Jammu versus Kashmir: a note on the economics of happiness

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The moment I disembarked from the aircraft at Jammu Airport, I felt a different kind of energy. It is difficult to put into words what I felt but the best approximation of my feeling(s) would be as if a certain burden had been lifted off me.  It is not the first time I have felt like this; when I worked for the Government, the feeling was similar. I am not alone in feeling this way; countless Kashmiris have narrated their feeling of lightness and relief when they leave Kashmir. (This is not to denigrate Kashmir or disavow Kashmir but to gain a handle on the state and condition of both Jammu and Kashmir; moreover, the premise here is not political but merely psycho-social).

I must confess I had, before visiting and working in Jammu a couple of years ago a visceral dislike for Jammu. The place was too small for me, too homogenous and because of both rather claustrophobic. I am drawn to expansive spaces, mountains and verdant pastures, so to speak. (It is because of thee reasons that I never took to global cities like New York city, London and even Frankfurt (a city that I halted at briefly).  However, as I spent time in Jammu, I kind of liked the city. It was what I may call the “ Jammu buzz” that made me feel comfortable in the city.

So what is this “Jammu buzz”?

I would describe this buzz as the immersion of Jammuites’ immersion in their work- craftsmen, tradesman, white and blue collar work,(basically all kinds of work for people in their respective rungs of the socio-economic ladder)- and the attendant happiness and contentment they draw from this. One consequence of the “Jammu Buzz” is that people are both “in the here and the now”-they are in the present- and they look forward to the future.  If a “feel good”  or a “Gross Happiness Index Index” were to be constructed for Jammu and Kashmir respectively, Jammu would score way above Kashmir.

Kashmir and Kashmiris, by contrast, are a sullen, rather unhappy people. This probably accrues from the gloom laden uncertainty that defines the region. While the political uncertainty is a constant which will remain for a long time, there are variable that enter into the equation too. These variables are the abysmal economic activity in Kashmir, the weather, poor trade linkages  and the sequestered nature of life in Kashmir. By and large, Kashmiris are wedded to the past(psychologically and emotionally), and have no reason to look towards the future. There’s very few Kashmiris who are in the present. There may be other reasons too. These fall in the domain of a condition wherein “ neighbors envy and owners pride “ thing where Kashmiris feel constrained by the gaze of society and what have you, in the process curbing their consumption patterns and habits and suppressed emotions on account of this gaze. The only psychological and sentient theme that keeps Kashmiris from “ crossing” the brim is perhaps religion coupled with the family orientation of our culture and society. These are the only saving graces.

Can this condition be remedied? Can Kashmiris be more happier than they are?

Possibly. But it would call for a holistic approach- both policy , political and economic. There, however, is a problem with the politics of Kashmir. It will remain trapped in the vortex of the abiding conflict over and in Kashmir. But, other variables – economic, social and attitude towards time- can be tweaked. If there is more vigorous and dynamic, broad based economic activity in Kashmir, people could be happier and if this is overlain by a less sequestered life in Kashmir, things could be different.  But again, our happiness quotient will not compare with other people. This is because of the conflict. At best, our miseries can be attenuated; not eliminated.  However, even attenuation would be progress. Can this ever happen? Maybe. Crystallizing and consolidating the happiness quotient for Kashmiris would call for astute, selfless and sagacious leadership-something that is sorely missing in Kashmir.

 

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