After Separatists’ Meeting in Kashmir, No Signs of Return to Normalcy

Businesses and school-going children have suffered the most from the long period of shutdown in the Valley.

A CRPF personnel stands guard on strike day in Srinagar. Credit: PTI/Files

A CRPF personnel stands guard on strike day in Srinagar. Credit: PTI/Files

Srinagar: The uprising in Kashmir has entered the fifth month and it is far from over. On Tuesday, at a seven-hour long meeting with “stakeholders” in the summer capital Srinagar to discuss the way forward, the separatists decided to continue with their protest and shutdown programmes. But as pressures on businesses and families, especially those with school going children, grow, there are growing hopes that there would be some loosening of the controls imposed by separatist groups. These groups say that they will take into account these ‘suggestions’ while announcing their future plans for continuing the agitation.

Business in the Valley, which has come to a complete halt since July this year, and the loss of precious time by students owing to the continued shutdown – all schools have remained closed during these four months – were deliberated upon during the meeting. There were, however, no clear answers immediately as to how the challenges, on the economic and other fronts, would be addressed. Separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik – who are steering the ongoing agitation by issuing weekly ‘protest calendars’, scheduling the periods of shutdowns and work hours – are likely to meet again soon to discuss the outcome of the meeting and the way forward.

But by the time the meeting ended, the participants – who included representatives of trade bodies, transporters, educational associations, religious and political organisations and lawyers apart from separatists – apparently agreed that “economic losses, educational hiccups and social constrains are a part of the freedom movement” and should be overcome collectively with firmness and patience.

Separatists get ‘full mandate’

The outcome of the meeting, which was talked about across the Valley, is likely to be a major concern for the Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP government that might have been hoping for some reprieve from the 17 weeks of protests and shutdowns,  sparked by the killing of rebel commander Burhan Wani by security forces on July 8. The ‘positive meeting’ between the separatists and a delegation led by former union minister Yashwant Sinha during the last week of October, after a failed initiative by the Centre to engage the resistance camp in September, would have also raised hopes, both within the state government and the Centre. The timing of release of the report by the Sinha-led delegation on their Srinagar visit coincided with the separatist-stakeholders meeting on Tuesday – the report lays stress on the need for engaging separatists while recommending a slew of measures, asking the state and union governments to implement these at the earliest so as to bring some semblance of normalcy to the Valley.

But coming out of the marathon meeting that was held at Geelani’s residence, Malik talked about the “support” they got from the representatives of different associations and bodies for the continuation of the “ongoing struggle”.  “And we are committed to carry forward the suggestions and the proposals that were got from the representatives,” Malik said, as scores of Hurriyat supporters who had assembled outside Geelani’s residence, eagerly waiting to know the outcome of the meeting, raised pro-freedom and pro-Wani slogans while warning the separatists against any “sellout”.

The joint statement issued by the separatists later also talked about “full support” from the participants to the resistance camp for continuing the “freedom struggle with zeal and passion” and the need for following the Hurriyat programmes in letter and spirit.

This was the first meeting between separatists and representatives of different sections of society that was called by the former following their release from four months of detention last week, to chalk out the future course of action regarding the shutdown and protest programmes. Since July 8, Kashmir has witnessed at least 95 civilian killings, while over 15,000 persons have been injured in action by the security forces. According to government figures, over 4,000 security personnel have also been injured during the period in clashes with the protestors. The intensity of the protests has, however, gone down from last month; shops are opening here and there and private traffic has slowly started to return to the roads. The vendors have also returned to Srinagar’s famed Sunday market, where they sell everything from clothing to plastic ware and electronic items.

The losses and concerns

But during the meeting, a representative from a trade body said that concerns were raised about the impact of the shutdown on the region’s economy. Jammu and Kashmir, according to Kashmir Economic Alliance (an umbrella organisation of different trade and business bodies), is estimated to be suffering losses of around Rs 130 crore per day due to a complete lockdown. It is the class of small traders, street vendors, daily labourers and transporters who have been among the worst affected. And that is what, according to this source, prompted the participants to ask the separatists to take measures for safeguarding the economic interests of people and taking a holistic view regarding the education of children, which has suffered the most.

No change in calendar

The protest calendars issued by the separatists every week since Wani’s killing have remained unchanged – complete shutdown during the day time and relaxation during evening hours, three to four days a week. There were hopes that the next calendar that was to come Wednesday evening would extend the relaxation hours, but there were no changes. Instead, the volunteers were asked to visit each household in their area and prepare a list of people in need of financial help or any other support.

“Kashmir remains an issue irrespective of the shutdowns,” a political analyst remarked. “But it remains to be seen how the separatists will proceed with their strategy especially when absence of any political initiative from the centre, despite the killings, and months of lockdown is leading to fatigue and disillusionment in the Valley.”