India opens rail link to Kashmir in bid to bring a sense of unity - Independent, UK
- India opens rail link to Kashmir in bid to bring a
sense of unity
By Justin Huggler in Delhi
14 April 2005
India has opened the first stage of a spectacular
railway that will connect Indian-administered Kashmir
with the rest of the country.
When finished, the line will cross the vast barriers
of the Himalayas and the Pir Panjal mountains, include
a tunnel six miles long through the mountains, and a
mile-long bridge 1,300ft high over Chenab river. The
first section, which does not even cross the higher
mountains, already includes 158 bridges and 20
India is desperate to make Kashmir feel a part of
India. Opening the first section, from Jammu to
Udhampur, the Indian Prime Minister, Manmoan Singh
said it was "yet another step to strengthen the
relations between India and the people of Kashmir".
Despite being ruled by India for more than 50 years,
most Kashmiris do not view themselves as Indians. They
refer to leaving their valley and heading south as
"going to India".
Last week, the first bus service started between
Indian and Pakistani Kashmir. India and Pakistan may
be in the midst of their most fruitful peace talks in
years, but they are still locked in rivalry over
Kashmir. Although most Kashmiris want independence,
India and Pakistan are unwilling to stop claiming
Last week Kashmiris were glued to televisions,
watching the India-Pakistan cricket series. But in
Indian Kashmir, they were all cheering on Pakistan.
Which is where the railway comes in for India. Few
things have united the vast and disparate land of
India as effectively as its extraordinary railways,
built under British colonial rule. You can get almost
anywhere in India by train, from Assam in the
north-east to Kerala in the south.
To a large extent, the railway has given India a sense
of unity. Now the government is hoping it can bring
the same to Kashmir.
Part of Kashmiris' sense of isolation lies in the
woeful infrastructure India has built there. The
Kashmir Valley is connected to India by a road, and
when it was blocked by snow this year the valley was
cut off for days. Electricity was cut too, and Kashmir
ran short of fuel for heating in its worst winter for
But with daily killings, reports of Indian security
forces torturing detainees, and thousands of Kashmiris
disappearing after being detained, the chances are
that it will take more than a train to win Kashmiri
hearts and minds.
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