For the first time in the past three decades, the Valley’s business community has urged the Hurriyat to devise alternative to hartals while at the same time pledging support to Azadi movement. The KCCI vice-president A.M. Mir told a media conference in Srinagar on Thursday that the recurrent hartals have hit the businesses hard with the loss running in tens of thousands of crores of rupees.
If corrective measures are not taken to work for the return of peace we will be finished financially, Mir is quoted to have said. One can see where the Mir’s frustration is coming from and relate to it. The Valley has witnessed upwards of 2000 hartals over the past thirty years. During extended unrests, Hurriyat resorts to months-long shutdowns as a means of protest against human rights excesses and the indiscriminate killings of the people. The grouping argues, and rightly so, that after the government’s refusal to allow peaceful protests, hartals are the only recourse it has to protest against the oppression. It defended the call for hartal on December 10 as the government had barred even candlelight vigils by the Hurriyat activists and detained those resorting to them. And these are facts, nobody can deny. But this hardly makes a strong case for the hartals. More so, when all that their recurrent recourse does is to harm the very people on whose behalf the struggle is sought to be led, while the government, the alleged oppressor looks on bemusedly.
The real question to ask is whether hartals do serve any purpose. And whether anyone outside the Valley even knows or is bothered about the hartal in Valley? Or whether it any longer spotlights the conflict in the state for the world. The answer to all these questions is in the negative. The truth is that hartals are now little more than a separatist political ritual often resorted to for their own sake. They are now so devoid of the meaning and the objective as to not even express the collective grief following killings of the people. Instead, hartals have become exercises in forgetfulness. People observe a day or two of hartal and emerge relieved of their distress for the departed. And also of any sense of obligation towards the shattered families left behind.
Hartal is thus a ritual of self-flagellation. By resorting to it at the drop of the hat, we inflict a grievous damage to our economy and deprive thousands of our daily-wage workers of their livelihood. And all this with no political advantage for the ongoing struggle. The least we can do is to become more conscious of our collective obligation to the families of the victims. As for the replacement for hartals, we can certainly devise a new symbolism which achieves the same objective but with least harm to our businesses.
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