Indian-held Kashmir tourism hit by 90pct this year, compared to 11 lakh tourists until July 2016

Irshad Salim — Indian-held Kashmir’s tourism sector has been hit for the second year amid continued unrest in the occupied Valley.

The Valley’s tourist destinations wear a deserted look. Just a handful visit the famous Dal lake, where shikaras mostly remain anchored — in timeless wait.

“This year, only 10 per cent of the expected tourists have come to Kashmir. This is our peak season and we are without any tourists,” said Shikara Owners’ Association president Wali Mohammad to The Indian Express.

“The last 10 months were horrific for us. And this time, there is absolutely no business.’’

There was a steep decline in tourist flow from July last year when militant commander Burhan Wani’s killing triggered five-month-long street protests which continue unabated.

“Last year, we had received 11.2 lakh tourists in Kashmir until July. And this time, we have failed to get even 50 per cent of that as of now,” said tourism director Mehmood Ahmad Shah. “We organized roadshows in different states of India and abroad… but we are not getting the expected response.’’

Many blame the media, especially television channels, for “negative” portrayal of Indian-administered Kashmir. “Negative messages on television have created deep … (mistrust) between the people of India and Kashmir,” said Hoteliers Club chairman Mushtaq Ahmad Chaya. “Twenty-five lakh people who are associated with tourism industry in Kashmir are absolutely hopeless and helpless.’’

The international media few weeks back also took notice of the ongoing protests by Kashmiris seeking self-determination, and reported the state of affairs in the Himalayan Valley.

Is Kashmir slipping out of India’s hands?

The current government, hobbled by conflicting ideologies is trying hard to work their way through the crisis but stands on rather slippery grounds, reported GreaterKashmir on its website.

Kashmir is territorially secure, the paper wrote in one of its op-eds, “but India is losing its grip on the valley emotionally and psychologically.”

“We can be rest assured that with almost half of the third largest army in the world deployed in Kashmir, the government of India’s grip on the land is firm, but not on its people. As the days go by, is Kashmir slipping out of India’s hands?”

Last summer following the killing of Burhan Wani, protests were met with a ruthless response from Indian security forces, killing hundreds and leaving thousands blinded. “Just as things begin to look better – the snow begins to melts, the tulips bloom and tourist begin to trickle in, the valley stares down at another bloody summer,” the op-ed said.

“The current government, hobbled by conflicting ideologies is trying hard to work their way through the crisis but stands on rather slippery grounds…

The central government isn’t ready for a dialogue and senior leaders of the ruling party have made comments suggesting they would have chocked the people of Kashmir if the government of India was against them. Neither this show of arrogance nor tying people to the front of army jeeps is going to make things better…

Due to the current crisis and this indifferent attitude of the government, the parliamentary elections in Srinagar were scarred by violence and the voter turnout was a record low of 7 percent. The low voter turnout is testimony to the fact that mainstream politics is getting delegitimized creating a political vacuum in the state that may be filled up with a disorganized mob-led constituency which could be fatal in the current situation…

It would be convenient not to acknowledge the issues surrounding Kashmir and believe that all stone pelting happens because the protesters are paid…

Due to the lack of opportunity and flawed state policies, 60 percent of the population of Kashmir that is under the age of 30 is unguided, angry and confused. They feel alienated, sidelined and humiliated and fear has taken a backseat. Even stun grenades, PAVA shells and tear-smoke shells fail to deter them. Full-blown protest by students have erupted and even schoolgirls are pelting stones at the armed forces. With the involvement of the youth, the new war in Kashmir is being fought on the streets of Lal Chowk as well as on the smartphones.

What is also alarming is the public support to militants. Their glorification and hero-worship needs to be tackled urgently, or else we will have a generation on Kashmiris growing up with militants as role models. The voice of “tum kitne Bhuran maroge, har ghar se Bhuran niklega” (how many Bhurans will you kill? Every home in Kashmir will produce a Bhuran) come to haunt me, wrote Krishan Anand, chairman of the rebuild JnK Foundation.

“…It’s easy to blame our neighbor for all the trouble, a little kiss here and a little peck there, wouldn’t affect the people of Kashmir, if their hearts were solely with India…For Kashmir’s heart to beat for India, it’s going to take a lot…”

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