Omar’s counter-strike gospel


Thanks to separatists, Kashmir, these days is enjoying the longest interval of relaxation from curfew-strike cocktail that devoured 2010 summer. The government also contributed in making this possible. Apart from widespread arrests that are still going on, it used almost everything in its arsenal. A Kashmir Life report.

For centuries they have been telling that child is the father of man. And the system in J&K was keen to prove it, once again. As the crisis of continual unrest prolonged and the government was restricted to heavily-guarded mansions, the policy makers in Delhi wanted to use the child to break the crisis.

Kashmiris, off late, has been investing heavily in the education of their children. It continues to be a touchy issue with the people. Given the fact that parents responded to the separatist-planned community schools even when the initiative proved symbolic. A section of the private schools were willing to help. And that was it.

When the government announced to open schools and allow the movement of students and teachers, it proved to be a successful initiative though a couple of buses were hit in stone pelting incidents. Within days some of the leading schools reported over 98 percent attendance.

While the opposition PDP accused the state government of using children, the reality is that the state government started making right noises only after it was convinced that the Home Ministry would not overrule the initiative.
The state government immediately followed the opening of schools with announcing the examination dates. There were no hindrances to the movement of the students who were carrying roll number slips and it encouraged the private transport to ply. While in curfew, sometimes, there were traffic jams at major road inter-sections.

This came amidst the propaganda blitzkrieg unleashed by the government. With the ‘news rooms’ of the local cable networks locked, the state-run media was at the forefront. The emphasis remained on dividing the society on rural urban lines. It featured a series of statements and special capsules suggesting that while the schools in the peripheries were open, those in the urban areas especially in Srinagar were closed. Many politicians tried to give it a spin. Nobody knows did it have any impact in a place where most people do not believe in this kind of the division. It was at the peak of this propaganda offensive that there was street talk about the strike being withdrawn at a time when the apple harvesting would start.

Occasionally, there would be posters pasted on the walls in the safe uptown belts in which individuals or organizations – apparently unknown, would talk against the strike culture.

Interestingly though the business was the prime victim of the situation, trade leaders skipped talking about it, at least publicly. They, at the same time, were not part of the alliance that was issuing calendars for protests and marches which is in contrast to their role in 2008 when they were part of the agitation that broke out over Amarnath land row.

Gradually the situation reached a stage where private transport was out and the attendance in offices and educational institutions improved. This left public transport and the shops as the two major sectors on strike.

Transporters, who suffered massive losses, were at one stage invited by the government and requested to resume work. In one meeting they said they will give it a thought and in the follow up interaction they sought security. They genuinely projected their problem that they are sitting ducks for stone pelters. Most transporters having bank loans are already falling in the NPA (bad loans) category.

This made the government shift its attention towards shopkeepers in late October. Since most of the shops are operated from private premises the government lacked an authority. But it started by hitting out at those where ownership of the shops lies with the government – 5000 shops in Srinagar alone.

These included Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) owned 1576 shops, Srinagar Development Authority’s 1500 shops, R&B Department’s 805 shops, Estates Department’s 251, Custodian of Evacuees Properties owned 212 and SRTC’s 40 shops besides around 600 shops owned by the Muslim Wakf Board. All these shops are located in city’s most fashionable and crowded business belt. It was indicated that since the shops were closed for over four months, the government was competent to cancel the ownership and give it to the people who will operate them.

Soon after the threat, the paper work started. It was during this process that a Task Force was set up under the leadership of Divisional Commissioner that started reviewing the issue case on case basis. In an estimated 2000 cases in which the owners had sub-let the properties to others at a premium were to be targeted. Since it was tantamount to disregard of the agreement, notices were reportedly issued to some of them. Since the strike calendar was changed by Hurriyat (G) and the markets are open, no details are available about the follow up.

Traders do see a hike in the rent. Besides, they see a new phase of corruption starting. The people who are in possession of the shops not allotted to them will have to pay a good amount to keep the authorities silent, the traders foresee.

At the same time, there were some ‘peace’ rallies – at least two of them. In one case, a group of students were driven to the Pratap Park. As they started raising slogans, a ringleader who was behind the initiative was beaten by some pedestrians. In the second case, a number of people driven from villages were assembled near Tourist Reception Centre and later guided to Lal Chowk. They were demanding an end to the strikes arguing that education and business suffered immensely.

Some of them were so keen to make a point that they raised a white flag on the Ganta Ghar (clock tower). This infuriated many of the commoners watching the developments. They lost their cool and got the flag down and set it afire. An argument ensued, leading to a fierce fist fight. The anti-strike mob fled from the scene despite police being at their beck and call. Police later fired a number of tear smoke shells and made a few arrests as well. These rallies got good coverage in Kashmir’s state-run media and Delhi’s electronic media.

But ruling NC, especially a few of its leaders, deserve credit for making efforts to revive its bonds with its cadre. The breakdown of the communication had touched a new high when the ministers could not drive around. They took choppers from Gupkar to SKIMS and from Srinagar to Islamabad, Budgam and Sopore. It was this situation that led to the opposition leader Ms Mehbooba Mufti to say that the unionist forces in Kashmir have become irrelevant. Unlike NC, they are yet to make an effort to bridge that divide and isolation.

As the curfews, strike and restrictions permitted some breathers of normal working days in between, the government arranged a series of gatherings. Primarily it was the Rural Development Ministry that arranged all these gatherings. Some of the NC leaders managed to drive to Baramulla and later to Bandipora. These were good television stories. In Bandipora, however, the people attacked the buses and beat those who attended these rallies.

But it did not deter NC. When two young men died in an accident allegedly triggered by stone pelting on the auto rickshaw they were travelling in a Shopian village, NC’s Ali M Sagar drove to the village and joined mourners. With half a million rupees each for the two families, he spoke to a thousand odd gathering and gave his take on the situation especially stone pelting and the strikes.

The government did announce some initiatives during the strike period. At the peak of Kashmir lockdown, Labour and Higher Education Minister addressed a news conference to announce the changes the government made in its Sher-e-Kashmir Employment and Welfare Policy for Youth (SKEWPY). It hiked the stipend for the unemployed asking them to report to the district employment and counseling centres immediately to collect it. It had more or less no impact on the youth then.

Soon after the assembly session, the government announced taking around 20,000 casual labourers. There were people in Nowhatta Chowk offering forms free of cost. Unlike the Srinagar city, it had a better impact in the countryside where people were seen approaching the local MLAs to get their pie.

But did all these initiatives help? Nobody knows. These investments will be tested only after the jailed are out and the practice of imposing curfew restrictions on drop of a hat will be done away with. There are jokes are already on the Facebook: ‘Khoun Ka Badla, June Mein Leingay’!


About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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