Kashmir Dispatch 13 | Why Mood in This Town Near LoC is Straw in the Wind Over Future of Mainstream Parties in Kashmir
Since August 5— when the Central government effectively scrapped the special status of J&K and bifurcated the state into two union territories, J&K and Ladakh—Uri market has been shut, very unusual for this town.
A man sips tea sitting outside a closed shop in Srinagar during the clampdown in the restive region. (Image for representation/Reuters)
Uri: There an unusual silence in the market. Most of the shops, except few pharmacies, remain closed. Tucked in the Peer Panjal mountain range, Uri is the last market before the line the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan in north-Kashmir's Baramulla district.
Since August 5— when the Central government effectively scrapped the special status of J&K and bifurcated the state into two union territories, J&K and Ladakh—Uri market has been shut, very unusual for this town. There were curfew-like restrictions imposed in this frontier town for eight days. Some political activists and a market association head were taken into preventive custody.
Uri town is surround by the LoC on three sides and villages around have borne the brunt of cross border firing between the two nations. Some villages here are on zero line—the no man’s land between the fencing erected by the two countries.
Unlike other parts of Kashmir valley, this area has its own problems and the people have different priorities. The town and the village has huge concentration of Army. Perhaps there are as many defense personnel in and around the town as the civilian population.
In the 1990’s, the major route for the militants crossing over to the Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir passed through this town. Subsequently, the concentration of army was increased and ant-militancy operations escalated along the LoC and the surrounding areas. The control line was fenced.
In the last two decades, Uri has been manifesting contrasting image compared to the other parts of the Valley. The shutdown calls issued by the separatists have had little impact. In fact, after the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani in July 2016, as Kashmir went into a violent phase with the killing of nearly a hundred civilians and shutdown for over four months, Uri was back to business few days later.
This place has had high voter turnouts during elections. Sometimes around 70% people would come out to vote happily. The mainstream politics was celebrated.
But this time, Uri town is shut for the first time for such a long time, even when government has lifted the restriction on civilian movement in the town. Clearly, the people here are apprehensive of the impact of the decisions taken by the central government would have on the demographics of the valley.
The day Article 370 was amended, Haji Assadullah Lone, 85-year-old chairman of the local market association was detained in the police station. His family said that he was detained despite his ill-health. “He was let go only after over a week,” his family said.
Even after eight days of curfew-like restrictions, lull loomed over the market.
“When something happens against the will of people, it is unlikely that they will resume their work,” said a panchayat member, who is in hiding fearing detention.
The people say that Uri market would remain open even at the time of intense border shelling.
“This time the matter is more serious. It is about our identity,” said another local.
The people are of the notion that by the decision if the government, outsiders will come into Kashmir and take the land, which will leave the local populace dispossessed.
Given the circumstances of the border areas, the locals feel that not many people would be interested in buying land there. However, they say they are Srinagar city and other towns.
“I don’t think people will prefer to buy land here. We face extreme situations daily. It is about other places, the plains,” said a local adding: “Srinagar is our heart and no one can live with heartache.”
The mood in Uri town is indifferent this time. The people who would rally behind the mainstream politicians and celebrate their win are dejected. They think shutdown is the only option for now.
“Now the market will open only when Srinagar comes back to life,” said a National Conference worker, wishing anonymity due to the fear of arrest.
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