( link to Part 1: https://www.dineshgopalan.com/2022/05/kashmir-diary.html )
In many ways Kashmir is still in the middle ages. Ninety-nine percent of the population being Muslim, all business establishments are run by men, and any work outside the house is done only by men. Women can be seen outside and move around freely, but you will not see any woman without a scarf covering her head. The full Burqa is rare but you can see one in ten women wearing it. When it comes to dress, it is not just the women of course. In line with what Islam prescribes, men – even little boys – are always covered fully, with only the palms and soles of the feet exposed. Apparently, the people themselves wish to be conservative in their dressing habits.
There are no theatres in the whole of Kashmir. Except for the tourists, and those who accompany them, you are unlikely to find too many people outside after 7 pm. Apparently, the people do not like night life of any kind.
There is only one liquor shop in the whole of Kashmir, somewhere in Srinagar. When we were there, it was Ramzan time, so the shop was obviously closed for the entire month. Apparently, the people being very pious, do not ever wish to drink.
There is no public transport worth the name. We hardly saw any buses except in a couple of places. Inter-city travel seems to be a rarity. Apparently, the people are so happy being where they are that they do not want to go anywhere.
There is hardly any industry, which of course may be a good thing in Paradise, but it means that there are no employment opportunities, except in tourism.
Now, for the flip side. Education is given huge priority, and schools are well organised. There actually seems to be some education going on in the government schools even in far-flung areas, which is a situation quite different from most other places in the country. Almost everyone we met, including villagers who it is apparent have not stepped out much, spoke passable English.
It is considered desirable for girls to go to school and many parents would send their children, including girls, for higher studies if they could. At the home stay where we were staying in Aru, the daughter who is eighteen has aspirations of getting into the civil service. And her mother was beaming encouragement at her. The people are very proud that one of the Rafale pilots is a Kashmiri girl.
The road system is not very well developed in terms of connectivity. It almost seems like all roads lead to Shrinagar, and even to go the next district, you need to go via Shrinagar. A lot of it has to do with the terrain of course. Railway has not yet reached Kashmir; it is currently snaking its way up from Jammu at a much-delayed pace.
Tourists are coming in in droves, possibly due to a unique combination of reasons. The post-covid revenge travel boom, the reluctance to travel internationally yet, and the effect of the movie Kashmir Files which has brought the state into the limelight. We heard Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali at several places, and they do not come singly, they come in busloads.
The economy is heavily dependent on tourism. The locals are invariably very well-behaved with the tourists, and why not, no one will want to kill the goose which gives the golden eggs.
So much has been said about the scenic beauty of Kashmir that it does not bear repetition.
What we have here is an idyllic paradise stuck in the last century, with a population steeped in a sense of their own virtue, living in a cocoon which has to burst. And burst it will. Such an influx of tourists from all over India will expose them more than they would like to outside influences. And such an emphasis on educating their girls, while at the same time keeping them confined in various ways, will soon result in contradictions that they will find difficult to handle.
The men are going to be busy attending to the tourists, for which education is not important. At least, not the conventional kind of education. The women are going to hit the books with a vengeance since they are allowed to do nothing else, and all of them will be harbouring dreams of escaping the prison that is their home. To us, it may be an idyllic paradise, but I can imagine seeds of rebellion brewing in me if I am confined to a cage in any version of paradise.
Within a couple of decades from now, the women would have outstripped the men, and many would have flown the coop. They will take up white-collar jobs in other states and leave. The whole population, which already has DTH TV beamed into their homes, is going to become restive. The tourists who are being encouraged into every street, and into every home in the name of home-stay will bring in great disruptive influences.
The Chinese concept of Yin and Yang has a very interesting template for this phenomenon. Everything always swings between the extremes, and at any point in time there is more Yin or more Yang, there is never a perfect balance. But, when things go too far in one direction, the seed of its opposite, which lies dormant within itself, starts growing and things start swinging in the other direction.
The very conservatism, of which the Kashmiris are so proud, will breed the seeds of liberalism, and they will see the destruction of a lot of what they have held on to, within the next two generations or so.
Whether that is a good thing, or a bad thing, is debatable. But it is inevitable. It will be interesting to watch it unfold.