishes.

Equipped with ultramodern equipment, a public gallery, museum, laboratory and a multimedia conference hall, the aquarium's entrance resembles a fish’s mouth and the exit resembles its tail. It has 400 varieties of freshwater and marine fish.

“We are proud to have a world-class aquarium in our city, which otherwise is identified with temples or a transit point for Vaishno Devi shrine,” says Kamal Sharma, a local resident.

The popularity of the aquarium can be gauged from the fact that it had generated revenue of Rs 2 lakh in the very first week of its opening. The entry fee to the aquarium is Rs 20 per person.

“We had no plan to have a stopover in the city, but when I came to know about the aquarium I just could not resist the temptation to visit it,” says Vivek Bhonsale, a tourist from Pune, who had come to pay obeisance at Vaishno Devi shrine.

It has also emerged as a key destination for research scholars and ichthyologists (biologists who specialise in the study of fish).

The aquarium also attracts schoolchildren for whom it is nothing a less than a valuable learning experience.

These days one can see school buses parked on its premises and hordes of students queuing up to get themselves acquainted with the exotic world of aquatic life and fish of myriad shapes and colours.

"It has truly been a wonderful experience to see a large variety of fish so closely,
which we cannott imagine to see in our day-to-day lives," says Neha Verma, a
school student.



Poll campaign brings musicians back in tune
Seema Sharma
Tribune News Service

Jammu, December 12
There was a time when courtesans would sing paeans for their king to please him. Now, the candidates of various political parties too get such songs churn out in their praise, not for their sake but to woo the voters.

This trend of promotional songs in elections has blossomed fully this year, leaving behind the other campaign tools such as banners, brochures, leaflets etc.

Candidates of all major and smaller parties, including independents have got their own promotional songs, which not only blare on vehicles during campaign but are also aired during commercial breaks on local TV channels.

Such catchy songs tend to become popular among people in short time. This new trend has offered a golden chance to writers, music composers and singers to make some quick money in the election season.

Kuldeep Saproo, a music director, is a busy man these days. Saproo, who has composed music for 250 serials on Doordarshan, All India Radio and private albums, is busy churning out music for these candidates.

He says, "This year, I am getting tremendous offers from all political parties to compose music for campaign songs for them. Some asks music to be based on filmy track while some like folk music”. Saproo is charging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 1 lakh as per the demand of the candidate.

It is also not a mean task either for song lyricist to meet the flooding demand of penning down song after another, each highlighting the policies of respective parties and qualities of candidates.

Yash Pal, a lyricist, who has consistently been writing for musical programs at DD and All-India Radio, says, “Once I gather information about the work profile of the candidate then it becomes easy to write about him. For newcomers, I simply implore public to try and test them to assess their capability”.

Unlike Yash, Asha Chandon, organiser, Trade Union Congress, took to writing
lyrics by fluke.

“I felt deeply moved to see moist eyes of former Congress CM Ghulam Nabi Azad when PDP withdrew its support from his government, and took out my feelings on paper which are now being used as promotional song for Congress candidates."

Singers such as Vishal Gupta, who is a music teacher at Army School, is not relaxing with his family in evening, but recording such songs in a studio. He is upbeat about with this new trend.

"A lot of people from singers, writer, composers to technicians and studio people have got employment with the beginning of this new trend of campaign songs.”



Cake to improve health of livestock
Tribune News Service

Jammu, December 12
With the aim to improve the health status of livestock, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST), Jammu, has produced a "nutritious cake" after taking into consideration deficiencies in domestic animals in different areas of the region.

Associate Prof at the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, SKUAST, Prof Rajiv Singh, said:” The need for such a food arose after several cases of deficiency were reported from the far-off region. What was uncommon was that different cattle showed differed syndrome. Having experimented on ailing animals, nutritious food was made with requisite minerals."

Prof Singh said, "It was depressing that in the local market nutritious food meant for animals was made as per the nutritious requirements of the cattle in European countries. So it was not serving any purpose but proving injurious to their health in certain cases."

"The cake called Urea Mollases Multi-nutritient Blocks (UMMB) received a positive response and there is a tremendous improvement in the health status of animals," Prof Singh said while hoping that it would also accord economic benefits to people dependent on livestock.

Revealing chemical composition of the cake, he said it contained 10 per cent urea
as non- protein nitrogen source, 35 per cent molasses that is a waste byproduct
of sugarcane, 10 per cent groundnut meal and 17 per cent rice bran along with
required minerals.

The said cake could be made easily in the shape of a brick by anyone having knowledge of mineral deficiency of livestock, said Prof Singh and added that one cattle could be fed on brick for four days. "Normally, the cattle licks the brick as it does with the rock salt," Singh said.

Maintaining that cattle of the region were not fed properly either quantitatively or qualitatively, Prof Singh said that the cake would prove beneficial for the health of livestock as fodder and grass alone could not improve their nutritious level.

Further divulging the details of the research, he maintained that 90 per cent cattle in the sub-Himalyan region ranging from southern slope of the Shiyalik hills to Naga hills in east, suffered from iodine deficiency akin to humans.

Similarly, he revealed that 30 per cent animals of the region had generally low levels of calcium in their body. "The effect of diet on all such cattle was miraculous after trials," he said.



PSA pledge to ‘bring about change’ in system
Tribune News Service

Jammu, December 12
Socialism may be an outdated concept, but the Progressive Students Association (PSA) is an organisation that subscribes to all such things and pledges to bring about a "change" in the existing system "plagued by several ills".

"Unquestionably, we are Leftists and our research committee is doing a comparative study of Marx, Lenin and other thinkers to evolve a common ideology relevant in the context of our state," says PSA president Rahul.

"We have inherited a secular character from freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh, Ishfaq Ullah Khan, Ram Prasad Bismil and Chander Shekhar Azad. The PSA has installed several statues of such revolutionaries," he adds.

Rahul said their units had been functioning at the school, college and university levels. The association kept on commenting on burning issues through a non-commercial monthly newspaper, Jan Chetna.

According to Rahul, the cultural team of the PSA stages educative and thought-provoking streetplays.

Besides debates, Vikalp- a weekly wall magazine carrying news clippings on contemporary issues, is prepared by the PSA to update students on the campus.

Under the social reforms mission, its offshoot, "Jan Jagriti Manch", has been working extensively in backward pockets.

"The PSA has a clear vision about the pathos of peasantry, working class, women, Dalits and socially backward classes, besides exploitation by MNCs”.



Create more parking space

While the city's traffic has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years, the administration has done nothing to carve out more space for parking the vehicles in busy market areas like Raghunath Bazar.

There is utter chaos in terms of parking in various markets of the city. The parked vehicles virtually occupy half of the road, which is already very narrow, thus leading to traffic snarls after every few minutes.

If haphazard parking is the order of the day in the main markets, the scenario is no different in other parts of the city.

The authorities are nowhere in control of the things, as the people park their vehicles on roads without hesitation.

The need of the hour is not only to create more parking space but also to inculcate a sense of discipline among the city residents, besides strict implementation of the traffic norms.

Nikky Saluja, Jammu

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