Will Kashmir get a reprieve from the four-month shutdown?
Srinagar, Nov 8: The decision by separatists to hold a meeting with various stakeholders to discuss the future course of the nearly four-month-long protest shutdown in the Kashmir Valley has raised hopes among different sections of local society.
Senior separatist leaders including Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik held a marathon three-hour-long meeting here yesterday to discuss the future of the ongoing protest shutdown in the valley.
When the separatists announced the present shutdown on July 9, a day after Hizbul commander Burhan Wani was killed in a gunfight with security forces, the authorities had placed all senior separatist leaders under detention.
The separatists, however, managed to issue weekly protest calendars asking people to continue their protests and the shut down in the Kashmir Valley. Life has remained paralysed with education, tourism, transport and other commercial activities remaining halted during this period.
Ninety-five people have died in clashes between unruly mobs and the security forces. Over 12,000 others, including civilians and security personnel, have been injured.
Worse, over 100 injured civilians face the prospect of permanent blindness because of pellets fired at them from pump-action guns by the security forces.
After continuing the protests on their own for four months, the separatists' decision to meet educationists, transporters, traders and representatives of the local civil society has come as a ray of hope for those whose livelihood and children's education have received a deadly blow.
The separatists will have to take a final call on their relentless continuation of the clampdown on the valley after meeting these stakeholders on Tuesday.
The state government has already announced holding of Class 10 and Class 12 annual exams on November 14 and 15. The students have been given a choice -- appear in November with a 50 per cent cut in the syllabus or appear in March next year with 100 per cent syllabus out of which question papers would be set.
A general feeling among parents and students is that after wasting four months of classwork, the offer to appear with a 50 per cent cut in syllabus seems fair.
"We have all along supported the separatist decision regardless of the suffering so far. We will support their decision in the future as well.
"After all, 95 civilians did not die for nothing. But, by continuing our own suffering, would Delhi or the world be moved? Life needs a breather without compromising on our basic principles," said a trader in the old city of Srinagar who did not want to be named.
A well-known hotelier of the Kashmir Valley also said on condition of anonymity: "I pay Rs 1 crore as monthly salary to my staff at various establishments. I have not sacked any staff member so far nor stopped their salaries even for a day."
"How long can I continue paying such a huge wage bill without earnings? The separatists have to take into account this too," he added.
A middle-class transporter who owns a minibus in Srinagar said: "My vehicle has been off the road for four months. Luckily, it is driven by my son. Even then, I haven't been able to pay monthly installments to the bank during this period."
Carpenters, masons, bricklayers and unskilled labourers are already saying they cannot keep the wolf away from the door any longer.
It is against this highly depressing scenario that the separatists would be meeting all stakeholders. And the indications are that they will moderate or interrupt their protest calendar to provide relief to the suffering Kashmiris.