Javaid Beigh

Rise of Social Activism in Kashmir

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Turmoil in Kashmir valley has unwittingly given birth to a culture of social activism, which has diversified over the years and is now playing an important supplementary role in checking the abuse of executive authority. The phenomenon, which began over three decades ago with the rise of human right activism has now branched into such other fields as environment, women and children, transgender community, anti-drug awareness etc. This is indeed an important development, which is only growing by the day. I am myself fortunate enough to have been actively associated with social activism for last one decade as a youth activist and this is something that needs to be encouraged and given enhanced government support.

The history of political activism is over 100-year-old in Kashmir valley from the times of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, who jumped into student politics in Kashmir valley during Dogra rule after completing his higher education from Aligarh Muslim University. While many Kashmiris, over decades, have emerged in the field of political activism, not much was done in the field of social activism. There were traditional Muslim charitable institutions catering to widows and orphans, but no formal institutional culture of modern social activism in Kashmir valley could be seen.

The time when the culture of social activism started taking shape in India in early 1980s, Kashmir valley, unfortunately, plunged into turmoil and things just came to a standstill. There wasn’t any time or aptitude for cultivating an activist culture in Kashmir. However, also out of the turmoil sprouted the first seeds of modern social activism in the form of human right activism.

Three decades of violence and turmoil left Kashmir valley with a huge number of destitute, orphan, missing persons etc. This led to the emergence of a culture of human rights protection that saw many individuals, lawyers and youth activists pursuing the legal cases of human right abuses. Whether it was a case of seeking habeus corpus petition or seeking a simple bail, a thriving community of young legal activists emerged and slowly the focus shifted to other issues like women and child welfare, cultural activities like song, music, literature and environment.

The environment protection activism has especially taken a very high-profile position, with many individuals, NGOs, civil organizations etc. coming together and starting individual or collective endeavors to protect diverse range of environment protection activities including preservation of lakes and water bodies of Kashmir, plantation drives, checking land, air and water pollution and fighting rapid proliferation of illegal brick kilns.

As a native of Budgam district’s Beerwah division, I hail from one of the poorest parts of Kashmir valley, which has been devastated by the mushrooming of illegal and unauthorized brick kilns that have not only destroyed thousands of kanals of highly fertile agricultural and horticultural land, but have also led to high level of toxic air pollution in the Budgam district, polluting land as well as water resources and jeopardizing health of local population.

The unchecked mushrooming of illegal and unauthorized brick kilns in Budgam that supplies bricks for construction activity in Srinagar and rest of Kashmir valley is operated by people with criminal and anti-social affiliations and therefore many local civilian population has been reluctant to lodge a formal complaint with the local law enforcement authorities as well as concerned district civil officials, in the absence of which neither the local police nor local administration could take any serious action against such illegal activities.

That is where the civil society of Beerwah and I came into the scene and decided to lodge a formal complaint against the illegal operation of unauthorized brick kilns in Beerwah division with local administration on behalf of the “Civil Society of Beerwah”. Our collective action reaped benefit and the local administration of Budgam taking cognizance of our petition took a swift and timely action and deputed a team of government and local police officials, who not only put an end to under construction illegal brick kilns but also dismantled a large number of illegally operating unauthorized brick kiln structures and booked several violators. Orders were also given to restore the land to its original position as it was before the construction of these illegal brick kilns.

The anti-illegal brick kiln operation, which was covered widely by the local social media networks surprised many people in Budgam, who thought that these unwanted brick kilns were a permanent feature of their formerly pristine landscape as they were run by powerful criminals, who could not be touched by ordinary people. The local population, which is mired in extreme poverty thought that they would have to endure the ill health effects of these illegal brick kilns forever. This helpless feeling of despondency was challenged by the social activism of the civil society of Beerwah. While, I was also a part of it, the same would not have been possible without the collective efforts of wide range of the prominent members of the civic community of Beerwah that included lawyers, teachers, doctors etc., who lent their names to a cause that was important for their town, their people and their own health.

Social activism in Kashmir valley has come off age in recent times. It is of course not easy to be any kind of activist in a political turbulent, sensitive and unpredictable place such as Kashmir valley, but despite all these obstacles, the social activism has found its niche in modern discourse of Kashmir valley and that is indeed a welcome development. Social activism can play an important role in supplementing and supporting administrative welfare measures and in smooth deliverance of social welfare benefits of the various government schemes to the local population and also in checking any misuse, corruption or overuse of executive power by those who are supposed to perform their legal duty. It is a powerful modern tool of polity that has served an important role in serving people like journalists and its is indeed a welcome development that Kashmir valley despite its turbulent modern history has finally seen the emergence of the culture of social activism.

The writer is State Secretary of People’s Democratic Front and can be coonected on @javedbeigh on social media. [[email protected]]

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