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COVER STORY
Summer 2011
The chief minister should take the tough call on DAA and AF(SP)A
By Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab
Srinagar/Sopore/Kupwara/Tangdhar: After three days of continuous shut-down, jointly called by the two factions of the Hurriyat Conference to protest against the assassination of president, Kashmir chapter of Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadees, Maulana Shaukat Ahmed Shah, Srinagar roared back to life on Tuesday as if nothing had happened, prompting one local to quip, “Kashmir is a strange place. One day people will be out on the streets pelting stones, next day they will close their shops in protest and the third day they will be back to business.”

And business it is — market places thronging with shoppers, pavements lined with school-going children, streets overcrowded with bumper-to-bumper traffic, drivers honking merrily to announce their arrival or departure, the bus cleaners yelling out their destinations for potential passengers, jay-walkers zipping across the road, dodging the cars which move in spurts and halts and the traffic policemen almost somnolent in manner, ignoring some violators and hauling up some. On days like these Srinagar, bulging at seams with traffic which continues to increase with each passing day resembles a chaotic provincial Indian town. “The traffic policemen are the lowest grade of humankind,” mutters our driver, crawling in a jam. “They sell their souls for a mere five rupees. If you want to leave your car in the no parking zone, just give five rupees to the policeman and forget about the traffic jam. One even has to pay them to ply commercial vehicles in certain areas of the town.”
The driver doesn’t realise perhaps, how reassuring these complaints of traffic and street corruption are. It suggests a kind of normalcy which is not easily associated with the beleaguered Valley, especially after three consecutive summers of anguish, anger and violence. But normalcy returns to Kashmir quite frequently and sometimes stays for a few weeks or even months before collapsing in a spasmodic heap of historical angst at the smallest rumours. Yet, sometimes, even the blood on the streets does not move the people. Kashmiris have short memories of immediate events, but extremely good recollection of events in the past, which pile on one another as a collective burden of history to be carried from one generation to the next.

“It is all in the mind,” says Professor Abdul Ghani Bhat, president, Muslim Conference and a member of the Hurriyat Conference, squatting on a sofa in the visitors’ gallery of his office cradling a kangri (a small earthenware pot holding hot coals) close to his chest. He is still recovering from flu, but ill-health seemed to have only sharpened his tongue. “To understand the Kashmiri mind, you have to see him through the twin prisms of psychology and history,” he says employing expansive Persian analogies and random Urdu verses. “The collective character of the present-day Kashmiri has evolved through years of internalising their experiences. Kashmir has never been a hegemonic state; it has always been defeated, whether by the Pathans, Sikhs, Mughals or independent India. Yet, the irony is, it is not a defeated race. It has learnt to adjust according to its changed circumstances. And it has unceasingly nursed its dreams of freedom. Despite years of suppression, that sentiment of the Kashmiri remains alive.”

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