Spring arrives in Kashmir, bringing hopes of peaceMarch 17th, 2011 - 1:29 pm ICT by IANS
Srinagar, March 17 (IANS) The harsh winter chill is fading away, the brown and barren landscape is giving way to lively green and farmers are getting ready to again plough their fields. Spring has arrived in the Kashmir Valley, bringing with it some tourists and the hope that the months to come will be peaceful and prosperous.
As the gloom of the three-month winter transforms into brighter days, grassy fields and colourful blooms, it’s time for new beginnings in every which way, say residents of the picturesque conflict zone for whom clashes and violence have become a way of life for the past 30 years.
“The valley literally remains frozen during the winter months. All activities of life, including agriculture, come to a standstill here. Spring heralds the beginning of new life here,” said Gull Rather, 45, a farmer in Ganderbal district in north Kashmir.
Many tourists have already started arriving in this northern Indian border state this year and locals hope the valley will be peaceful so that livelihoods remain unaffected.
Horticulture, tourism and handicrafts, the three mainstays of the valley’s economy, took a serious beating last summer because of the unrest that saw 110 people being killed in clashes with security forces.
The movement of trucks carrying apples, pears and other fruits to terminal markets from the valley also suffered as irate mobs jammed the Srinagar-Jammu national highway for days without end.
“Tourist flow, which had started in right earnest, came to an abrupt halt after June last year and this resulted in huge losses to hoteliers, taxi drivers, houseboat owners, handicraft dealers and travel agents,” said a senior tourism department official.
The tourist season had started well last year, with 750,000 tourists, including 400,000 pilgrims for the Amarnath shrine, coming to the valley till June. That was when trouble broke out in the volatile valley between local youths and security personnel. And Kashmir businesses saw their fortunes literally frittering away.
“More important than everything else is the education of our children which took the worst beating last year,” said a concerned parent.
Senior hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani, who spearheaded the summer unrest last year, told the media recently that there would be no indefinite strikes in the valley in future.
“Unless the Indian security forces act in a manner which causes loss of public life and honour, we will not call for any prolonged strike here.
“But the world must know that calling for strikes is an extremely unpleasant step we are forced to take because all other means of peaceful protest are prevented by the Indian security forces here,” Geelani asserted.
What people want is a modicum of normalcy.
“The separatist campaign and mainstream politics can continue alongside each other, but this must not throw normal life haywire,” said a college teacher here who did not want to be named.
“We cannot afford a repeat of the disaster we have faced last year so far as the educational atmosphere is concerned. More important than anything else is the education of our children that took such a beating last year,” added Abdul Majid, 42, a parent here.
As schoolchildren jostle against one another to get into their buses in summer capital Srinagar, Kashmiris pray that peace is something they can rely on, not just a fragile state of being threatened by the slightest winds of trouble.
“The basic problem (the Kashmir dispute) must be resolved so that peace is not so fragile. Life must also be allowed to continue. One might sound like a fool saying this, but that is what ultimately says the truth about Kashmir,” said Abdul Samad, 69, a village elder in Ganderbal.
Spring is in the air… and so hopefully is peace. The signs are good and it should stay this way, say Kashmiris.
(F. Ahmed can be contacted at email@example.com)
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