Dabla’s Kashmir

Unlike his counterparts, sociologist Bashir A Dabla (July 9, 1954 – September 2, 2015) was always preoccupied with his mission of understanding the trends in Kashmir society that people usually considered routine. He rarely stopped working despite Parkinson’s disease handicapped him for 23 years, Masood Hussain and Dr Khursheed ul Islam offer an idea of the contributions that made this academician relevant to the society

Prof Bashir Ahmad Dabla

In November 1999, when Bashir Ahmad Dabla came out with the findings of his marathon study involving a universe of 4800 people, people were shocked. It found Mehr, a fundamental religious obligation and legal requirement for Muslim marriages, was paid fully in 29.97 per cent cases!

The study aimed at identifying the areas in which Kashmir’s half of the population, the women, were discriminated against by the male-dominated society, the study found that in 21.75 per cent cases husbands paid Mehr to their wives in instalments. In 28.50 per cent cases, the respondent women were unsure if they have received their Mehr or not and, interestingly, nothing had been paid in the name of Mehr in 19.77 per cent marriages!

Explaining the phenomenon, researchers found the weak economy of grooms or their ignorance was slightly more than those consciously giving it a slip. However, the study found the percentage of grooms making the one-time payment was gradually increasing, a direct consequence of the awareness brought about by the decontrolled faith.

The second major revelation was that Kashmir society was denying women their right to inherit a property in more than 55 per cent cases. Explaining the trend, the study said in most of the cases either the parents had meagre immovable property to share it with daughters or they were married in families which lacked any requirement to seek meagre shares. While Mehr amount is a consensus between two sides, Islam’s inheritance systems are fixed and women get half of the share, their brothers get.

Dr Dabla’s various publications.

There were a few more shocking findings: 175 of the 789 working women said they were harassed at the workplace and it was physical in 38 per cent of the cases. They accused their immediate officers in 46 per cent cases, their colleagues in 42 per cent cases and the balance harassers were outside the office. Interestingly, 28.31 per cent of respondents said their families were discriminating the girl child. Tragically 871 women voiced their support for female foeticide!

The institution of marriage, as per various studied that he supervised, has undergone a number of changes. In a 2010 survey that his students carried out and involved 2500 respondents, they found polygamy almost dead. The survey revealed 83.90 per cent marriages were monogamous and only 8.20 per cent were polygamous.

This study found more people marrying outside the clan (54.80%) than within the extended family or caste (45.35%), a major shift from the past. Interestingly, it found more “upper caste” males marrying lower caste” girls were more (22.76%) than the reverse of it (14.15%). Besides, the survey found out that nuclear families are increasing.

It was his UNICEF-sponsored study on gender discrimination that prompted the then Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah to announce the establishment of State Women’s Commission.

Dabla’s scholarship took off from Jawaharlal Nehru University where he studied Arab during which he visited various destinations in the Gulf, West Asia and Turkey. Eventually, however, he settled down in Kashmir Studies and contributing substantially. He took up the Kashmir case at a time when a new situation has started impacted the society differently. His series of studies on destitution was a key contribution in making the society responsive to ‘that’ new situation and try to manage it.

The pioneering work on destitution was carried out in 1999 itself for ‘Save The Children Fund’. After the researchers interacted with 300 women widowed by the situation, the real contribution of diverse killers was understood: 63 of them lost their husbands when they were caught in the crossfire; 78 by government forces, 45 were killed in the custody of various agencies, 51 were killed by surrendered militants, 15 died at the LoC, 27 were killed by militants and the balance 21 died in the bomb explosions.

With their immediate bread-earners dead, they lived a pathetic life. Nearly 47 per cent of them had married during 1981-90 period and nearly 39 per cent of them were in the 19-30 age group. With their husbands slain, 20 per cent of them were denied any inheritance and 60 per cent lacked any dependable resource to fund the education of their children, orphaned by the situation.

Despite remarriages not being taboo, only 8.66 per cent (26 out of 300) had re-married. While remarriage was a compromise, 35 per cent of them had kept their orphans with grandparents. For not marrying, widows said they will devote themselves for development of their children, instead.

Insisting that theirs’ was a “socially undesirable lot” facing “physical insecurity and sexual harassment”, the widows flagged 13 serious issues they were facing: their children lacking education,  dependence, insecurity, deterioration in the family environment, declining control over children, negative impact on personality growth, lesser chances of getting good matches for the children, denial to inherit property.

The state of orphans was worse. Of 300 orphans covered by the same study, 27.33 per cent were not going to school and 19 per cent had dropped out before matriculation. 82 orphans were not in school – of them, 39  were sitting idle at home,  three were home servants, 31 were in handicraft workers, and three each were in automobile workshops,  non-government services,  and salesmen. In return, they were getting pea-nuts despite the desire expressed by 93 per cent of them that they wish to study further.

Orphans told the surveyors that death of their fathers meant a massive shift in the lives they were used to 145 reported economic hardships of their families,  66  felt psychological setbacks, 41 saw love and affection missing,  26 felt apathy by relatives and 22 were blank, offering no response. The ‘change’ brought in new priorities for them: 235 wanted to maintain regular income for their families, 240 to pursue studies and 148 wanted social security.

To study the diversity of Kashmir’s sociology, Dabla successfully negotiated with UNICEF, World Bank, UNESCO, Save the Children Fund, Action Aid, UGC, Planning Commission of India (now Niti Ayog) and many other institutions. Apart from routine basic sociological issues, Dabla carried out special studies in the energy sector (like his ethnographic study for upcoming Sawlakote project), and disaster management.

Off late, Kashmir’s labour market has been exhibiting interesting trends. It was partly because of the adverse impact of the prevailing situation and partly because of the white-colour syndrome. The inability of the local manpower to grab the opportunities that the economic activity offered would create a gap that was filled by the non-local workforce.

On labour issues, Dabla had two keen interests, one the child labour and second the labour migration. He was a strong believer of the fact that if child labour is banned, as the law suggests, it will adversely impact the families they belong to. Instead, he wanted better wages for them. His response to the issue was rooted in the United Nations policy shift, also upheld by the Planning Commission of India, that instead of banning child labour, interests of the child worker must be taken care of so that exploitation stops.

His ‘Save the Child Fund’ that was published as Un-bloomed Roses put the estimated child workers in carpet weaving Budgam and Srinagar districts at 18,749 and 4004, respectively. The capital city alone had around 3,000 children, half of whom had joined it when they were less than seven years of age, in automobile repairing alone. Economic compulsion was found as the single largest factor forcing children to work in hazardous sectors.

Dabla-piloted studies on labour migration into Kashmir continue to be the only reference outside the decadal census. On basis of personal interviews that his student researchers carried out, Dabla established that 55 per cent of the labourers working seasonally in Kashmir belonged to Rs 10,000, a month background and in fact, 34 per cent of them belonged to a section of society making only half of it.  While 73 per cent of them were illiterates, the rest were having some literacy. They originated from different states: 46.93 per cent from Bihar, 15.33 per cent from UP, 8.86 per cent from Gujarat, 8.60 per cent from Rajasthan, and 8.14 per cent from West Bengal, in addition to some percentage from Punjab, Nepal and Jharkhand.

Almost one-fourth of them (23.85%) were unskilled. The skilled lot included 17.40 per cent masons, 10.06 per cent each were carpenters and painters, 3.40 per cent were barbers, 1.23 per cent were vegetable sellers and balance was from other professions.

Majority of them (51.16%) migrated on their own but in 16 per cent cases ‘agents’ and another 10.07 per cent cases, employers brought them here. Almost 17.21 per cent was contract labour, already engaged with contractors working in the state.

The interesting finding on this count was the shifting patterns. His studies found that Kashmir was dependent on merely 5.97 per cent of non-local labour between 1980 and 1990. It increased four times to 20.19 per cent in the subsequent decade and more than doubled to 51.19 per cent between 2000 and 2010.

In 72 per cent of cases, respondent labourers admitted they earned better if compared to their past at other places across India. In fact, 61 per cent said better earnings helped them economically better. Of their overall expenditure, they spend locally housing, food and transport make most of it.

Dabla was afflicted by Parkinson’s quite early. He fought this condition bravely, which is challenging at a place like Kashmir given the existing medical facilities. Known neurologist, Dr Shushil Razdan commented that his working while facing a challenging disease and survival was a medical wonder. Many people would say Dabla was the Kashmiri variant of Stephen Hawking (British physicist), lacking the specially designed computer.

He would keep himself busy with the issues confronting Kashmir. Not forgetting his humble family background (Pandan, Nowhatta), where handicrafts were the bread and butter, Dabla carried out a study on the earnings of the artisans. His study suggested that almost eighty per cent of the workforce was being exploited either by middlemen or exporters.

In 2009, his study indicated behavioural shifts of society towards senior citizens. Quite recently he tried to study the angry new urban child and said he was “socially sadistic” because their “social participation has drastically reduced” coinciding with the loss of “patriarchal authority”. He predicted the continued situation will lead them to be “aggressive, violent, disobedient, and careless about their future and like short cuts to progress.”

Not many people know that prior to his academic assignment; Dabla was Press Officer to the then Chief Minister of J&K Dr Abdullah and latter Chief Warden in the Aligarh Muslim University.

Dabla’s loss as a socially relevant academician would be felt in Kashmir in coming days in the same manner in which the mysterious death of Iranian Sociologist Dr Ali Shariatii was felt, many years after his death. Interestingly, Dabla had worked Shariatii and authored a book on his sociological interpretations. The only way out to minimize the costs would be finding some of his bright students and encourage them to follow his footsteps.

(Hussain is a Srinagar based journalist and Khursheed teaches in IMPARD. Both have been Dabla’s students.)

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