Kashmir...and the apples rot on the branches of the trees!
Right now in Kashmir, it is apple season, but in the orchards across the Himalayan valley, you can see fruits unpicked, which rot on the branches. In a northern town of Kashmir called Shopore, a town normally bustling with people and life, the market is empty.
This slowdown is ofcourse a reflection of the strict measures imposed by Narendra Modi, India's Prime Minister on the muslim-majority state, and the reactions of Kashmirian people against this firm grip. It was on August 5 2019, that Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government said it would give an end to the semiautonomous status that the state of Jammu and Kashmir had held under India's constitution for decades.
I remember i was on a vacation that day, and i won't forget the news titles appearing in front of my eyes and the agony and anxiety of the people living there, shouting and screaming for freedom and justice...but most of all being in despair due to new more strict curfews.
For more than 72 days after that, Jammu and Kashmir has been through a communications blackout with cell phones and internet being suspended. More than 10.000.000 people were pushed behind an iron wall and that is something that Kashmirians witnessed for the first time in their lives.
It is not a surprise that in one of the news titles a former Indian Supreme Court Judge Markandey Katju, wrote that Kashmir would become India's Vietnam War, a nightmare with "body bags". He continued by saying "Remove the restrictions, and popular protests will engulf the whole valley. Continue them, and the pot will boil until it explodes".
As i already mentioned to a previous article of mine about Kashmir, the problematic situation in Jammu and Kashmir, is not new, but has been shaped by colonial history and has the colours of religious tensions and nationalism in any case. During the partition of British India in 1947, the leader of Jammu and Kashmir pushed for independence rather than joining the muslim majority of Pakistan, or the hindu majority of India. What was next, was the two wars between India and Pakistan over Kashmir until today that both of the countries that happen to be nuclear powers as well, claim Kashmir as a whole!
India controls almost half the land, Pakistan less than a third and China the rest.
But what happens today in Kashmir? How are the people coping with so much pressure? nearly 4.000 people including politicians, journalists and activists, have been arrested, according to a Reuters report and thousands remain in custody. Almost 13.000 boys have been detained for up to 45 days.
Violence has risen as India dismantles the "iron wall" in Kashmir, and even though cell-phone services were restored on October 14, the internet is still restricted. Protesters even peaceful ones are still being arrested.
According to Indian politicians, the withdrawal of the Article 370 (about the state of Jammu and Kashmir), "opens the door to the rejuvenation of a moribund economy"...
But i think i don't know if someone wants to laugh or cry with that...Because as the numbers show till now, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimates that this shutdown has cost the region more than 1.4 billion dollars.
Before a couple of months tourists were not allowed to visit Jammu and Kashmir. Now that they allowed again the situation is so precarious, that tourism industry and even handicrafts sectors are more than unlikely to bounce back soon.
Classes at school are postponed, teachers are unable to teach students.
And how about Kashmir's most important trading product...apples?
In Kashmir apple trade applies for 1.5 billion dollars, employing more than 3 million people. During the blackout of Jammu and Kashmir, apple traders were cut off from buyers. Now the militants in the region are targeting apple sellers, pickers and drivers. Only last month, two people involved in apple trade were shot, and that is so indicative of the existing situation in Kashmir.
How can that really lead to the rejuvenation of the Kashmirian economy according to Indian politicians, is something that really makes me wonder...
The Shopore market in the region of Kashmir, also known as "little London" for the green gardens and the big houses, is empty and the doors of the stores are all closed.
Shamin Ahmed, a tourist agent owning a little boat in the summer capital of Shrinagar says that touristic period of this summer was a devastating one. Lack of tourists has also hit hard the carpet commerce in Kashmir, which used to be a traditional attraction for tourists. Schools anduniversities are shut down...and noone knows where will this lead...
One thing is for sure! there is a massive feeling of fear, humiliation, hurt and anger. The natural turn of events is that this situation will erupt in many different levels, causing new tensions and transformation of power in the region, between two big nuclear powers. The only question is when?
But in "RealPolitic" where everything is calculated and the approach to every issue is cruel and blunt, one thing is for sure as Franklin D. Roosevelt said "In politics nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way"...!
And Kashmir is no exception to that blunt rule of politics. Who cares about the people? We are all numbers. Today is someone's turn tomorrow it is yours. Until the moment when reaction against injustice acquires a global voice and unanimous applauds...then something might start to change, maybe this era will eventually arise and shake people's conscience.
written by Themis Panagiotopoulou, PhD in Political Science