2021 has been a mixed bag for Jammu and Kashmir

Peace elusive in Jammu and Kashmir, 2021 leaves behind bouquets and brickbats

While lives of people living near the border got better from last year, shoot-outs in Srinagar and administrative corruption have been the black spots

Tourists in Gulmarg. Credit: PTI Photo

The year that has almost gone by has been a mixed bag for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, oscillating between peace and violence. The biggest positive was a modicum of peace in the lives of thousands of people living close to the Line of Control (LoC) and the International Border (IB) in the Union Territory.

'Border dwellers' i.e., people in villages close to the LoC and the IB, have paid the highest price during the escalation of tension between India and Pakistan. In terms of human lives lost, houses destroyed, cattle killed and agricultural fields destroyed, the border dwellers have lived life at its sharpest edge.

Thanks to the decision taken by the armies of the two countries, 2021 has been a remarkably peaceful year for people living in border villages.

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Ceasefire violations on the LoC and IB were virtually non-existent as life remained normal for thousands of border villages in 2021. Children went to school, cattle moved about to graze and men and women engaged in agricultural activities in the villages of Kathua, Samba, Jammu, Rajouri, Poonch, Baramulla and Kupwara districts of J&K, where the LoC and the IB are located.

Levels of infiltration came down during 2021, as compared to 2020 and 2019, as alert troops kept round-the-clock vigil at the borders.

However, separatist violence continued to mar the lives of the people in the valley as the footfall of the security forces increased due to requirements for increased vigil. What has caused serious worry in 2021 has been the shifting of terror focus from south Kashmir districts to those in central Kashmir, especially Srinagar city.

In 2021, Srinagar there were around 20 encounters and shoot-outs in and around Srinagar. Around 34 people, including seven policemen and 14 militants were killed till December this year, even as Srinagar was declared a "militancy-free zone" with no locally recruited militants in October 2020.

The main focus of shifting terrorism in Kashmir has been the targeting of civilians and members of the local police. The civilians killed in 2021 included members of the Kashmiri Pandit community who had chosen to exist alongside their Muslim neighbours despite the mass exodus of the local 'pandits'. Respected local pharmacist ML Bindroo, a Sikh school principal, a non-Muslim Dhaba owner's son, pavement sellers belonging to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, a non-local carpenter and half a dozen labourers were killed by terrorists in 2021 to spread fear.

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The targeting of local police, even those performing traffic duties, has proved that the engagement of the local police force in anti-militancy operations has badly hit the capacity of the militants to continue anti-national and subversive activities. While targeting off-guard policemen and unarmed civilians, the militants have not been able to carry out any major attack other than the firing at a police bus ferrying police personnel in the Zeewan area at Srinagar outskirts.

The policemen in the bus attacked by militants on December 13 belonged to the J&K armed police that has not directly been involved in anti-militancy operations. Three policemen were killed and 14 injured in this attack that is seen as the biggest terror strike against the security forces in 2021.

Security forces have carried out highly intelligence-driven, coordinated operations against militants in 2021 that resulted in killing of 186 militants. Three civilians were killed during an operation against militants in the Hyderpora area of Srinagar city on November 15.

Initially, the authorities said the slain persons were militants and on that premise they were buried in Handwara town of Kupwara district without any family participation. Subsequent evidence indicated that they were civilians and had been killed during the encounter because of their presence inside the building where the firing had taken place. The bodies of two civilians belonging to Srinagar were handed over to the families while that of the third, belonging to Ramban district of Jammu division, has still not been exhumed.

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After nearly three years, 2021 saw the revival of political activity by mainstream parties as the talk of the Assembly elections in early 2022 gained currency.

The delimitation commission came up with draft proposals to increase seven seats in the Assembly, of which six would fall in Samba, Kathua, Reasi, Kishtwar, Doda and Rajouri districts of Jammu division, while the valley would get one additional seat in Kupwara district. For the first time, the delimitation commission has proposed to give reservation to Scheduled Tribes, who will get nine seats in the 90-member J&K Assembly, while the Scheduled Castes would get six reserved seats.

The decision to add six seats to Jammu division has irked the valley-centric parties like the National Conference, the Peoples Democratic Party, People's Conference, Apni Party and the CPI(M). These parties have alleged that the addition of six seats to Jammu, which would now have 43 seats, would load the dice heavily in favour of the BJP during the Assembly elections.

The BJP has said the decision to add seats to Jammu has undone historic blunders done against the division since 1947. The Congress, on the other hand, has tried to distance itself from the controversy of seat allocation to the Jammu division asserting that the party sees J&K as one unit.

In addition to the proposed 90 seats, the delimitation commission has proposed to keep 24 seats vacant for parts of J&K under the occupation of Pakistan.

Tourism saw an appreciable rise in 2021 despite the ongoing pandemic, which imposed restrictions on free movement of visitors. In comparison to 2020, there was a huge increase in tourist influx this year. Official figures say 1.27 lakh tourists visited Kashmir in 2021, against 6,327 in 2020 and 12,086 in 2019. Due to the pandemic, the annual Amarnath Yatra to the Himalayan cave shrine in south Kashmir Anantnag district was not held for a second consecutive year.

Also Read — Ceasefire violations by Pakistan along J&K border declined sharply in 2021

The Mata Vaishno Devi Yatra in Reasi district of Jammu division was resumed, while limiting the number of daily devotees. More than 35 lakh pilgrims have visited the shrine in 2021. The Central rule continued in J&K during the year with the Lt Governor Manoj Sinha trying hard to push development and better administrative dispensation on the ground.

Despite the best efforts of the L-G, the people in J&K have been blaming the administration for remaining unavailable for redressing public grievances. One hallmark of the Lt Governor's rule has been the proactive role played by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).

Successful traps have been laid by the ACB in 2021 during which public servants have been caught accepting bribes from people. In its drive against corruption, the ACB has also trapped some police while indulging in corruption. Despite the appreciable effort put in by the ACB, corruption remains a fact of daily life in J&K.

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