The unrest is now formally over. The markets in Kashmir swarm with people and the roads clog with traffic. And the busiest of all the markets is Lal Chowk, Srinagar’s Commercial hub, which witnesses the most rush. Thousands of people arrive at the historic square and its adjacent Residency Road to shop. Many people are there just to walk the streets, to bask in some semblance of normalcy after five months of uprising and the uninterrupted hartals. The heady sentiment of the early days of the strife has now given way to bitter disappointment. The bigger problem, however, is that the situation has just lapsed into normalcy. There is no stocktaking, no introspection and no accountability. And not even the attempt to understand what was it, in the first place, that led to an unprecedented eruption following the killing of Burhan Wani on July 8. There is, by now, a consensus that Wani’s killing was only a trigger. It were certainly the policies of the state government with a perceived implicit agenda to undermine the autonomy of the state that created the deep anxiety about the identity. Several months leading up to the eruption on July 8 were full of anxiety. Not because of a spike in militancy related violence but because of a succession of the proposed colonies for Kashmiri Pandits and ex-servicemen and the contemplated new yatras. This played to an inherent fear in Valley about an impending demographic change overseen by the BJP Government in New Delhi, perceived as ideologically anti-thetical to Muslims.
The consequent anxiety about identity found its expression in the civil society and the separatist-led protest. The growing disquiet reinforced by the increasing quantity of the words and headlines in the local press only deepened the paranoia. On Pandits, Mehbooba stood her ground saying they needed transit accommodations before they could go back to their native places, as advocated by Azadi groups.
The paranoia about a perceived hostile centre allegedly conspiring to dilute Valleys Muslim majority character redrew the discourse in Valley like never before. It brought into full play the issues of land and identity, hitherto more or less dormant elements of the ongoing conflict which operated so far largely along political and militant dimensions. And this pit Kashmir Muslims against New Delhi. And by the time Wani was killed, this deep sense of identity anxiety had already touched a critical mass.
What happened since then is another story. The way the unrest was handled by Hurriyat has gone largely uncriticized. The uninterrupted five month shutdown broke the back of the economy and forced a large section of the population to lose a part of their livelihood. Hurriyat resorted to hartal despite advantages of the strategy having already worn out thin which made its frequent renewal appear more for its own sake than geared to an end. And by doing so, pro-freedom camp only postponed the inevitable: the return to normalcy in addition to bringing Kashmir to the brink of an economic collapse. But where is the introspection and the debate now? Hurriyat should have been the first to initiate it. Or at least the civil society. But all have preferred silence.
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