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Friday, Dec 13, 2019

‘Not a day for celebration’: Inside the old city of Srinagar, residents remain defiant

A maze of cramped lanes and cheek-by-jowl homes, the old city has been the site of some of the most violent protests against the government and security forces.

india Updated: Nov 01, 2019 08:09 IST
Ashiq Hussain
Ashiq Hussain
Hindustan Times, Srinagar
A Kashmir girl rides her bike past a security force personnel standing guard in front closed shops in a street in Srinagar.
A Kashmir girl rides her bike past a security force personnel standing guard in front closed shops in a street in Srinagar.(REUTERS)
         

Barely seven kilometres from where Girish Chandra Murmu was taking the oath as J&K’s first lieutenant governor on Thursday after it became a Union Territory, Mohammad Amin was deep in conversation with his friends and neighbours on the corner of a narrow street in the old city of Srinagar.

On the walls around them, anti-India graffiti was prominent. The conversation revolved around a sense of betrayal felt by locals and a resolve to resist the government’s move to scrap the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate the state into two Union territories -- J&K and Ladakh.

“It is celebration for the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] and mourning for us. Our leaders are in jail but people still are observing strikes on their own,” said Amin, an auto driver. His remarks reflected the deep resentment felt in the old city, home to roughly a third of the city’s one million strong population, over the government’s move in August.

Also Watch: Explained | J&K and Ladakh become Union Territories: What it means 

A maze of cramped lanes and cheek-by-jowl homes, the old city has been the site of some of the most violent protests against the government and security forces.

Javaid Ahmad, a businessman of Rainawari, said that local people were preparing for the worst. “We are going to be a Union Territory, so let it be. We are prepared to face any onslaught.”

In sharp contrast to the rest of the city, roads remain deserted, shops shuttered and only an odd scooter or car trundled down the narrow bylanes on Thursday morning. Most residents stayed indoors but said they were angry at what they viewed as a unilateral decision by the central government. The main gates of the Jama Masjid, the biggest mosque in the city, remained shut for the 88th day.

The government has promised economic development and jobs in the region, but the locals here are unconvinced. “I don’t buy the argument that there will be development now. There will be more oppression on people. It was hard but now it is going to be more difficult for Muslims here,” said a shopkeeper of Rajouri Kadal on condition of anonymity.

Fear of loss of identity and demographic change defined the old city’s response to the nullification of Article 370 on August 5.

“Now new laws will be implemented here but we are not ready to accept it. Let them remove the military here and see how people will come out on roads,” said a young resident of Gojwara.

As the state of J&K transitions into a UT, a large chunk of the Valley’s political leadership remains under detention, including three former chief ministers, Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti. This has stoked cynicism in the old city. An entrepreneur of Bohri Kadal said he feared that the political vacuum may spur militancy. “There is more anger now. Even those who were pro-India are in jails now,” he said.

Political commentator and retired professor of political sciences at the Central University of Kashmir, Noor Ahmad Baba,said, “People are distressed and disappointed and have a certain sense of humiliation and alienation.”