After the 2016 Burhan Wani incident Shopian district in South Kashmir became a hotspot for violence. Shopian is the smallest and the newest district of J&K, located 20 km eastwards of Pulwama. Its bountiful apple crop ensures that there is minimal poverty in the area.
Only a handful of people know that many in Shopian had sacrificed their lives over a long struggle for a separate district. The movement pointed to the strong sense of regional identity and aspiration. However, repeated incidents of unrest over the last few years have disrupted Shopian’s developmental trajectory, especially in 2016 when a mob set the DC office complex on fire.
The post-August 5 (abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A) transition was carefully directed and sublimely executed. There were a few rough patches, like the internet restrictions, but given the sensitivity of the times, no chance could be taken. However, the people showed great maturity and cooperated immensely, even as rumours of “outsider influx” and “demographic change” abounded. The administrative landscape post-August 5 required some rewiring. But on the ground, the authorities were conscious that they had to cushion the effects to ensure that the transition did not affect public service delivery mechanisms.
Making the Shopian fruit industry adjust to a new administrative and financial landscape was not easy. In the middle of peak season, a series of terrorist attacks took place in which five non-local truck drivers and traders were killed. The attacks were intended to scare people into observing an economic shutdown. An exodus of non-local buyers and truckers followed. However, a cohesive collaboration emerged between the administration, and the locals, to save the day.
To plug the scarcity of trucks, the administration brought in every government truck it could find, while local transporters, including those from neighbouring districts, chipped in and jointly ensured sale and evacuation in time. A market intervention scheme in collaboration with NAFED was rolled out and notified an attractive MSP for apples to protect those left without buyers. The more wealthy growers surrendered their selling spots for the poorer ones. Incidents like these reaffirmed one thing: In times of crisis, the people of Kashmir come together and engage constructively with the government.
In the militancy-affected Zainpora area, there’s a village called Wachi, which lends its name to the legislative constituency and also houses one of the Amir Kabir shrines of Shah-e-Hamdan (RA). The elders of Wachi, a group of educated septuagenarians, led by the ebullient Mohammed Shafi Sahab, fought tooth and nail to secure the new proposed degree college for their village. The college was finally allocated at Zainpora headquarters.
On January 20, a major anti-militancy operation took place in Wachi, in which three local militants of Hizbul Mujahideen were killed. Despite the tension in the area and security warnings, a new PHC was inaugurated in an impressive ceremony that was organised by the locals. As people who have seen numerous political upheavals, leadership is intrinsic to Kashmiris. Numerous elders like Shafi Sahab exist in every village of Kashmir, leading “Auqaf committees” and other such groups, jostling to seek their share of the development pie. Their relationship with government offices continues unchanged.
And finally, even as COVID-19 spread, a silver lining emerged as the administration and people came together to tackle it. Numerous PRI members and locals became key partners in fight against the virus, helping the authorities with contact tracing, public sensitisation and community-level capacity building. Imams of various mosques showed a lot of maturity to convince worshippers against gathering for congregational prayers in an unsafe manner.
In the past one year, there hasn’t been a single civilian killing. The administration achieved much more than what was expected post-August 5, 2019, but none of it could have been possible without the support of the people. Even if things have not been completely perfect, there is no option to give up — not for the authorities and not for the people of Kashmir. All we can do is hope and look forward to a better tomorrow while continuing to work hard together amid onerous circumstances. As Lal Ded said: “Aami panah saedras naavi tchas lamaan, Kadi boazi deyi Myon, maeti di taar” (With a loose-spun thread, I am towing my boat upon the sea, Would that God hear my prayer and bring me safe across).