Protesting for Protest’s Sake

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Those who keep making snide remarks about how the lack of any specific reason to protest can’t prevent the Hurriyat from calling for a shutdown were proved right once again last Wednesday when the separatist conglomerate announced that a hartal would be observed on November 27. The Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has given two main reasons for this shut down; firstly because as per him South Kashmir has been “turned into a ghetto” where people were being harassed and their property ransacked by security forces that had been “deployed in every nook and corner.” Secondly, the separatist conglomerate was concerned about the plight of “political prisoners,” who according to the Mirwaiz “are kept in inhuman conditions in prisons where their human rights are violated.”

While life coming to a standstill in Kashmir valley whenever the Hurriyat gives a hartal call may give the separatist leaders the exhilarating experience of being the ones in control and calling the shots in Kashmir, it contributes nothing worthwhile towards the goal of achieving ‘right to self determination’. Instead, shutdowns only punish the poor Kashmiris!

Though the Hurriyat (M) chairman has attempted to paint a very dismal picture but this isn’t likely to evoke any sympathy or support from outside as he hasn’t cited specific details to support his allegations. In any case, despite whatever the Hurriyat may say or claim, the fact is that shutdowns have become such a routine occurrence in Kashmir that they have now stopped attracting international attention anymore. So while life coming to a standstill in Kashmir valley whenever the Hurriyat gives a hartal call may give the separatist leaders the exhilarating experience of being the ones in control and calling the shots in Kashmir, it contributes nothing worthwhile towards the goal of achieving ‘right to self determination’. Instead, shutdowns only punish the poor Kashmiris.

Frequent hartal calls and indefinitely extended protests have other very serious disadvantages. Firstly, since there are no commercial activities on hartal days those following professions where money is earned for each day of work done are the worst affected. Secondly, hartals mean closure of educational institutes due to which students lose out academically. Thirdly, in Kashmir, protests have unfortunately become synonymous with mob violence and though the Hurriyat may try and justify this but the reality is that the moment protests turn violent they are assume the ugly image of anarchy. Thus, by its proclivity for announcing protests, extending them and making no efforts to curb mob violence, the Hurriyat has dulled the cutting edge of this otherwise extremely powerful ‘weapon’ of expressing public dissent.

Excessive and prolonged protests can easily be misinterpreted as definite proof regarding the Hurriyat’s lack of concern for the people and New Delhi did this effectively during the nearly five and a half month long 2016 summer protest. Readers would recall that:

•        When the inescapable need to feed their families forced some street vendors, truck and taxi drivers to ‘violate’ hartal restrictions, they were roughed up by local vigilante groups and their automobiles burnt down by mobs. The issue of rampant mob vigilantism was publicised in order to prove the point that the protests lacked popular support and people were being coerced to observe hartal restrictions by groups propped up by the Hurriyat.

•        The case of a very senior and respected Hurriyat leader who had asked students to boycott board exams while his own kin appeared for the same was intentionally given undue publicity in an effort to convey a message to the public that separatist leaders follow double standards.

•        Widespread incidents of crowds indulging in violence gave New Delhi the much needed justification for using brute force against protesters and even though the international community did criticise use of pellet guns, the same was nothing more than just lip service.

However, the most damaging part of the Hurriyat’s ‘protest strategy’ is that while calls for shutdowns made by the separatist conglomerate receives a very good response, the leaders appears to have no control whatsoever over the behaviour of protesters. This makes the Hurriyat look like an irresponsible organisation that has no qualms about creating situations despite being fully knowing that it can’t control the same. This was evident during the 2016 unrest when just within four days into the protests, Geelani sahib admitted “We cannot say we are in absolute control of the situation.” The abject helplessness reflected in the Hurriyat (G) chairman doesn’t do his image or that of the Hurriyat’s any good and this is why the separatist leadership seriously needs to rethink its ‘protest strategy’.

Tailpiece: When the 2016 protest was at its peak the media quoted Geelani sahib saying, “Many voices were heard about finding alternatives to strike calls but so far no concrete or practical idea has come to fore from any quarter.” This clearly indicates that the Hurriyat itself realises the futility of its ‘protest strategy’ but it’s both surprising and comical is that despite knowing its serious drawbacks, the separatist conglomerate is continuing with protests just because it hasn’t found an alternative. However, what’s really unbelievable is that even after applying their collective wisdom the Hurriyat, civil society and intelligentsia have all failed to find a more efficient option to protests that can take the ‘self determination’ movement forward. 

So let’s all take to the streets on November 27 and thereafter congratulate ourselves for making this protest (just like the numerous ones of the past) a ‘big success’.

 

 

 

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