Sunday, Dec 10, 2023

Neutron Valley

Neutron Valley

Voices are raised against coercion and stones

Neutron Valley PTI

Protest Calendar

  • July 17: Students shall protest after 2 pm
  • July 18: Complete shutdown
  • July 19: All government employees should protest
  • July 20: General public protest
  • July 21-22: Sit-in protests
  • July 23: Protests in all districts and a march to Khankah-e-Moula shrine in downtown Srinagar
  • July 24: Doctors and lawyers shall organise anti-India protests
  • July 25: No shutdown. Hurriyat will announce new schedule.


The Kashmir Valley wears a spectral look these days. Over the past one month, people have been forced to be cooped up in homes, even as separatists issue one “protest calendar” after the other. Government offices, banks, schools, shops and courts remain closed. Whenever they open—they did so twice in the past three weeks—boys in masks are out on the streets, asking everyone to follow the hardline Hurriyat’s ‘Quit Kashmir Programme’. The protest charter was launched after the death of a 17-year-old boy, Tufail Ahmad Mattoo, on June 11 in Srinagar. Since then at least 17 more youths, mostly teenagers, have died in police and CRPF action. Over 1,000 youths have been arrested.

When normal life briefly resumed on July 18, there was a mad rush on the streets. People made a beeline for ATMs and grocery stores. The Jammu & Kashmir Bank had to press into service two minibuses to ferry cash to its chain of ATMs after they ran out of money in the first hour. At 2 pm, when many shops didn’t close, in defiance of the Hurriyat programme, masked men descended on the streets. In a bid to enforce a shutdown, they stoned vehicles before the watchful eyes of policemen. Soon, Srinagar was shut again.

Next day, the government reimposed curfew in many places. In the words of Mark Magnier, an American journalist, the city once again looked “as though it had been hit by a neutron bomb, its buildings intact but its streets largely devoid of people, except for an occasional figure scampering, rodent-like, along shuttered storefronts”.

As the Omar Abdullah government keeps an eerie silence, many bold voices are being raised against the unending  disruptions. They cite the futility of the 1,500 days of shutdown observed since 1990 as proof that protests lead Kashmiris nowhere. Says Shakeel Qalandar, president of the Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir (FCIK): “Each day we lose over Rs 100 crore due to closure of shops and stalling of business activities. It means we have lost thousands of crores in the two decades of conflict.”

A leading newspaper, Greater Kashmir, said in a front-page piece, “It goes without saying that the strikes have crippled life in Kashmir.... Schools and colleges look like a thing of the past. Our children have forgotten the habit of learning. This will have a long-term adverse effect. Before another programme of protests is made public in the next couple of days, it’s imperative for the separatist leadership to respond to the problems faced by people due to extended strikes.” Predictably, this call for introspection proved costly. Copies of the newspaper were burnt, and its office attacked; an employee there was flooded with angry calls and hate mail.

On their part, separatists like Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and JKLF chief Yasin Malik are tight-lipped. Sajjad Lone, a former separatist, has hinted at this in a recent posting on Facebook. “All parties, in particular Hurriyat (Mirwaiz) and JKLF should support the Hurriyat (Geelani),” he writes. “Far too long have there been accusations of betrayal. At this juncture the people are heeding their time-tables. Give them a free hand. If they (Geelani, the Mirwaiz and Malik) deliver they lead. If they don’t, despite hartals and fatalities, leave it to their conscience, whether they deserve to lead. Let us all facilitate the evolution of our nation.” The path Kashmir’s immediate future takes will depend on how the clash of these two opposing views plays out.