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Toll rises to 30, Kashmir stares at summer of unrest if killings don't stop

Riyaz-ur-Rahman | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:48 IST
The toll
  • The violence triggered by Hizb commander Burhan Wani\'s encounter has so far claimed 30 lives
  • On Monday, a 13-year-old boy died of bullet wounds in Srinagar
The flashback
  • The violence is reminiscent of three successive summers of unrest in Kashmir, until 2010
  • The angry sentiments among the youth are more a flashback to the peak of militiancy in the early 1990s
More in the story
  • How local residents feel this violence can be stopped
  • The state government\'s response, and why it\'s making the public angry

It is scary to walk on the streets of Rawalpora, an upscale locality in Srinagar, which has rarely witnessed trouble in the past.

There are a few passersby on the roads, and fewer vehicles plying shorter distances. At many places, protesters have laid large cement pipes across the main and link roads, or cut down trees on the roadside to stop the movement of traffic.

As dusk falls, the mosque loud speakers boom with azadi slogans, within earshot of the army encampment around Srinagar airport.

The scene is no different in the nearby localities of Nowgam, Hyderpora, Peerbagh, Humhama etc, which form a part of the new Srinagar largely inhabited over the past two decades, which have generally stayed undisturbed by the frequent tumult in downtown Srinagar.

The situation is being replicated not only in familiar urban sites of protest in south and north Kashmir, but also across the countryside, with knots of youth from the villages hitting the roads in protest. They too have blocked by the roads with mounds of rocks or freshly cut trees.

At Watergam, on the outskirts of Baramulla town, a group of youth tried to advance towards the nearby army camp, but were forced to flee after soldiers fired in the air. There was a similar attempt at another army camp near village Wodura, on the edge of the volatile Sopore.

But the epicentre of the unrest remains south Kashmir, where it began immediately after Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani's killing in an encounter, and then fast radiated outwards. Even on Monday, a large group of youth from Padgampora and Malangpora marched towards Awantipora air base, in defiance of the curfew, and pelted stones.

Violence spreads far and wide

A J&K Police press release on 10 July captures the endemic nature of the ongoing protests better.

"The incidents of stone pelting were reported from Newa Pulwama, Main Town Shopian, Lasipora, Rajpora, Hall Pulwama, Litter, Tahab Pulwama, Tanchibagh Pampore, Damhal, Sangam, Zainapora, Qoimoh, Yaripora, Behibagh Kulgam, Vailoo, Warpora Sopore, Tikipora Sogam, Lalpora Kupwara, Kanyal Bagh Baramulla, Armpora Sopore, Tarzoo, Batamaloo, Qamriya Ganderbal, Soibugh Budgam, Mirgund, and Sheikpora," it states.

These areas fall across the length and breadth of the Kashmir Valley.

The protesters, police said, set one police vehicle on fire, and some seized vehicles at Lasipora Pulwama during their attack on a local police post.

Similarly, a Government Railway Police guard room and a Railway Protection Force barrack was torched at Bijbehara, as was a police post in Damhal Khushipora. A single storied structure at Soibugh, Budgam, from where a police post functioned earlier, was also burned.

Militants using protests to attack forces

Police has also blamed militants for acting "in the garb of law and order situation", and attacking security forces.

"Militants lobbed two grenades on CRPF deployed on law and order duties in Murran Chowk, resulting in injuries to some CRPF personnel," the police statement said. "In Shopian, the vehicle of SP Shopian was fired upon and a grenade was also lobbed. Militants also fired upon the Police Post Uttressu."

According to an estimate, the number of injured has reached more than 800, with some of them in critical condition. Around 150 are admitted at Anantnag district hospital alone, 100 of them with bullet injuries.

About three times number are admitted at Srinagar hospital, which has declared a state of emergency. This is likely to further raise the toll from the current 30, including a police man. On Monday, 13-year-old Shahid Gulzar, who was hit by a bullet on Sunday, succumbed to his injuries.

Flashback to the 1990s

The situation bears all the hallmarks of the three successive summer revolts until 2010. The only difference is that the protests now seem angrier than in the past.

Hordes of youth heaving through Kashmir's streets and shouting slogans reminiscent of the early 1990s makes it worse.

A new generation seems to have inherited the charge. It is angry, rebellious and willing to take up the gun.

"The 1990s generation, which took to guns, did so in a rush, little knowing what was in store for them," says a senior police official in Srinagar. "But the new generation is consciously into it, knows first-hand what it entails, and seems ready for the consequences."

This is borne out by the potency of the sentiment that underpins the ongoing protests. For the youth, the security posts along the streets have been a familiar sight, and so, invoke no fear. During the protests, their fuming groups tear down bunkers, jeer at the police and CRPF personnel when passing by the security camps, undeterred by the heavy loss of lives so far.

How to prevent another 2010

So where are things headed? The cycle of killings is likely to prolong the protests, on the pattern of the 2010 unrest. This was the watershed year, which has not only become a reference point for much of the prevailing youthful disaffection, but more importantly, was also the year that gave Burhan to the Kashmir militancy.

"The only way the state government can hope to tide over the situation is to stop the killings of protesters," says Mohammad Ashraf, a resident of the Ashajipora in Anantnag, which has been in the throes of the ongoing protests. "But this is something that the government seems either least bothered about, or unable to control or command its own forces".

Even on Monday, two people were injured, one of them critically, when forces fired at the funeral procession of the 13-year-old Gulzar.

Anger against state government

The state government discourse so far has also been a source of much anger. While it has counselled restraint from the protesters, and sought separatists' help to restore normalcy, it has done little to rein in the forces.

No police officer has been suspended or attached, to give an impression that the government was taking indiscriminate killings and bullet injuries seriously.

On Sunday, the state cabinet met with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in the chair, and expressed deep grief and anguish "over the loss of precious human lives". It also called upon various shades of political opinion to help restore calm.

Later, education minister and state government spokesman Naeem Akhter walked out of a press conference when journalists asked him why Mehbooba shouldn't step down following the loss of lives. She had sought the resignation of then-CM Omar Abdullah through the 2010 unrest.

"I will answer no questions," Akhtar said, as he left the hall where reporters had been called at the state secretariat.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 11 July 2016, 9:20 IST