The Kashmir unrest following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani has claimed 70 lives and left more than 7000 injured. The numbers might be disturbing but more distressing is the condition of those who are being forced to live in the confinement of their four walls. For the people living in the Valley, time has come to a standstill with every aspect of life restricted either by curfews or strikes.
Mehrajuddin Ahmed has an ailing heart and recently returned from New Delhi to Kashmir after a successful surgery. Doctors have advised him to go for regular check-ups without fail. However, for the past one month Mehraj, a resident of downtown (old city) Srinagar has not been able to come out of his house to visit a doctor due to the unrelenting curfew in the valley.
“I was supposed to get a blood test report but it has been 30 days now and I am still not been able to get the test done because of the curfew imposed by the authorities. Many times I have tried to come out from my home and pleaded before the forces deployed on the streets to let me go and even showed them my medical documents, but to no avail,” Mehraj bemoans.
With Kashmir under its longest ever continuous spell of curfew since July 8 when unrest broke out in the Valley, there are many suffering the fate of Mehraj. Since August 15, the State Government has imposed round the clock and indefinite curfew in some parts of the valley with police and paramilitary personnel manning every street, lane and bylane of the Old City which is considered a separatist stronghold.
The authorities have also not allowed any congregational prayers in central mosques of the Valley for consecutive seven weeks. Government forces had cordoned off all the central mosques including the historic Jamia Masjid in Srinagar. Since the Sikh rule in the State in early 1800s, it is for the first time that central mosques have remained shut for such a long period of time.
Adil Mir, a resident of Rainawari locality in downtown city was on his way to his sister’s home to deliver baby food for his nephew when paramilitary personnel stopped and beat him up.
“My sister called me to get some baby food for my nephew as they were not able to buy any due to the curfew. However, the moment I reached to the main chowk of Rainawari, the CRPF and J&K police present there started to beat me,” says Mir.
However, it is not just the State Government making life miserable for people in the Valley.
Compounding the woes of the curfews are the intermittent strike calls given by the pro-freedom leaders. Although certain amount of leniency is shown towards people during the strikes as compared to the curfews, organised and hostile local youth armed with sticks and stones in many areas see that public movement is restricted even in cases of emergency.
Caught between the ‘peace enforcing’ policies of the Government and the situation aggravating moves by the separatist leaders, the people of Kashmir Valley are virtually under house arrest.
Amidst the turmoil, the two day visit of Home Minister Rajnath Singh proved to be yet another futile exercise on the part of the Government to reach out to the people of the Valley.
It was expected that the Home Minister on his second visit to Kashmir in the past two months would reach out to the Separatist leadership which holds the key to deescalate the vicious cycle of violence. If Rajnath Singh had hoped to elicit warm response or endear himself to the masses in the Valley by platitudes – Insaaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat – he was proved quite wrong as only few people came forward to seek audience with him.
A Kashmir based senior journalist, Shah Abbas said the visit of the Home Minister had borne no fruits if impact on the ground is concerned.
“Politically speaking, it was a failure. Home Minister should have offered something more tangible to Kashmiri people. But, New Delhi is sticking to rhetoric which can only escalate situation in this part of the world whom majority of the population term as disputed,” Abbas said.
Abbas pointed out that the Home Minister even did not talk about any political package. “It seemsthe Home Minister had come to Srinagar without doing any home work. Had he come to reach out to majority population, he should have offered to talkto the separatists. But that was not the case.”
The civil society and business community alsodecided not to meet the Home Minister. The State Government had sent invitations to the business community for a meeting with the visiting Minister.
However the traders’ bodies said they will not meet the Union Minister. Chairperson of Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies (KCSDS), a prominent civil society group, Hameeda Nayeem said it was out of question to meet Home Minister when brutality is being unleashed non-stop on people.
“I wonder with whom the Minister conducted deliberations. People have been raising their voices for freedom for past many decades and entire world knows it. India pretends as if it does not know what Kashmiris demands are,” she says.
Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA) senior vice chairman, Farooq Ahmad Dar, said that they boycotted meeting Rajnath Singh on the grounds that if New Delhi is sincere to normalise the situation in Kashmir then they should first stop use of pellet guns and civilian killings in Kashmir.
J&K High Court Bar Association was also of the opinion that Rajnath Singh’s second visit to the valley has been a failure as no ‘relevant’ delegation met him. “Traders, hoteliers, house boat owners, industrial unit holders and civil society members have categorically stated that unless the Central Government accepts that Kashmir is a dispute andits resolution lies in the implementation of the UN Resolutions, there is no point in meeting the Indian Home Minister or any other delegation,” read a statement from the Bar.
However, contrary to the ground reality, according to the statement issued by Press Information Bureau, Home Minister Rajnath Singh met about 20 civil society delegations, Pahari community leaders and several individuals through his visit to Srinagar.
“Union Home Minister met about 400 persons in 30 delegations and received their inputs on the J&K situation,” the press handout reads.
Addressing a press conference before heading back to New Delhi, Home Minister said an all-party delegation would be sent to Kashmir and that the State Government needs to prepare for the same. “We want to bring all-party delegation to Kashmir. I have told this to Mehbooba Mufti so as to make preparations,” said Rajnath.
Reports also suggest that there will be a new team of interlocutors for Kashmir to start a Track II dialogue with all the stakeholders including separatist leaders. However, the common people in Kashmir are sceptical about the initiative and see it as nothing but an eyewash.
“These all party delegations came in the past also but nothing was achieved. In 2010 agitation, Centre appointed the interlocutors but later their recommendations were thrown into the dustbin,”asserted Adil Hussain, a Kashmir University student. The common notion in the valley is that the Centre has to be serious and substantive if the objective is to solve the dispute. Anything other than that shall be regarded as nothing more than deception.
Meanwhile, the virtual house arrest of the people in the Valley continues even as the Government is weighing the idea of lifting the curfew during the day time and eventually from dawn to dusk.