The harsh winter chill is fading away, the brown and barren
landscape is giving way to lively green and farmers are getting
ready to again plough their fields. Spring has arrived in the
Kashmir Valley, bringing with it some tourists and the hope that
the months to come will be peaceful and prosperous.
As the gloom of the three-month winter transforms into brighter
days, grassy fields and colourful blooms, it's time for new
beginnings in every which way, say residents of the picturesque
conflict zone for whom clashes and violence have become a way of
life for the past 30 years.
"The valley literally remains frozen during the winter months. All
activities of life, including agriculture, come to a standstill
here. Spring heralds the beginning of new life here," said Gull
Rather, 45, a farmer in Ganderbal district in north Kashmir.
Many tourists have already started arriving in this northern
Indian border state this year and locals hope the valley will be
peaceful so that livelihoods remain unaffected.
Horticulture, tourism and handicrafts, the three mainstays of the
valley's economy, took a serious beating last summer because of
the unrest that saw 110 people being killed in clashes with
The movement of trucks carrying apples, pears and other fruits to
terminal markets from the valley also suffered as irate mobs
jammed the Srinagar-Jammu national highway for days without end.
"Tourist flow, which had started in right earnest, came to an
abrupt halt after June last year and this resulted in huge losses
to hoteliers, taxi drivers, houseboat owners, handicraft dealers
and travel agents," said a senior tourism department official.
The tourist season had started well last year, with 750,000
tourists, including 400,000 pilgrims for the Amarnath shrine,
coming to the valley till June. That was when trouble broke out in
the volatile valley between local youths and security personnel.
And Kashmir businesses saw their fortunes literally frittering
"More important than everything else is the education of our
children which took the worst beating last year," said a concerned
Senior hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani, who
spearheaded the summer unrest last year, told the media recently
that there would be no indefinite strikes in the valley in future.
"Unless the Indian security forces act in a manner which causes
loss of public life and honour, we will not call for any prolonged
"But the world must know that calling for strikes is an extremely
unpleasant step we are forced to take because all other means of
peaceful protest are prevented by the Indian security forces
here," Geelani asserted.
What people want is a modicum of normalcy.
"The separatist campaign and mainstream politics can continue
alongside each other, but this must not throw normal life
haywire," said a college teacher here who did not want to be
"We cannot afford a repeat of the disaster we have faced last year
so far as the educational atmosphere is concerned. More important
than anything else is the education of our children that took such
a beating last year," added Abdul Majid, 42, a parent here.
As schoolchildren jostle against one another to get into their
buses in summer capital Srinagar, Kashmiris pray that peace is
something they can rely on, not just a fragile state of being
threatened by the slightest winds of trouble.
"The basic problem (the Kashmir dispute) must be resolved so that
peace is not so fragile. Life must also be allowed to continue.
One might sound like a fool saying this, but that is what
ultimately says the truth about Kashmir," said Abdul Samad, 69, a
village elder in Ganderbal.
Spring is in the air... and so hopefully is peace. The signs are
good and it should stay this way, say Kashmiris.
(F. Ahmed can
be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)