The essence of Bakr-Eid lies in the ritual sacrifice of livestock and, in Kashmir, most people prefer to do it at home. The animals, mostly sheep and goats, are bought a few days in advance and cared for. This year, the ritual was disrupted by the unrest in the Valley.
Every year, butchers – some professional, others amateurs looking for a quick buck – flock to Srinagar from the neighbouring districts to slaughter the animals. But such is the demand that Srinagar residents still have a hard time finding a butcher to perform the sacrifice. This time, they were even more scarce. The curfew and suspension of mobile services meant few butchers could make it to Srinagar or be contacted.
A butcher from Ganderbal town, some 15 kilometres away from Srinagar, comes to the state capital every year and slaughters up to a dozen sheep during the three days of Eid on which the sacrifice can be made. Previously, he would reach people after taking down an address and instructions over the phone. But this year, before he could make a list of addresses, mobile networks were snapped. Now he is depending on word-of-mouth references.
Even procuring sheep and goats for the ritual was difficult as shepherds did not bring their flocks in the usual numbers. Normally, ahead of Bakr-Eid, roads at many places across the Valley would be blocked by large herds of sheep and goat, moving towards the cities and towns from the hills. The herds were not seen this time.
The Valley marked an Eid devoid of festivities. The deafening sound of crackers bursting all around was replaced by an ominous silence. Security forces dotted the streets that would otherwise have been teeming with children dressed in bright colours and the devout making trips around the city to distribute qurbani (meat from sacrificed animals) among neighbours, friends and family.
Eid is also when relatives would take out time from their busy schedules to visit each other. But this was the first Eid under curfew in the Valley. Restrictions were put in place to deter the separatist leadership’s planned march to the building of United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan. Besides, a general sense of insecurity among residents ensured they did not step outside to make such visits.
A resident of uptown Srinagar remarked that the only trouble on Eid during the peak of militancy was that people affiliated with various organisations and madrasas would come knocking on the door, seeking the skin of slaughtered livestock.
Many Kashmiris, students and others, living in cities outside the state, preferred to observe Eid away from home this year. The government clampdown on communication meant they could not even get in touch with their families.
Lal Chowk in Srinagar did not see the usual rush on Arfa (the day before Eid) either. Bakeries put up notices saying “no bakery items available”. The long queues outside ATMs were missing and markets which did brisk business were deserted.
The separatists’ shutdown remains in force till 6 pm, after which there is a dheel, or relaxation, and shops are allowed to open briefly. However, on Tuesday, in many instances across the city, motorbike-borne protesters enforced a shutdown. A band of men managed to intimidate shopkeepers in a prominent commercial hub, a stone’s throw from a police station.
A baker in a Srinagar neighbourhood found himself caught between protesters who would not let shops to open and eager customers who would insist on discreetly shopping late at night. He decided to sell goods from his home across the street from his shop, hiding the festive pastries and firnis prepared especially for Eid.As for the coming days, prospects of normalcy seem to have vanished. The sense on the streets is that there is fresh trouble around the corner.