Two days into 2018, Pulwama shopkeepers, traders fear repetition of ’16,’17

Mir Farhat. Updated: 1/3/2018 12:10:31 AM

PULWAMA: For Idrees Ahmad (name changed), a shopkeeper in the south Kashmir’s Pulwama town, the first day of the new year was gloomy and depressing for his business. And he fears that 2018 will be a replica of previous two years when shutdowns became order of the day and their business got a severe blow.
Ahmad had hoped 2018 will open up on a good business day for him, but a militant attack on a CRPF Training centre at Letpora on the eve of the New Year, 12 kilometers from the town, meant that his shop is shut and he has no customers.
The first two days of the new year got “totally wasted” for shopkeepers like him as the town shut for two days on the killing of militants in Letpora attack, two of the three slain militants, belonged to Pulwama district.
Though officials say there was no call for shutdown by Hurriyat or “threat” from any group to observe shutdown, yet the town closed down.
As there are not exact figures of the losses in business, traders say it will be in hundreds of crores in last two years. Also, the loss of working days of students, transporters and officials make it a gloomy life and future.
The shutdown practice began in December 2015 when the town closed for nearly 20 days after the district administration disallowed attempts of the locals to install a hoarding at the town square that eulogized militants killed in the district.
Since then shutdowns have been a part of the daily routine in Pulwama as deaths of local militants spiked up in the encounters with security forces as the number of youth joining militants increased also.
With the closure of the town, business and daily life is hit in the 334 villages of the district and the nearest Shopian district.
“Our business has been severely hit in the last two years. First it was the unrest of 2016 which shut the Valley for six months, then the killing of militants in encounters in 2017 and spontaneous shutdowns against their killings,” Ahmad says.
“And this year too, we fear it might be like the previous two years,” he says.
Traders and locals say that in 2017 alone, the town closed down continually for nearly two months in the year due to protests by the students against the entry of security forces in Government Degree College in April and the killings of local militants from the district.
As per security officials more than 36 local militants have been killed in 2017 in Pulwama district alone in different encounters during the ‘Operation All Out’.
“With every encounter in which a local militant is killed, the town shuts for four days, even when there are no calls from Hurriyat or pressure from militants,” a security official told The News Now.
Police officials attribute the shutdowns to different factors, primarily being the killing of militants in encounters.
Choudhary Aslam, Senior Superintendent of Police, Pulwama, told The News Now that keeping open the shops and market should be more of a “civic will rather than coercive method”.
The district police chief says their investigations have not found “any militant pressures or threat” on shopkeepers to close down the shops.
“But it is the attempts of miscreants, Hurriyat and some shopkeepers who want to go for and prolong the shutdowns,” he says.
“There are instance when we found the salesmen resorting to stone pelting to avoid working at the shops. Since the salesmen would get their monthly wages even as the shops would remain shut so they find it an easy way to shirk work and earn their money,” he says.
“We have identified some miscreants in the locality who are resorting to stone pleting and pushing traders to shut their shops.”
Another factor the SSP says is that the shopkeepers in Pulwama town are from the nearest Shopian district. “So any untoward incident scares the shopkeepers from Shopian and they prefer not to open their shops,” he says.
As per police officials, 25-30 local militants are active in the district.
“Since the encounters with militants are ongoing process as militancy will not end soon, shutdowns too might recur unless the traders and local people understand negative impact on their life due to closure of markets,” he says.
Traders attribute the repeated “use of force” by the security forces on the youth in the town during protests as one of the many reasons of anger in the town against the state which culminates in shutdowns and stone pelting.
“We have had many meetings with traders in the last year to bring normalcy to the town. Police has minimized use of shells after traders said that if affects commuters and their business or aggravates the situation,” he says.
“Stone pelting and protests have immensely scaled down in the second half of 2017 but the shutdowns have been recurring,” the SSP said.
And it is these shutdowns that have people wary of their future.

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