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Development or Identity In Kashmir?

By Urba Malik

14 November, 2015

Kashmir today has become a testimony to an entirety of encounters ranging from brutal state repression to massive militarization, from lack of security to loss of dignity along with thegross human rights violations eventually culminating into a sense of loss in the meaning of life. If the political conflict has such impact on the social structure of the place then equally absorbing is to know what has happened to the potential for economic development over the decades consumed by conflict.

Kashmir was never gripped by abject poverty as rest of India, which it owes to the effective land reforms implemented by Sheikh Abdullah, during his term as Prime Minister.However what needs to be highlighted is that today Kashmir’s economy is growing at a slow rate and a prolonged state might eventually lead to an economic stagnation. The Economic Survey of Kashmir recently tabled in the parliament by the Finance Minister HaseebDrabu draws some interesting inferences.While the decade from 2002-03 to 2012-13, India’s GDP grew to 112%, Kashmir’s GDP grew 73%, which means the ratio of fall in GDP of Kashmir to India is by 18%. The report further says that presently Kashmir had grown even poorer than India. From the figures one can conclude that Kashmir today is not only under the grip of sustained political conflict but also as a result is fast becoming a dwindling economy.

Mapping the nature of relationship between conflict and development vis-à-vis Kashmir therefore can help in addressingsome basic questions like what would development stand for in a conflict zone? What impact does the politics of the place have on its economy? One way to explore the relation would be to say that conflict holds back the development of the place. And the other would to be to argue that a failure to offer development escalates conflict. This is what is referred to as ‘Conflict Trap’. While applying this trend to Kashmir a simple argument that can be made is that more the economic development Kashmir witnesses from India, greater would be its chances of integration with the Indian Territory.

However the underlying question is that how will a population, which has beenoccupied by India for a protracted period of time take the idea of giving up its distinct identity emanating from Kashmiri ethno-nationalist sentiment for development. How would a population burdened with an unjust ordeal of prolonged denial of rights and justice, loss ofdignity anda deep sense of alienation from India take to India’s assertion on it through economic means. Is economic integration for Kashmiris contingent on political integration? Or does the economic growth become an adequate precondition for Kashmir to forgo the political conflict thereby assimilating with the Indian Territory, something similar to what is happening in Nagaland.

That being the case, the co-relation between identity and developmentin a conflict zonetherefore becomes important. A fundamental question pertinent in conflict zones is what does development mean to the people? Do people across class in conflict have similar ideas on development and growth? Do we need to rethink as to what developmentmeans in the everyday lives of people living in conflict zones? Is there a need to re-define development beyond its standard understanding?

The upper and middle class mentionedemployment, better roads, proper infrastructure, electricity, proper water supply, hygiene and sanitation facilities and a good drainage system as the markers of development. Some people also expressed the surfacing of private companies and industries to the valley as an important indicator for development as theseform modes of engagement for the youth.Furthermore development for them also encompassed setting up of shopping malls, cinemas halls, coffee shops and other entertainment sources,as such sources of social engagement in the public spaces would help the people especially the youth to counter the depression and boredom they are today suffering from.However, for the lower class removal of Indian Army, which has been installed in surprising numbers, is their answer for development. One of the woman interviewed said, “ Development for us is the idea of being free. Roads, electricity, water these are small issues. Such issues can be solved through simple elections. How long can we live a restricted life? All wehave seen is bombing, firing, crackdowns, encounters, disappearances, rapes etc.”A retired government employee while citing Army as the reason behind their not being developed said, “No development can be of any use till Army doesn’t leave this place. No amount of money can buy you development if your right to life is not guaranteed. Kashmir is in conflict zone and its biggest crisis emanates from Indian Army and not from being under developed”

The idea of development asserted by the lower class is a comprehensive one, which inter relates everyday issues with the critical issues. Development is therefore not measured quintessentially through the everyday issues. Rather it is framed around a wider spectrum encompassing issues ranging from revocation of draconian laws like AFSPA, issues around gross human rights violations, extra judicial killings, forced disappearances, fake encounters, the questions underneath the unmarked mass graves holding thousands of bodies, rapes etc. These are the issues that become the pre requisite for people living in a conflict zone while defining their idea of development.Freedom from perpetual harassment, freedom from oppression, freedom to live a life of dignity become centralwhile defining development.

This idea of development Kashmir today holds is one that India neither in the past nor in the present is ready to concede to them, which therefore explains their idea for an Independent Kashmir.A businessman located in the Kashmiri upper class responding to the question of integration with India on economic terms said, “India betrayed us by promising the right to self-determination and then not holding the plebiscite. Kashmiris are not Indians by heart but by the force of Indian Army.” If for some the reasons for their alienation from India source from the political history of Kashmir for others their idea of differences came from religion. A doctor while expressing his attachment for the idea of Independent Kashmir said, “The current position of Muslims in India is a testimony to the fact of why we don’t want India.”

People today want Kashmir to be an independent country instead of integrating with India. Showing their Identity Cards on their own land to an Indian soldier speaks volumes about the humiliationKashmiris are made to live through by India. People largely across class believe that living with India is not an option for them. For Kashmiris India today has become synonymous to Zulm(oppression). When asked about development an old man who sixteen years ago lost one of his son’s to conflict said, “What will job or any development do to my son? Suppose one day India gives him a job, the other day the Indian Army will come, pick my son and shoot him. What will my son do to development then?”Citing the example of YaqubMemon and Afzal Guru, people were usually found saying, “India is a place where Muslims are tyrannized.”

An important thing that needs to be mentioned is that while strongly holding on to the idea of Azadi, people no more want to integrate with Pakistan unlike the yesteryears. Settled on the fact that religion ties them with Pakistan, they vitally believe that religion ought not to be the reason to be with Pakistan. Theirsense of belonging with Pakistan comes from Pakistan’s ability to raise voice against the human rights violations committed on the Kashmiris by India. Expressing his affiliation for Pakistan a businessman belonging to the upper middle class of Kashmir said, “The reason we raise Pro Pakistan slogans on our land is because for us loving Pakistan is more about showing India how much we hate them.”Beyond this today Kashmiris don’t feel bridged enough to integrate with Pakistan.

Most of the Kashmiris today have been successful in keeping alive their distinct identity by holding on to the idea of Azadi. Development discourse plays important role in Kashmir but today development is more than the basic issues. At the heart of the idea of development in Kashmir lies the issue ofpolitical self-determination. Unless India doesn’t come out of its self proclaimed illusion that the idea of Azadi is dead in Kashmir, development of any sort would appear as a mere rhetoric to the people.

Urba Malik, Research Scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University



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