Bilal Ahmad Dar
Kashmir has always been more than a mere place. It has the quality of an experience, or a state of mind, or perhaps an ideal.
Kashmir used to attract tourists from around the country and around the world, not just because of its majestic and mesmerising natural beauty, but also for its charming culture. Historians and travel writers have used many appellations to describe the valley. Sir Allama Iqbal called it ‘Iran-E-Sagheer’. Josef Korbel in his book Danger in Kashmir called it “…a garden of eternal spring, a delightful flower bed, and a heart-expanding heritage for dervishes”. But these sobriquets have lost their sheen because of the vicious political atmosphere which Kashmiris have been suffering for many years.
Kashmir valley used to be the hangout for Bollywood actors. Many classic Bollywood films were set in Kashmir. Those were the days when Kashmir was milling about with film stars. Now, hardly any celebrity visits Kashmir. People from all over the world used to ease the humdrum of their life here. Long ago it was, before Kashmir had been turned into a place of fear and dread. The utopia of Kashmir has changed into a dystopia. People here are always under surveillance. The ‘Pardise on Earth’ sobriquet has been replaced by horrid appellations like: The Land of Half Widows, The Land of Disappeared Persons, The Land of Pellet Blinded People, The Land of Unrest, The Land of Curfew, The Land of continuous Lockdown.
Who is responsible for this? The answer is obvious and well understood. The region’s “mainstream” political parties, alongside the central government, stand jointly responsible for the gruesome political atmosphere in the valley. The regional parties have always betrayed and hoodwinked the people of the valley with false promises. Most Kashmiris hold the regional political parties as primarily responsible for the suffering of the valley’s people. People say that the regional political parties have done irreparable damage.
The conflict and unrest in Kahsmir, however, started long ago, when Maharaja Hari Singh ruled over the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. Once the Maharaja signed the instrument of accession to India, the Indians started colonizing the state. The Indira-Sheikh Accord of 1975 and all other accords following it were nullified on the fateful morning of 5th August when Article 370 was abrogated by the central government. The state was bifurcated into two Union Territories and the regional politicians who used to sing praises of the Centre were imprisoned. Prior to the abrogation of the Article, these politicians used to befool people but now their balloon had burst and they could only sheepishly lament about it.
The abrogation of Article 370 and the installation of a new domicile law in the valley are clearly meant to change its demography. Every decision related to the valley is taken by the majoritarian party ruling in New Delhi in arbitrary manner. Kashmir is a kind of colony at present. The massive military deployment in the valley is the clearest sign of it.
Alas, Kashmir is no longer what it used to be! The politics of hate and the politics of greed have disfigured the beautiful face of the valley. Last year, when the abrogation of Article 370 was on the cards, the government issued an advisory to tourists to leave the state, citing security reasons and apprehension of terrorist attack. The then governor falsely went on telling people not to believe rumours about abrogation of Article 370. At that time, the tourist season was at its peak. The Amaranth Yatra was going on. The government let the cat among the pigeons by issuing the advisory to tourists and yatris to leave. It gave such a fright that I fear tourists will not dare to visit the valley for a long time to come.
Tourists have stopped coming to Kashmir also because of frequent ‘Hartal’ and ‘Curfew’ and internet blockade. Mountains of the valley are still mesmerising, waterfalls are still bewitching, and the beauty of nature as enchanting as ever. But people have lost their calm and serenity because of the conflict in the air. Some tourist places that used to be major attractions have been occupied by armed forces. Nobody dares to visit such places now.
As a poet said, ‘They make a desolation and call it peace’.
The writer is a research Scholar at Department of English, AMU. [email protected]