Chennai youth’s death by stone pelting has pushed Kashmir tourism downhill

Chennai youth’s death by stone pelting has pushed Kashmir tourism downhill
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Majid Hyderi

Srinagar, May 9: Famous for its unmatched beauty and hospitality, Kashmir has long been admired as “heaven on earth” where even stones in streams are eager to help you quench your thirst — the humility of the Valley as a host is unparalleled. But today this folklore has been mauled by a stone that has sucked the blood of a guest.
R Thirumani, a 22-year-old youth from Chennai, who was critically wounded during stone pelting on May 7, died of head injuries later in the day, triggering outrage and denting Kashmir’s image as a tourist destination.
Thirumani and his family were on their way to the popular hill station Gulmarg when stones were unscrupulously pelted at their vehicle, at Narbal, some 15km from Srinagar. The killing proved to be another blow for Kashmir’s fragile tourism industry.
The guest, who had come to get the best out of life in Kashmir, returned home in a coffin.
Every picturesque mountain, every stream, every leaflet and every drop of rain that describes Kashmir has been gripped by guilt.
Thirumani’s indelible bloodstains lie somewhere on a bloody stone.
But this time, it was the Kashmiri hosts who had vented their anger over the situation in their homeland by pelting stones at unsuspecting guests.
Of late, stone pelting has only grown more menacing in the garb of the Kashmir cause, affecting life and business alike.
According to State Economic Survey Report 2017, tourism accounts for 6.98 per cent of Jammu and Kashmir’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The assault on Thirumani has hit the Valley’s travel industry instantly, adding to a pre-existing slump this season. Cancellation of air tickets and hotel bookings has plagued the business.
According to a Times of India report, hotels in Kashmir have just 10 to 15 per cent occupancy as compared to around 40 per cent occupancy during the same period in 2017.
After all, no matter how picturesque a Valley, it isn’t worth losing one’s life.
Yet, pelting stones on tourists isn’t new.
It’s only to pretend that Kashmir is a safe travel destination under the leadership of Peoples Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance that the government wants such grave incidents to be ignored.
In April 2018, the Jammu and Kashmir police registered an FIR against journalist, who reported in Times of India that four tourists were targeted by stone pelters in the wake of 21 killings in Kashmir on April 1.
Interestingly, in a “rebuttal” to the news report, while the police acknowledged that two tourists were hit with stones, they claimed that it was “not an attack”. Well, if stone pelters did not attack the tourists, did rocks conjured up by divinity assault them?
The government’s attempts to downplay incidents of stone pelting on tourists have been quite visible. When an FIR was filed against the Kashmiri journalist, Kashmir Editors Guild, a consortium of a few like-minded newspapers, instead of supporting a fellow professional, asked media persons working with outfits outside the Valley to behave “professionally”.
The attack on Thirumani, on the other hand, was initially swept under the carpet. On the fateful day he died, the youth was wounded at around 8.00am while the news of the attack broke only at 8.30pm, after he had succumbed.
Latest reports reveal that a police official said they had “strict instructions from the political dispensation not to disclose the news of attack, till the tourist is alive”.
How can hiding the bitter truth help governance or tourism?
Let’s pose this question to Jammu and Kashmir tourism minister Tasaduq Mufti, who thinks tourists enjoy visiting the Valley despite killings.
He had also told the media on one occasion that by running the government in a restive Jammu and Kashmir, his PDP and the BJP were “partners in crime”. Will the two partners in crime now answer why the tourists were taken on a volatile route and why no security arrangement was in place to ensure their safety? Wasn’t it the government’s responsibility?
Kashmir continues to be on the edge since July 8, 2016 when Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani was killed.
Though there have been spells of uneasy calm, peace could never be restored in the Valley. Nearly two years on, even parliamentary by-polls continue to be put on hold in the state owing to security reasons.
In 2018, so far, more than 100 people, including 50 odd militants, have been killed — 19 Kashmiris and tourists have died in the first week of May alone.
If the hosts are not safe, how can guests find a haven? If Kashmir is not safe for Kashmiris, how can it be safe for tourists?
The Jammu and Kashmir government is faced with such questions besides several demands, including of ceasefire with local militants. Unless the killings stop, stone pelting will be the natural reaction of Kashmiris against bloodshed. Today, it is actually contributing to more bloodshed in the Valley, and that should make our heads hang in shame.
Regardless of how peace is restored, Thirumani’s killing at the hands of his hosts is a blot on Kashmir’s celebrated hospitality.
Does Mohammed Rafi’s evergreen number glorifying Kashmir — “Ye Vaadi e Kashmir Hai, Jannat Kaa Nazara” — still hold true?
Har Chehra Yahan Chaand
To Har Zarra Sitara
Ye Vaadi e Kashmir Hai
Jannat Ka Nazara
Hasati Hain Jo Kaliyaa To
Hasin Phul Hain Khilate
Hain Log Yaha Jaise
Utar Aaye Farishte
Har Dil Se Nikalti Hai
Yaha Pyar Ki Dhaara
Ye Vaadi e Kashmir Hai
Jannat kaa Nazara…
The words he sang will forever make us guilty. (