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Vigilante groups setting new 'working hours' in Kashmir valley, authorities say they are being dealt with

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Press Trust of India Beerwah (Kashmir)
Vigilante groups are seeking to enforce new 'working hours' in the Kashmir valley, setting deadlines for people to carry out normal activities but officials said these youths are being dealt with effectively by law-enforcing agencies.
The groups of youth have set these informal deadlines in most parts of the valley before they enforce a day-time 'civil curfew' to protest against the Centre's decision to repeal the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate the state into two Union territories.
One such group is active at Utligam, near Beerwah town of Budgam district. It has set a deadline of 10 am for people to make purchases of daily needs or use their vehicles for commuting.
"We are only allowing people with medical emergencies to pass through ... Other people can stay home. Too much unnecessary movement of people on roads gives a false impression of normalcy," a 24-year-old youth, who refused to be identified, said.
Utligam, otherwise a peaceful village on Budgam-Beerwah road, had hit the national headlines in April 2017 when shawl weaver Farooq Ahmad Dar was used as a human shield by Major Leetul Gogoi.
The army officer tied Dar to the bonnet of a jeep, to save his team of soldiers from intense stone-pelting during the Lok Sabha bypoll to Srinagar parliamentary seat.
Dar, who lives several furloughs down from Utligam, has moved on since that incident two years ago as he was posted on poll duty during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections but the village has yet to reconcile with it.
Closer to Budgam falls Nasrullahpora, a large habitation on either side of the road, and the scenes are no different. Though there are no means of communication, except through the word of mouth, the new timings seemed to have been conveyed to neighbouring areas.
The shutters of the shops are downed -- almost in synchrony -- at 10 am. Minor boys, in some cases as young as 10 years, take over the roads and start pelting stones at any vehicle passing by after the deadline.
"All the promises have been broken ... our identity is at stake. We will not take it lying down," a youngster, barely out of his teens, said. He refused to engage any further with this reporter, waving dismissingly.
While there were no vigilante groups in Budgam town even after the 10 am deadline, life was anything but normal. Movement of private and government vehicles was much more frequent but still nowhere near the normal.
Budgam town was known to be more mainstream than rest of the valley as it used to witness higher than usual voter turnout in both assembly and Lok Sabha elections but it seems to have steered more towards secessionist sentiment over the past couple of years, which was reflected in number of protests in the town and the low voter turnout.
There are reports of similar shutdowns during the day and normal operations in early hours of the day from other parts of the valley including Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir.
However, the veracity of these reports -- or effectiveness of the enforced new normal -- could not be ascertained due to communication blockade imposed by the authorities since August 5.
Although some roadside vendors have resumed their business in Srinagar, most of the markets remained closed for the past more than three weeks. The government has made some of the schools operational in the valley but the move has remained symbolic as there are no students in attendance.
The government officials have sought to downplay this new trend saying the miscreants have been trying to disrupt movement of people in some areas but they are being dealt with effectively by the law-enforcing agencies at local level.
They said the primary objective of ensuring no loss of life in the aftermath of the August 5 decision by the Centre has been achieved.
Going by past experience of 2008, 2010 and 2016 agitations in the valley, the officials said the situation has improved significantly over the past three weeks and that Kashmir was heading towards normalcy.

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First Published: Aug 28 2019 | 5:30 PM IST

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