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Poverty denied Fatima a match for 4 years, and she is just one in the growing number in Kashmir 

Hirra Azmat

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Srinagar, Oct 7: A stone’s throw from the Mirwaiz Manzil at Rajouri Kadal here stands a single-storey house built in sun-baked bricks and old lattice windows.

They talk about her in whispers: “Poor girl has been rejected multiple times. Have you also been sent by some middleman? Don’t tell her we gave you directions to her house,” a neighbour says, fearing it may lead to usual rejection.

Dressed in blue salwar-kameez, round-faced Fatima (name changed), in her late 30s, opens the door with a feeble salaam. She is the only daughter of Ghulam Mohammad (name changed), who sells walnut wood to the furniture manufacturers.

 

More than four years have passed since he started looking for a match for his daughter. Countless families passed by their home, none wanting to marry Fatima.

“As each year passes, I feel a part of me is gone. I have been dreaming to marry off my daughter, but most of the people who come to see her reject us for being poor and having a run-down house,” said the aged father.

“There were a few families willing, but their demands were too high. Unfortunately, I don’t have the resources to bear the expenses.”

Ghulam Mohammad suffers from multiple ailments and spends half of his monthly income on medicines. Fatima, who attends to the household chores also contributes by doing chain-stitch embroidery work.

“I don’t understand why families are so obsessed with big homes and fancy cars. My health is deteriorating with each passing day and I fear the worst. What will happen to her after I die?” he asks nobody in particular staring blankly at the ceiling.

The old city is full of such sad tales. In a congested locality of Safakadal, Chaidob, another family has a similar story to tell. Hameed Ahmad (name changed), a fruit vendor by profession throws his arms up in despair as he narrates his story.

“My daughter, in her mid-thirties has been rejected more than fifteen times. Imagine the stress she went through. Her only fault is that she belongs to a poor family and doesn’t have concrete big bunglow to show,” laments Hameed.

The usual rant that Hameed’s family has been hearing is “What can they give us in dowry? They have nothing with them.”

Weddings in the valley are becoming more extravagant every year: Fancy decorations, lavish trousseau and opulent jewellery are hallmarks of Kashmiri weddings.

There is tremendous social pressure to spend on weddings. Low levels of education, poverty, and caste-based discrimination compound these pressures.

As a result, many poor families are often unable to meet the increasing demands and wedding pressures.

Consequently, many girls pass their youth without getting married. In some cases, the bride’s family often bears the brunt of the debt.

Despite the 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act, the practice of presenting a dowry, a payment in cash or kind, continues unabated in the valley. Besides, the recent measures announced by the government like guest control law also witnesses zero implementation on ground.

Official figures estimate that in the old city alone, more than 25,000 girls have crossed the usual age of marriages.

In other areas of the valley, the number is also forbiddingly high indicating that 30-40 percent are in their thirties and 10-15 per cent have crossed forties.

Prominent civil society member, Shakeel Qalander acknowledges that it is indeed a grave issue that needs to be addressed.

“Yes, we are aware of the reality. This is because we don’t have a system in place. For instance, we have a system of Zakat, but many don’t pay. If everyone makes their contribution, I am sure the social evils can be waded off,” he said.

The civil society doesn’t have any recent data nor has any survey been conducted to identify such girls of late.

“We have volunteers who help us in identifying the needy ones. Post 2014 floods, we had started an initiative in which the masjid committees were strengthened. They were supposed to collect funds and cater to particular areas. If the same model is replicated everywhere, the problem can be resolved,” said Qalander.

Qalander urged the budding techies to come up with a centralized Zakat foundation system that can be connected to every community and mohalla.

“If this happens, you will see a lot of improvement,” he said.

President Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA), Mohammad Yasin Khan conceded, “Yes, it is a sorry state of affairs and we as society should collectively work towards ending this problem. The social evils like extravagance in weddings and dowry demands should be condemned by one and all.”

Khan explained, “The business fraternity is trying their best by clubbing with various NGO’s to help such people. I am aware that we are not able to cover every area, but this should be everybody’s concern.”


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3 militants killed in Budgam encounter

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Srinagar, Jan 21: Three militant of Hizbul Mujahideen outfit were killed in an encounter at Hapatnar woods in Charar-e-Shareef area of central Kashmir’s Budgam district on Monday.

News agency Global News Service quoted a senior police officer saying that a joint team of Army’s 53 RR, SOG and CRPF launched a cordon-and-search operation in forest area of Hapatnar early Monday morning following “credible inputs” about the presence of some militants.

As the joint team of forces intensified the combing operation, the militants hiding in the area opened fire triggering off a gunfight which continued intermittently till late in the evening.

 

During the course of gunfight, three militants belonged to Hizbul Mujahideen outfit were killed, the officer said.

The operation was prolonged due to the tough terrain amid inclement weather conditions, he added.”So far one body has been recovered along with arms and ammunition. The other two bodies which are lying inside the hideout are yet to be retrieved,” the officer said.

“The identity of the slain is being ascertained,” the officer said.

The officer said that the government forces have also blasted the hideout of the militants in the mountainous area, covered under plenty of snow.

Meanwhile, sources identified one among the slain Shahid Baba of Drabgam, Pulwama. (With inputs from GNS)

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Snow, rains persist: Land, air traffic disrupted

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Srinagar, Jan 21: Although not as severe as predicted, fresh snowfall and rains were Monday lashed Kashmir bringing some respite to the people from the cold wave.
The plains of Kashmir witnessed moderate rainfall from early hours of Monday, while there were reports of snowfall in higher reaches of the valley, officials said here.
The MeT Office has forecast widespread rain and snow over the state with heavy falls at isolated places till Tuesday.
Meanwhile, traffic on the 300-km long Srinagar-Jammu highway was halted because of heavy snowfall on the stretch.
“Today no movement of vehicular traffic on Jammu Srinagar NHW from Jammu towards Srinagar and vice versa as road blocked due to snow accumulation at Nowgam-Jawahar Tunnel-Qazigund Sector and still snowing,” J&K Traffic Police tweeted Monday morning.
Bad weather conditions also disrupted operations at the Srinagar International Airport here, leading to the cancellation of four flights, officials said.
“Due to the inclement weather, four of the 27 flights to and fro Srinagar were cancelled on Monday,” an official of the Airport Authority of India.
Another 11 flights got delayed due to poor visibility and intermittent rainfall since Monday morning, he said.
The minimum temperature in Srinagar on Sunday settled at minus 0.3 degree Celsius, same as previous night, a MET official said.
He said Qazigund, the gateway town to the valley, in south Kashmir recorded a low of 0.6 degree Celsius, while the nearby Kokernag town registered a low of minus 0.3 degrees Celsius Sunday night.
The mercury in Kupwara town in north Kashmir settled at a low of minus 0.6 degree Celsius. Gulmarg ski-resort in north Kashmir recorded a low of minus 4 degrees Celsius Sunday night, while Pahalgam tourist resort, in south Kashmir, recorded a low of 0.2 degrees Celsius, the official said.
He said Leh, in the frontier Ladakh region, recorded a low of minus 5.6 degrees Celsius, while the mercury in Kargil registered a low of minus 14.0 degrees Celsius. Kargil was the coldest recorded place in Jammu and Kashmir, colder than even Drass town which recorded a low of minus 6.8 degrees Celsius.
Kashmir is currently under the grip of ‘Chillai Kalan’, the 40-day harshest period of winter when the chances of snowfall are maximum and the temperature drops considerably.
‘Chillai Kalan’ ends on January 31, but the cold wave continues even after that in Kashmir. The 40-day period is followed by a 20-day long ‘Chillai Khurd’ (small cold) and a 10-day long ‘Chillai Bachha’ (baby cold).

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Lack of funds halts vital JK tourism projects

Bisma Bhat

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Srinagar, Jan 21: The Governor-led administration is mulling to start new projects to boost tourism in Kashmir even as several old ones have been left midway due to want of funds.

In December last year, the administration ordered the constitution of an official panel for identification of new projects in tourism sector to be implemented under Prime Minister’s Development Package (PMDP).

Back in 2014, the Government of India, under Project/Infrastructure Development for Destination and Circuits (PIDDC), had sanctioned Rs 7593.88 lakh for development of basic tourism infrastructure in Jammu and Kashmir through private investment, opening of new potential destinations and development of heritage, adventure, and pilgrim and eco-tourism.

 

However, the projects have been left incomplete as the Centre has, as per the latest official data, released only Rs 3504.80 lakh of the sanctioned amount against which the department shows 100 percent expenditure.

Now, due to the unavailability of funds, the PIDDC project is on standstill.

The project included development of Eidgah, face-lifting of Khankahi Moula, Development of Jamia Masjid Heritage Corridor, Renovation of Aali Masjid, Upgrading of Ziyarat Abdul Razaq Sahib at Hawal, Ziyarat Hazrat Balaad Rumi at Rajouri Kadal, Ziyarat Akhoon Sahib and TajBibi at Fateh Kadal, Ziyarat Hazrat Noor Shaha Sahib at Narwara, and Conservation of areas from Naagar Nagar to Watlab.

The tourist circuit from Naagar Nagar to Watlab, which was a key component of the project, still requires Rs 2312.90 lakh to be completed, official data shows.

Another main component of PIDDC project, construction of Trans Himalayan Culture Centre in Leh, too requires further Rs 1094.48 lakh for completion.

Similarly, development of Khiram Shrine in South Kashmir’s Bijbehara town also remains incomplete for want of funds.
Section Officer of Planning, Tourism Department, Sajad Ahmad, told The Kashmir Monitor that “65 per cent” of the work has been completed on Naagar Nagar to Watlab component of the project.

“We had to stop the work because the Centre did not release the funds,” he added.

Executive Engineer, JK Tourism, Abdul Qayoom Kirmani said they have asked the Government of India for the pending funds and also sent to them the proposal of the new projects.
“We have identified new Rs 100 crore new projects under PMDP-II, which comprises of nine circuits,” he said.

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