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Found at coffee shop, Kashmir’s two faces

Discussion in 'Social & Current Events' started by Gabbar, Mar 30, 2009.

  1. Gabbar


    Mar 3, 2009
    +0 / 1,163 / -0
    Found at coffee shop, Kashmir’s two faces

    Seasons changed very swiftly in Kashmir last year.

    In crisp August, hundreds of thousands of youngsters choked the roads, shouting slogans against India, braving tear gas shells, many waving the Pakistani flag.

    Separatism was at its peak and Kashmir never seemed as far apart from India.

    As chilly November arrived, the thousands were back on the roads — to vote in an election that the separatist leaders had ordered Kashmiris to boycott.

    Three million of the state’s 4.8 million voters, a record 63 per cent, participated in the democratic process. In comparison, 44 per cent had voted the last time.

    Among them were Abdul Hamid (64) and his wife Shamima (58) — voting for the first time in their lives, along with their son
    Hashim Hamid, also a first-time voter at 32.

    “My son persuaded us,” says Hamid. “He said we should vote to make a difference.”

    It’s a baffling U-turn few Kashmiris have been able to explain, or understand.

    “The agitation was a people’s movement. The elections… well, it was time for change. Plus, our generation connects with our young leader (Omar Abdullah),” says Hashim, sipping cappuccino at Coffee Arabica.

    Nazir Bhat (27) scoffs from across the table.

    “It is the Kashmiri character,” says the young businessman, between bites of chicken pasta. “We are opportunists; we go with whatever is most advantageous for us at that moment.”

    For others, though, it’s not about opportunism, but opportunities. Many young Kashmiris are living out a new dream.

    Bhat, for instance, is eating his pasta at Coffee Arabica, a new urban luxury and Srinagar’s answer to international coffee
    shop chains Barista and Café Coffee Day.

    While waiting for your order here, you can browse at the bookstore or shop for designer sunglasses, some priced as high as Rs 17,000.

    Many of the young Kashmiris who took part in last year’s massive protests at Lal Chowk, just 100 metres away, now come here to relax over a cup of coffee in the evenings.

    “These youngsters are politically aware, but they are worried about self-development too,” says sociologist Pirzada Amin, an associate professor at Kashmir University. “They have begun to realise what they have lost in terms of economic, career and social development over the past two decades. How much they have lagged behind because they had no representation in administration, on the police force or anywhere in the political set-up.”

    Dr M. Rafiz (28), who works at a government hospital, disagrees.

    “Only the people from the villages voted,” he says, “and they voted for better roads outside their homes, more power supply. It doesn’t mean anything. The fight for separatism continues. We will never be emotionally healed till we achieve that goal.”

    At Coffee Arabica, Mubashir Wani (27) has been quiet as his friends spoke. Now, he finally speaks up.

    “Everybody took part in the protests, I did too,” says the bank employee. “The dispute (over the ownership of land used by Amarnath pilgrims) was the trigger, but it helped people vent feelings that had been suppressed for 18 years or so.”
    As for the election, he adds, the main draw was chief minister Omar Abdullah.

    “He was inspiring. He said people should differentiate between the elections and the Kashmir issue. He appealed to us to come out and vote so we could improve our lives.”

    Did it inspire him too?

    “I did not vote,” Mubashir says. “I’ve never voted.”

    Found at coffee shop, Kashmir?s two faces- Hindustan Times
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