Srinagar: A locality in an upscale Srinagar neighbourhood — the epicentre of the protests against the abrogation of Article 370 — has fortified itself, with residents erecting barricades that are almost 5-8 feet tall and made of wooden logs, pieces of iron and even old tyres.
Residents of Aanchar, the most restive of localities in the Soura neighbourhood, which was the bone of contention between the BBC and the union home ministry, strictly control the entry and exit points to their locality.
This has led to some western media outlets to describe the neighbourhood as ‘Kashmir’s Gaza’. The Gaza strip or Gaza is a territory controlled by the Hamas in Palestine bordering Israel. It is under an economic and political boycott.
Outsiders, including the media, are viewed with suspicion due to a paranoia that they could be working for “Indian agencies”, the local parlance for intelligence agencies. Residents of the township, which has a population of nearly 20,000 to 22,000, spend their nights maintaining a vigil and preventing security forces from “breaching” their barricades.
The security forces, they claim, have tried to breach the barricades on at least five or six occasions last week. They allege that the forces have stepped up their offensive since BBC reported that there had been a massive demonstration here on 9 April.
BBC reported that thousands had taken to the streets in Soura and put out a small video clip to claim that security forces resorted to violence, even firing, to quell the protesters. The central government issued a swift denial. The channel then released the entire raw footage of the protest and has stuck by its reporting.
The area has since witnessed multiple demonstrations.
‘Being picked up outside’
Two weeks since the first protest, however, residents have been confined to their homes, alleging that they are being detained by security forces when they step out of the area.
A number of them, especially the youth, say security forces have been arresting residents after checking their identification cards, which has Aanchar written under the address section.
Aadil, a local resident, said police had attempted to break the “civilian barricades” 10 times in the last two weeks to make arrests but failed to do so after protests by men and women of the locality.
“This is why they are arresting us from outside,” Aadil said. According to him, security forces have tried to enter the area every night for the past five days. “They usually come between 12:30 am and 4 am. From whatever knowledge I have, no one has been detained so far.”
Another resident said police had attempted to “breach” the barricades at three places. “We have closed all the entry and exit points,” the local said. “At three nakas, the police tried to enter but we repelled their advances.”
That has, however, left residents to fend for themselves.
“A dog recently bit me and I need to get injections which are available in a hospital located on the other side of town,” said a youth who wished not to be named. “I have been afraid that if I go out of Aanchar I will be caught. But I will be making an attempt soon.”
ThePrint reached a senior official of the J&K police who did not deny the claims of such detentions but added, “We are trying to get the situation under control.”
Once an NC bastion
The protests are a far cry from the days when the larger Soura neighbourhood, including Aanchar, was a bastion of the National Conference (NC) up until the late 1980s. The neighbourhood is about 14 km north of the city square of Lal Chowk and is fairly prosperous.
Its population is mostly from the middle and lower-middle classes. The local economy revolves around Srinagar’s biggest hospital, the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), which is located in Soura.
There are pharmacies, eateries, rented accommodations, transportation, all of which are dependent on SKIMS. The youth here are also involved in artisan work and with parts of the Dal Lake bisecting the Soura region, the inhabitants here have been able to generate jobs in agriculture.
A number of them also trade in vegetables indigenous to the Dal.
The ‘rigged’ election of 1987
Soura’s turn away from mainstream politics began after the alleged rigging of the 1987 election in favour of the NC. The region had a strong sentiment in favour of a plebiscite in the state, a demand that was also advocated by NC chief Sheikh Abdullah until the Sheikh-Indira accord of 1975.
Soura has a familial connection with the NC — the Abdullahs originally belong to the neighbourhood.
But it never reconciled itself to the 1987 elections when the then Muslim United Front, or MUF, accused the Congress government of Rajiv Gandhi in New Delhi of rigging the elections to favour Farooq Abdullah and his NC.
Soura was divided when militancy erupted in 1989 but a senior police officer, on the condition of anonymity, said the real change came in the mid-90s.
“Between 1989 and 1996 the separatist footprint in the area had grown massively. Things, however, started to change in 1996,” the officer said. “Dr Qasim Faqtoo, who was from the area, gained a lot of popularity and after his imprisonment, so did his wife Asiya Andrabi. The region has not looked back since in terms of ideology,” the officer added.
“Today there might not be any known militant commander from or in the area but it has always welcomed insurgents.”
The official further said that after militancy dipped, demonstrations and violent clashes took over, most particularly in the unrests of 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2016.