Kashmiris wait for Ramadan for peace in their lives

July 26th, 2010 - 11:46 am ICT by IANS  

By F. Ahmed
Srinagar, July 26 (IANS) Separatist shutdowns, angry marches and protests, followed by slapping of curfew and restrictions by the administration — the daily onslaught for the past two months has left Kashmir Valley reeling. People are waiting for the Ramadan month to begin for peace to return to their lives.

The turmoil began June 11, when a youth was killed in the old city area of Rajouri Kadal after being hit on the head by a tear smoke shell - setting off a vicious cycle of violence in Kashmir.

Protests by highly agitated stone-pelting mobs were dispersed by security forces, using batons, tear gas and firing in the air. But during many such clashes, the security forces used firearms to quell the protests, resulting in the deaths of 14 people since June 11.

The separatists have been announcing weekly resistance programmes of protests, shutdowns and marches against what they allege is gross violation of human rights by the security forces.

The separatist programmes are part of the ‘Quit Kashmir’ campaign launched by the hardline separatist group headed by Syed Ali Geelani, who is under detention after his arrest last month.

Educational institutions are shut in Srinagar city and most other major towns of the Valley for more than a month now. “We have been postponing examinations that were scheduled to be held in June and July due to the disturbed law and order situation,” a Kashmir University official told IANS, not wishing to be identified.

Though colleges and schools continue to remain closed, the government has started a system of monitoring attendance of teachers during the shutdowns. “I have been attending my duties during the shutdowns, but no student turns up for classes,” said a government teacher in Srinagar who did not want to be named.

Parents argue it is not safe to send their children out during shutdowns as clashes between stone-pelting mobs have often resulted in the death of youths.

“It is better that my son misses his classes than be exposed to any physical harm,” said Shafiq Ahmad, 46, a resident of the Maharajgunj area of old city here.

The highly volatile law and order situation in the Valley has resulted in a stoic resignation among parents here.

“We also have ambitions for our children. We also want them to excel in academics and competitive exams, but that cannot be at the cost of risking their lives,” said Ameena, 46, whose daughter is a student in a local college.

With markets and shops remaining closed for days without end, the vendors and daily wagers have been the worst hit.

“I must earn daily bread for my family and that cannot happen as long as there is no work for me,” said Muhammad Sultan, 56, a fruit vendor.

Small traders complain they have incurred heavy losses because of the uncertain situation and their stocks have exhausted as wholesalers cannot be contacted because of the shutdowns and restrictions. “My shop is literally empty now. Each time I decide to buy fresh stocks something or the other happens in our locality that prevents me from going out,” said Manzoor Ahmad, 45, a shopkeeper in the Safa Kadal area.

People complain they are being fleeced by vegetable and milk vendors because of the chaos in the city. “I had to buy spinach at Rs.40 a kg. You cannot haggle during the short period in the evening we get to shop when restrictions are removed,” said Sakina, 35, a housewife living in the Batmaloo area which has seen worst violence.

Medical stores are running short of life-saving drugs and the pinch is being felt by the patients.

“I have exhausted my medicine supplies and am waiting for the situation to stabilize so that I can go to Srinagar and bring fresh stocks,” Shabir Ahmad, who runs a medicine store in north Kashmir’s Ganderbal town, told IANS.

Patients and their attendants in hospitals of the city are also suffering.

“I had to carry my ailing son in my arms to the children’s hospital in the city, walking more than 10 km, as there was no public transport,” said Gulam Nabi Zargar, 36, a resident of Bohri Kadal.

The authorities maintain they have little choice other than enforcing restrictions to protect civilian life and property during separatist protests.

“If restrictions are not in place the only possibility is of civilians getting injured, sometimes with fatal consequences,” said a senior police officer here.

“Imposition of restrictions is actually the last option available to us as we don’t want to endanger human lives,” he said.

Caught up in the separatist protests, shutdowns and curfews, the people are waiting for the holy month of Ramadan beginning Aug 12.

Since the present armed violence broke out in the state in early 1990s, peace usually returns to the valley during the month of Ramadan.

“The holy month of Ramadan will definitely bring in a modicum of normalcy in our lives as everybody is engaged in prayer and penance,” said Abdul Salam, 49, a villager from south Kashmir Pulwama district.

(F. Ahmed can be contacted at f.ahmed@ians.in)

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