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‘Horrifying feeling’: Kashmiri traders, 3000 kms away in Kochi, are on their nerves

Some of the Kashmiri traders were also plugged into the news to find out if communication lines were open in the Valley. After all, it had been more than 12 hours since they spoke to their families back home.

Written by Vishnu Varma | Kochi |
Updated: August 6, 2019 3:29:52 am
article 370, jammu kashmir reservation bill, jammu kashmir bifurcation, kashmiris in kerala, amit shah rajya sabha jk article 370 In Mattancherry’s popular Jew Town, Kashmiri traders have been working for decades (Express Photo by Vishnu Varma)

On Monday afternoon in Mattancherry’s popular Jew Town, Kashmiri traders, dealing for decades in handicrafts, papier-mache items and pashmina shawls, were lost in their cell-phones. They sat on wooden stools outside their shops, keenly following the proceedings in the Rajya Sabha where a Bill to bifurcate their home-state was passed. Some of them were also plugged into the news to find out if communication lines were open in the Valley. After all, it had been more than 12 hours since they spoke to their families back home.

“In 30 years of conflict in Kashmir, landline phones have never been blocked. Last night, even that happened. When you’re sitting so far away from Kashmir and you don’t know what’s happening to your families, it’s a horrifying feeling. It is like sitting on a time-bomb and waiting for it to burst. It is a very difficult emotion, of not being able to do anything. I worry for my family,” said Sajid Khatai, who arrived in Kochi in Kerala at the age of 21 after his uncle began a business here. Read in Malayalam

Sajid said he last spoke to his elderly parents, both in their 70s residing in Srinagar, over phone Sunday night. “I knew there was some kind of trouble. We initially thought the build-up of Army troops was a response to some kind of infiltration. We thought there were security apprehensions. But this (scrapping of article 370) is a shock to us. It’s like a theft in the middle of the night,” he said.

By Monday evening, the Rajya Sabha had passed the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, which proposes the bifurcation of the state into two union territories – J&K and Ladakh. Hours before, the government had announced that it had modified Article 370 which granted special autonomous status to the state.

For Kashmir traders in Kochi, all in their 40s and 50s who have settled down here with their families, the thought of their elderly parents at home in the middle of a highly-conflicted and charged up situation is disconcerting. In a curfew-like environment, getting medical help or basic provisions can be daunting.

article 370, jammu kashmir reservation bill, jammu kashmir bifurcation, kashmiris in kerala, amit shah rajya sabha jk article 370 Sajid Khatai arrived in Kochi at the age of 21 after his uncle began business here

“I feel more at home in Kerala than Kashmir, because I have lived here for the last 20 years. But my parents have the natural urge to die in their homeland. My father is 71 and my mother is 65 and they have medical issues. If they venture out in this condition, they will get into trouble,” said Muqhtar Ahmad, who runs a shop selling Kashmiri carpets, shawls and precious jewellery.

Nasar Hussain, who has been doing business on Jew Town for the last 20 years, said he has barely slept for the last two days. He has his elderly parents, siblings and relatives in Srinagar whom he has not been able to contact since Sunday night. While normal business played out in Jew Street on Monday, his mind and heart was elsewhere.

“Is this (scrapping of Art 370) how it should be done? Shouldn’t it be done through debates and discussions? They have shut down the entire Valley. There’s no way to communicate with our families. We don’t know what’s happening so we follow the media,” he quipped.

“In my opinion, it’s going to get much worse,” he said.

Hussain has reasons to worry. His younger cousin brother, who’s currently in Kochi, is slated to get married in Srinagar on August 20. But he doesn’t know whether it’s safe to send his brother home. “He’s set to fly day after tomorrow and we were planning to go later. But now, I don’t know what to do. We don’t even know whether the wedding will take place at all. Everything is so baffling.”

FROM THE STATES

Punjab: The state government prohibited any kind of celebrations or protests that could vitiate the atmosphere. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh directed the police to be prepared to thwart any attempts by Pakistan to create disturbance. He flayed the manner in which the Centre “imposed” the decision, saying the democratic fabric of the nation has been “ripped apart” with this “unprecedented violation of the Constitutional norms”.

Uttar Pradesh: Deputy CM Dinesh Sharma on Monday termed the government’s move as “historic” and said it is a bold step to strengthen the unity and integrity of the country. “While introducing the Bill, Home Minister Amit Shah was looking like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel,” said Sharma. Strict directives were issued to police to maintain vigil.

Haryana: The Haryana Assembly passed a resolution by voice vote thanking the Narendra Modi government’s decision to scrap special status for J&K. Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda supported the move but asked if the BJP would fulfil promises made to Haryana in its manifesto. INLD leader Abhay Chautala also supported the Centre’s decision, but said that similar provisions in states such as Himachal Pradesh should also be scrapped. Speaker Kanwarpal said that “buying land in Himachal” cannot be compared with Article 370.

Gujarat: Chief Minister Vijay Rupani welcomed the Centre’s move, saying it was a “historic and brave” decision. Terming Kashmir as the “crown” of India, Rupani said the government’s decision was a befitting tribute to Jan Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee.

Telangana: The ruling TRS supported the move and its Rajya Sabha MPs voted in favour of the government but the party did not make any announcement publicly. DGP M Mahender Reddy said a ban has been imposed on meetings in areas under Hyderabad, Cyberabad and Rachakonda Police after the MHA issued an advisory to all the states to put the police and security forces on high alert.

Maharashtra: Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the Centre’s decision had foiled the attempts of “Pakistan and the then Congress government” to “separate” the state from India. Speaking in Chandrapur during his Mahajanadesh Yatra, he said Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah must be congratulated. —ENS

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