It is 3 pm in the afternoon and the Bijbehra-Pahalgam road in South Kashmir can be seen filled with trailers, trucks and tipper trucks preparing to load apple boxes for shipping them outside the Kashmir Valley. It is the harvesting season in Kashmir and people here are busy working in paddy fields, plucking apples and harvesting other crops.
These scenes portray the gradual return to normalcy in the region which was in the grips of turmoil for more than two months, after the killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani on 8 July.
Immediately after Wani’s killing, thousands of people had come out on streets protesting and hurling stones at the security forces and also private vehicles which dared to defy the shutdown calls given by the Hurriyat-led separatists. The protests were intense with no relaxation in shutdown calendars. In retaliation, government was quick to impose a ‘communication blackout’ by blocking the mobile telephony, internet, and at times cable TV taking Kashmir back to the medieval times.
While the region is limping back to normalcy after incessant protests and shutdowns, the attack on the army camp in Uri in North Kashmir, on 18 September and the reports of subsequent ‘surgical strikes’ by the Indian Army, a few days later brought in another phase of uncertainty. India’s military action and its flaring tensions with Pakistan got many in the Valley worried about a possible war between the two neighbors. What caused further anxiety was the government’s decision to shift people living near the Line of Control (LoC) in North Kashmir to safer places. While the government wanted to move people with a view to minimize civilian casualties in case of Pakistan opening heavy artillery fire on the LoC, the decision nonetheless sparked further rumors and fears about the impending military confrontation between the two nuclear weapons states.
But those rumors and fears appear to have settled down. For now at least.
Private vehicles have resumed plying on the roads and shopkeepers have partially opened shutters to their shops. Villagers from South Kashmir, who had participated for the first time in the current protests, are busy in their orchards and paddy fields for harvesting.
The Hurriyat’s protest calendars were formulated during the ‘communication blackout’ and disseminated to the public without taking views from the people associated with business- especially shopkeepers and transporters. These businesses have faced huge losses due to the continuous strike and restrictions from the government. Some estimates suggest that the loss is so huge that it can’t be recovered for next fifty years. A report suggests that there was overall loss of more than Rs 10,000 crore and more. Another report projected that there was a loss of more than Rs. 3000 crore to the tourism industry alone.
In a conversation with Firstpost, it was revealed that a shopkeeper from the famous tourist destination of Pahalgam in South Kashmir had lost more than Rs 4 lakhs due to the present agitation. He said, “We are entirely dependent on tourism and this year our harvesting season was paralyzed due to the strike. We have lost in lakhs.” He questioned, “Was Azadi a concern for just summer season? If things had to go back to normal in any case, why was not done it before?” There are similar stories coming in from hundreds of others small and big business establishments, who have lost their business due to the protests.
These people have a legitimate grievance, but in the charged atmosphere full of pro-Azadi sentiments, their voices had no takers. Just few weeks before, hordes of young protestors wandering in the rural areas had coerced the shopkeepers to shut their shops and blocked the roads with whatever they could lay their hands on. The roads across the valley might be buzzing with the activity but have looked desolate just a few days back. In towns and cities, the situation was no different from that of villages.
But somewhere down the line the disenchantment of the people set in. The fatigue among people was so apparent that last Sunday when there was a relaxation in hartal from 2 pm onwards, there was a traffic jam in Srinagar and major towns of the Valley. Street vendors came out in hordes to sell their goods to earn whatever they could.
The question that is lingering on everyone’s minds, is whether the region will again witness the protests? Rumours on the ground are that the fruit growers and people associated with farming have been given the time until 10 October, for getting their work done and then the protests will resume.
It is difficult to ascertain these rumors. For now protests seem to have dissipated due to the harvesting season. However, elders in South Kashmir re-assure saying that Kashmir is now used to these ‘seasonal protests’.
The author is a freelance journalist based in Srinagar. He focuses on the socio-political issues of the Kashmir Valley.