A street vendor from Indian-administered Kashmir’s northern Kupwara district, Manzoor Ahmad Mir, received some much-needed respite this past weekend.
For the first time in more than four months following the killing of a top separatist leader, markets and schools across the insurgency-torn region reopened to a flurry of activity on Saturday.
“Since July there had been no business whatsoever. Due to the perpetual curfew in place and shutdown calls by separatists, we were not allowed to open shop. My family was on the brink of starvation,” Mir, 42, who was selling woolen clothes on a cart, told BenarNews.
Mir said street vendors like himself suffered the most because they had no alternate source of income.
Although separatist leaders allowed shops to open for a couple of hours intermittently over the past few weeks to allow people to stock up on essential supplies, this was the first time in four months they suspended their strike for two full days, bringing a massive rush of shoppers to the streets.
“Business was great on Saturday and Sunday. I sold a lot of woolens because of the oncoming winter season,” Mir said.
And despite a call from separatists for a shutdown again on Monday, many, including Mir, chose to ignore the warning and went about their daily lives.
“Even today I’ve had many customers. How long can we sit at home doing nothing? They (separatists) keep calling for a shutdown. Indian security forces keep imposing curfews. But it is the common Kashmiri who is getting sandwiched in this ongoing fight,” Mir said Monday.
The Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is claimed in its entirety by India and Pakistan, has grappled with a separatist insurgency that has claimed more than 70,000 lives since the late 1980s.
The latest cycle of violence erupted after Indian security forces gunned down Burhan Wani, a leader of separatist outfit Hizbul Mujahideen, on July 8. More than 100 people have died and more than 10,000 have been injured in clashes between anti-India protesters and security forces since then.
But the violence has “largely been controlled after the arrests of over 3,000 suspected instigators of violence” over the past month, a top police official said.
“The intensity of violent protests by miscreants across Kashmir has reduced drastically after these arrests. And normalcy is fast returning,” Director General of Police S.P. Vaid told BenarNews.
Students attend class at the Wiz Kid School in Kashmir's Anantanag district, Nov. 21, 2016. (Courtesy Showkat Dar)
Several schools and colleges, which had remained closed for the last four months, have gradually started reopening in several districts of Kashmir, including Kupwara, Anantanag, Bandipora and Baramulla.
“We have been attending classes for one week. Most of our teachers are local residents and they have asked us to come to school regularly so we can catch up on the studies we have missed,” said Imran Ahmad, 13, a student at a government-run school in Baramulla district.
Indian authorities also restored mobile internet services across Kashmir on Friday. The service had been suspended following Wani’s killing in a bid to prevent protests from spreading.
“The ground situation is improving with each passing day since a majority of people instigating people to protest have been arrested,” Abdul Haq Khan, the state’s Law and Justice Minister, told BenarNews.
“We are fully aware that ordinary people are yearning for peace and we are sparing no effort [toward that],” Khan said.