Soura: An upscale and largely peaceful residential neighbourhood in Srinagar called Soura that featured in the controversial BBC video has now become the unlikely epicentre of protests against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s abrogation of Article 370.
This is no Lal Chowk. In fact, people in Soura have traditionally supported pro-India politicians. Kashmir’s biggest medical college and hospital are located in Soura, making it one of the busiest zones in the capital.
The neighborhood began to change in the aftermath of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s death in 2016. But now in the wake of the Article 370 decision, Soura has become a hotspot for unrest. Slogans heard during the days of the insurgency three decades ago are resurfacing, and calls to fight back are echoing loud and clear.
The abrogation of Article 370 might just be the final nail in the coffin for Soura, which so far served as a fragile middle ground.
“To protect Kashmir, we can and we will pay with our lives,” a protester named Shabir Dar told ThePrint. “If the Modi government thinks they can get away by taking away what is dear to us, our identity, then we are ready to extinguish our entire existence while fighting.”
He added that the seed for the “movement” had been sown in Soura. “With time, you will see it spread everywhere,” he said.
‘We can & will pay with our lives’
When Wani, the social-media-savvy militant known to have given the Kashmir militancy a modern face, was killed in a gunbattle with security forces in south Kashmir on 8 July 2016, Soura erupted in violent clashes.
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Ever since, the region has only shown an increasing affinity towards the separatist sentiment, its low voting percentage indicative of the diminishing space for mainstream politicians. Even today, the Anchaar locality in Soura is plastered with posters of Wani, posing with an AK-47.
Soura became the face of Kashmir’s anger over the abrogation of Article 370 last week after the British media house BBC beamed viral footage of dozens of Kashmiris out on the roads, protesting, amid purported sounds of gunfire in the background.
According to BBC journalist Nicola Careem, the video was shot after prayers on the first Friday following the decision.
The government, however, denied there’d been any protests involving more than 20 people, with J&K Police saying Saturday that no firing incident had taken place in Kashmir in six days.
The truth is that people in Soura have protested. The residents of this area managed to defy the restrictions in place because large pockets in the interiors are not deployed with soldiers, owing to the risk it might pose.
Everywhere else, including the volatile downtown, the security presence and restrictions have been successful in keeping people inside their homes.
During early periods of unrest Soura remained largely quiet. Its proximity to the 90 Feet Road, which links Srinagar to Ganderbal, has sent Soura’s land prices soaring in the past decade. It is also known as the gateway to Ladakh. During the winter, Soura is always the top priority for the government to clear the snow because of the hospital.
But today Soura, which has had large pockets of support for Valley-based mainstream political parties, particularly the National Conference, is changing rapidly.
Comparisons with Palestine, the West Asian territory where Arabs were driven out of their homes as Europe’s persecuted Jews sought to reclaim their “ancient homeland”, are fuelling passions further.
On Sunday afternoon, hundreds of locals gathered at the Jenab Sahib mosque in Soura and raised pro-freedom and anti-India slogans. Women from all walks of life gathered in front of the mosque and took out a march. “We want freedom” was among the many slogans they raised.
“People here know politics (siyasat) too well to not know what is happening,” said college student Rifat Amin. “Have we not seen settler colonies in Palestine? Haven’t their lands been stolen and homes bulldozed? If they want to make Kashmir a second Palestine, then let them do what they want. We will do what we have to.”
The sentiment is shared by not only an overwhelming number of people in Soura but also in major parts of Srinagar. Not only has the abrogation and subsequent clampdown made people feel completely cornered, they also sense a stifling of their religious rights.
“If the restrictions that have been imposed so far stay as they are on Eid… If we are not able to properly celebrate this holy day, consider that this will be taken as an assault on our religion too,” protester Sultan Mohammad told ThePrint a day before Eid.
As it turned out, Eid was observed in Kashmir amid strict curbs despite Prime Minister Modi’s assurance of a “smooth Eid”.
On Sunday evening, a day before Eid, police drove around, asking people to go indoors. In the morning, people were stopped from praying at major mosques. In Soura, the night before Eid, clashes ensued as police arrived for a raid.
Paramilitary officials posted in the area confirmed the clashes, but said it was a minor incident that ended within minutes.
When ThePrint arrived in Soura on Eid, people were enraged about what had happened Sunday night.
“They came in hurling abuses and banging on our doors. It must have been 11 pm, we decided to fight back,” said a youngster. “The clashes went on till 3.45 am.”
Iftikar Ahmed, a local shopkeeper in his 50s, said: “We were awake the whole night. Perhaps police wanted to arrest some of us, but we made sure no one has to spend Eid locked in a prison.”
At a distance, this reporter heard young men raise a slogan popularised in the early 1990s that marked the start of the Kashmir insurgency — “There is only one solution, Gun Solution Gun Solution.”
Ahmed sighed. “They are pushing them against the wall,” he said, as the slogans grew louder.
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