Srinagar: When he leaves home at Nowhatta in downtown Srinagar every morning, this 28-year-old is a student at a medical college, replete with an identity card (I-card). It is only when he reaches his destination — the police station that he is posted at — does he reveal who he really is: A constable with the Jammu and Kashmir Police.
Ever since the Modi government scrapped Article 370, stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status, the 83,000-strong state police force, which has been unpopular with large sections of the Kashmir Valley, has had to contend with greater scorn — derided by residents as “traitors”, seen as legitimate targets by militants and viewed, at times, with suspicion by the central paramilitary forces they serve with.
But paramount of these troubles, says the 28-year-old constable, is concealing identity from residents during off duty hours. “We usually do not take a posting next to where we live,” he says. “When we step out of the house, we are in our civil clothes. We wear our uniforms only after we reach our police station.”
A head constable next to him pulls out another I-card that reads ‘university faculty’; he has another that shows him as a J&K policeman.
“I walk around with this to show that I am a teacher,” he says. “I juggle between these two identities.
“Since 5 August, I have been taking a detour of 13 km from my home just to avoid stretches where I could be stopped by residents,” adds the head constable. “We even fear for our families. What if some residents attack our families just because we work in the J&K police?”
The constable says that he has to keep up the charade even before other forces. “It has happened in the past,” he says. “Once, a few investigators from the central agencies had come to collect information on an individual from my locality. They asked me but I could not divulge anything as I knew I was being watched by the residents. I had to tell them that I am a medical student and know nothing. That is how you survive here.”
Former J&K DGP Vaid told ThePrint that these I-cards are a “defence mechanism” for the police personnel.
“It is not the first time that they have resorted to such means. It is a necessity, an intelligent way to avoid a clash, an attack,” Vaid says. “They are not only unpopular with the locals, but also are on the radar of the militants for being in the police force despite being a Kashmiri, so they have to come up with these measures to protect themselves.”
ADG Law and Order, J&K police, Munir Khan, acknowledges that there is a threat to the local police personnel on the ground but he was unaware that they carry multiple identity cards with them.
“Their security is a concern, so we keep issuing them advisories on how to take care of themselves,” Khan says. “We have police colonies for them but since all of them cannot be accommodated there, most of them still stay with their families.”
‘Viewed with suspicion by central forces’
If the residents despise them, the constable says it is no better with central paramilitary forces they work with.
“Standing against the residents does not mean we get any acceptance from the central forces,” the 28-year-old says. “They see themselves as superior to us and do not trust us as we belong here to Kashmir. They do not show any respect.
“We are just stuck in between,” he adds.
The head constable backs him. “Even when we are in uniform, they (central forces) ask us to show our I-cards. When we do, they ask us for supportive documents,” he says. “This is just to put us down and show that they are the superior and more equipped force.”
All of this, the head constable says, has made many in the force “rethink” their decision.
Another head constable rank personnel also alleges that “unfair recruitment practices” of the government has left them with no option but to join the police force.
“There was so much corruption that all jobs were just given through backdoor entries after paying bribes. I am a double post-graduate in commerce and education,” the personnel says. “I have two sisters and a mother, who keeps unwell. I have to support a family. So, I had no choice but to take up the police job. Or else I would not be here standing against our own men.”
There has been more discontent following speculation that they may soon be disarmed and asked to surrender their weapons.
While some personnel on the ground tell ThePrint that they were indeed asked to give up their weapons and get them deposited, ADG Munir Khan dismisses the charges as “baseless”.
“This is a designed and manipulated rumour. The ones who are seen without a weapon on the ground are personnel from the law and order component,” Khan says. “They have shields and batons, not weapons. The units that deal with anti-militancy operations carry weapons. Their situation is no different.”
‘Will bring back the 1990s’ militancy’
Many J&K police personnel ThePrint spoke to fear that the sudden decision to scrap the state’s special status could revive militancy like in the 1990s.
“This has just increased the problem. Everything was going well,” says an Inspector rank officer.
“The government could have easily wooed Kashmiris by slowly bringing in development and progress. This sudden action will just take Kashmir back to the ’90s.”
“There has to be a dialogue with the people. The political leaders have to be released,” he adds. “Till when can these restrictions be imposed?”
He also claimes that since Article 370 was scrapped, many personnel have handed in their resignations.
“There have been over 16 resignations and more are going to follow. Once this starts, more will join,” says the head constable. “We do not have the figures yet as there is a communication lockdown but once lines open, the figures will be out in the open. There is a lot of discontentment amount Kashmiris who are in the force.”
The claim is, however, denied by a senior police officer of the force. “This is wrong. There have been no resignations and the force of J&K stands firm and together. These rumours are being spread to break the morale of the force.”
But the force hasn’t been immune to its personnel turning rebel and sympathetic towards the residents and militants.
In 1993, hundreds of personnel came out on the streets of Srinagar city brandishing their service weapons, protesting the killing of constable Reyaz Ahmed Ganaie, resident of Dumpora Inderkoot Sumbal area of North Kashmir’s Bandipora district, who was allegedly shot dead by Army personnel at Hazratbal Dargah.
The then DGP B.S. Bedi was asked to negotiate with the leaders of the police coordination committee.
But even back then, says ex-DGP Vaid, the force faced hostility from residents. “I remember in the ’90s when my own deputy SP was killed in a clash, the locals did not allow to get him buried in his village as he was in the police,” says Vaid. “We senior officers are oblivious to these pressures but these men have to live and die with their folks. Their struggle is real.”