Need for all sides to work towards ending the situation of chaos in Valley perpetuated by brutality, rigidity, protests and hartals.Earlier this week, a meeting between Hurriyat leaders and the various ‘stake-holders’ including representatives of civil society groups, businessmen, lawyers and intellectuals was expected to make an important breakthrough with respect to the protest calendar and ease the suffocating atmosphere in which general public has been forced to live in. There were hopes among sections of the public reeling under the present state of restrictions, strikes and curfews with no signs of resumption of normal life that the strike calendars may include more relaxations. Instead, the Hurriyat came up with the usual calendar of extension of hartal and protests with only few hours of relaxation to enable people to carry on with their day to day business. While the meeting was going on, a large group of people outside were shouting pro-Azadi slogans, warning against a “sell-out” and calling for the continuance of the shutdown which has already crossed four months.
It is not known whether the final outcome of the meeting ended in a status quo due to inability of the various groups to put across their viewpoint about the need for easing the protest calendar in face of complete indifference of the Centre and the inefficiency of the state government or whether the protests outside had a role to play in shaping the discourse or whether the Hurriyat took the decision irrespective of either of the influences. Whatever be the case, the situation at hand does not appear to be an easy one. It reveals a vertical split within Kashmir with respect to continuation of the strike. There is no means to fathom the percentage of population that feels resumption of normal life is important and those who feel that this would dilute the steam of the present ‘movement for azadi’.
Evidently both sentiments exist in whatever proportion and trends reveal that a large section of youth and teenagers have been mobilised to ensure that there is no deflection from the momentum built up by the four month long protests and strikes, whether there is an element of spontaneity to it or whether there are some vested interests at play in the background; or both. Irrespective of whether or not the mood in favour of hartal is a popular sentiment, it is a vocal sentiment and cannot be ignored. Needless to say that in the last few months, young boys, often wearing masks, have donned the role of the moral police ensuring adherence to civil strike and maintaining vigil on the streets besides engaging in protests that sometimes turn violent in a way that induces an element of fear as well as chaos.
Prolonging of the present situation will allow Kashmir to descend into deeper chaos with all business but for the few relaxation hours having come to a standstill. The worst hit are the education sector and health sector. This stalemate is further punctuated by continuing clashes between civilians and security forces during protests, routine and random crackdowns raids and massive arrests. The deepening chaos has offered space for mysterious burning of schools. Over all, the situation is extremely grim and dismal. The perpetuation of this crisis no doubt is primarily due to Centre’s complete rigidness with respect to the Kashmir issue and the present situation, coupled with the inability of the state government to play a more assertive and constructive role in engaging with both the Centre and the various stake-holders within the Valley. The Centre remains unmoved and unaffected. Given this reality, the continuation of the Kashmir protest and unrest in its present form ends up punishing the general public. It is difficult to break this cycle. But the more there is procrastination on this, the more chaotic the situation would get and also the more difficult to deal with; dangers of religious radicalization and spurt in militancy would be the most likely additional negative bonuses. The Centre must understand the significance of normalising the situation in Kashmir and realise its responsibility of initiating a dialogue, starting with the Hurriyat and other civil group representatives. The state government also needs to play a more constructive role of acting as the bridge rather than acting like an ineffective puppet and the Hurriyat leaders would also need to show more imaginative powers and strengthen their capacity to lead rather than be led. All sides need to help scale down the tensions and pave way for dialogue. The Centre must, of course, show the willingness and its sincerity.