Kashmir’s Mussoorie tensions settled as governments intervene

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SRINAGAR: The issue of Kashmiri traders being forced to leave Mussoorie has been resolved, top official sources revealed to Kashmir Life. It was Home Ministry intervening on the request of Chief Minister Ms Mehbooba Mufti.

Kashmiri shops at Mussoorie;s Mall Road

“It was a pretty serious issue as Kashmiri traders were being targeted and forced to leave Mussoorie, some even after spending half a century there,” a top official source said. “Chief Minister Ms Mufti took up the issue with the Home Ministry and then cabinet Home Secretary got the two Chief Secretaries in touch and it is as good as settled.”

The official source said, the Kashmiri traders were so scared that they had arranged trucks to drive out of the city. “Nobody is touching them now and the Chief Minister has made it clear that the heat crimes against Kashmiri must stop.” He said the Uttarakhand chief secretary S Ramaswamy is now in touch with J&K counterpart B B Vyas.

A Kashmiri Shikara in Mussoorie lake

The trade, however, in Mussoorie is still restive. “The fact is that a senior official from Dehradun, possibly from the office of the Chief Secretary rang us up and told the Sahab is coming to see us,” Ashiq Hussain, one of the traders told Kashmir Life. “We are waiting for him.” He said they were genuinely scared though no Kashmiri was involved in any crime, whatsoever. “Officials meeting us is all right but we want the people who were running the hate campaign against us should tell us that they have withdrawn the ultimatum.” The hate-Kashmir right-wingers had asked Kashmiri traders to leave by February 2018. “They must withdraw that ultimatum,” the trader insisted, “and that will give us some confidence.”

Beig Brothers Ghjulam Mohammad and Ashrasf in Mussoorie. Picture Times of India

Mussoorie has almost 20 Kashmiri shops and almost all are selling Kashmir handicrafts. Almost eight of them are as old as half a century. All others have entered the market in last few years.

Tensions started on June 18, when there were a few pro-Pakistan slogans after India lost to Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final. Sub-inspector Mukesh Dimri, who is investigating officer for the incident, told Indian Express that local BJP leaders created ruckus at Mussoorie police station, demanding the arrest of those who raised slogans.

Next morning, an office bearer of BJP’s Mussoorie unit Kushal Singh Rana filed a complaint against “unknown persons” for the sloganeering. A day later, Rajat Aggarwal, president of Mussoorie Traders & Welfare Association, announced that no Kashmiri will be allowed to rent a shop in the town March 2018 onwards. In a meeting that he presided, it was decided that Kashmiri hawkers in Mussoorie would be “removed by force with immediate effect” and those who had rented shops would be removed from the premises by February 2018.

Fayaz Khawja in Mussoorie Picture: Indian Express

On June 22, according to Indian Express, Mussoorie’s BJP MLA Ganesh Joshi wrote to state Principal Secretary (Home) about how “Kashmiris raised pro-Pakistan slogans” and sought a police verification of Kashmiri traders in view of “national security”.

The police, however, have established that no Kashmiri was involved in the sloganeering. They had arrested three minor, two from Saharanpour (UP) and one from Butcher-Khana locality of Landour, a habitation within the Mussoorie belt. They were kept in Dehradun Juvenile Home for two days and sent home after counseling.

As the Kashmiri businessmen felt scared, it warranted the intervention from the J&K government. Though it has been done, the government may require helping the traders to get their confidence restored and only help can come from the BJP, ruling PDP’s ally.

Some of the Kashmiri traders operating from Mussoorie have spent more than a generation in the tourist hill town. Ghulam Mohammad Baig, for instance, left his Nawa Kadal in Srinagar in 1962, and made Mussoorie his home. His family rebuilt their lives, after setting up a jewelry store, brick after brick. Beig is now 66 and was running the prospects of yet another uprooting.

For others like Altaf Hussain Khwaja, from Kupwara’s Zurhama, the ultimatum was an attack on integrity. “My brother Mushtaq Ahmed Khwaja is a Major in the Army,” Altaf told Indian Express. “Still, my nationalism is under doubt.”

Tina Dabi with Athar Aamir Khan( Pic: FB)

“We are being asked to go. But isn’t this our country? “ Ishfaq Ahmed, 24, who set up his shop, New Kashmir Emporium, three months ago on the Mall Road, told Times of India. “Punish us if we are guilty but don’t let some people’s action harm all of us.” Added his cousin Altaf: “We have rented the shop and employed five young boys from Kashmir. We are working peacefully here. Can’t we just earn our living?” The news paper quoted Zahir Bakhar Bhat, 29, saying: “My friend and I have invested Rs 55 lakh on this shop that we opened a month ago. How will we make up for this loss?”

Interestingly, this is for the second time in less than a year that Kashmir was in news in Mussoorie. Last time, it was the high voltage love affair between IAS probationers Athar Aamir-ul-Shafi Khan and Tina Dabi. Both from 2014 UPSC batch, Khan was second in the list and Dabi the topper. They fell in love and have now married. Mussoorie hosts the academy where IAS is taught. With BJP taking its hate-Kashmir campaign to the new extremes, Mussoorie was in news again for Kashmir, though settled officially.

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