THE word “ceasefire” is relatively new to the local lexicon here. For, this is South Kashmir’s Shopian, Ground Zero of the resurgence of armed militancy in the Valley, the town where Hizbul commander Burhan Wani posed for a picture with 12 associates a year before he was shot dead.
Here, the promise of a Ramzan ceasefire announced by the Centre on Wednesday isn’t just an issue of trust between people and the government but also a reminder of how much conflict has irrevocably shaped life here.
That’s why, barely 24 hours into the ceasefire, the dominant sense is one of relief laced with a welcome that’s cautious, even wary.
The markets in Shopian were abuzz Thursday. On the first day of Ramzan, locals shopped for dates, fruits and new clothes and as the call for afternoon prayers rose from mosques, shopkeepers left for prayer with their shops unattended. Teenagers more commonly seen walking the streets enforcing shutdowns were replaced by students in uniform.
The conflict here means students have attended classes for less than 10 days this year. But on Day 1 of the ceasefire, at Government Degree College (GDC) in Shopian on Thursday, students swarmed the campus.
They are well aware that a ceasefire means they can attend classes more often but for second-year student Humaira there are questions too. “I hope I will be able to go to college everyday like students in any other state in the country but our reality is different. Things are unpredictable. Our parents did not allow us to have phones earlier but now, no one steps out without one because things can spin out of control any time.”
There are over 4,500 students enrolled in GDC, almost all woman students have their heads covered, many have veiled faces.
Students rush in and out of classes, some fumbling with their schedules unable to find classrooms, “This is my first day of college today. All this time, I did not leave home because my parents worried for my safety,” said 19-year-old Shahid.
Speaking to The Indian Express, GDC principal Dr Ali Mohammad Dar said: “The students are angry but, at least, they are in classes. The situation is most difficult for them since their future is at stake. However, the ceasefire will help things, this should be a long-term measure. We are holding remedial classes and with more working days available, we will be able to cope with the backlog in syllabus.”
Bhat’s words may come as an assurance to student Sumaira. She says the shutdowns, the Internet disruptions, have ensured students are incapable of competing in national level exams, downloading forms, checking out schedules. “The last time we attended normal classes was in 2015. Given this, how can we expect that a month of ceasefire will bring a lasting change to our lives?”
Sumaira’s question finds an echo in many who say they study at home with help from siblings and neighbours and sit in front of their TV sets with their families in the evening to catch up on the news and decide whether they will be able to step out the next day. The ceasefire, they hope, will bring some relief and, who knows, it may even be extended.
Like Abdul Qayoom who has been selling tin sheets for about 25 years in the main market. His complaint is against politicians and his fear is for the future of the generation that’s out on the street, “The PDP-BJP coalition has divided Jammu and Kashmir,” said the 48-year-old. “People are not afraid now. Because encounters and killings have become the norm, they feel like they have nothing left to fear.”
Qayoom said businesses can recover losses and events can be put on hold but lives lost will not be recovered. “So if this government is serious about bringing change, the ceasefire must be taken beyond Ramzan,” he said. And many locals believe that once “cordon and search” operations by security personnel, a routine here, are restrained, people will have a shot at normalcy.
In Kachdora’s Lone mohalla, where five militants were killed on April 1 this year, in a single location, Niyaz Ahmad is supervising workers rebuilding his house which was razed during the encounter. Standing on the rubble, surrounded by a dense apple orchard, he isn’t very hopeful about the ceasefire. The bigger challenge, he said, is for politicians “to repair their relations with the people.”
Shazia, a second-year student at GDC, speaks for many of her friends and classmates on campus: “Our parents had a better childhood than we did. Our normal has been armed securitymen, cordon and search operations, our parents find it easier to be hopeful. Maybe if the cordons are put off and our town is more peaceful, even for a month because of the ceasefire, we will find some of that hope within us as well.”