“It Would Have Lit Up Our Lives”

In Kashmir, micro hydel power projects constructed under an army funded scheme are mostly non functional. In 2006, two micro hydel power projects were constructed in Raithan Budgam, Kashmir. These power projects, each with a production capacity of 5KW, were aimed at providing electricity to 600 inhabitants in this remote area of Kashmir who are cut off from the electricity network in winter. Hardly some months after the completion of the project, the micro hydro power generator broke down, due to the absence of maintenance. The locals have been waiting for the last four years, with the hope the electricity provided through the hydro project would lit up their houses again. Despite repeated demands to the local administration, reluctant officials have not taken any action.  Day after day, the project looks further dilapidated, and the villagers gradually lose any hope of having regular electricity back in their lives. They now survive with 5 hours of electricity per day. Abbas, one of the local residents, states angrily: “We are not benefiting from this project. No one is claiming responsibility about this project and no one cares to do anything about it (…). If the department feels like taking back its machinery, it wouldn’t make any difference to us.” Behind his rage, Abbas also expresses his bitter regrets of seeing a project of this sort being squandered: “If this machine worked, it would have lit up our lives”. Raithan Budgam’s power project was set up under the Sadbhavana (Goodwill) scheme, a development program specific to Kashmir, funded and carried out by the army. Hence, the project cannot be understood in isolation to the current political situation in Kashmir. This disputed state, ravaged by years of terrorism, has seen most of its infrastructure destroyed, and its development hampered by the pervading conflict. Most alarmingly, large sections of the population, youngsters in particular, have been alienated by what they consider as the army occupation of the state. And Indeed, Kashmir Valley is one of the highly militarized zones in the world, with one soldier for 20 inhabitants. It is as a response to this situation that the Sadbhavana program was launched in 1998, to regain the support and the confidence of the local population. The scheme covers various development activities in the areas of education, women’s empowerment, health care and infrastructure. If this program has brought major improvements in villages across the state, the micro hydel projects have been criticized as one of the most flawed aspect of the operation. A recent survey, conducted by a state ministry in April 2011, has shown that out of 425 surveyed projects, that were constructed by the army under the Sadbhavana scheme, 380 were non functional, and 37 nonexistent. In Raithan Budgan, repair work has been hassled by the corruption of low grade officials belonging to the Rural Department, who demand money in exchange for their work. This unquestionably proves that despite the “Goodwill” of the army, if local governance is not restored and corruption curbed in Kashmir, development operations are doomed to have an extremely limited impact in Kashmir. Beyond discussing practical aspects of the scheme, one also needs to question its ideology. The government itself has labeled Sabdhavana a “Wining the Hearts and Minds” operation. These types of operations have been mostly developed in the context of foreign (American) invasions, be it Vietnam or Iraq. Is the Indian Government so disarmed in Kashmir, and uncertain about any future political solution, that it needs to resort to such methods? Also, neither Iraq nor Vietnam have turned out to be glorious chapters of American history, throwing serious doubts on any “Winning the Hearts and Mind” strategies. It remains unlikely that sprinkling development will be enough to regain the trust and support of the Kashmiri people, who have suffered from the violent presence of the army for years. In Kashmir, men and women of all ages have been abused, harassed, slapped or beaten. It thus remains uncertain that army-conducted development programs will ease the hostility of the population and compensate for repeated curfews and humiliations, and turn mobs of stone throwers into gentle citizens. Especially when the development projects they build sit dilapidated and non-functioning in the villages that need them.   Video produced by Sajad, IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent in Kashmir. Sajad deeply wishes to provide the public with alternative stories from Kashmir - different than those made available in mainstream media - by reporting on grassroots issues and by giving a platform for common people to voice their concerns.  He succeeds in doing so by accessing areas and people that are usually inaccessible for journalists from outside Kashmir. He originates from the village of Raithan Budgan and it was therefore natural for him to cover this story, as an attempt to improve the local situation, and the lives of those around him. Shooting was an easy and enjoyable experience but also it heightened his feeling of responsibility towards his community.
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