Tuesday, August 25, 2015

“Kashmir First” for Kashmiris

The proposed talks between India and Pakistan have been cancelled because of Kashmir. Pakistan has insisted on “Kashmir First”. India on the other hand is saying “Terrorism First” even though it is internationally accepted that the main cause of the conflict between these two neighbours giving rise to “Terrorism” is Kashmir. One cannot overlook the fact, that for every Kashmiri, the most important thing at the moment is the “Kashmir First”. It is Kashmir which gives him his identity. Here, one recalls a saying about a blade of grass growing on a piece of land. It has been said that every blade of grass in the world has a piece of land in which it has its roots. It is from this piece of land that the blade of grass draws its nourishment and has an identity. Without that it becomes meaningless. Similarly, we too have our roots in the soil of Kashmir and draw our nourishment from it. Without Kashmir we will become just dried blades of grass tossed by winds from place to place!
At the present moment, the slogan “Kashmir First” has assumed tremendous importance in view of the onslaughts on Kashmir’s every aspect. For last 68 years Kashmir has faced onslaught culturally including slow and steady erosion of Kashmiri language. Kashmir’s environment has been vandalised under the garb of Tourism which is deliberately projected as the back bone of Kashmir’s economy even though it is not true. Traditionally and historically, Kashmir has an agriculture based economy. The greatest resource of Kashmir, the free flowing water has been virtually stolen by what the people are calling the new “East India Company”! These waters have been virtually divided as spoils of war by our two neighbours. That too with international backing!
All these years, money, material and blackmail have been used to subdue Kashmiris. Kashmir itself has been converted into a prison with almost one armed soldier looking after every five Kashmiris. Outwardly Kashmiris seem to have been subdued or appear helpless because of an army of collaborators from every section of the society. However, internally people are extremely alienated. Especially the youth, the new generation brought up in the turmoil of nineties. They are totally uncompromising and Kashmir’s only hope. As regards the leaders, the so called mainstream ones have been materially and morally corrupted through and through. The so called “popular” ones seem to have been paralysed by an endless internal bickering.
The Kashmiris have somehow managed to live on in spite of being made economically totally dependent on dole and subjected to repeated cultural and social assaults. However, now a physical assault is being unleashed to demographically displace them from the land where they been living from the earliest times. It started with the feelers for setting up of Panun Kashmir, a Kashmiri Pandit homeland in Pahalgam-Sonamarg area around the famous Amarnath pilgrimage. The first backlash was the Amarnath land transfer agitation of 2008 following which government had to hurriedly give up the idea. Next planned assault was the composite townships on the Israeli pattern. Again there was hue and cry which made the proposal go into limbo. Then suggestions were floated for settling ex-Army men in a Sainik Colony near Srinagar Airport. The latest attack has been mounted on Article 35-A to somehow allow outsiders to own land and property in Kashmir. Article 370 has already been under bombardment since its very introduction in the Indian constitution to guard special status of Kashmir. It has been used in practice as a tunnel to push in every Indian law to take away Kashmir’s special status which it was supposed to guard. The latest in this regard is the Central Statistical Law to allow gathering of information about state subjects by the Central Government directly. At the present moment only a hollow shell of 370 remains. In spite of that it is a psychological assurance that Kashmir has not been fully merged into the Indian Union.
Incidentally, within the state, the Jammu is always for “Jammu First”! It has grown to be a metropolis. This is because of its politicians, because of its bureaucrats and because of its people. In contrast, Kashmir has virtually sunk in every respect to the lowest depths because of its politicians, because of its bureaucrats and because of its people! If Kashmir is to be redeemed and saved, then every Kashmiri must adopt the maxim, “Kashmir First” in every aspect of life. Otherwise Kashmiris as a nation are doomed to oblivion.

Monday, August 17, 2015


Aug 15 or Jan 26 - Kashmiris have to face E-Curfew every year twice

E-CurfewFile Photo
Kashmiris have become quite familiar and used to the word “Curfew”. The Cambridge dictionary defines “Curfew” as, “a rule by which everyone must stay at home between particular times, usually at night, especially during a war or period of political trouble”.
Imposition of curfew has become a normal routine in Kashmir which as per dictionary definition seems to be at war or in continuous political trouble. Many variation of this virtually physical imprisonment of the citizens in their homes have been evolved over a period of time. One is the “Undeclared Curfew”. This is imposition of restrictions on the movement of people without formally declaring a curfew. 
The more sophisticated nomenclature used for “Undeclared Curfew” is “Restrictions”! The authorities announce “Restrictions” for certain volatile area which in practice means imposition of “Curfew” without declaring it formally. Another derivative is “strict enforcement of section 144”!
This section 144 is a law banning assembly of four or more persons to prevent any protests or demonstrations. Once the authorities announce strict enforcement of the restrictions under this law, it virtually amounts to “Curfew” as people are not allowed to move even in ones or twos. 
From the peoples’ side too, a new addition has been made into the Cambridge dictionary. This is the word “Civil Curfew”! It means complete strike of all civilian establishments, transport and so on including total stoppage of movement of the common people on the roads. All these restrictions whether from the authorities or the popular leaders heading various movements are to restrict physical movement of people to prevent trouble or to register a protest? 
However, over the recent few years, a new type of restriction is being regularly imposed. This is the restriction on electronic waves. One may call it the “E-Curfew”!
On certain occasions such as the Independence Day (15th August) and Republic Day (26th January), all electronic waves are virtually imprisoned by the authorities. All mobile networks stop functioning and the internet is also blocked. The usual explanation is that the “anti-national elements” called “ANEs” in security jargon can utilise mobile signals to trigger remote explosive devices and also communicate with each other.
Here, it may be mentioned that the security authorities are using most sophisticated electronic jamming devices at all important function venues and all the VVIPs have mobile jammers worth crores of rupees always in tow with their convoys. It appears that the security agencies have no faith in their sophisticated electronic jamming devices and as a safe bet, they impose total “E-Curfew”. However, no one bothers about the negative fallout of such mindless restrictions. 
The most affected are the sick people requiring urgent medical advice or even evacuation to a hospital. With the massive introduction of mobile telephony, people have virtually forgotten about landlines which earlier used to be the only means of urgent communications. Apart from the health sector, the “E-Curfew” also drastically disrupts the “E-Commerce”!
The most affected is the banking sector. The trade and commerce which is these days totally dependent on internet too gets drastically affected. Sometimes even an electronic blackout of just a few hours can cause a loss of huge amounts of money to people involved in businesses connected with stock exchanges and share markets.
Incidentally, some of the Western Countries including the USA face more serious security threats from the most sophisticated operatives but they never impose “E-Curfew” as they probably have full faith in the protective devices and the men handling these. The same could be done here unless the devices have been purchased through a “Scam” which has become common place these days!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Tourism in correct perspective

Tourism obsession bordering on paranoia of some people requires putting the Tourism scenario of Kashmir in a realistic perspective
 As per news reports, Government of India, Ministry of Tourism, survey report indicates that Kashmir has the capacity to receive 3 crore tourists every year. It is very scary in the sense that 3 crore people trampling over the fragile environment of Kashmir would turn it into a garbage hell in no time. Amarnath Yatra is a living example of the threat posed by mass tourism to environment. Tourism is not counted by numbers or arrivals but by bed nights which reasonably paying tourists spend at a place. Tourism is universally acclaimed to be the biggest export industry. It is the largest foreign exchange earner for countries possessing varied tourist attractions. Tourists bring in large amounts of foreign exchange and take away only some souvenirs and lots of goodwill. Being service oriented, it is also an extensive job provider. However, Tourism has its negative side also!
Tourism as an appreciable economic activity started in Kashmir only after the entry permit system to the State was abolished. Till that time people entering or leaving the state had to obtain a permit. There was no mass movement of tourists and yatris as is happening now. Prior to 1947 Kashmir had remained a special preserve of the British Army Officers and their families. Gulmarg was their most sought after fashionable resort. House Boat on the River Jhelum was their introduction. The British wanted to build some guest houses for themselves but due to the State Subject Law they could not own any land. So they came in with the innovation of a house on water which did not require any land except a mooring ghat. Even for this a mooring ghat law was enacted. There were no boats on the lake. Only temporary permits were allowed for going through the lake. Moreover, all house-boats had dry toilets and there were no flush toilets emptying all the refuse in the lake or the river.
Thus the main clientele for Kashmiris prior to 1947 were the British and some other foreign travellers. However, Kashmir has been known as the most attractive leisure spot from the ancient times. Mughals enjoyed its beauty and it was in their time that the famous couplet, “If there is a Heaven on Earth, it is this, it is this, and it is this” got associated with Kashmir. Even in present times, as a tourist destination Kashmir has no parallel in the entire world. Kashmir has been bestowed by Nature with the most extensive potential for development of every kind of Tourism. Its unique environment makes it a “Heaven” for the leisure and pleasure loving tourist. The mountains, the forests, the meadows and the fast flowing mountain streams make it the ultimate destination for adventure tourism. A paradise in the bosom of the mighty Himalaya! Apart from dozens of summer resorts, Kashmir has the potential of setting up of a dozen world class ski resorts.
Historically, Kashmir has an agricultural based economy. More than 70% people are involved in agriculture and horticulture. Handicrafts come next and the main income even from this sector is from the exports and not from retail sales to the tourists visiting the valley. According to Export Promotion Council of India, the handicraft export, especially of the carpets grew manifold during the upheaval of nineties. Carpet looms spread into the rural areas and some of the local export houses started operating from Delhi. Same was the situation with horticulture especially the export of apples from the state. Hundreds of crores worth apples and some other fruit are exported from Kashmir to rest of India. Even some factories are exporting apple juice concentrate to Germany and some other countries.
There are no two opinions that with the possession of extensive potential, Tourism has tremendous possibilities of development in Kashmir.However, apart from the basic requirements of potential, physical accessibility, and infrastructure prescribed under the concepts of area development and physical planning for tourism, there is the most fundamental requirement of the political stability of the area. No one wants to go to an area which is proclaimed all over the world as the most dangerous place, Asia’s nuclear hot spot and so on. Every second day there is news all over the world about blasts, encounters, and other incidents regarding Kashmir. The most important primary consideration for a popular tourist spot is “Peace”! In view of this uncertain situation, the tourist arrivals show a swing effect. These keep on rising and falling from time to time. Sometimes there is a boon and supposedly a million tourists arrive while as other times there is a complete drought with hardly any arrivals. In view of this it is not advisable to make Tourism as the so called “backbone” of the economy. Such an economy can collapse with every upheaval. Tourism for the present can at best be an additional economic activity and not the main base. Once Kashmir enjoys the real and settled peace, Tourism can become one of the key activities for its economy.
In addition to a peaceful atmosphere, there are two other important elements most essential for development of international class tourism which can substantially contribute to the economy of a place. These are physical accessibility and infrastructure. To attract foreign tourism of higher class it is essential to be on the international air route map. Without direct international air connectivity, Kashmir has very little chance of becoming a world class tourist destination. It is a pity that in spite of the so called international airport we have no direct international flights. Even the surface connectivity is very tough and undependable due to sliding mountain terrain on way from Jammu to Srinagar. Historically the easiest, short and dependable surface connectivity to Kashmir has been along the Jhelum Valley Road. It should be reopened for international tourism. Regarding the infrastructure, there are hardly any staying places of the global standards. The power, the roads, the water supply, civic facilities like garbage disposal, drainage and so on leaves much to be desired. The capital city of Srinagar is not able to cope up with the local population, not to talk of international tourists. Accommodation such as five star hotels and surface transport comprising luxury cars, air-conditioned sight-seeing coaches too need to be supplemented in a big way. In this regard the fundamental requirement is to give a free hand to the private sector for developing the commercial side of tourism while the government should only undertake overall long and short term planning, incentive to private sector and regulation of the trade.
Next is a very important requirement, the attitude of the local people. Kashmiris are generally by tradition very hospitable and friendly. They welcome all guests who come in peace with love. However, what is important is the behaviour and attitude of the people directly in contact with the tourists. Even though as a whole all are appreciative of the treatment given by the people dealing directly with the tourists, yet there have been many instances of rude behaviour, pestering and cheating. One needs to remember that the good will of a thousand tourists gone back with happy memories is destroyed by a single unsatisfied tourist! There have been umpteen instances of tourists being mobbed, pestered, harassed and even cheated in some of the posh resorts like Gulmarg. In a number of cases, some tourists have gone back even without visiting these resorts. At one time travel agents and taxi operators had threatened to boycott Gulmarg because of the attitude of local ponywallas. The most unfortunate part is that the J & K State is the only state which has a very stringent legislation called the J & K Registration of Tourist Trade Act under which touting and pestering of tourists is a cognisable and non bailable offence. However, the enforcement of the law is virtually non-existent! Something needs to be done in this regard by the travel trade, the government and the people in general.
Finally it must be pointed out that Tourism is also related to local environment. In fact, in our case the natural environment is the primary factor for making Kashmir as the most sought after tourist destination. The natural landscape and the salubrious climate are our most important potential. These for us are the proverbial golden goose of tourism. However, it can continue to lay golden eggs only as long as we develop it in a sustainable way. Any attempt at overrunning the environment with crores of tourists is bound to kill the golden goose! Many a famous tourist destinations in the world have been destroyed by over development of the tourism product. Each area has a carrying capacity going beyond which it can suffer irreversible damage. The Government of India, Ministry of Tourism while declaring the possibility of Kashmir having over three crore tourists should also commission a team to determine the carrying capacity of our tourist areas so as to ensure sustainable tourism. Otherwise we may cause more damage than good. Here, it needs to be pointed out that our planners as well as politicians seem to be obsessed with tourism. One can ask why environment and infrastructure has to be considered only for tourists. It gives an impression that the local population does not count in regard to these important elements!
Thus taking a long term perspective view of Tourism, it emerges that it is an important economic activity. However, in the present context it is not advisable to make it the backbone of our economic activities. We should allow it to remain as an additional economic activity. We should also aim for sustainable development in this sector to preserve our fragile ecology and environment. It must also be ensured that Tourism is not politicised by making it a barometer of political normalcy. It would be advisable for the government and the travel trade to operate within these parameters till total peace returns to the state.