Jammu and Kashmir erupted on Saturday as rumours began circulating on social media that the Supreme Court was going to strike down Article 35A of the Constitution, which confers special status to the permanent residents the state and bars people from outside the state from acquiring any immovable property or jobs in the state. Dozens of protests and incidents of stone-pelting were reported from the major districts of the Valley, with people thronging the markets to stock up on essential supplies in apprehension of a longer shutdown and curfew.
“A rumour started circulating on Facebook and within minutes people were on the streets throwing stones,” Ghulam Jeelani Baba, a shopkeeper from south Kashmir’s Anantnag town, said over the phone. “The ‘news’ that government of India decided to do away with Article 35A was circulated and the markets shut down.”
Anantnag saw protests from early Saturday morning, and other parts of the Valley soon joined in. Clashes are still on in restive downtown Srinagar. Officials said a shutdown was observed in parts of the state on Saturday afternoon as rumours began to circulate.
Kashmir was already on edge due to the Union home ministry's decision late Friday night to ‘urgently’ deploy 100 more companies of BSF and paramilitary forces in the Valley, and the arrest through Friday night of dozens of separatists and Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) leaders, including its chief Dr Abdul Hamid Fayaz. More then 150 JeI cadre were rounded up through the night. Sources in Jammu and Kashmir Police said all the separatist leaders, including small-time activists, as well as other pro-freedom leaders may be shifted to jails outside the state “in order to prevent them from organising protests or rallies.”
“We have to urgently deploy Central Armed Police Forces in Jammu and Kashmir. It is requested to provide 100 cos of CAPFs (CRPF – 45, BSF-35, SSB-10 & ITBP 10) to Govt of J&K with immediate effect and till further orders. IG (ops), CRPF is requested to ensure immediate movement of forces in coordination with IG (ops) of all forces,” read a Home Ministry letter to the state government, copies of which have been also sent to IG(Ops) to CRPF, BSF, ITBP and SSB.
Yasin Malik, chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, was detained at an undisclosed location last night. His arrest sparked protests in his native Maisuma locality — his stronghold — of Srinagar city. The nocturnal raids carried out Friday night was the most extensive operation in many years in the state. Sources said most of the JeI cadre were picked up across south Kashmir. Indian Army helicopters have been hovering over Srinagar and south Kashmir since Saturday morning, and forces launched a massive crackdown on militant sympathisers.
But it isn't clear why the mass arrests and detentions are being carried out. The police remain tight-lipped. Many in the state government, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the arrests might be connected to the upcoming Assembly elections.
The all-important hearing of Article 35A in the Supreme Court set for Monday lent further currency to the rumours. Article 35A, part of a raft of amendments made through the Presidential Order, 1954, empowers Jammu and Kashmir to not only define a class of persons as constituting “permanent residents” of the state, but also allows the government to confer exclusive rights and privileges on its citizens.
The Peoples Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti on Saturday questioned the legality of the crackdown, and said the “arbitrary” move will only “precipitate matters” in the state. “In the past 24 hours, Hurriyat leaders and workers of Jamaat organisation have been arrested. Fail to understand such an arbitrary move which will only precipitate matters in Jammu and Kashmir,” Mehbooba tweeted. “Under what legal grounds are their arrests justified? You can imprison a person, but not his ideas.”
In Srinagar, and other parts of the Valley, long queues of vehicles were seen outside petrol pumps as the rumours began to circulate and the news of extra forces being deployed filtered through. “Why is there so much rush?” a young boy asked a salesman at a fuel station on Srinagar's Maulana Azad road. “Something is going to happen on Monday. I think we might see Kashmir closed for next six months,” the salesman replied, as cars honked furiously.
Sajad Gani Lone, chairman of People’s Conference and former BJP ally, said: “The government seems to be on an arrest spree. Just a word of caution. Large-scale arrests took place in 1990. Leaders were ferried to Jodhpur and many jails across the country. Things worsened. This is a tried tested and failed model. Please desist from it. It won’t work. Things will get worse.”
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Updated Date: Feb 23, 2019 18:48:50 IST