Pulwama: Showkat Ahmed, a shopkeeper in Pulwama, is keeping a close watch on Srinagar. As the Valley grapples for a way to express its resentment over the Modi government’s decision to abrogate Article 370, people in south Kashmir say they are waiting for a sign.
“It is important to see what Srinagar does,” Ahmed told ThePrint in Pulwama. “If it rises (voth thodh), all hell will break loose here too.”
The restrictions imposed by the government ahead of the Article 370 order are no longer as stringent in south Kashmir — except those on means of communication — as they were on Eid or last Friday.
The deployment of troops is not as dense either, but the sense of injury remains intense a week after Jammu & Kashmir was stripped of its special status.
Different conversations in south Kashmir suggest that people seething about their renewed status as just another union territory in India are waiting. Waiting for Srinagar to “make a move”.
‘They have crossed all boundaries’
With the curbs imposed on 4 August eased, local Kashmiri journalists are no longer being stopped at barricades put up at the entry and exit points of south Kashmir.
When this reporter arrived in Pulwama main town around 9 am Wednesday, it wore a deserted look. A group of middle-aged men was gathered around a medical supply shop to discuss the latest happenings.
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“How is the situation in Srinagar? Is there still a curfew?” Tanveer Ahmed, a local, asked this reporter. Upon hearing that the situation in the summer capital is “under control”, Ahmed added, “They didn’t allow us to even pray properly. They have crossed all boundaries this time around.”
Government officials have told the media that the Valley has been peaceful. Barring a major demonstration in Srinagar’s Soura Friday, there hasn’t been any report (media or official) of disturbance anywhere in the Valley, largely on account of the massive security deployment and curbs in place in Kashmir.
But major parts of south Kashmir, the hotbed of local militancy, seem free from the clampdown, with security deployment focused on strategic intersections — a result, say residents, of tensions that predate the Article 370 move.
“We heard Srinagar has been made a fortress. They (security forces) can’t do this here,” said Ahmed, the shopkeeper. “Restrictions exist here but the Army knows how far they can push us.”
J&K Police ‘cornered’
Another channel of tensions runs through the interactions between the Jammu & Kashmir Police and paramilitary personnel posted here, lending weight to reports that local policemen are being cornered in security operations amid anger in Kashmir, despite the fact that they have emerged as a frontline force against the militancy.
Asked if people were angry, a paramilitary officer responded, “Yes, extremely, but we are too many.”
“How are police responding?” this correspondent asked.
“Bahut aakrosh hai (there is a lot of rage),” the officer replied, before a colleague chimed in with a smile, “Lekin aakrosh ka karenge kya? Bandook toh leyli (What will they do with the rage? Their guns have been taken).”
At a distance, two officers of J&K Police, without weapons or name tags, are seen roaming the streets of Shopian. They don’t want to discuss what is happening in Kashmir. But some of their peers told ThePrint that reports of a rift between the paramilitary and police are true.
A police officer posted in Shopian claimed there had already been four “incidents” between police and paramilitary personnel. He added that there was no violence, only verbal arguments, saying the standoff was only defused after senior officers intervened.
Even so, police and paramilitary remain hopeful that the situation will improve after Independence day.
CRPF officers checking cars at Nikas village in Pulwama said they anticipate trouble in the future, but are confident. “We will handle the situation,” one officer said as he patted down a local youth for screening.
A desperate silence
A familiar despair stalks the residents of Pulwama as in Srinagar: With communication curbs nearly completing two weeks bar the odd fit and start, several people are now desperate to hear from family members outside Kashmir.
ThePrint visited the deputy commissioner’s office at Pulwama around 10.45 am to find nearly two dozen people waiting in a queue on the main road despite the rain. While some had taken shelter under shops, others were prepared to get drenched.
“People are desperate to talk to their loved ones outside Kashmir. We are being patient but how much can we take?” said one of the men, Abdul Khaliq. “My parents are performing Haj. I have no idea how they are. I want to hear my mother’s voice just once. For once, if she tells me that they are doing well, I can sleep peacefully for a night.”
A 70-year-old retired government employee said he was waiting to call his daughter in Gwalior and quell her worries about him.
“She must be worried about her father. I am old, you see,” he added.
He said he had been coming to the office for three days straight. On the fourth, locals brought out a chair as soon as they saw him.
Gulashan, a local woman, said she had been coming there for three days as well. “They tell us that there is only one phone, which is with the DC, and that the DC hasn’t come to office. I don’t know if it is a truth or a lie,” she said. “Allah knows better.”
Mohamaad Yosuf was there with two labourers, Farooq and Irfan, who wanted to call up their families in Bihar. Seeing the people interact with the media, a local policeman asked them all to come inside the office.
Meanwhile, in Shopian, this reporter ran into a queue of people waiting to withdraw cash. “The last time there was cash was 11 days ago,” said one of the men. “Zulm (injustice).” Others nodded.
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