Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo
Recently, this author had an intimate and extensive tour of the Kashmir valley. Yes, It was a weeklong tour of Kashmir valley (north, south and central) after almost a year in the first and second week of this November in the beautiful autumn of Kashmir. It has been my endeavour to be in close physical touch with the homeland over the last three years in particular. The journey of interaction with the birthland started afresh three years ago on 10 November, 2017 with a specific mission, motive and positive note. The pendamic Covid-19, unfortunately, disturbed the schedule this year.
As a matter of coincidence, the first two weeks of this month were the most refreshing, occupying and enthralling period politically and socially too due to a lot of political activity and festivals in the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir. While the GAPD (nicknamed Gupkar-Circus) got engaged in both the regions, Kashmir and Jammu alongwith the Ladakh UT, there were also a lot of responses generated by the various quarters having a great political impact on the scenario.
Then DDC election process also got a philip during the same period and additionally in the UT for the first time in history; and those who vowed to boycott them earlier also plunged into it under an enormous pressure of their own cadres and advisers. Truly so, politics is an art of possibles and impossible. Now all major key players in the mainstream politics in the UT are in the fray despite some of them supporting or opposing the events on and post 5th August 2019 in the Union Territory.
This is a major change (with challenges) happening in Kashmir in the given scenario that has potential to elect 140 DDC members within the valley with both political and economic empowerment. Though it is for the first time that the DDC elections are being held in the valley yet all sections of the political divide are in the field with high hopes. The first phase due on 28 November followed by a number of phases thus culminating on 24 December this year, the results will be out thus in the last week of December and the DDCs will be operative with effect from January 2021.
There is indeed visibly a perceptible change among the people regarding the groups and politicians of Kashmir based political parties. They seem to be inclined rather convinced that these politicians need a thorough probe into their acts of ommission and commission, loot and plunder, frauds and embezzlement of money from the public exchequer. What they want is the punitive action to be taken by the government against them so that the justice is done. There is almost a near unanimity in this perception among the masses in the valley and the people openly discuss and opine likewise.
The valley of Kashmir has a typical social divide among the people of the downtown areas, the people living in the civil lines and upper areas like Rajbaug, Shivpura, Dal lake and Jawaharnagar etc and the rural areas of the valley. The posh localities in the upper areas have virtually shifted their way of living almost identical with any Indian city and particularly in the north India.
People have four wheel vehicles and two wheelers and the womenfolk drive them with freedom. The young girls wearing jeans, jackets and plazo can be seen enjoying the ride of the two wheelers without any sort of fear, obstacles and social policing. The hijab and burqa are not a compulsion as they used to be earlier. Beauty parlours have also good business. Malls, big consumer stores, readymade garment showrooms and other restaurant type facilities are available almost everywhere.
The rural areas are also picking up fast. Srinagar city seems connected with the districts of Ganderbal and Budgam more as a business chain than as the remote neighbouring districts. There is complete urbanisation of all these connections of Ganderbal and Budgam with the Srinagar city. Agriculture land has been converted into residential and commercial areas with beautiful posh buildings and business establishments. A little bit of desire to enjoy freedom can be witnessed among the majority of the people living almost everywhere in the valley.
Terrorism as a threat hasn’t evaporated nor has it abolished as an organisation yet, but social policing has diminished to a large extent as a working institution. Literary and media inroads in the society stand strengthened as compared to the earlier period. Column writing in the well to do newspapers and magazines with different narratives, views exposures, book writing, music and other cultural activities have picked up well.
The print media, electronic media, digital media and social media all are thriving in the valley notwithstanding their impact on the social milieu. Music and dance are again a necessary part of the social functions and particularly the marriage ceremonies. These events are well covered by both the social and digital media. The dance and music performed by men and women are again a reality on the occasions of ‘mehndiraat’ in the marriage functions. There are hundreds of video clips available on the social media, YouTube and other means in the public domain in this context.
Humour as a part of life hasn’t evaporated among the general masses in the valley. In fact it has strengthened with the additions of wit and sarcasm, stir and criticism. People can be seen making a lot of material in this connection and post them on the social media etc. Education and professional courses though have been hit hard due to political and Covid19 pendamic situation, yet the virtual classes have filled up the vaccume. Kashmir has acquired expertise in the new wave of virtual classes for school and college going students. Since the schools and colleges are closed for a long time now, so observations regarding them and particularly about their uniform and uniformity can’t be ascertained.
People in general don’t like to talk about the Huriyat and their cohorts. It is a virtual strategic silence, possibly due to the uncertainty about its future in the given situation. Moreso, the spread of information that the sons, daughters and close quarters of their top leaders are well entrenched in the money laundering businesses, plush government jobs and contracts, settlement in foreign countries and in global economic havens haven’t been taken lightly by the masses. Its negative impact is visible and stark on the minds of the people in general. Stone pelting, bandhs and hartals aren’t a buzzword as they used to be earlier. My interaction with the common public, important arms of administration, intellectuals and security men in the valley suggest that change is definitely taking place, somewhere rapidly but generally slowly and steadily.
The visit to the Transit accommodations of KP Package employees at Vessu, Baramulla, Kheerbhawani and Sheikhpura was also informative. It was reassuring about the safety and security of the inmates as well. Their various problems in the camps need redressal and solution. It requires a perpetual programme of visits to these various transit accommodations followed by an intimate interaction with the inmates on a regular basis.
Open conferences and seminars are a sure possibility in future, possibly, thus having an option of dialogue and discussion on important issues of concern in the political and social domain. Some among the civil society need to muster courage in this regard to push forward the idea vigorously in the valley.
Cancellation of Roshni Act and thereby the loot of public land by the influential has been welcomed by and large in the valley. There is also a concern being expressed about the illegal encroachments of the river sides, lake lands, forest footsteps and the ‘Shyamlaat’ land by the land mafias of the valley. People want action followed by vigil by the administration. Some important pieces of action by the administration recently were encouraging in the given scenario. It is positively a good change and is also encouraging thus.
As a proud son of the soil, this author would pray for peace and tranquility in the Kashmir valley which requires a huge investment of both goodwill and sacrifice. Violence has an edge and age both while peace is beyond. Development can’t be a permanent feature of life without peace. And for establishment of peace, violence requires a good bye, for good indeed. The challenge is manifold but the consequences to accept it are awesome and beautiful. It is time to convert the bard Keat’s noble idea into a reality, “The thing of beauty is a joy for ever”.
Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo