SRINAGAR: Life in Kashmir Valley came to a standstill on Wednesday in response to the shutdown call given by the joint resistance leadership (JRL) to protest against civilian killings in Shopian and shifting of political prisoners outside the Valley.
The JRL comprising Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik on March 5 had asked people to march to south Kashmir’s Shopian district to pay homage to four civilians killed in army firing at Pahnoo village of the district on Sunday evening. The pro-freedom leadership had also called for a shutdown against shifting of political prisoners from Srinagar to Jammu.
Old Srinagar, popularly known as downtown, wore a deserted look as authorities imposed curfew-like restrictions under Section 144 CrPC. All shops and business establishments including tuition centres in civil lines areas were closed while thin movement of public and private transport was visible on the roads. The government on March 4 had already closed schools that were scheduled to reopen on March 5 after three months’ winter vacations.
Residents of the downtown areas said that government forces had sealed all roads leading towards the old city by installing concertina wires in the middle of the roads since early morning.
Khalid Latif, a resident of Bulbul Lankar, told Kashmir Reader that the old-city residents have become used to such curfew-like restrictions since the 2008 uprising. “What we see in downtown is not what authorities call restrictions but undeclared curfew,” he said. “Here neither anyone is allowed to come out of their house nor anyone from outside is allowed to visit us.”
An elderly woman of Nawakadal who identified herself as Zonna Baegum told Kashmir Reader that life has become miserable due to restrictions. “Every time something happens in any corner of Kashmir, we are the ones to suffer time and again,” she said, adding, “Our kids are not able to go for studies nor are our men able to earn their livelihood properly.”
Wednesday’s strike, according to people whom Kashmir Reader spoke with, was taken seriously as compared to that of the previous one on Monday, which witnessed a spontaneous shutdown. A teenage boy from Dalgate, wishing not to be named, said, “Our area hardly observes shutdown, but today all shops were closed and traffic movement was very less. Kids were seen playing cricket on what usually are busy roads. The day before yesterday, everyone was ashamed that a strike had not been observed. Sometime it takes just a prick to awaken the conscience.”
The spokesperson of the Hurriyat Conference faction led by Syed Ali Geelani said that police foiled the proposed march to Shopian by clamping restrictions in and around Geelani’s Hyderpora residence. “Geelani sahab came out of his residence-cum-office at 12:15 noon, but the police and CRPF didn’t allow him to visit Shopian,” the spokesperson said, adding, “Even office employees were not allowed to attend their office.”
Police also prevented chairman of his faction of Hurriyat Conference Mirwaiz Umar Farooq from marching towards Shopian. Mirwaiz along with dozens of his party workers tried to take out a rally from his Nigeen residence but was sent back. “Kashmir has been turned into a police and army state,” Mirwaiz told mediapersons outside his residence. “We want to ask a question to the Government of India: For how long will Kashmiris be killed?” Mirwaiz said, and added, “People are left with no option now than to come out on streets and protest.”
He also said that the Indian government was responsible for pushing youths towards militancy. “From Shaheed Burhan to any other militant, either they were beaten by police or their family members were harassed by government forces,” he said.
Students at Kashmir University’s Zakura campus took out a protest march from their hostel up to Zakura crossing. The students carried placards in their hands that read: “Stop innocent killings”, “We want freedom.” The protesting students later dispersed peacefully.
The situation across Srinagar remained peaceful, though in the afternoon some minor clashes took place. Eyewitnesses told Kashmir Reader that stone-throwing incidents ended within a few minutes.
A complete strike was observed across north Kashmir. All shops and business centres, including tuition centres, remained closed in Baramulla, Sopore, Pattan, Palhalan, Sangrama, Langate, Handwara, Kupwara, Kralpora, Hajin and Bandipora areas, though vehicles were plying on the roads.
Police in Baramulla said that various checkpoints, nakas and mobile checkposts had been established in various areas on main roads in the district.
SSP Baramulla Imtiyaz Hussain in a statement said, “We understand it is a major inconvenience but it is essential to ensure the safety and security of public.” He requested the general public to extend cooperation and to stop their vehicles when signalled to stop. He also shared several phone numbers for contacting the police in case of any assistance/complaints.