The Vande Bharat Express: A "Navratri Gift" in a Land of Nightmares
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today described the launch of the Vande Bharat Express on Delhi-Katra route as a "Navratri gift" to the people of Jammu and the pilgrims who visit the Vaishno Devi temple in the state. He said that the train will improve connectivity as well as spiritual tourism in Jammu and Kashmir. But maybe it's time for the government to focus on improving the quality of life of civilians caught in the crosshairs of a complete shutdown of their home state.
This morning, Union Home Minister Amit Shah inaugurated the Vande Bharat Express. Known as Train 18, this train is meant to bring down the travel time between Delhi and Katra, making it easier fir pilgrims to visit the Vaishno Devi temple.
Speaking at the launch of the Vande Bharat Express, Shah said, “The Delhi-Katra Vande Bharat Express is a big gift for Jammu and Kashmir's development and for promoting religious tourism.”
He added that Article 370 was the biggest roadblock in Jammu and Kashmir’s development. "Within 10 years, it will be one of the most developed regions," he was quoted as saying.
Soon after the launch, PM Modi reiterated this sentiment of a “gift” to Jammu and Kashmir.
A Navratri gift for my sisters and brothers of Jammu as well as devotees of Maa Vaishno Devi!
The New Vande Bharat Express from New Delhi to Maa Vaishno Devi, Katra will improve connectivity as well as spiritual tourism.
Congratulations to everyone! #VandeBharatMaaKeDwar pic.twitter.com/gPwqlyTARV
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 3, 2019
Around the same time as the inauguration today, ANI reported that locals from Kathua said that they live in constant fear. Note the bullets lodged in the wall:
Jammu & Kashmir: Locals from Hiranagar sector in Kathua, say, "We live in constant fear due to heavy firing from across the border. We have to keep our families safe at all times. It is difficult to lead a normal life. We haven't received any help from local administration." pic.twitter.com/CpQc4N9JHN
— ANI (@ANI) October 3, 2019
In the light of this, it has to be asked: is this the gift Jammu and Kashmir need at this hour? Who is receiving this Navratri gift?
From the outset, let us note - a government is duty bound to cater to its people. Particularly in a welfare state like India, the government necessarily must meet the needs and demands of citizens.
Furthermore, we must keep in mind that the Vaishno Devi temple had around 86 Lakh visits by devotees in the year 2018 alone. There is a definitive religious tourism aspect at play here that delivers a substantial income from the tourism revenue generated.
That being said, here are some gifts Jammu and Kashmir could also use from the Government of India:
- Lift the shut-down that has now marked two months in Kashmir.
This entire 'normalcy' narrative in Kashmir has been based on political speeches. It's been almost 2 months since we have heard from the people of Kashmir or local media.
Home Minister @amitshah's words are a classic case of the 'Emperor has no clothes'.https://t.co/w8f7jeZTRd
— Aakar Patel (@aakar_amnesty) September 30, 2019
- Allow journalists to report ground realities from Kashmir. Restore communications fully in the state, and stop issuing claims that landlines are working, when the people are clearly pitched into silence and darkness.
— Al Jazeera News (@AJENews) October 3, 2019
- Stop using the Public Safety Act to imprison and threaten Kashmiri political leaders in the opposition. Stop putting elected leaders, activists and trade unionists under “house arrest”.
The communication blackout, security clampdown and detention of the political leaders has only worsened the widespread fear and alienation in Kashmir.https://t.co/5DNPINUK9U
— Amnesty India (@AIIndia) September 13, 2019
- Respond to the humanitarian and medical crisis underway in the state. Recognise that one of our states is now being called the world’s most militarised zone.
The Kashmir blackout is over 40 days old. 8 million people are under lockdown. In the world’s most militarised zone. pic.twitter.com/ijf50qoQDe
— Amnesty International (@amnesty) September 13, 2019
- Address the fact that a prolonged imposition of Emergency law is not a solution to rehabilitate people who are now to be made ‘mainstream citizens’, so to speak.
At least 144 minors have been arrested in J&K since the BJP govt's undemocratic abrogation of Article 370.
Will the govt explain how children as young as 9 years old are a threat to national or regional security? #GandhiKaNaamGodseKaKaam https://t.co/u5Jad8Ii69
— Congress (@INCIndia) October 3, 2019
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) October 3, 2019
A luxury, all air-conditioned, engine-less self-propelled train is wonderful. It shows how far India has come.
But universal human rights for all its citizens? That is far more wonderful, and would say so much more about the world power that we are.