Why, one wonders, if the Indian Government wants to win over the hearts and minds of the people of Kashmir, does it act without bothering properly to think? In what the authorities in Delhi said was a move to hamper the activities of separatist militants still active here, the central Government recently banned pre-paid mobile phone connections in the state. The reckoning was that militants were using such connections, which require fewer ID checks than post-paid phones, to conduct their business.
Needless to say, the move has utterly backfired. Putting aside the questionable logic of the tactic – are militants really incapable of coming up with some fake ID to get a post-paid phone or else buying a satellite phone? – the move has overnight outraged 3.8 million, largely poor subscribers. Around 20,000 phone salesmen are also furious. "It's ludicrous. Do they think we are all militants here," one angry woman from Srinagar, pictured above, tells me.
With bleak, ice-edged winter quickly descending, it seems that among those hardest hit by the ban are the valley's young lovers who in recent years have resorted to the cheap, easily obtained phones to conduct their relationships. Reports suggest that in this conservative Muslim society where arranged marriages remain the norm, couples relied on the phones to carry on their furtive affairs, away from the prying eyes of parents and neighbours. The phones had apparently become a popular gift for a young man to give his beloved.
In this long-traumatised valley that remains one of the most heavily militarised places on the planet, and where uncertainty and anxiety are the constant backdrop of everyday life, I can't help thinking that the people of Kashmir need all the love they can get.
Tea with the salt of the earth
I am visiting a village of widows, women whose husbands were killed after joining the militants. They are poor but kind and insist on making traditional "noon chai" which consists of tea, salt, baking soda, milk and, perhaps, butter. It's highly prized, especially in winter, but to me it tastes awful. I manage three cautious sips before joking that perhaps, several hundred years ago, an ancestor had mistook the sugar for the salt and that they were now having to suffer as a result and pretend it's their tradition. The following morning, struck by a rare case of Delhi belly, my joke seems even less amusing.
All forms, no substance
India's numbing bureaucracy is never far away. Every foreigner has to fill in a visitor's form three times: when they arrive, at the hotel, and when they leave. The forms contain exactly the same information. The final entry asks for "any suggestions". I snigger and write: "Fewer forms."