Lockdowns and curfews have been the most commissioned procedure by the Indian state to regulate and manage resistances all over the country. Kashmir has been the epicentre of such a monopolisation of public spaces ever since the country attained independence in 1947. Hence, one might assume that instances of Kashmiris having to wait in ATM queues for two straight days to withdraw enough cash to meet the living expenses and if possible to purchase air tickets for the entire family to fly out of Kashmir or the state running out of medical and electricity supplies are normal/routine practices (Kashmir Connected, 21/08/19).
However, what the Indian state primarily seeks to achieve in Kashmir, with the unilateral revocation of a Constitutional provision like Article 370, is not just a total socio-political integration of the territory into the Indian Union but its economic subservience to Delhi too.
The Central government that abruptly pronounced a prison sentence to over 1.47 crore population in Kashmir to apparently usher in economic development and growth in the region seems to have no justifications or rebuttals however for tons of unpicked apples rotting away in the Kashmiri towns like Sopore during a harvest season. The sale and distribution of seasonal fruits and tourism traditionally contributed to the major share of the region’s economy along with other sprouting enterprises like software and e-commerce. A report by Athar Parvaiz and Swagata Yadavar in IndiaSpend on September 12, 2019, details the tribulations of the Kashmiri Entrepreneurs and farmers who are dismal about surviving the lockdown as neither can the traders from the mainland commute to Kashmir for gathering and packing fruits for sale in India and abroad nor can the local Kashmiri cultivators and orchard owners negotiate deals with traders outside of Kashmir, especially the sizable major dealers in Delhi, Kolkata and Patna. The report also went on to state the travails of the Kashmiri farmers who are then being forced to sell their produce in local markets at half the normal market rates, as the choice left is evidently between settling for a concession and letting the fruits rot all through the season.
The clampdown on the lives of Kashmiris has not just killed the fruit trade in the valley but has also throttled the tourism industry with most of the guest houses and hotels in the city rendered empty even at the peak of the tourist season. On an average, while a hotel owner in Kashmir manages anywhere between 70,000-1 lakh a month during the peak tourist season of April-October, this year the story is different with the last tourists leaving the valley on August 5 just after the abrogation of Article 370. Same is the case with the travel business owners permanently stationed in popular spots like Dal lake with their houseboats and Shikaras (IndiaSpend, 12/09/19). Most of the migrant workers who were employed in local businesses have also left the valley in search of jobs elsewhere.
The Economic Survey data for the period 2017-18 had predicted that the tourism industry in J&K would generate 528,000 direct jobs and 2.6 million indirect jobs in 2019 as the survey expected the tourist inflow to the state to touch an average of 21.1 million in the year. The prediction was founded on the tourism industry’s 6.8% contribution to J&K’s GDP during 2017-18, with over 1.2 million tourists visiting the valley during the said period. However, the government directive to leave the valley on an emergency basis and the discontinuance of the Amarnath yatra in the days leading up to the revocation of 370 attracted only a meagre 521,000 tourists to the valley till as late as July 2019 (India Today, 04/08/19). The courier companies and online shopping giants like Blue Dart Couriers and Amazon, that set feet in the valley just last year, are also staring at the mount of undelivered consignments in their offices as the total blackout of internet and other communication facilities have practically crippled the business of e-commerce giants in J&K.
Further, at a time when the state government has announced the preparations for a 3-day global investors’ summit in Srinagar starting on October 12, 2019, it is ironical to see the local software companies in the state struggling to stay afloat with no access to uninterrupted connectivity and consequently losing both their clients and huge amounts of money on a daily basis. In fact, as per the report in IndiaSpend on September 12 2019, most of the local software companies are trying to manage the current predicament by deputing the employees to metros like Delhi where their retention alone costs the Kashmiri entrepreneurs Rs. 1.5 lakhs per day.
Thus, the trifurcation and annulment of the autonomy of Indian-Administered Kashmir is clearly aimed at the erasure of the Kashmiri identity or Kashmiriyat by not just making an entire population that has forever demanded self-determination political hostages to New Delhi but by also crippling a relatively self-reliant economy that always aspired to be economically independent of the Indian growth & development trajectory. It has been the best-tested ploy of every coloniser to cripple the economy of an occupied territory through blockades and embargos to exacerbate human distress in these areas through a combination of poverty, rising unemployment and devaluation of public services. However, history has been witness to the fact that no amount of deceleration of human development in an occupied territory, by denial of socio-political and economic rights, can defeat the resilience of the oppressed fighting for dignity and freedom. Henceforth, while we lament about the death tolls and the incalculable loss of life and property in Kashmir owing to a total shutdown of communication networks as a result of natural calamities like earthquakes, that struck the valley as recent as on September 24 2019, we must also try to not consciously overlook the irreparable damage to the safety and dignity of Kashmiri living under occupation.