Shikarawalas Say They Now Long For Azadi, Not Tourists


Srinagar: – For those who see Kashmir as a land of Shikaras bobbing on the serene waters of the Dal Lake, the reality is a bit different this summer. 
The clichéd reports about how Shikarawalas wanted an end to the protests so that they could resume their business, do not seem to hold true. 
This time the voices of shikarawalas demanding freedom reverberate throughout the valley in unison with the voices of the rest of the citizens.  The shikarawalas, this summer, are extending their support to the on-going agitation. 
Fearing backlash from the public, the Shikarawalas accused the Delhi media of having always distorted their statements. While they agree that they want tourism to flourish in Kashmir and their business to expand, they are not willing to do that at the expense of the Azadi of Kashmir.  Their political aspirations, they say, are not much different from that of a common Kashmiri. 
The Shikara Association of Kashmir says that they don’t care about the loss to their business due to the ongoing unrest. They say that they are more concerned about the loss of human lives. 
“Right now we are not concerned about our business. Our main concern is that our kids are being slaughtered in front of us and it needs to stop once and for all. We have not earned a single penny from the past 27 days but that is the least of our concerns right now. We are ready to die of hunger but not from their (forces) bullets’’, said Noor Mohammad Kaloo, a Shikarawala in Dal Lake.
The President of Shikara Association, Mr Wali Mohammad Bhat, strongly condemned the 'national media' for misinterpreting their statements and blamed the government’s silence for the ongoing unrest.  “It is the government which is responsible for the loss of our business. They allow massacres to take place every year and then shift the blame onto the Hurriyat leaders. We want an end to this oppression. We want Kashmir issue to be resolved. We are as much part of Kashmir as any of the youth who have sacrificed their lives for the cause. We are ready to sacrifice not one but five tourist seasons but we aren’t ready to give up on our struggle for justice and freedom”, Bhat said.
“Every shikarawala wants tourists to come to Kashmir but a statement of a single shikarawala can’t represent the political aspiration of the entire Kashmiri populace which includes us”, he added.  

Like any other day, one can see a fleet of shikaras lined up at every Ghat of the Dal Lake. While the shikarawalas would normally be seen eagerly waiting for tourists so that they can load them onto their shikaras, this time they seem to be least bothered about their business and money. “Don’t talk about tourism or the economy. Talk about how precious lives are being taken by the Indian forces, talk about how our kids are being blinded by pellets. We, like every Kashmiri, are very much worried about the ongoing killing spree”, said Bilal Ahmad Chacho, a young Shikarawala. 
“We can bear the loss of our business but we can’t bear the killings of our kids. Loss to business can be compensated but killing of innocent people can’t be compensated”, said Bashir Ahmad Kaloo, another Shikarawala
Shikarawalas while blasting the biased national media said that by distorting their statements, they had made them enemies in the eyes of their own people.  “We assure our brethren that we are with them. The Indian media is trying their best to portray us against the 'Freedom Movement'.  But enough is enough. We too want an end to this forceful occupation”, said Ghulam Mohammad Badoo, a 60 year old shikarawala. 
The boatmen also strongly refuted the news that the body had met the Union Home Minister, Mr Rajnath Singh which was broadcasted by the government owned new channel DD Kashir. They termed the news false and said the report was completely baseless.

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