A crowd carried a teen on their shoulders, marching towards what appeared to be a Tricolour painted on the road in a narrow alley in Downtown Srinagar. Green flags — Pakistani and Islamic — fluttered as the young man led the chants: “Iss par bhi lenge/Uss par bhi lenge” and the crowd followed with “azaadi”.
The painted image depicting the Indian national flag was trampled upon as the mass of bodies passed.
Curfew-struck Srinagar saw intense protests on Monday as scores of men and women came out in the Fateh Kadal area to protest against the killing of 18-year-old Irfan Ahmad, an auto-rickshaw river who died when a tear-gas shell hit his chest and ruptured his heart on Sunday evening. He was ‘brought dead’ to Srinagar’s SMHS hospital, taking the death toll to 67 in the ongoing crisis.
Men and women stood in separate groups and shouted anti-India slogans and sang protest songs, punctuated with: “Mera bhaai, tera bhaai/ Burhan bhaai Burhan bhaai”, referring to Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, whose killing in an encounter with security forces on July 8 triggered the protests in the Valley.
On Monday, HT visited Fateh Kadal, which falls in the old city area, and spoke with Irfan’s brother Ejaz Ahmad and friends. People, including a sister of the deceased, defied curfew to attend protests in the area. Relatives wept to mourn their dead.
Ejaz remembered Irfan as a hardworking auto-rickshaw driver who had brought his second rickshaw a few days back. “He was a warm-hearted and hardworking boy,” he said.
Relatives said Irfan was returning home in the evening after visiting his newlywed sister, and was not part of the protests.
The police version of the events, however, defers — they said Irfan was among the protestors pelting stones at the time of the incident. He became a target of the shell when the forces used it to quell protests.
Friends on the other hand refuse to believe Irfan was part of the protesting mob, and claim he was “targeted”.
“He was a fighter for freedom. The local policemen knew him and previously there were instances when they had threatened him with dire consequences,” said a friend who did not wish to be named.
“Irfan was the main breadwinner of the family. They had lost their father last year,” another friend added.
Late on Sunday night, when the news of Irfan’s death spread, scores of people gathered at the famous Jamia Masjid in Srinagar and offered funeral prayers. Sources said paramilitary soldiers were withdrawn to avoid confrontation with the protesting youth coming out in parts of the old city.
Overall, Srinagar remained tense throughout the day on Monday as civil life remained paralysed for the 45th straight day. Curfew and restrictions remained in places across the Valley.
Separatists have already extended the ongoing protest shutdown till August 25.
Rallies and protest marches were reported from Shopian district and Sopore town of Kashmir, while a few incidents of stone-pelting were reported in Srinagar.