Nightlife, as known in other parts of the world, is unheard of in the restive Kashmir Valley. But the current unrest and heightened security restrictions have changed the times albeit not for recreation.
It is the compulsion that is driving people out of their homes after 8 in the evening when curfew restrictions are a bit lax and people are allowed to move around, not in groups though, to buy essentials. Officially, no curfew relaxation is announced.
Srinagar’s upscale Sanatnagar market has been opening only around 8 p.m. for the past two days. The rush of shoppers for about two late evening hours in the bazaar reminds one of the Eid-eve frenzy.
But the tension and anxiety on the faces of shoppers is palpable as the valley has been confronting the deadliest street unrest in years following the July 8 killing of 22-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, the social-media savvy poster boy of new age militancy in Kashmir.
More than 40 people have been killed in street clashes between stone-throwing mobs and security forces since.
Shops, businesses, private offices and banks have remained shut due to strict curfew amid heavy presence of police and security forces in anti-riot gear. People in large areas of the valley have been restricted to the confines of their homes, amid a severe shortage of essential commodities, including food items and medicine.
“Evening is the new morning for us,” Saajid Zia, one of the shoppers at the Sanatnagar market, told IANS. He said he had to buy baby food for his 18-month-old son and medicines for his ailing mother.
“This is the only window of opportunity (8 to 10 p.m.) that we get to buy essentials. Otherwise, we would have been nearly starving.”
It is not only the Sanatnagar market that opens in late evening. Shops in other market places in less volatile areas of Jawahar Nagar, Hyderpora, and Bemina also open for throngs of shoppers for groceries, milk, bread, vegetables and medicines.
Some small shops in old Srinagar city — considered an “ultra-sensitive” area from the security point of view — also open after sundown to allow people to buy whatever they can during the late-hour shopping.
The continuous closure of the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway has caused severe shortages of essential items in the valley. All supplies of essentials of life are routed into the landlocked valley through this highway — the only road link that connects the valley with the rest of India.
The shortage has restricted shopping choices.
“It is only for bare essentials. There are no choices. It is for survival,” Nazir Ahmed Khan, a father of two, told IANS.
Nazir Ahmed, a businessman in Jamia Masjid area of downtown Srinagar, said he came out on late Sunday evening and could only buy vegetables and milk. He hoped the stocks will “last for a couple of days”.
Since Kashmiris are voracious meat eaters, Nazir Ahmed lamented not being able to buy his preference of meat or chicken on his elder son’s demand.
A police spokesperson told IANS here that it will be “some more days” before the curfew is lifted. Till then, he said, people will have to do with whatever was available during the two-hour evening shopping window.
In normal, peace times, market places in the Kashmir Valley generally close before 8 p.m., a practice people have inherited from the times when militancy was at its peak in mid-1990s.