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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Shutdown, celebrations go together on R-Day in Kashmir

No clashes, stone pelting, demonstration, violence reported in Valley

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jan 26: Contrary to a many speculations and apprehensions, Republic Day was celebrated today in Kashmir valley without any disruption or violence as Ministers of the coalition government unfurled national flag and took salute at colourful ceremonial parades at all the ten district headquarters. Amid a near-total shutdown, that had been called by separatist leaders and different militant outfits and was ironically enforced by government agencies, the biggest event of the day took place at Bakhshi Memorial Sports Stadium in this capital city where Minister of Finance Abdul Rahim Rather hoisted the national flag and delivered a ceremonial speech.

As usual asking the Kashmiris to observe the Indian Republic Day as a “Black Day”, almost all the separatist politicians and guerrilla groups had called for shutdown in Valley. In contrast to colourful celebrations on this day each year from 1960 to 1988, the people of the Valley have hardly associated themselves with this Indian democracy festival after eruption of militancy in 1989-90. On many occasions in the last 22 years, demonstrations, clashes with Police and guerrilla strikes have marred Republic Day celebrations in Srinagar as well as all rural district headquarters.

For the first decade of armed insurgency, blackout came as a usual feature as hardly anybody mustered courage to put the lights on.

Valley has witnessed a sea change in the last few years. Separatists and militants have been calling for the shutdown in keeping with the routine. However, nobody either calls for or observes blackout. There was undoubtedly a thick security bandobust in entire capital city and all nine rural district headquarters. Yet, the shutdown appeared to be the result of the restrictions on public movement and transport put in place strictly by Police and security forces.

Men in uniform, carrying AK-47 rifles as well as batons and tearsmoke canisters, did not allow anybody, other than the officially invited ones, walk or drive on the streets. For many in Srinagar, it was a curfew without being declared. Rest of the job was done by mother nature as a thin layer of snow overnight had considerably added to intensity of the cold wave. Networks of all government and private telecommunication operators remained fully frozen from 0700 hours till winding up of the functions at 1230 hours.

Even as columns of Police and security forces had serious apprehensions of public demonstrations and stone pelting, just one-odd insignificant incident happened at Habbakadal in the middle of old city. A thin group of youth shouted pro-Azadi and anti-India slogans and indulged in a brief encounter with Police and CRPF. Reports said that Police chased away and dispersed the demonstrators with baton charge and counter-stonepelting. Residents alleged that the men in uniform shattered windscreens and hoods of several cars, both parked and in movement. A journalist associated with English language daily Rising Kashmir, Abid Bashir, complained that he was harassed and abused and his vehicle was damaged by forces.

Situation was reported calm elsewhere. There were no black flags or the green colour Pakistani national flags that were seen on this day on rooftops, treetops and mobile phone towers at several places from 1990 to 2000. There were not even slogans or demonstrations anywhere in the Valley. Groups of youngsters were seen playing cricket on the improvised turfs and brick wickets on main streets in this capital city. Their staple target of yesteryears, Police and CRPF enjoyed the “match” everywhere. Reports said that no anti-national slogans were scribbled on walls or road surfaces as witnessed at many places in the past.

Reports said that schoolchildren in good numbers participated in the Republic Day celebrations not only at ll the ten district headquarters but also at a number of Tehsil and Block headquarters. With the sun coming out of the clouds and the VIPs concluding their speeches and slautes, students in colourful outfits danced and sang patriotic songs. However, at some places, their parents complained that the children did it “under duress” as Principals and Headmasters conveyed it to them in plain terms that their absence would badly affect their academic prospects.

Some people in Kupwara complained that Army forced teachers and students celebrate R-Day at different schools. They alleged that Army officials forced their presence as “chief guests” and hoisted Tricolour on rooftops of school buildings. A Defence spokesman, nevertheless, asserted in a press release that the teachers and students celebrated the R-Day out of their own will and enthusiasm.

At certain R-Day parade venues, folk artists and musicians entertained the organized audiences. Officials at other places announced prizes, awards and honours in favour of people in their respective areas who had achieved excellence in different fields.

At Bakhshi Stadium in Srinagar, Minister of Finance and senior National Conference leader, Abdul Rahim Rather, unfurled the Tricolour, took salute at the ceremonial parade and delivered a speech. Minister of Agriculture Ghulam Hassan Mir was the chief guest at a well attended R-Day function at Budgam, Minister of Education Pirzada Mohammad Sayeed at Baramulla, Minister of Irrigation and PHE Taj Mohiuddin at Kupwara, Minister of Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution Qamar Ali Akhoon at Bandipore, Minister of Rural Development Department Ali Mohammad Sagar at Ganderbal, Minister of Forest Mian Altaf Ahmad at Kulgam, Minister of Social Welfare Sakeena Itoo at Pulwama, Minister of Animal Husbandry and information Technology Aga Ruhullah at Shopian and Minister of State Aijaz Ahmad Khan at Anantnag.


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