'All 7 million of us are under arrest'

AM Jigeesh Srinagar/Budgam | Updated on September 02, 2019 Published on September 02, 2019

CRPF personnel patrolling a closed market in Srinagar. Photo: Nissar Ahmad   -  The Hindu

A Kashmir Valley houseboat owner’s anger reflects the people’s mood over the clampdown post Article 370 scrapping

Kashmir is seething in silent anger over the State’s division into two Union Territories and the scrapping of Article 370.

The nerve-centres of the Valley’s trade and commerce are shut as much because of the security clampdown as by traders’ associations in protest against what they feel is their deliberate browbeating by New Delhi.

A visit to the troubled Valley this week showed up to BusinessLine the simmering rage beneath the surface calm, with students, traders, farmers, medical practitioners and even policemen feeling that what has been done is “arbitrary” and meant to “isolate and humiliate” the Valley with over 50,000 troops monitoring their daily lives.

Traders and businessmen say that even their association office-bearers have been arrested along with social activists and local politicians, including former chief ministers. Students have been picked up and their angry classmates say silent protests will continue and normalcy can be restored only when the decision to abrogate Article 370 is withdrawn. Some, however, still hope the Supreme Court will restore the status quo.

‘The biggest jail now’

“This place is world’s biggest jail now. Each one of us seven million people here is under arrest,” says Tariq Ahmed, a social activist who runs a houseboat in the Dal Lake for a living. The area is bright and well-lit but deserted though this is peak tourist and apple/pear harvest season.

Houseboat owners and shopkeepers have downed shutters and taken down the lights that decorate the houseboats . “This is our protest. We will not go to town, chant slogans and get arrested. But we will not pretend that everything will go on as before,” Ahmed says.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had last year praised Ahmed’s seven-year-old daughter Jannat for her efforts to clean the Dal Lake. But now Jannat, a Class I student, wants to ask him when her school will reopen. “The administration claims schools are open. But we have not got any message. When you cannot talk to people, teachers... there is no communication, how do you send children to school? How safe is it,” asks Ahmed.

Ahmed is one of the few in the Valley willing to be quoted. Others fear they may be picked up if they speak out. So almost everyone requests anonymity. A 14-year-old Class VIII student says three of his friends were picked up by the police. “They said my friends are stone-pelters. I was told that a lot more have been arrested/detained from this locality.”

Healthcare hit

On the healthcare front, too, the situation belies the administration’s claims of normalcy. A top doctor in the Srinagar Government Medical College says availability of medicines and surgical aid has dropped dramatically.

This is corroborated by a wholesale agent. BusinessLine met this trader who was fishing in the Dal lake. “I have to kill time. My business isfinished. Usually, payments are cleared by Eid. But this Eid was painful. I am not getting new stocks and the payment is overdue by two months,” he says. The doctor said there has been an alarming rise in cases of depression, anxiety and other psychological illnesses. “It could be because of the lack of communication channels such as mobile phones.”

Many seniors fear that the stillness in the Valley is the calm before the storm and violence is inevitable. “Politicians were a safety valve. The administration has converted Gupkar Road and Centaur Hotel into jails. The communication blockade is fuelling the anger,” a senior journalist says.

Even policemen are unhappy. They do not want to push the locals around. Two policemen BusinessLine met had covered their face while turning motorists away from a road near the Dal Lake. “I do this because they should not recognise me. I don’t want to be rude. Also, if there is violence, I will be attacked,” onesaid.

The other was worried that he had not been able to contact his family for about a month. “I haven’t heard from my family. My daughter is just eight months old.” A senior policeman says he has been staying at the police station for the last three weeks.

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Published on September 02, 2019
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