//Kashmir: A Valley in Despair

Kashmir: A Valley in Despair

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006, IndiaEnews.com

If someone has grown up during the nineties in India, it is difficult to figure out Kashmir. For starters it is a state and yet it is not entirely a part of India. Right from the beginning you hear of something called militancy, which seems to perpetually plague the state, yet your parents and grandparents talk about a time when it wasn’t so and how it was a ‘Heaven on Earth’.

So how did things come to this in Kashmir? For this child of the nineties the place seems to have been in complete disarray ever since he can remember. The only real glimpse of Kashmir that he ever gets is when in ever winter that Kashmiri ‘Shawl Wala’ comes knocking at his door with his new stock. His mother probably buys one or two, depending on how many weddings she has to attend that winter and that’s the last he sees of him for the year. The ‘Shawl Wala’ might return the next year or most likely send a replacement, a close relative like a nephew or something. And the cycle continues. All the while he keeps reading all these things about Kashmir in the papers; militancy, unemployment, poverty, deaths etc. which almost seems routine. Then there is the perpetual game of chess with Pakistan in which Kashmir is but a mere pawn. It comes up in every bilateral talk between the two nations, even when they are talking about opening up a railway service between the two countries via Rajasthan, a place thousand miles away from Kashmir. Talk, that’s another thing that the leaders of both the countries like to do a lot when it comes to Kashmir. Infact, bilateral relations between the two have actually broken down in the past because one wanted to talk about Kashmir while the other didn’t. Now the Indian government has taken the talking to the various factions of Kashmiri representatives. The recently concluded Second Round Table Conference in Srinagar is evident of this. Another interesting piece of the Kashmir puzzle is how you never quite know what exactly the Kashmiri people want politically, as a whole. Some are pro India, some pro autonomy while others are pro Pakistan. So clearly the Kashmiri people, as a whole, suffer from a case of acute identity crisis. Their political duality is again perhaps testimony to this fact.

Why is Kashmir the way it is? Not really a simple question to answer, the search for which could take us through its history, its political past and present, its current status of duality, its uncertain future and so on. But one thing is clear that it is not a straightforward issue and for someone who is a product of the nineties it could be pretty confusing. But let us look at it from the point of view of the present day Kashmiri youth, who too is a product of this era. How confusing is it for him? In short, we can’t even begin to imagine. For the present day Kashmiri youth, Kashmir is a bitter mirage, a cauldron of chaos and confusion and a land of broken dreams. For a youth being born in present-day Kashmir it is like being a slave to fear and uncertainties. It is about growing up learning not to expect anything out of this life. It is about dreaming of becoming a doctor, an engineer, a pilot but being frustrated about never having the opportunities. In truth, it is like being born in hell and wanting to die. For that is what Kashmir is, there are no industries, there are virtually no jobs, tourism, once Kashmir’s most vibrant industry, has taken a nose dive and now is virtually non existent and if that is not enough you don’t know when its going to be your last meal with militancy gripping the valley completely.

In such circumstances the Kashmiri youth have very little choice. Essentially what they are looking at is a life without normal opportunities and in all possibility a life of hardship and disguised poverty. In such circumstances it quite easy for them to fall prey to militants as militant organizations thrive on disgruntled youths, those who have given up hopes of a normal life. Can the Indian government do anything more than what it is already doing for Kashmir? Debatable, considering the semi-autonomous status of  the state. Legally there are so many things that the Indian government simply cannot do. For example there are many things that the Indian government can’t do to help the economy of the state otherwise it will be in breech of the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir. Apart from that there are many who don’t want the Indian government to do anything at all. They hold New Delhi responsible for the situation in the valley and are extremely apprehensive of its policies on Kashmir. So the way things stand, Kashmir, far from being ‘Heaven on Earth’ is more like ‘Hell on Earth’ and the saga of pain, sorrow and suffering continues with  no end in sight.

Now add to this the recent sex scandal, which, for the lack of a better word could best be described as shocking. So what was so shocking about this scandal and how was it different from any other prostitution racket discovered ? Well for starters it involved some people who were pretty high up in the political and administrative ladder. People like Raman Mattoo and Ghulam Ahmad Mir who have been arrested in connection with the scandal, were formerly ministers in the state PDP government. Also involved were some high ranking police officials and a particular assistant attorney general. As the investigation continues, more names are coming forward and it is becoming clear that this was quite big. What makes it appalling? Apart from involving some very public figures it is the first of its kind in the valley. What makes it ghastly and despicable? It involved girls who were minors, who were forced into it and raped.

I have always believed that the best was to tackle prostitution is by making it legal. Making it legal doesn’t necessarily mean encouraging prostitution, it means controlling it. If prostitution were to be made legal the government would certainly be in a better position to tackle it. Majority of these prostitutes are forced into the trade and are simply unable to get out of it. They are victims of circumstances. They usually come from poor backgrounds and have been denied opportunities throughout their lives. They are easy prey to pimps and sex racket kingpins like Sabina Sheikh, who lure them with false promises and force. Once they are in, they simply cannot get out. They are in this not because they want to, but because they are forced to and this particular scandal is proof of that, where underage girls were forced and raped. Right now prostitution exists as a shady underground industry, which makes it difficult to tackle.  Making it legal and introducing licensing for individual prostitutes would not only deter the prostitution industry as a whole for the fear of social isolation, but also would help authorities identify the pimps and the racket kingpins who are the real culprits.

The recent sex racket scandal in the valley is definitely indicative of one thing, that the situation in the valley has come to such a point that such a huge prostitution racket can easily thrive. Which means there is enough economic and social poverty in the valley that young girls easily fall prey to such things, again indicating that things are simply going from bad to worse.

The past couple of decades have been horrific for Kashmir and if recent events are an indication then things are not really improving. It is high time something concrete is done to tackle the issue otherwise our little ‘Heaven on Earth’ will soon become a myth forever.

-Rudroneel Ghosh, India eNews