Kashmir: Orphan, Nurture and Challenges is a welcome addition to the story of trails and tribulations that Kashmir has been going through for the past several centuries.
The fairly recent armed conflict has added a new dimension to Kashmir's checkered political history—a huge number of children lost their parents—one or both—and because of dependency had to take shelter in orphanages whose number has increased manifold during the past more than two decades: " The impact of conflict in Kashmir is such that the exposure to actual armed struggle is limited, but the effects are;[sic] repression, loss of security, loss of income and loss of service access, disrupted schooling, displacement, military and militant harassment, besides other forms that have a direct impact on the lives of children and their families (p. v). Once orphaned,, it acts as a kind of stigma for the child. In particular, a girlchild loses her childhood and, at times, may have to help the family in doing the drudgery. These children are therefore paying the price of a sin which they never committed.
Rao Farman Ali, the author of Kashmir: Orphans, Nurture and Challenges has killed many birds with his one 'stone' , i.e, the book. Many might take the book as a description of the orphan and orphanages that are believed to nurture the orphans in spite of odds. Though the title of the book gives you an impression of this kind, it surely isn't about orphans and orphanages alone. It is about Kashmir, its political struggle from times immemorial to the armed resistance struggle, especially of 1990s and, above all, how the armed struggle has impacted children here who are looked after some where else when they should have grown up in the lap of their parents. The author has traced the history of Kashmir and devoted the entire ' Introduction' to tracing out our past and the way the armed struggle of the recent times has affected our children. What is most interesting about this chapter is that its end-notes are more detailed than the chapter itself. Who ruled us at what point of time; what society emerged when the foreigners rules us and who made an impact on our lives, all these are dealt with in greater detail in both ' Introduction' and the end notes. In Chapter 2, entitled ' Kashmir Resistance Struggle, the author traces armed struggle in Kashmir to the Dogra rule when Kashmir was sold by the British; " The Kashmiris began showing up little fighting spirit when Ghost-ruler, Gulab Singh's name was officially declared as the future Maharaja of Kashmir" (p. 45). However, their resistance didn't last long as the Dogras with the help of the British army succeeded in crushing the dissenting voices. A real armed conflict took place when the tribals invaded Kashmir in 1947 that eventually led to the landing of the Indian army on the Kashmir soil. Since then Kashmir has become a bone of contention between India and Pakistan: "While as India claims that the Accession of the state of Jammu and Kashmir to India, signed by the Maharaja Hari Singh was completely valid in terms of the Government of India Act (1935)", Kashmiris and Pakistan have a different perspective in the matter, both claim that Kashmiris have not been given their right of self-determination as enshrined in the relevant UNO resolutions. The chapter also deals in detail with the way Kashmir politics shaped itself after the invasion of the tribals and their subsequent defeat at the hands of the Indian army. The author makes has made an attempt to find out the root cause of the Kashmir conflict which has taken so many lives so far. He writes, " Innumerable factors are responsible for the emergence of Kashmir conflict, while seeking opinions of Kashmiris, Indians or Pakistanis; they share different beliefs even about the genesis of the conflict" (p. 85).
Chapter 3 entitled 'Armed Conflict and Impact' looks at conflicts across the globe and relates them to the devastating impact of the Kashmir conflict on children here. " During the last two decades the Kashmir society has scattered, leaving either orphaned or as household heads [the sentence is somewhat ambiguous]…Protracted conflict destroys the safe environment provided by a house and a family to its members especially the children and leads to inadequate nutrition, education and in child employment" (p. 99). These children of the conflict suffer from various disorders—primarily psychological—that hamper their growth and the growth of the society on healthy lines.
Chapter 4 looks at the NGO culture in Kashmir: "Not much research has gone into the role that NGOs could play in Kashmir or constraints to the NGOs that do exist" (p 110). Roa believes that the NGO cultures is fairly recent in Kashmir as Kashmiris would take care of their orphans as a religious obligation: "For example, an orphan…would immediately be adopted by one of his relatives or neighbours in accordance with their religious and social practices; hence the need for orphanages was never felt" (p. 110). As things became very grave and the number of orphans increased day by day, the need to establish orphanages and welfare institutions was felt more than ever before during the armed struggle that started in 1990. Today, there are a number of such orphanages working in the Kashmir valley.
Chapters 5and 6, reflect on the role of State and community and the way the orphans might be dependent on their mentors for a longer period of time than expected: "The period of dependence can be extended considerably by many situations, including unemployment or extended studies. ..physical handicap…severe illness.." (p, 131). The natural outcome of the orphaning is the deprivation of childhood and living of these children under constant stress: " Stress changes the production and distribution of hormones, including intrauterine growth hormones and can reduce the gestation time of the foetus" (p. 142)
In Chapter 7, the author looks at the challenges that the society at large and the orphanages in particular face in dealing with a huge number of orphans. The most important challenge before them is the lack of resources—especially economic—that hampers a proper care of these children. The author has listed 12 challenges that include lodging, behavior, education and negligence also. In chapter 8, the author has suggested many measures to tackle the phenomenon in Kashmir. He says that Kashmir needs to develop an institutionalized care of orphans as " there is no permanent organized and credible community based support system in place" (p. 253. This is an uphill task which can be tackled only when all the stakeholders contribute their bit to make these children comfortable.
Kashmir: Orphans, Nurture and Challenges has been published by Gulshan Books with an appealing jacket and soothing to eyes paper. I am sure the Kashmir lovers would find it a rewarding read and an insight into how Kashmir has been suffering for ages with an indelible impact on her younger generations.
Professor Mohammad Aslam teaches at English Department Central University of Kashmir