Her cheeks painted in tricolour and a marigold garland around her neck, 10-year-old Hemalata was out on the streets of Jammu on Wednesday — to .
She could be mistaken for a cheering cricket fan or an enthusiastic schoolgirl about to take part in a fancy fete. But Hemalata thought she should join the processions “for the sake of the country — to press for a piece of land for Amarnath’s Bhole Baba”. She was headed for a police station in Rehari.
On Tuesday, the government announced an indefinite curfew in Jammu and warned against bringing children to court arrest, as it was against the law. But this morning, they came out, chanting “Yeh diwane kahan chale, jail chale bhai jail chale” (Where are these frenzied people going? They are going to jails).
Unable to cope with the rush of women, men and, now children, courting arrest, policemen looked quite harassed on the third day of the Jammu agitators’ “Jail Bharo” programme. “We cannot detain kids, I tell them,” said Arun Kotwal, a sub-inspector at Rehari, as protesters wanted to know why he hadn’t put up makeshift tents or called for water tankers.
For nearly 50 days, residents have voluntarily shut down everything. But, how long can it go on? Sheetal Arjunwal, a councilor supervising a community kitchen, said: “The land transfer is only one of the issues. People are out to disprove what New Delhi believes — that it can wear us out.”
B.S. Salathia, president of Jammu Bar Association, said: “The authorities want to use force against us for waving the national flag, but think of the compensation for those waving the Pakistani flag in the Valley.”
A Congress activist, Salathia did not think the BJP was behind the upsurge. “The BJP gave the first call for bandh because it does not have to bother about the Valley. But, after that, it is the Sangharsh Samiti — that includes us all.”
Agreeing with him, Ashok Khajuria, state BJP chief, said: “We are not looking for credit now. We are part of the people’s movement. When the elections come, the people can decide.”
Khwaja Mohammed Rashid, a lawyer from Poonch, said: “There is no Hindu-Muslim divide here. The Valley leaders come to us for votes in the name of Islam. But once the polls are over, they don’t bother about Muslims outside the valley. No jobs are created. No college seats are available. All money goes to the valley.”