CEMENTING THE DIVIDE

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Not withstanding the occasional upsurge in violence, the situation has gradually been improving across J&K for a decade. Though it is yet to fetch an honourable political space to the sections of people who are dissatisfied with the status quo, the statements by successive regimes in Srinagar and the spokespersons of the home ministry are indicative of this fact.
Comparatively peaceful Kashmir and parts of Jammu should naturally trigger certain changes at the ground level that would help people feel the transition. Even the leaders of the secessionist movement are seeking certain initiatives that could mark the “onset of change”.
But there are certain changes that should have taken place automatically. A number of banks had closed their shops at the peak of turmoil and fled the valley. Some of these institutions took years in returning the saving deposits of its vast clientele. The central government, at one point of time, was so keen that they should return but the consistent prodding did not help. Thanks to the market forces, all of them are back, expanding their networks and earning from a consumer market.
But that is not the end of the story. Scores of central government departments that were operating from Kashmir have reduced their presence in Srinagar to small cabins that are manned by either clerks or cooks. These include some of the agencies which are facilitating the trade.
The continued absence of these agencies from the Kashmir scene is hitting the local economy. Consider the handicrafts. A general belief is that the handicraft exporter community fled Kashmir at the peak of the turmoil because they found the situation totally difficult for working. But the fact is that exporters set up their offices in metros simply because they lacked the institutional infrastructure that would facilitate their trade like DGFT and half a dozen export promotion councils. Some of them properly settled in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore are still not ready to return and the only reason they site is the absence of these institutions. A commercial institution like BSNL that has been literally minting most of its revenue from Kashmir is unwilling to restore the utility’s pre-1989 position.
If the situation is changing on ground, it needs to be appropriately exhibited by the measures that are required. Keeping the soldier as the ultimate representative of the union on Srinagar streets has serious side effects.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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