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Why Does Jammu’s Chenab Valley See So Many Road Accidents?

The geopolitics in the Indian union territory (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir may frequently grab headlines, but some areas remain mostly unknown to the world. These came to light after the news of the Suigwari minibus mishap in Doda district, resulting in 15 casualties so far, broke.

Prime minister Narendra Modi tweeted a condolence message through the handle of the Prime Minister’s Office, praying for the recovery of the injured.

The Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban districts in Jammu and Kashmir, are known for their dangerous roads. These roads are located alongside the banks of the Chenab river—some with more than 20 curves per km.

Where is Chenab Valley?

The question is: what made it dangerous and why do the people of the “Chenab valley” call themselves politically orphans?

The Chenab valley is a term used to identify the Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban districts, by the locals, due to their unique culture, tradition and topography—different from the administrative Jammu division, of the Jammu and Kashmir UT.

The Chenab valley is a region located in the Himalayas, named after the river Chenab. The term was first used by Swedish geologist, traveller and researcher, Erik Stefan Norin, in his research paper: “The Relief Chronology of Chenab Valley” in 1926.

Location of Chenab Valley within Jammu and Kashmir marked on a map in red
The Chenab valley (marked in red) consists of the Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban districts. Photo credit: wikipedia.com

Later, the term for representing Doda, Kishtwar, and Ramban districts was popularised in the ’90s.

What Do Political Parties Stand?

All political parties call it the Chenab valley, except the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP’s stand on this region is almost against it. The Tribune reported that BJP spokesperson Varinder Gupta said:

“Using the term ‘Chenab valley’ in the official handout amounts to pursuing communal politics in Jammu and attempting to divide this region along religious lines.”

Some right-wing writers from Jammu have tried to invalidate this name, arguing that the Chenab valley doesn’t exist, while others say that the Chenab valley exists only in the newly-created district of Reasi.

Chenab River in Indian city of Akhnoor in Jammu
The name of the Chenab valley and therefore, the river, has been called into question by some right wing groups. Photo credit: wikipedia.com

When their plans to invalidate the name failed, some of them said that it’s not Chenab, but Chandrabhaga, following the renaming formula of Uttar Pradesh’s Yogi government. It is true that two of the several, important tributaries that join to form Chenab are called Chandra and Bhaga.

However, other rivers, such as the Marusudar and Kalnai, also join the Chenab. It doesn’t mean we should change the name of the main river after its tributaries. It is to be noted that the name of the river Chenab mentioned in the Rig Veda is Askini.

Demand For A Separate Identity

Many social and political activists, and leaders, have been demanding a separate division for the Chenab valley’s Doda, Kishtwar, and Ramban districts. In 2019, after Ladakh got divisional status, a number of protests occurred in the Chenab region.

These protests demanded a separate division for its three districts. People from the Chenab valley think that they have been politically orphaned after the independence of India.

Farid Ahmed Naik, a Doda-based journalist, who also works as a social worker, said that, “The Chenab region is politically orphan as all political parties, whether they are state-level or national-level, whether pro-Kashmiri or pro-Indian, have neglected the region.”

Naik added, “Our region is known as the backward region in Jammu and Kashmir. Whenever we visit Jammu or any other big city, the people call us ‘backward people’ and I personally feel bad when they don’t understand why we remain backwards. But, it has a long history of negligence by the political parties and the government of Jammu and Kashmir.”

Chenab Valley Remains Underdeveloped

The region witnessed some glimpses of development when the only chief minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir, from Chenab Valley’s Bhalessa, Ghulam Nabi Azad, came into power. Azad did lots of developmental work in his tenure, including building lots of roads, bridges, schools and colleges.

But, this was the last tenure of a CM who might have worked for the region, but after his tenure ended, development proceeded at snail’s pace. Most of the roads which were sanctioned remain under construction to date.

This region possesses more than six hydroelectric power projects, but many villagers in the region have never seen electricity in their lifetimes.

Further resources in the region include high-quality saffron, sapphire mines, and others that continue to remain unknown to the rest of the world.

Featured image is for representational purposes only. Photo credit: Chenab News Updates, Facebook.
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