BY AYEESHA RASHID
As a Kashmiri student who ventured out from her homeland to pursue education in the bustling city of Mumbai, I find my heart pulled in two directions. While my aspirations have found a temporary home amidst the opportunities and vibrancy of this metropolis, my soul yearns for development in my beloved Kashmir.
Today I cannot help but reflect on the transformation that has unfolded in this region since August, 2019. The tumultuous echoes of war long to be replaced by a symphony of peace. It is ironical to the boundless energy and dynamism I have witnessed that propels Mumbai forward. A place where dreams are nurtured and the pursuit of progress is palpable in every corner.
But when I walk through the streets here to navigate the rhythm of this urban landscape, my heart remains tethered to the soil of Kashmir. I hold a deep-seated desire to witness the same progress and prosperity in Kashmir. A future where the natural resources, rich cultural heritage, and untapped potential are harnessed to create opportunities for its own people.
The war-torn region embraces a thriving tourism season, with smiles adorning the faces of its inhabitants. Everywhere you look, the spirit of a new Kashmir comes to life, a place that welcomes people, where hope and promise awaken with the arrival of spring.
The border areas of Jammu & Kashmir, which have long endured the brunt of crossfire and shelling, are experiencing a newfound sense of tranquility and certainty. People residing there now aspire for improved healthcare, education, livelihoods, and economic opportunities. They rightfully demand and attain their democratic rights.
The G-20 summit has served as an eye-opener for anyone that regards Jammu & Kashmir merely as a troubled region. The political and security lens through which we have been viewed has undergone a transformation as well.
As India underwent its G20 presidency, the participation of delegates from numerous countries has marked a historic moment for Kashmir. Hope permeates the air, as people anticipate the positive impact this will have on tourism and trade in the region.
When we witnessed this monumental event, a question arises on behalf of the people: Will the stakeholders in the tourism sector also recognize the potential of border tourism, offering a new path for the people of J&K, particularly those residing on the borders?
Since the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019, the Union government has made significant efforts to foster a conducive environment for the growth of industries in Kashmir. Various initiatives have been undertaken. The J&K Global Investors' Summit, where agreements worth Rs. 13,732 crores were signed. There has been a surge in private investments, reaching Rs. 38,000 crores.
The implementation of numerous projects covering infrastructure, healthcare, education, tourism, agriculture, and skill development. In March this year, the makers of Dubai's iconic Burj Khalifa, initiated a ground breaking ceremony for a shopping mall and multipurpose tower in the outskirts of Srinagar, constituting the first Foreign Direct Investment in the UT.
Remarkable milestones continue to shape the region's destiny, like on-going investment projects worth Rs. 10,000 crore and proposals worth Rs. 50,000 crores, which promise to drive economic growth.
The road transport and highways ministry, led by Nitin Gadkari, has undertaken developmental works worth Rs 1.3 lakh crore. Over the years, 500 kilometers of roads have been completed, with plans for a 110-kilometer Amarnath Marg to the holy cave shrine at a cost of Rs 5,300 crore.
Panchayat and block development council elections have witnessed remarkable participation, demonstrating the growing democratic fervor in the region. With the establishment of over 134,000 houses under the PM Awas Yojana (Gramin) and the approval of two AIIMS hospitals, one in Jammu and another in the Kashmir Valley, a new chapter of industrial development has been ushered in. This ambitious plan is projected to create 450,000 direct and indirect jobs, elevating the primary sector's role in the region's growth.
This makes me recall the tapestry of my own family’s history. My great grandfather, Haji Abdul Aziz Bhat, migrated from the city to Sopore. His son, Dr. Abdul Rashid Bhat, carried on his legacy. My grandfather was born and raised in Safa Kadal.
He chose a different path altogether, one guided by a profound sense of purpose. He embarked on a remarkable journey that transformed many lives in the hamlet of Kupwara.
In a world where everyone chases progress by migrating towards city, he uprooted his life from the urban chaos and planted himself in the heart of the village. He was driven by a desire to serve the people as their Chief Medical Officer.
His decision to reverse this pattern held a lot of significance. My father was next on the ladder. Who has worked tirelessly to provide free healthcare and relief services to people there. Many of these health-camps during the 2014 floods as well as the aftermath of Covid-19, which I personally accompanied him to.
We have had many conversations about Kupwara over the years. I have realized there is a deeper connection between my family and the community they have served. A bond that goes beyond duty, one that hints to call this village home.
After our pursuit of chasing worldly highs and lows is over, I think Baba envisions a future where we can build a home nestled amidst those tranquil landscapes.
He wished to go further but beyond that area, our only option was to cross the border. Growing up, I have also learnt to understand and appreciate that his ideology is in total contradiction to the one across the border. As a result, he has for now settled in the Northern Plains of India.
Today I stand humbled by my grandfather’s foresight and unwavering belief in the power of community. He defied conventional norms, choosing to make a difference where it was most needed, and in doing so, we have redefined the narrative of progress.
It inspires us all to look beyond the obvious choices and to find purpose in unexpected places. Through this legacy, Kashmir will carry forward the torch of his vision, dedicated to nurturing and uplifting communities, wherever they may be.
As we look towards the future, we can only imagine the incredible prospects that lie ahead. The successfully concluded G20 meetings will prove to be a turning point, propelling all of Kashmir into a new era of growth and development.
International recognition and investment should fuel the creation of innovative industries, institutions, and sustainable infrastructure. Our community, with its newfound vitality will stand as a shining example of the untapped potential that resides within such small towns.
I find solace in the realization that a new Kashmir will unveil its true potential, as a land of peace and progress. The future holds immense promise for this region, we shall bear witness to its transformative journey.
So, while my physical presence may be Mumbai or Delhi for now, my spirit is always deeply rooted in the belief that soon the progress of my two worlds will intertwine, creating a tapestry of development, unity, and prosperity.
(Ayeesha Rashid, Student St. Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Mumbai and Intern – Harper Collins India Pvt. Ltd., Gurgaon)