Tuesday, October 3, 2017


Can Innovations Overcome the Enduring Science Drought in Kashmir? 


Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad

In his magnum opus -The Wealth of Nations (1776) - Adam Smith, the renowned Scottish economist and philosopher, beautifully outlined that many great inventions in and around Scotland factories were actually the inventions made by the common workmen. He observed that many significant improvements were made possible ‘by the ingenuity of the makers of the machines’. To put it differently, Adam Smith outrightly dismissed ‘universities’ as the source of inventions. Kashmir, a region paralyzed by incessant conflict and innumerous lethal episodes, needs an innovation push, along with several other things that must be undertaken to counter fragility. This push will not only help to overcome routine problems but also help to address the enduring science drought in the region.
Schumpeter, the much acclaimed economist of the 20th century, asserted in his famous book The Theory of the Economic Development that ‘economic development is driven by innovation through a dynamic process in which new technologies replace the old, a process he labeled as creative destruction. However, many including Schumpeter uphold the opinion that creating innovations is as easy as turning a tap on.  They believe and fervently argue that continuously financing basic science will lead to more innovations, and therefore more development.
However, if we were to revisit economic history, numerous examples can be noted where science draught and major societal problems have been momentously addressed by innovators who did not have an extensive association with fundamental science. Scientists and engineers, as observed in the economic history have not contributed meaningfully to solve several pressing concerns of the society. For example, during the industrial revolution, all major innovations which helped systematically revolutionize Europe in 16th and 17th century came from people who had very little knowledge of basic science. For instance, steam engine, owed almost nothing to the law of thermodynamics but law of thermodynamics in return owes almost everything to the steam engine. Likewise, the mechanization of textile industry is another fascinating case - practically all radical creative interventions came from common workmen and not from scientists. According to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of ‘Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder’, all major breakthroughs of the 13th century to the development of modern computing methods narrate an underlying success story driven by the ‘rule of thumb, learning by apprenticeship, chance discoveries, trial and error, and tinkering’. Very few breakthroughs actually emerged from sustained funding of science.
Rightly thus, the linear model of science, as advocated by Francis Bacon in the 17th century, who urged England to unworryingly fund and make use of navigational science to catch pace with the Portuguese, turned into a failure. This was because advances in Portuguese navigation were not achieved by whopping scientific investments but by breakthroughs that directly stemmed from the experiences of sailors and fishermen.
Even recently, a study conducted by the OECD on sources of growth in OECD countries between 1971 and 1998, came up with some startling findings. The study concluded that all publicly funded research had no economic impact whatsoever. Similarly, the USA Bureau of Economic Analysis, in another separate study conducted in 2007, concluded that the returns from many forms of publicly financed research and development are nearly zero, and that many elements of university and government research have very low returns.
The case of public funded universities and engineering colleges in Kashmir is also worth consideration here. These institutions have not only failed in helping address the crises faced by communities but have also not progressed in their endeavor of developing new scientific knowledge. Since the inception of University of Kashmir in 1948 and NIT Srinagar in 1960, not a single breakthrough innovation has come from these ‘elite’ research institutions, despite devouring public money worth millions of dollars. Even their contribution towards advancement of basic science is doubtful. For instance, in the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF-2017) released by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development of India, the University of Kashmir holds the 73rd position, which is much below than many B- grade Indian universities. Making a place in the top 1,000 Times Higher Education World University Rankings is next to impossible for research institutes based in Kashmir. The reasons for their dismal performance are again very much debatable. Some find an easy explanation in the ongoing armed conflict and blame the persistent conflict for disrupted functioning and sub-standard performance of these universities. However, many of us would agree to the fact that many great universities around the world have emerged mostly in regions that have witnessed conflict.
Without going into this eternal debate further, I believe that public money should be constructively utilized to develop propositional forms of knowledge, which mostly lie outside the university boundaries. The knowledge that our ‘illiterate’ farmers, artisans and woodcutters possess deserves attention. Recklessly pumping millions of dollars into public universities for creating four-square lawns highlights a major challenge to the development of frugal forms of knowledge and must be urgently addressed. As convincingly reported by well-known economic historian Joel Mokyr in the Gifts of Athena, it was the common man’s propositional knowledge outside the walled universities which helped transform the evolution and development of economics in Europe. Kashmir certainly is no exception - the noteworthy innovations Kashmir has gifted to the world - seamless celestial globe, weaving bridges, kangri, and weaving techniques to name a few - owe very little to the knowledge produced in universities!


Author hails from Halmatpora Kupwara and can be reached at fayazjustinternational@gmail.com

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Kashmir: Why it needs a Knowledge Push?

Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad

http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/opinion/kashmir-why-it-needs-a-knowledge-push/257241.html

Kashmir, unlike other places in the world is gravely entangled in the political skirmishes between the two nuclear states, India and Pakistan. Although graced with spectacular natural beauty, this place reflects some monster veracities of human cruelty and colonial savagery. Without going into the damages done to this place because of the ongoing conflict, I try to explore the immediate alternatives which could possibly help mitigate the existential crises people face here. True that many places in the world mostly on the peripheries face similar types of coercions but the weight of the problems faced by people here is undeniably too heavy to be even compared with other settings. A place where on one side rampant poverty, poor education and absence of other basic life requirements have trapped people into a vicious cobweb, the atrocious experiments of the ongoing war in Kashmir on the other side have almost annihilated the ‘life’ from the bodies here. In Franz Kafka’s lexis the life difficulties are ‘nauseatingly miserable and beyond repair’ here.  

Kashmir, as everyone knows is in a big morass and people here are struggling to find a dignified exit from it: the fact also remains that in this process of collective struggle against the foreign forces we have unintendedly created various classes grounded differently in religious, knowledge and other settings. These obscure and ridiculous hierarchies witnessed in today’s Kashmir have not only complicated the ongoing movement but have also deteriorated the spine which would otherwise provide the support to the struggle.  

It is beyond the scope of this small piece to flag out separately the issues and problems being faced by a common native of Kashmir but let me very fleetingly try to highlight some of the immediate remedies, which if provided properly can help revivify the hopes at the margins. Being a resident of Kashmir and a textbook example of a war-victim, I would strongly suggest that the best weapon to empower the people at the margins is to educate them. To unshackle the people here from the chains of slavery, to empower them to fight the boorish oppressor, education, political enlightenment I believe is a must weapon. What I have observed so far is that majority of people particularly living at the margins are subjected to various forms of discriminations precisely because most of them are unable to have any kind of access to any knowledge base. Majority of them are so disempowered and underprivileged that even the thought of pursuing education frightens them. Now the enigma is how to get them out of this trap.

As reflected above, today’s Kashmir like other places around the world is characterized by the criminal co-existence of immense prosperity and appalling poverty, with anti-poverty rhetoric being as pervasive as poverty itself. There is perhaps no end in sight to this global predicament. Various types of explanations and solutions have been proposed to overcome this divide. Certainly, some such elucidations are incredulous while some are practical. For instance, when our local religious leaders and elites inadvertently take Thomas Malthus’s dubious proposition to justify poverty as a natural phenomenon and overlook the other arguments which propose that poverty is the result of a deliberate nexus between various actors, the problem gets further aggravated. Even the most recent explanations which have blamed the existing faulty institutions, geographical disadvantages and local culture for incessantly rising poverty are again disbelieving.

Without putting my feet into this contentious field, I think, the best solution to overcome the current crises at least in Kashmir’s rural settings is to provide the people here a knowledge push for a successful takeoff from the trap in which majority of them find enmeshed. Now the other practical and important questions which arise here include: what type of education should be provided? Who should provide them education without coercing and manipulating their thinking? What about the other basic essentials of life? And importantly, why focus education and not the other high return business? These questions again are philosophical and political as well. As asserted in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire that that the oppressor can wittingly ‘deny pedagogical action in the liberation process’ because the colonizer uses ‘education’ as a propaganda to convince. “Worse yet”, asserts Paulo Freire is that this “banking model turns them (students) into ‘containers’ to be ‘filled’ by the teacher.”.

Given the problems of the existing system of education, advocating a separate model of learning and unlearning for the places at the margins sounds too romantic and theatrical. Because it is not only impossible given the current set of circumstances but will also invite state scrutiny for being more practical, creative and critical. However, there is a way forward which probably can help lessen the sufferings of these people here. First, in Rabindranath Tagore’s terminology ‘extension centers’ purely based on no-profit scheme should be created. These centers should be fashioned with the motive of engaging the less privileged people at the margins, tap their creative thoughts and build on the propositional knowledge they possess. To put it differently, together we should help create strong and vibrant communication centers in these forlorn places. These centers won’t only facilitate an evocative dialogue between various actors but will also help them understand the nuances of important discourses which influences them. Similarly, voluntary adoption of orphans and less privileged kids should be encouraged. They should be enrolled in ‘good’ schools where they will have access to quality education. As witnessed in many places here in Kashmir, different ‘outside sympathetic organizations’ have deviously exposed these vulnerable kids to unseemly ‘knowledge’ structures. Furthermore, informal dissemination of knowledge channels be encouraged to help these people realize their political and societal rights. Unpaid visits by our doctors, engineers and social scientists should be greatly appreciated. Example like Barefoot Doctors in China should be replicated.  

If as a community, we expect everyone to participate in the ongoing struggle, then why as thesame community we fail to reach out to those who need us the most. If we collectively fail to empathize and commiserate with the less privileged and the victims of the conflict, then unquestionably, we can’t ever claim victory in any revolution. Undesirably, as a nation, we haven’t been successful in developing our ‘empathic capacities’ so far. The cross-communication between our urban centers and the rural areas is very thin and is considered insignificant. There is a big and dangerous divide within this so-called ‘homogenized community’ entirely grounded in religion, caste, and wealth.  Knowledge about such menaces should be elucidated to everyone. Mosques, buses, social gatherings should be properly used, volunteers should efficaciously and creatively use these spaces for critical and creative thinking.

These ideas look romantic and impractical but let us be very clear here - if we fail to create an inclusive and classless society then a society with absurd hierarchies will not only fail us in realising our long term goals but will also extinguish the flame of resistance from us forever.


The author recently completed his PhD from JNU, New Delhi and hails from Kupwara. He is co-editor of the book ‘Informal Sector Innovations: Insights from Global South’, published by Routledge, Taylor & Francis, UK.  He could be reached at 9906542881.  

Politics of Innovation: The Neglected Dimension of Kashmir’s Struggle for Freedom

Politics of Innovation:  The Neglected Dimension of Kashmir’s Struggle for Freedom
                                                   
                                                Dr. Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad

In 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli, a great figure of Italian Renaissance and a pioneer of realistic political theory wrote in his famous political treatise The Prince (1513), that ‘innovation’ is a must for both governing the people and for misleading the people too. To him, innovation is a resource for dealing with the change and overcoming the uncertainty. Certainly, he was not explicit about the technological innovations but his overt reference to the ‘process innovations’ can’t be unnoticed. Kashmir, a place where mases are governed through various forms of political novelties couched in political deceit, policy coercion, bullying and use of novel brute forces has also lead to a counter revolution noticeable in the people’s inimitable ways of responding to such vicious state actions. To put it differently, noncompliance manifested in knowledge generation and particularly in technology is emerging as a new norm.

Notwithstanding the market element in ‘innovations’, different communities have differently responded to state sponsored viciousness. To overcome the hegemonic and slanted narratives of the state and of its elites, communities across the world have developed indigenous knowledge systems to either escape the state oppression or to subvert the status quo.

For instance, ‘self-made inventors’ of Korea during 1920s-30s posed a very serious challenge to the Japanese colonialism with their local innovations. The local innovators not only upended the Japanese discriminatory narrative about the ‘universal’ characteristic feature of the technology but also effectively managed to connect these indigenous incremental inventive steps with the debates of self-reliance and Korean nationalism. The Japanese popular narrative of defining invention as a ‘universal activity’ bereft of local specificities, was annihilated by these home-grown inventors. The movement was so powerful and successful that the state managed elites began to shift their perspective to argue that “invention is a native process, culturally embedded, incremental, and could be undertaken by anyone who would persevere through the long process of trial and error”.

Likewise, after the armed revolt conducted by Fidel Castro in Cuba against the right-wing authoritarian government faced a kind of technological drought. Because of an exodus of foreign companies and investment due to Fidel Castro’s new policies, there were no signs of invention. However soon after, Che Guevara assumed office as Cuba’s Minister of Industries, he simply introduced a new paradigm by offering the first strong ideological push. To subvert the dominant western hegemonic narratives of invention and innovations, Cuba offered strong defiance and noncompliance in the form of viewing the capital (T) -technology radically different from those of the west. They started breaking, re-creating things mostly from the scarp. In Technological Disobedience, writes, Ernesto Oroza, that this “reparation, refunctionalization, and reinvention show leaps of imagination in opposition to the concepts of innovation favored by the logic of Western mass production”.  According to him, “Cubans began to bring this repair-mindset home, turning their own households into laboratories”. For instance, Orozo, writes that an “electrician would, during his day shift, repair the engine of a Soviet MIG15 jet fighter and, in the evening—faced with a country-wide shortage of matches—build an electric lighter out of a that pen and light bulb”. And it was precisely this technological disobedience which helped Cuba survive the turbulent times.

In Kashmir, where innovation and invention is perhaps not a norm but people historically have responded to state savagery very imaginatively. For example, after the Afghans invaded Kashmir in 1753, they not only destroyed the local industries but also imposed a very heavy tax system.  Afghans who ruled Kashmir until 1819 not only adopted different domineering forms of resource appropriation but also introduced a new system of collecting tax from the weavers known as “dagshawl” or excise tax on shawls. Many historians noted, that this exorbitant and ridiculous tax system became “such a burden for the poor shawl weavers that some of them preferred death to the weaver’s profession”. In order to evade this unjustified and horrendous tax-system on Kani Shawls, two ingenious innovators introduced a radically different shawl and named it Amlikar shawl. This shawl would not only take less time compared to the Kani shawl in weaving but also remained outside from the ambit of this usurious tax system.

Similarly, what could be considered as the best example of the technological disobedience in Kashmir can be observed from the Radio-Station invented by Ghulam Nabi Ahangar in 1971. To counter what he termed as the state-propaganda, he surprised his entire community by setting up his own radio station at Dialgam. For his oddity and ‘irrational’ creative attempts, he was harassed and intimidated from time to time by the state and the non-state actors. The uses of singing lantern, invented by another self-made inventor Ghulam Mohammad Mir in 2007, are very peculiar. Mir, who belongs to a humble family in Kokernag, district Anantnag, was tired of the persistent embarrassment he felt every time the Indian army raided his house during the 1990s and found him sleeping naked.  He decided to work out an idea to escape his complications. He developed a singing lantern, powered by a dry battery and a remote sensor that would alert him of human movement near his house in Sagaam village. 

There are many other such unsung innovators from Kashmir who dared to disrupt the status quo by not complying with the rules of an ‘ordered’ universe, but by subverting them. Their choices are arbitrary and random and may thus not adhere to any definable criterion. In Economics and Culture, David Thorsby, would argue that these types of maverick acts are calculatingly anti- rational acts. Hence the choices, contends Thorsby these individuals make are ‘anti- rational choices’.

However, with deep guilt, I must acknowledge here that in Kashmir we haven’t effectively ever tried to capture such ‘recalcitrant’ and ‘disobedient’ creative attempts in the conventional Azadi discourse. The nuances of such anti-rational choices are not understood and wittingly outshined. This inattention has offered a good opportunity to various outside ‘sympathetic’ organisations to exploit or misappropriate the inventive and artistic potentials of our local innovators. Lately, we have observed that many non-Kashmir based organisations with the pretext of helping local innovators have started mishandling their innovations. To put it differently, local creativity is politically coerced and resolutely dampened. 

The author hails from Kupwara and is co-editor of the book ‘Informal Sector Innovations: Insights from Global South’, published by Routledge, Taylor & Francis, UK.  He could be reached at fayazjustinternational@gmail.com or 9906542881.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Don’t we need an ‘empathy revolution’ immediately?


SHEIKH FAYAZ AHMAD·

For every revolution, empathy is the key. If we collectively fail to empathize and commiserate with the less privileged and the victims of the conflict, then unquestionably, we can’t ever claim victory in any revolution. No doubt, we all have suffered because of the ongoing conflict but the fact remains, that there are many unheard and unnoticed families and individuals living on the peripheries who demand our attention immediately. Undesirably, as a nation, we haven’t been successful in developing our ‘empathic capacities’ so far.

 Look, for instance, the cross-communication between our urban centers and the rural areas. It is very thin and is considered insignificant. I have seen many people coming from outside Kashmir and visiting the rural areas than the people from our cities and the leading towns. How many times have we justly and communally embraced our orphan children? How many widows have we supported bereft of any ‘incentives’ thus far?

 Empathy, certainly is a perquisite to every revolution and perhaps we lack it.   Ernesto Che Guevara  would argue that ‘empathy’ is the feeling of the unity with the oppressed. For him, revolution is the necessary expression of the empathy. Kashmir, I believe, urgently need an ‘empathy revolution’ to overcome our own tragedies and also effectively fight the oppressor.


This Eid, let us take a pledge to support all those who have suffered because of the Indian savagery and viciousness. Let us overcome our own prejudices and pity partialities and preferences. Let us together bring an ‘empathy revolution’.