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Afire again

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It doesn’t take long to ignite a fire in Kashmir, and the sparks are abundant, though there is no science to determine which spark works when.

If January began with gunfights breaking the lull in militant activities, February is back with long shutdowns and undeclared curfew (declared as Sec 144).

Before the killing of 13-year-old Wamiq Farooq by a police teargas shell, there have been at least three innocent killings of civilians allegedly by security agencies in January alone. These included the killing of one teenager boy, Inayat, of Dalgate returning from tuitions in Maisuma area of Lal Chowk.
Wamiq Farooq

Another youth Mushtaq Ahmed Mir was killed while being used allegedly as human shield by Army and SOG in Puwlama, while another youth, Manoor Ahmad Sofi was killed by police when they fired at protestors demanding removal of a police barricade at Pattan. Two civilians were also killed during crossfire, one in Sopore and another in Lal Chowk. It was again in January that Deputy Superintendent of Police, Safdar Samoon fired at photojournalist Aman Farooq, while covering the Lal Chowk encounter.

Police or security agencies haven’t admitted to their role in any of these killings, like they did promptly in the case of Wamiq Farooq. But, somehow, it was Wamiq’s killing that brought Kashmir on a boil again, paralysed businesses, and marked the first undeclared curfew of the year in Srinagar.

“It is not that for a specific killing people react more. At some point in time people feel intolerable to resist. In order to give a vent to their despair they come out in large numbers and protest,” says Prof Shiekh Showkat who teaches law at the University of Kashmir.

Wamiq Farooq Wani ,13, of Chana Mohalla Rainawari was killed when an according to police an Assistant Sub Inspector fired a tear smoke shell, without taking adequate precautions, towards a mob pelting stones on his vehicle at Domepora Rajouri Kadal on Sunday.

Local residents have challenged the police version stating that there was no stone pelting, and Wamiq was in fact playing in a ground.

The boy’s classmates said they were playing cricket in a field, and Wamiq had gone to the lane to fetch the ball when the smoke gas shell hit him.

Taking immediate action police announced it has suspended the responsible ASI, but did not reveal his name.

“Mere suspension of a culprit cannot give justice to Wamiq’s cold-blooded murder. We frantically condemn the killers in uniform by shooting stones on them. They (police) take actions while taking law in their own hands and this is quite disturbing,” fumes an angry youth, in old city as he recounts the names of his friends injured in battles against police.
The funeral procession of Wamiq Farooq of Rainawari.
Bilal Bahadur

Street protests broke out on Monday morning bringing life to a standstill. Both factions of Hurriyat Conference called for a shutdown in protest on Tuesday, and while people expected things to get back to normal on Wednesday, it did not. On the contrary, protests and stone pelting shut down the city, more forcefully than the previous two days. On Thursday authorities invoked Sec 144 in the city, which by now has come to mean an undeclared curfew.

“We have imposed section 144 strictly to prevent damage of life and public order,” said Deputy Commissioner Srinagar, Mehraj Ahmed Kakroo.

Security men used road blocks and coils of razor fitted concertina wire to thwart road crossings and intersections in different areas.

“We were not allowed even to purchase bread. The police was very strict today without any leniency,” said Ghulam Hassan, a resident of Rajouri Kadal area of the old city.

Nearly 200 people, including 50 policemen, were reported injured in street clashes in the old city, and south and north Kashmir, with forces reported to have opened fire at some places. Hundreds of police and CRPF personnel were deployed in most of the city to prevent movement of people.

UTMOST RESTRAINT
Police statements on Monday and Tuesday claimed the forces were exercising utmost restraint in dealing with protestors.

“Stray incidents of pelting occurred at Maisuma, Safakadal, Kawdara, Nowhatta and Rainawari in which half a dozen policemen received injuries while showing utmost restraint while controlling the unruly mob” the police statement read on Monday.

It also appealed the parents not to allow their children “to fall prey to anti-social elements and indulge in stone pelting.”

The statement on Tuesday again talked of exemplary restraint displayed by Police and CRPF and use of “minimum force to restore peace and order”. It also said that the Hurriyat shutdown call had little impact.

Notwithstanding the police claims, hundreds were injured in clashes as well as police action. A few are in critical condition.

In Pandaan Nowhatta area, Shabir Ahmad Khan, 18, was hit by a tear smoke shell on his head and was shifted to the SKIMS in a critical condition. Another youth, identified as Basit, was also shifted to the institute after a tear smoke shell hit him in the abdomen. His condition is said to be stable.

On Thursday, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chairman of Hurriyat (M), was placed under house arrest while separatist leaders Shabir Shah and Nayeem Khan and the hardline Hurriyat group’s Firdous Shah were arrested.

Further, the instances of “utmost restraint” are almost invisible on ground. Residents alleged police and CRPF barged into localities, beat up unsuspecting people standing near their houses in interior localities and even made a few arrests.

“I was standing at the door of my house when suddenly police barged in from somewhere and started beating a few youth without any provocation. We ran for cover. They took two youth along after beating them up, and one was left behind only after residents rushed out of their houses to relieve him. His mouth was oozing blood, and his limbs were immobile with the thrashing,” said Sajjad Ahmad, a resident of Rathpora Eidgah.

A local journalist witnessed CRPF men enter a school ground to rough up three children playing in a ground in Soura. “I heard some screams and rushed to the window of my second floor room. There I saw CRPF men had barged into a nearby school playground and in the middle of it they were mercilessly beating up the children. Then they took two along,” he said.

Once considered a weapon of the unarmed in Kashmir, stone pelting has off late been under sharp scanner. Police has been aggressively dealing with the problem, slapping PSA and other severe acts on youth accused of stone pelting. Using bullets and teargas shells generously on any kind of protest is almost a routine in Kashmir.

While Wamiqs’ killing stirred protests in whole of the city, including the otherwise calm uptown, clashes were also reports from districts.

Meanwhile police had to face a major challenge when a group of masked youth announced four day mourning against the killing of Wamiq on television. This unprecedented act also catalyzed the situation.

Police claims that that they have arrested one of the masked youth who appeared on TV.

Before Wamiq’s death police had also started “counseling” of the youth indulging in stone pelting by involving elders of localities witnessing frequent stone pelting incidents.

Police sources disclose that many alleged habitual stone-pelters have been arrested, many of whom may be slapped with Public Safety Act. “But at the present we are very busy in maintaining law and order,” a police official said.

FAMILY SLAP
Meanwhile the family of Wamiq refused to take the government’s compensation of Rs 2 lakh and a job. The family invited media to their residence to announce the rejection of the government offer, and demanded punishment to the killers. “We cannot sell our martyr son’s blood. In order to stop the killing of our innocent sons, we will continue to agitate,” Wamiq’s mother Firdousa told mediamen, choked with emotions.

Firdousa said that no mother felt safe about her children in Kashmir.

“Has this government made it a law that it will kill our children and then offer us jobs? Why is government killing us one by one? Let them kill us together,” Firdousa said.

Prof Showkat says government must understand the behaviour, “This behaviour is inherited among Kashmiris. In spite of facing hardships they have depicted a great degree of resilience. The government must understand ego and self-respect of Kashmiris. They cannot be bought.”

GUNLESS TERRORISM
Refusing to acknowledge widespread protests over human rights violations and killings as spontaneous, security agencies have begun to introduce new definitions and theories.

In November, head of the Udhampur based Northern Commmand of Indian Army, Lt Gen J S Jaswal described frequent protests in Kashmir as “agitational terrorism”.

On Tuesday Special Director General of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) NK Tripathi told media persons in Jammu that the stone pelting was a form of gunless terrorism.

He even went on to say that it was sponsored by Pakistan.

“With the decline in militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, a new form of gunless terrorism funded by Pakistan has reared its head in the state. We have intelligence inputs that youth are being funded by Pakistan for pelting stones and disturbing peace” Tripathi told newsmen in Jammu. The officer also shared some figures about the casualties by stone pelting.

“There are a large number of instances of unprovoked stone-pelting by hostile mobs on CRPF that has left 1500 jawans injured and close to 400 vehicles damaged in the last one-and-a-half year,” Tripathi said.

The statement doesn’t seem to have gone well with the political bosses. Law and parliamentary affairs minister Ali Muhammad Sagar said on Thursday that Pakistan was not responsible.

“Pakistan is not funding stone throwers but some agencies operating in Kashmir are funding youth to foment trouble,” he said.

Lt. Gen. Jaswal’s November statement had also drawn flak from chief minister Omar Abdullah himself.

Prof Showkat explains the link between the situation and the larger political problem. “The problem is very grave as the basic core issue of Kashmir is hanging. There doesn’t seem to be any end of this mockery of pseudo postures. This brings the frustration within society which has got rooted into the hearts and minds of new generation. Whenever they feel any cause or reason to protest they burst like a volcano,” says Showkat.

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