Kashmir’s 100-day shutdown: Time refuses to heal

Srinagar, Oct 16 (IANS) The almost daily anti-government protests, the curfew and near-total shutdowns, and a host of other restrictions sparked by the July 8 killing of a young militant enters its 100th day on Monday. With no respite in sight, both the separatists and authorities seem to be looking to ‘Time’ to resolve matters — one way or the other.

The separatist leaders spearheading the agitation — every single one of them in jail or under detention in their houses — have set the agenda for the stone-pelting protests through weekly calendars. And the authorities seem to be working with the limited aim of containing these with minimal damage.

They haven’t quite succeeded. Their response to the violent protests that spontaneously erupted a day after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani has so far left over 91 people dead and more than 12,000 injured.

Most depressingly, over 100 of the people hit by pellets fired from pump-action guns by the security forces are facing the grim prospect of permanent blindness.

As news of the protests slipped from prime time to lesser slots on TV and from the front pages to the inside pages of the national media, Kashmiris of all hues — from the separatists to those aligned to the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti – seem to believe that sheer fatigue will finally bring things back to normal.

“Today, tomorrow or the day after. India will realise the futility of sitting on prestige and will have to give in to the demands of the people,” a separatist sympathiser told IANS, even as he accepted that 100 days of violence and near-continuous curfew has dealt an almost death-blow to every public institution in the Kashmir Valley.

On the other hand, mainstream politicians, especially those in power, believe the futility of endless violence will dawn on its perpetrators with the passage of time.

“How long can they (separatists) keep telling people — and expect them to believe — that Azadi is waiting on the other side of the Jhelum river,” a mainstream politician belonging to the ruling PDP-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance told IANS.

Interestingly, neither the mainstream politician nor the separatist agreed to be named. Perhaps because both have sustained their constituencies too long on abstract promises — and even veiled confessions would mean further trouble for them.

As both sides wait for time to heal, or throw up solutions, the worst sufferer of the 100-day strife — the average Kashmiri struggling to earn a daily living — is fast coming to terms with a “new normal” marked by acute scarcity, sky-high prices, closed educational and other institutions, and the emergence of organised crime that seems to have stepped into the vacuum created by the absence of law and order.

All public institutions have suffered to an extent that might take years to recover, but the greatest loss has been to the education of children. All schools, colleges and universities have been closed since the violence erupted.

The state government has sought to get educational institutions opened, but the move has been successfully resisted by the separatists who believe that their re-opening is a backdoor attempt to bring back normalcy. In this tug-of-war, the valley is likely to see another generation of dropouts this year.

The government has decided to hold secondary-level examinations this November, a move that prompted students to launch a parallel agitation. They argue that they have not covered syllabi and will not sit in those exams. Some demand the deferment of these exams till March, while others even seek mass promotion to the next class up to the 10+2 level.

One of the valley’s biggest earners, tourism, has been hit like never before. In June, before the protests erupted, it had appeared a promising summer/autumn with all tourist centres reporting heavy bookings. With the protests covering the entire tourist season, hotels, guesthouses, houseboats and other tourism-related activities have come to a grinding halt. For valley’s tourist industry, it is a shutter-down situation.

Horticulture is another casualty. Most of this year’s apple crop has been somehow harvested and dispatched to terminal markets for sale. But returns have been alarmingly low.

“An apple box would fetch anything between Rs 700 to 800. This time our produce is being sold at Rs 400 to 450 in the terminal markets,” said Showkat Ahmad, an orchardist in south Kashmir’s Shopian district famous for high-quality Kashmir apples.

“We have no control on prices this year because dealers from outside were not able to come to the valley for on-the-spot price negotiation. We had little choice other than to send our consignments to them and accept whatever they said our produce fetched.”

Even as thousands of Kashmiris earning a day’s meal engaged in tourism, transport or small businesses are finding it difficult to sustain families, there is a construction boom going on at places notified as green belts or at places where obtaining government permissions for constructions is next to impossible.

“A truckload of sand that would cost around Rs 7,000 before the unrest is being sold at Rs 15,000. There is a huge demand for sand, cement, gravel and other construction materials in areas where construction had been banned by the government,” said a truck owner in north Kashmir’s Ganderbal district.

As the security forces focus on law and order, smugglers are having a field day looting forests and selling timber at throwaway prices.

“It is a free-for-all situation. The authority of the state government has been undermined to an extent that the field staff of various departments turn a deaf ear to complaints of smuggling, unlawful constructions, encroachments,” said Fayaz Ahmad, a Srinagar resident.

With hardly a clue about how to end the misery of the people or end the current crisis, both separatists and the authorities are looking heavenward.

“Time is a greatest healer” is the common refrain. But for the average Kashmiri, Time has this year already proven to be the greatest destroyer.

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at sheikh.abdul@ians.in)

–IANS

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