November 23, 2022.
Most significantly: in its report for May – August 2022, the Centre for Monitoring indian Economy has pegged the unemployment rate in Jammu and Kashmir for the month of August at a staggering 32.75%, which is the highest in past 6 years. Notably, it was during the past 6 years that Kashmir also saw a comprehensive shut down for 6 months, in the aftermath of Hizb commander Burhan Wani’s killing, yet the employment stats from that time were better.
Here is how else the settler-colonial developments of the past three years have affected the economy of Kashmir:
In preparation for the abrogation and to suppress resistance from Kashmiris, the indian government enforced the ‘democratic world’s’ longest communication blockade in the region. As internet and telecommunications (cell phones as well as landlines) were suspended for months, this resulted in irreversible damages to the economy of Kashmir. Along with the loss of a half a million jobs, the estimated monetary loses due to internet suspension were up to Rs. 40000 crores ($5 Billion).
The communication blockade meant that thousands of young Kashmiri entrepreneurs who were involved in internet-based businesses had to shut shop and leave Kashmir to keep earning a livelihood. Shayan Nabi, the owner of a small online ad agency before August 2019, was rendered jobless due to the communication clampdown. As his small start-up failed to cope with the lack of work that was brought about by the internet suspension, he was forced to shut down and move to Delhi in search of a job. Speaking to the Guardian in January 2020, almost 5 months after the abrogation, he said, “It is depressing to be jobless. I want to go home, but then what will I tell my family?”. He went on to say, “I left a bank job for this. I dropped out of MBA for this. Because I wanted to do something of my own. But more than angry, I feel helpless. What can I be angry about and against whom?”
Kashmiris who have invested and saved up funds for years to buy property or vehicles for a business have suffered immense losses. Many of them are not able to pay back their bank loans, and have lost their businesses. The communication clampdown played a major role in this, as did two subsequent COVID lockdowns. Many people have been forced to take money from friends and family in order to make ends meet, placing them in even greater financial debt.
A year after the abrogation, a houseboat owner based out of the Dal Lake in Srinagar told Al Jazeera that “We’ve not earned a single penny for a year now. All we have are these boats. We don’t have any other means to earn.”
After the abrogation, Abdul Rashid, a flower seller from Srinagar told Al Jazeera that “It was not just a political change. It destroyed our livelihood.” Rashid lost his flower selling business and was forced to change professions into selling cigarettes along the banks of Dal Lake, in order to keep feeding his family.
While Kashmiris were reeling under the communication clampdown, the indian government decided to auction the tenders for mineral extraction in Kashmir online, making it impossible for Kashmiris to apply. This was a deliberate attempt to make sure that an overwhelming majority of these licenses were allotted to indians and not Kashmiris.
More than 200 mineral blocks in the Jhelum River and its tributaries across all 10 districts of the region were opened for mining of sand, boulders, gravel and other riverbed materials. “It is not injustice but murder with us and our families,” a local contractor Abdul Ahad had told Anadolu Agency at the time.
“The condition and clauses which were incorporated in the bidding process gave a clear hint that the process is aimed to handover mineral blocks to outside companies,” the President of the Quarry Association Muhammad Maqbool Parra had said at the time.
Official data shows that in the main city, Srinagar, all 10 mining blocks were bagged by non-local contractors against the bid amount of 50.8 million indian rupees (approx. $680,000). Similarly, in Baramulla district, 38 blocks of minerals fetched 201.5 million rupees (over $2.7 million). Of these, 26 were secured by non-local contractors. In Budgam, the total 7 blocks auctioned at INR 4.67 crore, 4 on the river Jhelum went to contractors from Punjab, while Kashmiri contractors somehow managed to bag the remaining three blocks on tributaries of Jhelum. Outside companies won mining rights over more than 60% blocks in Pulwama district. Overall, an unprecedented 70% of the total mining contracts went to indians.
“This government has pushed us to the wall. They have robbed us of our livelihood. In the present crisis they have left us with no means of survival,” said Ghulam Mohammad, a local contractor. He added, “I look after this river like my own child who needs care and protection but how will a non-local who has no knowledge about it understand this.”
The indian government began hiring non-locals for government jobs, which were earlier reserved only for Kashmiri locals. Due to the minimal existence of private sector jobs, Kashmiris heavily depend on the government for livelihood, hence this has tremendous implications for the settler colonial project of india in Kashmir by taking away jobs from Kashmiris. Later, the indian government announced that these jobs will be reserved for “domiciles” of Jammu and Kashmir. The category of domicile was expanded to include Indian soldiers and bureaucrats deputed to Kashmir, their families, as well as otuside labourers.
At the same time, this “protection” was extended to only Group D and entry-level non-gazetted posts and not to all levels and forms of government employment. This means that other levels of bureaucracy, such as Distrinct Commissioners, are now run by Indian settlers.
The indian state has also resorted to indianizing Kashmiri businesses and pushing Kashmiris towards a settler economy.
“Expo 2020 Dubai to See india’s Jammu and Kashmir Pitch for Global Investments”, read a headline from gulfnews.com. The headline prove why the participation of Kashmiri businesses in such global events in facilitated by the indian state. While it allows them to keep driving the bandwagon of development in the region, at the same time it gives them the perfect platform and opportunity to show Kashmir and Kashmiris as “indian”, globally, eliminating Kashmir’s unique identity as well as the settler project.
Talking at the IIT BHU Global Alumni Meet at Santa Clara in California recently, the Lieutenant Governor of J&K, Manoj Sinha said that “J&K has potential to emerge as powerhouse of prosperity.” Even though the economy of the region as well as employment have seen a steep downward trend since 2019, statements like these come with india’s “owning Kashmir” intention. On the ground in Kashmir, local small businesses and shops were served with an official diktat this year to hoist the indian flag over their establishments on india’s Independence Day. These business and shop owners were threatened with consequences in return for their failure to do so.
Kashmir enjoys a strategic position in the sub-continent as it shares borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and india. Historically, Kashmir had trade relations with Central Asia and parts of East Asia via the Silk Route. Since 1947, Kashmir’s economy has been restricted to only importing/exporting to the Indian market, a colonial manuever that mimics British mercantilist economic policies in the 18th-20th century. Even the miniscule cross-border trade that was restarted between Kashmir and Pakistan in 2008 was stopped in 2019.
The Modi-led indian government has been pushing for cross border trade with Indonesia through Odisha, with the African continent through Gujarat (while Modi was the Chief Minister of this state), and the completion of the trilateral highway from northeast india to Cambodia between india-Myanmar-Thailand. At the same time, it continues to restrict Kashmiri businesses.
Thus, while maintaining a military control over Kashmir on one side, india also continues to push it towards a settler economy. All Kashmiri businesses are completely dependent on the indian market for survival, despite Kashmir’s rich history of international trade.
Recently, india seems to have taken the next step in consolidating its occupation over Kashmir’s economy. After cutting off Kashmiri businesses from cross-border trade, it has started to hurt the once booming fruit industry of the region. As it compels Kashmir’s apple industry to sell exclusively to the Indian market, it has been making concrete efforts to destroy it. These efforts have ranged from stranding fruit laden tucks on the highway between india and Kashmir for weeks altogether, to facilitating the illegal import of Iranian apples into the indian market, resulting in dramatic drop in rates and huge losses to Kashmiri traders.
Along with the apples, the walnut industry has also been made to meet the same fate with the import of Californian walnuts.
As india desperately moves to consolidate its settler colonial project in Kashmir, the economy of the region continues to be driven into the ground. This is facilitated by the indian government which seeks to monetarily incentivize people to move away from cultivating rice, which is the staple diet of Kashmiris, towards high density apple cultivation and then making sure that trucks carrying these apples remain stranded on the highway. This results in their rotting and subsequently, Indian traders buy the product at cheap rates, hurting Kashmiri traders.
All of these attempts—and even more—exist to ensure Kashmir’s economy remains strangled under Indian settler-colonial rule, to enable further demographic engineering.
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