On a sunny morning of June 25, the busy city centre of Lal Chowk was empty — shops were closed down and no vehicles could be seen passing by — there was a sense of stillness amidst all the chaos. Srinagar’s otherwise populated market was quiet and after every kilometre or so, one could see the army. This complete shutdown in the valley was the result of a call by Separatist leaders against the killings of journalist Shujaat Bhukhari and civilians by security forces in the last few days. The Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), an amalgamation of Separatist groups, had said in a statement, “JRL has called for a complete strike tomorrow against the continued civilian killings in the valley, which has witnessed a sudden spike since the eve of Eid.”
JRL had also demanded an international probe in the killing of renowned journalist Shujaat Bhukari, who was killed along with his Personal Security Officers (PSO) in broad day light near his office in Press colony. After the news of shutdown spread, JKLF chairman Yasin Malik was arrested from his residence. The duo Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq were kept under house arrest to stop them from carrying out any political and social activity. This is not a new trend but an old pattern of shutdown which Kashmiris have been following religiously.
Locals say that a day before the shutdown, posters calling for shutdown is pasted outside shops and houses. The posters, along with militant intervention, demand people to maintain a complete shutdown. “Yes, there has been a complete shutdown. Youth is very much influenced by the Separatists’ ideology. They create havoc if they find a single shop open, said Tariq, a shopkeeper from Pulwama district.
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An anonymous local said, “We don’t believe in elections and the government but we do believe in Geelani sahab. Geelani has given his life for us. He is always under house arrest because he is fighting for Azadi alone. We are here with him and we will maintain complete shutdown whenever he asks us to.”
During a complete shutdown, shopkeepers suffer losses but they claim to be vulnerable because of the chaotic state of affairs. “Almost thrice a week there is a call for shutdown, we suffer huge losses because of this. During this shutdown, I opened my shop briefly to help a few people with essential items. The next day my shop was locked with M-seal. We are in a very vulnerable state.”
Commentators believe that local sentiment in the valley is advocated by Separatists. They have been able to influence the youth by acting as sole custodians of their aspirations. “The Kashmiri youth is angry and that is where separatists find their way out. Youth in the valley have become volatile. If separatists are really concerned for a solution in the valley, they should initiate a dialogue with India but they won’t do that,” said another local at Lal chowk.
Locals allege that the Separatists’ call for shutdown is aided by militants and that creates fear among locals. “The call for shutdown is backed by militants who monitor the happenings in the valley. Nobody can mess with them. It’s better to shut the shops and stay indoors. We are used to it,” said another anonymous shopkeeper from Lal chowk.