The tension in the violence-hit Kashmir Valley over the Amarnath land transfer row has entered its sixth week now and the death toll across the state is climbing everyday. The protests were initially about the land row, but have now flared up to include the alleged excesses of the security forces in the Valley towards the Kashmiri protestors.
Reports of violence, protests and police brutality have been rampant in the Valley for some time now. On Aug 11, local residents, fruit growers and traders, who were badly hit by the economic blockade in the region, decided to march over to Pakistan to break the blockade. In order to thwart the march, the security forces are alleged to have used tear-gas and live ammunition on the protestors, injuring many in the process. A prominent Hurriyat Conference leader, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, was also killed in Baramullah, in the police firing, fuelling angry protests. A curfew was clamped in Srinagar, but thousands defied the blanket curfew to attend the slain leader's funeral. When an angry mob razed a police booth at a hospital entrance, the police retaliated by forcing their way into the hospital wards. According to a doctor, the security forces fired tear gas in the wards. "Even the doctors were beaten badly. They (security forces) opened direct fire on the hospital emergency unit," said Mohammad Irfan, an IT professional.
The locals also allege that the CRPF personnel forced entry into some houses in the night. "Last night (Aug 13) CRPF personnel even entered a mosque in Pulwama and started indiscriminate firing, killing many and injuring over 100," said Muzafar Ahmad, a software professional in Srinagar. "It seems that the Central government has given full control and authority to the security forces who are brutal and ruthless with us," he added.
On Aug 14, shoot-on-sight orders were imposed in Kishtwar town in the Valley, after thousands violated the blanket curfew to attend the funeral of Sheikh Aziz - something that the International human rights took note of. "Shoot-on-sight orders are a clear violation of the right to life, of international standards of law enforcement," said Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Director Sam Zarifi.
But the issue seems far from abating. Since Wednesday night, Srinagar residents are out on streets in response to calls by local mosques, to protest the police brutality. "Excesses are being committed by security forces in the name of controlling the 'highly volatile situation' in the state," said PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti, who, along with JKLF leader Yasin Malik, sat on a dharna outside Raj Bhavan and Lal Chowk.
For the Kashmiris, the common sentiment is the 'obvious' discrimination between the people of Jammu and Kashmir Valley. "In Jammu, the protestors were showered with water cannons. But in Srinagar, they fired bullets at us. About 2-3 people were killed in police action in Jammu, while over 20 were killed in Srinagar by the same security forces. Why this discrimination?" asked Nissar, a computer professional. Like him, most Kashmiris rue the soft approach towards protestors in Jammu as against the brutality meted out to those in Srinagar. "There is also a disproportionate use of firearms in both the cities. Our people have been ruthlessly shot at in the chest, in the abdomen," said Noor, who has been at the local hospital, nursing the injured.
Following the incoming reports, the Human Rights Watch expressed concern at the fact that the ongoing agitation has snowballed into dangerous proportions. In its wake, the Central government shifted out the CRPF Inspector General from the J&K capital, also removing his name from the list of those selected for this year's President's police medal for distinguished services.
In all this, what remains to be seen is that even in the midst of the violence and bloodshed, not a single Amarnath Yatri has been harmed. "Even today, there are many people from all over India and outside who feel safe here in Kashmir. No one is touching them, because no matter what the perceptions are, we Kashmiris are not communal," said Muzafar.
"Everyone can see that the Yatra is going on peacefully. We could have jeopardized the Yatra, but we will never do anything like that. We have no issues with the common people. No one has been hurt among the Yatris and we will never let anything like that happen," said Mohammad Irfan.
It might be a silver lining in this whole dark cloud looming over the Valley at the moment, but it's definitely a straw to hold on to, in order to work out a solution to the whole issue which is threatening to engulf not just the Kashmir Valley but the whole sub-continent at present.