Disagreement Over Commemorating Gaw Kadal Massacre Exposes Hurriyat Divisions

The traditional strike day was added back to the Hurriyat's protest calendar after party member Hilal Ahmad War publicly protested its omission.

Srinagar: On January 15, the separatists, in accordance with their protest calendar, issued another programme specifying the days on which the city will be shut down as well as those when the restrictions will be relaxed. This is a plan that the Hurriyat trio – Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik – have been following for the past seven months.

As per the calendar, people were asked to observe a complete shutdown on Friday, January 20, and observe it as Youme-e-Muzahamat (Resistance Day) while January 26 will be marked as a ‘black day’ as the curfew continues. The calendar has also called for a shutdown the following day.

For the remaining days, however, the separatists have relaxed their restrictions. The programme includes January 21 in this list of relaxed days – the day when more than 50 unarmed protestors were shot dead by CRPF troopers in the Gaw Kadal locality of Srinagar in 1990. Every year since then, the separatists have issued a call to strike on January 21 to commemorate the killings, the bloodiest massacre in Kashmir’s turbulent history.

While the “January 21 miss” only elicited muted reactions from a handful of people on social media,Hilal Ahmad War, Hurriyat leader and chairman of the People’s Political Party (PPP), took on the trio two days later. War accused the leaders of hatching a “sinister plot” by omitting to call for a strike to remember the “martyrs” who were shot down that day. 

War’s PPP is a constituent group of the Farooq-led moderate faction of Hurriyat. But that didn’t stop him from publicly criticising Hurriyat’s top leaders. He addressed a press conference at his residence in Maisuma, an area which is considered to be a stronghold of the Malik-led Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and in fact houses the organisation’s office.

“I am surprised to see the latest protest calendar of joint resistance leadership wherein they have mentioned full relaxation on January 21 which is the day of first massacre in Kashmir. It seems they (separatists) are following a sinister plot,” War told the media, referring to the Hurriyat’s latest protest programme. He added, “But if it is a mistake, then it shows their incompetence.”

Calling for a complete shutdown on the day, War demanded that Hurriyat reconsider the protest calendar. He even went on to say Geelani and his cohort should “apologise in public for forgetting the sacrifices” of the civilians who were gunned down 27 years ago in Gaw Kadal.

“This (Gaw Kadal killings) is the Jallianwala Bagh of Kashmir which gave a new direction and impetus to Kashmir’s freedom movement. But if they (Hurriyat trio) believe that there is no need for calling a strike on January 21, then there should be no strike call on February 9 when Muhammad Afzal Guru was hanged and February 11 when JKLF founder Muhammad Maqbool Bhat was hanged. Also then there should be no strike call on May 21 when Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq was killed,” said War.

Fissures in the camp

When a reporter asked War about whether there have been differences in the party over the last seven months, the separatist leader responded with a one-liner.

“Yes, there are fissures (within the ranks),” he said. Though he didn’t elaborate, his response once again highlighted the separatist faction’s discontent over the continued use of the calendar strategy even as the protests have ceased.

War’s views were shared by another senior Hurriyat leader. “None of the constituent parties were taken on board regarding any decision during these months. The leaders have been taking decisions at an individual level and their programmes didn’t represent constituent parties,” said the leader, who wished to remain anonymous.

Kashmir remained under clamp down for five months after Hizbul commander Burhan Wani was shot dead by security forces on July 8 last year, triggering a massive uprising in which at least 96 civilians were killed by government forces. The continued lockdown, however, started a debate over the implications of the seperatists’ hartal (strike) policy with several civil society members, some columnists and even members from the Hurriyat camp arguing that there was a need to rethink the strategy as it impacts the Valley’s economy.

The economic survey report – which was tabled by the state government in the ongoing assembly session last week – revealed that Jammu and Kashmir suffered a loss of Rs 16,000 crores during the five months of unrest due to complete shutdown of economic activity. In fact, the survey has a complete chapter titled, ‘Economies of Uncertainty and Conflict’ that exclusively deals with the economic losses suffered by various sectors during the unrest last summer.

Red-faced Hurriyat withdraws relaxation

Following War’s press conference, the “joint resistance leadership” withdrew the relaxations and asked the people of Gaw Kadal and adjoining areas to observe a complete shutdown on January 21. They have also altered the programme for January 25 and January 27.

Since the Gaw Kadal killings, January 25 and January 27 have also come to mark tense days in Kashmir’s history.

On January 25 in 1990, 21 people were killed by Border Security Force (BSF) troopers in Handwara, a frontier town in northern Kashmir, as they marched to the town’s main chowk to protest the Gaw Kadal massacre.

While an FIR (No- 10/1990) was registered at the police station in Handwara, years later the police claim that the accused BSF men are untraceable.

Two days later, on January 27, at least 27 civilians were killed by an army patrol in nearby Kupwara town for allegedly observing a shutdown on Republic Day.

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