Kavita Suri

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"Hartal politics" badly hits Kashmir economy

Strikes observed for 1302 days in 12 years in Valley
Out of 365 days in 1991, hartals or shutdown observed for 207 days

Over these years of turmoil and bloodshed in Kashmir valley, the pro-Pakistan separatist conglomerate All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) which claims to be the true representative of Kashmiri masses has come to be known as “Hartali Conference”. Simply for the reason that in all these years, the separatist amalgam has given so many calls for “Hartals or shutdowns” that people have started calling it the Hartali Conference. But then Hartals or general shutdown have become a part of Kashmir’s turbulent lives for the past 12 years.

Unbelievable but true! In the past 12 years of insurgency in Kashmir valley, the trouble-torn "paradise" has observed strikes popularly known as “Hartals” for over 1302 days which is for three and a half years. According to a data compiled by a Srinagar-based news agency NAFA, Kashmir's 'hartal' (strike) politics which has become a part of the ongoing separatist movement besides being a tool in the hands of separatist and militant outfits, has severely affected the economy of the people. 

Though the data shows 1302 hartals in 12 years, yet the number could be more as it doesn't include strikes which were observed on local levels against killings or other reasons. 

Strikes or hartals, infact emerged as a powerful tool against the "Indian oppression" in early 90's only after the "armed freedom struggle" began in Kashmir. Prior to that, only few political parties or employees'  organizations would use the weapon of strikes in support of their demands. Still, the frequency of such strikes would be very less during that period - just a couple of strikes in a year. Later however, the separatists and militants hijacked it to show their support to their “cause”.

Kashmir witnessed most of these crippling hartals in 1990 when 198 general strikes were observed that year when Dr. Farooq Abdullah-led government resigned in protest against the "imposition" of Governor’s rule with Jagmohan taking over as the head of the state. 

History of sorts was created the following year when out of the 365 days, strike was observed on record 207 days. Reason being that militancy was on the peak and most of the militant outfits and separatists would give strike calls even on smaller pretexts like cordon and search operations, arrests etc.

In the subsequent years, number of strikes was recorded at 148 in 1992, 139 in 1993, 97 in 1994, 88 in 1995 and 95 in 1996. In the first five years till 1995 there were as many as 877 strikes. 

“Initally, for most of us, remaining inside our houses for months together, especially in 1991 when almost entire year witnessed so many hartals, was very difficult”, said Abdul Majeed, a horticulture department employee. Kashmiris who were exposed to western culture because of thriving tourism industry and would remain out of their house roaming around Boulevard on the banks of picturesque Dal Lake till late in the night, was indeed very depressing. With security forces cracking down on militants in the valley outside, people had a tough time getting used to the idea of remaining inside the “safe” surroundings of their house. “But they got used to it at the cost of their mental health besides a tremendous negative impact on Kashmir’s economy,” added Majeed.

However, over the years, strikes have lost the appeal of being a tool of protest and instead it has become more a fashion. Kashmiri masses are also fed up with “hartal culture” as it has effected their lives very badly. Perhaps this is the reason that strikes are being observed more with breach in Kashmir valley now.

However, there are a significant change in the trend when National Conference came to power in 1996.The 23-party separatist amalgam APHC took a decision in October 1996 that strikes, if and when necessary, will be called by the APHC alone and that the people should not pay any heed to any hartal call except its own. Since them the frequency of hartals decreased. In contrast to the previous years, there was a sharp decrease in the number of hartals in 1997,1998 and 1999 when 72, 25 and 24 strike calls were made respectively. The number has again started picking up after 1999.

There have been 41 hartals in 2000, 122 in 2001 and till June 15 this year, there have been as many as 46 days of general strikes in Kashmir. The sudden upsurge in the number of strikes in 2001 could be attributed to the pro-active militants who defied APHC after the unilateral cease-fire of Abdul Majid Dar and later non-initiation of combat operations (NICO) by Prime Ministers Vajpayee. In certain cases people observed strikes sponsored by the militants. 

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