On the cold morning of February 9, as the faithful were leaving home for Namaz, a very fragile hope of normalcy returning to Kashmir valley broke. A sudden presence of security forces early in the morning in the streets alarmed the residents.
"Cordons and security presence can't
be for nothing. We have lived in Kashmir during years of turmoil, everybody could realise something was wrong," said Bilal Ahmad, a resident of old town, Srinagar. Though, news channels were airing their normal programmes in the morning; speculation was rife in the valley due to sudden increase in security. "I was woken up by a phone call from a friend. The first thing he asked was whether Afzal Guru had been hanged," said a senior journalist. He added, "A phone call to a senior policeman confirmed the news."
Fearing a repeat of earlier violent protests, the administration imposed a curfew in Srinagar the night before Guru's hanging. In Sopore, which also happen to be the bastion of hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, curfew was imposed only after news of the hanging broke.
Afzal Guru, who many Kashmiris believed did not get a fair trail before being condemned to death, was mourned by people. In no time, cries and sighs of sorrow filled the air. Not informing Guru's family only worsened the situation. Guru's wife Tabassum, who works in a private hospital in Sopore, had already left for work. "The move alienated Kashmir further from the rest of India. While the rest of the country is rejoicing, Kashmir is in mourning," said Noor M Baba, head, political science, Kashmir University.
It's a relief, though, says a senior police officer, that the situation didn't go as bad as it was in 2010 protests. The state government has issued a directive that no arms will be carried while handling protesters.
"We have learnt costly lessons in the past. The no-use-of-firearms directive has worked," said chief minister Omar Abdullah.
While curfew was relaxed in a few areas, volatile areas like Srinagar, Baramula and Sopore remained under lockdown. "Protests don't happen individually. People were shocked and did not get time to mobilise," said a stone-pelter in Sopore.
Loud speakers play songs of freedom and matrydom amid protests from the villagers in Afzal Guru's village in Sopore. But the mood inside the two-storey building where Afzal's family lives is sombre. Sitting in a corner, shocked Tabassum, shows no signs of emotion.
Her father is now concerned more about her son Ghalib's future, "He has a long life ahead, he is just in class eight. I want him away from all this.''
In the meantime, a group of early teenaged boys on realising the presence of the media, start raising slogans of 'Azadi'. When asked what 'Azadi' means, the boys said, "We don't want India. They killed Afzal Guru, they can kill us as well."
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