Protest strike marks 2012 conclusion in Kashmir
South Kashmir township continues to be under curfew for the fourth consecutive day as police is busy in raids and detaining youth for “inciting violence”.
The strike, 22nd in 2012, has crippled life across Kashmir. Roads are deserted, businesses and educational institutions locked as offices reported a thin attendance. Rival factions of the Hurriyat Conference supported the strike call. Though the government has already announced a magisterial probe into the incidents, and later registered a formal case against the soldiers for resorting to firing on the civilians, it has not restored any kind of confidence in the town that move out to protest once deployments start thinning in the evening.
The crisis erupted on Friday when a mixed contingent of Special Operations Group (SOG) and soldiers from 55-Rashtriya Rifles raided Bubgam village in Pulwama outskirts and an encounter started. Two officers – a Major and a Captain were injured along with a head constable of SOG in the encounter that led to the killing of both the militants holed up in the village.
As reports of civilian casualties started circulating, the people became restive and some of them started moving towards the nearly-concluded-encounter site. The security forces used a mix of tear smoke shells and a lot of firing. A total of seven persons received bullet injuries including a youth Jehangir who was hit by a stray bullet in a neighbouring village. While police said they were caught in the crossfire, residents say the victims were actually targeted.
It was sheer coincidence that when the army was evacuating its injured to the hospital, the civilians were also rushing with their casualties. As a civilian sumo carrying Jenahgir made a bid to overtake the army convoy, its tiers were deflated in the main Pulwama town and another spell of shooting hit his two cousins Gowhar, Showkat and brother Ashiq who were carrying him. Jehagir, in fact, was hit by another bullet. While two of them were discharged, two are still admitted in two hospitals of Srinagar. It triggered chaos in the entire town as local hospital said they had 15 injures – 11 with bullets and four with tear smoke canisters. As the tensions led to the stone pelting, authorities imposed curfew restrictions.
Police said they did not fire bullets but used tear smoke to control mobs who “attacked” army ambulance. Army said they did not attack civilians because they were evacuating injured and the convoy was escorted by the police. But witnesses said army was the principle bullet sprayer and police was playing second fiddle. Civilian officials said the police had failed in creating a buffer between the encounter site and gathering of civilians despite knowing some of them were about to move in and seek the dead bodies of slain militants.
While curfew restrictions continue, authorities have announced a magisterial probe by a middle rung civil administration officer into the incident. Meanwhile, the police have registered a formal case (FIR No 399/2012) under sections 148, 149 (rioting with deadly weapons), 336 (arson) and 307 (attempt to murder) of the Ranbir Penal Code (RPC) but it is an ‘open FIR’ against nobody.
Police have launched a drive to arrest the pro-active youth who are accusing of inciting violence and resorting to stone pelting. While more than 20 youth have been rounded up, in two instances formal cases have been registered.
Opposition PDP has called for an end to the “persecution of youth” on flimsy charges and end to the siege of the town. “It is a travesty of justice that while more than a dozen persons were injured in firing officially attributed to 'blocking traffic' no action is contemplated against the perpetrators but youth are arrested for having protested against it,” a statement issued by the two PDP lawmakers representing Rajpora-Pulwama constituencies said. They termed it “narrow minded repression” of the government which is “radicalising the youth.”