Kashmir unrest: Cops face their ‘own people’ in line of duty
Police vehicle driver Feroz Ahmad was killed last Sunday when a mob attacked his mobile bunker and pushed it into the Jhelum river in volatile south Kashmir’s Anantnag district.
A Kashmiri himself, Ahmad perished in the violence that erupted across the Valley after the killing of Hizbul Mujahedeen militant Burhan Wani. He is one of the thousands of policemen caught in the crossfire between protesters fuelled by pro-Kashmiri sentiments and a state they are paid to fight for.
What makes their job more difficult is that the person on the other side of their barrel is often a friend or a neighbour, a fellow Kashmiri fighting against the state.
“Yes, we are up against our own people. But we have a job to do, a family to feed,” says a senior police officer posted in south Kashmir, who was hit by stones during the recent clashes that left 36 dead and 1,300 injured.
In times of unrest, the Valley’s policemen are up against people from their own community — many of whom disapprove of the Indian state and its ‘representatives’. Data says J-K Police have 83,000 personnel and a majority of those posted in the Valley are Kashmiri Muslims. Apart from controlling protests, they play an integral part in intelligence gathering and other security operations.
Observers say these Kashmiri policemen are the “first point of contact” of angry locals with the state and, hence, become the obvious targets of their wrath.
Cops explained to HT that although the civilian-policemen relation is marked by animosity in many places across the world, in conflict zones such as Kashmir — where separatist sentiments are widespread — the relation deteriorates.
“In stone-pelting by protesting youth, it’s Kashmiri policemen who are injured and on the other hand in militant attacks, we are killed. We tread a tough line,” a senior officer said. Many cops said that revealing a person works for the police becomes a problem “even in the family” because the civilian population does not like any “representatives of the state”.
In the protests following Wani’s death, at least three police stations were torched, weapons snatched and policemen fired upon. Numerous other incidents of civilian attacks on local policemen were reported, including one from Pulwama where local residents entered the a cop’s house and thrashed his wife and children.
On Tuesday, the separatists issued a statement asking Kashmiri policemen to “look inwards” and ask themselves “why they have become an instrument of repression at the hands of Indian authorities in killing and injuring their own children and young men”. But they are often among those maimed and injured.
Last December, a Srinagar police officer was hit in the eye by a stone during protests and suffered serious injuries.
In May, three policemen were gunned down by militants in two consecutive attacks on the same day in Srinagar.
A few days later, two policemen were killed in Anantnag district in another similar attack. The Son of one of the cops killed in Srinagar told reporters that his father was “innocent” and had never participated in any “anti-militancy operations”.
Soon after those attacks, the now-dead Wani released a video in which he justified the killings.
“We always knew Indian army is our enemy, but the state policemen, though they are our own, compel us to take action against them,” Wani had said, adding that from now on there would be no “warnings” but direct attacks.