GEOGRAPHY AND GOVERNMENT:
Surrounded by mountains, the southern two-thirds of the Valley is Indian Jammu and Kashmir (“J&K”), India’s northernmost state, bordering Tibet and China. Northwest is Azad (or “free”) Kashmir – a self-governing state under Pak control. The Valley is 84 miles long, 25 wide: 10% of J&K’s 84,000 sq miles. Over 50% of the population is in the Valley. A 1972 treaty renamed the 550-mile border the Line of Control. Only two roads lead in and out of Srinagar, the capital of J&K.
J&K was cobbled together by the Hindu Dogra ruler Ghulab Singh, who acquired the Valley from the British in 1846, adding it to Ladakh and Jammu. Singh created an ethnically and religiously diverse state ruled by a religious minority. Today J&K’s population exceeds 13 million, with over 1 million inhabiting Srinagar; 95% of the Valley is Muslim, equally Sunni and Shia.
CONFLICTS SINCE 1947:
Ghulab Singh’s great-grandson kept the princely state of J&K intact and independent until October 1947, when, after modern India and Pakistan were formed, Pakistan invaded and he chose to join the state with India: conflicts ensued. Indo-Pak wars over Kashmir were fought in 1949, 1965, 1971, 1990, and 2002. From 1989-1996 mercenary guerrillas fought occupying CRPF (Indian army). Every year since 2006 unarmed civilians have led bloody uprisings against the CRPF.
LIFE IN THE VALLEY:
The spoken language is Kashmiri, which has no alphabet of its own and is written in Urdu. Virtually all signage is in English, which only 25% of Kashmiris can read given the state’s confirmed 75% illiteracy. The CRPF that controls the Valley are Hindu and speak Hindi, causing friction. The main industry is tourism – which caters to a mostly Western and Indian clientele – and whose signature is its houseboats on Dal Lake. The three continuing, crippling threats to tourism are political violence, blackouts (e.g. separatist strikes and government curfews), and the decline of Dal Lake. J&K’s economy has never risen above 1% of India’s total yearly GDP.
Sitting in the center of Srinagar at 7,000 feet above sea-level, Dal has sustained Kashmir’s entire civilization; its tourism, its fisheries, and – in another Indo-Pak dispute – its hydro-electric power grid. Due to pollution and climate change, the lake’s future is dire.