Every time, there is a crisis, the only response that Kashmir registers is the strike. If counted from the day hartals become a norm, Kashmir might have created a record. In 20 years till 2010, Kashmir remained on strike or under curfew for more than 1600 days. In 1990, Kashmir remained under curfew or strike for 198 days; in 1991 for 207 days; in 1992 for 148 days; in 1993 for 139 days. How many days did Kashmir work?
But the situation has changed to a level that hartal should no more be a norm. It might be making a small news item – it rarely does in Delhi or even internationally, it rarely creates the pressure on the system. Anything in excess is always bad.
A number of thinkers within and outside Kashmir insist that people living in overwhelming situation do resort to ‘weapons of the weak’. These are self-flagellations like strike and stone pelting. Strikes paralyze a society’s effort to stand on its own legs. It punishes economically. It drains resources and it kills the spirit to work and deliver.
While a right to observe a strike can’t be taken away from society, it’s frequent or perpetual use do more harm than good. Sometimes it is the strike that triggers a response which is harsher. In the backdrop of last two weeks, the security systems in place have publicly accused the separatist leaders for curfew imposition.
The strike has become such a hot potato that various ‘stakeholders’ are desperate to score the first point. It is this idea of protest that has become the new barometer of the following which any leader can claim. In reality, it is a fact. Strikes are driven more by involvement of the masses towards any particular issue rather than by who is calling the shots. A few years ago, it stunned the separatist block when a mainstreamer called for a strike and it was an astounding success, simply because people associated with that issue.
Every time the issue of strike was taken up with the separatist leaders, the only response that came was: what is the other option? It is obviously for them to explore it and tell the people who follow them.
At the same time, the security apparatus of the state has not been kind in offering some space to create alternatives in a well-breathing atmosphere. Every time, there is a crisis, the state government puts off all the switches it controls: newspapers, cable TV, internet and right to protest peacefully. While it adds to the chocking atmosphere, it raises questions over many attributes that make a vibrant democratic set-up.
In situations in which a society is gradually limping out of a protracted conflict, lack of space and pressure cooker situation could add to the crisis in the long run. People need to be encouraged to use the existing systems in place to given vent to their feelings, manage their anger, as long as it does not hit a peaceful atmosphere. If Delhi can afford Jantar Mantar, why can’t Srinagar have one such place?