As Delhi debated concessions for troubled Kashmir on Wednesday, the streets were seething with anger over one of the biggest — but unacknowledged — causes for growing alienation: Stifling curfews and humiliation by security forces.
For the first time in 10 years, the entire Valley is under curfew— one of the strictest as the unrest enters the 94th day.
People are running out of milk, vegetables and baby food. Those who leave home for essentials are chased down by security forces and, if caught, rarely escape unhurt. The police said a curfew implies restrictions, but the often-brutal enforcement is spreading anger.
On the Internet and in homes, there's a term for it — "collective punishment". Paramilitary officer Prabhakar Tripathi admitted to HT "some men don't seem to be listening" to "clear directives" for restraint.
"People are being manhandled everywhere, even in upmarket Rajbagh, where stone-pelting is unheard of," said Sajad Ahmed, repeatedly beaten outside his Rajbagh office on Wednesday after an altercation with a CRPF trooper. "Our staff has been living in office since curfew began and we just wanted to find food for them."
Ahmed was luckier than most, as he works for the media. The CRPF removed the erring trooper and registered a rare formal complaint. Most incidents have gone unreported over the last three months, with most resigning to humiliation.
On Monday, when 17 people were killed and 100 injured across the Valley in Koran-burning rumours, only four of 60 ambulance drivers were available by noon at the Valley's premium medical facility, the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences. Police did not allow 56 drivers to report for work.
One of them was Abdul Rashid (57), who said he was picking up hospital staff when he was pulled over. "They stopped me at 9 am, pulled me out of the vehicle and tore my curfew pass," Rashid told a news portal. "The man abused me and struck his rifle butt against the ambulance door. This, despite explaining how important it was for me to get to work."
Dr Waseem Qureshi, medical superintendent of Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, another major hospital in Srinagar, said the situation improved on Wednesday after complaints.
CRPF spokesman Tripathi, who also commands a battalion, acknowledged excesses.
"We have asked our men to honour curfew passes and be considerate... but those who try to break curfew will face problems," he said.
"In some places an argument leads to beating... Complaints can be registered with the local commandant and action will be taken."
Tripathi said new battalions coming to the state were "being sensitised" to be more humane.
"Milkmen who make early rounds have told us how security forces have spilled their supplies and beaten them," said Mohammed Sheikh, a storeowner, "For three days my customers have been asking for milk but I have nothing to offer."
Ashiq Hussein, from Nowpora in downtown Srinagar recounted how a fisherwomen was beaten: "She later said she had no money to feed her children, that's why she ventured out in the curfew."
Tripathi said personnel on the streets are often the main target of stone-pelting mobs and sometimes take out their frustration on commuters.
Asif Qureshi, bureau chief of Star News, was recently made to clear stones on the roadside by the CRPF.
"All Kashmiris represent stone-pelters for securitymen," he said. "They asked me to clear the road, telling me my brethren had thrown them."