My cameraman and I set out for Baramulla, 52 km west of Srinagar, in the morning. All was quiet as we drove through the city; shops closed; hardly any traffic.
But barely nine km out of Srinagar, it was a very different scene. Here we encountered our first group of angry young men. Faces wrapped in cloth, hands gripping bricks or bamboo sticks, most of them seemed extremely young. We identified ourselves as ‘Media!’ and they let us pass, though not without drumming on our car with their sticks and complaining, “Media doesn’t depict the real situation in Kashmir.”
Another few kilometers and another road block by young men. ‘Media’ was not enough for them; they wanted to know details. When we said we were from Hindustan Times, one young man with a pony tail shouted, “Anyone related to the Indian state is unwelcome here.” We argued that we were independent, not part of the Indian state. It made no difference. We were not allowed to pass along the highway. Luckily we found a diversion through a fruit market and kutcha roads that enabled us to elude them.
We reached Pattan, 30 km from Srinagar. We saw an army ambulance lying on its side in the middle of the road – in flames. It was surrounded by another group of young men. What happened, I asked. “We burnt the vehicle,” one of the youths said. Why? “They misbehave with our women, that’s why.”
There was a traffic jam ahead which showed no sign of moving. “There’s a big demonstration ahead,” an old man, a bystander, informed us. “You can’t move ahead.”
We tried to proceed along the wrong side of the road. But not for long. Yet one more group of young men stopped us. “Go back, no one is allowed to go further,” their leader said. “So what if you are media? No one is stopping the killing of our brothers.”
We waited awhile, but finally had no choice but to turn back.