Two more shutdowns!

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One again the strikes and shutdowns are back. After having observed shutdown on February 09 and 11, now the people have been told to sit home for two more day – on February 13 and 14. Obviously this latest call for shutdown has not gone down well with the people here. And rightly so! Social media platforms are agog with people’s anger and frustration, and this time netizens also chose to name and blame the separatist leadership openly, which besides some many other things is also indicative of refusal of the people of Kashmir to this ‘strike and shutdown’ politics.

It goes without saying that people of Kashmir in general share every sympathy with their “cause”, but then it makes little sense to shun all productive work as an expression of so-called solidarity and commitment with it. This clichéd politics, as the hindsight has it, has been (and will be) of very little help to anyone, yet those out in the political arena miss no opportunity to try and manipulate ordinary people by dragging them into needless and extravagantly unproductive political tactic which instead of being of any help to anyone has only brought financial hardship and physical injury to general masses. In such as situation, particularly given that Kashmir’s history is replete with evidence of violence during protest strikes and shutdowns, one is hard at understanding why at all those calling for such protests are unmindful of its dangerous fallouts.

In an overly politicized situation, wherein each individual and every group is engaged in a perennial tussle for their own political relevance and survival, the general good of the society and safety and security of its people have long slipped off the priority list. Despite a great deal being said and written against the ‘hartal culture’, which has practically wasted several years from each individual’s precious life-time so far, not much seems to have changed here as for the mindset of the political, business and even trade union leadership goes. For their own selfish politics, those who have garnered the power of calling and enforcing strikes and shutdowns, remain so obsessed with it that they hardly ever bother to think of the hardships, economic and otherwise, it puts ordinary people to.

In the days of ancient Rome, an old woman is said to have approached the king, known as Tarquin the Proud, with an offer to sell him a treasure – nine books she claimed contained all the wisdom of the world. When asked the price, she named an immense sum of gold. King Tarquin laughed. The old woman did not reply but simply took three of the books and proceeded to burn them. Then calmly she offered Tarquin the remaining six books – for the very same price. The king laughed even harder and exclaimed: “Why would I pay for six books what I would not pay for nine?” So the old woman put another three books in the fire and once again offered to sell the remaining ones – now only three – for the same price. Tarquin became unnerved. What if she was right – and those books did contain the wisdom of the world? As the old woman prepared to put the last three books on the fire, he broke down and agreed to pay her price. Those three books known as ‘Sibylline Oracles’, became one of the greatest treasures of ancient Rome, frequently consulted by the leadership in crises and credited with helping save the city.

Confronted with frequent crises in Kashmir, the crises of situational and political turbulence that has given birth to the culture of ‘hartals’, each of us faces a version of Tarquin’s choice. Like King Tarquin we have before us a rare treasure we could save, in our case our endangered relationships, lives and livelihoods as well as the name and image of our people and this land. As with the nine books, there is a certain unvarying price to pay. That price is to give up our fatalistic belief in ‘hartals’ and confrontations so as to be willing to evolve better and less destructive tactics to confront the “unjust state and the systems” if at all that is what is to be done. Some may think, just as King Tarquin did, that the price being asked is steep and unrealistic. Others may question whether the promised treasure is truly obtainable. We can choose to wait just as he did – until one third or even two thirds of the treasure (in our case the precious human lives and relationships and our collective image) are destroyed. Or we can save those relationships and lives now by bidding good-bye to the self-inflicting culture of ‘hartals’. Choice is ours.


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