An Unusual Silence Amidst Global Protests
In recent days, as Israel’s conflict with Hamas dominates headlines worldwide, expressions of solidarity with the Palestinian cause have emerged in numerous countries, often resulting in protests and demonstrations. Even within India, a country with a rich diversity of opinions, some segments of the population have voiced their support for Palestine while denouncing Israeli actions in Gaza. Pro-Palestine and anti-Israel protests have been reported in several cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, and Kerala.
Notable Absence in Kashmir
However, one region that has notably remained silent during this period of global unrest is Kashmir, despite being a Muslim-majority valley with a history of political and social activism. The usual scenes of street protests, stone pelting, and anti-India sentiments are absent this time.
Surprising Restraint Amid Political Mobilization
This restraint comes as a surprise, given that separatist leaders and their associates have typically been able to mobilize support for such causes in the past. In October, after Israel initiated military action in Gaza, there was a modest attempt by some Kashmiri separatist leaders and their sons to garner support for the Palestinian cause. Aga Syed Hassan’s son, Muntazir, led an anti-Israel and anti-US demonstration in central Kashmir’s Budgam district. However, the response from the local police was swift, and they managed to prevent any escalation of the situation.
Political Leaders’ Reaction
Political leaders in Kashmir have also reacted strongly to the events in the Middle East, with former Chief Minister and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti criticizing the Indian government’s stance on the Hamas attack on Israel. Similarly, former Chief Minister and NC president Farooq Abdullah expressed concern about India’s shift in policy, as the country had traditionally supported Palestine and opposed the oppression of the Palestinian people. Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq conveyed his anguish at the loss of life in Gaza and called for a just solution to the long-standing issue.
Public Response: The Winds of Change
While these leaders have expressed their concerns and attempted to influence public sentiment in the valley, it appears that the people are not responding as they have in the past. This recent shift is significant, especially considering Kashmir’s history of responding passionately to international issues.
The Turning Point: Abrogation of Article 370
One reason for the change in response may be the transformation that Kashmir has undergone since the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019. For over three decades, the region had witnessed significant bloodshed due to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, causing immense suffering and instability. Thousands lost their lives, and the social fabric of Kashmir was severely disrupted. Businesses and educational institutions suffered, and many families were torn apart. The prevailing atmosphere was one of constant fear.
From Violence to Tourism: A Remarkable Transformation
Leaders propped up by Pakistan had propagated a narrative of “azadi” (independence), leading many young individuals to take up arms or engage in stone pelting. However, after the abrogation of Article 370, the myth was shattered, and Kashmiri society began to realize the falsehoods spread by Pakistan and their local proxies.
Tourism Boom: A New Dawn for Kashmir
In the aftermath of this significant development, Kashmir has undergone a remarkable transformation. The valley has transitioned from terrorism to tourism, with an increasing number of tourists visiting the Union Territory. From January to September, 1.7 crore tourists had already visited, and this figure is expected to reach 2.25 crore by the end of the year. This marks a substantial increase from the 1.88 lakh tourist arrivals in the previous year, the highest number in seven decades.
Foreign Tourists Flock to Kashmir
Notably, the number of foreign tourists in the region has also surged, rising from 4,028 in 2022 to 30,647 up to August. Srinagar hosted the G20 meeting, leading to a 350% increase in foreign tourist arrivals. The tourism boom has resulted in significant economic benefits, with many previously unemployed individuals now finding work. Additionally, other industries, such as handicrafts, are experiencing an upward trend.
From Violence to Prosperity
The new atmosphere of peace has also reinvigorated education, with more youth successfully qualifying for the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) exams. Participation in sports and athletic activities has increased, and investments are beginning to flow into the region. Numerous development projects are in progress, contributing to the overall improvement of the region.
The Futility of Violence Realized
Crucially, the local population has realized the futility of violence in the name of religion and “azadi.” The violence has brought tremendous suffering to the region, and many are now seeking a path of peace and development.
The Shattered Myth: A Transformation
While some elements outside Kashmir have attempted to perpetuate the separatist narrative, Kashmiris have recognized the value of peace and are no longer easily swayed by divisive rhetoric. The region’s transformation from a hub of conflict to a hub of tourism and economic opportunity is a testament to the resilience and resolve of the local population.
Choosing Peace Over Conflict
In contrast to the unrest seen in several parts of the world in response to international conflicts, Kashmir has chosen a path of peace, development, and prosperity. The people of Kashmir have endured enough suffering and are determined to create a brighter future for themselves and their region.
The Promise of a Peaceful Kashmir
In a region that has faced its share of challenges, the pursuit of peace and progress represents a powerful and hopeful shift in Kashmir’s trajectory. The people of Kashmir are resolved to maintain this newfound peace and usher in an era of progress and prosperity.