‘Fear and Uncertainty in Kashmir Reminiscent of Troubled 90s’
Srinagar: Fear continues to prevail after government-enforced clampdown and subsequent civilian shutdown since August 5 threw life out of gear in Kashmir. In Srinagar, particularly, incidents of violent attacks have further increased hostilities among the shopkeepers and businessmen battling the ongoing crisis.
The recent grenade attack at the commercial city centre Lal Chowk that resulted in the death of a non-local, Rinku Kumar, and injured 41 others has increased uncertainty among the shop owners and commuters in the area alike.
So far, seven grenade attacks have been carried out by suspected militants across the Valley—three of them in the heart of Srinagar city. The grenade attacks, according to locals, are reminiscent of the fearful days of the 1990s when insurgency peaked in the region.
“It looks like we are back to the 90s era; anything can happen anytime here. It’s like we are living in the state of paranoia again,” Shafiq Wani, a shop-owner at Jahangir Chowk said.
All shops and business establishments have remained shut since August 5, as the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government unilaterally abrogated Article 370 and bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories. A massive clampdown was enforced by the government in the wake of the revocation following which, all movement was restricted and severe communication blackout was imposed—what they termed as a measure—to thwart any law and order situation.
After the government eased restrictions almost a month later, the people, however, observed a civilian shutdown as a mark of protest against the government’s decision. A deadlock has been in place since then, which has resulted in a major political and economic crisis in the region.
In the month of October, which is the peak harvest season for apple crop on which drives J&K’s Rs 8,000-crore horticulture industry, came under scrutiny as suspected militants targeted the harvest and the trade.
In a first of its kind attack, suspected militants killed apple traders and injured many others as a measure to discourage apple trade with non-locals in the Valley. Since October 14, as many as 11 non-locals have been killed in South Kashmir in six attacks leaving the traders and businessmen in shock.
According to a senior police officer in Srinagar, such incidents of violence including grenade attacks have acted as sabotage measures for the shutdown to continue further.
“These attacks are carried out by militants in desperation to terrorise people,” the police officer told NewsClick.
Amid the shutdown, a significant majority of shopkeepers open their shops during morning hours between 8 am to 11 am and in the evening after 6 pm in various parts of the Valley.
Inside Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid, which is surrounded by a popular market, shops open in the morning even as Friday prayers inside the mosque are banned since the clampdown began in August.
“We have not opened our shops continuously, but only a few times in three months. The shops are open till 10 am or for maximum half an hour more. The market gate is then locked up,” a shopkeeper from the market told NewsClick.
The shop-owners believe that the shutdown is a “necessary act”; however, they are also skeptical of the looming uncertainty in the region. “It’s merely symbolic as we don’t have any other option. The government should notice the shutdown and acknowledge its faults,” another shop-owner, Yasir, said.
The government, in what it termed as “preventive measures” in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370, arrested hundreds of politicians, activists and businessmen including several trade leaders. The arrest of trade leaders has also increased belligerence among many other businessmen in the Valley.
In the commercial hub of Lal Chowk where thousands of shops and many shopping centres are shut since past three months, a flea market called ‘Sunday market’ (as it normally functioned on Sundays only) is a routine affair now.
Owing to security threats, however, the market winds up before the sunset.
“A police van moves around in the evening that signals the vendors to wind-up,” said a vendor.
The police and security forces have beefed up security in the area; however, fear prevails despite multiple security check-points.
“I get scared when I see a lot of people together in the market. Too much of crowd is not good or even normal anymore,” the vendor added.
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