Has Violence Become Its Own Master in Kashmir?
Has violence become its own master in Jammu and Kashmir? Increasingly, it looks like it, with both mainstream and separatist leaders admitting they are not in control of the situation in the valley.
The cost paid in terms of human lives and economy since the July 8 killing of militant commander Burhan Wani and the later street protests will haunt Kashmir for long. Kashmir’s tourism season had started wonderfully this summer after the unprecedented floods of 2014. Hotels and houseboats in the valley ran full and were over-booked till September-end. That rosy picture has faded into oblivion as if it never existed.
Every tourist except those going to Ladakh has left the Kashmir Valley. “All bookings have been cancelled and it is shutters this year for the tourist industry,” said a top hotelier who did not wish to be named. Most hotels in Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg, the three major tourist destinations in Kashmir, have decided to shut their establishments for now.
Trade and industry have bled white during the last 15 days of curfew and separatist-called shutdowns. A modest estimate puts the losses suffered by them during this period at a whopping Rs 1,000 crore. Supplies are running thin as the strategic Srinagar-Jammu highway, the lifeline to the landlocked valley, remains shut because of protests during the day. Trucks carrying petroleum products and other essentials to the valley are entering at night, said a senior official. The highway has been worst hit because most protests in south Kashmir have taken place in towns and villages situated either on the highway or close to it.
Education has taken an even more severe beating. Universities, colleges and schools have been shut in the valley for nearly a month. The government decision to open schools in four districts is yet to evoke a positive response from the students or teachers. The number of pilgrims arriving for the ongoing Amarnath Yatra has been steadily declining. Due to this, the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board has closed two out of the four registration counters for the pilgrims in the Jammu region.
Yet, the greatest loss suffered by Kashmir has been in terms of human lives and incapacitating injuries during clashes between the mobs and the security forces. Over 45 people, mostly youths belonging to south Kashmir districts of Anantnag, Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama, have died in clashes after Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed on July 8. Doctors fear that among the injured, nearly 40 who sustained pellet gunshots fired by security forces might never regain their vision. This bone-chilling revelation is enough to prove that Kashmir has both figuratively and literally been through its darkest fortnight.
The separatists have been calling shutdowns during this period and the authorities have been responding with curfews and restrictions. This has been the story of Kashmir since insurgency started in the late 1980s. The sordid drama of death and destruction can continue endlessly if Kashmir’s leaders, irrespective of their political loyalties, have indeed lost control on the ground.
The separatist camp is calling for protests while admitting it is not in complete control of the situation. Mainstream politicians have been hiding behind security forces and bullet proof vehicles. If this is the grim reality, then the separatists have no right to call for protests and mainstream leaders have no right to be called people’s representatives. It is time for Kashmiris to introspect and ask who represents them today.
(This article has been published in arrangement with IANS.)