A striking fact of Kashmir today is that tourists are milling in the Valley, a pleasant sight for their presence showcases so many things all at once – that there are conditions in the Valley in which the visitors feel comfortable to enjoy holidays with their friends and families.
This is a reality. Eyes cannot be shut to this scenario where tourists speak to the TV channels and the local media that they were “enjoying every moment of their stay in the Valley.”
This is the best advertisement of Kashmir before the rest of the world that how beautiful Kashmir is once again is enchanting the visitors and how Kashmiris are living up to their age-old tradition of hospitality.
It is reflection of the bond that the people strike with the visitors, thus it makes it much more than the economic activity.
Tourism flourishes in certain conditions. The most important is that the place should look attractive to the visitors and it should have the climes suiting their mood of holidaying, and of course that they should be convinced about the smooth stay and holidaying.
These are fundamentals. These are natural to Kashmir, because its beauty is enchanting. In fact it is much more than the poetic description often cited by the visitors and the tourism promoters, and its climes throughout the year offer best climate to the tourists coming from other parts of the country and the world.
However, given the unpredictability of the situation in Kashmir, which can come in any shape – it can be as natural disasters like floods of 2014, earthquake of 2005, or the civil unrests of 2008, 2010 and 2016 or the grenade attack by militants – things can change overnight.
Therefore, it is important that the arrival of tourists, their holidaying mood are not defined as the signs of complete peace in the place. The tourism, in itself is a peace time activity. It speaks for itself .
When tourism is overplayed as a sign of normalcy in Kashmir, its connotations are far larger than the words seek to convey. In essence, it means that the tourists are visiting the Valley because ultimate peace has returned to the place.
That well may be the case, as at the risk of repeating it is a matter of underscoring the fact that tourists go to the places where there are no troubles. The troubles and tourism stand at odds with each other. Should it be recalled that last year when the landslides started hitting Himachal Pradesh , tourists abandoned the state.
And it is also a fact that terrorism and tourism don’t go together. Kashmir, unfortunately, owing to various factors has been clubbed with terrorism for many years.
So when the number of tourists is counted, it automatically denotes that there is a big confidence among the people to visit the place which they were afraid to visit before.
Certain aspects need to be taken up front before drawing conclusions. There are many stakeholders in economic activity. Those visiting the Valley, like all other tourist places in the country and elsewhere in the world, spend money on their stay, transport and shopping.
So, why valley is an exception? Tourists had deserted the Valley in 1990s when high-level of violence swept across the place and the newspaper headlines ( mercifully screaming TV anchors were not there in those days) were full of the stories of killings, massacres, shootouts, encounters, abductions and Kashmir becoming a haunted place at regular intervals. Now when tourists have returned to the Valley in large numbers, the optics have changed. This change, it should be credited to the atmosphere that has emerged in the valley in the recent months.
Again, it is a matter of understanding that overplaying of anything in Kashmir can change anytime. The cold-blooded murder of Rahul Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit employee in Chadoora, Budgam on May 12 changed the narrative. Suddenly, read with the killing of policemen, Rahul Bhat’s murder and attack on a wineshop in Baramulla, the focus was split.
Any murder in any other tourist place in the country would not have had so much impact. That would have been treated as a routine criminal activity, but in J&K, the dimensions of even one odd incident, has wider ramifications.
Kashmir is a complex issue and there should never be an attempt to see it in pure black and white dimension. There are many grey areas, which should always be taken into account.
The point here is that the politicisation of the tourism should be avoided. It is better to stay silent on this issue, for the livelihood of eight lakh people, directly and indirectly, is connected with it. Moderate versions are better than gaudy presentations.
At the same time, it should be advisable for the leaders not to engage in a debate over the issue whether this is a sign of normalcy, if something good is happening to their people, improving the image of the place, they should also prefer discretion over scoring brownie points. They have their point.
I recall a speech of Farooq Abdullah in the legislative Assembly in Srinagar in 1989 in which he was all fire and brimstone against a monthly video newsmagazine “News track” that had depicted Kashmir as a land which was increasingly becoming unsafe.
“After watching all this, who would come to Kashmir ,” Farooq had wondered.
The image of the place matters, and a decade later in 1999, tourists were spending nights in open because there was not adequate accommodate rush of the people, then suddenly Kargil war started – hundreds of miles away from the Valley, but news persons clubbed it with Kashmir, tourists were the first to flee,, it happened again in 2006 and 2007 when there were grenade attacks on the tourist buses , we all know that how tourist seasons were cut short in 2010 and 2016.
It would be better if tourism is not politicised either way, Kashmiris know why?
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.