One Month of the Kashmir Clampdown But No Answer to Big Questions

Call it curfew or restrictions, the lockdown put in place on 5 August, remains intact in downtown Srinagar till now.

6 min read
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Officials, politicians and political analysts, who had predicted 5,000 killings in Kashmir over the abrogation of the Article 370 and 35A, have been proven wrong in the first 30 days of the curfew that has now become unceasing.

Residents have indeed blamed security forces for four deaths, including that of Asrar Ahmad of Soura, who had been hit allegedly with pellets on 6 August and died at Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) on Wednesday, 4 September. But the authorities maintain that not a single death has been caused by any action of the police or security forces.

According to the statistics gathered from hospitals in all 10 districts of the Valley, less than 200 youths, allegedly involved in stone-pelting, have sustained injuries. “Blood did not spill anywhere as not one of them was injured by a bullet. Almost all of them had minor pellet injuries and all have been discharged,” said a senior official while debunking “rumours of rapes and genocide” on social media during the total freeze of mobile phones and internet.

Officials, who spoke to The Quint, did invariably dismiss most of the news reports and tweets, particularly of some journalists and activists, claiming that activists across India were part of “an orchestrated propaganda campaign”.

“We have been fighting simultaneously on multiple fronts. It’s not only Pakistan, militants and separatists who have been creating trouble,” said a senior government functionary. He attributed absence of violence mainly to the continued detention of mainstream politicians. “In 2008, 2010 and 2016, maximum of the stone-pelting and arson had been mobilised and instigated by the so-called mainstream leaders,” he asserted.

‘300 Would Have Died in Political Govt’

“Had there been a civilian government and a chief minister, our alarmists wouldn’t have been proven wrong. There would have been 200 to 300 bodies in the first month,” said another official while recollecting how, around 30 civilians had been killed in the first 48 hours after the Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani’s death in an encounter in July 2016.

Statistics notwithstanding, Governor Satya Pal Malik’s administration has not been able to restore normalcy. The government’s spokesperson and Principal Secretary Rohit Kansal gloats over the fact that ‘restrictions’ have been lifted from 92 of the 105 police station areas. He, however, doesn’t explain as to why markets, schools and private businesses have not opened, and why around 50,000 commercial transport vehicles are still off the road.

Call it curfew or restrictions, the lockdown put in place on 5 August, continues intact in downtown Srinagar on 5 September.

Admittedly, there have been no major clashes or incidents of stone-pelting and, unlike 2008, 2010 and 2016, Pakistani flags have not appeared across the Valley. But independent observers and analysts attribute much of it to the fact that over 70 politicians and crowd-mobilisers, besides around 2,000 stone-pelters have been jailed.

Shutdown After Curfew, Restrictions

Over the weeks, the Valley-wide curfew of 5 August has turned into a shutdown, albeit without a formal call from any leader or party.

Even as shops had begun to resume business for limited hours in the morning and in the evening, most of the traders have locked their shops after the killing of a prominent wholesale dealer, Ghulam Mohammad Mir, in Parimpora.

Shafeeq Alam, a non-Kashmiri salesman, has been fired upon and left critically injured in Sopore. Both these incidents in the last six days have spread a wave of terror among traders and transporters.

Horticulture Dealt a Severe Blow

The death of a local truck driver, Nooruddin Dar, in a stone-pelting incident at Bijbehara, has brought the movement of commercial transport to a standstill, even as the Director Horticulture, Aijaz Ahmad Bhat, told The Quint, that around 300 truckloads of apples were being carried to Jammu and Delhi every day.

The indefinite shutdown has caused considerable uncertainty over harvesting and transportation of apples.

On 28 August, Governor Satya Pal Malik said that the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) would procure apples worth Rs 5,000 crores on a minimum support price.

A group of traders told The Quint that they had already suffered huge losses, because much of their peach and plum stocks had either decayed in the controlled atmosphere storages in the Valley or during transportation to Delhi. They lamented that the cost of transportation had doubled, while the price of fresh fruits had plummeted.

Fear Grips Schools, Colleges And Universities

Until the current week, when higher secondary school students were seen taking their practicals and submitting their exam forms, not a single of the Valley’s 9,000 schools had opened for academic activity.

Similarly, all the colleges and universities were without students. Over a week back, the director of school education claimed at a news briefing that 1,500 schools had been opened.

Rumours are in full circulation that unidentified youths, carrying pistols and posters, have forced closure of all markets in Srinagar and other district headquarters as the police and paramilitary forces have failed to reach out to the traders and instil among them, a sense of security.

SHOs, SDPOs and zone SPs have not been spotted in many of the worst-affected markets in Srinagar as they seem to have left everything to CRPF. Even the most insulated markets in Dalgate-Sonwar area have been seen shut after the Parimpora shopkeeper’s killing.

CRPF officers insist that they had no role in opening of schools and markets. “It’s the job of the local police and civil administration. Our deployment is for checking the movement of militants and suspects. We are dealing only with the law and order,” said a commanding officer.

Militants’ Infiltration and Free Movement

Reports and rumours of the militants having infiltrated into the Valley in big numbers and moving about freely in broad daylight in Shopian, Pulwama and hitherto militant-free districts of Budgam and Baramulla, have been afloat in the last two weeks.

Mediapersons every day come across “eyewitnesses” of such movements but GOC of 15 Corps, Lt Gen KJS Dhillon, asserted at a news conference on 4 September that no infiltration attempt had succeeded in the last one month. He said that attempts of infiltration on the LoC had been happening every night as the launching pads across in PoK were “filled with the recruits”. Gen Dhillon said that the army had captured alive two of the Pakistani intruders on 22 August.

For the first time in the last about 25 years, tourism has come to a grinding halt and almost all the hotels, houseboats and restaurants at Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Sonmarg and Srinagar have been closed down.

Due to tenancy of around 50 mediapersons, just three hotels are now functional in Srinagar. One of them in Sonwar area is shutting down this weekend.

Anti-Delhi Statements But No Resignations

Even as the local newspapers are no more carrying the daily bulletins of the key separatist leaders, statements of some National Conference (NC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leaders, as well as the interviews of the Srinagar Mayor Junaid Azim Mattu, have been critical of the Narendra Modi government’s decision to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and break it into two Union Territories (UTs).

But, significantly, not one of the three Lok Sabha members of the NC – Farooq Abdullah, Hasnain Masoodi, Mohammad Akbar Lone – and two Rajya Sabha members of the PDP – Mir Mohammad Fayaz, Nazir Ahmad Itoo – have resigned.

Political analysts take it as an indication of the possibility of NC’s and PDP’s participation in the elections to be held for the truncated Assembly of the Union Territory (UT). Some of them indeed believe that parties like NC and PDP would take such decisions only after the release of their top brass.

Officials in the governor’s administration seem to be relieved over the fact that many of the Kashmiris have not objected to arrest and detention of either the stone-pelters or the political leaders and activists, particularly those from the mainstream.

They are little perturbed over some statements from NC and PDP, and Mattu’s high-octane criticism to the “unprecedented clampdown and inhuman curfew”.

“He is the mayor because of the same party’s and government’s support which has scrapped 370 and imposed the curfew. Until he and other councillors of his party resign on moral grounds in the Srinagar Municipal Corporation, his tantrums mean nothing,” said a senior bureaucrat.

The Unanswered Big Questions

What everybody is watching with fingers crossed is: Would the mainstream leaders be let off soon and encouraged to play a role in restoration of peace and normalcy or their politics of “talks to Pakistan and separatists” was now over?

If the whole lot of separatists and the mainstream politicians had been dumped for good, what was the Centre’s plan to exit and restore normalcy?

Was the month-long calm of conventional saboteurs, stone-pelters and militants a lull before the storm that could burst into a volcanic eruption after infiltration of militants in large numbers from Pakistan or it was meek reconciliation to the new realities in which there would be no room for the “jamhooriyat” enjoyed in the last 20 years?

Time alone would answer these questions.

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