Kashmir opens after 78 days, but only briefly
Srinagar’s Lal Chowk that had been covered in eerie silence, with only security personnel dotting the roads, for 78 days due to relentless curfews and restrictions came back to bustling life on Sunday following a ‘deal’ given by separatists leaders in the weekly ‘protest calendar’.
Shops and business establishment across towns and villages in Kashmir, except Pulwama and Shopian districts, opened post 2 pm in view of the brief relaxation that was offered by separatist leaders in their weekly ‘calendar’ that has otherwise asked people to follow a strict regimen of protests. The government had also lifted curfew from most parts of Kashmir. Although public vehicles remained off the roads, people came out in large numbers to buy essential commodities and resume normal life.
For almost three months, people have been trapped inside their homes due to government-imposed curfew and calls for shutdown by separatist leaders after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander Burhan Wani kicked off a wave of protests in the valley in which 88 people, mostly youth, have died while as thousands have been left injured.
“I haven’t earned anything in the past two months, even on Eid there was a curfew,” said Zaheer Ahmed, a shop owner. “This is a welcome move from the separatists while it might take months to get a solution for the current situation in Kashmir, people can’t go on like this forever. I have my loan payments on the shop coming up, the banks won’t care I haven’t opened my shop for so long.”
Saeda Begum had travelled all the way from Anantnag some 50 km from srinagar in hopes of being able to collect her daughter’s wedding dress from a tailor at Amira Kadal.
“We had given the dress to him (tailor) before the protests started. But since then, we have had to postpone the marriage twice. Now we have decided to go ahead with the ceremony next week. It will be a small affair now with only a few family members and neighbours invited,” said Begum. “She will not wear it. But, I can at least give it to her.”
In the past two months after Wani was killed in an encounter with forces, Kashmir has witnessed unprecedented stretch of curfew and shutdown that have brought normal life to a grinding halt.
For the first time in its tumultuous history, the Valley was sealed under a curfew of Eid-Ul-Adha. There has been an on-and-off government enforced communication blockade, and even at times, functioning of the press has been prevented by direct at indirect means.
“We express our serious concern for the frequent withdrawal internet services in the past 70 days that has hindered the functioning of the press in the valley,” said Masood Hussain, editor of weekly English newspaper, Kashmir Life at a sit-in protest of journalists at Press Enclave in Srinagar.
“In today’s world internet is the life blood of journalism. It can’t be withdrawn whenever someone in the government structure finds it helpful to their actions,” he added.
The relaxation in the strict ‘protest calendar’ issued by the separatist leaders, however, is a short-term one. From tomorrow, as per the ‘calendar’, there will be no relaxations for the next four days, presumably, until a fresh calendar is issued on 29th by Hurriyat patriarch Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
While people were seen making most of the rare moment of normalcy till late in the evening, there were clashes between the forces and protesters in the old parts of Srinagar. In Nowhatta area of Srinagar, people tried to carry out a protest rally post afternoon prayers. But the rally was thwarted by forces by firing teargas shells and controversial pellets guns.
Meanwhile, over the recent days, there has a section of people raising their voice against the weekly protest calendars given by Geelani that have for the past two months become a routine.
In an open letter addressed to Geelani that went viral on social media, a Kashmiri mother of two children Sabeen Beg Wani, questioned the sense behind keeping schools and colleges closed and preventing children from getting education.
For the last two months, all education institutes across the valley have remained closed in the wake of unwavering protests.