Published by Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society
Review by Morgan Campbell
Civil Society Now!
Eight months after the Flood of 2014 inundated Srinagar city and its surrounding areas in Kashmir a comprehensive account of the flood and its underlying causes came into publication, quietly. Titled: OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD, the report is authored by the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society.
The purpose of Occupational Hazard report is to highlight the social, historical and political elements of the Kashmir floods (pg 160). This is done through systematic documentation from an environmental perspective and the voices of individuals and groups. Those who acted courageously during the floods remained unrecognized and invisible to the mainstream media and government. The report created by the Coalition of Civil Society is a comprehensive and courageous report. But an unanswered question remains: what are the next necessary steps to disseminate the information complied in the report to effectively reach civil society and garner action?
As it is common knowledge, the government in Kashmir did not function during the floods. Post flood the government continues to be ineffective. The civil society has stepped in and systematically documented the causes of the disaster. Now it is even more important for the civil society to take the lead in developing a working emergency management system that can operate autonomously from the government. This report lays the groundwork for doing so.
About the Report
Broken into five chapters, the Occupational Hazard report begins with a historical overview of water systems and flooding in Kashmir, followed by the effects of occupation on natural and built environments as well as the politics of infrastructure development. Chapter three goes on to document in detail the corrupt politics and political institutions of planning and disaster management while chapter four gives a detailed chronology of the September floods, gathering interviews, personal narratives, and observations of those who were actively involved in providing relief to the communities affected. Chapter five provides a substantive discussion of the developments and responses post-flood.
The report concludes with a summary of the political ecology of occupation using examples such as the state’s interference with community relief efforts and a final reminder why the floods should not be contextualized as a ‘natural’ disaster. The conclusion is followed by an annex containing several diagrams and timelines as well as a list of community relief centers.
Very little public documentation on the environmental effects of Kashmir’s occupation exists. The authors’ take a political ecology approach, using the environment or ecology of Kashmir (specifically Srinagar) as the lens through which politics are discussed. Environment and ecology in this instance refers to the natural and built environment, particularly how and for whom the built environment is constructed. One example is the Jammu-Baramulla Railway line, which has proved useful to the Indian Army but disastrous to the physical environment and has yet to benefit the average Kashmiri.
Starting with the environment is unique in that it can harness sympathy and support from a diverse constituency of people inside and outside of Kashmir, regardless of where they lie in the political spectrum. It is an untapped entry point into the larger argument for Kashmir’s liberation from surrounding political forces.
Documenting the accounts of hundreds of individuals who courageously volunteered and supported the community at a time when all formal structures vacated, the Occupational Hazard report is the first comprehensive construction of a narrative of events from the Kashmiri perspective, particularly that of Kashmiri women. For example, one Kashmiri woman reflects that “They realized that brute strength is not the most important thing for rescues…Having a woman on the team could actually be a real asset…We made it a point to ensure that we carried things that women need, but are usually ignored—like sanitary napkins, and women’s garments,–when we were distributing relief,”(146). This inclusion of women’s voices who bring forth subtle details often lost during crisis situations is an important reminder as to what is meant by civil society, who is included and who is impacted. This section of the report successfully illustrates that civil society does exist in Kashmir and has the possibility to make a big impact.
When the local media was rendered defunct by the disaster, the Central Government took advantage of situation by casting India’s public and private sector as the main saviors of Kashmiris. Or, as Bin Nabi explained in his July article in Rising Kashmir: “September 2014 will be remembered in Kashmir history for how India used its media houses as a propaganda tool…completely ignor[ing] the local youth who had sparse equipment, and yet, ploughed in their [sic] hundred per cent…” Occupational Hazard is tangible tool that can and should be used to counteract the residue of this initial propaganda that portrayed Kashmiris as helpless.
The OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD Report represents a starting point for beginning a sustained collective organization and action among Kashmiris. As it stands, the Occupational Hazard report is not a user manual; there is no recommendations section or guideline for emergency preparation. Now what is needed is to make this report accessible to the general public who may have neither the time nor interest to read such a detailed analysis.
The Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, has done a commendable work in compiling the report. It is up to the Kashmiri Civil Society to step up and take action: build a community wide consensus on important public works projects for flood control and most important organize a civil disaster management organization at the grass roots level. The data has been collected and documented; now it is time for discussion and action.
Morgan Campbell is a city planner, interested in Kashmir’s environmental affairs. She is working on her Phd.
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Jan 26, 2016