On an unusually warm March day when Dineshwar Sharma, the Indian government’s special representative for talks, came to Tral to have a chat with the people there, all he got to hear from a small motley crowd was a set of demands as mundane as a cricket stadium, minority status for Sikhs in Kashmir, and the withdrawal of army troopers from a patch of land.
Sharma came into the town in a chopper in the morning from Srinagar airport and got down to meet members of at least six delegations at Town Hall. In the streets outside, the crowd began to thin out as they came to know about his visit. The store owners shut their businesses and went home. A large deployment of forces added to the sense of ease in a town with a reputation for deep anti-government hatred.
Most of the people who came to see him though were from out of town. A group of cricketers came from Awantipora to ask for a cricket stadium. A few members of the Sikh community demanded they should be granted the status of minority in the Kashmir valley. Another delegation from Awantipora felt their town should have a college and the land under the occupation of army in Awantipora should be freed so that they can use it.
“We told him that state government is hardly bothered to boost sports environment in valley. We are looking forward to have a cricket stadium in Awantipora where we could prove our talent. We want a cricket ground having all sporting facilities like coaches, training and nets. After meeting Sharma Ji we are optimistic that our demands will be fulfilled,” said some cricket players from Awantipora who were carrying cricket bats.
On Thursday morning these delegations gathered at the police station, Awantipora, from where they were taken to Tral to meet Sharma.
A delegation of Gurduwara Prabandhak Commiittee, Pulwama said that they talked about the minority status for Sikhs.
“We told him that Kashmiri Sikhs are deprived of basic amenities of life. If migrant Kashmiri Pandits can have minority status why cannot we get the same reservation? After meeting him we are hopeful that this demand will be taken seriously,” said a member of the delegation.
Ali Mohammad Rah, who met Sharma, said: “We told him that our land is occupied by Victor Force due to which we are unable to earn our livelihood. We are extracting stones from our respective land to feed our families. Nearly 2500 Kanals of land is occupied by Victor Force, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Police due to which the majority of people from the area have become jobless.”
“Out of 4000 Kanals, 2000 Kanals of land is occupied by Victor Force Awantipora , 400 Kanals is occupied by CRPF and 100 Kanals by police. Day by day our land is getting shrunk. We are completely dependent on extraction of stones. We told Dineshwar Sharma about this concern and he assured us to retrieve all the occupied land from the forces. He said he will speak to DC and resolve this matter,” said Rah as he came out of the meeting with Sharma.
Sharma drew a blank when it came to meeting people from the town itself. “These meetings have not yielded any positive result in past. It has become a routine exercise now. There is no sincerity in these meetings and we believe it is wastage of time,” said one man who didn’t want to be named in the story.
Civil Society Tral, a prominent NGO , also abstained from meeting Sharma. Its chairman, Kar Ashfaq, said: “People have given us mandate to work for the welfare, development and betterment of Tral. We are not interested in political matters. We received an invitation to have a meeting with Dineshwar Sharma but we did not participate because we do not believe in political matters.”
Dineshwar Sharma sounded satisfied with the way his meetings had gone. “We met various delegations who are facing numerous problems. We will try to resolve their problems very soon,” said Sharma.