SRINAGAR: As a truncated Jammu and Kashmir awoke to its new-found status as a Union Territory on Thursday, a lone shikarawallah rowed his vessel on Srinagar’s Dal Lake under grey and overcast conditions.
On the lake’s bank, shuttered eateries at the famous Nishat Garden and a near-deserted boulevard appeared to reflect the feelings of the common man: that of anger, betrayal and despair.
The night before, a light drizzle fell on the city, as if Kashmiris were weeping in silent mourning against the loss of statehood and the “wrongful robbing of our identity and culture”. But at the appointed hour of 12.45 pm, GC Murmu was sworn in as Jammu and Kashmir’s first Lt Governor at a simple ceremony in Raj Bhavan overlooking the Dal, or what some in anger would call the Dull Lake.
At a stone’s throw away from the famous Jamia Masjid at Nowhatta in the heart of downtown Srinagar, an animated discussion was on at a roadside early in the morning. "They (the Centre) have snatched our identity. They are imposing their decisions on us. There is total anti-India sentiment in Kashmir," said a visibly angry youngster.
He sought to know the need to read down Article 370. "They should have consulted the J&K Assembly. Had they sought the consent of the lawmakers, there would not have been anger against India in the Valley but against the lawmakers. But the government passed it (the Bill) in Parliament without consulting the Assembly," he said.
As decibel levels rose, armed paramilitary men across the road fidgeted and eyed the gathering with suspicion. "They have not been deployed for our safety but for their own," the youth said.
Another youth, the owner of a readymade garment shop, said he had not opened his outlet for over two months. "I now open it for two hours to earn some money to keep the kitchen fire burning. It is out of compulsion, else we wouldn’t have opened our shops," the youth said.
Asked how long the self-imposed shutdown will go on, he said, "We will continue till India accepts it erred on Kashmir. This is a people’s movement and it will continue." A 25-year-old warned that if Delhi does not rectify its mistake, "Kashmir would produce fidayeens. People will die but every boy here will turn into a fidayeen to inflict damage."
Irfan Ahmad, MD of Jamkash Vehicleades Kashmir, the Valley’s leading car dealer, said had seen UTs being converted into states but not the other way round. "It is for the first time that a state has been converted into a UT," he said, referring to the downgrading of J&K. But hoped that the future would bring good tidings. "J&K can be a good software hub as it has the proper environment for it. It needs industrialisation. We need to provide job avenues to the youth as thousands of them in the region are jobless," he said.
Sheikh Ashiq, president of the Kashmir Chambers of Commerce and Industry, was more strident and appeared to blame the government for the huge loss of business and anger among Kashmiris. "About 2.5 lakh people in the weaving industry have lost their jobs. About 50,000 others have also been unemployed in the carpet and handicraft sector. Who is to blame for this?"
Terming the ongoing peaceful strike in the Valley as a “strategic silence from the people in,” he said “it had left everyone confused.” “Nobody has called for a shutdown, yet the Valley is observing a strike since August 5.”
Justice (Retd) Hasnain Masoodi, National Conference Lok Sabha MP and one of the several parties who has moved the Supreme Court over Article 370, said he was hopeful of a favourable verdict. “There are no legal grounds to support such a decision. The concurrence of the J&K legislature was not taken. Whatever has been done is in utter disregard to the Constitution and there is massive public disapproval against it,” he said.