Tourism in an Occupied Land: Of ‘Tulip Festivals’ in an age of Settler-Colonialism in Kashmir

Photo by: Adil Abass

India is currently planning a 6-day “Tulip Festival” for Indian tourists to visit Kashmir, “familiarize themselves with its rich culture and traditions,” while Kashmiris remain silenced, caged, and repressed. As thousands and thousands of Indian tourists arrive in Kashmir, in the midst of a pandemic, the cases locally are increasing at a staggering rate. Students, who haven’t attended schools for two years, had just a few weeks ago started school once more, only to have the schools be shut down once more because of the rise in cases.

Here’s what you need to know about Indian Tourism in Kashmir:

Paradise?

Throughout centuries, Kashmir has been lauded as a paradise, a place of bliss for the foreigner to enjoy the tranquility of its beautiful landscape while the native Kashmiris serve their every whim. The Indian state is no different. The occupation is a capitalist endeavor meant to exploit Kashmir and drain it of its resources, endanger its ecology, and erase the native population, bit by bit.

Kashmir is NOT normal.

Indian tourist propaganda claims that Kashmir is “normal” and “safe”. This serves to create a desire for Indians to visit Kashmir, as many of them associate Kashmir with violence and insecurity otherwise. With more Indians visiting Kashmir, the state’s plan of creating more ‘desire’ for Kashmir and Kashmiris in the minds of the average Indian — and thus the need to violently hold on to Kashmir — is accomplished.

These headlines obscure the militarized conditions that Kashmiris are forced to live with an everyday basis.

Tourism and Orientalism

Indian tourism is based on an orientalist view of Kashmiris that positions them as backwards and in need of sophistication that only encounters with India can provide. “Good” Kashmiris are those that happily buy into the Indian project, while “bad” Kashmiris are those that reject it. The Muslim identity of the Kashmiri is portrayed as savage and aggressive and must be contained by the Indian state. As long as the Muslim is contained, the Indian state reassures prospective tourists, then everything will be alright.

Bollywood actors and the “good”, simple Kashmiris that buy into the Indian project.

Why Tourism?

Through tourism, Indians are reassured of the sovereignty of the Indian state in the land they have conquered. Tourism asserts the rule of the occupier and the superiority of the colonizer. The Kashmiri has no agency, no voice, and serves to live for the needs of the Indian master.

What “Development” Really Does:

Indians argue that state-funded tourism will enable the development of Kashmir and benefit people economically. While locals receive some financial benefits from tourism, it is primarily the Indian state and businesses that benefit from portraying normalcy under occupation. Kashmiris are pushed into tourism out of financial necessity. Meanwhile, “development” is a keyword for exploitation of natural resources and destruction of the environment. Recently, the Indian state has indulged in massive deforestation near ecologically fragile tourist hotspots to build more infrastructure. Indigenous communities have been forced out of their homes that they have lived in for decades as a result.

Commodification and Exotification

Pherans, jewelry, and handicrafts are all parroted around like some “exclusive” deal to experience being Kashmiri, without the harm of being an actual Kashmiri. Indian tourists are often seen in Kashmir trying on Kashmiri clothes. This is a blatant cultural appropriation and reduction of Kashmiri culture as nothing but a fun little costume for tourists to try on. The exotification of the “fair’ Kashmiri woman is especially commodified.

War Criminals Promoting Tourism?

Oftentimes, the Indian Army organizes festivals or other events in key tourist areas to “promote & showcase tourism, winter sports and Kashmiri culture.” Recently, they brought in Bollywood “stars” to perform in Kashmir. This is of course the same army that kills, rapes, and blinds Kashmiris. These events — increasing day by day — are merely an attempt to whitewash the crimes of the occupation for international and domestic consumption.

‘Actress’ Amisha Patel at an event organized by the Indian army that aims to “promote” local talent (Dec 2020).

Tourism Under Settler-Colonization

In the settler-colonial context, Indian tourism will thrive off of the exploitation of Kashmir, razing the forests and eventually turning it into a capitalist landscape, littered with hotels, fast food chains, and whatever the Indian colonizers choose will satisfy them next. This tourism that the state pushes as some harmless enterprise that benefits the people of Kashmir is a lie: it is, in the end, a way to ensure profit for the Indian state and assert dominance over the land and its people.

“The whole place might be oozing blood, under siege, the streets deserted, people cooped up inside their homes, weighed down by worries of dwindling food and medicine, but at least we have a successful tulip festival.

In its belligerent quest for a narrative shift on Kashmir, the Indian state deploys everything in its arsenal to declare peace has arrived.” Mirza Waheed, Jacobin

Kashmir is not an exotic paradise of docile servants. Kashmir is not a playground for the oppressor. It is a place of resilient people who have their own aspirations for freedom and dreams for their future. Now put that in your tourist guide.

SWK is a Kashmiri diaspora-led international solidarity movement that seeks to end the Indian occupation and support the right to self-determination.