On a dimly-lit road in the restive area of Tahab at Pulwama in Kashmir, young boys hurled stones at the security force personnel. The forces retaliated with teargas shells and tried to chase them away, but the boys held their positions. The stone pelting continued even though it was getting darker. A few meters away, a narrow alley remained blocked with hundreds of youth wearing green headbands, waving Pakistani flags. It was the beginning of the spell of night protests, which after 50 days of the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) militant commander, Burhan Muzafar Wani, have become a routine here. In some of the worst hit areas of South Kashmir, which connect other parts of Kashmir region with rest of the country through Jammu-Srinagar national highway, people are staying awake in the night to keep off the forces from raiding their homes and carrying out arrests. Elsewhere in Kashmir, night vigils have become common as people fear that after the protests during the day, the boys might get picked up by the police at night.
With the situation in Kashmir turning worse day after day, it is now the fear of arrests and “excesses” committed by the forces that is fueling the unrest here. The slogans of ‘Hum Kya Chahte Azadi (We Want Freedom)’ rang out louder during the night and people even recounted their experiences when the rumble of the vehicles was understood as as a police raid and the banging of the iron-roofs raised an alert for people to assemble and thwart it.
Across Kashmir, over 1300 people have been arrested in different incidents of stone pelting and the police have also prepared a list of hundreds of others who would be arrested. “We have arrested many people, but after the police was attacked with stones we have prepared a list of miscreants. We have even registered cases of unlawful assembly of people under section 147 of Ranbir Penal Code (RPC) and also under section 148 of RPC against those boys who were armed with lathis and stones,’’ said a senior police official.
According to police, due to the continuous protests, in some areas, making the arrests was challenge — “Though we have caught the youth red-handed, we are facing a stiff resistance to pick up youth during the night raids. The people pour out on the roads in large numbers during the night to foil the arrests,” said Superintendent of Police, (SP), Pulwama, Rayees Mohammad Bhat. “During the night if people get an inkling of the raid they raise alarm and even announce through the mosques that people should come on the roads to prevent arrests,’’ he added.
In some areas, after dusk, which have witnessed deadly protests between the forces and the youth, mosques remain abuzz with the songs that eulogise militants and people keep a night vigil. On 5 August after the clashes between youth and the police in Charar-i-Sharief, which is represented by the PDP’s Agriculture Minister, Ghulam Nabi Lone, after people clashed with the police following the afternoon prayers, stone pelting stopped as the evening set in. However, people continued to remain awake and the announcements were made from the mosque that if the police raids any of the localities, people should come out on the roads and protest.
Due to night raids, the Hurriyat Conference, in a protest calendar which was issued recently, asked people to observe many forms of protest including the “banging of rooftops during night” to avoid the police arrests. In Damhal Hanjipora, Noorabad, where people set fire to a police station after a girl was killed, in the firing by forces in the protests that were taken out over the killing of Burhan Wani, people alleged that the forces swooped down on the localities and broke the window panes of the houses and even thrashed people. Adil Ahmad, who runs a pharmacy store, near the police station which has been burnt, said: “Forces swoop (sic) during the night to try and make the arrests.’’ More than 30 people have been arrested in Noorabad. Usually, the protesters only allow the movement of the vehicles carrying patients. However, during the night, sounding horns raise alarm in the youth — the vehicles are allowed after being thoroughly checked and identities of the people are ascertained and people are allowed to ply on only after the searches are made inside the car. The drivers have to remain inside and the headlights of the car are kept off to avoid the youth from being spotted. Travelling during the night in any part of the Kashmir has only become dangerous as the police crackdown on the youth, who have been indulging in protests, continues. “The idea behind carrying out the night raids is to catch people unawares. Every village can’t sit on the road every night and based on the list we have prepared, we carry out the raids,’’ said a police official.
In Damhal Hanjipora, residents said that many youth were arrested during the night raids. Pervaiz Ahmad, a youth who lives in Tahab, said that the night protests have become common. “ Police have booked even many innocent youth and even those who were injured in the pellets are being hunted,” he said.
In Kashmir, there are hardly any areas which have not seen protests. The shutdown is now being observed even in the posh areas of Jawahar Nagar and Sanat Nagar in Srinagar city — where top bureaucrats and the politicians live — which have otherwise seen the shops remain open even during the day. Elsewhere, the damages of the 50-day protests are visible: the ceilings of the camps of security forces have been demolished, walls of police stations have been razed and the roads remain strewn with rocks and bricks. According to police officials they have even registered the cases of attempted murder in areas where the security camps were attacked by the people and the public property was set ablaze.
On the Jammu-Srinagar national highway that remains the only all-weather road transport link between Kashmir and rest of the parts of the country young boys had rolled out the mats during the evening to offer prayers and some of them who were masked were trying to douse the fire from a burning tire. On the highway at Sangam, where a mob had allegedly pushed a police vehicle into the river resulting into the death of a driver, the people had assembled outside the mosque in order to protest. Such scenes have also become common, as the Hurriyat, as part of the protest calendar, has asked people to play the songs in the mosques extolling militants.