Srinagar, Sept. 25: Salim Geelani didn’t vote yesterday; he was leading a protest march against the elections in Naushera with a Pakistani flag.
Today, he is shocked. “We seek azaadi, but not through such means. The attack must be condemned.”
Geelani is not the only one. Other sympathisers in the Valley of violence who think nothing of spouting venom against the Constitution are also shaken.
“We are not terrorists. All that we want is peace, whether it comes through freedom or better governance so that we can get jobs. We do not believe in violence. What happened yesterday should be condemned,” said Abdul, a postgraduate who is forced to run a three-wheeler. “Hamari naarazgi ka matlab nahin hai ke hum Pakistan ke saath hain. Yeh zaroor likhna.”
People in downtown Srinagar, who had stayed indoors yesterday to avoid voting, were seen huddled in groups at street corners this morning discussing the “dastardly, inhuman” attack on the Swaminarayan temple in Gandhinagar. Observers feel that the death of nearly 30 worshippers, including women and children, could propel the people of the Valley into voting in larger numbers than witnessed so far.
“The killings in Gandhinagar really shocked us. Many of us prayed for those who have perished in the senseless violence. Those who carried out the killings are neither Hindus nor Muslims. They are enemies of humanity,” said Aftab, coming out of the Jama Masjid after prayers.
The mosque is an impressive wooden structure, notable for the more than 300 towering pillars supporting the roof; each made of a single deodar trunk. Usually, the congregation prays for Kashmir and Kashmiris. Today, the faithful said a prayer for peace, for the country.
Sikhs in the Valley feel the massacre has unnerved the local populace. “Many persons have been visiting my house near Lal Chowk and inquiring about the temple where the terrorists had entered. Since I visit Gujarat regularly on business, people have been asking me about the temple. This is a change in attitude. Earlier, nobody was bothered about what was happening in other parts of the country. Yesterday and today have been different,” said Balkar Singh.
Hussain Ahmed, a priest, termed the carnage “a Himalayan mistake made under orders from Pakistan”. “Hum sakoon chahte hain, mara-mari nahin. Jo humse matlab nikalte hain unhe hum kehna chahte hain ke ab humko chhod do. Bahut ho gaya hai,” he said. The feeling ran through the entire city. Shopkeepers, taxi-drivers, policemen, students — everyone seemed to be sharing Gujarat’s grief.
But the mention of Gandhinagar almost came in the same breath as Godhra. “What has happened in Gujarat must be condemned. The aftermath of the Godhra incident, too, must be condemned as strongly by those in power as they did yesterday’s massacre.”
Many more people could have died in Gandhinagar. This is not right. Khuda ke ghar mein khushi dijhni chahiye, matam nahin,” said Afreen outside the Jama Masjid, trying to pacify her infant son who had begun wailing. “I don’t want him to grow up under this shadow of violence which divides communities and people.”