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Return of the stone rage in Kashmir

Tuesday December 28, 2010 02:52:08 PM, Sarwar Kashani, IANS

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Srinagar: Over 110 people dead in firing by security forces on protesters, four months of crucial academic session washed out due to frequent curfews and shutdowns, business worth an estimated Rs.14,000 crore ($3 billion) lost -- 2010 was indeed haunting for the Kashmir Valley that witnessed another season of intifada, the stone throwers' uprising.

At the beginning of 2010 spring, as peace was dawning on a state battling years of armed insurgency, the scenic valley was preparing to welcome tourists with hopes to revive an economy in shambles. But that was not to be.

Most of the tourist season was lost to stones - volleys of them flying in the air every day almost all over the valley. And security forces countered them with tear gas shells, non-lethal weapons and even bullets.

As soon as the tourist season began to peak - some 400,000 tourists had come to Kashmir by June, the death of a teenager, Tufail Ahmed Mattoo, in firing by security forces June 11 set off a vicious cycle of stone-pelting agitations and killings.

Mattoo's death triggered widespread agitation against human rights violations in the valley. Separatist leaders capitalised on the anti-government anger by giving frequent calls for shutdowns and asking people to hold protest marches.

In nearly five months of the uprising, 111 more civilians were killed - painting the valley blood red.

The agitation, which revived the separatist campaign, kept the valley closed for most of the five months due to repeated shutdowns and curfews.

President of a business lobby, Shakeel Qalandar, said each day of the shutdown or curfew cost Kashmir around Rs.100 crore ($22 million). The valley remained closed for about 140 days in the unrest period.

"Our economic losses have mounted to Rs.14,000 crore ($3 billion)," Qalandar told IANS.

He said some 100,000 people also lost their jobs in the tourism, manufacturing and retail sectors in the 2010 unrest.

The valley has witnessed frequent closures in the last 20 years of separatist war. As many as 1,950 days have been lost to shutdowns and curfews since 1990.

"Conservative estimates put the losses at around Rs.2 lakh crore ($44 billion) during the last two decades," according to Qalandar.

Education was only a collateral damage in the cycle of protests - at the heart of which was the Hurriyat Conference led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

When schools and colleges remained closed for about 115 days, the adverse effect on education can be anybody's guess.

However, in all this maddening cycle of violence, the valley peacefully hosted the annual Amarnath pilgrimage - the way it has been doing since ages. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims from all over the country travelled to the cave shrine in south Kashmir Himalayas.

As the year began to close and winter chill seeped in, a sort of agitation fatigue led to a somewhat deceptive calm in the valley. The common sarcastic slogan doing the rounds is - "Khoon ka badla June main lenge" [We will avenge the killings - of 2010 - next June).

The central government also took some steps to resolve the political problems in the state. In September, it approved an eight-point plan for Jammu and Kashmir and released Rs.100 crore ($22 million) for grants to schools and colleges.

Three interlocutors - journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, economist M.M. Ansari and academician Radha Kumar - were tasked to hold "sustained and uninterrupted dialogue with all sections of the people" in the state.

During a visit by the interlocutors to frontier district of Kupwara Dec 22, thousands of people pledged not to throw stones at security forces - not a bad idea to end the year full of violence.

But the pledge came with riders. The security forces should not stop peaceful protesters and the government should take "solid and concrete steps" for resolving the Kashmir issue, they held.

This is the third successive year Kashmir has witnessed a politically hot summer. In 2008, prolonged agitations, including stone pelting, was witnessed over land allotment to the Amarnath shrine board and in 2009, the Shopian alleged rape-murder of two women triggered widespread angry protests. But the 2010 protests were prolonged and furious.



(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at s.kashani@ians.in)

 


 

 

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