As one opens the morning newspaper in Srinagar, there is a new bunch of matrimonial advertisements on the black and white pages: Wedding stands cancelled! "Due to the current situation in the city, the wedding of X and Y stands cancelled tomorrow. Guests are requested not to come" is the common format of these ads, as Srinagar passes through another phase of uncertainty.
At the Municipal Central Market on Residency Road, closed shutters have been greeting visitors for the past four days. Nobody knows when it will be back to business in one of Srinagar's busiest markets, just as pre-paid mobile customers are in the dark about when their phones would ring again. SMS was banned following a campaign against the chief minister. Now, pre-paid phone services are also not available.
In the hotels, the dhobis have become irregular and customers are cautioned that if they pass their clothes for cleaning, they may not get these back in time. Hotel Heemal has a renowed restaurant for authentic Kashmiri cuisine but only snacks were available during lunch today. The waiter bluntly tells guests, "We don't know how many guests might turn up in this situation. So, we have minimum preparations." Close by, Paradise Restaurant has a pared menu for lunch. Same reason.
Most ATMs in the city are closed. A few brave ones--invariably of public sector banks like State Bank of India or J&K Bank--are open. One or two shops in the bylanes will operate for a few hours in the day, with their shutters half-down. Which is why Maqbool Dar ties 30 kilos of wheat on his cycle to feed a family of three. "I have travelled more than three kilometres to reach this shop after my friend informed me it was temporarily open. I am not taking any risk and keep the stock at home," says Dar.
In this latest season of clashes, large parts of the city remain under curfew and in other parts, locals have made it like a bandh. While no new reports of civilian killing have been reported for the second day, clashes continue in Srinagar. At least five persons were injured on Thursday in fresh clashes between local youths and security forces, while the state's ministers fanned out in various parts in peace missions.
Dukhtaran-e-Millat, the radical Islamic women's organization that shot into fame a few years ago for their Taliban-style diktats, tried to stoke the tension on Thursday by taking out a march, defying curfew orders, in old Srinagar area. Led by their chief, Asiya Andrabi, a group of women assembled at the Mughal Mohalla locality of Chattabal this afternoon and walked towards Pather Masjid, showing solidarity with the hardline faction of the Hurriyat Conference. Soon, hundreds of youth joined the march. Security forces tried to stop the march near Chattabal bridge and it led to violent clashes between the two sides.
Adhering to the advice of Home Minister P Chidambaram, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah sent his entire cabinet to various places. Veteran minister Abdul Rahim Rather was sent to Jammu to oversee Amarnath yatra arrangements. Another minister, Qamar Ali Akhoon, is posted on the Jammu-Srinagar highway to ensure smooth journey of the pilgrims. Taj Mohiuddin, another senior minister, is at the Baramulla and Sopore areas of North Kashmir. Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand (of the Congress) is in Pahalgam.
The political masters are fanned out. The security forces are deployed. The stone-pelters, too, are ready--for another Friday, the weekly namaz day, in Srinagar and the Kashmir valley.