Declining Tourism In Kashmir – OpEd
Contrary to BJP’s tall claims of making IIOJK a tranquil and prosperous region, the statistical data and ground realities bust the myth of normalcy and a flourishing economy. In reality, Kashmiris are fighting for their mere survival and the complete socio-economic structure and livelihood of people is at the verge of collapse.
India has persistently propagated that the abrogation of Article 370 has enormously contributed in the wiping off of terrorism and so called cross border infiltration, thus the region is all set to rise. Indian occupational government has claimed repeatedly that cross border terrorism has dropped from 143 in 2018 to 28 in 2021. The number of terrorism incident have also dropped by 90% and economic boom is in sight. A glance at the factual data tells a different story; at present the private sector is nonexistent and IIOJK’s unemployment has crossed 25% as compared to 7.6% in India.
As per the record of IIOJK administration, the Kashmir valley attracted a record of million tourists annually from 2011-2014. According to the Indian government stats, only 84,000 tourists have visited Kashmir since August 5, 2019. However Indian occupational government is trying to bluff the international community by adding pilgrims visiting Jammu and Laddakh to tourist data. As per the report of IndiaSpend, Kashmir saw a decline of 86%, in tourism sector which is considered as the mainstay of Kashmir’s economy. A graphical representation of 2018 and 2019 tourist data reveals the actual state. A ground survey by IndiaSpend revealed that average pm income in IIOJK decreased from Rs 22000 to Rs 6000 and ‘It could get worse’.
There have been 144,500 job losses in Kashmir’s tourism and handicrafts sector – mostly dependent on earnings from tourists, as per an estimate of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Overall, commercial losses in the IIOJK after August 5, 2019, are well beyond Rs 15,000 crore and total job losses stand at 496,000, as per Kashmir Chambers of Commerce & Industries (KCCI) estimates.
As per a recent survey people of Kashmir are running household on credit and a huge number of students have left education institutions for non-payment of fees. Indian Home Ministry recent data on J&K reflect region getting ₹56,000 crore funds in last three years, Kashmiri leadership termed it as a blatant lie. Ex CM Mehbooba Mufti presented the data (reflecting a sharp decline) provided by the government of Jammu and Kashmir to validate her argument. On the other hand the cash strapped IIOJK admin has decided to levy property tax in Urban Local Bodies @5% on residential & 6% non-residential properties (Taxable Annual Value) from Apr 1 to meet the expenses.
Kashmiri Pandits who have been part of the PM Employees Package have been protesting in Jammu since June 2022 because of the non-payment of their salaries and allowances. People of Kashmir have serious apprehensions over the recent orders of Indian occupational government on land ownership and land leasing, aimed “to allow settlers in J&K on the lines of Israeli policy”.
A large majority of Kashmiris have termed that the recent policy is an endeavor to deprive them from their rightful claims and generating funds to sustain the settlement colonial initiatives. Recently a video of apple growers went viral on social media in which, fruit growers could be seen burning down boxes of freshly harvested apples in protest. Truckloads of apples were rotting on the highway, triggering anger among fruit growers over the losses. Apple growers suffered losses in billions of Rs due to failed policies of Indian occupational government and poor road infrastructure which lack the capacity to sustain heavy loads to markets.
People of Ladakh, Leh and Kargil are also protesting against Indian occupational government (demanding statehood) over what they say are the Indian’s government’s broken promises. The government of India had promised 12,000 jobs but not more than 400 have been given. Most of the educated youth is unemployed. According to locals, the development and safeguards that were expected to come with the new status did not materialize at all. Moreover the economic nose dive kick started a series of miseries for common Kashmiris. Sectors like education, employment, and health sector are in serious perils. The consequences of Indian economic strangulation in IIOJK has impacted the health of Kashmiris, whom many already suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and other mental health issues.
Owing to the failing economy, law & order; curfews, communication blackout, internet shutdowns (Indian occupied Kashmir has witnessed the world highest number), shutting down of education institutions the educated sector of IIOJK has completely perished. According to a Survey of National Static Office (NSO), only 8.4% and 2.8% of males & females respectively get graduated every year in Kashmir. As per latest stats (Indian sources), female literacy rate of J&K is lower than the All India-level of 70.3 percent while Gilgit – Baltistan (Pakistan) has highest literacy level in Pakistan; 95%. The current literacy rate of Azad Kashmir is 78%, compared IIOJK 77%. India has further reduced the education facilities by un-precedented move of banning Falah-e-Aam Trust (FAT) schools leaving 10,000 thousand students out of school in IIOJK. Kashmiri students were shocked when Indian government in Apr 2022 decided to ban its citizens from studying in Pakistan, stating that Pakistani degree holders will not qualify for jobs or further studies in India, putting in jeopardy the future of hundreds of Kashmiri students. At the time of decision over 500 Kashmiri students were studying in Pakistan, 50 to 100 students graduate from Pakistani institutions each year.
Now a large number of Kashmiri students in Pakistan are worried about their future after this restriction by the Indian government, which is against basic rights. More than 100 students move to Pakistan from Indian-occupied Kashmir every year, 50% of them on scholarships provided by the Pakistan government and 50% at their own expense.
On the other hand Kashmiri students are being harassed, stigmatized and discouraged by the students and faculty to isolate them and leave the institution. Kashmiri students have been peacefully protesting against institutionalized torture on the basis of identity and termed it as an Indian government patronized move to restrict their avenues. The multiple incidents of beating of Kashmiri students in Aligarh University compelled the Jammu & Kashmir students association (JKSA) to write to Home Minister Amit Shah, demanding a ‘time-bound inquiry’ into the repeated attacks against Kashmiri students to ascertain “facts and nefarious designs” behind the harassment.
The writer is Islamabad based and focuses on strategic affairs