Protest Against Shutdowns, Geelani Tones Down Strike Schedule7 November 2010
Srinagar: It was a protest with a difference as people from different parts of Kashmir Valley on Sunday converged at Lal Chowk in the heart of the city to register their opposition to continuing strike calls given by the separatists. The protesters belonging to Jammu and Kashmir NGO Forum assembled at the Tourist Reception Centre (TRC) and moved in a convoy towards clock tower located at Lal Chowk where they hoisted a white flag - a symbol of peace. The rally was staged in protest against the continuous strikes called by separatist groups over the past few months which had brought normal life including education activities to a standstill in the Valley. The participants, who held placards denouncing the frequent strikes, were attacked by a few stone-pelting miscreants who were chased away by police using batons and tear gas shells at some places. This is the second protest against the strikes called by hardline Hurriyat Conference led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani since the ongoing unrest began in the Valley in June. On September one, a political activist organised a students’ protest rally at Residence Road against continuing disruption of education system. Hours after the protest, hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani issued a fresh calendar for next 12 days which surprisingly had only three days of strikes while the remaining nine days have been exempted from the purview of the stir. Earlier, hundreds of roadside vendors defied Geelani’s call for a ‘civil curfew’ today as they displayed their merchandise in the popular flea market of the city. Geelani had announced a three-day ‘civil curfew’ beginning with arrival of US President Barack Obama to India yesterday, but the vendors decided to defy it. “We have seen enough of strikes and curfews for the past four months and now we want to feed our families. We cannot go on forever like this,” a vendor, who identified himself only as Khalid, told PTI. The sentiments were echoed by many of Khalid’s fellow traders at the Sunday market, but they did not speak on record for the fear of reprisal from separatist elements. Pressure had been mounting on Geelani to review his strike schedule as a little-known outfit Jammu and Kashmir Ittehadi Islami had circulated posters in the city giving a two-day ultimatum to the separatists to call off the unending cycle of strikes as it was only harming the economy of the Valley. According to official estimates, the state economy has suffered losses to the tune of Rs 27,000 crore during the recent agitation in the Valley. Most of the losses were suffered on account of taxes and levies which could not be collected. However, industry sources put the losses around Rs 40,000 crore in terms of lost business opportunities over the past five months. More than 60,000 youth have been rendered jobless, mostly in the hotel industry, which depends on tourism - the worst hit sector due to the strikes and curfews in the Valley. The non-Kashmiri labourers also suffered immense losses as most of two lakh skilled and unskilled workforce from UP, West Bengal, Punjab, Bihar and Orissa fled the Valley after the protests intensified at the peack of the working season. Kashmir Valley has been in the grip of protests, strikes and curfew since June when a 17-year-old boy was killed by a tear smoke shell allegedly fired by police at Rajouri Kadal area of the city.