In Indian occupied Kashmir, Shabir Ahmad shutters his shop at 9:30am every day, clocking just two hours of work, as part of an ongoing “civil disobedience movement” in the occupied valley against the stripping of the region’s autonomy.
In the last four days, Shabir, who sells curtains and bedsheets, has not earned a single penny, but the 60-year-old shopkeeper insists the “silent protest” by traders is important “for the future of their children”.
“Our lives are finished now and we fear for the tomorrow of our children,” he told Al Jazeera as he sat in his shop located in the heart of old Srinagar’s Nowhatta area that has been the epicentre of clashes between the youth and Indian armed forces.
“All means of protest for us have been choked and this is the only way to resist.”
Traders in the region have been running their businesses for just two hours from 7:30am to 9:30am as a mark of protest against the Indian government’s decision on August 5 to scrap Article 70 of the constitution that granted special rights to the Muslim-majority region.
The near-total shutdown of businesses, schools and civilian activity in the disputed region has forced the government to take out full-page ads in local newspapers, urging people to open their shops and send their children to school.
The advertisement heading read “Closed shops, no public transport? Who benefits?” It asked people to make a choice. However, it had little impact on the ground, as people continued the shutdown “as an act of defiance”.
The authorities arrested thousands of separatist leaders, protesters and pro-Indian Kashmiri politicians in the wake of the August 5 decision and brought thousands of additional troops to one of the most militarised zones in the world.
“This is the Muslim-majority land but we fear this all will change,” said another shopkeeper who wished to remain anonymous.
“If police sees us talking to journalists, they might come to pick us up in the evening. There is only fear among people who have been crushed from all sides,” he said.
Tens of thousands of people have died as India deployed nearly half a million troops to quell an armed rebellion that erupted in the late 1980s. Fatalities sharply dropped in the 2000s but since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power more than five years ago, the region has seen an uptick in violence.