Amid irresistible beauty, residents are trapped in a very familiar cycle of utter fear.

They come for the biggest tulip garden on the continent. They come for the snow-capped Himalayas. They come for the lakes. They come for the natural beauty that over time has enchanted Hindu Kings, Mughal emperors, British colonialists and millions of other people.

But what lures visitors to the area offers only a brief escape for many residents, who remain stuck in an old and unending cycle of fear, desperation and uncertainty.

At the tulip garden in Srinagar early this summer, Suhail Ahmed Bhat, a fruit seller from the nearby town of Baramulla, was taking in the beauty of a million flowers.

''I feel good in the garden. But outside the garden, there is a sense of fear - lots of checkpoints, lots of guns,'' Mr. Bhat said. ''There is no mental peace.''

LIKE much of the rest of the world, Kashmir is emerging from the pandemic. But starting in late 2019, it also had to endure a different kind of lockdown, enforced aggressively by the Indian military.

A punishing embargo cut off communications to the outside world as New Delhi revoked the states, semi-autonomous status and put local political leaders - even those long friendly to India - under house arrest.

For now, there is a new normal in the Kashmir Valley, the most restive part of the region, according to opposition leaders, analysts, residents and officials, more than a dozen of whom gave interviews.

They say it is predicated on a heavy military presence that is quick to jail dissenting voices. With no avenues for democratic expression, many Kashmiris find themselves in the uneasy limbo that exists between militarized state and militant separatism.

The residents point to a high rate of unemployment and low demand for goods to counter the government's claims that it had ushered billions of dollars in new investment into the valley.

For Tanveer Khan, a master's degree in commerce hasn't helped with job prospects. He now runs a small garment shop, and he sees a bleak future.

''Firing, crackdown, grenades, arrests, bloodshed - I spent my childhood in that,'' Mr. Khan said. ''I wish my children do not see that life. But I do not see any hope.''

Irfan Abbas, a chartered accountant who was at the tulip garden with a group of friends, was weary of the new calm normal.

''So much suppression, so much depression,'' Mr. Abbas said. ''It is like a volcanic situation - it can explode any time.''

The World Students Society thanks authors Hari Kumar and Mujib Mashal.


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