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Anthropology of Tourism

Political Economy of the Dal Lake Region

Basarat Hassan ( is a PhD scholar at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

Tourism is an important industry and provides a livelihood to many communities living in Kashmir, especially those in the areas surrounding the Dal Lake. However, tourism has seldom received attention outside the domain of business and management studies. The houseboat community, agriculturists, business persons and artisans form the core of the tourism industry thriving in the Dal Lake region. A critical understanding of the political economy of the industry is necessary to comprehend some of the challenges confronting the various groups that are the stakeholders of the tourism sector in this region.

The author would like to thank Susan Visvanathan for her comments and suggestions, as also the people of Srinagar, particularly the communities in the Dal Lake region.

Cutting across many disciplines, the subject of tourism is ubiquitously discussed. However, in the context of Kashmir, the debate has attained overtly problematic narratives. It is viewed as a monolithic conceptual problem. Much of the literature on tourism in Kashmir views it as a business, a managerial text,1 or a developmental issue, and tends to focus on the economic aspects of tourism as the actual background to tourist encounters. All these seemingly different strands converge, to fall into disuse, dismissing the temporal and spatial specificities with which the idea of tourism is bound inextricably within the wider cultural and environmental arrangements. Up to the 1980s, the intellectual pursuit of the subject of tourism was seen as superficial and was not respected as are other disciplines like economics, history or political science (Page and Connell 2006).

At a global level, tourism has occupied a seminal space in anthropological research and writings. Contrary to it, tourism in Kashmir has received inconsiderable theoretical and empirical attention, and it has not been explored through frameworks like that of modernity, postmodernity, environmental discourse, cultural studies, or even from a political economy perspective. Without considering these multiple perspectives, no better framework has evolved to even generate meagre literature that would touch upon the realities of contemporary tourism in Kashmir. Moreover, existing theoretical models cut down the space of these cultural groups and artistic troupes, which are not only indispensable for restructuring its touristic landscape but also are the preliminary medium for touristic activities across the Kashmir Valley. At times, state institutions are in complete denial that these tourist sites are actually vital ecosystems with biotic diversity, differences in cultural production and, more importantly, ways of life.

Tourism is a metaphor for our struggle to make sense of our self where people are at work making meaning, situating themselves in relation to public spectacle and making a biography that provides some coherency between self and world. (Edensor 1998: 6)

This article attempts to theorise the genesis of tourism involving communities living around the Dal Lake, and their numerous experiences and relationships concomitant with the practice of tourism. Further, it aims to critically analyse how tourism reinforces a dominant discourse, contributing to our critical understanding by capturing the local narratives that remain absent from tourism frameworks and policy decisions. While it is beyond the scope of this article to directly talk about the realm of tourism in all of Kashmir, it talks about the ways in which the Dal communities engage with tourism, decipher it, and simultaneously construct a circuit of meanings. The theoretical critique of the word “tourism” underpins that even a simple interpretation of the word is latticed with a plenitude of ambiguities. Tourism is a barometer of power relationships that are entered into by several stakeholders who are determined to dominate collaborations that arise as a result of tourist activities. “There is clearly a need in tourism studies to start to ‘name’ power more openly, certainly and precisely” (Church and Coles 2007: 272).

Genesis of Tourism in Kashmir

From time to time, different people travelled to Kashmir and many of them documented their experiences and encounters, and gathered fascinating anecdotes about Kashmiri life and people. Among the foreign travellers, Hiuen Tsang, Alberuni, and Abul Fazal are noteworthy. Even some of the native writers who wrote painstakingly on the many facets of Kashmir include the controversial Kalhan, Haidar Malik Chaduari, Hassan Ali Kashmiri, and others. These writings help us navigate through the “past times” in one way or the other. The descriptions vary and talk about an array of subjects like geography, geology, physical landscape, political conditions, and the status of women, and relatively little on the socio-economic aspects of Kashmiri life. However, these texts, travelogues and some paintings did help in producing knowledge and a visual imagery of Kashmir.

More than the knowledge about travel, the visual imagery created was so profound that people worldwide still fix Kashmir as a place of romance, leisure, and a perfect location for holidaying. This fixity seems everlasting. Writing about the grandeur of the paintings produced during the last years of the 16th century, P N K Bamzai (1962: 529) claims,

a running stream, a chain of hills, green verdure and local fauna are boldly represented, and the Kangri, the wooden sandals, the pattu garments and the grass matting give us a clue to the socio-economic of the times in which the artist lived.

Even more specifically, all human eras have contributed to some general understanding of what we now know about modern tourism and travel. In fact, many modern roads and highways were basically built over the old, ancient trade routes and mountain passes (Timothy 2011). One such fine example is the Jhelum Valley road that was built all along the banks of River Jhelum. Alastair Lamb (1966) also talks about the Srinagar–Rawalpindi road that actually followed the course of the Jhelum to enter into the Kashmir Valley. Nevertheless, a few of the academics have fervently described the natives as “victims” of centuries of imperialistic rule, with placid political understanding and in desperate need of tourists. Ian M Stephens (1953), who travelled to both parts of divided Kashmir immediately after the partition of the subcontinent, records:

They wanted only what the humble throughout the world first want: a bare livelihood, some security, and chance of better days. And this last, for them, necessarily meant more tourists. So long as one of the two main roads to their country from the rich plains below was blocked, and political disputation and uncertainty persisted, how could they hope to prosper? (Stephens 1953: 207)

The growth of the houseboat industry received a fresh impetus during World War II, when military personnel from the whole of South East Asia started living on water houses, as the royal decree did not permit them to buy or own a house, and construction for them was completely barred (Khan 2013). The laws were protective as they denied a permanent living place for “outsiders.” A similar provision is still enshrined in the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, also known as Article 370 in the Indian Constitution. The foreign visitors to Kashmir would capture a fragmentary impression of the boatmen, their way of living, social class, and relationship with the landscape, and would describe the rest of the population in a similar, parochial account. The boatmen were the first people a visiting tourist would contract a relationship with, as they drove their water vehicles on the chief waterways across the length of the River Jhelum mainly, and other navigable, adjoining waterbodies. Most travellers would form their first impression of Kashmir through their encounters with the boatmen.

The houseboat community reiterates that even before the Dogra regime set up a separate department for tourism, houseboats had already become a powerful symbol and an iconic image representing the Kashmir Valley. The houseboat industry was a flourishing industry and had already achieved a positive reputation in foreign countries, particularly in European nations. Considering the houseboat as the central motif in the narratives around tourism would be no exaggeration. On the advice of Emperor Akbar, on his first visit to Kashmir, some of the boats were remodelled into residential houses which could be considered approximations of modern houseboats, and, in no time, we had a floating city on water (Bamzai 1962). W Wakefield (1879) talks of boatmen as a people of fine body and physical strength as they toil hard to paddle their boats. These boats are also their homes, where they spend most of their lives and are not acquainted with any other form of dwelling other than these boats.

Further, Wakefield (1879) gives us a description of doongas. The doonga was a large flat-bottomed boat around 50–60 feet in length and roughly six feet in breadth, with half of the length of the boat covered by matting structured on a wooden framework, adjusted with curtains that could be rolled down and folded as per the need of the traveller (Wakefield 1879). G M D Sufi (1974: 587) offers an astute explanation,

The houseboat is the crowning glory of the Kashmiri boatmen. Though Mr Kennard is stated to be the first Englishman to build the modern houseboat, supplanting the old lar-i-nav, the Kashmir boatmen has shown his wonderful power of adaptation in improving upon the model.

James Milne (2008: 108) in his account calls doongas as “the ark of Jhelum” and further states that the doonga was also the invention of European visitors who had travelled to Kashmir before.

The ethnographic details I could gather about the design, framework, functioning, and space of modern houseboats are similar to what Wakefield and even Sufi recorded in their chronicles about the doongas. In terms of the length and interiors, the houseboat has come a long way. Yet, it is not to assert that doongas were abandoned completely, for that surely would be a misleading rendition, but it was the existence of local doongas in the first place that, in due course of time, triggered the growth of the modern houseboat industry. Those who took part in navigating these doongas, also adjusted to playing different roles such as that of a cook, washer, and a guide. Tourists would stay in these doongas generally for a time period of two to three months. Later, with the growing rush of tourists, the houseboats gradually assumed the shape of a new industry, one that now required a substantial increase in capital.

Colonialism and the Houseboat Industry

The capital was to be generated through the idea of classifying and promoting Kashmir as a tourist place. Kashmir was turned into a territory of “awe” in both symbolic and metaphorical ways, a natural “paradise” for outsiders. Therefore, visitors who could afford to come to Kashmir must have been members of the upper or middle class. As has been also pointed out in other writings, Shalini Panjabi (2009: 224) writes,

However, even at a time when relatively few people travelled for leisure—from the 1950s through the 1980s, Kashmir was the imagined iconic holiday location. Indeed, for those with money and inclination to travel, Kashmir remained the favoured destination.

Interestingly, many of the Europeans who came to Kashmir during British colonisation were imperialists and British civil servants, and their engagement with the territory and the people of Kashmir was nothing but “statecraft.” These ethnocentric dispositions still remain unchallenged. “The traveller pre-supposes a conscious, observing subject, which is then the voice of the narrator” (Kurian 2009: 254). In fact, the initial commodification of the boatmen, their social life, the Dal Lake and its immediate surroundings was done through these “orient imaginations.”

Edward Said (1979), in his landmark work Orientalism, traces the idea of the “Orient” and its representation by the West, spread over literature and art from the middle of the 18th century to the present. Said saw the Orient fundamentally as a Western project, with greater emphasis to see the place as a site of romance, “exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences” (Said 1979: 1). He further points out that “Orientalism expresses and represents that part culturally and even ideologically as a mode of discourse with superior institutions, vocabulary, scholarship, imagery, doctrine, and even colonial bureaucracy and colonial styles” (Said 1979: 2). This Oriental imagination brought material as well as non-material changes, and many aspects of Englishness were steadily assimilated in the lifestyle of the boatmen. The houseboat became a symbolic icon of this cultural closeness between the European travellers and the Kashmiri boatmen. For example, the idea of permitting the Europeans to use the houseboat for a longer period of time resulted in alterations in the architecture of houseboats, which consequently led to far-reaching changes. The boatmen organised themselves around a new way of life, which ranged from living in drawing rooms filled with typical Western furniture, Edwardian bathing tubs, and replacing the locally made reeds and dry toilets, also bringing a change in their outlook about gender identity, sexuality, and cultural exchanges.

From the River to the Lake

Another related point is that there was a time when there were double-storey houseboats anchored across the length of the banks of the Jhelum, forming a major part of Srinagar city. Among those famed double-storey houseboats, only the “Suffering Moses” is still surviving and floats on what has become the contaminated and foul-smelling water of the river. It is hard to fathom how people who lived for hundreds of years on the Jhelum in doongas suddenly switched to owning houseboats on the Dal Lake and other waterbodies. How ready were they to share their privacy to such a large extent with touring guests? Erik Cohen’s (1972) argument is pertinent in this regard, who explains that in the age of mass tourism, privacy itself has become a business, a commodity of high value.

With the passage of time, a good number of boatmen lined up their houseboats on either bank of River Jhelum to allure the tourists, thus replacing the “crowd of heavy Doongas which lay moored along the bank” (Swinburne 1970: 72). In the face of these changes, the boatmen struggled to maintain their traditional ways of life, and old cultural beliefs and livelihood practices took a backseat in the wake of a new tourist economy. With the coming of metal roads in the city and other places in Kashmir, the waterways lost their relevance that they had acquired in the past. This change in roadways also brought radical changes in the lives of the boatmen of Kashmir and thwarted their mobility invariably.

The social world was divided into new forms of sociocultural differentiations and new ways of narrating it as well. It is important to add here that as the waterways were abandoned completely, the waterbodies, most specifically, the Jhelum river and the Dal Lake, lost most of their riparian environment and pristine water quality. Houseboats were not like doongas and restricted themselves to the waterscape of the Dal Lake. At one level, a domestic site was changed to a site of production for a prospective industry. As mentioned by Anthony Giddens (1991), sweeping economic and cultural changes not only tend to replace traditional forms of social organisation, but also initiate a new work culture that is more routinised and well-organised. With the metamorphosis of doongas into houseboats or; as initially, the coexistence of both, side by side, there was certainly a change of role for those who emphatically opted for staying with these “new structures” (Giddens 1991).

Nazeer, 79, a houseboat owner in Srinagar, recounts:

The idea of Doonga Sair had originally stemmed out of the then government practice. From Karan Singh road to his private palace (now known as Koutar Khana), the doongas were lined up, as happens in modern day car shows. It was a real display of royal stature and power. However, in post-1947 period, some of the very affluent and rich people like Bakshi Majeed, Raheem Waza, would come here and would shore up their doongas here. They would more often engage in gambling but there were other sources of entertainment as well. While the houseboat had become a preference for Western travellers, local elites termed as Khoujas would hire a doonga or would own one. (personal interview, 2016)

Zygmunt Bauman (2000: viii) notes, “each new structure which replaces the previous one as soon as it is declared old-fashioned and past its use-by date is another momentary settlement and ‘until further notice.’” Also, it could be in some significant degree linked with the idea of habitus that is so central to Pierre Bourdieu’s work “which refers to the way in which we develop a way of coping and engaging with the world as filtered through all cumulative socialization, personal resources, disposition” (McLennan 2011: 130). As the number of houseboats grew considerably, it led to the differentiation of the occupation of the boatmen and a reconfiguration of the water culture, as a long-time cultural broker, mediator, and transporter turned into a small entrepreneur, a host with economic pursuits. It would be a serious blunder to typify that the boatmen lived in a classless social order. There were historical differences among the boatmen on the basis of class, occupation, marriage practices, etc (Robertson: 1987).

Houseboat Hierarchies

Even in the absence of division of labour or class differentiation, there always exists a kind of inequality or some form of social differentiation (Beteille 2002). Later, the houseboat industry formed connections with many different allied sectors of the tourism industry. In the past works, there is almost no description of any practice where boatmen are reported to have introduced a traveller to a shawl merchant, artisans or any other person and would benefit economically from such an activity. With the passage of time, as houseboats embarked on the progressive march of modernity, houseboats and doongas have become two completely distinct categories, emulating the social divisions of the time.

Truman, 86, a houseboat owner, talks assertively when he says:

Our houseboat has a long history. It was built around 1880s. There are places where there are more beautiful lakes, mountains, and rivers, even best hotels and infrastructure. But there is something beyond these things that actually bring tourists to Kashmir. It is basically the culture which is so distinct; it is our living style, our folklore. My mother, who died at an age of 100 years, would smoke hookah with female travellers and would talk to them for hours. She would cook for them as well and in return they would get some souvenirs from their home countries. Dal Lake, houseboat and tourism industry are interwoven into each other culturally as well as imaginatively because of their long, shared history. (personal interview, 2017)

Around 1954, the houseboat owners were able to regain permission for anchoring their vessels in the interior parts of the lake, which they had left earlier. It was granted to politically appease them. The banks of the Jhelum were abandoned and with this the lake started getting polluted increasingly (Jammu and Kashmir Ministry of Tourism nd).

Houseboats like Gulfam, Mother India, and New Houseboat are a few of the superior luxurious houseboats in terms of their enormous size and facilities. The normal length of a houseboat is 120–150 feet, but these houseboats are approximately 170 feet long, which defines the power they enjoy over the remaining houseboats. The length in the case of houseboats simply constructs a special social space, and objectively exhibits their symbolic power. Also, people who live in dingy houseboats at Chinar Bagh are employed as drivers and tourist assistants during the winter months to help the houseboat community of the Dal Lake carry out tourist activities. But, these Chinar Bagh houseboats, which include some B category structures,2 are not permitted to cross the Dalgate to enter the Lake, both by the government as well as the houseboat community of the Dal Lake. There is a fixed spatial and temporal arrangement inside the Dal Lake.

In the face of the shortage of deodar wood3 (Cedrus deodara), which is an ideal material for houseboat making, it commands a high price. Moreover, it is known for its longevity as it does not rot or wear out in water so easily. But, this makes it hard to maintain or even repair these houseboats. The houseboat industry was naturally dependent on the forest cover of the entire province; more significantly in the immediate surroundings of Srinagar and Zabarvan hills. Walter Lawrence (1967: 79) suggests that “it is probable that in old days the deodar was spread all over the valley, but the building requirement of Srinagar soon exhausted the deodars in the vicinity of the city.” In fact, one of the groups branched out into the timber business and boat-making, however, when there was a severe disequilibrium between business interests and the forest cover, this group ceased work completely. For much of the architectural development that took place during the Muslim Sultanate, whether in the form of imposing shrines or marvellous wood bridges over the Jhelum, the deodar wood was brought in use to change the landscape of Srinagar city particularly.

The Boulevard Road, sidewalks, and the surroundings of the lake were almost vacant and would bear a desolate appearance. Up to the late 1960s and the early 1970s, there were few countable structures around the lake or even along the Boulevard Road. Malik hotel was one among them, which has now been converted into a departmental store near Hotel Abbas. Likewise, there were four garages, belonging to Ramzan Kamal, Ali Doub, Ali Khan, respectively, while the fourth one was empty. Sharief and Company, now renamed as Poshis, was an old structure established around the 1930s under the name Persian House, and it enjoyed a good reputation among a wide range of tourists. Right opposite Nehru Park4 was a stunning hut that belonged to Miss Gravel. Remarkably, in the early 1930s, the place once housed a convent school, which later was shifted to Rajbagh. The Presentation Convent is still ranked as one of the premier private schools in the Valley. Up to the late 1960s, the Boulevard area was so scary that people would necessarily carry lanterns along as it would make their night expeditions easier.

The Lake and the Market Economy

In this particular section, the onus is primarily on the ways in which craft production and the domestic economy could be interlinked with the paradigm of political economy. The political economy paradigm addresses different perspectives on the production and distribution of wealth, and the part that the modern state plays in both of these. However, in recent years, the idea of political economy has come to be linked particularly with neo-Marxism (Williams 2004). Max Weber refers to political capitalism as profits generated by the direct intervention of the state (Camic et al 2005). Another interesting piece by Jean Comaroff and John L Comaroff (1999), who came up with the idea of occult economies, tries to explain the hidden nature of the production process, where surplus is generated, distributed, and accumulated under capitalism by actually creating a false consciousness among the labour force.

In the case of Srinagar, it was the houseboat community that enjoyed greater control over the labour and production process in the whole of the Dal Lake. The community had a higher social status because of the control they had overall on the market economy, touristic spaces, or even the water regulation of the Dal Lake. Likewise, for a long period of time, because of the political clout and the social capital they had formed by coming in contact with foreign tourists and some political elites, the touristic policies were shaped in such a way that they necessarily ensured major benefits to the houseboat community. Even government policies were reframed to continue the flow of private portfolio capital to bail out the private creditors from serious financial crises (Visano 2004).

However, with the change in the tourist flow, the houseboat community has loosened its grip over the market economy. In keeping with its focus, a distinction is to be made between those who control the economy inside the lake and the others who control it from the outside. Thus, for the poor Dal artisans, there are dual forces at play, and such levels of exploitation are maintained by controlling the supply of raw material, tools, and carpet or shawl looms. The artisans, who live in the Dal Lake settlements, or the downtown part of Srinagar, or the rural pockets of Kashmir, are usually structured into groups through informal contracts between traders and master artisans. The houseboat owners, who work concomitantly as high-end exporters within the Dal Lake community, usually place a master artisan, also known as Vasti-Kar, to acquire the finished craft products from the artisans.

In a way, the Vasti-Kar plays the role of a manager or middleman between the local artisans and the owner of the modes of production. Social consciousness shapes both human history and the relations of production as well. Thus, consciousness appears in different forms as do human societies (Visvanathan 2011). Such market exchanges are coercive and exploitative for the artisans, generally.

The relations between elite consumers of craft goods and producers ranged from coercion to reward. The position an artisan occupied on this broad spectrum varied with the kind of product he or she provided and the skill with which it was made. (Sinopoli 2003: 292)

Post the 1990s, Kashmir witnessed growing military/militant violence, and this concurred with the period when India ushered a new wave of economic liberalisation with the rise of multinational companies, and the nature of the tourist flow changed considerably. This change forced the state government and the tourism department to promote the hotel industry, in order to realign the infrastructure according to the flow of the tourists and their accommodation demands.

Jabbar, 72, who is living at Gagribal and has seen a different market economy, presents a rather subtle explanation:

Tourism is a chain of people and has different linkages. If an artisan is affected, the dealers also get affected and so does the wholesale dealer or the petty shopkeeper. For those who have been linked to tourism or handicrafts production and have bequeathed it from their fathers and grandfathers, they cannot change their occupation immediately. It is hard as they have captured the market and occupy a significant position in the market structure. They represent market forces, so to disconnect from the hereditary profession is tough for them. They cannot sell out their business showrooms or manufacturing units in a year or two as there is already a lot at stake in the existing market economy. However, it is easy for petty shopkeepers or hawkers to do away with this profession as they have no built structure or old business connections. (personal interview, 2017)

At the most basic level, tourism production becomes highly commodified within the complex web of the global economic system. Market relationships are directly responsible for mediating an array of tourism services, and vice versa. For years, the zamindar community was a “protected” enclave for thousands of highly skilled artisans, notably the carpet weavers. The
finished piece work (known as Faried in the artisans’ parlance) was either acquired by the houseboat people or, in the bulk of cases, by the traders or high-end business persons that have set up their shops in the Boulevard market. Thus, for innumerable years, the labour and the artistic production of the zamindar community were duly owned by the aristocratic class of the society. “Therefore, they contended that the ‘use’ of the labourers was of concern only to the employer and that if human energy was purchased, then the person was ‘owned’ during working hours” (Sweedlun and Crawford 1956: 493).

Significance of Spatial Divisions

Interestingly, the houseboat community was the first in the entire Dal Lake region to separate their home from the workplace as they started building houses in the vicinities of the famed Mughal gardens of Nishat and Shalimar. This development of marking separate geographies for the houseboat community was only possible as they were able to accumulate wealth, which in turn led to a disproportionate increase in the market price of the land they owned at these new sites of residence. However, such structural changes could not have emerged without proper state support. “The limitless process of capital accumulation needs the political structure of so ‘unlimited power’ that it can protect growing property by constantly growing more powerful” (Harvey 2003: 34). The division of labour clearly manifested among the different Dal communities, as the government policies were more biased in favour of the houseboat community, because of their political clout and social capital. Thus, government policies accentuated this division of labour as the maximum benefit from tourist activities is yielded by the houseboat people, whereas agriculturists get minimum benefits, either by selling vegetables to the houseboat people or by paddling the shikara (boat) for tourists.

Mahmood, 65, who had been a gardener at Cheshmashahi and had personally interacted with many political leaders during his heyday at the royal Mughal garden, says:

During early 70s, a good part of the lake that was known as “Lotus Lake,” a significant part that was quite popular for the lotus flowers, was turned into a huge construction site. That is exactly where the government enterprise Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) is situated now. Interestingly, it was done only in the garb of promoting the tourism of the place. But in a real sense, who all are benefited from the tourism among the Dal dwellers? Likewise, the construction of the foreshore road was also done to provide the Dal Lake with an oval shape so that one could see shimmering houseboats all around the Lake, when in the truest sense a great part of the lake was excluded. Ironically, SKICC holds a larger number of convocations every year, all this is happening over a waterbody that is supposed to be cleaned up rather than contaminated. Ironically, only last year, a cement company had organised a seminar here to generate awareness among the supplier and buyers how to protect the environment. (personal interview, 2016)

Likewise, the shops that operate in the opulent market of the Boulevard are largely owned by the business class who come from the downtown area of Srinagar city.5 This has been a true bastion of some of the old, ethnic businessmen. Then there exists another class of business persons who control the market economy of the Boulevard market, as they work as dealers and manufacturers, and also exporters of many handmade materials across the globe. In many cases, manufacturers and exporters are just one single group, but in others, these are two different groups operating from two different places. They are representative of a merchant class, a class that would come from some outside place, and now has a fringe existence. More than 150 shops are there in the Boulevard market and a majority of them are owned by the rich class of the city.

In fact, many of the high-end hotels are also situated in this area, which makes it a more expensive site to shop. It would be no deceit to mention that the Dal Lake has become a “water empire,” owned by the rich class. However, this affluent class is not only local, but also constitutes a mix of elites, Indian business persons, politicians and even some police officers, too. Tourist sites are constituted by a variety of stakeholders, including the local elites who exhibit power and influence to govern these spaces, and also intertwine a network of both local and private institutions (Beritelli 2011). Michael Foucault’s (1977) take on power is pertinent to understand how, on the basis of this power structure, cultural communities are shaped, as well as the kind of “territoriality” that is prescribed to them. Foucault (1977) in his influential work on power elucidates that power flows in different directions; he calls it “metapower” that remains in constant flux and mediation.

In many tourist destinations, antique shops are pervasive in the local markets. Similarly, the Boulevard market is known for its wide, but expensive range of goods, artefacts and souvenirs. The local populace barely go out to shop in this market. A network of relationships that are woven around the lake and the Boulevard road intricately promotes the idea of commodification. The general layout, design and the position in the market a shop occupies are some of the effective ways to appeal to tourists and regulate touristic space (Hodgson 1987). Of late, pedestrian shopping streets have come up with new public shopping spaces, more particularly on the Boulevard road. Such spaces represent the microeconomics of the tourism sector here.

Roads and the Market Economy

Kashmir was considered as their private property by Dogra rulers under one of the most inhuman treaties ever signed in the history of humankind. “Kashmir by its terms was to belong ‘forever’ an independent possession to Maharaja Gulab Singh and the heir’s male of his body” (Korbel 1954: 13). Therefore, the Dal Lake and its surroundings were also considered as the private commodity of the Dogra rulers. The land where now the golf course has been built was owned by Karan Singh, even after the Dogra rule had long been dismantled. A good number of water channels were blocked to pave the way for the golf course and turn it into a tourist site. This conversion of marshy land into a tourist site is corollary to the fact that it was done only when there was an extension of the Boulevard road from Cheshmashahi to Nishat.6 The terrain was lengthened by filling a network of pivotal water channels right from Dalgate to Shalimar and the Dal dwellers refer to them in their conversations as the blocked “veins” of the lake.

The Boulevard road actually presents the dynastic image of the Dogra rulers that is shaped even today by the coming and going of tourists. The Shehegarh palace that was later restructured into Gulab Bhavan as the official palace for Dogra rulers was finally converted into the Oberoi hotel. Likewise, one of the premier sites around the Dal Lake is Kral Sangri, that has been completely taken up by the Taj Vivanta hotel. Thus, the first-rate sites have gone to elite hoteliers or other business persons. In other words, in the name of tourism, the government is basically doing business. The construction of many different roads like Boulevard, Dalgate–Hazratbal road, and now Nai Sadak have led to the growth of different markets around the lake. The construction of roads and the market economy can be better explained by citing the case of Mexico, where the local developers and business persons in conjunction with the government of Mexico started building a four-lane highway between Cancun and Chetumal. The politics of building the road was to build along it a line of upscale exclusive hotels and expensive bars to cater to the wealthiest vacationers (Smith 2009).

When roads are seen as the markers of modernity and cause widespread modifications in the natural landscape, then it is obvious that these roads around or even in the interior of the lake have not come up overnight. Many of the Dal residents vividly talk about the cart road that would run from Dalgate to Hazratbal before the construction of the metal road. There were even certain causeways that would transport people from Khojbal to Hazratbal or directly from Hazratbal to Nishat or even to the landmark Dalgate from the interiors or the Tailbal side7 of the lake. No doubt, these roads serve as useful indicators to know about land-use changes and the adverse effects wrought on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Stephen C Trombulak and Christopher A Frissell (2000) write about the diverse effects that road construction has on human societies. Road constructions alter the hydrologic and geomorphic processes that silhouette aquatic and riparian systems. Road facilities increase human access in some remote areas, but they simultaneously encourage activities such as illegal hunting, poaching, fishing, etc, which have major ecological effects.

Hundreds of agriculturists from the zamindar community would take their vegetable produce in the famous “floating” vegetable market,8 known in the local language as Goider, at the crack of dawn. These boatmen still remember the old times, when they would take their produce directly from Raj Soieth (settlement area) to Habba Kadal via a network of water channels, the Tsunt Koul being the primordial one. It is an important strait between the Dal Lake and the Jhelum River. The presence of different roads, both in the interiors or the surroundings of the lake, has, in turn, accentuated the construction process whether in the form of residential buildings or market sites.9 It has led to a most dystopian scenario around the lake. There is a close relationship between the lake and its immediate surroundings. Any small change can trigger a massive ecological disaster. In this regard, surprisingly, there is little public concern that road building has changed the old geography not only of the lake, but also of Srinagar city.

Role of Different Stakeholders

But, the question that remains unanswered is why the Dal Lake communities, particularly the zamindar community, failed to start a movement against the building of a network of roads around the lake or at many places inside the lake. The undefined “push” the zamindar community feels to sideline all this is largely because they are socially and culturally ostracised due to their place of dwelling and their occupation. This social ostracism they conjecture, is directly linked to their non-possession of land. However, any argument pitched for the possession of private land should not dismiss the security of tenants who work on it on a temporary basis and have every right to enjoy the fruit of their labour. That is why it has been the customary practice to assert the right over land by simply clearing and cultivating it, and these rights would later then be inherited by the progenies or the members of the same lineage group (Eaton 2013).

Nadeem, 27, a teacher in one of the government schools in Srinagar city and a resident of Malkha describes the situation as follows:

It [the zamindar community] is a socially ostracised class and is forced to own property to match the mainstream social values. Thus, being a propertied group is the dominant value system one aspires for. It opened up the flood gate of greed among the Dal dwellers and they started cohabiting like the land dwellers, which eventually led to its overall contamination. At another level, it is also vote bank politics to support the Dal residents to allow their toilets to run off directly into the Lake. It needs a strong political will to dissuade residents from contaminating the Lake. (personal interview, 2015)

Remarkably, many private showrooms that sell pashmina shawls and high-grade carpets have brought artisans to work at their private places. These artisans are roped in to sell out their product and labour. The artistic production in itself has become a touristy endeavour. Tourists are lured and offered to tour these private handlooms and interact there with the artisans. It is to press for the authenticity of the produced craft, but, eventually, it is the ethnicity of these artisans that is marked in such an inhuman way. Conversely, the artisans are made to assume that the acquaintance will provide them a better chance to sell their artistic production, as compared to their domestic places of production, since they have an opportunity to interact with and be pleasant to the “visiting guest.”

The pattern of social distance maintained by owners from artisans continues to mark its presence at various workplaces, like popular factories or elite showrooms or privately owned handlooms, across the dominant geographical sites of craft production. These industries were well-established and quite prosperous as they employed thousands of workers earlier. But, with time, as they were brought under the aegis of tourism, they lost their separate identity and relevance, and their status was reduced to that of secondary and tertiary sectors. For the families of artisans, it was hard to find suitable matches for their children, and this unabated social segregation would eventually force them to change their occupation. The younger generation, because of the social embargo, refused to continue with the traditional or familial occupation. Nevertheless, over several generations, the same families were involved in processes of production, distribution, exporting, and weaving. A good example of this is the Kashani family which was involved for generations in producing a specific type of carpet known as Kashani carpet as it has an overwhelming demand in the market. Arjun Appadurai (1986: 33) registers that

the politics of demand frequently lies at the root of the tension between merchants and the political elites; whereas merchants tend to be the social representatives of unfettered equivalence, new commodities, and strange tastes, political elites tend to be the custodians of restricted exchange, fixed commodity systems, established tastes and sumptuary customs.

In the larger framework of political economy, one might ask why is it that the zamindar community alone is seen as the impediment to the restoration of the Dal Lake and if it is the Dal Lake that the state really wants to clean up, or is it the business interests of the influential class that it seems to be safeguarding. The rehabilitation plan is only about the “displacement” of the zamindar community and not about the houseboat community or the hoteliers, when they are equally responsible for the terrible state of the lake. Why has only the zamindar community been facing the continuous brunt of this evacuation process for almost three decades now? Likewise, the displacement of the potter community from Chandpura, near Harvan, validates an administrative bias as clearly. The state projects the Dal Lake as a unified space and as such creates conditions for “constitution of the state monopoly of legitimate and symbolic violence” (Bourdieu 1998: 33). The tourist department calls it “opportunity cost,” that is, they are doing pure economics with the place and people to create “opportunities,” primarily for reshaping the tourism landscape. When economic growth is prioritised through tourism, then socio-economic resources are completely traded off. There is strong state support to expand tourism by providing a legal cushion to the property owners and propel marketing to attract more tourists (Bramwell and Lane 2013).

In Conclusion

In a letter to Vishnu Sahay, dated 30 May 1950,10 Sheikh Abdullah, the then Prime Minister of Kashmir, explains his concern for the shortage of liquor in Kashmir. In the letter, Sheikh Abdullah requests for the supply of 400 cases of Scotch Whisky, 100 cases of French Brandy and 200 cases of English Beer in order to attract tourists to Kashmir. He expresses his displeasure over the fact that prior to partition, a majority of the liquor firms would get their supply from Karachi wine merchants and this option was now closed indefinitely, and because of the non-availability of liquor, the tourists had a tough time during their visit to Kashmir. The letter states,

Kashmir will cease to have an attraction for visitors used to drinks if they are not able to get it in the market at the reasonable rates. There is great demand for liquor in the clubs also. You will thus see if you want to encourage visitors it is necessary that adequate stocks of liquor are made available here particularly for the use in clubs and hotels.

This anecdote points to the importance of the tourism industry in Kashmir and the various stakeholders involved in it. The political economy of tourism would be better illustrated by how different industries like shawl, carpet, silk, and wool factories were well-established as they enjoyed separate identities. With the onset of mass tourism and mass consumption, these industries were given a status of allied sectors. Thus, they slid slowly into a deep abyss and are directly responsible for the depression in employment generation in Kashmir.


1 Universities in Kashmir teach tourism in the disciplines of business or management studies, as a part of their educational curriculum. In fact, to cater to the needs of tourism, hotel management and business studies colleges have come up in Kashmir, more specifically in the urban areas.

2 There are different categories of houseboats such as A, B, C, D, E and deluxe. The houseboats are categorised into different grades depending on the range of services they offer to prospective customers.

3 Slathia et al (2007) note in their article that farmers in the Doda district of Jammu province use storage bins that are made of deodar wood to store maize and paddy grains. Deodar storage bins are preferred as they have insecticidal properties because of the oil content in the wood.

4 A small tea stall owner named Raheem Kazir made a platform like structure to sell his tea and snacks. And this initial development was complemented by a canopy of popular tress and eventually the space was remodelled into a public park, now known as Nehru Park. Nehru Park is a popular place and it also houses a modern book and coffee shop. The case of Nehru Park is stimulating to understand the idea of encroachments and how such sites have become theatres for social interactions.

5 Every place has its own idea and a set of standards as to what constitutes a city. However, despite some known differences, there are still few universal signifiers that characterise a place as a city, like that of massive population, a well-maintained service sector and a government body (Timothy 2011).

6 The first extension of the Boulevard road was from Dalgate to Cheshmashahi that took place around the 1930s and there were subsequent extensions driven by the political agenda of the ruling elites.

7 If Dalgate is one end of the Dal Lake, then Tailbal, as per the Dal dwellers, is the other end of the lake. Old residents still have those causeways imprinted in their memory, when they would ferry to Tailbal area with their boats.

8 The vegetable markets in popular or mediated discourse are known as floating markets. There are two main markets, one is near Kand Mohalla and the other is at Kani Kachi Kadil. Kand Mohalla is the busiest one and is quite close to the Nehru park and is an essential part of what forms the “premium” site of the lake.

9 A number of roads have been built inside the interiors of the lake such as Nai Sadak, Burhan Wani road (built during the 2016 uprising) and another road to be completed soon from Khujarbal to Chowdary Bagh.

10 Sheikh Abdullah (1950), “Letter to Vishnu Sahay (D3123-K/150, 12(15)K): Tourists Grant of a Permit to the Government. Government to Import Certain Spirituous Liquor for Consumption,” 30 May, Ministry of State, National Archives of India, New Delhi.


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Updated On : 1st Nov, 2018


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