The relationship between culture and development is as antagonistic as it is corresponding. The impact of development can be adverse if cultural ideologies are not integrated with due consideration, whereas on the other hand consistent development is needed to sustain cultural practices. In that sense, their relation is interwoven with the most delicate fabric of rumination. The suppressive policies of the Modi government in Kashmir have intensified this already perplexing relation between both and has created a paradox for Kashmir’s cultural development.
Kashmiri culture incorporates a diverse blend of Central Asian cultures and customs. Its cultural heritage is celebrated year-round in the form of various seasonal festivities, fairs, handicrafts which manifest itself as the highlight of Kashmiri culture with a wide display ranging from wood carving, furniture, hand-knotted carpets, woolen rugs, pashmina shawl, silverware to name a few. These activities are boosted by tourism, flourishing the development of local businesses while simultaneously conserving and promoting the rich cultural ideologies.
However, this all changed the moment the semi-autonomous state came under the direct rule of the central government of India, with the revoking of Article 370 and Article 35(A). The free reign with which the state could command its development in its own cultural identity now got transferred in the hands of a nation whose conception of development is itself a borrowed one. How can a nation safeguard someone else’s cultural identity when it forgot its own only to be replaced by the westernized version? The Indian notion of development is not separate from its colonized past; it is based on the idea of progress and growth promising the fruits of economic prosperity but in reality, it relies on dispersing the cultural pluralism that has been unique to the people of Kashmir, that ties them with their past and solidify their unanimity against external forces.
Despite all this, the Indian government is trying to push forward the narrative of development. In September 2019, Anurag Thakur, the minister of state for finance and corporate affairs, speaking to a news outlet proclaimed. “Our government has taken a historic decision to abrogate Article 370 now; Jammu and Kashmir will witness massive ‘development’.” In contrast, the Jammu and Kashmir entrepreneurship development institute had previously registered 33 startups based on private funding whose future is in shambles now. The lives of the people of Kashmir revolve around the political landscape both professionally and personally, ever since the imposition of communication lockdown there has been a loss of morale accompanied by unemployment and staggering debt while paradoxically promises of peace and prosperity are being advocated blatantly.
The abrogation of special status, which under the Article35(A) safeguarded the property rights for Kashmiris, is also demonstrated as warranting more development in the state, as now non- Kashmiris would be given the same ownership rights of the land, opening up the possibility for investment. This came true when just weeks after the revocation was declared the government approached out of state investors, big corporations to tap the future possibilities for the development in the state. This would not only change the demographic landscape of Kashmir which lies at the core of cultural stability but would also be an act against the future of Kashmiri Youth who for generations have embedded their means of livelihood based on integrating local craft with demand for local culture. Instead, now their right to own business by supplementing their culture would be snatched and claimed by outsiders who would have no respect for their cultural integrity. While the backbone of Kashmir’s economic prosperity tourism has reached its all-time low, the local households, handicraft makers, have all come to a standstill with businesses out of order the local development has come to an abrupt halt.
Whereas the local development has taken a major hit, the Indian government is advocating its decision of revoking Article 370 and Article 35(A) as a liberating one, as a step towards future development, resulting in progressive rules of Indian courts that do not align with the Muslim based majority of the state to be implemented, further disintegrating the sacred cultural norms. Now the idea of development that is being propagated under the banner of constitutional change is deliberately focusing on dismantling the cultural framework, is actively working towards alienating the people of Kashmir with their culture by introducing depersonalization and deculturation. Under the new constitutional development even the Kashmiri flag the face of what the people stand for has been invalidated, the normalcy of their lives has been disrupted, their businesses have been shut down; their once enriched culture is being eroded. By subjugating the cultural ideologies, the conviction of future development is being championed, while due to the communication blockade the actual development has ceased to exist.