New Delhi has impoverished Kashmiris

Every time protests erupt in Kashmir, some idiot muses on how Kashmiris enjoy higher development indicators than most other Indians, and how J&K receives massive subsidies. The point is to show how much India gives to Kashmiris, and how ungrateful they are. The truth is exactly the opposite. Indian governance has been the cause of the impoverishment of Kashmir, and the progress that Kashmiris have made has been despite Indian misgovernance rather than because of it.

Before Independence, Kashmir was one of the most benighted areas within the larger ambit of the Indian states paying obeisance to the British Empire. Famines were the norm under Dogra rule, not merely because – as Mridu Rai has shown in her brilliant book Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects – the British encouraged the Dogras to see themselves as Hindu rulers.
One of the main reasons that the Kashmir Valley was carved out of the Sikh Empire and sold to the Dogras was so that a Hindu ruler would block the “Muslim corridor” that extended from Afghanistan.

The neglect and exploitation of the Muslim population of Kashmir was part and parcel of this, and led to impoverishment and starvation. And to complicate matters, the Dogras turn to some Kashmiri Pandit families as their main factotums in the Valley, poisoning inter-religious relations by seeding it with economic resentments.

It is little wonder that while Gandhi led the Quit India movement against British rule – similarly exploitative, racist and focussed on religious difference – Shiekh Abdullah was leading a Quit Kashmir movement against the British.

One of the successes of the movement was Sheikh Abdullah’s changing his Muslim Conference into a National Conference, and with the help of leading Kashmiri Pandit activists such as Prem Nath Bazaz, turning the anti-Dogra movement into a more inclusive movement, rather than representative of one community alone.

The other success was the great land reform that was the principle achievement of Sheikh Abdullah before he was jailed. The land reform – more successful than anywhere else in India – allowed poor Kashmiris to finally own some agricultural land, ending the poverty, hunger and famine that had been endemic to the Valley under Dogra rule.

This failure by Delhi could not turn back the great strides that Kashmiris made in development because of the land reform. Even now, the majority of the Valley is dependent on agriculture and horticulture for its well-being.

Indian subsidies barely touch this sector, and so it is their own hard work, and the work of its own leaders, that have given the health that Kashmiris enjoy. Not our handouts.

In fact, India has impoverished Kashmir. It has taken away most rights from Kashmir to exploit its hydropower resources under the Indus Waters Treaty. Most of the hydroelectric dams operated in J&K are run by the National Hydropower Corporation (NHPC).

About 50 per cent of the electricity produced by NHPC is from projects in J&K, and the state receives little of the benefits.

And the subsidies? Well, the subsidies are largely for industries and urban areas, and that benefits Jammu far more than the Valley, so in the name of Kashmir, we spend on Jammu, and then ask, why are the Kashmiris so ungrateful?

Beyond the hydropower, beyond the subsidies, there is the fact that the Kashmir Valley, connected for centuries to China, to Central Asia, is now a prison, with one access route – through Jammu.
Instead of azadi, we give Kashmiris Azadpur Mandi. What a joy.

We have failed Kashmiris at every step, stolen their resources, their rights, their economic freedom – and then we wonder why they do not love us.


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