India’s railway bridge to Kashmir: Path to prosperity or control?

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It took nearly two decades and hundreds of workers to build the massive railway bridge that now stands nearly 1,200 feet over the Chenab River. But its completion marks more than an engineering triumph.

Communication with Kashmir has always been tough. The mountainous region has only one highway connecting to India, which regularly gets blocked due to landslides. As the Chenab Bridge begins operation in the coming months, it will connect the remote region with India’s massive rail network.

Why We Wrote This

A record-breaking bridge is set to connect Kashmir to mainland India. The ambitious project has sparked hope and worry, and shows how development can be a double-edged sword.

For some, the railway promises access to new economic markets and mobility. New Delhi is hopeful that the train will give it a firmer grip on the northern territory, which faces contentious borders with Pakistan and China.

However, in an area that’s been systematically stripped of its local autonomy in recent years, the railway also signals greater mainland control.

Junaid Ahmad, a Kashmiri student, worries that the railway will bring more instability than benefits to Kashmir, an already volatile region struggling with demographic transformation and a heightened military presence. 

“India has a huge population of over 1.2 billion people,” he says, “and railways will certainly make it easy for outsiders to come to Kashmir and maybe settle here.”

The first rays of light, descending over Kashmir’s misty mountain peaks, reveal a massive steel arch that seems to float over gold-tinted clouds. Standing nearly 1,200 feet over the Chenab River, the recently completed structure is the world’s tallest railway bridge and will connect the remote region with mainland India’s massive rail network.

It took nearly two decades, and hundreds of workers and engineers toiling day and night, to build the steel and concrete bridge. Work on the final joint was finished in August.

“It was a daunting task,” says Rashmi Ranjan Mallick, deputy chief engineer of the project. “Building something in other parts of the world is tough, but building something in the Himalayas is altogether a different task.”

Why We Wrote This

A record-breaking bridge is set to connect Kashmir to mainland India. The ambitious project has sparked hope and worry, and shows how development can be a double-edged sword.

But it’s more than an engineering marvel. 

The Chenab Bridge, which is expected to start operating in the coming months after the connecting rail lines are finished, is cause for both hope and concern to many stakeholders in the region. For some, it promises prosperity in the form of new economic markets and freedom of mobility, as well as added security, with Indian troops being able to efficiently access contentious borders with Pakistan and China. But for many Kashmiris, whose region has been systematically stripped of its autonomy in recent years, the railway signals greater mainland control and unwanted transformation.

Junaid Ahmad, a Kashmiri student, worries that the railway will bring more instability than benefits to Kashmir, an already volatile region struggling with demographic transformation and a heightened military presence. 

“India has a huge population of over 1.2 billion people,” he says, “and railways will certainly make it easy for outsiders to come to Kashmir and maybe settle here.”

Breaking through to a troubled region

Kashmir is one of the most militarized places in the world, with Pakistan and India fighting over the Muslim-majority territory since 1947. Polls have shown many in the Indian-controlled Kashmir want to merge with Pakistan or become an independent state, and in recent decades, authorities have struggled to contain separatist rebellions as well as tamp down violence by Indian security forces, who have been accused of grave human rights violations, including rape and extrajudicial killings. 



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