Anything to show Kashmir is normal
Defying Coronavirus advisories, Government has allowed over 900 athletes, officials from 20 states to participate in Khelo India games at Gulmarg, just to show all is well in the troubled region
On Saturday, more than 900 athletes from 20 states descended on Kashmir’s famous scenic spot Gulmarg to participate in first Khelo India Winter Games. This despite the fact that world over major sports and cultural events are being deferred or cancelled in view of the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak, which has so far spread to 60 countries and killed more than 3000 people. The players will take part in 30 events, including snowboarding, skiing, cross-country games and a snow show at the venue located at an altitude of 8,694 feet.
What forced the government to hold the games in defiance of the health advisory, public criticism and common sense? Nothing but the desire and need to demonstrate normalcy in the union territory to the nation and the world. It is the same urgency that forced the government to bring three batches of foreign diplomats to J&K to flaunt the apparent calm in Kashmir while refusing to let the opposition parties in the country visit the region. And now even the very real prospect of the games increasing the vulnerability of the Valley to Coronavirus hasn’t dissuaded the government from holding the event.
Late night Skiing with flares! We are all ready for the first ever #KheloIndia #WinterGames at Gulmarg in Jammu and Kashmir. It's excitement all around so come and join the historic moment! pic.twitter.com/RDKPbrn0OH— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) March 6, 2020
However, hours before the games went ahead, the same government ordered the closure of the primary schools in parts of J&K as two positive cases were reported from Jammu.
“Primary schools in 6 districts will remain closed till March 31,” said the principal secretary to the government Rohit Kansal in a press briefing, adding that the administration was fully prepared and there was no need to panic. “We urge all organizations to avoid large gatherings”.
But no such precaution was adopted in case of winter games. The Union Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports, Kiren Rijiju, flew to Gulmarg to inaugurate the event. “This is a historic event not only for J&K but for the whole country. Those who are here today at this place are lucky. This is the beginning of mega sports events in Gulmarg. More mega-events are in the pipeline for this place,” he said.
However, it is not for the first time that the government has gone to great lengths to exhibit normalcy in Kashmir. In October 2017, Government brought the Pakistan born singer Adnan Sami to the Valley to sing his chart-busting numbers on the banks of the picturesque Dal lake. This was done less than a year after around a hundred youth were killed and several hundred others blinded during the six-month-long unrest that broke out following the killing of popular militant commander Burhan Wani. For the concert to go ahead, the government had to lock down the entire area around the lake and divert traffic. The concert was attended by around 3000 select invitees comprising politicians, bureaucrats, police and military personnel and media men.
Earlier in 2013, the world-famous conductor Zubin Mehta was allowed to conduct an orchestra in Srinagar's Nishat garden. The event was organized by the German embassy. Mehta played to a 2700 strong audience, again comprising politicians, security personnel, government officials and diplomats. Here again, the government had to put Srinagar under lockdown to facilitate the concert. Significantly, the event was denounced by one of its own. Nikolaus Bachler, the general manager of the 80-strong Bavarian State Orchestra which performed at Nishat, said they had been misled into holding the concert. He said the musicians had “waived the fees for Kashmiri people and not for an elite event.” And hours before the concert was held, outside in the city, security forces shot and wounded a motorist who they said failed to obey orders to stop.
There are more instances like the Harud Literary Festival which was unsuccessfully attempted to be held in August 2011, a year after the unrest that had killed 120 people and blinded many. In 1998, the Government had forcibly reopened a cinema in the heart of Srinagar at Residency Road to demonstrate that Kashmir was normal and when the first show was held, militants lobbed a grenade and killed one cinema-goer.
But while those events in themselves didn’t pose a risk to the Valley, Khelo India games does. And this has generated anger in Kashmir. With the internet and social media being restored, people are expressing their objections online.
“Mecca has been closed to pilgrimage, India is cancelling Holi celebration gatherings. Olympics being held in Japan is being rethought about. Many IT and the other companies have asked employees to work from home,” posted a person on Facebook. “But the government in Kashmir is holding a seven-day sports event Kheloindia in picturesque Gulmarg and has invited over a thousand people to show ‘all is well in Kashmir’. Is it inviting Coronavirus in Kashmir?”`