Kashmir’s elderly politicians Syed Ali Geelani and Dr Farooq Abdullah representing two different ideologies entered into a war on newspaper front pages over the reopening of liquor shops and cinema halls. Investigating the issue, R S Gull suggests both the leaders share ignorance of the ground realities.
Some people are desperate to see Kashmir going back to the old days when wine was available in every nook and corner,” cried an Imam from the pulpit of an uptown mosque on Friday. “This is the Vale of the Pirs and we can never permit it.”
This was not the only mosque where the Friday congregations were briefed by the Imams about the possibility of the government getting aggressive to see wine and liquor shops opening outside the well secured areas. Thanks to unpredictable Dr Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister of the state, who made the suggestion to the trade while presiding over a function that was supposed to commemorate his father Shikeh Mohammad Abdullah. Dr Abdullah talked to the resistance his father offered to the then Prime Minister who had suggested a ban on liquor.
“We watch movies at home but outside we shout Islam is in danger,” Dr Abdullah said. “We don’t have cinemas here, where will the tourists go at night? Do you want them to stay inside the room idle?” He put a very strong case for reopening of the wine and liquor shops because Kashmir is a tourist place.
It had an immediate reaction. “Islam declares liquor as the mother of all evils and orders punishment against those who consume it,” Syed Ali Geelani said, adding, “…Advocating the opening of liquor shops in Muslim majority state speaks of the mental apostasy of Dr Farooq who despite his old age retains his mischievous character.” He actually asked people to protest the move after the Friday prayers. Even lawmaker Engineer Abdul Rashid felt hurt over the statement.
And the chain reaction continued. “We are a liberal and secular democratic country and not an Islamic state,” Dr Abdullah said, this time from Delhi. “If Kashmir wants to have a good tourism it needs to have the required infrastructure. Be it cinema or other things.” he said. Soon, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was tweeting.
“Given that cable TV providers show all the movies that would come to cinemas & some that don’t will Geelani ask us to ban cable now?” read one of his tweets. “I would be interested to know how many Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) member countries (including Pakistan & Bangladesh) allow cinemas to function in their countries?” he said in another one.
The latest on the issue was from Mirwaiz Umer Farooq who told the Friday congregation at Kashmir’s biggest mosque that it is high time for Dr Abdullah to “take rest”. Tourists, the cleric said, do not come to Kashmir to consume liquor but to see the beauty of the Valley. He said J&K is not an Islamic state but a Muslim majority state and values of a society do not change with the status of the state. “Farooq’s son Omar Abdullah, should clarify whether promoting immoral activities was part of the state policy,” Mirwaiz asked.
But, it seems as if the leaders of Kashmir lack access to the realities of the society they claim to be representing. Take a snap shot on the cinema, for instance. Till 1989, cinemas were a full fledged industry and the only option of visible entertainment.
Once banned by insurgents, it created huge vacant spaces in Kashmir. As the moneyed were fleeing and the soldiers landing, some of these vacant spaces were taken over and converted into camps. These ‘camps’ would accommodate kitchens, bed rooms, prison cells and interrogation dungeons. Palladium in the LalChowk was housing BSF when it went up into flames in an incident involving the BSF and the militants.
It is perhaps the only building that symbolizes the ‘war’ Kashmir has gone through. Delay in its reconstruction might be because of the disputes its ownership involves. Shah Cinema in Qamarwari continues to be a security camp, so is the Shiraz in the old city and the Naaz in uptown. All are housing CRPF behind the concertina wiring encircling the premises. Only last week, Firdous, another old city cinema was vacated and the owners are reportedly not interested in running a cinema hall, again. Samad Talkies in Sopore and the Heavan in south Kashmir Islamabad are still with the paramilitary forces.
Post-ban, some of the owners of these cinema halls tried their bit to alter the premises’ use. Regal Cinema in