(Ahmed Ali Fayyaz writes about common citizens willing to make supreme sacrifice to improve the quality of life in their neighbourhoods.)
MAGAM, Dec 17: For over a decade, sponsors of Kashmir’s secessionist movement interpreted all development-related demands of the poor people as a “treacherous distraction from the freedom struggle”. “Let Azadi come, development will automatically follow”, they would argue, forcefully. In next few years, people began taking to the streets to demand BPL rice, subsidised power, pure drinking water and metalled roads. Some former champions of Azadi later declared the elections Halal on themselves with the argument that “day-to-day problems afflicting the masses” could not be ignored for unlimited elasticity of the “freedom struggle”. In the last three days of massive demonstrations, each and every ‘leader’ and organisation has described the demand of 20,000-strong Magam population for a degree college as “genuine” and everybody has jumped the bandwagon of “condemnation” to the State Government and her Police for the shootout that gave birth to Kashmir’s first non-Azadi martyr since 1988.
Nearly 20 years ago, Police in Srinagar had opened fire on a mob demanding uninterrupted power supply and left four people dead and many more injured.
Demand for creation of a degree college in the twin towns of Magam and Beerwah five years ago, united and split the people for a many reasons in Budgam district. With the dubious distinction of being Jammu & Kashmir’s most backward district in education, Budgam became India’s only district with not a single degree college. In the wake of skirmishes between Chadoura, Chrar-e-Sharief, Khansahib, Beerwah and Magam, Mufti Sayeed’s coalition Government finally gifted it to the centrally located district headquarters. On February 27th, 2004, when Chief Minister Mufti was declaring creation of another College at a rally in Beerwah, residents of Magam burned not only hearts but also tyres on the streets. And ‘militants’ threw a grenade on the rally, killing a woman and leaving many others wounded.
Like Jammu, a shutdown in Magam has been the last option. This economically prosperous township of 5,000 population and over 700 shops on Srinagar-Gulmarg highway has been bustling with business even in the thick of militancy. Everybody here asserts that Magam’s worst time of the last 20 years was when militant commander Mustafa Khan forced the town shut for 29 days in year 2001.
“Magam has always been a hub of business but invariably sinned against by successive Governments. Uptil 1967, Magam was an Assembly constituency. Later, it was shifted to Narbal and Beerwah. Our added bad luck is that none of our MLAs since 1967 has been a Matriculate. Earlier we had veterans like (former Ambassador) Mubarak Shah, but they actually belonged to Baramulla etcetera. Thereafter, Magam’s PWD Division was shifted to Sumbal. NC Government did cut a cruel joke when it maintained for six long years that a Community Development Block would be set up here. Later, we learned that the same was being considered for two different villages on Soibug-Beerwah Road. PDP’s government promised us a District Hospital but didn’t get one till it expired in 2005. Congress leaders, including Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, assured us, of late, that we would get the degree college in December. The other day, Mr Azad gifted 18 colleges to villages and hamlets but none for Magam”, complains, retired Dy SP Mohammad Ibrahim Mir.
According to Mir, there’s one-odd reason behind the “injustice”: Magam is a Shia population township. He is surprisingly corroborated by prominent academic and close relative of PDP’s Beerwah MLA Sarfaraz Khan. “It’s a fact that this entire belt has been suffering on account of Magam being a Shia-dominated town”, says Ghulam Hassan Shabnam, a retired Chief Education Officer. Shabnam, who lives in the peripheral Adina village and runs his own Green View Public School at Magam, adds: “Be it Farooq, Mufti or Azad, everybody tells us that your demand is hundred percent just and genuine. All of them promised us a college but none of them honoured the commitment. Other leaders of their parties complain to us that Magam has been casting very few votes and it should not dream about development. But, we believe that the turnout is essentially a reciprocal activity. When they don’t give us a block, a district hospital, a works division or a college, why should they expect us vote? Tati chhee noon teel rayi rayi baagraan” (Government functionaries are utterly biased and selective in distribution of development avenues), Shabnam complained in verse.
“From districts to Tehsils to colleges, this Government has showered everything on particular political faces. It created two districts (Shopian and Kulgam) between Anantnag and Pulwama. Two more between Bandipore and Srinagar (Bandipore, Ganderbal). Now, it is looking for villages which could be decorated as Tehsils”, Ghulam Hassan Bhat, a retired school-teacher in Mazhama vomitted. “Look to Kulgam and Khansahab. Earlier this year, Khansahab was declared as Tehsil headquarters. A couple of months later, it was declared as Sub Division. The other day, it got a degree college”, Bhat added. According to him, there were only 25 shops in Khansahab compared to 700 in Magam. He said total roll of Higher Secondary School Khansahab was less than 200. On the other hand, Magam has over 1,000 students at two Higher Secondary Schools.
Shabnam counts the population of Magam belt anything between 20,000 to 25,000. According to him, there were more than 7,000 students enrolled with 10-15 High and Higher Secondary Schools in Magam belt between Khag, Tangmarg, Hanjivera, Narbal and Magam. “They are all subjected to untold miseries by seeking admission either in a College in Baramulla or in Srinagar. Consequently, more than 50 percent of them fail to continue studies”, said Mohammad Akbar Mir of Kanihama.
And, the common man on the street is turning more and more militant. On third consecutive day today, entire Magam belt observed complete shutdown to protest “Government’s humiliation to this village of respected people” and the Saturday last Police firing in which shopkeeper Zahoor Ahmed Mir died and 40 others were left wounded. SSP Ashiq Bukhari doesn’t appear to be in controversy but both of his Magam subordinates, SDPO Manzoor Ahmed Dalal and SHO Haseeb, continue to be in the eye of the storm. Hundreds of demonstrators converged on the streets on the third day with anti-Government and anti-Police slogans and burning effigies of SDPO and SHO. PDP’s Maulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari and NC’s Ali Mohammad Sagar dashed in the town to show their ‘solidarity’ with the residents of Magam but the people here have developed so much of hatred for politicians of all hues that they suspect every incoming leader as the Government’s emissary or ‘trouble-shooter’.
“All separatist politicians have sold us dreams in the last 18 years. And, all mainstream leaders have betrayed us with their false promises. It’s no religion, no region, no politics but only development. We will take a decision with regard to future course of action on occasion of the martyr Zahoor Ahmed Mir’s Rasm-e-Chaharum tomorrow”, said a prominent leader of Magam Coordination Committee. “We are determined to get not only the degree college but also a District Hospital and other facilities”, he asserted and his followers yelled: “Chheen ke lenge apna haq”. They added that the strike would not be called off until SDPO and SHO were placed under suspension and a murder case was registered against them.
“Even yesterday, Police has beaten up and injured 30 people, including 8 women. They ransacked over 30 houses and smashed several cars. They even stormed the mourners’ gathering, roughed up women and dismantled the tents”, said a bitterly hurt bearded youth. It appears that much more than the political and religious leaders, the residents of Magam are now banking on continued closure of Srinagar-Gulmarg Road. With the strike in Magam, entire winter sports and tourism activity in Gulmarg has come to a standstill and the Police firing has failed to open this vital communication link. Traffic was completely off the road and no vehicles have plied on Srinagar-Beerwah-Arizal, Srinagar-Magam-Khag and several other links since Saturday.
Even as Magam continued to simmer with protest, two of the civil society organs—Citizens Council and Alamdar Traders Union—enforced complete shutdown in Chrar-e-Sharief town, in Budgam district. Yet again, the demand is creation of a degree college. Hundreds of the residents and traders gathered at Bus Stand, near Sheikh-ul-Aalam Sheikh Noor-ud-din Noorani’s shrine and staged a demonstration in order to press for their demand of a degree college. Speakers expressed “surprise” over the fact that the coalition Government had distributed as many as 40 colleges in two installments and showered blessings on “nondescript hamlets and villages” but it had not announced a college in Chrar-e-Sharief. They said that Chief Minister Mr Azad had assured the local Mirwaiz that his Government would grant a college to Chrar but the holy town did not figure in the list issued by the Government on December 14th.
Reports of a similar protest poured in from Noorabad area in Kulgam district of south Kashmir.