WITH EID, Raksha Bandhan and Independence Day around the corner, and a curfew in place along with curbs on cellular services and mobile Internet, life in the Pir Panjal region adjoining Kashmir Valley is in limbo.
Eid falls on August 12-13 and Raksha Bandhan on August 15, and residents are not sure whether the curbs will be lifted by then. More so, because additional forces have been deployed amid reports of protests in the border districts of Rajouri and Poonch against the removal of special status and the reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir.
On Wednesday, security reinforcements were sent to Saj village after protesters blocked the Rajouri-Thanamandi road in the area. On Tuesday, two policemen and a DySP were injured at Bufliaz in Poonch as protesters from near Mughal Road resorted to stone-pelting. On the same day, police resorted to lathicharge to disperse protesters in Poonch’s Surankote town.
Traditionally, calls for protests from separatists in the Valley have not received much support in the Pir Panjal region, according to Shafiq Mir, chairperson of the J&K Panchayat Conference and an elected sarpanch from Poonch’s Poshana panchayat. “But in the scrapping of provisions of Article 370, they have got a common cause,” he said.
Beyond the protests, there is hope. “It is good that we have got freedom from 70 years of exploitation by Kashmir-centric politicians, but we are not sure of our identity looking ahead to the future. The Home Minister has assured that statehood will be restored to J&K once the situation normalises, let us hope we get it back soon,’’ said a trader from Poonch, who requested anonymity.
On the ground, shops are open at some locations and residents have come out on roads in curfew-bound areas. But they say the restrictions have taken a toll. With incessant rains, water and power supply has been disrupted in many areas. Residents in rural areas say they have been finding it difficult to transport the ill to hospitals, given the security barricades and checks.
“Eid is around the corner, but we have not been able to make any preparations because the markets are closed,” said Nazir Ahmed Ganai, a retired school teacher at Thanamandi.
At the political level, confusion prevails over the ground situation. “Our leaders, including former Deputy CM Tara Chand and former minister Raman Bhalla, have been put under house arrest,’’ claimed J&K Congress spokesperson Ravinder Sharma. While Bhalla could not be contacted, Chand said he had come to Khour to mourn the death of a party worker’s family member, and had been been advised by police stay indoors.
Migrant workers are among the worst-hit. “We have been in Kashmir for the last three days at a fabrication unit for shutters. But now, we have decided to go back as there is no raw material,” said Shamim Akhtar, who is part of a group of 40 workers from West Bengal.