Kashmir — blocked road to Paradise?
A few days ago, a friend called to share plans for a week-long holiday. She had convinced her family to take the vacation in Kashmir, the perfect opportunity to escape the scorching heat of New Delhi.
It was a good time to visit the Valley. The uproar over the May 29 Shopian case — in which locals blamed the death and rape of two women on Indian security forces — had died down.
Or so it seemed.
Then my friend called again. She sounded glum and I soon knew why. The trip had been cancelled.
Her family had decided not to risk it. A curfew was in place in parts of Kashmir after security personnel in Baramulla were accused of harassing a woman.
Four protesters had died and scores injured in subsequent protests. Much of the Valley remained shut for a strike called by separatists. The streets were empty and there was little sign of tourists.
In the coming days, there is no doubt that Kashmiris will need to choose between protests and tourism — a major source of income.
Many of the Kashmiris I spoke to seemed upset that frequent protests and strikes were keeping tourists away.
“Earlier, we used to make frequent trips to tourist places like Gulmarg and Pahalgam, once in two days or even twice in one day but now we make one trip in 15 days,” said taxi operator Ghulam Rasool.
Rafique Quadri, a high-ranking state tourism official, said that regular clashes and curfews were affecting tourism in Kashmir.
Even Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has spoken out against the negative effects of such strikes and protests.
“Frequent strikes deprive thousands of people from earning their livelihood,” he told a meeting in Srinagar.
How important is it to Kashmiris for the world to catch a glimpse of what a Mughal emperor once called “Paradise on Earth”? What is their priority - azadi (freedom) or economic gain?