Kashmiris take to streets again for tax-free electricity

Published October 6, 2023
A man checks his mobile and another walks through a deserted street in Madina Market, the commercial hub of Muzaffarabad, during shutterdown strike on Thursday. — Dawn
A man checks his mobile and another walks through a deserted street in Madina Market, the commercial hub of Muzaffarabad, during shutterdown strike on Thursday. — Dawn

MUZAFFARABAD: Thousands of people took to the streets in different cities and towns of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) on Thursday as part of their steady campaign in favour of their demands, including tax-free electricity, subsidised wheat flour, and abolition of the unwarranted perks and privileges of the political and bureaucratic elite.

The rallies and demonstrations were held amid a complete shutter-down and wheel jam strike in Muzaffarabad and Poonch divisions and partially in Mirpur division.

Unlike the past weekend, when clashes between the demonstrators and police left many wounded in Muzaffarabad, no incident of violence was reported from any area of the state.

All shops and businesses, including tandoor (clay oven), medical, fruit, and vegetable stores, remained closed. Even street vendors were nowhere to be seen. Public as well as private transport also remained off the roads, both in Muzaffarabad and Poonch divisions.

Muzaffarabad and Poonch observe shutter-down strike

Some motorcycles were, however, seen carrying people from one location to another without any interference.

In Mirpur division, though a partial wheel jam and shutterdown strike was observed, residents staged big rallies in the cities of Mirpur and Kotli in support of their demands.

In Muzaffarabad, people took out rallies from different neighbourhoods, which assembled at Gillani Chowk. Some participants in these rallies were holding black flags and AJK’s national flags.

“I have been living in this city for the past 43 years. I have not seen such a big and organised crowd here in the past,” wrote Tariq Shaheen, a former government employee belonging to Bagh, on social media, in reference to the assembly at Muzaffarabad’s Gillani Chowk.

The Gillani Chowk gathering was addressed by many leaders of the people’s action committee, including Shaukat Nawaz Mir, the elected leader of Muzaffarabad’s more than 10,000 traders.

Mr Mir, who had been escaping police arrest since last Saturday, was granted bail by the AJK high court on Thursday against a surety bond of Rs 50,000. He was brought to the gathering by his friends on their shoulders, amid loud chants.

“It’s a momentous occasion for us because, for the first time in history, the entire Kashmir region has united on a single issue, and I am deeply grateful to all of you for this solidarity,” he said in his speech on the occasion.

“We, as a peaceful, respectful, and honourable community, found ourselves forced into a situation where our peaceful protest took a violent turn due to the FIRs, dismantling of our dharna (sit-in) camps, and arrests,” he added. Mr Mir made it clear that the demonstrators harboured no ill will towards any country or institution and considered Pakistan their homeland.

He, however, declared that the Kashmiri people would not budge from their stance and would continue their peaceful protests till the acceptance of their charter of demands.

Speaking on the occasion, Jamaat-i-Islami AJK emir Dr Muhammad Mushtaq condemned the federal government’s “inaction” in the wake of the ongoing rights movement in AJK.

“The widespread protests across Kashmir cannot and should not be ignored, because disregarding the demands of the Kashmiri people can have crucial repercussions,” he warned.

He pointed out that the demands of the Kashmiri people primarily revolved around subsidised, affordable, and uninterrupted electricity, which their territory generated from its abundant water resources.

In Rawalakot, thousands of people marched in the streets, chanting slogans against the government and in favour of their demands.

Speaking on the occasion, local action committee leaders Umar Nazir Kashmiri, Liaqat Hayat, and others said that theirs was a movement of a common man and not of any particular thought or ideology.

In Poonch district, none of the around 32 activists who were arrested last week had been released.

Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2023

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