More than two months after the lockdown over the Centre’s J&K move, the state administration came out with full-page advertisements in local dailies Friday, urging people not to “succumb to militants” and resume normal activities so that they can “take informed decisions on what is best for us”.
Referring to “closed shops, no public transport” and asking “who benefits… why fear” when “this is our home” and “it is for us to think of its well-being and prosperity”, the advertisement stated: “Are we going to succumb to militants? Think!!! For over 70 years now, the people of J&K have been misled. They have been victims of a vicious campaign and motivated propaganda that has kept them trapped in an endless cycle of terrorism, violence, destruction and poverty.”
“While separatists sent their children to exotic lands to study, work and earn, they instigated the common people to push their children into violence, stone-pelting and hartals. They used threats of terrorists, coercion and misinformation to beguile the people. Today, militants are using the same tactic of threats and coercion. Are we going to tolerate this?” it stated.
The Valley though remains sullen over the loss of the state’s special status and the lockdown. People are adapting to a new schedule — of making a beeline to shops that open early in the morning for a couple of hours before shutters are downed for the day as a mark of protest. In some parts of the Valley, the markets open for a few hours only in the evening.
At Lal Chowk in Srinagar, as loudspeakers of mosques fall silent after the morning prayers around 7 am, the city centre rings to the sound of shutters being raised. One by one, the shops open. And the place becomes a beehive of activity. By 9.30 am, the sound of the shutters returns. Shopkeepers simply exchange looks and, almost in unison, down the shutters. Within 15 minutes, the market is shut and traffic begins to thin out.
“We have to continue to register our protest, tell them that we bitterly oppose the revocation of Article 370, and will fight till the end. There are such curbs in the Valley that the shutdown is the only way for us to register our protest,” says Abdul Rashid, a shopkeeper at Maisuma. “That we have changed our market timings is also a form of protest.”
Yasir Ahmad, who has a jewellery shop on Residency Road, leaves his home in the old city immediately after the morning prayers. “After finishing my prayers, I only have tea. By 6.45 am, I leave for my shop. By 7 am, my shop is open. We have adapted to this new schedule. This is the least we can do to register our protest.”
While most shops shut by 9.30 am, some half-shuttered shops do business an extra hour. “The word has spread and shoppers do come in the morning hours,” says the owner of a garment shop at Lal Chowk. “A few hours of business is enough to keep us going.”
Shops in the old city, the separatist stronghold, and the uptown open and shut for the same number of hours. But in other towns of the Valley, like Sopore, Baramulla and Ganderbal, markets open only in the evening.
The only exception is Srinagar’s flea market. These days, under tight security, over a hundred vendors set up stalls every day under Chinar trees near the Polo Ground. Earlier, they would do that only on a Sunday. Now, it’s a daily affair, allowed to showcase the “return of normalcy” in the Valley.
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