The excessive security measures have forced Kashmiris, historically reputed to be very sociable people, to live in cocoons with only interactions through social networking sites on the internet!
The events of the nineties of the last century when armed militancy erupted in the state forced Kashmiris to mostly confine to their homes. There was violence all around with encounters, clashes, explosions and so on. Moreover, the security forces had launched continuous cordon and search operations. Curfews were imposed on almost continuous basis. These events forced people to stay indoors in their own homes. The result was a total break in physical interactions not only among friends but even among close relations. The only interactions were at funeral prayers. This tense atmosphere continued for the whole decade of nineties.
In the beginning of the present century with the lessening of militant activities, there was some relaxation in the situation. However, the physical social interactions still remained rare. Now people used to meet on marriages, some other social functions and as earlier at funerals. The traditional social calling on still remained rare. It may have increased but then we got profuse spread of the internet with its social networking sites of Facebook and Twitter. People found it easy to interact with not only close relations and friends but almost with every organization, newspaper and other set ups of every kind. People started becoming armchair intellectuals, experts and what not! Social events too got fully interactive through these sites. The most destructive fallout was the phenomenal decrease in physical social interactions. Some people virtually started living in cocoons watching the screens of their laptops or smart phones.
The social networking sites are very useful for quick communication, discussion, debate and gathering of information. However, making these sites an end in itself is definitely harmful both physically as well as socially. The greatest revolution in information technology has been the internet known as the information highway. It has tremendous advantages but there are also many scary aspects which need to be kept in view. It is a fact that getting glued to internet whether through social net-working sites or otherwise puts one into a virtual cocoon. It is very essential to revive physical interaction unless one wants to become a silk worm in a cocoon. One cannot dispense with the physical interaction as in the long run it is harmful. Moreover, absence of physical interaction results in isolation which causes mental trauma. According to a report prepared by the “Doctors Without Borders”, almost every second person in Kashmir is suffering from mental trauma. In fact, according to psychiatrists, one of the main causes of dementia and derangement in elders is physical isolation.
Now, the question arises how can physical social interaction be revived? First is meeting and visiting relations and friends on a regular basis. Apart from visiting relations and friends regularly, one can arrange social meetings in different homes rather than in five star hotels and restaurants. Next is physical social interaction of intellectuals, journalists and civil society members. About three decades back, Srinagar had a well-known meeting point and a physical interaction site. That was the famous “India Coffee House”. However, due to the turmoil of nineties, the organization which had been managing these coffee houses closed its outlet in Srinagar. Since that time in spite of the return of ideal atmosphere no one has come forward to start a similar no-loss/ no-profit joint in Srinagar or other places. We have many places but these are expensive and an average citizen cannot afford these on a regular basis. There is scope for starting a chain of Coffee Houses in different major towns of Kashmir Valley where people can meet and exchange views. Will someone come forward and do it? That is a prospect worth exploring.
The other absence of a physical social interaction especially among the journalist community and intellectuals has been the absence of a Press Club. It is a pity that in spite of a huge entourage of local, national and international journalists we do not have a Press Club in Srinagar. For some unknown reasons all he governments so far have failed to facilitate the setting of a Press Club in Srinagar. Jammu where the size of the journalistcommunity is small has a flourishing Press Club. It is time that some members of the journalist community come forward make a concerted effort to set up a Press Club. It is also obligatory for the state to assist in setting up such a facility. Finally, while debating physical social interactions, one must not forget an Art Gallery which is almost a mandatory spot in most famous capitals throughout the world. For a change, let all friends come forward with their views on the subject.
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir