While Kashmir is nearing completion of five months since killing of rebel commander Burhan Wani, the separatists continue to issue weekly protest calendars, claiming continuous support of people. At the same time however a discourse is taking shape in the Valley about the need to review the shutdown strategy

 hartal

|| ZAHOOR GULZAR

               After 133 days of shutdown and government enforced restrictions, Kashmir witnessed the first full working day on November 19. The mood on the streets was on the expected lines: the markets remained abuzz till late in the evening and there was no let off in traffic jams. Traders, shopkeepers and vendors in Lal Chowk, the commercial hub of Srinagar, like other markets across Kashmir, attended to the brisk rush of the customers from different throughout the day as the rush continued to grow with passing of each hour. “As expected we witnessed a brisk business today. We hope the customers’ rush will continue tomorrow as well,” said a salesman at a garment shop in the Lal Chowk, referring to the weekly protest calendar issued by the seperatists which specifies the time schedule for the protests, shutdown as well as working hours for every week. Apart from November 19, the separatist had given full day relaxation for the next day as well. The day was however a big relief for the transporters who for the first time came out to earn livelihood. But many of the transporters Kashmir Leader spoke to were concerned about how the situation will unfold in coming weeks. “I have a family of six members and whatever saving I had made in the recent years was used to sustain the family during these four months. I have suffered heavy losses,” said Mustafa Mir who drives a mini-bus on Srinagar roads.

             Following the meeting between separatists and civil society members on November 8, which had decided to continue with the protests, a group of transporters had called on the Hurriyat leaders individually seeking relief from the protests for earning livelihood. Since November 19 the Valley has already witnessed four full days of relaxation as per the protest calendar which is issued every Thursday for the next week and has directions for the people on how to observe the seven days. For over four months people strictly followed the weekly calendar adjusting their day-to-day life to the instructions that would come from the resistance camp. On December 8 Kashmir would complete five months since the killing of Burhan Wani. The government enforced restrictions and separatists backed shutdown have taken heavy toll on people during this period. And perhaps that is why during the past few weeks the traffic movement has increased considerably on the roads and people have slowly started to resume day-to-day activities as harsh four month period of winter has already set in. The Hurriyat has however continued to issue the weekly protests calendar urging people to follow it strictly. “Hartal as a strategy has a limited scope. It helps to highlight the issue but it can’t build pressure on government of India, particularly the present government in Delhi, to resolve Kashmir,” noted political analyst Noor Muhammad Baba told Kashmir Leader. “Hartal can be used to highlight the issue which it did here during the initial phase of the uprising. But beyond a point the strategy has diminishing returns and doesn’t serve any purpose.”

            According to Baba Hartals and shutdowns weren’t the “final means to achieve ends”. “This hartal strategy is productive if used judiciously but this strategy has now reached a point in Kashmir where it has become selfinflicting,” said Baba. “We are now only harming ourselves. The protests are dying down and the calendars are not followed strictly which can be understood. There is a need to rethink this hartal strategy as it has become counterproductive.” After Kashmir completed 100 days under complete shutdown many columnists and writers who write for local dallies raised the point that there was a need to review the protest strategy which has also impacted the Valley economy. “Protests or hartals are a means to achieve short term goals in any society but they surely can’t work as a pressure tactic to resolve vexed political problem like Kashmir,” said another political observer.

              In the past over four months at least 96 civilians have lost their lives and over 15000 people have been injured in action by security forces. Of the total number of injured over 1200 people have been left completely or partially blind after they were hit by the pellets in their eye(s)fired by the security forces. Apart from the human cost that Kashmir has suffered, the shutdowns and restriction has resulted in complete halt of the economy in the landlocked Valley. As per the estimates by Kashmir Economic Alliance, an umbrella organization of valley-based trade and business bodies, Kashmir business suffers Rs 120 crore to Rs 130 crore losses to each day of shutdown. This is besides loss of livelihood suffered by thousands of people, both in the organized and unorganized sectors. Off late, a sense of fatigue seems to have set in the Valley after unrelenting protests by people for four months. Auto rickshaws and small passenger vehicles have started plying on the roads despite the shutdown calls and shopkeepers, in some areas, have started to open their shops. “Protests or no protests Kashmir issue remains till it is resolved. But there is a dire need to think about how we should go with our strategy. Will endless protests achieve us something? That is what needs to be debated,” said the political analyst who wished not to be named. “There is no doubt that the continuous shutdown has led to the fatigue and it calls for a quick rethink on part of the separatists as well as the civil society. And there is a need to look forward and take some bold initiatives.” This is not for the first time that Kashmir is debating the pros and cons of hartals politics.

              In the summer of 2010 when Kashmir witnessed months of shutdown in the wake of killing of 120 civilians by security forces, the Valley suffered heavily on economic front. On their part however the separatists have said they have backing of people to their strategy, which according to them was yielding results, and vowed to continue with it. “The ongoing struggle has taken our movement forward by opening out the possibilities and the scope of our struggle. The road has got cleared and we have moved closer to our goal. We now have to consolidate our gains,” a statement issued the separatists said on November 16. “We have made it clear to India that come what may we will be masters of our destiny. 130 days of continuous protest with support and participation of people and offering of tremendous sacrifices has no parallel in the world.” But a careful analysis of the separatists’ November 16 statement shows that, albeit late, they have been feeling the pressure on two fronts: to keep their shutdown strategy relevant and also to ensure to take the “ongoing struggle” forward keeping in mind the demand emerging that people should be given some respite from protests now.

             The big question however is how the Hurriyat would maintain a balance between the two extremes as off and on young voices have been warning the resistance camp “against any betrayal” while supporting continuation of the protest programs. Perhaps that is why the statement talked about the need for “transition” from short term protests to “long term sustained struggles, programs and modes of protest.” The onus lies on New Delhi as well which has maintained complete silence on the prevailing situation in Kashmir after few assurances that were doled out by union home minister Rajnath Singh and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “New Delhi’s silence is forcing separatists to continue with the protests and hartals. The policy makers in government of India need to realize that Kashmir issue can’t be brushed under the carpet and the best way forward is to engage all stake holders to find permanent resolution to the problem,” said the political analyst. But as of now the Valley continues to struggle between the divide among two ideological narratives.