On Sunday, Ghulam Hassan War walked nearly five kilometres along with his brother and daughter with the hope of finding a ride to Srinagar. His cancer-afflicted daughter is undergoing radiotherapy for three weeks and every day they have to travel 50 kilometres to a hospital in Srinagar.
However, with the highway ban in force, War stood at the edge of Baramulla town near Shailputri Mandir and waited for hours on the national highway. "Living in Kashmir kills you faster than cancer," 72-year-old War, a resident of Khadinayar village on the outskirts of Baramulla district in north Kashmir, said and added, "I can afford to miss everything but not the therapy session of my unmarried daughter. But I could not find even a single passenger car moving towards Srinagar."
That was because the administration in Jammu and Kashmir, which is presently under Governor’s Rule, has implemented an 'authoritative' order that prevents Kashmiri civilians from travelling the National Highway 44 on Sundays and Wednesdays, sparking uproar in the Valley.
In Kashmir's three-decade-long situation of insurgency and political turmoil, there have come moments where New Delhi has found it tough to handle the fluid situation in the Valley. But this is for the first time that a civilian movement has been banned on the highway to pave way for military movement.
The situation in Kashmir today is far better by any yardstick than it was in the 1990s when the armed insurgency erupted but even in the past New Delhi has not attempted barring people's movement on the roads. "It is unprecedented, and dictatorial," said Munir Jehangir, a university student who was waiting for a ride along with War, "The conflict has now reached another level."
The two-month ban, which will end on 31 May, has become a huge political issue in Kashmir. Experts are warning that it will have a direct impact on the already fragile economy of the state which was yet to recover since the devastating floods of 2014.
"Almost every other sector of the economy, including tourism and horticulture, will be affected. Ironically, while Kashmiris are barred from plying the roads, tourists are not. This sends out a wrong message. The relentless bloodshed had already made Kashmiris angry and this order has further creaa ted problem for them. Alienation in the population and anger against New Delhi isan at all-time high," Noor Baba, a professor of Political Science, said.
On Sunday, it was a curfew-like situation in parts of Kashmir along the highway as people chose to stay inside. Political leaders staged protests at many places in the Valley. Ashraf Mir, former Jammu and Kashmir minister and leader of Peoples Democratic Party termed the ban as "administrative terrorism" during one such protest on the outskirts of Srinagar.
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah on Sunday said that the order is "mindless" and is "injustice" with the people of Kashmir. He wondered if the convoy of security forces ply on highway throughout the week and how do they become vulnerable only on two days — Sunday and Wednesday?
"Today while driving to Uri, we saw what it means. The patients can’t go to hospitals; workers can’t go to businesses. It symbolises a complete breakdown between administration and people. No elected government would have issued this order," Omar said after addressing a rally in the border town of Uri.
The highway wore a deserted look on Sunday which was the first day of the ban. At many places, despite passes issued by the state government, forces refused to honor them. In one case, an ambulance carrying a pregnant woman from Rajpora area of Pulwama, who was referred to Srinagar, was not allowed to use the highway and instead was diverted via a different, longer road.
Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir, Baseer Ahmad Khan, had offered "permission for movement of the emergency vehicles, including ambulances, school buses and other essential services," but that order did not seem like it was getting implemented on the ground.
Throughout Sunday, protests rocked Srinagar and other districts of Kashmir. National Conference president Farooq Abdullah and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti took out protest marches to defy the government ban on movement of civilian vehicles on the highway.
"This order should be revoked. It sounds like a dictatorship," Abdullah said during the protest march. "This is nothing but a complete violation of the fundamental rights of citizens." Mehbooba urged people to defy the ban, saying that the road belonged to Kashmiris and not the Government of India.
"Government of India thinks that they can suppress the people of Kashmir by such acts, they are wrong. Kashmiris don’t need permission from Government of India to use their own roads," Mehbooba said. Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) leader MY Tarigami wondered about the "kind of society we live in these days. This is completely choking the freedom of movement and has no parallel in recent history,” he said.
Back in Baramulla, a dejected War left for his home late on Sunday afternoon after he failed to find a car that could take him and his daughter to Srinagar. Troops in combat gear and automatic rifles patrolled the streets, and they didn’t let any passenger car to use the highway. "What option do I have? We will go to hospital tomorrow now. This occupation of our land will come to an end one day, God willing. I just hope that I am alive to see it happen," he said.
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Updated Date: Apr 08, 2019 13:05:20 IST