Home Minister Rajnath Singh took a trip to the Kashmir Valley on Thursday, which has remained on the boil since the killing of Burhan Wani, the Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander on 8 July. As he took stock of the situation, he appealed to all the people of Kashmir to not interfere with the future of the children of the state and stressed on the fact that all political parties and people in India wanted peace in the region.
Yet 46 days later, since the Valley erupted in never-before-seen protests, the situation in the interiors of south Kashmir remains tense. The protests and shutdowns against Wani’s killing show no signs of dissipation. Surprisingly, as seen in the unrest in previous years, this time, people have shown no signs of fatigue despite hardships due to strikes and loss of livelihood.
Protests have been so intense that besides major towns of Kashmir, people in villages have come out on streets to register their anger. The mood remains so much against India that the police and paramilitary forces have hardly been able to reach the rural areas, as they fear consequences due to brewing anger among people after Wani’s death.
On 14 August, as the state government imposed restrictions on people’s movements and shut down mobile telephones and internet, this reporter travelled to some villages in the Anantnag district of south Kashmir. Defying restrictions, some villages had taken out freedom marches. Many villagers had hoisted Pakistani flags and painted it on the walls, electric poles and government buildings. As police and paramilitary take a backseat, the responsibility has fallen on the Army to ensure some semblance of order. On the night of 14 August, soldiers on their patrol duties swiftly brought down the iron billboards on which Pakistani flags were painted.
"They tied the one end of the iron chain to these billboards and other end with their vehicle and then dragged them out one by one," said Mubashir Ahmad, a local who was looking at them through the window pane at midnight. “They even shouted slogans like 'Burhan bhai zindabad' so as to provoke the boys in the neighborhood, so that they could take them along,” he added.
What should worry India further is that this time the situation has slipped out of the Hurriyat-led separatists’ control too.
Surely people are following the protest calendar given by the separatists. But some elements are defying the repeated requests from separatist leadership in which they have asked people not to harm anyone.
Despite calls given by the separatists for allowing people to resume their daily activities and travel after 6 pm, protestors have defied them. Many vehicles have been damaged by the young protestors, and shopkeepers have been coerced to shut their shops round the clock. Moreover, some overzealous elements have also damaged the ambulances carrying the patients and the injured.
The troubles given by the protestors are matched by the tyranny of the security forces. Since last month, many in south Kashmir have alleged that the security forces especially the CRPF are damaging private property. Several videos have surfaced on social networking sites and news channels where CRPF jawans have been seen breaking window panes of homes and damaging private vehicles on roads.
As a result, people in many villages of Anantnag are scared of coming out of their homes during late evenings. Many have complained that some unknown vandals are coming at night and breaking window panes of their houses. "Some unknown persons throw stones at our homes and give us sleepless nights," Mohd Yousuf, a villager told Firstpost. However, many also blame the Army for this.
Amidst all this, it seems that the state government is to be seen only in TV interviews and press releases. This has accentuated the people’s anger against the government and its policies. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and her party PDP, were very vocal when they were in the Opposition during the 2008 and 2010 protests. However, this time, she and her party, it seems, have lost their voices.
Many believe that the anger was festering against the PDP-BJP alliance among the people in the Valley for a long time and Wani’s killing gave a vent to it. After joining hands with the BJP, PDP has been termed by many locals as a “puppet” of the Indian government.
“I have seen many protests since the outbreak of militancy, but this time the anger is very among the youth,” Shamweel Iqbal, a student from South Kashmir told Firstpost. “People want the only resolution that is, azadi,” he said. “People know that political leaders have been betraying them for decades. They are angry and feel that nothing other than freedom can heal the damage that took place since the 90s,” Iqbal said.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who reviewed the situation, called for an alternative to pellet guns and said that the government had decided to appoint a nodal officer to listen to the problems of Kashmiris in India. Hopefully, someone in the Army or the state government will give him the sense of the real dynamics on the ground.
The author is a freelance journalist based in Srinagar. He focuses on the socio-political issues of the Kashmir Valley.