Kashmir remains deserted, shut amid islands of govt ceremonies

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Hundreds of micro-level official functions of the 75th Independence Day were observed under a heavy security blanket across Kashmir valley even as the region remained deserted with markets observing shutdown and thin traffic on the roads.

It was for the first time that schools and colleges in the region were the venues of the Independence Day events following orders issued by the region’s administration that had made it mandatory for government-run educational institutes to hold flag hoisting and anthem singing ceremonies.

The commemorative events hosted by the administration across the region were the first time that such elaborate functions were held in the past three years since New Delhi ended Kashmir’s limited autonomy in 2019. 

While last year’s events were shadowed by the COVID19 pandemic, this year the administration had ordered ease in COVID19 restrictions and allowed gatherings at the events. 

Apart from the micro-level events held at schools and colleges, the main functions were held at all district headquarters including in Srinagar city where Lt Governor Manoj Sinha presided over the celebration at Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium.

Outside these heavily guarded islands of commemoration, the markets across the region remained closed amid a spontaneous shutdown as no separatist group had called for a strike as had been their ritual for the last three decades. 

In Lal Chowk, the key commercial neighborhood of historic significance, all markets were closed with a heavy presence of government forces in place and there was no sign of vendors, who usually set up bazaars on weekends.

Lal Chowk was the scene of a major face-off between shopkeepers and police earlier this month when the police had objected to a shutdown that was observed on the anniversary of the abrogation of Kashmir’s limited autonomy. The police had then broken the locks and forced open the shuttered shops.

Representatives of several markets in south Kashmir had yesterday told The Kashmir Walla that they had been directed by the administration officials to keep open markets on Independence day. 

“We were told to keep the shops open but we have not opened the shops and everything here is shut,” said a representative of a shopkeepers’ association from south Kashmir on Sunday afternoon.

In Srinagar’s volatile downtown neighborhoods, markets were shut and the densely populated area was quiet. Even though there were no restrictions on civilians anywhere in the city, the pedestrian movement was negligible and the traffic along the only highway was also thin.

Omar Abdullah, the vice-president of National Conference and a former Chief Minister, and Mehbooba Mufti, the president of PDP and also a former Chief Minister, both of whom were detained in the aftermath of abrogation in 2019, issued no congratulatory remarks on their frequently used Twitter accounts.

Mufti, however, did comment on the exchange of sweets between Indian and Pakistani armies and said it was heartening to see them behave “like two civilized nations”.

“Sadly such happy occasions are eclipsed and marred by divisive decisions to observe partition day by reopening old wounds & taking away from the celebrations of the day,” she said.

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