Recently the government of the Jammu and Kashmir issued an order to restrict the civilian traffic movement on Srinagar-Jammu highway for some hours. Civilian traffic ban on highway will give birth to violence in Kashmir. This is for five hours daily on a 96-km stretch of lifeline Srinagar-Jammu highway to allow unrestricted access to Amaranth pilgrims. The train services of Kashmir valley along the stretch will also be restricted. Also the route passes were issued for emergency use of stretch during the duration of the pilgrimage.
A civilian traffic ban was imposed earlier on the highway between Baramulla and Udhampur. It was for two days a week to ensure safe movement of forces’ convoys during the Parliamentary elections. The ban was ordered following the February 14 suicide bombing incident along the highway in Pulwama area of south Kashmir. The highway ban triggered protests and restrictions were eased before it completely got lifted in the month of May. Now this process still continues with the new ban in place. Kashmiris have expressed concern over restrictions on the civilian use of the route and described it as collective mental torture. School children, medical patients, government and personal workers, civilians would not be able to reach their destinations on time.
In the wake of the ban most of the markets in Kashmir, fruit sellers and small-time traders were seen waiting for customers while some had closed their shops. Patients and students were the worst sufferers.
Authorities had closed all the intersections and passageways to halt the civilian movement which were coming from these routes, thus making the life of small traders, fruit sellers and daily wagers miserable. The ban on the civilian movement on highway traffic is dark reminder of the circumstances that Kashmiris are living in. Students missed their exams and some of them could not reach their exam venues on time. Large numbers of students who had to travel to Srinagar, the capital city, a day before different national and state level exams had to stay in hotels. Though the magistrates were deployed by the government to allow a specific person to ply on road, but, this did not ease the suffering of people. Moreover, some of locals were said to be roughed up for hitting the highway at the time of the civilian traffic ban.
While the local politicians continuously criticized the government on the ban, some like Shah Faesal and Er Rashid staged protests against the ban on a stretch of Srinagar-Jammu highway for over five hours a day. The approach could encourage the sense of persecution that Kashmiris would feel if such orders continue to be in effect. Though either side has committed human rights abuses and violations in Kashmir, it is the ordinary people who have to face the brunt.
Under the purview of law, measures like closing a vital route that undermines fundamental right to movement, food and health should be reviewed to legitimate governmental objectives.
It is a mental torture, like the announcement of authorities to declare that the main road linking Udhampur in Jammu to Baramulla is closed for civilian traffic.
Violence has taken a significant toll on civilians. By creating these issues it is just to defame Kashmiris and make their life miserable, and we can say that it is like “colonial thinking” and shows revulsion towards Kashmiris. Kashmiris would facilitate and protect the pilgrimage and make it successful, as they have always done.
Though the authorities have a responsibility to revoke the ban on civilian traffic, they should also change their approach to minimize the hardships faced by Kashmiris. The stifling of common Kashmiris indicates that authorities are using the same tactics that we have heard Israel uses.
Author is a research scholar