Caution on Hartal

Last week, the azadi camp called for yet another protest shutdown in Kashmir. This time it was to show solidarity with the people of Palestine. But like most shutdowns in the recent past, it defied logic. What was the point of calling for a shutdown when people were already registering their protest on the streets? Rewind to July 13, when hartal has become mandatory. The day has also become a contest, with the state announcing a holiday and the azadi camp calling for hartal. To make its point, the resistance camp should rather have asked private business establishments, private schools and other such institutions to remain open to defy the government writ.

In 2010, calendared programmes took hartals to ridiculous limits. The government imposed curfews and the azadi camp responded with hartal. The latter should have asked people to go about their normal business whenever the government imposed curfew. But curfew and hartal on the same day was a cracker of a joke.

The problem is not with hartal, per se, as a tool of peaceful resistance, but with its indiscriminate and frequent use.  Though pro-freedom groups have drastically reduced the number of hartals compared to the 90s, when shutdowns were called at the drop of a hat, they are struggling to find an alternative. The answer is not hard to find. One of the most important obligations of the azadi camp is to inform, educate and spread awareness among people. How uninformed and unaware people are in this part of the world can be gauged from the fact that the Jama’at-e-Islami went to the UNMOGIP’s Srinagar office to submit a memorandum for Palestine when the Observers Group is not mandated to entertain any memoranda other than on Kashmir. No surprise then that the Jama’at’s memorandum was not accepted. The party is a grassroots socio-religious organization in Kashmir, and yet seems to have no clue of the UNMOGIP’s mandate.

Hartal is a potent weapon, but in Kashmir it has been turned into a lazy one. Not just in concept, but also, as a consequence, in observance.  Only some of the major towns in the Valley observe it when a call in given. In the rest of the Valley, there is only partial impact. People generally respond wearily and increasingly question their (hartals’) efficacy, particularly when they hit vulnerable livelihoods.  Such issues must be tackled before issuing the next call.