The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Calling any geographical spot “heaven” is very subjective. One place, however, undeniably kindles images of heaven and that is home, a home one is going back to after a good fourteen years. But going back to a strife-torn Kashmir after fourteen years revealed that things have started looking significantly positive, with the place limping steadily back towards normalcy. Occasional grenade attacks still interrupt the quiet but people have probably started turning a deaf ear to such blasts. With the world’s attention now turned towards the economics of the region, the valley is struggling to find its feet in this sphere.

Evidence suggests that every stratum of society, be it taxi drivers, food vendors, newsstand owners, vegetable vendors — all were vulnerable to the terrorist abuse. So great was the fear for life that houses were sold off for petty amounts. Even today, people — whether Kashmiris or tourists — tread the ground very carefully.

Yet the valley today, after the darkest period of violence, misery, chaos, and environmental degradation, is in a regenerative phase. It would be wrong to say that the place is totally free of the fear that grips an outsider, but at the same time there is an unmistakable change towards the positive in the air.

But is the change really happening or is it pure media hype'

Home and the world

To begin with, the futility of the last thirteen years seems to have dawned upon the people of Kashmir. Massacres and killings cannot be part of the freedom movement. Today, the people of Kashmir realize that the flow of human feeling and human development had become still and stagnant.

Now, in the clutches of hunger and poverty, disease and illiteracy, they are waking up to the realities of terrorism. They may not know how to prevent it, but they are not with it anymore. “One needs to puncture the illusions of this new culture — culture of violence,” says Shamima Firdous, a member of the legislative council. It is therefore not surprising that developmental ventures and investment schemes are being undertaken in plenty.

The women of Kashmir have started looking beyond their walls. Twenty years ago, they were confined within the confines of their home, churning out the best of waz wan delicacies and working ceaselessly for the fulfilment of the family’s requirements. Today, the Kashmiri woman is different, driving her own vehicle, standing up for her rights at home and outside, going out to get education, running small establishments like gymnasiums, schools, beauty parlours and culinary joints. In Firdous’s words, “We have to march forward and do well.” If women decide to change it is indicative of a larger change in society.

Warm feeling

The younger generation is getting to be multi-lingual, using not only a colloquial version of Kashmiri but Urdu with bits of Hindi and English thrown in, too. Education has been given a boost. From a Delhi Public School in Srinagar, to new institutes that were unheard of in the city two decades ago, like Cassette Engineering College, Manipal IT College, together with training centres for women — all stand testimony to this.

It is perhaps this situation that encouraged the chief minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, to issue a blunt message to the tune of “return to your posts in the valley or lose your jobs”. The fact however remains that it is one thing to go as a tourist and entirely another to live and serve in the valley. Yet the warmth, openness, and hospitality that welcome a guest suggests that a change is really happening.

Perhaps it is still too early to say how things will fall out, and there are various opinions about what is happening in the valley. Some think that the region still has an oppressive and hostile feeling all around, but most people who have been visiting the valley of late are getting a different and more positive impression. This in itself is a good sign.

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