Srinagar: A united Hurriyat Conference has embarked on a journey to change the centuries old business hours of Kashmir. From bustling daytime markets to glittering night bazars, the normal business hours has completely changed since the unrest began last month.
Shopkeepers and business establishments, throughout the region, eagerly wait for hours to pull their shutters up during the relaxation period. The moment that time starts — Lal Chowk — the city centre and the towns across the Valley, suddenly become abuzz with shoppers and the children are out with their parents for an ice cream.
"It is remarkable," says Mudasir Shah, a lawyer in Srinagar who came to Lal Chowk on Thursday for buying essential commodities. "In 26 years, I have not seen life getting used to a complete U-turn," he said.
From the last three weeks every time the Hurriyat calendar — a weeklong programme laid out for people to follow with occasional periods for shopkeepers to open their businesses — has announced a relaxation period people have thronged streets to buy essential commodities. This calendar is widely circulated on social media and newspapers, like a government order of importance.
Shakeel Ahmad Khan, a garment shop owner in the city, waited on a pavement for thirty minutes before he could throw open his shop on Thursday evening. At 6 pm, when the relaxation period started, he pulled up his shutters and allowed the customers to come in.
"We have become used to this calendar system now," Khan, 52, told Firstpost, as a group of shopkeepers outside his shopkeepers hurriedly pulled their shutters up too. "The business," he says, "is at a loss but we don’t care about that now, and follow the protest calendar."
On Thursday evening, like the other relaxation hours, markets opened and the business was back as usual, as the cloak struck 6 pm. The rush of private cars suddenly increased on the roads, and traffic jams was reported throughout the city. If one was at the Lal Chowk, five minutes before the relaxation time, it would have been difficult to find a moving car.
It is a direct challenge for the state, as a non-state entity decides the movement of the people on the streets and opening of the businesses. But this now new in Kashmir. Curfews and strikes have been part of the life since 1989, but what is new is the way people have adopted a reverse life cycle from the last few weeks.
To break this the state government on multiple occasions tried to close the markets during the relaxation hours but failed after few initial attempts to restore their writ on the streets, as the traders and shopkeepers protested.
Again on Thursday evening people caught hold of man who they claimed was a ‘government man’ at Regal Lane in Lal Chowk, who had threw few stones at some shops, when they were doing normal business during the relaxation hours. But a group of shopkeepers chased the boy and caught hold of him.
"We caught him, frisked his pockets for identity cards so that we could come to know who he was. He had nothing in his pocket. But we are sure he is a government agent as they don’t want us to follow the Hurriyat programme," a shopkeeper said.
The business community and the people alike follow the Hurriyat calendar putting the state government in an embarrassing situation, whose only sign visible on the streets are the gun wielding soldiers trying to keep protesters at bay. It is perhaps also the symbolism of whose writ runs large on the streets of Kashmir, these days.
Before the onset of militancy in 1989, the marriages in Kashmir were a late affair but after the militancy erupted in the valley the marriages would happen in afternoon and people would prefer to invite guests for the lunch instead of dinner. Kashmir has come to a full circle now, while the markets remain closed through out the day and streets remain deserted, come the relaxation time the streets are full of people and markets abuzz with shoppers.