Srinagar: It is Eid, the first in the Kashmir Valley since the Narendra Modi government withdrew Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, and Srinagar wears a deserted, dead look.
The curfew across the capital has intensified Monday and there is no semblance of normalcy let alone signs of festivity — the roads are deserted, shops are shut and there are strict instructions for people to remain indoors.
Major mosques in Srinagar including the Jama Masjid have not been allowed to hold special Eid congregational prayers neither have the medium-sized ones. Namaz, according to the instructions from the J&K administration, can only be offered at the local mosque and even then, more than three or four people cannot leave home at the same time. There is none of the speeches from maulvis as loudspeakers have been banned.
As a result, the period between 7 am and 10 am, sees little activity in Srinagar.
The unofficial lockdown has, however, sparked stone-pelting incidents at several spots in Srinagar.
“This is a direct assault on everything that we stand for,” says a local from the Anchar neighbourhood. “Our land, our identity and now our religion are all under attack.”
“The restrictions have hampered all aspects of our lives but we thought they won’t do this on Eid,” says Zaara, a college student. “I guess we were wrong.”
Curfew on the streets
Out on the streets, the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Army, all with armed personnel, have replaced the CRPF at major checkpoints. They prevent vehicles from passing through, even the ones with curfew passes. The ones that are being allowed through are the ones with a “red” pass.
That has had an effect on essential services.
“This is nothing like what I’ve seen before,” says an ambulance driver looking to drop off a patient at the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences. “I have been driving ambulances for over a decade and we would get stopped at barricades but we could negotiate. This time they have made the curfew pass a crude joke.”
On the roads, barbed wire rings are a ubiquitous presence, especially at the entry points to Srinagar’s downtown region, which has witnessed several protests in the last few days. Overhead, helicopters punctuate the eerie calm on the streets.
On the route to Hawal in the downtown area, there is a glimpse of the nature of the curfew.
“Where are you walking around? The (J&K) inspector general is on rounds himself with a microphone today and the SSP is sitting at the Rambagh checkpoint,” a BSF personnel says. “Please do not venture out like this.”
Just then the cavalcade of K. Vijay Kumar, the security adviser to Governor Satya Pal Malik, enters the stretch towards Hawal for a “security review”. There is quick movement at the check-post as the personnel move to remove the wires to let the convoy through.
They, however, stop the car that is just behind it.
The car has a woman and a young girl dressed in a flowery frock, along with the driver. “Let us go to the mosque. It is Eid,” says the driver. The request is met with personnel on duty waving away the driver with their weapons. “Abey hatt nikal yahan se (Get away from here),” shouts one of the personnel.
Three to four residents witness the commotion from inside their homes; it’s not long before they step out and begin shouting at the soldiers, following it up with an expletive. “Is this Eid? What, don’t you guys fear god?” one of them shouts. “Let the man pass.”
“Goli Maru kya? Chal andar (Shall I shoot? Get inside),” one soldier retorts at the crowd.
As the residents retaliate with more expletives, the reaction is immediate — two soldiers aim their pellet guns at the locals while a third pulls out a slingshot and fires off stones.
The locals run and disperse in different directions.
“This is what they do after entering our Kashmir. Lock us up inside our homes even during Eid, which is our only festival, threatening to shoot us,” says Bilal Ahmad, a local who was part of the group and who has let in some of the journalists at the exchange. “If they are armed, can’t we pick up guns. They challenge us every day to pick up the guns and finish them.”
“I have never seen such an Eid before,” Ahmad adds. “We cannot open our mouths or raise our voice because if we do, we will be picked up. This is injustice.”
“Modi had promised that we will be able to celebrate Eid. Is this a celebration? This is mourning,” says another local who doesn’t want to be named. “How do they expect us to trust them at all. They do not even respect our religion, what good will they do for us?”
No Bakrid as no butchers allowed in city, no sweets
In downtown Srinagar, locals have managed to leave their homes and congregate on the bylanes but the main road is still out of bounds as all entry and exit points are guarded.
There is a grouse that there is little meat this Eid — butchers who usually come to Srinagar from adjoining villages around this time have not been let inside. So, even those who managed to buy goats have had to forego the sacrificial rituals that come with the festival.
“The butchers are not allowed to enter the city and we are not allowed to go out and get them,” says Asif Mohammad, a local. “Nearly 90 per cent of Kashmiris today have not sacrificed a goat. There is no way to do it.”
“After the goat is butchered, the meat is then divided into three parts. While the family keeps a share, the second share is distributed amongst neighbours and relatives while the third share goes to the poor,” Mohammad adds. “This time, however, with so many restrictions in place, no one is able to move around.”
For livestock traders, that has meant a terrible trading season.
Mohammad Rehman, who rears sheep and goats, says he travelled 250 km from the Reasi region just for Eid in Srinagar. “The whole year we work hard on our livestock to sell on Eid as most of my yearly income comes from this day. Now I will try to sell this to meat sellers at lower costs but it will affect my profits,” Rehman says. “I don’t know how I am supposed to take care of my family.”
There is no cheer on the streets as well.
Dressed in a crisp white kurta, eight-year-old Azaan is very upset. He has walked with his grandfather to buy sweets at his favourite shop in Lal Chowk, only to find the shutter down and armed personnel in front of it.
“Mera mood bahut kharab hai. Yeh kaise Eid hai. Koi mithai nai hai. (I am in a bad mood. What sort of Eid is this? There are no sweets)” Azaan says. His grandfather says he had attempted to dissuade the boy but to no avail. “I have been telling him that the shop will be shut, but he insisted that I come here with him to buy sweets,” he says. “It is Eid, so I could not even refuse. Now we are going back.”
Scattered incidents of violence
The Jammu & Kashmir Police and the state administration has been insisting that the law and order situation in the state was normal, dismissing claims of violence on social media as malicious, baseless and untrue.
At a press conference Monday, S.P. Pani, IGP Kashmir range, told reporters that they had flagged these comments with authorities and will take action accordingly.
An ANI report quoted Rohit Kansal, J&K’s principal secretary, as saying that it has been a peaceful and relaxed Eid in the Valley, and that district and divisional administration officials had met with maulvis, locals, and organising bodies to ensure the same.
In private, however, one local police personnel admitted that a group of over 2,000 people including women and children gathered at Hawal outside Islamia College and Tibetan College, but were dispersed.
He told ThePrint that security forces had to fire shells and disperse the crowd and more than a dozen people were injured.
“The people had congregated to read namaz and the protest started after they came out,” the local policeman said. “The force, however, controlled the situation.”
At Soura in downtown Srinagar, the anger is palpable. Police have just dispersed a group of protesters, women and children among them.
“For how long can the suppress this anger. We will be able to gather one day and then they will not be able to fight us,” says Masood, a local resident. “Even the kids are ready to pick up the guns. By stopping us on Eid, they have made the biggest mistake of their lives.”
“Then they ask us why PhD students pick up guns,” says Mohammad Sultan, another Soura resident. “Come here and see what you have done to Kashmir. You will know why.”