‘India’s military presence in Kashmir is a huge waste of economic and human resources’

  • Irfan Mehraj
  • Publish Date: Nov 10 2017 1:28AM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Nov 10 2017 1:28AM
‘India’s military presence in Kashmir is a huge waste of economic and human resources’

Jean Dreze is a Belgian-born Indian development economist and activist. His work focuses on developmental issues such as hunger, famine, gender inequality, child health and education, food security, and rural employment. In his new book Sense and Solidarity: Jholawala Economics for Everyone, Dreze deals with these matters as also corporate power, war and peace, Aadhaar. There are a couple of essays on Kashmir as well.

In this exclusive interview with Ink, Dreze talks about his book, Kashmir and its economy, its challenges and promises. 

 

What does your book have to offer Kashmiri readers in terms of its subjects and themes?

The book is about social development in a very broad sense of the term – not just traditional topics like healthcare and education but also other means of creating a decent society such as resisting the concentration of power in the economy, society and family. I would like to think that it is relevant to Kashmir. Indeed, Kashmir has a rich history of engagement with social development, evident not only in early documents such as “Naya Kashmir” but also in practical initiatives like the bold land reforms. Also, it is important to think about these issues in advance of achieving the political freedoms that the people of Kashmir aspire to. Besides, the book includes two essays on Kashmir, where I share some thoughts on Kashmiri society, the Kashmir conflict and last year’s uprising.

 

As an economist, what is your assessment of Kashmir’s economy?

I cannot claim to know much about Kashmir’s economy, but some features do strike me as a visitor from Jharkhand. One is the region’s relative prosperity. Unemployment is certainly a major problem, but living standards look quite high compared with most Indian states. This impression is borne out by survey data, such as the National Sample Survey. This prosperity seems to be rooted partly in traditional factors such as abundant resources, good skills and private enterprise, but I think there is more to it. For instance, land reforms have probably made a big contribution to poverty reduction in Kashmir. Other assets include reasonably good public services and a tradition of mutual support and cooperation. All this, of course, is relative.

 

What has been the impact of land reforms carried out by Sheikh Abdullah’s first government?

Kashmir’s land reforms have gone largely unnoticed in India but my sense is they have played a major role in reducing poverty and improving the quality of life in Kashmir. It is not just that most people in rural areas have some land and are able to earn something from it. Beyond that, land reforms have helped avoid the existence of a huge reserve army of labour as one finds in most Indian states. This is one reason wages in Kashmir are relatively high. Further, land reforms must have helped to preserve the relatively egalitarian character of social relations in Kashmir. That makes a lot of things easier, for instance the effective provision of local public services such as schooling, healthcare, water supply, and so on.

 

You have devoted a chapter in the book to Aadhaar and you have written about it elsewhere too. In a conflict zone such as Kashmir, what will be the ramifications of Aadhaar given that it can potential be employed for mass surveillance?

My guess is that Kashmir is already the site of a great deal of state surveillance, using more traditional means such as intelligence agents, phone tapping, police interrogations, monitoring of social media, and so on. But in Kashmir as elsewhere, Aadhaar could be used to vastly expand the powers of mass surveillance. Aadhaar can help the state to collect, collate and analyse vast amounts of personal data, by linking multiple databases and keeping track of everyone from birth onwards. Even if this apparatus of surveillance is not used, which is extremely unlikely in the case of Kashmir, it will further stifle the right to freedom of expression and dissent. When people know that they are watched, or can be watched, they tend to conform.

What do you make of the argument that India’s occupation of Kashmir is a heavy economic burden on the people of India, that it’s keeping the country from alleviating poverty?

I would certainly agree that India’s military presence in Kashmir is very costly and a drain on the country’s resources. India being a large country relative to Kashmir, the cost is a small fraction of the country’s GDP. Nevertheless, it is a huge waste. We can also think of it as a waste of human resources, as half a million army personnel waste their time controlling the Kashmiri population. Again, this is just a small proportion of the Indian population, but in absolute terms, it is staggering. Of course, appealing to India’s self-interest in this matter is a very limited argument, but it does reinforce other arguments for an urgent resolution of the conflict.