By Farooq Wani
The agitation 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. Hartals (strike action) and strikes in Kashmir have become an integral feature of the mundane life of people.
The connection of hartals and strikes in Kashmir is quite extensive and can be linked with many stakeholders, especially separatists. People have been made to believe that hartals are quite justifiable and they are called for appropriate causes. However, with the increasing violence and indiscipline that we can associate with hartals, the justification, relevance and importance of these strikes is diminishing. It is believed by a certain sections of people that hartals are strong measures for civil revolution. As a result of the tremendous influence that hartals and strikes have on the daily life of the common people, it is much dreaded as a means of showing dissent.
When a hartal takes place, Kashmir has to bear huge revenue losses. Vandalizing and torching of buses and other public vehicles and shattering the glass windows of the vehicles by the mob makes the situation even worse. At the time of a hartal the state-run transportation system comes to a standstill, the state transport agencies are bound to suffer big financial losses as they can’t bring out their vehicles on the road. The schools and colleges get affected and have to be closed due to fear of turbulence and chaos.
A hartal or strike becomes a deterrent for a daily labourer or casual worker who has to earn his or her livelihood on day to day basis. They can’t go to work and therefore lose their daily wages. Since the transportation system during a hartal is lamed, patients can’t reach the hospitals when the need is utterly high. When they can’t reach the hospitals or nursing homes in time, it leads to horrible outcomes. Pregnancy cases and emergency patients are the worst hit during such an expression of anguish.
Tourists coming to the state get to see of 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. Last two years have been so bad for tourism that it is difficult for tourism player to survive.
The stone pelting movement has been undertaken during the tourist season that starts around April and goes on up to October. Small businesses are also hit by these meaningless hartals and strikes since they largely depend on their daily sales or turnover. Foreign tourists are particularly not used to such incidents and suffer due interruptions or delays in the schedule problem in arriving at their desired destination. Travellers 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 strikes often result into clashes between mob and state administration (Police), causing death and injuries to participants. Though on the face of it, these hartals appear to be expression of annoyance or disappointment of ‘aam admi’ but actually they are stage managed, often sponsored financially. These have been instances were brought from different places and employed by inimical elements on daily wage. The modus operandi has involved recruitment of a hundred odd stone pelters, with a large percentage of children among 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. Over ground workers, separatists and outfits muster men, women and children to congregate at the appointed place and time.
The crowd agitates forcing the deployment of police forces, and the core cadre starts pelting stones. The mob mentality takes over, the situation turns violent with the crowd braving the riot control arsenal till they draw fire. It leads to the death of a few more, thereby proving the fodder for the Valley to remain on the boil, a little longer.
With the valley in turmoil, the average Kashmir 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 J&K 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 groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and the Hizbul Mujaheedin. The call for liberation is a tool in the quest of extending their radical boundaries further.
At present, 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 hartals or strikes.
It is quite regrettable that the separatists in valley abuse the democratic rights of the people by calling these hartals and strikes 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 these hartals and strikes that are causing hardships 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 taken to ransom to serve the motivated agenda of few.
*Farooq Wani is a Kashmir-based senior journalist and commentator