Life In The Time Of Curfew, Shutdowns And Rallies

4 August 2008

Jammu: Mornings are for testing the situation on the streets, afternoons for defiance and pitched battles with the police, while evenings are for candlelight marches in this city where curfews and shutdowns over the Amarnath land row have been on for over a month now. Despite curfew and heavy police presence, people are prepared to still hold demonstrations to demand that land be restored to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. The protests in Jammu region have left seven people dead, several hundreds injured and life paralysed for days at end. Though the city witnesses violence during the day, evenings are different. People from all walks of life, including a large number of women and children, take out rallies in the evenings, chanting religious slogans like “Bom Bom Bhole” hailing Lord Shiva, whose land they believe has been taken away by the state government in Baltal, the base camp of the pilgrims to the Amarnath shrine in Kashmir. The number in such rallies varies from 200 to 2,000 depending on the area’s population. While at times they are silent candlelight processions, on occasions, people bang utensils to “wake up the government from slumber”. “The government is in deep slumber. We are trying to show light and give a wake up call, but the government is in greater slumber than even Kumbhkarana (a character in the epic Ramayana who slept for six months at a stretch),” said Vijaylakshmi, a resident of Gandhi Nagar here. “But we will also not give up until the government accepts our demand of restoring the land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. This is a question of our faith,” she told IANS. Most of the rallies that take place despite the curfew are not intercepted because women and children are in a majority. “How do you expect us to fire at these people,” said a policeman. “They are not disturbing peace. If they turn violent, we will take action,” said an official posted in Trikuta Nagar, where more than 500 people took out a candlelight march. Many Muslims in the Jammu region have come out in support of the Hindus on the Amarnath land row, which has otherwise communally polarised Jammu and Kashmir. “Any one spreading rumours about Jammu Muslims is wrong. We are with the agitation for the return of the land,” said Abdul Majid, president of the Jammu Muslim Federation. The Muslim community in Jammu shares its Dogra ethnicity with the Hindus of the region. Muslims have either joined the rallies, or taken out separate rallies. However, some of them were hurt that some miscreants were trying to hurt the Hindu-Muslims bonds by targeting some Muslim houses. The “movement” has become a widespread one and has stirred up passions. People are aware of the dangers of defying curfew but are undeterred. “It is a do or die battle,” remarks Vineeta, a school student. She doesn’t know anything about the agitation, but when she sees her parents joining rallies, she knows it is all about “our dignity”. Asked what he thought of the ongoing agitation, Sudarshan Kumar, a chemist outside the Government Medical College hospital, started sobbing. He said: “It (the agitation) is good, but the problem is that we have lost seven of our brothers. Who will take care of their families?” The government allotted 40 hectares of forest land in north Kashmir to the board of the Amarnath cave shrine in south Kashmir May 26. But the order was revoked July 1 following 10-day-long violent protests in June in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. The revocation silenced the protests in the valley but ignited passions in Jammu. Some Hindu groups, united under the umbrella organisation of the Amarnath Yatra Sangarsh Samiti, have been demanding the restoration of the land to the temple trust. The land, according to the government, was meant for creating facilities for the hundreds and thousands of pilgrims visiting the Himalayan shrine. But Kashmiris allege that the land was meant to settle outsiders to change the Muslim-majority character of the valley.