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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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LS Polls 2019:Exit polls predict comfortable win for Modi-led NDA

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New Delhi, May 19: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alliance government is likely to return to power after a mammoth general election that ended on Sunday, exit polls showed.

NDTV’s poll of polls said the NDA would get 302 seats, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) 127 seats and other parties (Others) 114 seats.

The Republic TV exit poll gave the NDA 305 seats, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) 124 and others 120. Times Now exit poll gave the BJP alliance 306 seats, the UPA 132 seats and Others 104.

 

News Nation gave the NDA between 282 to 290 seats, the UPA between 118 and 126 seats and Others 130 to 138 seats. Sudarshan News gave the NDA 313 seats, UPA 121 seats and Others 109+.

Analysts see the election as a referendum on Modi’s five-year rule. He has adopted a nationalist pitch in trying to win votes by projecting a tough stance against Pakistan, especially after a suicide bombing that killed more than 40 paramilitary soldiers in Pulwama in Jammu & Kashmir.

He has also spoken about a Rs 75,000-crore income support scheme for farmers, toilets built as part of the national cleanliness campaign Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, rural electrification scheme Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana and cooking gas scheme for the poor Ujjwala Yojana.

The Congress and other Opposition parties are challenging the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government over unemployment and farmers’ distress aggravated by low crop prices. Congress President Rahul Gandhi has also accused Modi of corruption in the purchase of Rafale fighter jets from France.

Voter turnout in the first six rounds was approximately 66 per cent, according to the Election Commission, compared with 66.40 per cent in the nine-phase Lok Sabha elections in 2014.

Voting has largely been peaceful but for sporadic violence in West Bengal, where the BJP is trying to wrest seats from Chief Minister Mamata Banarjee’s All India Trinamool Congress.

In a drastic and unprecedented action, the Election Commission curtailed campaigning by a day in West Bengal on Thursday, after days of clashes in the final stretch of the election.

Pre-election poll surveys by the media indicate that no party is likely to win anything close to a majority in the 543-seat Parliament. The BJP, which won a majority of 282 seats in 2014, may need some regional parties as allies to stay in power.

The BJP will need to do well in Uttar Pradesh, which has 80 Lok Sabha seats, the most in a state. The party had won 71 of them in 2014, but this time it has been challenged by a coalition between the Bahujan Samajwadi Party, the Samajwadi Party, and the Rashtriya Lok Dal.

The voting on Sunday covers 59 seats in eight states and Union Territories. It also includes Modi’s constituency of Varanasi, where he had won in 2014.

Votes cast in the seven phases of elections will be counted on May 23.

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New dispensation in Delhi has to address Kashmir issue: Mirwaiz

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Srinagar, May 19: Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq on Sunday said that Hurriyat leadership was ready to support talks between India and Pakistan provided India accepted Kashmir as a dispute.

Speaking at a seminar organised by the Hurriyat Conference here, he said, “We are not against either the people of India or development. If India and Pakistan initiate a dialogue, we are ready to support it, but India must first accept the basic reality that there can be no military solution to the Kashmir dispute”.

He said the Hurriyat Conference was against India’s policies which were presently being implemented in Kashmir.

 

“It is unfortunate that New Delhi has choked all means of peaceful protest in the Valley. Even pro-freedom leaders are not allowed to meet the people. How can ideas come up if all spaces are choked,” he asked.

Mirwaiz further said that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had realised that the only possible solution to the Kashmir dispute could be found through a dialogue process.

He also demanded that the Indian government should withdraw the bans imposed on different organisations in Kashmir.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, termed the present prevailing situation in Kashmir as sensitive and painful stating that there is no letup in the policies of repression and intimidations as killings, harassment and CASOs continue unabated even in this holy month of Ramadhan.

He said there were apprehensions whether the authorities would allow the seminar as last year, the then government had barred it and caged entire Hurriyat leadership. Mirwaiz said that the repressive measures are being taken to suppress the genuine voices of people of Kashmir.

Mirwaiz said that he was feeling the pain whenever any youth is martyred in government forces action or in encounters stating that that it was beyond doubt that the gun-wielding local boys were the products of the ongoing oppression and they are getting consumed in the ongoing unresolved conflict. He said emotions and repressions is driving the educated youth of Kashmir towards armed means of resistance as every scope for raising voices peacefully stand chocked.

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Touted as game-changer, ambitious e-governance SWAN project yet to take off even after 13 years

Mudassir Kuloo

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Srinagar, May 19: Thirteen years on, the ambitious State Wide Area Network (SWAN) project is yet to see the light of the day in Jammu and Kashmir.

The 2005 Government of India project was aimed to synchronize all official departments of a given state through a dedicated internet connection in a closed used group. Thirteen years after the approval, the project is yet to be completed.

The government has now appointed a four member committee to conduct a thorough probe into the irregularities and lack of progress in implementation of SWAN project. Headed by Principal Secretary Transport Department, the four member committee includes Principal Secretary Industries and Commerce Department, and Secretary Higher Education. The fact finding panel have been asked to submit the report by June 6.  

 

Project Manager, Jammu and Kashmir e-Governance Agency, Irfan Ahmad and Public Information Officer, Imran-ul-Sofi pleaded ignorance about the status of the project. Instead of divulging details, both officers asked to contact Financial Commissioner, Information Technology, Suresh Kumar.

Kumar however could not be contacted for the comments. Additional Secretary Information Technology Vaibhav Kohli passed the buck to project managers. “You ask project managers about the same,” he said.

Jammu and Kashmir e-Governance Agency (JaKeGA) functions under the Information Technology. As per the details available on its website, the SWAN project is a major core infrastructure project under National e-Governance Plan (NeGP).

The project, if implemented, was expected to provide connectivity to the two state headquarters (SHQ), 20 District Headquarters (DHQ), and 152 block headquarters (BHQ) with a minimum internet speed of 2 megabytes per second.

Further, the network would have connected all state and designated government offices located within a 15 kms radius of the SHQ, all state and other designated offices located within 10 kms of each DHQ), and all state and other designated offices located within five kms of each BHQ.

In 2009, the then government had prepared a Draft Proposal Report (DPR) for Rs 106.57 crores for implementing SWAN in the state and forwarded the same to Ministry of Information Technology Government of India.  The tenders were floated four different times until March 2014 but all of them were cancelled since bids received for creating SWAN were apparently high.

SWAN would have substantially reduced the overall time taken in completing administrative tasks by providing converged communications services (voice, data and video) accessible to all government departments. “It would have reduced unnecessary movement of vehicles, employees and documents”, said an official.

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