The two significant facets of Kashmir as on date are Tourism and Terrorism. Kashmir until the 1980’s not marred by terrorism was a peaceful, serene and a calm tourist destination and attracted thousands of tourists because of its spectacular landscapes, snow clad peaks and its religious shrines. But terrorism and insurgency nurtured by the political agenda of neighboring countries has dropped an indelible blot on this heaven on earth. The number of lives lost over the years has tarnished the ethereal beauty of this region in such a manner that recovery will be a slow yet turbulent process. The radicalization of the youth for various nefarious activities has exposed the evil plans of the anti-national elements lurking in the shadows. But are the fates of these two facets intertwined??? It is a question which needs to be answered.
In 1987, according to a government survey, 700,000 tourists visited Kashmir. Three years later as violence started to prevail in the region, the number reduced to 600,000 and the number kept declining ever after. Given the political and economical scenario of Kashmir, the only industry that could thrive was tourism due to the fact that investments and enterprises from outside Kashmir were not welcome in the state. This led to people capitalizing on the natural god gifted mind blowing scenic beauty to earn their livelihood. But the influx of unrest and turmoil handcrafted by some secessionist forces meant that safety of human lives was compromised, a pre-requisite for any tourist. Stone pelting and gun toting militants converted Kashmir, the heaven on earth into a battlefield. Thousands of youth who were dependent on tourism for making a living were now jobless and vulnerable to the diabolical and unctuous theories preached by the radicalists. Thus sowing the seeds for a future generation of stone pelters and gun wielders, who otherwise would have been ferrying tourists on shikara showing them the mind boggling and picturesque frames floating from the Dal Lake.
This constant chaos and carnage instilled fear in the minds of the tourists leading to the reduction in their numbers which resulted in the increase in unemployment and tourism industry took a blow. The unemployed became gullible and easily swayed to the meagre fortune offered by the terrorist leaders. This created a predicament wherein, the world started to see the people of Kashmir as aiders and abettors of anti-India activities and sentiments. This mindset and a sense of alienation bestowed upon the people of Kashmir made them all the more exasperated and hence more people started resorting to anti national activities to give a vent to their woes. Pakistani handlers from across the border infused venom into the minds of innocent desperate youth to go all out against their own nation, India.
The secessionist forces were well aware what would hurt Kashmir the most. The attack on pilgrims who were on their way to pay obeisance at the Amarnath shrine which claimed 32 lives in 2000 followed by repeated attempts in 2001,2002 and later in 2006 bears testimony to the fact that tourism industry was a prime target. Going by the statistics, there was a dip in visitors in the period stretching from 2001 to 2003 followed by a considerable dip in 2006 to 2008. Beyond this, it saw a surge. But all the downfalls were following a terrorist attack or an untoward incident which makes it amply clear that bloodshed and tourism never complement each other. The revival of tourism will be the most pragmatic and futuristic solution to combat terrorism in Kashmir. A rejuvenated tourism industry would imply more opportunities and hence employment. An employed individual who is contented and satisfied with his life earning a decent living to support his family and can ensure bright future prospects for his children will never fall prey to the separatist agenda of separatist forces. He wants peace and tranquility to prevail so as to attract more tourists into the region which will fortify his chances of prospering. He will not want to bring back uncertainty and insecurity into his life by being part to the vile atrocities of religious fanatics.
The abrogation of article 370 and the conversion of Kashmir into UT can be seen as a promising step towards resurrection of the tourism industry. Albeit, there were some initial struggles as less than 50,000 tourists visited Kashmir between August and December 2019 and unemployment breached the 20 percent mark in August 2019. This was a precarious situation accentuated by the pandemic and closure of the 4G network which hit the industry hard. However, the winter season of 2020 saw a remarkable increase in flow of tourists to the Kashmir valley, thus proving the point that tourism is the way forward for generating jobs and growth in Kashmir, In the long run things are bound to improve. Kashmir is now open to investments from rest of India which will help in realizing the full potential of the tourism sector.
Investment in tourism infrastructure and hotels will create more jobs. The energy of the unemployed youth will be channelized for constructive development of the tourism industry. The spike in tourist inflow will also have a profound effect on the mindset of the people who have visualized the region being marred by internal conflict and blood stained streets. Change in outlook will be a means to change the output. The feeling of alienation meted out to the people will be a thing of the past. A thriving tourism industry will divert focus of the people from secessionism and separatism. A positive projection of the region to the outside world will be their way to salvation. Misery and dismay will be pulverized once and for all and this will manifest into reality not unless the people of Kashmir say ‘No to violence’ and stop supporting the terrorist in any way – be it active or passive support.