Kashmir: Dispatches from Behind a Siege

Yasir Altaf Zargar

People were returning from their regular chores, when the news that the famous Kashmiri local rebel who had turned to militancy at the age of 15, had been killed in an encounter near Kokernag, 15 kms away from district Anantnag. People in long chains came out from their houses, leaving the comfortable life aside, with sloganeering “Burhan tera khoon sa inqilab aayega” just to mourn the death of their hero who had become an icon for many youths across valley.

 I was returning from Srinagar when someone behind me, talking on his phone loudly shouted “yea cha pouz—is it true?”, and everyone in public car turned around, asked what had happened. The colour of his face turned pale red, likely his blood pressure was increasing and he replied in a broken tone “Burhan Bhai has achieved martyrdom”. We were all suddenly shocked and requested driver to drive the cab very fast. Everyone inside cab expressed a sign of grief and many among us were crying continuously. Amid mourning, people inside the cab were petrified. I turned on my phone, rang one of my friend who lives in “Tral” who confirmed the news to me. This news was somehow going to become another reason for unrest which is going on, since the death of Burhan.

At around 8’O clock I reached Islamabad or as some prefer to call it, Anantnag. People were on the streets. The mosques in and around the bus stand Islamabad were reverberating with the recorded paeans and people outside were sloganeering in chains and groups “HUM KYA CHAHTAY AAZADI— WHAT DO WE WANT? FREEDOM”.  Cynically people inside mosques were listening harangue from local imams (clerics) who were delivering speech on jihad. The young boys who were in two or three groups were clinching their fists, raising their voices loudly “Gadarou sunlo— traitors listen” and the other groups roared with much horrific voice “Aazadi–Freedom”. I was 5 kms away from my house, but the situation which I was witnessing in Islamabad, gave me horrific thoughts. Somehow I managed to get a lift from a local friend and I reached my home safely. On my way to my town, I saw how people were leaving the comfort of their life, coming out with aggression, taking the rallies from one street to cull de sac, with a local preacher heading the rally, chanting a slogan “Asalam ‘O Asalam” and people in groups and chains following the imam (cleric) were screaming “Aye shaheedo Asalam”. While reaching my hometown, my local neighbours were sobbing; some were raging, while some were crying out when someone inside local masjid was giving a sermon, calling everyone to mourn the death of Burhan. As usual people living in our adjoining areas came in long groups; with their heads wrapped with green flags, shouting anti-India, pro-freedom slogans, and endorsed those who have achieved martyrdom. It’s not the first instance that such situation has prevailed, I had witnessed the same situation, when I was studying in class 12th, when the “2008” unrest was on peak, when people outside on roads and streets were carrying green flags in their hands, scarfing their heads with green cloths, having a logo of a crescent and a star, when rallies from villages to towns to cities in long groups were being taken and people who have political connections leaving aside, were in favour of “Aazadi”.

Next day, as the dawn announced the new day, situation across valley turned violent.  Valley was on edge once again. People across valley especially from south Kashmir, were defying curfew trying to reach Tral, the hometown of  Burhan, where he was later laid to rest and people who were unable to reach Tral, came out on roads, took  rallies and joined together in local cricket grounds to bid adieu to the local rebel. The chief clerics were specially advised by local youths to deliver a good speech on Jihad. The local boys were yelling slogans praising the beauty of jihad, and some were busy singing paeans for local militants especially Burhan, who had sacrificed their lives for Kashmir struggle, while some were busy in “alleluia”. At “Tral” the situation was very much different. Burhan’s body was lifted by thousands of young mourners who were numb, crying in grief; tears rolling down from their eyes, participated in the funeral. The other rebels, his comrades, joined the gathering. In the funeral procession, according to the eye –witnesses, they gave 21-gun salute to their Commander and role model.

Aftermath of Burhan’s killing

The Valley is witnessing mayhem once again since the last 2010 unrest. Almost one week has passed, but ‘normalcy’ has not yet returned. People are likely to call “this do or die, final situation”. The roads, which are filled with stones, empty teargas canisters, bullet shells, electric poles blocking from travelling to other parts of valley. Paramilitary troopers, armed forces , local police officers are present on each street showering teargas canisters, breaking glasses of houses, beating local protestors and showering bullets directly on demonstrators. The situation clearly somehow making a sense that the valley has been put under a siege.

Next day the local boys in our locality took a rally, were sloganeering peacefully, yelling anti-India slogans, when some CRPF troopers started firing indiscriminately. The direct fire shots struck people, injuring them. A local neighbour, who is of age 15, received a bullet in his abdomen was lying on road when my eyes caught his attention. He was unconscious, when some locals dropped few drops of water in his mouth. Somehow we were successful in reaching the district hospital, where I saw people on beds having two to three bullets injuries in their body, some were lying on bed with pellet injuries in their eyes, their families were wailing and crying loudly. The whole hospital was full with the patients who had received bullets, pellets, tear gas and around there were volunteers who were working tirelessly bringing the blood donors, helping the patients, providing eatables to them. The situation in hospitals wasn’t jumbled neither noisy. People were recalling the incidents which they had faced, and how they were beaten by JK Police as well as CRPF troopers. Some were showing anguish that they will teach “those” CRPF as well as Police men a lesson. Some were busy helping others in this situation.

A doctor told me “this is a war like situation”. Since morning we received more than 70 patients who have bullet injuries above their waists, many are critical and we are shifting them to the main hospital.  A renowned doctor guided us that they have removed the bullet from my neighbour’s body but we have to shift him to Srinagar for general check-up. A group of volunteers came to us, asked in a sad tone, “Do we need anything?” and hesitantly we replied “we need some food”. The locals who were working tirelessly brought some food and gave some money which we later paid to ambulance driver. On way to Srinagar hospital, a group of CRPF troopers stopped the ambulance and enquired about the patient. One among them raged on us “Behan ch…. —Pathar martay ho— you Sister…… are you pelting stones?” We were frightened what to reply. They ordered two boys among us to throw stones on demonstrators. Thankfully, local protestors did realise the plan of CRPF officer and they didn’t hurled stones back. We reached Srinagar at around 7 pm, without revealing the situations which we faced, keeping aside our anger as everyone among us was tired. Some local volunteers took the patient to emergency ward and helped us in fulfilling the formalities of hospital. Some of the volunteers offered us soft drinks; some were offering food, while some said they are here to take care of everyone, what we need, they will happily provide everything. The whole hospital was filled with the patients who were shifted from the various district hospitals of Kashmir. Some were crying in pain, while some were silent, as they were petrified with the on-going situation which has been prevailing since Friday, 8th of July.

Two nights and a day I spent at the main hospital. It was hard to spend time there. As people in and around were crying, some were dying with pain, while some reached dead there. We were exchanging our conversation, updating each other with what had happened in our adjoining areas when an 18 year old boy was brought to the hospital. The doctors after reading test reports recalled the attack as barbaric. “How come they can spray pellets from point blank range”, he has lost his eye sight, the doctor cried out. Every one among us called this an act of barbarism. His eyes were totally filled with blood, the retina was pierced and the hole was totally visible to the human eye. He was screaming in pain, he wasn’t able to talk clearly, all he said “when this night terror will finish”.

On my way back to home I talked to some people about the on-going turmoil. The people were totally agreed on one thing that they are in favour of “Azadi”. A person in crowd said “we should take up arms to retaliate”, but another wise said “for a stone they killed more than three dozen’s and you talk about retaliation”. This is oppression, nothing else.

Since the agitation erupted, the government following the footsteps of erstwhile government (NC in coalition with congress) banned mobile internet services and subsequently the telephony as well.  Cable television has also been barred— the cable operators have been ordered to allow limited channels. The current government represented by Bharatiya Janta Party in coalition with People’s Democratic Party have unleashed an attack on the freedom of press. The Police raided offices of local newspapers and arrested some members who were present there. Perhaps the current government by two parties seems in hurry to cage “Kashmir” and “Kashmiris”. Across Kashmir the only voice which one can listen would be a dirge. Rest everything has been muzzled.

Ten days passed since government imposed the curfew in Kashmir.  Till now more than 46 youths have lost their lives, while the number of injured stands at more than 2600. The draconian measures, excessive force which PDP and BJP used against people reflect the jitteriness of government. To say “the situation is under control” would be an immature statement. It’s not Pakistan which is behind the unrest, but the people who are being oppressed and the anger among the people has crossed limits. The present odour reflects the actual situation.

I hope some sense prevails…..

Yasir Altaf Zargar is a Srinagar based web security analyst. He has been acknowledged and rewarded for contributing to the web security of Google, Yahoo, Hackerone, Microsoft, Nokia, and Oracle. He tweets as @zargaryasir and can be reached at [email protected]

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