Large sections of Kashmiris are apparently happy to the changed situation as they were never beneficiaries under special status. We were told that the Kashmiris for the first time are receiving benefits directly from Delhi and are also seeing the developmental activities helping the large sections of the society.
-Dr Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao
Businessmen in Srinagar want tourists to return to the valley as earlier as they have suffered due to the false narrative
It is the first anniversary of changed J&K status and the cynical media houses are out with special issues full of negative stories penned by motivated reporters of closed minds.
“Nothing has changed in the valley”, “no single heart was won over”, and “gulf has widened during the last one year” are some of the themes of this negative narrative specialists. A section of politicians lead by Congress and the media is well known to build up propaganda for the enemies across the border to use to their advantage on the international forums. It was the same cynical anti national stories emanating from the Srinagar valley in August last which prompted our team of academicians to visit the Kashmir valley and record the factual position.
The stories that ‘Valley is burning, all the markets are shut, stone pelting is rampant, schools and colleges are closed, students are denied education, business establishments are shut, and freedom stifled was what media presented then. I was also little worried on reading those stories but all my apprehensions vanished with what I saw on reaching Delhi airport on the afternoon of November 20, 2019. The flight was booked full and there was no trace of worry on the face of any passenger of them being going to a media described ‘disturbed Srinagar valley’. On board were over 20 to 30, both men and women of different ages, returning from their Haj pilgrimage. Can people, who the media report as fully charged with anti-India sentiment, will take time to go on pilgrimage and return back as satisfied souls was the question we posed among ourselves.
As nine of us came out of the Srinagar airport saw that place as normal as any other airport barring the heightened alert among the security posts. Our journey from Airport to Lal Chowk a distance of 11kms which normally takes 20 minutes to cover took more than 45 minutes on that day as we encountered the traffic jams. We could see all the shops opened including the used winter clothes markets on the road side and people moving around attending to their works. This was the first glimpses of the peaceful Srinagar situation when the motivated media was describing it as a ‘disturbed, burning valley’.
Locals whom we met were enthusiastic to meet us and share their thoughts and opinions on the current situation after taking over the special status. In fact for most of the Kashmiris the special status is nothing but an emotive issue built by the regional parties and supported by Congress.
What we saw and encountered in the next nine days has totally demolished the media reported narrative of highly disturbed’ ‘burining valley’. Our team with members from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, travelled through all ten districts of Kashmir valley without facing a single obstacle, not facing any question either from the locals or the security agencies. There was absolutely no incident where our identification cards were asked to produce. That was the freedom we experienced in the valley in the post abrogation of Art.370 when a team of Concerned Citizens lead by Yashwanth Sinha was crying hoarse of lack of freedom to move. That team of Yashwanth Sinha and our team were there in Srinagar on the same day. No restriction on the places of visit or people to meet. So we could meet nearly 150 people to know the facts and those whom we met includes students, teachers, hotelliers, small time business men, government employees, JK tourism corporation personal etc.
The Team of journalists which visited Kashmir, few months after abrogation of Article 370
Locals whom we met were enthusiastic to meet us and share their thoughts and opinions on the current situation after taking over the special status. In fact for most of the Kashmiris the special status is nothing but an emotive issue built by the regional parties and supported by Congress. Large number of people failed to explain what the gains they enjoyed because of the special status. Not that there are no dissatisfied people in the valley but their numbers are low and still reducing. The different voices include those business men who hope that peace will return to valley and tourists will start coming back. They wished that tourism should go beyond Srinagar, Gulmarg refreshing trip and the only religious trip for Amaranath. It was those businessmen, though Muslims, who asked us to spread the message of ancient Hindu temples now in ruins but worth seeing as important tourism circuit.
One can’t but concur with them after seeing the glory of those ruins. All those temples were built much before Islam was born in Arabia. Some of them have connection with Gautama Buddha, and visits by Emperor Asoka which says that they have over 2000 years history. But none of them are known outside Kashmir Valley as there was no publicity given. Even in 2019 tourism brochure we picked up in Srinagar Airport there was no mention of archaeological sites but photos of Mughal period structures only. One of those brochures has the temerity to mention Anant Nag as Islamabad with in brackets. Large sections of Kashmiris are apparently happy to the changed situation as they were never beneficiaries under special status. We were told that the Kashmiris for the first time are receiving benefits directly from Delhi and are also seeing the developmental activities helping the large sections of the society. The middle men in apple fruit purchases have disappeared with the direct purchase by the central agencies at much better price. The killing of truck drivers coming from other states was to terrorise local orchard owners and that was the expression of the frustration of by terrorists.
Kashmir valley residents who had contacts, either through travel or by jobs, with other Indian states is totally convinced of the need for integration with India and support abrogation of special status. They are appreciative of the efforts of Narendra Modi government is putting but their voice is not that strong at that time. We met an hotelier whose family owns and runs exclusive vegetarian restaurant in Srinagar showing their happiness for the collapse of the seven decade old rotten wall called Art 370’. The anger with Abdullah and Mufti families and some Congress leaders like Gulam Nabi Azad runs across the valley irrespective of the religion they profess in.
Most wished that tourism should go beyond Srinagar, Gulmarg refreshing trip and the only religious trip for Amaranath. It was those businessmen, though Muslims, who asked us to spread the message of ancient Hindu temples now in ruins but worth seeing as important tourism circuit.
The places we visited included the Pulwama area where a bloody terrorist attack took place killing 31 CRPF personnel. We also visted the Uri military base where security personal were martyred in terrorist attack. We visited Veri Nag area where Burhan Vani was killed in an encounter and also visited Anantnag, Baramulla the two places said to be the hot beds of terrorists. Our journey towards LOC was stopped around 8 Kms short. On the border villages we met school going girls who said the schools are functioning. This was confirmed by few lady teachers whom we met in different places. These teachers were specially appointed under scheme of rehabilitating migrant Hindu families through employment in Srinagar valley. It is all an emotional time for them while sharing their experience of home coming to valley. All those teachers whom we met were less than five year old when their families were forced to leave the valley under the threat of terrorism. They all grew and got educated in Jammu area as ‘refugees’ and now came back to their ancestral home but there is none to welcome them back in their village. We met one Pundit whose family members were killed by terrorists in 1990s but now came back to just take care of their ancestral temple.
Ruins at Nar Nag temple complex which the team of journalists visited
We visited many houses deserted by Pundits in the early 90s. It’s a pathetic story. Houses were burnt, looted some are occupied by the local Muslim families. They were all neighbours till then but suddenly turned so hostile and violent that those Pundits who could venture to come back to valley after a decade are terrified to recollect their tragic nights. Some of them lost their dear ones. In Mattan, the centre of learning for Pundits the temple and Gurudwara became the shelters for surviving Hindu community. The booming business we saw in Srinagar is the selling of used furniture and that furniture, artefacts were all looted from deserted pundits houses.
Our team visited ruins of Marthand temples, Avantipura temples, Nar Nag temple complex. The pathetic way those temples are maintained by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) needs to be told separately.
The fact that all of us, south Indians typical with south Indian faces and dressers and all vegetarians searching for vegetarian food are perhaps softest targets for any riffle wielding terrorist but could roam around the areas of our choice. That reflects the peace prevailing there a year back. Now I am sure after a year things would certainly better. I never believed what media said then and I request others not to believe the patrician media accounts now. Let all of us hailing from different states go there to Kashmir meet people there invite them to see our areas and show them the development their state can experience by being Indian.
Our local contact and the tour guide Vinod Pundit of All Party Migrant Coordination Committee(APMCC) who is a marked man by Islamic Terrorists was there with us for all days and took us to every place which we desired to see. Vinod Pundit is a courageous man leading the movement for the return of Pundits to the valley. But for him the famous Gang Bal yatra of Pundits couldn’t have restarted. It was APMCC which is organising the reconstruction of temples and also restoring the poojas there in temples.
(The writer is Vijaywada based freelance journalist)