Amidst the din about grand development changes in Jammu and Kashmir, where the voices in favour of scrapping Article 370 and 35-A have created a ruckus in the parliament regarding the lack of development on ground under the special-status in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, one voice that I need to add to this hullabaloo is by raising a few questions that require immediate attention if not solutions.
With or without special status, does this so called ‘new J&K’ have anything in store for its volatile borderlands?
I heard some of the voices in defence in the central hall claiming that this new model of post-special status development shall boost security and will fight terrorism in a reinvigorated manner.
Our Home Minister went to the extent of resting his firm faith in the fact that terrorism in J&K is because of the presence of this special status, and it is the same provision which has been standing as a hindrance in wiping terrorism out of the state, he adds.
With these claims about terrorism/infiltration/conflict free J&K in the near future now that post-special status times have arrived, how does this change the overall situation at our borderlands?
Are borders and borderlands conceptually same for those who now claim to secure and stabilise us in the post-370 times? If not, then why has there been no mention of what does post-370 mean for our ‘borderlands’ as different from borders when talks about security/terrorism/conflict have heated the floors up?
Development at our borderlands doesn’t only encapsulate policies of securitization, infiltration-control and, conflict and crisis management. Rather these are terminologies situated with ‘borders/boundaries’ and opposed to ‘borderlands’.
To understand the difference between the two, I suggest a reading two of my articles published in Rising Kashmir titled, The Lines of No-Control and In the Shadows of Haji-Pir.
The basic understanding of borders as lines that demarcate territories and borderlands as lived habitable spaces ensures that the latter has problems that go beyond security and terrorism.
Therefore, when grand claims about sound development of new Jammu and Kashmir are being made, I, being a researcher of borderland studies, am curious to know about the share of development that shall give my area of research a big boost.
When the charts were being read out and the numbers were being quoted challenging development so far under the special-status in the state, I hardly heard anything being spoken specifically on the lack of development in the borderlands of Gurez, Kupwara, Uri, Poonch, Nowshera, Akhnoor, RS-Pura, that is, areas that have been worst sufferers of the conflict that the state had been battling with.
When speeches are being made contesting the poor-education and health policies, further voicing support for the global liberalised schemes that shall flow in through PPP-models in J&K, I need to know where will these investment routes land these schemes up at? To what regions, to be specific.
Will a public-private or a private model of education and healthcare invest in the notorious territory of the borderland of Poonch, Nowshehra, Uri, where incessant cease-fire violations covering and challenging the cross border infiltration attempts make the already available opportunities of education and healthcare inaccessible to borderlanders?
Or will such model of development place a foot at the borderland of Gurez that remains locked up due to harsh winters for around eight months in year?
Were these borderlands, which are some of the most hostile zones that have been caught up in conflict for long, were these spaces actually in need of a post-370 development era for being uplifted from the vulnerability they are in?
Borders and borderlands, the gateways to a nation-state, especially the borderlands of J&K, shouldn’t these have been developed beforehand with special focus and attention as by virtue of being the lines on fire these borders have time and again kept the conflict in South Asia at a global front?
So why wait for a post-370 era to dawn and why hope for the development to come for the rescue today while living at a borderland?
The state where on one hand developed the borders as nodes of control by strengthening its military might in lieu of countering any neighbouring threat, at the same time it failed miserably at understanding that development at borders meant development of borderlanders, that is, those who inhabit borders.
This nowhere means that the surveillance maintaining security shouldn’t have been developed. It means that this shouldn’t have been the only agenda in focus especially for border-zones.
What an exclusive development on the securitization front has done is that it has shifted the focus entirely on surveilling borders to an extent that borders in J&K are infamous as hotbeds with high security manning and regulation.
The development of borders as lines should have gone hand in hand with development of borders as borderlands, thus strengthening the civic and administrative aspect of a better life at these frontier zones as well.
Therefore, when politicians who have a key hand in policy making as well boost about development scenarios that will now be opened, which were otherwise locked up due to 370-restrictions, they need to address as to how will these realms of development benefit those living at the borders and how will it change the idea of ‘basic survival’ for those who tackle threats on an everyday basis where living at borders is synonymous with surviving one day at a time?
In order to address these issues, the perspective has to go beyond terrorism and security, and has to narrow itself down at the real development issues faced by the inhabitants at borderlands, besides understanding the basic difference first between a boundary and a borderland.
With or without special status, the borderlands have always gasped for development across all sectors. At some of these zones such as Gurez, even the civic-administrative responsibilities are being taken over by military in the complete absence of amenities such as healthcare during winters. Winters make it difficult for emergency patients such as expecting mothers and other high risk patients to stay back home.
One of the informers within the administration in Gurez told me that since past few years, the administration and the army both have been spreading awareness especially among the expecting-women to migrate beforehand to nearby district centres such as Bandipora in order to avoid the risks involved in delivery due to the lack of adequate staff and healthcare back in Gurez. Similar stories have been found at borderlands of Poonch and Uri.
Therefore, the need to the hour in a post-370 scenario is to focus on the long forgotten development of inhabitations living along borders. The biggest boost to Jammu and Kashmir will be when a post-370 development will build firm infrastructures and will draw in good healthcare, education and connectivity to the borderlands, but alas the question remains the same, is post-370 development ready to develop zones that are battling conflict? Or is this hue and cry of development only for the mainland and non-border areas where the stakes are not too high?
I expected a five minutes speech in favour of abrogation of 370 and 35-A talking borderlands beyond security and terrorism at length at the centre stage sooner as the grand claims of development were being announced.
Author is a researcher of Borderland-Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi