Fri. Apr 19th, 2019

The Heavy Price of Protests in Kashmir

Security personnel stand guard in Downtown Srinagar after shutdown (Bandh) call by separatists in Kashmir. (Photo: PTI)

Security personnel stand guard in Downtown Srinagar after shutdown (Bandh) call by separatists in Kashmir. (Photo: PTI)

Violent agitations involving a deluge of stones thrown on police forces in the Kashmir valley, has, in effect, written a new page in the books of asymmetric warfare. With relative reduction in militant activity, dipping public support and dwindling number of militants, the separatists and radicals have found “stone pelting” a new weapon in Jammu and Kashmir. Hartals (strikes) and Bandhs (lockouts) in Kashmir have become an integral feature of the routine life of people.  The connection of Hartals and Bandhs in Kashmir is quite extensive and can be linked with many stakeholders, especially the separatists. People have been made to believe that these are quite justifiable and that they are called for appropriate causes. However, with increasing violence and indiscipline that are associated with Hartals and Bandhs, the justification, relevance and importance of the same is diminishing. It is now believed by a certain section of people that they are strong measures for civil revolution but the tremendous hardships caused by them on the daily life of common people is making them quite unpopular as a means of showing dissent.

A Hartal and Bandh becomes a deterrent for a daily labourer or casual worker who has to earn his or her livelihood on a day-to-day basis. They can’t go to work and therefore lose their daily wages. Since the transportation system during a Hartal is dysfunctional, patients requiring emergency and lifesaving medical attention can’t reach the hospitals leading to tragic outcomes. Pregnancy cases and emergency patients are the worst hit during such an expression of anguish.

Tourists coming to the state get to see Hartals and carry a bad impression. This is not beneficial for the travel and tourism industry of the state that fetches a lot of revenue, which in turn contributes towards the growth of the economy as a whole. Tourism is amongst the more established industries in the Kashmir Valley. Small businesses are also hit by these meaningless Hartals and Bandhs since they largely depend on their daily sales or turnover. Foreign tourists are particularly not used to such incidents and suffer due to interruptions or delays in the schedule and have problem in arriving at their desired destination. Travelers ready to set off on their trip also get held up by these unprecedented events. Public transport is grossly unavailable on these days, creating a mess for the needy travelers. Sometimes they have to spend an exorbitant amount for private transport and in this way, the private operators make merry.

Hartals and Bandhs often result into violent clashes between mob and state administration (Police), causing death and injuries to participants. Though on the face of it, these Hartals appear to be an expression of annoyance or disappointment of thecommon man but actually they are stage managed, and often these are sponsored financially. 

These have been instances where protesters were brought from different places and employed by inimical elements and paid for participating in protests and pelting stones. The modus operandi has involved recruitment of a hundred odd stone pelters, with a large percentage of children amongst them, in a few areas of Kashmir. These cadres assemble as per a schedule that is circulated via Twitter, Facebook, SMS and such other means.  

The crowd agitates forcing the deployment of police forces, and the core cadre starts pelting stones. Mob mentality takes over and the situation turns violent with the crowd braving the riot control arsenal till they draw fire. This leads to the death of a few more, thereby providing fodder for the Kashmir Valley to remain on the boil, a little longer.

Till recent past, the method adopted by anti-national elements was grenade lobbing using children. The ruthlessness of radicals in their use of children is shocking. Often, the safety pin of grenades are removed before putting it in a child’s hand, thereby, leaving him with no choice but to throw it.  Most often the children fail to throw the grenades appropriately, thus resulting in their deaths. The design of the sponsors of such acts is to sell such activities as political defiance or a mass movement in Kashmir.  Going a step further, the stone throwing has been compared to the intifada (uprising) in Palestine. However, this is anything but a mass movement.

With the valley in turmoil, the average Kashmiri has taken a hard hit. They surely did not want any such trouble, and definitely not in the season when it would be detrimental to their annual earnings, the most. The organisations behind the whole movement belong to the separatist groups. 

Today, there is hardly a constituency left in Jammu and Kashmir that espouses a merger with Pakistan. Those who raise the banner of independence are also fully aware that within days of such independence, Kashmir will be taken over by the Jihadis and there will be no such civil liberties as they are enjoying now and they will not even be allowed to undertake protests. The leadership perpetuating violence in J&K has long been hijacked by the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and the Hizbul Mujahedeen.  The call for liberation is a tool in the quest of extending their radical boundaries further.

India is the biggest democracy in the world. In a democratic setup, everyone has the right to articulate their views and vocalize their problems as long as it does not lead to the infringement on law and order. In a number of developed countries including the US and France, an embargo has been put on strikes and lockouts. It is quite regrettable that the separatists in valley abuse the democratic rights of the people by calling these Hartals and Bandhs which are stifling the economic development of Kashmir. People can’t go to work, students are unable to go to school and exams get postponed. There is no logic for calling for these disruptive activities that cause so much hardship to the common people. It is the common people who bear the brunt of these machinations of civil revolution. We should remember that only sensible discussions and talks can bring us to a feasible solution and these talks should serve the interest of the common people. It is high time that people of Kashmir are not held to ransom just to serve the motivated agenda of few.

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