SPEAKING FREELY Sour note to Kashmir strike calls
By Aijaz Nazir
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Kashmir has been in Indian headlines for more than a month now, mostly for wrong reasons. Protests and shutdown calls from the separatist leadership over a music concert conducted by maestro Zubin Mehta and allegations of the killing of civilians by security forces in south Kashmir have kept the state on the edge of unrest.
The September 8 concert, Ehsaas-e-Kashmir, was organized for the people of the Kashmir Valley by the German embassy in collaboration with the state tourism department. Separatists
criticized it as an attempt to internationally project normalcy in the state, and also when authorities were compelled to limit the number of invitees.
Members of Kashmir civil society and human rights activists wrote a protest letter to the German embassy in Delhi for illegally "legitimizing an occupation via a music concert". It further stated that, "art as propaganda documented, was put to horrific use in Nazi Germany. We are sure you will understand that we cannot welcome anything even remotely analogous in Jammu and Kashmir."
Even as preparations were going on for Mehta's concert, personnel from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) fired on a group of bike-riding youth in the town of Shopian; four people were killed and one critically injured. The CRPF claimed that four of the youth were militants, but locals denied the claim.
The killings prompted separatist leaders to call for a complete shutdown in the valley. Protests at various places in the valley claimed one more life. Ironically these strike calls are leading to more deaths and economic losses, but the guardians of society are not realizing this. Previous calls have resulted in education, business, and tourism being badly affected.
Does anyone think about the local vendors who are selling goods in the busy market of Lal Chowk? Has anyone ever thought about the fruit sellers who establish their stalls in the early morning till late night to earn bread for their family?
The answer is "no" because no one among the leadership has any sympathy. Strike calls may not have much impact on the larger business establishments but these street vendors are vulnerable. Ordinary Kashmiris have realized these costs, and are scarcely following the separatists strike calls as evident from the partial response to the September 20 shutdown call, prompting one of the national news portals to ponder on the lost relevance of such demands.
However, there is no end to the suffering of the common Kashmiris. At the other end of the spectrum, it is the government that has kept Shopian under siege and curfew for more than two weeks. This has resulted in people facing shortages of basic necessities. But the government has yet to realize the pain. Be it the strike call from the separatist leaders or curbs from the authorities in both conditions, it is common people who have to face the resulting hardship.
There is more to this saga. Hundreds of people have lost their lives, leaving behind distraught families. One
comes across many mothers who have lost their sons, sisters who have lost their brothers and children who have lost their parents since the 1990s.
Since 2008, youths in particular have been in regular confrontation with the security forces in the streets of Srinagar and Kashmir's major towns. Residents of the valley know what a strike calls mean for them. It means leaving homes early in the
morning and dodging or facing the security forces and protesters on the streets for the entire day. While security forces
carry guns, bamboo sticks and shields, protesters are mostly boys with covered faces who carry stones as weapons.
Strike calls mean the street vendor whose family lives in destitution struggles to get the money to pay for a meal. A day on strike
starts with fighting with security forces and ends with families in mourning for young boys. Leaders, however, remain under house arrest, yet out of harm's way.
Still people will be blaming Zubin Mehta for the recent controversy, which took five lives. But the moot question is whom the nation should hold responsible for the rest of the lives lost in recent years.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Aijaz Nazir is a freelance journalist from Kashmir . He is a
frequent contributor to various websites, covering current issues of
J&K, focusing on social and political nuances. He can be contacted at