Home Minister Amit Shah claimed on August 6, that the removal of Article 370 – which gave special privileges to Jammu and Kashmir, including the right to reject certain laws passed by the Indian parliament – would propel economic growth, in turn reducing militancy and insurgency.
However, there is no direct and clear relation between the fall of insurgency and the decline of poverty in Kashmir, data show – insurgency has risen and fallen, depending on geopolitical factors, even as poverty has steadily declined.
Historically, a decline in poverty from the mid-1970s until the mid-2000s – which saw the state witnessing lower poverty rates than most other Indian states, as well as better health and nutrition outcomes – did not result in a decline in terrorism. The state’s special privileges were in place from October 1949 until August 2019.
Between 1993-’94 and 2011-’12, the percentage of people living below the poverty line in the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir reduced from 26.3% to 8.1%, according to the Tendulkar Poverty Estimates. Yet militancy strengthened or abated, based largely on extraneous geopolitical factors, as data from the South Asia Terrorism Portal show and experts state.
Our analysis further shows that there has been no direct link between militancy and development – in militancy-affected districts, more households had access to electricity and sanitation and similar development outcomes, as other regions. Development – as measured by women’s literacy, access to electricity, sanitation – has been mostly uniform across districts in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and gaps in development outcomes between urban and rural areas are smaller than in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Bihar.
As such, reducing disaffection and integrating Kashmir with India would take more than the abrogation of Article 370 and economic measures, experts say.
“The struggle over identity takes precedence over the struggle for resources, not just in Kashmir but in many parts of the world,” said Neera Chandhoke, a professor of political science and visiting faculty at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. “Resistance towards the government will not die down with better employment opportunities.”
Said Lt Gen (retd) Syed Ata Hasnain, who headed the army’s Chinar Corps in J&K and was appointed chancellor of the Central University of Kashmir in 2018, “The issue of militancy in J&K is not a binary; it’s far more complex than simply a set of economic measures to offset unemployment.” Abrogation of Article 370 could be a trigger to better integrate J&K with the rest of the country, he said, but warned, “The path is strewn with challenges and the situation has to be handled in the political, military, diplomatic, economic, social and psychological domains, simultaneously.”
Further, the Indian government’s decision does not change Pakistan’s stance on the issue. “Pakistan’s concept of proxy war to wrest J&K has not ceased with the decisions taken by our Government,” Hasnain said. India’s economic efforts to improve the quality of life would reduce alienation among the people and help neutralise Pakistan’s ability to pursue a proxy war in the state, he said.
In addition to economic growth, people must have the right to live with respect and dignity and ensure their economic well-being through better employment and income opportunities, said MM Ansari, former member of the University Grants Commission, a former Central Information Commissioner, who was appointed as one of the special interlocutors to J&K in 2010.
“A system which denied due rights to our brothers and sisters of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh; a system which was a huge hurdle in their development has now been eradicated,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a speech on August 8.
Between 1993 and 1994, 26% of J&K’s population lived below the poverty line which dropped to, as we said, 8.1% in 2011-’12, the latest available data. In comparison, the proportion of people living under the poverty line nationwide reduced by a smaller margin, from 45.3% in 1993-’94 to 21.9% in 2011-’12, data show.
“Lack of development in J&K is a myth,” said Ajai Sahni, PhD, executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management in Delhi. “The development is apparent to anyone except those who have never visited the state. The average Kashmiri is much better off compared to a person in many parts of the country.”
As the poverty rate in the state reduced, education and health outcomes improved and are better than several other Indian states, but this was not accompanied by a similar improvement in per capita income, investment and employment opportunities.
The per capita net state domestic product – roughly the state’s per-person income – is Rs 62,145, half of that in other states such as Gujarat, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand. In April 2019, the unemployment rate in Jammu and Kashmir was 10.62%, higher than the average unemployment rate in the country (7.35%) in the same period, according to data released by Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, a business information company, based in Mumbai.
Effects of militancy
The erstwhile undivided state of J&K had three administrative and revenue divisions –Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Ladakh, consisting of the districts of Leh and Kargil, lies in the North East. In the South West is Jammu and the terrain of its 10 districts varies from snow-capped hills to plains bordering Punjab. Kashmir, situated in the valley of the Pir Panjal mountain range and the Himalayas, consists of 10 districts administered by India, and 10 districts administered by Pakistan.
Insurgency erupted in the state after the 1987 elections, which some citizens of Jammu and Kashmir believed was rigged. Soon after, local youth took to arms and the people started demanding a plebiscite on whether J&K should be a part of India.
The northern districts, including Kupwara and Baramulla, along the border with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, served as the hotspots from where militants, often with the help of training and resources from Pakistan, ran their operations.
“Since 2016, the centre of gravity has shifted southwards towards Srinagar, the summer capital of the state,” said Manoj Joshi, a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in Delhi.
In its 2019 assessment of J&K, the South Asia Terrorism Portal highlighted the increase in killings in the valley, which at 205 was the highest recorded number since 2008. In addition, the geographical spread of terrorism increased, with 16 of 22 districts reporting fatalities in 2018 compared to 13 in 2013, the report said.
However, Sahni advises caution while interpreting the data on violent incidents from J&K. “Violence is not an absolute index of anything,” he said. “Moreover, the data from the J&K police, the intelligence wing and the South Asia Terrorism Portal are not reconciled because each agency has its own methodology. It could be that the government considers an incident of stone-pelting that moves through a town and lasts for three-four hours as 30-40 incidents while South Asia Terrorism Portal considers it as one incident.”
Areas that have been centres of militancy, have, on average, equal or better access to electricity, sanitation, water supply and government health facilities compared with those that are relatively less affected by militancy.
Moreover, within the state, the valley region of Kashmir outperforms the divisions of Jammu and Ladakh in terms of water, electricity and sanitation facilities, based on National Family Health Survey data from 2015-’16. These areas also have similar health and education outcomes as the rest of the state.
Militancy in Kashmir cannot be reduced to bad economic policies
The pervasiveness of violence across social and geographic divisions in the state, even after reduction in poverty and improvement in development outcomes, challenges the perception that terrorism is borne out of economic underdevelopment, as measured from indicators like per capita income.
“We see women and young children taking part in leaderless demonstrations,” said Chandhoke, the JNU professor. “There is a sense of desperation among the people, who demand respect for their religion and language. They are angry about the whittling down of democracy. It would be wrong to reduce this to a problem of bad economic policies.”
Wrote Dartmouth college researcher Kevin Goldstein in his 2005 paper, “Exclusion from the economy can be a motivator for terrorism just as exclusion from politics can be, regardless of the overall wealth of a country.”
In 2009, Chatham House, an international affairs think-tank based in London, found that 89% of the people of J&K considered the Kashmir dispute a very important or fairly important issue, but 87% said unemployment was their biggest problem.
Less than half – around 36% – said that the “Kashmir conflict” was their biggest problem. Over three-fourths – around 77% – of survey respondents believed that ending militancy would bring a solution to the Kashmir issue.
On the question of whether they would prefer to join India, join Pakistan or remain Independent, between 75% and 95% in the region of Kashmir preferred to be independent, while almost no one in Jammu, and 30% in Ladakh and 20% in Leh said they would prefer to be independent.
Of those surveyed, 28% said they would prefer being a part of India, but this varied from 2% in Baramulla to 80% in Kargil, the survey found. Only 2% said they would prefer to join Pakistan.
Development across districts
The proportion of people living in poverty in J&K between 1973 and 2005 has consistently been lower than that in Kerala, according to data from the erstwhile planning commission’s website. Per capita income in the state was greater than that in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, among others, in 2016-’17.
Overall, the different districts of the erstwhile undivided Jammu and Kashmir have developed equitably, and there are smaller gaps between outcomes in urban and rural areas when compared to other Indian states.
For instance, the household electrification rate across all districts in the state is greater than 88%, with most districts having more than 90% of the households connected to the electricity grid. Electricity consumption is used by researchers as an indicator of the standard of living of a population.
“There has been very little research on the variation in development within Jammu and Kashmir,” said development economist Jean Dreze from the University of Allahabad.
While there is no literature to explain the relatively better performance of the state on educational and health indicators, said Mehroosh Tak, an economist at the University of London, it could be attributed to the land to the tiller movement from the 1950s, which gave households assets that were not available to those elsewhere in India at that time.
“Homestead gardens are quite common in Kashmir,” Tak explained. “Families grow a lot of indigenous varieties of vegetables and raise chickens for both meat and eggs, so the people here consume a more diverse diet than they do in the rest of the country.”
This article first appeared on Fact Checker, a publication of the data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit IndiaSpend.