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New shoots have started to sprout on the Chinar (poplar) trees, which had become bare due to snowfall in the Kashmir Valley. By the end of this month, they will be rejuvenated again. Are Kashmir and Kashmiriyat going to get the same kind of revival? Before answering this question, I would like to introduce you to some of the youth whom I met with my family as an ordinary tourist in the past seven days.

The first is Tausif Majid. I found this young man in Tangmarg town of Baramulla district, which is considered to be a stronghold of terrorism. He told me that he has given the BCA examination and is preparing for the MCA entrance. Further, he wants to be a part of the Indian civil service. Why and how? He read the sense of surprise in my eyes. “Many people have passed this test in Kashmir in the past 10 years. Hopefully, I will be able to make my family proud, too, through my hard work," he responded.

By the time I left the place, there was a sense of hope and joy in my mind. Youngsters with dreams make the world better.

The feeling of hope became stronger as we passed through Pahalgam just two days later. From our car, we noticed a signboard: ‘Punjabi Vaishno Dhaba, pure vegetarian’. For two days, we were fed up of eating the same meal. So, Punjabi food was a boon for vegetarians like us. The only empty table in this small, but clean dhaba was waiting for us. While four of us were discussing the items on the menu, a young woman came and asked us in fluent English, “Sir, hope you have chosen your meal. What can I serve ?" We did not expect such a graceful manner in this small town. I asked her name while paying the bill after a delicious meal. “Gurupriya," she replied. “We are Kashmiri Sikhs. This dhaba was opened by my father. I have been running it for the last few years." Like famous highway restaurant chains such as Haveli and Chokhi Dhani, she wants to expand this business, just to give everybody a taste of the good food and warmth of Kashmiri hospitality. Gurupriya said her uncle runs a similar restaurant nearby.

Back in the car, I couldn’t help thinking that I came here after 18 years and if I had to return after so many years, perhaps by then this young woman would have fulfilled her dreams.

While wandering in the Kashmir Valley, I noticed a number of new hotels, wide roads and growing businesses, a few signs of a promising future. However, it would not be correct to say that everything was back to normal. Some people still have feelings of dissatisfaction and alienation. Radical elements are still promoting such feelings.

While I was talking to Gurupriya on the afternoon of 29 March, terrorists were firing bullets on a member of the Block Development Council and his security personnel outside the municipal office at Sopore in Baramulla district. On 1 April, as we were re-entering Srinagar, a Bharatiya Janata Party worker was attacked in Nowgam, and one of his security personnel was killed.

According to the Institute for Conflict Management, 321 people lost their lives in 140 terrorist incidents in Jammu and Kashmir last year. The number includes 33 civilians, 56 security personnel and 232 terrorists. It clearly shows that in the war against terrorism, the maximum damage is being done to the terrorists. One reason for no major disturbance after the abolition of Article 370 is the effective working of the security forces.

Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha is well aware that to establish peace in the Valley, he will have to win the hearts of Kashmiris. This is the reason why he meets citizens on a certain day of the week. All senior officials are present during this meeting and the problems of the people are solved immediately. He has set up a complaint box in every panchayat, and a Block Day programme is held every Wednesday to solve the problems of the people.

As a result of the direct communication, many students have queued up for scholarships. In the past financial year, 800,000 students were given scholarships under various schemes. Till December 2020, 950,000 applications were received. This also explains the confidence of Tausif in Tangmarg.

Mohammad Amin, a government employee, was very happy that the railway project connecting Srinagar to Jammu is being implemented at a rapid pace. He believes that when the train between Delhi and Srinagar is available, children will find it easier to access higher education and jobs. Although money from New Delhi used to flow earlier as well, this is the first time that it is being used efficiently, he said.

A young entrepreneur who returned to Srinagar after completing his MBA course in London has decided to construct a hotel, encouraged by the improved infrastructure.

“People could say anything, but we are hopeful once again after years. If I did not have the confidence, why would I think of making such a big investment?" he said, adding that almost all major hotels in Srinagar are showing full occupancy during this holiday season. He was right.

Let me return to the old question. Will Kashmir’s dreams get a chance to blossom once more this time, like the famous Chinar? I think we should not shy away from this noble expectation.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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