The first day of Ramazan in Kashmir was marked by curfew like restrictions in Srinagar and Sopore. The otherwise busy bazaars of Srinagar were deserted as paramilitary forces had barricaded almost all major routes leading towards the old city. But compared to other Muslim majority regions in the world Ramazan in Kashmir is a dull affair. In other Muslim majority regions, the beginning of Ramazan starts with market places remaining open from Iftar to Sehri. While in Kashmir everything comes to a halt just an hour before its Iftar time. People who are in transit are literally left on passersby’s mercy for even a glass of water to break their fasts. Every single shop, small and big, including those dealing with eatable items, and other essentials close their shops down just before it is time to break the fast. In places like Delhi, Aligarh, Lucknow, and Hyderabad one can find entire marketplace wearing festive look as Ramazan starts. Shopkeepers offer special discounts to attract customers and decorate their shops in such way that catches ones attention. Even entire marketplaces are lit with decorative lamps and lightings. The mood in the market during Ramazan is of festivity as people make it a point to step out of their houses after Iftar and enjoy different delicacies at offer. But Kashmir offers a complete contrast, both in terms of celebrations and the reaction from public and the business owners. Despite repeated appeals by Mirwaiz and other religious figures businessmen across Kashmir, especially in Srinagar’s old city area refused point blank to stay open.
In last 25 years of conflict, Kashmiris have leaned to return home before the day ends and night falls. During peak militancy, when there was no way to reach ones loved ones except through prized telephones, people would prefer to return home early. Same was the case with businessmen and shopkeepers. With nobody roaming on the streets of Srinagar, shopkeepers had no attraction to keep their shops open. And slowly, once bustling streets of Srinagar, where tourists and locals rubbed shoulders till midnight, fell silent like ghostly lanes. That was the time when night life in Kashmir ceased to exist.
But over the years as security situation improved to great extent, and the rush of tourists once again filled the streets of Srinagar, markets in the city showed a sign of confidence. The new deadline from peak militancy era’s 7 pm improved to beyond 9 pm. Now once can easily find a few shops selling essentials in staying up till midnight. It has added to the confidence of both shoppers and business owners.
How Ramazan still presents an altogether different picture. There is still a long way to go, in terms of public awareness, willingness and reason to step out of their houses to enjoy a few delicacies that are on offer. Things might have improved to a large extent but the confidence of going out in the middle of night, or anytime between Iftar and Sehra, and find a few hangout joints open, is a distant dream in Kashmir.
Hope this Ramazan is different. But the way entire Kashmir, especially Srinagar city, was held hostage by men in uniform on the first day of this holy month, it seems a long battle against darkness.
Let new government, instead of caging people in this month, let them enjoy the blessing and stroll in the free air.