Editorial | Breaking locks: Kashmir’s Algeria moment

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In the last century, the colonial French were facing a resistance in occupied Algeria. The Algerian resistance, in 1957, had called for a week-long shutdown. The French response to the shutdown was militaristic.

The French, its military in Algeria under the command of paratrooper general Jacques Massu, demanded Algerians to go back to work. The Algerians didn’t. The French moved to the military option to end the shutdown and tore off the shutters and broke into shops. The workers were forcibly driven to work as the brutal strike-breaking tactic of the French continued throughout the week.

So the breaking of the locks and forcibly opening shuttered shops in Kashmir’s historic Lal Chowk on 5 August – the anniversary of a major political event when the Union of India ended a long standing political arrangement with the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir by abrogating the region’s limited autonomy – is not the first time such an event has occurred in history.

The shutdowns had become a part of Kashmir’s political culture during the last three decades when a populist insurgency erupted in the region. The shutdowns then became part of a memory project and few dates became a permanent fixture: October 27, when Indian soldiers first landed in Kashmir in 1947; January 26, India’s Republic Day; August 15, India Independence Day; July 13, Kashmir’s martyrs’ day, February 11, marking Mohammad Maqbool Bhat’s hanging in 1984. More dates got added like February 9 when Mohammad Afzal Guru 2013 was hanged and July 8 when Burhan Wani was killed by the government forces 2016.

The breaking of the locks on Article 370’s abrogation anniversary however was the first in Kashmir and marked another brazen nullification of a peaceful and democratic means of expression.

The lessons of history, meanwhile, are for everyone to see and learn. General Massu’s decision to break open shuttered shops in Algeria did not help the French. Instead, it helped the Algerian resistance. The government should read about Algeria’s Qasbah – a place which could be equated with Srinagar’s downtown and Lal Chowk – before going for a French moment.

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