Karnah – The land that remains cursed
Karnah can rightly be described as a town of hopelessness. It is here that people after escaping one problem are caught by the other. If they escape social issues, they are caught by the political turmoil and if they are fortunate enough to avoid political issues, they are faced with economic challenges. Considering the recent and prominent issues, one could argue that the issues are post partition effect. To give substance to the arguments, let us discuss the nature of the challenges first.
Primarily there are four broad categories of the challenges. They are: Social, Political, Economic and Geographical.
The social dimension includes healthcare, education and nature of the society. This is commonly shared with the rest of the Kashmir, so we won’t discuss it here. On the political front, they are met with border issues and the unrepresentative political process. Though the political process is no different from the rest of the Union Territory, the issue of ceasefire violations remains a challenge of unimaginable scale.
As per reports, in year 2020, the ceasefire was violated nine times claiming three lives while as the damage to the properties remains unaccounted. This obviously is a partition effect. If there weren’t partition, there wouldn’t have been any such casualties. This issue translates into other issues such as internal migration. People from hostile areas migrate to relatively safe areas within Karnah creating pressure on the limited land resource. Some even migrate outside Karnah.
Though the government had assisted people in erecting individual bunkers initially but due to ceasefire agreement of 2003, these bunkers were turned either into storerooms or septic tanks. Now that the ceasefire violations have become a routine, the government recently proposed around 60 large community bunkers. However, the utility of these bunkers is to be understood giving some thought to practical issues. At the time of cross border firing, people run for their lives and it takes them 25-30 minutes to reach the community bunkers. For this time gap, they are exposed to the risk of getting hit. Also animals remain vulnerable to the firing.
The number of cease fire violation has sharply increased in recent years and even more dramatically since 2017. On top of that, spread of Covid-19 pandemic has necessitated the social distancing which can’t be maintained in Community Bunkers thus exposing the people to grave risk. They are caught between devil and deep sea. If they follow Covid-19 protocol and stay at home at the time of ceasefire violations, they are at the risk of falling victim to bullets and shells. And if they manage to reach the Community Bunkers, they are at the risk of catching the infection.
On the Economic front, the issues include unemployment, horticultural produce and exports. Before the partition, Karnah was cardinal market of the erstwhile state of Muzzafarabad. It was the economic capital of the state and the people used to sell their produce which included walnut, tobacco and honey. Due to this trade Karnah was nearly self sufficient, but now with road to Muzzafarabad closed, people don’t have that option. This discouraged the people to produce those products. Also since the land is a limited resource, the pressure on it due to increasing population (60,129 as per the census 2011) is creating problems. The agricultural land is fragmented to an extent that the yield due to produce is nearly equal to the cost of the agricultural inputs. The forests are cleared at tremendous rate. The connectivity issue during winter with the Kashmir itself adds to the problems. Karnah is a young Tehsil with most of the youth seeking a job, the average literacy rate of Karnah is 68.4% but due to lack of private sector the unemployment rate is quite high.
While as geographically the single most important challenge is Road Connectivity with rest of the Union Territory. Even in 21th century Karnah remains cut off for almost 4 months from the rest of the world due to heavy snowfall. The Karnah road gets blocked due to accumulation of nearly 15 feet of snow at Sadhna Pass, a stretch 11,000 feet above the sea level. The people of Karnah have been demanding a tunnel at Sadhna Pass that would made the road an all weather road. But nothing of the sort has been done till date. As per a report published in Hindustan Times, sometime back, more than 200 people died due to avalanches in the last 6 years on Karnah road. Due to the closure of roads, the people remain disconnected from the rest of the Kashmir creating shortage of medical supplies and lot of essentials. Often it is seen that in winters, people carry patients on their shoulders and trek to reach the hospitals in Kupwara or elsewhere. The students miss their exams due to the closure of roads.
Though the people are told by the authorities that a detailed project of the tunnel has been prepared, but no one knows the actual reality. This issue in itself is an outcome of partition, and there isn’t any denying of this fact. Before the partition, Karnah had trade mostly with Muzzafarabad but now with that option ruled out, it is left to depend on the connectivity with Kashmir alone and unfortunately that connectivity continues to remain fragile.
Undoubtedly the plan of partition was written with blood and it impacted whole of the subcontinent, but its impact on the people of Karnah remains least documented. It can be argued that the challenges the people of Karnah are confronted with, are the legacy of the partition.