Kashmir has been under the shadow of terrorism over past three decades. A local Kashmiri born in the 1990s has often found himself under the tense environment of terrorism, radicalisation, ‘Bundhs’, Political rallies, Curfews, Stone pelting, Anti-terrorism Operations etc. The induction of armed forces to eliminate terrorism and to bring back normalcy in the region has been by and large successful with terrorism threat at a, all time low since the 1990s. The Year 2016 saw a sudden surge in the followers of Pak sponsored terrorism negating one and half decade of effort by various institutions of the Government. Normalcy which seemed like a distant dream made a sudden comeback with efforts of security forces and the local people. Ordinary Kashmiris have now realized the intention of a certain group of people of Kashmir who were more aligned towards their own financial and political agenda rather than the development of Kashmir.
The people seem to have realized over the past three years that normalcy can only be back to the valley with their own active participation. With local governance gaining a foothold in the valley, the people of Kashmir are developing trust and belief in the system as also in the civic administration. They are msutering the dream of a brighter and developed Kashmir. With normalcy setting in, we can observe a marked change in the society and thought process of the locals. Every local, right from a student,farmer, to a businessman is now filled with dreams of a better and brighter tomorrow. Crowded markets, flourishing local businesses, blossoming apple orchards, construction of improved road networks, crowded tourist destinations, children and youth attending schools and colleges on a daily basis etc are signs of a healthy social environment. This healthy environment has brought back smiles on the faces of local Kashmiris.
Kashmiri youth are coming up with some of the most brilliantly enterprising ideas and are on their way to becoming successful entrepreneurs. They have started participating in economic development of their local areas with markets and businesses booming all along the roads of Kashmir. One can observe local gym, fitness centers, shopping malls and famous franchises that have sprung up in recent years in Kashmir that was once glooming and shut off from the world. Bakery shops and Restaurants occupy a major portion of the markets today.
In the past, terrorists hampered the apple business by unleashingg atrocities on locals, killing of civilians and non-locals to put a stop on the export of Kashmiri apple. We all remember the shrieking voices of apple orchard owners whose trees were set on fire. Truck drivers who burnt to death in broad daylight, as their trucks carrying apple produce were blazed mercilessly by seperatist groups. However, due to the sustained efforts of the security forces and the local participation, these economic parasites were eliminated, and the future of Kashmiri trade was salvaged. Today, business in Kashmir is flourishing more than ever before. The local people are re-invested in increasing their business of homemade Kalins/Carpets, Shawls, copper utensils, wooden artifacts etc. With the government boosting saffron, through its National Saffron Mission and acquiring the prestigious GI tag for Kashmiri saffron, horticulture is on the rise in Kashmir with local saffron farms brimming with produce just like the brimming faces of the farm owners.
The elected local bodies in villages have started participating in running the administration in a smooth and efficient manner. The local bodies’ elections witnessed lots of friction from certain portions of the society who directly or indirectly support the agenda of Pak sponsored terrorism. However, over the past few years, the idea of India’s democratic system is gaining ground, as people look forward to elections and eagerly await restoration of statehood to take back the state administration in their own hands, with intentions to keep it smoothly functioning like it is currently. .
Kashmir is back in the news for its tourism. People from all over the country are visiting Kashmir Valley to visit the famous Tulip Gardens, the famous Dal lake, Yusmarg, Doodhpathri, Gulmarg and Pahalgam. Local people in order to publicize local tourism, have started projecting some of the lesser-known places through social media platforms and have been successful in garnering interest from the tourists. After the devastating covid pandemic, in fiscal year 2022, Kashmir has seen an exponential increase in tourism, directly benefiting the local taxi drivers, tourist guides, restaurant and hotel owners and travel agencies, not to mention local souvenir shopkeepers and artisans.New tourist centric areas are being developed like Bangash Valley which was previously an ignored destination.
The Army organizing mountain biking events in far flug areas of Kupwara as well as Bollywood concerts in Baramulla, has greatly contributed to the tourism revenue in these places.
Tourists are not only adding to the economic health of the locals but also bridging the gap between the locals and non locals. The improvement in economic and social health of the society has made a huge difference in the lives of a local Kashmiri.
The Kashmiri sportsmen have recently brought laurels for the country in various international events. The local favourite sport of Cricket has seen some of the best talent of Kashmir entering both national and international arena. Fast bowler Umran Malik has won hearts of Indian cricket lovers through his IPL success saga, while girls like Sadia Tariq have won gold in International Wushu Championship in Moscow. Arif Khan is the only participant from India in Beijing Winter Olympics 2022.The youth of Kashmir have shown promising results in various sports and are getting better with each passing day. The Icons of terrorism are being taken over by the Icons of sports in Kashmir.
The level of local participation in sport activities be it Cricket, Football, Martial Arts has seen a surge amongst the youth. Youth are taking keen interest in these activities. Not only these activities but one can observe the youth of Kashmir participating in various cultural activities. The belief in a brighter and developed Kashmir is getting stronger and the smiling faces are back in the valley. Kashmir has the latest stories of women and men sports achievers right from Insha of Beerwah, Nadiya Nighat, Mehreen Bandey, Arifa Bilal, Abdul Samad and the list goes on. These are the new icons of Kashmiri youth.
Education plays an important role in the development of any society. During the thick of terrorism there were occasions when students missed school, young students were incited to participate in stone pelting, unlawful processions, compulsory ‘Bundhs’ etc. There was a time when the educational institutes became the hub of stone pelters. Now all this has been left behind and children and youth of Kashmir understand the true value of education. Students in Kashmir are now appearing for some of the most competitive and toughest exams conducted all over the country. They are not only clearing these exams but are also achieving some of the top rankings in such exams. A student of higher secondary school can be seen preparing for competitive exams. Girls can be seen preparing for nursing courses and aspiring to become future doctors. The tales of success of these students can now be heard in local gatherings.
Locals have been receiving benefits of various government schemes directly. The involvement of local governance in administration has increased over the past few years and has directly affected the lives of locals. The ever increasing infrastructural development by the state has brought better facilities to the people, be it construction of national highways, underground tunnels to commute, power stations, water distribution systems etc. The CCEA approved 540-megawatt Kwar hydroelectric project on the Chenab in Kishtwar district itself is expected to generate 1975.54 million units in a 90% dependable year.The construction activities of the Project would result in direct and indirect employment of about 2,500 people.
And this is just one of the exhaustive list of projects undertaken by the Indian Government to drag Jammu and Kashmir towards progress and prosperity.
The life of local Kashmiris has seen a massive change over the past few years. The selective ‘bundhs’ by certain political groups on various occasions disrupted the lives of local Kashmiri for a long time. Processions on killing of terrorists in villages, mass ‘bundhs’ call by local leaders affected the day-to-day life of a local Kashmiri. With such things under control and regular checks we can see a shift in people towards improving their standards of living and participating in local governance and opening up to better understanding of what’s good for the people. The people are now advancing towards the digitisation of various facilities provided by the government. An ordinary Kashmiri living in a remote area also is now aware of various facilities provided by the government.
Terrorism and its sponsors had created an environment where locals attending any cultural functions was prohibited. There were posters and warnings issued prohibiting participation in such events. People of Kashmir have come together and have stood against all such actions of the terrorist organisations. The change can be observed during various events organized by the local administration, Police, Armed Forces and CAPFs. Men, women and children from various age groups and from various parts of the society participate with full zeal and enthusiasm.
Cultural shows like dance festival, fashion shows, Music festival are some of the new social and cultural changes which have recently been introduced. Local songs are now being video recorded depicting various cultural aspects of Kashmir. Kehwa Beats is a new coke studio concept introduced first time in Kashmir.
The development in the society and day to day progress has induced the much needed happiness quotient in the valley. The youth now wants to get involved in activities which can bring prosperity and development to the valley. The declining rate of local youth joining terrorism and increase in their participation in development of Kashmir are indicators of a brighter future. The common Kashmiri is now not afraid of attending functions, visiting tourist spots, establish a new business, represent India in international event, become part of civil services, chose any political ideology, etc. He is free as he smilingly welcomes the opportunities which lie ahead.