From The Hindu: “Hunger in the Valley”
Whenever Kashmir is mentioned, people tend to think either of an idyllic paradise, or of a valley wrought with the suffering of two decades of violent conflict. The aching reality of the convergence of both these images have tended to exclude Kashmir in the popular imagination from the more everyday discourse of poverty and hunger, governance and the delivery of programmes for disadvantaged people.
Official data suggests that indeed levels of poverty are negligible in the valley. As compared with 28.3 per cent people officially estimated to survive below the poverty line in India in the year 2004-05, the comparable ratio for the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the same year was pegged by the Planning Commission a meagre 4.5 per cent. Kashmir is one of the most egalitarian societies in the country, in which land reforms were implemented with greater vigour than in most other regions of India. In the first decade after India’s Independence, big farms were abolished resolutely, and subsequently surplus lands were distributed among landless farmers.
A couple of years ago, I spent 10 days touring villages and slums in Kashmir, investigating the impact of the two decade long conflict on children. Although I did not find evidence during my visit of extreme destitution of the kind I had observed in Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand, I still observed widespread visible poverty, and struggles for livelihoods and food, across the valley.
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