Hunjura: Both govt & society have failed victims

Kashmir Valley’s eminent social activist A.R Hunjura, founder-president of the Islamic Relief & Research Trust (IRRT), speaks here to  Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander on social activism, voluntary sector, women, challenges, issues and working in a conflict zone:
Given your profession as an advocate, how did you step in the field of Social Activism?
The instinct of social service is present in every human being, but the need is to explore and utilize it for the common good. I got my first experience of social service during school days when we had to collect donations and bricks for expanding the school building. While in college, I was associated with the National Cadet Corps which infused in me the spirit of social service and our worthy teachers always insisted that we mustn’t give up this enthusiasm once we leave the college. After college I joined the Kashmir University as a student of Law and came in contact with late Tak Zainegari in 1980s. He was then running the J&K Yateem Trust and he became the moving spirit and inspiration for me to join social activism whole-heartedly. His death in 1989 made me to shoulder more responsibilities of the Yateem Trust and I began to devote half of my time to social service and half to practicing Law. I can say that after three decades of association with social work, nothing on earth tastes better than working for the welfare of common people. The more you work the less you feel you have done and the motivation of doing more and more crops up with every passing day.
You have worked in times of peace as well as  turmoil which started after the eruption of the  armed insurgency in the Valley. Do you find any marked difference between the two periods?
There is a marked distinction between these periods. Before the inception of militancy in the valley we had to toil hard to search an orphan or widow, but the position changed drastically during 1990s as the orphans and widows cropped up in epidemic proportions and they themselves reached out to the orphanages or schemes of relief but due to the limited resources and ignorance among the public regarding these welfare schemes and programmes not much was delivered to mitigate their sufferings. Necessity is the mother of invention and when baffled with such kinds of challenges genuine institutions came up. To a certain extent these were able to cater to the needs of the downtrodden.
The mushroom growth of orphanages has been a consequence of the conflict, but most of these only cater to the needs of male orphans, what about the girl orphans, widows and half widows?
I agree that not much has been done regarding the welfare of victims of the conflict especially girls and women who have been the worst hit by the conflict, though there are certain schemes about widow welfare but due to the lack of awareness among the masses nothing substantial has been done in this direction. The government, civil society and activists all are responsible for this apathy.
Day in and day out we hear about different schemes being announced for the welfare of the victims of the conflict by the government. Are they effective in dealing with these challenges?
The system of government isn’t effective when it comes to these programmes, e.g., we have old age pension scheme for senior citizens, but masses don’t know about the same, still if somebody applies for the same, the red tapism makes him give up in despondency as he has to run from pillar to post to get his application sanctioned and when it is sanctioned once in a blue moon it takes months to get the funds released. By then the hope for relief and welfare dies down. The government must try to make the system of deliverance effective, only then any real change can take place at grassroot level. Most of the time the government is involved with law and order situation which makes these schemes die unsung in oblivion.
The money in most cases remains unutilized or lapses back when the period of scheme expires or is siphoned off to some other clandestine programme.
The orphanages which are functioning in the valley mostly cater the needs of the orphan till a certain age, after that he is supposed to fend for himself which most of them find difficult to deal with, what is your opinion?
Though some orphanages are there which look after them till they stand on their own feet, but yes most of them cater to their needs only upto matriculation, which I think is a grave injustice to them. If someone among them wants to go in technical field or enter some profession the orphanage must facilitate it and look after his welfare till he is able to earn.
Why do we see the social service inclined only to orphans whereas in any conflict a number of other issues crop up?
In my opinion it is not proper to have more and more orphanages, as we have other serious problems like half widows, widows, drug addiction, old age marriages and environmental problems to deal with. In Kashmir unless you are working for orphans most people will not give you donation as they think that social work covers only orphanages, hence the whole voluntary sector revolves around it. The case of half widows is altogether miserable, they are not entitled to remarriage as the fate of their disappeared husbands isn’t clear and they are not entitled to the law of succession and their children are denied the share in their father’s inheritance. Grave injustice is done to them even by courts which take years to pronounce whether their disappeared husbands are dead or alive. Hence we should have some community-led initiatives to deal with these problems.
Community-Led Initiatives, please elaborate?
Islam has a practical code of conduct to deal with all problems that crop up from time to time. We have a system of Zakat. If it is properly collected, channelized and utilized, we would have no developmental problems and being self sufficient we would be least dependent on government donation too. The institution of Baitul Mal must be strengthened at mohalla and village level, as well as the institution of Auqaf and Wakf. The institution of Imam must once again be made vibrant who would educate people about the indispensability of reviving and strengthening these indigenous institutions which can then prove a boon for the whole afflicted community.
You talk about the growing social evils like drug addiction and the old age marriages, has something been done in this context?
In case of drug menace, the youth are involved in most cases and it is the duty of the parents, teachers and community to keep a strict eye on the youth, the family members must be attentive towards the activities of their wards and children must be held accountable for their deeds before parents who must guide and inspire them. The lack of moral education and ethics of which religion is the fountainhead is also responsible for the spread of this menace.
As far as the late marriages are concerned, the evil of dowry, extravagance and vain pomp and show are responsible for the same. Again Islam prohibits us and there must be a drive for public awareness to mould public opinion, but institutions can’t do much in these two cases as the people, family, religious preachers, civil society and teachers must involve themselves to nip these evils in the bud.
In every violent conflict a new generation of maimed and physically challenged people grows. Are there any initiatives for their relief?
We don’t have only this problem. We now have issues like unwanted old-age parents and newly born girl babies, but we are lacking funds to rehabilitate them.
Though it is boasted that there are more than 3,500 NGOs working in Kashmir, but once a crisis comes up, most of them vanish in thin air.
Most of these are only paper NGOs with no factual presence on ground. They only work by exploiting the orphans and widows and for many of them the conflict is a source of minting money. The government hasn’t a transparent system of checks and balances to chaff out the fake NGOs, but it rests with the public and they have the responsibility to check out who is who?
So do you think that social activists are sufficiently trained to deal with the situation in the valley?
No, they are not sufficiently trained to deal with the overall situation prevalent in the valley, but they must now train themselves so that they become more effective in dealing with the prevalent hostile circumstances.
Those working in any conflict zone must be acquainted with the topography, background, cultural ethos, prevalent laws and the system which operate in the region in which they are working. They must be available to the people at all times and must gain the confidence of the people through their people friendly approach, which can only be possible if they are dedicated, selfless and honest to their cause and move freely and frequently in every nook and corner of the afflicted zone.

Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikanderis a writer-activist based in Srinagar

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 May 2011 on page no. 8

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