Protests, shutdown and ‘forced’ board exam mark visit of MEPs to Kashmir

Sporadic protests and clashes with security forces erupted across the valley including Srinagar on Tuesday as a delegation of MEPs landed in Srinagar, ostensibly to take stock of the situation

The convoy of the delegation of European Union parliamentarians in Srinagar on Oct 29, 2019. (IANS photo)
The convoy of the delegation of European Union parliamentarians in Srinagar on Oct 29, 2019. (IANS photo)
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Majid Maqbool and Gulzar Bhat

Sporadic protests and clashes with security forces erupted across the valley including Srinagar on Tuesday as a delegation of MEPs landed in Srinagar, ostensibly to take stock of the situation. Many lanes and roads were strewn with shoes and stones by early afternoon.

A complete shutdown was also observed with fewer private vehicles visible on roads. Roadside vendors who would sell clothes at Lal Chowk were also absent today. At many places in the city people had erected road blockades to protest against the state-sponsored visit. A few shopkeepers claimed they had been offered a sum of three thousand Rupees a day if they kept their shops open.

Meanwhile, Members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, less well-known civil society groups, a group of small businessmen and a delegation of village level Panchs and Sarpanchs were among those who called on the visiting members of the European Parliament on Tuesday. As many as 15 delegations are said to have met the MEPs on a ‘private’ visit.

Ironically, the web editions of none of the major newspapers could be uploaded even today, the 84th day of the lockdown. No known journalist body, including Kashmir Press Club, with more than 200 members, was officially invited to meet the visiting delegates.

The 23 MEPs (Members of European Parliament), who were put up in a luxury hotel were also taken to the Badamibagh cantonment and thereafter to a Shikara ride on the Dal lake.

A tweet from former J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti taunted the “curated trip” of the MEP delegation. Mufti dared the authorities to let the delegation meet some of the political deatinees of Kashmir at the SKICC centaur, that has been declared a sub-jail.

While Indian Members of Parliament continue to be debarred from visiting Kashmir, this is the first foreign parliamentary delegation to visit the valley after the government abrogated Article 370 and bifurcated the state into two union territories on August 5.

A MEP from Spain said, “We are here looking for facts, It’s an organised trip.” Hermann Tertsch from Spain went on to add, “We are here to get some news about what is happening but some people are being kept away from us.”

Tertsch said he did not have enough facts to draw a conclusion. “Some are not but some people are kept away (from us) and we are very conscious about it,” he claimed.

Kashmiri politicians have also questioned the visit at a time when the opposition party leaders have been barred from visiting Kashmir and the entire mainstream political leadership continues to remain in detention.

“To justify a hare-brained disruptive decision, India’s democratic credentials are being sullied internationally,” Mehbooba Mufti’s Twitter handle posted after the delegates landed in Srinagar. The former chief minister remains in detention since August 5.

The authorities are accused of forcing over 60,000 students of class X to appear at the Board examination although the situation is yet to normalise. The exams were held amid tight security with parents accompanying their wards in private vehicles and waiting outside the exam centres to take back the children. Many students complained that only half the syllabus had been covered in school and that they found it hard to study in the prevailing situation.

Furqan Ahmad came out of his examination hall at least 20 minutes before the allotted time for the first paper--Social Science. He had failed to answer all the questions, he said sullenly. Mohammad Arsalan said, "There were no private tuition centres open in our locality" for the past three months.

Although the Government had ordered all educational institutes up to higher secondary level to reopen from October 3, few students have been able to attend classes due to the lockdown.

Several parents told National Herald that it was not possible for them to send children to school under the prevailing circumstances. " With public transport not available and school buses not plying, how could we send children to school", asked Irfan Ahmad.

"We have to put off the lights at 8 pm in the evening. Almost on every alternate day police swoop down on localities and pick up young men. We are living in a state of constant fear", pointed out a student from Shopian.

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Published: 29 Oct 2019, 9:33 PM