On Monday, India celebrated its 70th year of Independence amid the ongoing unrest in Kashmir — the Valley has known nothing but eerie silence, which are often broken by calls of 'azadi' and gun pellets being fired late into the night, since the killing of the Hizbul commander, Burhan Wani on 8 July.
A strict curfew and a series of communication blackouts since then have failed to stop separatists, who are seeking an end to Indian rule in Kashmir, even as residents have struggled to cope up with shortage of food, medicine and other necessities. The clashes, with protesters mostly throwing rocks, and government forces responding with bullets and shotgun pellets, has left 63 civilians dead. Thousands have been injured, including members of various government security forces.
The strife in Kashmir dates back to 1947, when British rule in India ended, leading to creation of Pakistan and India, and the conflicted territory of Kashmir.
On 17 August, Kashmir entered into it's 40th day of consecutive crackdown as curfew remained in force in Srinagar district, Anantnag town and Magam area of Budgam district as a precautionary measure. Normal life still remains paralysed as the death toll in the ongoing unrest goes above 60.
Heavy deployment of security forces is being carried out in Srinagar with all roads leading to the local office of United Nations Military Observers Group (UNMOG) at Sonawar sealed.
Separatist groups have called for a march to the UN office to impress upon the global body to intervene and resolve the Kashmir issue.
The separatists who have been spearheading the movement have threatened a 72-hour sit-in protest if their proposed march to the UN office is not allowed by the government.
Normal life remained crippled as schools, colleges and private offices remained closed, while public transport remained off the roads due to the strike called by the separatists.
The attendance in government offices was thin. Internet and mobile services across the Valley remained suspended. While broadband services were snapped on Saturday evening, the mobile telephony was suspended late in the night on the same day.
In the midst of separatist movements, the valley also bears witness to militant attacks.On Wednesday morning, two army men and a cop were killed while three other security personnel were injured in a militant attack in Baramulla district of Kashmir, police said. Militants ambushed an army convoy at Khwajabagh in Baramulla at 2.30 am, a police official said. A massive operation has been launched to track down the attackers.
On 16 August, in a clash between protesting civilians and the police, five people were killed and 18 injured, raising the death toll to 65, reported The Indian Express.
As per The Indian Express report, a mob had reportedly clashed with security forces in the Beerwah tehsil of Budgam district in Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday morning, resulting in the police opening fire to bring the situation under control. Out of the four people killed in the clashes at Beerwah, two were teenagers, Javed Ahmad Najar and Javed Ahmad Sheikh.
Hours after the Aripanthan incident, security personnel opened fire on protesters in Larkipora in Anantnag. Aamir Yousuf Ganai, also a boy in his teens, died while ten others were injured. Residents claimed to have been protesting peacefully when they were fired at.
On 15 August, one youth was killed and another was critically injured on India's 60th Independence day in fresh clashes between protesters and security forces in Kashmir. A CRPF commandant was martyred, while nine other security personnel were injured in a gun battle against militants in a gun battle in Srinagar, reported The Hindu.
"The teenager was brought dead to the hospital. He was hit by a bullet," The Daily Mail quoted Kaiser Ahmad, a doctor at Srinagar's main hospital, as saying.
The Hindu report further mentioned another incident in Bijbehara town of Anantnag district, where one youth was critically injured after being hit by a tear smoke shell in the head. On 15 August, five militants were also killed near the Line of Control in the northern Uri sector.
Senior Congress leader and former Home Minister P Chidambram on Wednesday blamed the PDP-BJP government for the unrest in Kashmir Valley and said the statements of Prime Minister Narendra Modi have "exacerbated" the crisis.
Meanwhile, PM Narendra Modi referred to Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) and Balochistan in his Independence Day speech seeking to rid India of its almost ingrained meekness in dealing with the Kashmir issue, reported The Times Of India.
However, as pointed out by an opinion piece in The Indian Express, through this, PM Modi invariably not only equated Kashmir with Balochistan, but also India with Pakistan. The Centre's long indifference to the unrest in Kashmir had made matters worse, with opposition constantly mounting attacks on the PM's silence.
In Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, on Tuesday, said the world needs to take stock of the plight of Kashmiri people and vowed to support their "indigenous freedom struggle".
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday had held a high-level review meeting on Jammu and Kashmir and instructed security officials to restore peace and normalcy in the state at the earliest. He had also cautioned that the casualties of both the civilians and security personnel in the violence-hit state should be minimum.
Earlier Rajnath Singh had said, "Kashmir Bharat ka abhinn ang hai [Kashmir is an integral part of India]". The government had also reasserted that cross-border terrorism harboured by Pakistan was the root of the ongoing unrest in the Kashmir Valley and that no part of Kashmir, including the Pakistan occupied territory, can be negotiated upon.
However, of utmost important was Mehbooba Mufti's Independence Day speech, which included the first ever admission by any chief minister in Kashmir, of the Army and police using civilians as human shields in operations against militants, reported Hindustan Times.
As per the Hindustan Times report, Mehbooba also said that she had "fought against government forces" for putting villagers in the line of fire during anti-militancy operations in late 1990s. Mehbooba Mufti, in the past, had also urged PM Narendra Modi to follow Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s call for 'insaniyat' in dealing with the Kashmir issue.
The separatist groups have said there would be no peace until Indian politicians stop treating it as a purely internal issue. Modi's government has shunned talks with Hurriyat and other groups that challenge India's claim, putting on hold peace talks with Pakistan, telling it to first rein in anti-India militants operating from its territory.
With inputs from agencies