Srinagar/Nagpur: What will the Amarnath attack, the worst in 16 years, do to the state of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh is a question that the state government will have to face seriously, and don’t mind the pun, on a war footing.
With its already very fragile economy where debt level has risen to Rs 55,358 crore at the end of 2015-16, which is almost five times its revenue, Travel industry can only salvage this beautiful state’s financial condition.
Time was, way back in the 60s and 70s, even up to the mid 80s that most Bollywood producers headed to Kashmir from May to September for a stint of outdoor shooting – whether the script required it or not! And then were films where Kashmir was itself the lead character. Think Junglee, think Kashmir ki Kali, Jab jab phool khile; in more recent years think of Hritik Roshan’s Mission Kashmir, the unforgettable Roza, Lamha, Haider etc.
If one assumes that shooting in Kashmir came to a grinding halt after militancy increased, even that assumption is wrong. (Though there was a hiatus of 2 decades when our producers were more in thrall of locations like Switzerland, New Zealand, New York, London etc.)
But the last decade has seen super hits shot in this state again, like Highway, Rockstar ( where Nargisi even dressed up as a Kashmiri bride!), Saat khoon maaf, Student of the Year, Jab tak hai jaan and Bajrangi Bhaijan – whose script is supposed to take you to POK too!
In fact, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had to express his displeasure that Gulmarg was passed off as Manali in the film, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani! Where ex flames Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika came together again after their split.
One cannot name a single film that has been shot in Kashmir since the last 2 years.
Kashmir – once the most favourite Honeymoon destination
Apart from film shooting, the other ‘target group’ that headed to Kashmir, if they had the means, were newly married couples! Some photographs in this destination were a must: a romantic ride in the shikara, a hand-in-hand stroll by the side of the Dal lake and posing in front of the flowers of the famous Shalimar garden!!!
The army had its presence then too, and even the friendliest of Kashmiris did give offense by referring to you as ” you Indians” but it was often a friendly banter.
But one fact is for sure, even in those halcyon days there was still abysmal poverty in Kashmir, so they were very aware that they needed the tourists.
So even after tourists had completely stopped going to Kashmir at the height of trouble, this industry was the first to resume again. In the late 90s, one of the first people to resume travel to the strife strewn state were frm Maharashtra, specifically Mumbai, going there with the most famous Raja Rani Travels!
Not just tourism now, other industry has also come to a grinding halt
According to the J&K economic survey 2016, industrial activity came to halt since last year.
“The industrial units in industrial estate Lachipora, Khonmoh, Baghi Ali Mardan khan, Rangret, Anantag , Aischan, Chittipora, Baramulla, Bijbehara, Kupwara, HMT etc came to halt which resulted in the idle payment of wages to the skilled labour for more than 4 months and loss of production in Kashmir valley,” it said.
That brought an estimated loss of Rs 13,291 crore during the last year comprising Rs 6,548.00-crore from private sector and Rs 6,713.00 crore from the government sector on account of hartals/curfews (130 days).
Pilgrims were the last to keep going
Even if normal travel to the valley halted, pilgrims kept going, even though reduced in number.
And without the industrial activity, the Valley is heavily dependent on pilgrims for revenues and employment. This sector has been a saviour for even unskilled workers as it provides direct employment to guides, ponywallas, sledgewallas, travel agents; jobs in hotels/houseboats, besides those working in allied sectors like handicrafts, handlooms and transport.
But, an increasingly hostile situation in the Valley has worsened the economic scenario. The total number of tourists in Kashmir Valley was 15.15 lakhs in 2013, which declined to 6.2 lakhs in 2016, including 2.2 lakhs Amarnath Yatra pilgrims. In 2013, the number of yatris alone was 3.53 lakhs. The 2016 survey noted that even though the tourist season, which started during 2016 in April, was in full swing up to end of 7 July, 2016, the remaining about 4 months remained completely tense and registered closure of all activities due to turmoil resulting in almost zero arrival of tourists in the Valley.
The Amarnath Yatra is the very symbol of Kashmiri culture
Though the Amarnath caves and the snow ‘Lingam’ therein has been thought to be a place of pilgrimage for centuries now, it is also a fact that the caves were ‘rediscovered’ by a Muslim shepherd of Batakot, Buta Malik, when he lost his flock and found that it had strayed into the sacred spot some 150 years ago. There is a documentary proof of this discovery. Even today his family receives some part of the alms offered by pilgrims.
Since then, thousands of Kashmiris, most Muslim, have been part of the annual pilgrimage for decades. It is a long trip and trek from the first halt at Jammu, where most tourists arrive by train. A lot of arrangements are required for which locals have been offering services, including in recent years, even helicopter rides to the shrine and back.
The temple is the most popular yatra/ destination for Hindus. In 2011 it received about 634,000 people, the highest recorded number ever.
In olden days the route was via Rawalpindi (Pakistan) but now a direct train is there connecting rest of India to Jammu, the winter capital of the State. The best part of journey is between Guru Purnima and Shravan Purnima; the attack this time happened the day after Guru Purnima which was on Sunday.
Kashmiris have been very conscious about the political fallout of an attack happening on the Amarnath Yatra for years. During 2008 and 2010, when the Kashmir was simmering under an unrest, not even a single Amarnath yatri was attacked or killed. That was the case despite a massive rioting on the streets. Just last week pictures of young Kashmiri boys removing pilgrims from a bus, which meet with an accident in the same district, had gone viral on social media.
Therefore almost all Kashmiri leaders, including the Hurriyat have been unanimous in condemning this attack.
A massive crackdown against militants and militancy sympathisers in the coming days is likely to follow after the attack as pressure builds on the security apparatus to deliver justice to the perpetrators of the act.
Army, police and CRPF actions will increase and become more ‘lethal’.
“In coming days we will go after them and get them even if they are hiding in pigeon holes,” a senior army officer based in Anantnag told some media persons this morning.
“This also applies for the people who have been sheltering and sympathising with their cause,” he added.
The Yatra will go on. But it is going to be a long night of darkness and trouble for the embattled state this year. The ‘winter of discontent’ has set in earlier than usual.
—Sunita Mudaliar (Executive Editor)