With next tourism season just a few months away the big question remains: are we prepared to host a million tourists? Or more precisely, are we able enough to host them given the condition of our tourism sector.
The lack of infrastructure and trained people has put Kashmir tourism industry at the risk, without anyone acknowledging any of the two issues or trying to address them. The issue of infrastructure cannot be tackled by mindless and unplanned construction, but by a sustained and eco-friendly growth in number of hotels where tourists can stay. But that is not the case. In last few years, despite repeated court orders, a huge portion of ecologically fragile forest land got converted into concrete jungle in tourist hotspots like Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sonmarg. That too under the watchful eyes of authorities who are supposed to report or act against such illegal activities. But that didn’t happen. Not even a single structure was demolished or sealed.
The second pressing issue tourism sectors faces is of untrained staff serving in the hotels, restaurants or associated with the transportation of tourists.
It is ironic that above 95 percent hotels, restaurants and tour operators employ staff with no formal training or knowhow of the industry. Most of the tourists who visit Kashmir go back with bitter memories involving people at hotels, restaurants and taxi drivers. There is no formal system to hold these people responsible for their behavior with visitors. A hotel or restaurant owner or a taxi driver can easily get away after misbehaving with a guest, because there is no system in place to punish such people. Visit any hotel in Kashmir and you will find unfriendly faces serving guests with the coldness unmatched by even valley’s mercury.
Human Rights Day
After the services of two civil liberty activists were bestowed with Rafto Foundation prize, Kashmir’s crisis on human rights front is slightly more recognised outside the Vale. But these acknowledgements are rarely creating a systemic response to the issues on ground.
For the sake of argument, the people in government would talk about the Chief Minister’s decision of withdrawing the police cases against the, so called, first-time-offenders. They would also talk about the start of an exercise aimed at accommodating the boys and girls in the state government whose eyes were destroyed by the bullets in 2016. These initiatives are important response from the system and are welcome. But this is response from the political executive comprising people who essentially have to go seek a re-election.
The problem is that the system is not evolving the way that would reduce the human rights costs. Kashmir is entrenched in a crisis, which as baggage of history will exhibit itself on the streets with diverse manifestations. The real challenge will always remain who to face and manage with least possible costs. It should not have essentially led to the creation of special sections in the ordnance laboratories and factories in the Indian mainland.
Active persuasion has always remained the top priority with the limited coercion playing second fiddle. Tragic to the new generation, the revenge factor in wake of deliberate excesses has been exhibiting itself as a seriously negative trend. System should have evolved a mechanism to minimise this crisis with least costs and force.
The other major tool of crisis management could have been the institution of justice. It has the potential of offering some kind of relief to the minds, stressed by the decades of battling for basic justice. A handicapped person being arrested for decorating his army-gifted cycle with separatist buntings may not essentially require 15 police cases and an arrest under Public Safety Act. In such cases, even a stern warning could help.
Then there are serious cases pending before the courts. The state run Human Rights Commission has suggested a fair investigation in the cases of unknown slain men buried in peripheral cemeteries especially because there are a number of people missing from their homes, some as early as 1990s. State apparatus has been resisting the idea. But a fair investigation in the process could get an idea of justice and achievement to thousands of families. Systems cannot be expected to be conflict-neutral but in twenty-first century, they are also not expected to be in denial of basic human decency.
When violators of law cannot be spared, the same principle must apply to the people who are tools of the system.
Injustices, perceived or otherwise, have the potential of pushing Kashmir into the politics of human rights, a system standardised by the West. It reduces the crises to a bargaining chip and devours the soul of basic humanism from individuals and societies. It is high time that the governance structure in Jammu and Kashmir sees the negativity of bad civil liberty set up preventing the idea of justice.