Pahalgam: There was business as usual in Pahalgam even when the entire valley was on boil in the years 2008 and 2010. Pahalgam’s business is tourism, a short season of which the most has to be made of, enough for the year. But this year there are neither tourists nor any concern for the year’s stockings. The people of Pahalgam have in an unprecedented move have thrown in their lot with the pan-Kashmiri freedom movement. All they are concerned about now is when, not if, Azadi will come.
Shops, hotels, restaurants, guesthouses, everything is shut. Tourist taxis have been parked in the stands and the gates have been locked. Or the taxis stand, as if abandoned, on roadsides.
The long stretch of the main road from the police station to Poshwan park is peopled only with paramilitary troops. Windows of the commercial establishments and residential houses situated along the main road are covered with tarpaulin and tin sheets, after being smashed by the troops. Protests have been held and clashes broken out numerous times in the town ever since Burhan Wani’s killing on July 8. Owners of hotel and guesthouses spend their time discussing the situation in the Valley, sitting on shopfronts and on the roadside. “During this season hoteliers bothered only about bookings, but this time everyone is only bothered about the outcome of this long uprising,” said Showkat Ahmad, who runs a hotel.
Though in the rest of the Valley people have learnt to live with abnormal situations since 1989, the people of this place have never seen such a shutdown. For two-and-a-half months now, the town has witnessed only protests, clashes and ransacking of private property by the government troops. Locals describe it as “a new experience”.
“Whenever the valley erupts in protests, Pahalgam remains unaffected – that was our USP. But now everyone here is supporting the protest calendar. Hotels and commercial establishments have been locked for more than two months. At several occasions people have taken out protest rallies and have clashed with the forces. I can assure you that Pahalgamis are witnessing all this for the first time,” said the president of the tourist taxi stand, Ghulam Nabi Lone.
Lone cited repeated exploitations and betrayals by the politicians at the helm in both the central and state governments as the reason for the people of Pahalgam joining the Azadi movement.
“Pahalgam has been the stronghold of both the mainstream political parties, NC and PDP. People here have never heeded to the protest programmes of the Hurriyat leadership before. But now the people have realised that none of these pro-India politicians are well-wishers of Kashmiris,” Lone said.
“Thousands of people associated with tourism here have suffered huge losses but none of them is worried. What every Kashmiri wants now is the solution to Kashmir,” he said.
The head of Upper Pahalgam village, Gul Mohammad, said he did not remember people of Pahalgam protesting like this before. His daughter-in-law was injured during clashes recently. He said that in his lifetime he has seen people of Pahalgam only committed to earning a livelihood, not to Azadi.
Gul Mohammmad said that Chief Minister Mehbooba had proved that she was no different from her predecessor. “During election rallies, she would always tell the people ‘solving Kashmir issue was her father’s dream’. But she has spilled the blood of innocent youths without any regret,” he said.
“Whenever the people rise here for their right to freedom, Indian regime with the support of their local politicians imposes peace with military might,” he said. “They should see the writing on the wall and solve this issue once and for all by a peaceful dialogue.”
(With inputs from Zia-ul-Islam)