Srinagar: The Jammu & Kashmir Police is trying to rent property in downtown Srinagar for paramilitary personnel posted in the Valley, and the residents are not pleased.
Some residents have claimed that police harassed them when they refused to let out their premises and threatened to evacuate them, although police have denied the allegations.
Tens of thousands of paramilitary personnel, including members of the CRPF and the BSF, were deployed in the Valley in the days preceding the Modi government’s move to scrap Article 370, which gave the state a level of autonomy, on 5 August.
As of now, the personnel are either staying at battalion camps or government buildings. In some places, the forces have taken over vacant or under-construction homes and buildings. But this arrangement is unfeasible for the approaching winter, which routinely thrusts Kashmir and Ladakh into sub-zero temperatures and blankets of snow.
Residents allege evacuation threat
According to residents of Rainawari area in downtown Srinagar, the tensions triggered by the scrapping of Article 370 have been amplified by the recent police visits.
Residents said local police met with families in the locality and “asked them to rent out their homes” to accommodate personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
When the residents refused to do so, police allegedly demanded that they vacate their homes immediately. Police, the residents claimed, had visited the homes of locals at least four times this week.
“On their first visit, police told us that the government wanted to rent our homes so that CRPF troopers can stay here,” said a woman. “They suggested that we stay on the first floor of our home and the rest be taken over by the CRPF. When we refused, police started to abuse us.”
“The next few visits were more about making threats,” the woman added. “The local SHO (station house officer) Rashid Khan told us that we had to vacate our homes immediately.”
Another woman said the attempt to “take away our homes” had worsened the complicated situation brought on by “regular night raids wherein police try to grab our boys”. “Last week has been particularly aggressive,” she added.
Police denied the allegations of harassment, but acknowledged that some officers did meet residents to rent property.
“No one is being forced to rent out their homes. We will follow all departmental norms to acquire the properties on rent basis,” said Srinagar senior superintendent of police (SSP) Haseeb Mughal.
“Police are meeting locals only for this purpose, but no one will be forced to rent out their property. In any case, a lot of people are earning lakhs of rupees by renting out their homes to security forces. It is only those people who don’t want security forces in their locality that create this noise,” Mughal added. “The security forces are posted in an area for the protection of life and property.”
Security forces have conducted multiple raids in downtown Kashmir to arrest individuals they consider a risk here.
A third local resident said that the president of the resident welfare association was detained four days ago when he protested against the concertina wires placed in the area.
“The wires are being used for barricading us and monitoring the entry and exit of locals. When our president requested the police to remove the barricades because it was causing inconvenience to women folk he was detained,” he said.
North Srinagar superintendent of police (SP) Sajad Shah dismissed the allegations. “These are general allegations that people often make. Police deny the allegations of harassment.”
Efforts to find comfortable accommodation for the troopers, who are likely to stay in Jammu & Kashmir until March 2020, have gained pace as the winter draws closer.
As reported by ThePrint earlier this week, the Jammu & Kashmir administration is also identifying land to set up prefabricated huts for the paramilitary personnel.
The allegations have amplified tensions in downtown Srinagar, an area home to frequent stonepelting protests against security personnel.
They come as parts of Srinagar have once again been put under restrictions owing to apprehensions that Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s United Nations General Assembly address Friday, where he suggested an impending “bloodbath” in Kashmir, could have a potential effect on the law and order situation.
A grenade blast was reported in Srinagar Saturday afternoon, although there were no casualties, and three militants were killed in a gun battle with security forces in the Ganderbal region of north Kashmir the same day.
Kashmir has been under a communication lockdown since the scrapping of Article 370, which has heavily restricted the Valley’s contact with the outside world, and Khan said Kashmiris will come out in protest once the restrictions are lifted. There “will be another Pulwama”, he said, adding that Kashmiris “will be further radicalised” by the way India has “treated them worse than animals”.