The removal of Article 370 has brought Kashmir into focus in a big way. While the official narrative is focused around ending the problems of Kashmiri people and integrating them with mainstream India, the other side is harping about the end of the special status and security clampdown along with restrictions on communication.
Having served in Kashmir on a number of occasions, starting from 1989, I can say that to date — since the beginning of insurgency — only two kinds of people (besides Kashmiri Pandits who fled) have suffered in Kashmir. One is the common man and the other is the soldier — from all uniformed forces.
There is abject poverty in remote areas of the Valley. The only job available there is of a porter, for taking rations to Army posts located at higher altitudes. That job only lasts for a limited period. The common man has very small landholdings. Those in towns are mostly dependent on tourism-related jobs that last for about six months. Insurgency has severely affected the common man. Frequent calls of shutdown have hit the small businessman, shopkeeper and daily-wage earner. He has to join protests lest he is seen as a ‘traitor’ to the cause. Studies of his children have suffered. His children, brainwashed by wily politicians, turn militants and get killed in the bargain. It is not so-called ‘azadi’ that is his biggest problem, it is to earn his living, somehow. While politicians of all hues from the Valley have prospered, he is the one who has suffered the most. His suffering continues.
Next is the soldier. There were days when posting to the Valley was much sought-after. It is no more so. Soldiers are performing duties under severely stressful conditions. One is never sure from which direction a bullet or a stone is going to hit him. Travelling on foot or in a vehicle is equally dangerous. He doesn’t know whether he will safely return to the barracks at the end of the day. He, at times, has to skip meals, rest and sleep. He is out of communication with his kin for days. There are times he doesn’t get leave due to many compelling reasons. His folks at home live on the edge, with prayers on their lips till he returns from Kashmir. They are apprehensive to pick up the phone lest they get some bad news about him. Besides getting killed in the line of duty, a number of soldiers have lost their limbs and fallen prey to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He has sacrificed the most.
For the rest of the lot, nothing much has mattered. The business of politics has prospered. Other business continues as usual with interruptions. One can only hope and pray that peace returns to the Valley, and the common man and soldier, both enjoy a peaceful life they deserve.
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