After an Angry Summer, Winter of Dissent Looms Over Kashmir Valley
Children protesting against the government on the outskirts of Srinagar as a Jammu and Kashmir Police official looks on. Most schools and colleges have been shut in the Valley since the agitation began in July. (Photo: Jaskirat Singh Bawa)
Children protesting against the government on the outskirts of Srinagar as a Jammu and Kashmir Police official looks on. Most schools and colleges have been shut in the Valley since the agitation began in July. (Photo: Jaskirat Singh Bawa)

After an Angry Summer, Winter of Dissent Looms Over Kashmir Valley

Abdul Ahad sits by his shuttered shop in Kupwara market, surrounded by a few friends who partake some of the apples arranged in neat piles in two flat wicker baskets. He doesn’t object and sits mutely as the men intensely discuss the days ahead — the approaching harsh winter, the fear of dwindling domestic supplies and the continuing “civil disobedience” that has forced sundry small stores and markets across most parts of Kashmir to close down.

Ahad, who used to sell meat before turning a temporary apple seller, has much to worry about. “I have so far suffered a loss of between Rs 3 and 4 lakh. Besides, I am not being able to use the shop for which I have already paid the annual rent of Rs 20,000,” Ahad, 50, said, the creases on his forehead standing out sharp.

As Abdul Ahad (above) started talking about the fatigue of Kashmir unrest, his visibly upset friends slipped away. (Photo: Jaskirat Singh Bawa)
As Abdul Ahad (above) started talking about the fatigue of Kashmir unrest, his visibly upset friends slipped away. (Photo: Jaskirat Singh Bawa)

Shortly after the Valley-wide strike, which followed in the wake of the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani, Ahad willingly took part in the civil disobedience movement. The hartal, which has now entered the fourth month, is crippling the region’s economy and hitting the people where it hurts most — the belly.

“It has now gone too far, so far as to hurt me financially,” Ahad said as he rued his meagre income from selling apples. “I have an eight-member family to feed. And now I am not sure what we will do once it begins snowing and the winter chill starts to bite. Our provisions, especially perishable goods such as vegetables, will dwindle,” Ahad said. Perhaps not quite in agreement with him, Ahad’s friends melt away.

Locked shops in Kuwara. (Photo: Jaskirat Singh Bawa)
Locked shops in Kuwara. (Photo: Jaskirat Singh Bawa)

Most shops and markets in Kupwara and the small villages and towns that dot the highway between Sopore and Chowkibal — which is about 50 kms from the Line of Control and beyond which only locals with special passes can access — have remained shut since the shutdown call was announced after Wani was slain.

The strike’s unknown, unseen organisers, suspected to be the usual Hurriyat leaders and an influential section of the Jamaat-e-Islami, have drawn up a “hartal calendar” which has set specific days when the traders are allowed to open shops and do business.

Schools and colleges have remained shut too, leaving the odd bunch of children and adolescents with nothing to do but pelt stones at passing vehicles. Stone-pelting has now turned into a sport to get over boredom and idleness.

The intensity with which stone-pelting began after Wani’s killing has reduced sharply, though some parts of Srinagar remain affected.

Zahoor Mohammad, an autorickshaw driver in Srinagar, has had too much of the strike. “They are now taking it too far. What is the point of a strike that has now begun to bite us?” Zahoor asked.

“I have two very young children and ageing parents. The main concern now is stocking up for winter. While foodgrains are not a problem, vegetables and other items of daily use will be in the days to come,” Zahoor said.

Back in Kupwara, just a stone’s throw away (pun intended) from Abdul, we found a group of CRPF jawans sitting on the kerb of shuttered shops sharing notes on normal day-to-day issues, like the difference in salaries compared to their ‘brothers’ in the Indian Army. The group consisted of two jawans from Punjab, one from Himachal and two from Kerala.

CRPF has graduated from the<i> ‘danda force’</i> of the 1990s to an armed paramilitary force handling unrest in tense areas like Kashmir allowing the army to focus more on counter-insurgency operations. (Photo: Jaskirat Singh Bawa)
CRPF has graduated from the ‘danda force’ of the 1990s to an armed paramilitary force handling unrest in tense areas like Kashmir allowing the army to focus more on counter-insurgency operations. (Photo: Jaskirat Singh Bawa)

Having steered the conversation towards local politics, we found them convinced that the unrest is almost entirely backed and financed by anti-India forces.

Distrust and tension was in the air, with the locals largely avoiding any sort of interaction with these jawans and throwing cold glances at whoever did so.

The jawans were geared up to face any spontaneous outbreak of protest and stone-pelting. After three months of unrest, it has become a way of life for them.

Winter is coming and that might bring some respite from the agitations and the terror attacks, the jawans feel.

It is, however, far from enough to calm the winds of dissent which promises to strike back next summer.

“The summer of 2010 gave birth to a Burhan Wani. How many Burhans do you think will be born after the summer of 2016?” remarked an old observer of Kashmir’s politics.