Sunday, October 4, 2015

The banality of ‘Shutdowns in Kashmir’

Do the shut downs fetch justice to the bereaved?

By: Salman Nizami



There is ample room to believe that the ‘hartal’ culture in Kashmir is the stumbling block to its development. Especially, when the protestors, who take to the streets at the behest of some leaders do not really care to build a consistent resistance movement against army excesses. All they do is waste a working day by joining the shutdown call every time a civilian is killed by the forces.
But do they really empathise with the families of the bereaved? Are these protestors really sad and agitated at the killing of an innocent? Or, has it just become a passing fad with most men and women in Kashmir, who have no meaningful engagement due to lack of employment opportunities?
Giving a shutdown call is no sin in a place like Kashmir which has become the hotbed of atrocities committed by different parties over different agendas. But if we end up having half our calendars filled with black spots demonstrating ‘bandhs’, does it not serve as a wake-up call to assess if our mode of resistance is reasonable. Does it not call for introspection that whether our resistance is backfiring on us? Due to the endless ‘hartals’, the economy of the state is being affected. Development is being impeded, as no industrialist is showing interest in opening factories here. While the separatists are thriving, their policies are leading to economic suicide for the people.
I can never forget that bright sunny day in Kashmir’s Rajbagh locality, when I along with my neighbours was playing cricket at the famous Polo grounds, and everything seemed to be brimming with life. But, in Kashmir, joy has always been momentary. Our happy mood was suddenly replaced by benumbed expressions when thin sheet of smoke emerged from the vicinity and gunshots were heard. We rushed home. From the newspaper reports, we later relaised a boy, who was playing in the streets near Lal Chowk, had been shot dead. Soon a mob gheraoed the place to seek revenge and tear gas was thrown, Injuring a jawan and a civilian. The retaliating officers greeted the stone-pelters with gunfires, which led to the death of another boy.
The separatists soon called for a ‘bandh’ and the city came to a standstill. But, to my surprise, when I visited SKICC the next day, I saw a group of ravishingly dressed singers performing gleefully, as people watched them with rapt attention. That is when I felt truly bothered about the superficiality of our resistance. Are we really the activist civilians wanting to seek justice? Or, are we mere pawns in the hands of local leaders, who love to throng the streets because of lack of occupation? Fifteen years down the line, the scene has not much changed. This time too I saw people protesting the killing of few locals and then forgetting it. I saw crowds gathering at Lal Chowk to register an opposition to beef ban and then forget about it and merrily participate in a marathon. I see people shouting anti-India slogans to mourn the death of three-year old Burhan and then book holiday packages to celebrate autumn in Gulmarag and Pahalgham, Half of the shops are open and few are closed.
Of what use are the protests then? And are these protests fetching justice to the bereaved? Have we been able, through our token strikes, to bring positive transformation into the lives of the oppressed? The ‘hartal’ culture, if anything, has impeded our own progress. The ‘hartals’ are only furthering the cause of the leaders who want to retain their relevance in the Kashmir discourse. It is their agenda to organise more and more ‘hartals’, stall the economic development of the valley, and then champion the cause of unemployed people and use them as pawns in their own scheme of things. It is time we came out of that.
My frequent visits to conflict ridden places throughout Kashmir revealed to me how mothers who lost their sons or young wives who have been rendered widows are left in the lurch. The leaders may be holding ‘hartals’ in their name, but the ground reality is they are crying for the minimum financial assistance. They do not have the money to pay the tution fees of their young children. They lack the basic amenities and have no source of income to sustain themselves. Has any leader ever cared to visit them or solve their problems? If not, what right do they have to waste our working days every other week by shutting down the city in the name of these people?
I met a woman named Jahara from Sogam Kupwara, whose husband was killed by unknown gun men. Jahara is suffering from high sugar and back pain. Her only source of income is 10 walnut trees, while she has to look after three daughters. She says neither any separatist leader nor any mainstream politician ever paid her a visit. There are thousands of such women who have been left in the lurch although separatists vow of championing their cause. Another woman, Jabeena, a widow with five children, ekes out a living by selling wood and making fire pots. All her children have discontinued their studies due to lack of money and a son of hers is selling clothes in the streets of Srinagar to augment the meagre family income. Jabeena lost her husband years back to the conflict in Kashmir.
Their condition reminds us that ‘hartals’ are but a signature activity of the separatists. Do the shut downs benefit anybody? I think, no. The daily wage workers lose a day’s earning while the education of schoolchildren is disrupted. Let us break away from this self-destructive mode of resistance and join together to build a society where there are jobs for everybody. Let us give a thumbs-down to ‘hartals’ and integrate with one another and choose such representatives who would build the economy, thereby bringing at least financial stability in the lives of those who have been affected by the conflict
The author can be mailed at Salmannizami@gmail.com.
09419111180