Writter : AR Bhat
There are two indispensable facets of Kashmir as on date; tourism and terrorism. Kashmir until the 1980’s, not marred by terrorism was peaceful, serene and a calm tourist destination where people flocked to enjoy the spectacular landscapes, snow clad peaks and its religious shrines but terrorism and insurgency infused through the proxy war by our neighbor has dropped an indelible blot on this heaven on earth. Poets and preachers ordained this place as heaven on earth unbeknownst of the fact that bloodshed and tourism cannot go hand in hand. The number of lives lost over the years has tarnished the ethereal beauty of this region in such a way that recovery will be a slow yet turbulent process. The radicalization of the youth and banking on the unemployed making them a pool for recruitment for various nefarious activities has exposed the evil plans of the anti national elements lurking in the shadows. But are the fates of these two facets intertwined? Yes they are.
In 1987, according to a government survey, 700,000 tourists visited Kashmir. Three years later as violence started to be prevalent in the region, the number dwindled to 600,000 making evident the fact that how terrorism has impacted tourism.
Earlier, Kashmir was not open to the rest of India and the only industry that could thrive was tourism due to the fact that investment and enterprises from outside Kashmir was not welcomed. This led to people capitalizing on the natural god gifted mind blowing scenic beauty to earn their livelihood. But the influx of unrest and turmoil assisted by some secessionist forces has obliterated this industry and safety of human lives were compromised which was a prerequisite for any tourist. Stone pelting and gun toting militants converted Kashmir the heaven on earth, into a militarized zone. Thousands of youth who depended on tourism for meeting the two ends of life meet are now jobless and vulnerable to the diabolical and unctuous theories preached by the radicalists. Thus sowing the seeds for a future generation of stone pelters and gun wielders who otherwise would have been taking around tourists on shikaras(boat) showing the mind boggling and picturesque frames floating from the Dal Lake.
This constant chaos and carnage instilled fear in the hearts and minds of the tourists. A reduction in the number of tourists made many jobless and the industry took a backseat in light of the unprecedented turmoil resulting in unemployment and poverty which makes for a deadly concoction for insurgency to flourish. The unemployed become gullible and easily swayed to the meagre fortune offered by the terrorist leaders. This created a predicament wherein the World started to see the people of Kashmir as aiders and abettors of anti India activities and sentiments. This mindset and a sense of alienation bestowed upon the people of Kashmir made them all the more exasperated and hence more people started resorting to anti national activities to give a vent to their woes. The handlers from across the border infused venom into the minds of innocent desperate youth to go all out against the nation.
The secessionist forces were well aware what would hurt Kashmir the most. The attack on pilgrims, who were on their way to pay obeisance at the Amarnath shrine, which claimed 32 lives in 2000 followed by repeated attempts in 2001, 2002 and later in 2006 bears testimony to the fact that tourism industry was a prime target. Going by the statistics, there was a dip in visitors in the period stretching from 2001 to 2003 followed by a considerable dip in 2006 to 2008. Beyond this, it saw a surge. But all the downfalls following a terrorist attack or an untoward incident which makes it amply clear that bloodshed and tourism never complemented each other.
The revival of tourism will be the most pragmatic and futuristic solution to combat terrorism in Kashmir. The reason being that a rejuvenated tourism implies more opportunities which in turn necessitates more man power and hence employment. An employed individual who is contented and satisfied with his life earning a decent living to support his family and ensure bright future prospects for his children will rarely fall prey to the separatist agenda of separatist forces. He wants peace and tranquility to prevail so as to attract more tourists into the conflict ravaged region which will fortify his chances of prospering. He will not want to bring back uncertainty and insecurity into his life by being part to the vile atrocities of religious fanatics.
The abrogation of article 370 and the conversion of Kashmir into a UT can be seen as a promising step towards resurrection of the tourism industry. Albeit there were some initial struggles as less than 50,000 tourists visited Kashmir between August and December 2019 and unemployment breached the 20 percent mark in August 2019. This was a precarious situation accentuated by the pandemic and the stripping of the 4G network which hit the industry hard. In the long run things are bound to improve. Kashmir now being open to investment from rest of India is a shot in the arm as it will help in realizing the full potential of the tourism sector. Investment in tourist infrastructure and hotels will create more jobs. The energy of the unemployed youth will be channelized for constructive development of the tourism industry.
The spike in tourist inflow will also have a profound effect on the mindset of the people who have visualized the region being scarred by internal conflict and blood stained streets. Change in outlook will be means to change the output. The feeling of alienation meted out to the people will be a thing of the past. A thriving tourism industry will divert focus of the people from secessionism and separatism. A positive projection of the region to the outside world will be their way to salvation. Misery and dismay will be pulverized once and for all. Last but not the least, this will manifest into reality not unless government at all levels strive united to support the people of Kashmir in this journey.