Caught in the line of fire: Lives of CRPF men in Kashmir
“Indian Dogs Go Back” reads graffiti daubed on streets of Old Srinagar. Junctions are christened “Shaheed Burhan Chowk” after the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, whose killing last month triggered violent protests.
Near the Jamia Masjid, where two militants and a CRPF commander were killed on August 15, sit a group of the force’s men—from Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Kerala and Tamil Nadu—with their blue armored vehicle parked nearby.
The mosque is empty, so are the streets. But that is for now.
“Every evening, there is heavy stone-pelting,” says the Andhraite jawan. “We take the stones, but are supposed to retaliate within ‘maximum restraint’... reduce using pellets and tear gas shells.”
The protests since Wani’s killing on July 8 had boiled over as agitators started raining stones on security forces. The retaliation left 67 dead and thousands injured, triggering a debate over the use of pellets and tear gas shells to quell protests.
“If we get injured, no newspaper publishes our photo,” the jawan said, explaining how they are caught between the devil and deep sea—the frenzied mob and the “orders from above”.
During HT’s tour of restive Srinagar, witnesses said protesters generally shout slogans against the CRPF rather than the local police.
“You don’t know what will happen when the stone-pelting starts,” says the Bengali trooper. Pointing to the vehicle, he says, “This bunker… they can put petrol and burn it down,” leaving them without a vehicle to go back to their camps. The wait for another one might take hours.
Worse is when the phone lines go down, cutting out contact with their families, who “get worried watching television news”.
Some of the men do not tell their wives or parents what they face here.
“If I tell my wife back in a village in Karnataka that I face stones from protesters every day, she will say leave your job and come back home,” says a jawan.
An Assamese trooper, standing guard near Lal Chowk in Srinagar, however said his family would be happy to know about him and asked if his picture would come in the papers.
At Khanyar locality in Downtown Srinagar, a Tripura jawan said he had no clue about the Olympic feat of gymnast Dipa Karmakar who is from his state. “I am so caught up here that I have missed other news.”
“My company was in Manipur a few weeks ago. Orders came that situation in Kashmir was bad and we needed to make a move. We packed our bedding, picked up our guns, and within four hours found ourselves in Srinagar,” he said.
None of the CRPF personnel wished to be named as they were not authorised to speak to media.
But one jawan, who did not wish even his native state to be reported, summed up the situation: “Kashmiris want azaadi. India won’t give it. Between the two, we are caught in the line of fire.”