An interactive session between chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and a group of women to promote self-help groups degenerated into an impromptu protest on Tuesday, leaving the government red-faced.
The women who had come to participate in an interactive session with Mehbooba left the venue saying they were fooled into attending a function addressed by the chief minister.
While not much is known about what happened inside the venue as the media was kept out, eyewitnesses said, women came out screaming and raising slogans of azadi while the function was still on. The commotion started in the back rows and soon women started leaving the venue. While there was some sloganeering inside the venue, strong protests took place outside.
Videos of the protest soon went viral and were shared extensively by the opposition National Conference.
Speaking to media outside the venue, some women said they were bought to the function as part of UMEED scheme for what the officials claimed a meeting organised by the government for the women’s self-help groups at the Sher-i-Kashmir Conference Centre (SKICC) in Srinagar.
The women insisted that they were not told about the presence of the chief minister at the function and alleged that they were brought to the venue on the pretext of meeting officials about the scheme and other future avenues.
“UMEED is a wonderful scheme. We deposit Rs 100 every month and when needed, we can take loan from that group. It has really benefited rural woman like us,’’ said Suraya, who along with a group of people had come from Pulwama.
The young woman with her face covered was however quick to add that seeing the chief minister “irked them’’. “We did not want to see Mehbooba Mufti. Where was she went our brothers were dying?’’ a few other women asked.
While scores of woman were seen raising slogans, there were many others who looked hassled and wanted to leave the venue for a safer place.
Thousands of women volunteers of self-help groups under UMEED scheme from Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam, Anantnag, Bandipore, Ganderbal and other areas were present at the venue.
Suhail Bhukari, the CM’s media adviser, downplayed the fracas insisting that the function went on well and it was disrupted only after some “commotion in the back rows’’. Mehbooba later told reporters that “a woman had fainted and was not given water on time which caused the disruption.’’
“It was a very good, some lady had fainted. Others panicked and came out,’’ Mehbooba said after being escorted out of the venue.
But the opposition wasn’t kind to her. National Conference leader and former chief minister Omar Abdullah shared video of the protest tweeted by party spokesman Junaid Mattoo saying
“This is what happens when the machinery of Govt is used for the sole purpose of rebuilding @Mehbooba Mufti’s non existing credibility,’’ Omar tweeted.
In a series of tweets Abdullah criticised Mehbooba Mufti for her comments after the disruption.
“They panicked and came out shouting pro freedom slogans! @MehboobaMufti doing what she does best-living in denial,” he wrote on Twitter.
The PDP launched a fire fighting exercise by sharing a ten-second video showing women clapping during the function. Senior PDP leader and minister in Abdul Haq Khan claimed the women were clapping on “arrival of the chief minister’’.
Anger has ben rising against Mehbooba Mufti since the unrest of 2016 in which at least 90 civilians lost their lives in crackdown by security forces.
The PDP-BJP coalition government in the state has come under fire for its inability to control the violence that has now taken the shape of street protests by school and college students.
The Congress and National Conference have been demanding governor’s rule in the state for restoration of peace.