It's thumbs down to Independents
Women candidates, too, fail to impress
Perneet Singh
Tribune News Service

Jammu, December 30
Even as a record number of Independents and women candidates contested the Assembly elections this time, the former's number declined sharply and the latter somehow managed to retain their seats they had in the last Assembly.

Of the 1,353 contestants this time, there were 468 Independents and 67 women candidates. While the number of Independents contesting the elections was almost double as compared to the last elections, it was more than double in the case of women as against 30 women contestants last time.

Among the women who got elected to the last time were Suman Lata Bhagat of the Congress from Suchetgarh in the Jammu region, Mehbooba Mufti of the PDP from Pahalgam in the Kashmir valley and Kanta Andotra from Basohli in Kathua district. Andotra won the byelection in 2004, after her husband Chaudhary Lal Singh vacated the seat after winning the Udhampur-Doda Lok Sabha seat. However, this time Bhagat and Andotra failed to retain their seats.

Those who have made it to the Assembly are PDP supremo Mehbooba Mufti from the Wachi Assembly seat, Shamima Firdaus of the National Conference from the Habbakadal Assembly segment and Sakina Itoo of the National Conference from the Noorabad constituency. While in the last Assembly two out of three women MLAs came from the Jammu region, this time all three have come from the Kashmir valley.

Meanwhile, the Independents have suffered a major setback as their number has shrunk from 13 in 2002 to a meagre four in the 2008 elections. Among those successful are Charanjeet Singh from Kathua, Ashwani Sharma from Bishnah, Abdul Rashid Sheikh from Langate and Tsetan Namgyal from the Nobra Assembly constituency in the Ladakh region.

The Independents had played a key role in helping the Congress and the PDP in cobbling up the majority in the last Assembly as the two parties ended up with the combined tally of 36, falling short of eight from the magic figure of 44 in the 87-member House. Nine Independent MLAs in the last Assembly became the associate members of the Congress and many of them went on to become the ministers in the previous Congress-PDP coalition.

However, this time it seems highly unlikely that the Independents would have anything to gain since the Congress has decided to go with the NC. The Congress and the NC together cross the 44-mark, leaving out any scope for Independents to play a role.



Bridging gap between Hindus, Muslims
Dinesh Manhotra
Tribune News Service

Kishtwar, December 30
Although politicians brazenly tried to divide people on communal lines to reap benefits during the elections in this mountainous belt of the Jammu region, Sufism, a spiritual philosophy that teaches brotherhood and oneness among all human beings, is playing a vital role in cementing relationship between Hindus and Muslims here.

Muslim shrines of Kishtwar helped a lot in healing wounds and bridging gap between Hindus and Muslim as the communal divide took ugly turn after August 12, 2008, communal violence in which two innocents lost their lives.

The turmoil over the Amarnath land row followed by communal violence created an atmosphere where Hindus and Muslims were baying for each others' blood but Sufi dargahs were the places where members of both communities came together to remove misconceptions.

Notwithstanding rigid stand taken by the fanatic lot of both communities, Hindu attendance at these Muslim shrines is increasing with each passing day. There are Sufi dargahas in almost every village that attracts both Hindus and Muslims.

The 17th century Muslim shrine Sufi Hazrat Baba Fariduddin Baghdadi located in the heart of Kishtwar town is the most revered pilgrimage transcending barriers of religion.

"For years together my family has been visiting this shrine and we are murid (followers) of the baba," says Ranjit Shan, a local from Kishtwar. Narrating the story of the baba, Shan said baba hailed from Baghdad and traveled all the way to Doda on foot. According to him, the local Rajput king of Kishtwar was so influenced by the simplicity and teaching of the baba that he converted to Islam and a large number of his subjects followed the king's footsteps.

Hazrat Baba Fariduddin Baghdadi and his two sons - Hazrat Shah Asraruddin and Hazrat Shah Akhyaruddin - propagated Islam and value-based education among the people of all religions, castes and creeds.

Another devotee of the baba, Arvind Parihar, while admitting that recent incidents had created a gulf between both communities, asserted that baba's shrine is the place where members of all communities sit together and strengthen the bond of secularism.

Parihar said even after August 12 communal violence, the attendance of Hindus in this shrine did not decline as this shrine was equally revered by both communities.



Marrying off minor daughters is a tradition here
Shariq Majeed
Tribune News Service

Rajouri, December 30
As India takes pride in empowering woman in every sphere of life, Haseena Akhter (name changed) is married at the age of 14.

Haseena was married a few months back and her father Alif Din (name changed), a nomad, who shuttles between warm plain during winters and cold mountains during summer, along with his cattle, says he just followed his “rich culture and tradition” and did nothing wrong. Ignorant of the marriageable age for girls, Din says he did nothing wrong in marrying her daughter at such a young age and adds that poverty was one of the reasons for such a decision.

“Besides Haseena, I have four more children, including two more daughters, to look after. Since I have limited resources to raise them, so I married Haseena at such an age and did nothing wrong or illegal. I am also looking for grooms for my other two daughters who are 11 years and 13 years old”, says Alif Din.

On asking him, is the age at which he had married his daughter legally acceptable, Din avers that he was not aware about the age by which a girl should be married as per law. Haseena’s is not an isolated case; there have been thousands of instances in the twin border districts of Rajouri and Poonch where nomads (Gujjar and Bakkarwals) and other people living in backward areas marry off their daughters at an age of 12-15 years, which is legally and medically not acceptable.

The areas where the practice is quite common are Tuli Banna, Gunda, Khawas in Buddhal area in Rajouri district and Kalai, Jhallas, Mandi, Sawjian, Chandak areas in Poonch district.

Dr Javed Rahi, national secretary, Tribal Research and Cultural foundation, told The Tribune that the marriage of minor girls was a part of rich culture and traditions of the Gujjars and Bakkarwal nomads. He added that there were many reasons for this tradition, which includes high illiteracy rate resulting in less awareness about the marriageable age of the girls, besides low birth rate of the girl child in these tribes which fetches good matches for girls at an early age.

Professor, the department of law, University of Jammu, VK Kapoor, who studied this tradition of minor marriage of girls among the Gujjar and Bakkarwal as part of his research on “procedure for the resolution of conflicts among the Gujjar and Bakkarwals in the state of Jammu and Kashmir”, told The Tribune that the traditions exists among both the Gujjars and Bakkarwals tribes but it was more predominantly found among the latter.

As regards the age by which the girls are married being not legally acceptable and the police action thereof, Kapoor averred “though it is violation of the law of land and the police can take action. But these tribes prefer their matters are resolved through their own Jirzahs (main control and decision making body). These issues are hardly brought to the notice of the police for action”.

Inspector General of Police (IGP), Jammu, K Rajendra, told The Tribune “Since it is a social problem it has to be addressed by the society. We cannot do much into the matter except for creating awareness among the people”, he said.

“I also believe that high literacy rate among these tribes will solve this problem to a larger extent”. A health officer at a local government hospital here confirmed that the hospital receives large number of minor married nomadic girls from the areas across Buddhal who suffer from various gynaecological problems.



SMS resumes: Youngsters cheer up
Seema Sharma
Tribune News Service

Jammu, December 30
The life, which had virtually come to a halt with SMS service being suspended for nearly five months, has regained its tempo after the facility has been resumed exactly after the state Assembly elections.

Taking a quip at the situation, Tilak Wadhwa, chief general manager, BSNL, who has been inundated with congratulatory messages ever since the restart of SMS service, said, “The service was suspended keeping the security of the state under scrutiny. But now after the crucial stage of election has been covered with peace, the service has been resumed.”

The impact of ban was more visible among the younger lot who could not contemplate a life without SMS. Vikas Sharma, a student, said, “The students always struggle for money. They have to meet their expenses out of the limited pocket money. It was a nightmare for all of us to see our precious money slipping away in phone calls. Now, with SMS service back in operation, we can communicate without any fear of losing out money.”

Of course, the big holes in pockets have been plugged timely. The fingers which got used to of running on keys have also lost their tandem. It will take some time to pick up the habit again. But no marks for guessing, as the youngster will tell you all about other benefits of this incredible service. Smriti Kaul, another student, said, “When the class is going on, I can communicate with my friends through SMS without bothering other fellow students.”

Winking sheepishly, Ravinder Singh, a trainee medical practitioner, avers, “It had become difficult for me to talk with my girlfriend when I was at home. But now, with SMS back in operation, I can smoothly chat with her sitting even amidst my family members, without letting anyone get a sense of it.”

The inane feeling of getting retrograde, too, gnaws into the youngsters when SMS service was not working. Amita Bhardwaj, a law graduate, said, “It has come as a big relief as I had been feeling completely left out of this excellent medium of communication. It was really frustrating of not being able to send interesting jokes, especially the graphic ones, to friends and laugh aloud on them. All my friends living in different parts of the country have been sharing the fun.”

The work of many professionals, too, suffered a great deal. Vinay Garg, a sales executive, felt the maximum pinch in this duration, as “the big bosses in the companies do not pick up calls from unknown numbers. In such situation, I used to take appointment by giving my introduction through SMS and take permission for making call. But, when this service was put on hold, my work, too, suffered a great deal.”



State to play tourism card on R-Day parade
Rajesh Bhat

Jammu, December 30
Known for snow-clad and lofty mountains, large lakes and vast meadows, Jammu and Kashmir will showcase its high tourism potential at the Republic Day parade, 2009, in New Delhi.

The state tableaux –2009, depicting "Tourism in Jammu and Kashmir", is currently being given final touches in the union capital so that it could be wheeledout and presented before the august gathering on both sides of Vijay Path on January 26.

Chusool Mahaldar, a Srinagar –born artist who is presently putting up in New Delhi, has designed this tableaux that represents all three regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Cultural academy secretary Zafar Iqbal Manhas says the tableaux mainly lays focus on the scenic beauty for which Jammu and Kashmir is known worldwide. "It also showcases the life in a houseboat, besides the rich folk dances of the three regions," says Zafar.

This is Mahaldar's first venture after a high -level committee under the chairmanship of chief secretary SS Kapoor held a meeting in September to approve the new theme for the tableaux. Commissioners secretary, general administrative department, secretary tourism, director budget, and a representative of J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages had attended that meeting.

Earlier, the state's another renowned artist, Veer Munshi, used to design J&K tableaux for Republic Day parades since 1997. Munshi had already been credited for best designing of tableaux four times in the past.

"This year, entries from at least four artists were received and Mahaldar's idea of designing tableaux on J&K tourism was okayed," says Zafar. The tableaux was finally approved by the Ministry of Defence under whose charge the Republic Day parade takes place.

Zafar says the artists seated on the tableaux, will also showcase the composite culture of the state while performing folk-dances like "Kud" of Jammu region, "Rouf" of Kashmir and "Motses" of Ladakh.

While "Kud" is characterized by complete harmony of feet movements with slow and delicate hand gestures, "Rouf" is a group dance performed by women in a semicircle. "Motses" is a typical dance performed by Ladakhi artistes attired in traditional robes.



Drug addiction on rise among youth
Ravi Krishnan Khajuria
Tribune News Service

Jammu, December 30
Even as the police in consonance with the drug and food control department has tightened noose around some disgruntled chemists across Jammu, drug-peddlers continue to sell psychotropic drugs, including anti-depressants, sedatives, cough syrups and painkiller injectable, to the youth, including adolescents.

Shockingly, these drug addicts also include school and college going children that, too, from affluent families, who, in a bid to derive pleasure, are fast becoming a spent force before they could even bloom.

Though the police had been launching drives and had booked some disgruntled chemists and drug-peddlers in the past, the unethical practice at the cost of youth goes on clandestinely.

It had been an open secret that some chemists in Jammu made good money by selling such habit-forming drugs to the youth on exorbitant rates but now the addicted youth, along with some drug-peddlers, themselves bring these medicines from Punjab, said a chemist on the condition of anonymity.

He, however, said most of them belonged to rich families. “They come from rich families and pursue their academics (if any) in elite schools, but at the same time have fallen prey to drugs,” he said, adding that even some girls of reputed missionary schools have stooped into this mess.

“There is no denying the fact that the drug abuse has spread its tentacles far and wide and astonishingly adolescents, including girls from affluent families, are falling prey to the menace,” said Dr Jagdish Thappa, senior psychiatrist at Government Psychiatric Diseases Hospital here.

He attributed the disturbing trend to fast-paced life that spared virtually no time for working parents to look after their children. Such parents splurge cash on their children to fulfill their every wish, but bother little about their emotional needs and moral education, hence the malady, said Dr Thappa.

A former drug controller of the department admitted that the malpractice had been going on since long and suggested that the police should initiate strict measures to nip the evil.

One such drug addict, a 17-year-old boy, confessed that he had been taking intoxicant medicines from the past three years.

When asked how he became a drug addict, he said there had been some other boys in his school who had been taking such drugs and out of curiosity he, too, joined the ‘gang’ and now it’s a routine.

Once into the trap it becomes very difficult to quit the addiction, he said, while trying to convince this correspondent that he really wanted to get rid of this problem.

Police sources told that though noose had been tightened around chemists in the city, the lure of making quick money without getting into major risk drug-peddlers have now been bringing such medications from neighbouring Punjab.



Kishtwar residents’ health at stake
Road sides turn garbage dumps
Dinesh Manhotra
Tribune News Service

Kishtwar, December 30
The valley of Kishtwar is facing ecological degradation as controlling and properly maintaining garbage is a huge problem in this mountainous belt. As authorities have yet not approved any site to dispose off the waste, garbage is usually being dumped on the roadside posing several health hazards to the inhabitants of the area.

Even as the authorities have been making claims to develop Kishtwar as a tourist destination, garbage spread on the roads, just 2 km before the town, speaks volumes about the casual approach being adopted by the authorities towards health of the inhabitants of the town.

According to medical experts, dumping of garbage in an open is a serious health hazard as untreated sewage is breeding ground for bacteria responsible for various infectious diseases. Experts said some of deceases like typhoid, cholera, jaundice, etc, were transmitted by untreated sewage.

Furthermore, the disease causing bacteria can even contaminate water in the belt and some deceases can be transmitted through flies and dogs.

Garbage dumping on the road presents a sore sight. For a visitor it looks terrible bad as stinking smell emanates as one passes through the site. Garbage dumped on the road is mixture of water, human waste and domestic sewage of the population of more than 60,000.

Interestingly, the authorities are very much aware of the ecological hazard, but they seem helpless in tackling this problem. “It is really a problem in this belt”, candidly admitted Deputy Commissioner, Kishtwar, Sudershan Sharma, but hastened to add that administration has formulated a comprehensive plan to tackle this problem.

“We don’t have resources to establish a garbage treatment plant”, admitted the Deputy Commissioner. He, however, said the district administration had identified some sites to develop pits to dump the garbage there. “During the recent visit of Governor NN Vohra, we brought this matter in his notice and he has sanctioned some amount to purchase fresh vehicles to transport town’s garbage to dumping site”, he said. The Deputy Commissioner admitted that polythene was the main cause of ecology hazard in the belt but expressed his helplessness in banning it.



No check on garbage burning

The Jammu Municipal Corporation has failed miserably to check the burning of garbage dumped on the roadsides.

The smoke billowing out of such garbage dumps not only causes suffocation to the people having residences or shops nearby but also poses a potential health hazard.

In many of the cases, hazardous waste having chemical content is set afire near residential areas, causing problem to the residents.

It seems the authorities think that their responsibility ends by simply putting refuse collectors in the residential areas.

They should also ensure its timely lifting so that nobody puts it on fire when the refuse collector starts overflowing with garbage.

Already the pollution level in the city is so high and now this menace is adding to the residents' woes.

Rashmi Verma, Jammu

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