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Kashmir back to square one after shrine blaze
While as a mourning shutdown has brought Kashmir to a grinding halt, the situation in downtown Srinagar is a grim reminder of the 2008 and 2010 summers of unrest as people can be seen pleading policemen to let them buy essential commodities.

THE SITUATION making out after Monday’s gutting of the ‘Dastageer Sahab’ shrine in the downtown Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, reminds one of the summers of 2008 and 2010— the clashes, the tension, and undeclared curfew.

This has brought true the fears of many who say the Kashmir is a ‘tinderbox’ and it sometimes takes a non-event to put the whole Valley on fire, as has been the case with the gutting of shrine, which according to many is just an ‘accidental fire.’

Notwithstanding a slew of measures taken by the Centre and State governments’ to reach out to the people and mollify them in 2008 and 2010, one wonders what has changed. In the wake of shrine blaze, the youth today are again on the roads (the reasons are secondary) pelting stones on the CRPF personnel and state police. Their response is as usual—cane charging, lobbing teargas canisters and firing rubber bullets, and in many cases barging into residential areas, breaking windowpanes of houses, ransacking and vandalising cars and auto rickshaws parked on roadsides. Thankfully, there hasn’t been any killing even as many youth have been injured.

Much like 2008 and 2010, areas falling under the jurisdiction of six police stations, covering almost entire downtown area of Srinagar city, are under curfew-like restrictions and for the third consecutive day today people are locked down in their houses.

So what fruit did these efforts bare? Assessing and analysing the current situation, one would say nothing.

The centre and the state governments have only themselves to blame. While one would say that imposing restrictions under section 144 of CrPC was imperative to not let the situation go out of control after the gutting of shrine, but the strategy to use force against agitators is again flawed. This may again aggravate the situation and put government in a tight spot, where it has seen itself during the 2010 uprisings when 117 people, mainly teenagers, were killed during protests with police and paramilitary troops.

The number of CRPF personnel in riot control gear dotting the roads outnumber the J&K policemen. There has been a demand from various quarters to lessen the footprint of CRPF personnel in areas such as Srinagar. Even the three interlocutors appointed by Government of India in the aftermath of 2010 killings, had in their recently released report recommended removal of CRPF from Srinagar alongside other several key issues such as removal of AFSPA.

The Grand Mufti of Kashmir, Mufti Bashir-ud-din had called for a strike on Tuesday to mourn the loss of the shrine. Many separatist groups supported the strike. However, on Wednesday no  political group had called any strike but the administration decided to continue with the curfew-like restrictions in downtown Srinagar citing “avoiding of breach of peace and tranquility as well as damage to life and property” as reasons.

“The District Magistrate Srinagar has imposed restrictions under Section 144 on the movement of public and transport in Jurisdiction of six police stations in the Srinagar City till further orders… The Senior Superintendent of Police Srinagar has been directed to implement the order in letter and spirit,” an official statement issued by the government read.

There is no shutdown or strike call by any group on Thursday. However the Grand Mufti has called for a ‘Khanyar Chalo’ (March to Khanyar) on Friday asking people to march to the shrine to show respect and reverence to the Shrine. Police sources say there would be a curfew on Friday, mainly in the downtown areas.

While, the reconstruction process of the shrine has been initiated, how the state government responds to the situation in the coming days remains to be seen.

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