Authorities Enforce Normalcy As Kashmir Observes 2nd Anniversary of Special Status Annulment

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Officials hammered the locks to force open shops observing shutdown in Srinagar, Kashmir on August 5, the day marked 2nd anniversary of abrogation if J&K’s special status. Photo: Kamran Yousuf

Shopkeepers told they will be treated as supporters of ‘anti-nationals’ if they close shops on August 5

Muhammad Raafi | Clarion India

SRINAGAR — Unusual scenes were witnessed in Kashmir’s capital city Srinagar on Thursday as Jammu and Kashmir police officials forced the shopkeepers to open the shops. These shops were shut in ‘protest’ to mark the second anniversary of the abrogation of the region’s special constitutional status under Article 370 of the Indian constitution.

On Wednesday the police in Kashmir held a meeting with shopkeepers, traders and other business establishment owners in Srinagar at a local police station, Kothi Bagh, and allegedly directed them not to observe protest shutdown and run the businesses as usual.

The meeting was held after police warned of serious action against those circulating a ‘fake tweet attributed to separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani, calling for strike on August 5 and 15,’ in Jammu and Kashmir. Apart from Kothi Bagh police station in commercial hub Lal Chowk, police officials said, the meetings were also held with traders and shopkeepers at many police stations in the city. The police claimed that the shutdowns were boosting morale of militant organisations.

Farhan Kitab, head of Kashmir Retailers Association, and core member of All India Retailers Association, told Clarion India that the trade bodies in the city were called by Sub Divisional Magistrate, Sandeep Bali and Senior Superintendent of Police Srinagar, Sandeep Choudhary for meetings. During a meeting with Bali, Kitab said that the traders were informed about two issues. “The SDM said that 95 percent of the shops from Lalchowk to Polo View are on Nazool (state) land. And, the government will not tolerate any shutdown on August 5.”

He said that the SDM was categorical in his tone that those who would observe a shutdown on August 5, will be treated as supporters of “anti-nationals”. In a meeting with Choudhary, the SSP, Kitab said the traders were asked not to observe a shutdown as the “shutdowns have destroyed Kashmir’s economy” and instead focus on “reviving the economy”.

On Thursday as Kashmir woke up to a shutdown, people in civvies, in presence of cops, hammered the locks of many shops with iron rods, stones, and hacksaw blades, in city centre Lalchowk. At many places police officials were seen calling the shopkeepers and warning them to open the shops.

While many shopkeepers, later, reached their shops, but only to find the locks of their shops either broken or damaged.

There was an increased deployment of security forces including paramilitary forces and local police, in the city centre on Thursday. Superintendent of Police (East) Srinagar, Tanushree told reporters in Lalchowk that police was just providing security to the shopkeepers and had nothing to do with the hammering of the locks.

A shopkeeper said that they were caught in a conundrum. “We do not know what to do. On one side the police are forcing us to open shops while on the other we fear for our lives. Why doesn’t the police just let us do whatever we want,” the visibly scared shopkeeper said, denying his identity for fear of reprisal.

There was an increased deployment of security forces including paramilitary forces and local police, in the city centre on Thursday

A police officer who was monitoring the situation in Lalchowk said that they have the orders from the administration not to allow the shopkeepers to observe a shutdown. “It is an order from the above,” he said without explaining further.

Meanwhile, journalists complained that the police tried to stop them from covering the unfolding situation in Lal Chowk.

On Wednesday Tanushree, the local SP quoted above, told a local newspaper that the steps were being taken “to promote the prevailing normalcy in Kashmir.”

“Everything’s normal in Kashmir, so why to observe hartal on August 5th. If businesses can run normally on other days, they can remain open on August 5th also.

“We have convened meetings with traders all over Srinagar and have clearly mentioned that the government will not support any hartal. We want everything to be normal. As business establishments operate today, they’re supposed to do the same tomorrow and on the upcoming days,” she said.

Another shopkeeper said that he had gone to attend a funeral of his relative when he received a call from his son telling him that the lock of their shop was broken. “What shall we do,” he asked, “the situation here is turning ugly every other day and I pray that the earth turns upside down to swallow us once and for all.”

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who was detained in the aftermath of August 5, 2019, released a sharp statement on Thursday. “No words or pictures are enough to depict the pain, torment & upheaval inflicted upon J&K on this black day two years ago. When unbridled oppression is unleashed & gross injustice heaped there is no other choice but to resist to exist. (SIC),” she tweeted.

Hurriyat Conference, an amalgam of various separatist political groups, released a statement reiterating its resentment and opposition to ‘unilateral and arbitrary actions’ of August 5, 2019. It said that the government’s actions of August 5, 2019 has only complicated the (Kashmir) dispute further. It demanded release of political prisoners arrested “arbitrarily” or under “draconian laws”.

“…Meanwhile, the Government continues to assault the people of the state by continuing to incarcerate political prisoners and youth, intimidate people by arrests and bringing in arbitrary and anti-people laws, media gags, arbitrary dismissal of locals from government service, gagging all voices of dissent and continued misrepresentation of the actual conditions in the (former) state.”

Hurriyat also reiterated its demand for resolution of conflict over the region “so that not just Kashmir, but all of South Asia can look forward to living up to its collective potential.”

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Clarion India - News, Views and Insights about Indian Muslims, Dalits, Minorities, Women and Other Marginalised and Dispossessed Communities.

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