New Delhi: The current evidence in Kashmir is that the Valley is on fire, with serious widespread discontent and repeated protsts against alleged human rights violations by the security forces fanning violent demonstrations, resulting in mayhem and death. But this is only a partial, possibly distorted, reflection of the situation fanned by the mass media.
Till a week ago, the Kashmir Valley was having one of its best tourist seasons in years. People from the rest of the country thronged the place, packing its hotels, restaurants, shops, shikaras and scenic spots. Buses and tourist taxis raced from one destination to another.
It was difficult to get an airline reservation to Srinagar and, if available, it was at an astronomical cost. Any change in flight travel plans would make an even more serious dent on your wallet. The option was to return home by bus.
There is no doubt that business - handicrafts, hospitality and tourism - was booming. Ordinary people in Kashmir were pleased by the extra work and income that such an invasion from out of the state brings. And they were hoping for continued normalcy, so that they could go on with their normal lives and earn a decent living. Now, who would want to disrupt that?
The reality is that ordinary Kashmiris are sick of the disruptions and bandhs that plague the state and in the end impoverish them. They are also sick of the politicians who encourage such disruptions.
The people are smart enough to know that many politicos have a vested interest in the continuing violence, have bled the state white and taken money from all sides, while ensuring their children enjoy luxurious sanctuary abroad. If the violence ceased, and Kashmir secured the normalcy essential for development and the betterment of its people, politicians of various hues would be out of business, like the terrorists.
It doesn`t take a genius to figure out the pattern of instigated violence. A group of youths is encouraged to start pelting stones at the security forces to ensure retaliation. At some point it forces the latter to do so, either with stones, tear gas or bullets. Sometimes the shells or bullets injure protesters or even kill. The perpetrators have now manufactured a full-blown incident, which they can beat the state and the Indian government with, and milk politically.
This pattern is repeated time and time again, mainly in Srinagar but elsewhere in the Valley as well. By and large in Srinagar the violence is contained within a small area in the heart of the town, while the rest of it goes about its business. But it does get worse.
It is not often that voices of sanity dare speak out against the disruptors, possibly fearing a militant`s bullet to their head. Criticism of human rights violations by the Jannu and Kashmir Police or Indian security forces, whether deserved or not, comes fast and furious from all quarters. There is not a murmur about worse atrocities against ordinary Kashmiris by terrorists and Pakistani sympathizers.
But people are fed up and some are beginning to take a public stand. There is every reason to believe they have the support of the silent majority in the Valley. Even editorials in newspapers, otherwise critical of India, have begun to question the politics of hartals.
As the Greater Kashmir newspaper observed, "...the real concern right now should be this: Is it any way working to the advantage of the people? If not, why should this situation persist....... So our major and dominant concern should be to find ways that could stop this mayhem. Going beyond the conspiracy theories and moralistic assessment of stone pelting, people who matter in this situation must sit down and work for some solution. We cannot afford dying every day. We cannot afford going on strikes every day. If we have problems here, which we certainly have, there must be some way other than this to fight them out".
A private citizen, Ghulam Jeelani, was moved to put out a large advertisment in the newspaper titled "Beyond the Politics of Hartals". Among other things he said: "However, it is also a fact that the frequent hartals bring the normal life to a grinding halt as no economic activity takes place. The daily wagers, the labourers who eke out their living after putting in hard labour, find it impossible to earn enough for their sustenance on a hartal day.......
"It is for those who claim to be in the leadership role to introspect and dispassionately assess the impact of frequent hartals," he continued, ending with the critical question: "Finally, who gets benefited out of the interruptions due to frequent hartals?
"Somebody has to answer this vital question some day."
Jeelani has it right. Someone is clearly benefiting from the frequent disruptions, hartals and fatalities. And it is neither Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, for whom the knives are out, nor the people of the Kashmir Valley.