The Palhalan Diaries

by Bisma Nazir

Palhalan in Pattan Tehsil of Baramullah district, after decades of rebellion, violence and separatist protests, has begun to relish peace and a newfound synergy with the armed forces. But while peace and normalcy are back in the village, its economy faces
challenges. We explore the curious case of Palhalan.

YAA rab ye jahaan-e-guzaraan ḳhuub hai lekin kyuun ḳhvaar hain mardaan-e- safaa-kesh o hunar-mand…

When Allama Iqbal, one of the greatest Urdu poets ever known, was penning these lines, little did he know that he was describing the tragedy of so many people from varied parts
of the world. And these lines are so very relevant to some pockets in Kashmir Valley that have lived on the edge for the past so many decades. One such area is Palhalan in Pattan Tehsil of Baramullah district in North Kashmir.
Palhalan has been a spot where violent protests between security forces and the stone-
pelting youth have been a common occurrence for a long time. In the last 30 years of
violent turmoil, Palhalan has hardly known calm. Anything happening anywhere in the
Kashmir Valley would trigger violent protests in this largest village of North Kashmir. The
youth here, in particular, have grown up amidst stone-pelting and teargas shells over these
decades. And needless to say, those brought up in the shadows of violence, have a distinct way of thinking.

Of rebels and separatists
Over the years, so accustomed were the youth of Palhalan to unrest and rebellion, that they would actually create reasons for protests and violent clashes
if there were none. Known for creating situations that would throw law and order off gear,
the Palhalan youth were always known to fight pitched battles with the security forces. And
sometimes, situations would go out of control if there were a casualty. Palhalan was indeed a breeding ground for separatism and separatist thought processes. After Maisuma, a locality in Srinagar, Palhalan was the second spot known for violent clashes. Separatists had bestowed the village with the title of ‘village of resistance’.

All for nothing?
The population of Palhalan village, as per the 2011 census, is around 14,500. And
according to police records, more than 750 youths of the village are facing charges of
anti-national activities. Which means 750 youngsters here have no career. Their future is bleak. The tag they carry will only land them in trouble again and again. Their chances of a
dignified life and an honorable livelihood are bleak. They can’t get travel documents. They are not eligible for government jobs because of the police records.The question they face all the time is – ‘what have you achieved’?

A senior army officer posted in the area, shares with Kashmir Central that the army can only sympathise with such youngsters who have been instigated by vested interests
and have lost their own direction in life. “I feel their pain, they have lost themselves
and they have lost their careers to the instigators and terror sponsors. Those provoking
them have ruined their lives.

Sadly, such misguided youngsters have realised all this too late,” says he. The officer
says the only way out, it seems, is general amnesty, but also adds that such steps have
backfired in the past.

The dismal fallout
A walk through the congestedand dilapidated streets of the Palhalan village gives a clear
glimpse of the fallout of the frequent violent clashes it has seen. Roads and link roads are
in a shambles. Their patchy unevenness tells about how grossly Palhalan has suffered
lack of development, thanks to the perpetual violence. There was a time when government
officers would not dare visit the area owing to the intensity and frequency of the violent clashes. The roads in the interiors are totally non-motorable. The drains are blocked, the infrastructure is weak, there are hardly any signs of development and people seem
to have only grievances. And along with this, is the remorse and realisation that violence has not only destroyed a generation but has also hampered the progress here. The village also faces acute shortage of drinking water and sanitation.

 Hoping for an overhaul

Now that the level of violence has gone down to zero here, people of Palhalan genuinely want to be a part of the larger developmental plan. They want to shake off the tag of notoriety. Talking to this correspondent, the locals candidly admit that the tag of being the ‘separatist hotbed’ has only brought miseries to the village and they genuinely wish the tag be ripped off. “We have realised the cost of being cocooned, we want to be a part of the larger mainstream now,” say the locals, admitting that they have suffered on multiple accounts. Now, they feel, the era of lawlessness has gone and they want to be a part of the larger national project. They wish that the administration works towards providing better
amenities to the people here who are eager and ready to cooperate and supplement the
efforts of the government. Though some do admit that some of the youth are still
involved in incidents of stone- pelting and violent clashes; but they also feel that the police
randomly book some youngsters without actually verifying the details. However, they quickly add that now they enjoy a very cordial relationship with the police and that, for the first time, there is better synergy and understanding between the civilians and the Jammu and Kashmir police. They too are all for general amnesty for the misguided youth and believe that giving them a chance to start anew could be a good initiative.

Peace with the army
The village has seen times when there was a long-drawn friction between civilians and the army. But that time of friction seems to be on its way out. The locals have come to peace with the army and feel that it is indeed doing a good job. They notice and acknowledge that the army has been engaged in confidence-building initiatives, developmental activities and
employment generation.They have earned the goodwill of people,feel the local.”there is congenial atmosphere; in fact,sometimes,we  find it more appropriate and easier to reach out to the army rather than the civil administration for small civic jobs,”shares an elderly.He adds that the coming together of the civilians and the army has earned peace for both.

Anxious about economy
Though people have heaved a sigh of relief in Palhalan, the economic situation is still a big   worry for the locals. The area is majorly associated with horticulture. Apple is produced
in abundance. However, the market has suffered a huge downslide in the previous years and the farmers are in  complete distress. There is crisis and the average household here cannot even afford simple meals. A man who runs a shop close to the entrance to the village says that shops stay open but there are no shoppers; people don’t have the purchasing power. He says that the slide in the apple market has been the worst
nightmare. “I am confused whether we should celebrate peace and normalcy after
decades, or should we mourn the economic crisis the people here are facing,” wonders the
shopkeeper. An elderly from across his shop, while stepping out of a general store, says:

“We are taking essentials on credit. How long will the shopkeepers be able to afford us
credit, is a big question”. Well, Palhalan village does have a strange situation. While
life has been moving into the embrace of peace and normalcy, the pangs of economic distress keep them worried and anxious. This needs to be addressed.


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