In Kashmir, August 15, the Indian independence day, usually remains under complete shutdown with internet blockade, restrictions on commutation, transportation and arbitrary arrests of youth. However, the scenes near Lal Chowk, the central hub of tourists, seemed to be different for two years.
Even before the Independence Day celebrations officially began, tourists and non-locals were seen taking selfies and waving the national flag around the newly renovated clock tower in Lal Chowk.
LG Manoj Sinha officially inaugurated Independence Day celebrations in Kashmir by hoisting the tricolour flag at Bakshi Stadium. Hundreds of government employees and school teachers from the schools in and around Jammu and Kashmir queued up to attend the function. They were notified to attend without failure and with a warning of salary cuts.
While the celebrations continued at Lal Chowk with music, dance, flashing of national flags and chanting Jai Shri Ram and Bharat Mata Ki Jai, the downtown areas remained blocked and shut down from the early hours of the day till noon. Shops were completely closed down, and the streets wore a deserted look.
Kashmir, the biggest military zone, denied any peaceful public gatherings of Kashmiris, saw the longest celebrations on this day in four years after the abrogation of Article 370.
The Rashtriya Seva Sangathan Parivaar Jammu and Kashmir, a pro Hindutva group, also took rallies onto the streets. The space boomed with music and dance, thronged by non-locals and tourists.
On the way, photojournalists were also asked by the forces to take their photo poses as well.
Though there was no communication blockade, unlike the other years, the downtown remained completely closed under high-level surveillance and with continued frisking. Some shopkeepers around the clock tower in Lal Chowk were asked to keep their shops open. However, business was down as Kashmiris were more familiar with being inside their homes during this day.
Tourists from different states of India were present on the day, attempting to take photos in front of the clock tower and posing along with the armed forces.
Locals say the scenes have been like this for two years but are not as extensively visible as this year.
Lal Chowk, Kashmir’s iconic hub, once known for “its resistance towards the state”, has been transformed into a commercial and leisurely space at the onset of the G20 summit, say Kashmiris. Nevertheless, protests against different government policies and amendments still take place here.
As the attempt to normalise the day continued in Lal Chowk, downtown areas were deserted until noon. The Jamia Masjid, where the Eid prayers and speeches are prohibited, also remained shut with heavily armed forces under surveillance. Non-locals from Jammu who were labourers and vendors also participated in the celebration, singing and dancing together.