Srinagar: The city of Srinagar and the rest of the Valley was put under a complete shutdown Friday, the day of weekly prayers at mosques. Fridays have been marked by stone-pelting protests in Kashmir for years, but the day has added significance this week as Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Imran Khan are both scheduled to address the UN General Assembly in New York this evening.
As the day dawned on the Valley, shops stayed closed, even during the window for business set by residents themselves, 6 am to 9 am.
Security was beefed up across Srinagar, with concertina wires and barricades back in sensitive areas, including downtown, where the Jama Masjid, one of Kashmir’s most prominent mosques, is located.
Barbed wires were also put up outside the United Nations Military Observer Group office in Sonwar.
A CRPF trooper posted near Dal Gate said they had been told to be on maximum alert. “We are on alert 24×7. Here it does not take time for the situation to deteriorate.”
‘Our future will be decided’
There has been evident anticipation among Kashmir’s residents as the hour of the two addresses nears, with many hoping for some breakthrough on Kashmir.
When asked about the situation in the Valley, the most frequently heard refrain of residents over the past two days was, “We are all waiting for 27 September. Our future action will be decided Friday evening, one way or the other.”
Asked to specify what could happen in a diplomatic forum like the UNGA, Hilal Ahmad, the owner of Abdullah News Agency, one of the oldest newspaper shops in Lal Chowk, said, “There can be some message for us. We are keeping our fingers crossed.”
Meanwhile, the mood in the Valley continues to be restrained but tense as the communication clampdown, imposed in the first week of August after the scrapping of Article 370, gets set to complete two months. Public transport is a trickle, and private vehicles have mostly been plying during office hours. Shops remain closed for the better part of the day.
Despite the administration issuing orders to open schools, attendance is negligible.
Amid the restrictions on mobile phones, parents are reluctant to send their children to school, with administrations at educational institutes devising novel ways to ensure studies are not affected.
“Teachers in my niece’s school have given us a typed question paper and asked us to take tests at home,” said Ruhi Nabi, a resident of Bemina in Srinagar. “Some other schools have distributed CDs with assignments.”
There is much anger among the people over the continued restrictions on communication.
“In this day and age, can you shut down mobile and connectivity like this in Delhi or Mumbai for two months? Is this normal?” said Mukhtar Ahmad Lone, a shopkeeper in Pampore.
“If they think WhatsApp, Facebook or some specific social media platforms can create trouble, they can block that. Just because it is Kashmir, the administration thinks it can force anything on us.”
Tourism, one of the mainstays of the economy in this scenic land, has evidently hit rock bottom. Hotels are shut, taxi stands deserted, and the Valley’s famed shikara owners are sitting idle.
“I am living on borrowed money but how long can I continue like this?” said a shikara owner. “I have not earned a penny since the last two months.”