Inducing Fear

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The tourism department of J&K has set a wrong precedent by erecting billboards with messages which portray locals in a bad light. People involved with the sector are aghast, and experts say the state will lose its tourism base with such hasty policy making, Syed Asma reports.

A Hoarding with messages portraying Kashmiris as Cheats -- Photo:Bilal Bahadur.

A Hoarding with messages portraying Kashmiris as Cheats — Photo:Bilal Bahadur.

Avoid harassing, misbehaving, cheating, rudeness and indiscipline,” is a bad message for tourists in a state where a negligent number of such cases have been reported. However, it doesn’t bother the Jammu and Kashmir tourism department which has erected billboards with these messages across the state. Placed at prime tourist locations in the city like Airport road, Boulevard road, Dalgate, etc, the locals, apart from the content of these messages, criticize the locations of these billboards.

Officials in the tourism department say there was no particular reason for choosing these locations. “It is just a new way of awareness program,” an official said. Other messages read like, “Try to make them (tourists) feel at home. Make them comfortable. Show your disciplined culture by your behavior. Tourists are not only guests but our home mates. Treat them as a part of your family.”

The people associated with the tourist sector are upset and say these billboards convey a wrong message. “It suggests that the Kashmiri society is rude and often indulges in harassment and cheating which is not true,” they believe. “We strongly condemn such messages. Besides, we also criticize the places chosen for erecting them. These messages are nothing more than an embarrassment for us,” says Azim Tumaan, chairman, houseboat owners association.

The J&K police records suggest that not a single such case was reported this year. Last year, only one FIR was lodged. “The rate of FIRs has more or less been the same. This year, about 911 minor complaints were lodged with the tourist police in the state and about Rs 6, 98, 400 was raised from the fines imposed on the locals found guilty,” says Manoj Sheeri, spokesperson, police media cell.

“Most complaints that come to our office are related to cheating,” says an official in J&K Tourism. “Mostly, sub–standard material is sold at a very high price,” he adds, “Recently, a French lady was cheated while purchasing a handicraft item. She approached the officials.”

“By displaying such messages in public places, we represent ourselves negatively. Every sector has some black sheep who are cheaters. But the extent of cheating that Kashmiris are involved in does not demand humiliation like this,” says Tariq Ahmed, a house boat owner.

“We are ourselves putting forward a message that we are rude, cheats and harass people and now the tourist department was teaching us to behave,” says Mubeen Shah, President of J&K Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “It is a poor reflection of our policy makers,” he added.

Shah, an established businessman, says that these ‘unique messages’ are not seen anywhere in the world but Kashmir where locals are being degraded in front of the tourists. Shah suggests the government should identify the sectors and their issues and then distribute awareness pamphlets among them.

“This is not the way campaigns are done, clandestinely! Besides, it is a policy decision of the whole department. So it can’t be wrong,” said a tourism department official.

Shah also suggests using local press, radio and television for doing awareness campaign among locals. According to official sources, the department is rigorously working on the tourism related awareness programs. “In the recent past, we organized many festivals in the state. Recently, in Verinag, we disseminated our messages regarding tourism through Bhand Pather programs”.

Kashmir’s leading tour operator, Nazir Bakhshi, suggests that police should be made accountable to see strict implementation of existing laws. Bakhshi says Kashmir’s tourist season lasts for just a few months and the people associated with this sector try to make maximum profit in this little time and occasionally offer higher prices.

Azim Tumaan, chairman, houseboat owners association, shares a similar view, “The highest level of cheating that we indulge in is offering high price or we sell Amritsar shawls in the name of Kashmiri products. But if a proper system is in place and if the government simultaneously works to make Kashmir a year-the-round tourist destination, these things won’t happen.”

Sociologist Bashir Ahmed Dabla says this was not a decent way of communicating a message. “The department should use local media instead if their target audience is locals. They should invent other means of communicating this message. This way, tourists can condemn us if they mistakenly do not receive a good treatment.”

Bakhshi agrees with Dabla. “If we continue with the same trend, we will lose our tourist base. Kashmir is not the only inexpensive tourist place in the world. People have other places to go like Goa, Himachal Pradesh etc.”

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

1 Comment

  1. folks. treat your first line. it should be negligible and not negligent. you should gone to dal lake where boatmen would make you understand this difference!

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