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Burhan Wani's death and a year of living dangerously

Burhan Wani's death and a year of living dangerously

Curfew in Valley on Wani's death anniversary

Children cover their nose as they walk away from smoke shells fired by police during clashes in Srinagar on July 8, 2017, the first death anniversary of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.   | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

Clashes break out when protesters were blocked from reaching Burhan Wani’s family home at Tral in South Kashmir.

Curfew and other restrictions were imposed in large parts of the Kashmir Valley on Saturday, the first death anniversary of Hizbul Mujahideen “commander” Burhan Wani.

Wani was killed in a gunfight with security forces in the Kokernag area of Anantnag district last year.

A police official said all roads leading to Wani’s house in the Tral area of Pulwama were sealed. A bid to organise a march was foiled.

All major towns, including the capital Srinagar, were placed under tight security restrictions. Security forces disallowed any movement of vehicles. A police official said the situation was under control all day “due to well-planned measures taken on the ground”. However, clashes broke out in parts of Shopian, Pulwama, Srinagar and Anantnag. Security forces used smoke shells to disperse protesters.

 

Highway ban

The authorities stopped traffic on the Srinagar-Jammu highway. No Amarnath pilgrim was allowed to proceed to the Valley. Train services were also suspended. Internet services on landline and mobile phones were also suspended. Scores of quick-reaction teams were deployed around sensitive locations in south and north Kashmir “to keep militants at bay”.

However, three soldiers were injured on Saturday morning when militants opened fire at an Army patrol in Bandipora’s Hajin area. “All the injured are stable,” said the Army.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh chaired a high-level meeting to review the security scenario in the Valley. Separatist leaders, including Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Syed Ali Geelani and Yasin Malik, accused the security forces of “unleashing a reign of terror against civilian population on Wani’s anniversary”.

All top separatist leaders remained under house arrest. However, JKLF chief Yasin Malik was put in the Central jail.

Pak. PM pays tribute

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif paid tributes to Burhan Wani, saying his death “infused a new spirit in the struggle for freedom” in the Kashmir Valley. Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa also praised Burhan.

Meanwhile, Burhan’s father appealed for peace and harmony in the Valley. “I don’t want any untoward incident or killing. I only want peace and harmony,” Muzaffar Ahmad Wani said in a video message.

In-depth: Burhan Wani death and a year of living dangerously

Amarnath yatra suspended from Jammu

In view of the prevailing situation in the Valley, the Amarnath pilgrimage has been suspended from the Bhagwati Nagar base camp in Jammu till further orders.

The yatra, however, continued from Pahalgam and Baltal base camps in Kashmir. From Jammu, the pilgrims reach Pahalgam or Baltal base camp, before proceeding to the cave shrine.

(With inputs from agencies)

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Burhan Wani's death and a year of living dangerously

Stone-throwing in Kashmir on the wane: CRPF

Director-General says the number of incidents has almost halved in the first six months of 2017

There has been a sharp drop in the number of stone-throwing incidents in the Kashmir Valley this year, Rajiv Rai Bhatnagar, Director-General, Central Reserve Police Force, told The Hindu.

Attacks on security forces by stone-throwing youth escalated in the Valley after July 8, 2016 when Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) “commander” Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter.

“Last year, around 1,600 incidents were reported when CRPF personnel were attacked with stones. This year, the number has fallen to fewer than half, around 700 incidents maybe. There are days when there is no such incident,” Mr. Bhatnagar told The Hindu.

The 1,600 incidents were reported in five months after Wani’s killing, while the 700 incidents were recorded from January to June in 2017.

Around 30,000 personnel of the CRPF are deployed in the Valley to assist the local police in maintaining law and order and conducting anti-militancy operations.

The government faced severe criticism over the CRPF’s use of pellet guns to disperse crowds and protesters.

 

Several political parties have asked for the complete withdrawal of pellet guns for crowd control. Thirteen people were killed last year and more than 250 were injured after being hit by the pellets, with a some losing their vision.

Mr. Bhatnagar said though there was resistance from people during anti-militancy operations in the form of heavy stone-throwing at security forces, this had not disrupted any operation.

Non-lethal options

“No anti-militancy operation was aborted due to stone pelting. While we have showed lot of restraint, we did not let them run riot. We have revised our standard operating procedures and are increasingly using non-lethal options like tear gas shells and plastic bullets,” he said.

 

The DG said around 300 vehicles, including buses and vans were being made bullet-proof.

Bullet-proof vehicles

“The number of militants being killed has gone up sharply and this has led to desperate attacks on security forces. We would bullet-proof all the vehicles that are used for patrolling duties,” he said.

“Recently, six of our jawans were saved as their armoured vehicle protected them when they came under heavy fire from terrorists. A sub-inspector sitting at the front was killed; we are getting the vehicles 100% bullet-proofed now,” the DG said.

The CRPF is also providing pre-induction training to jawans at their training centre in Lethpura in Pulwama on how to handle the crowd through non-lethal means, Mr. Bhatnagar said.

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Burhan Wani's death and a year of living dangerously

Burhan anniversary forces early vacation in J&K

The J&K government on Thursday announced 10-day summer vacations, despite pleasant weather, to coincide with the protest calendar of the militant United Jehad Council (UJC) on the first death anniversary of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. In the past, summer vacations were announced in the third week of July for schools in the valley.

A government order said all educational institutions up to the higher secondary level in Kashmir “shall observe summer vacation from July 6 to July 16”.

As schools and colleges remain restive in the Kashmir valley this year, the vacations starkly coincide with the UJC's weeklong protest programme starting July 8, the day Hizbul commander Wani was killed in an encounter last year, fuelling a five-month long unrest that left over 93 civilians dead and more than 15,000 injured. The UJC has called for a shut down on July 8 and 13.

Independent legislator Engineer Rasheed said there was no justification for the vacations.

‘Working days lost’

“Most working days in educational institutions have been wasted due to law and order problems. The government seems to have given into Syed Salahuddin’s protest calendar,” said MLA Rasheed. He said vacations were usually declared when the temperatures reach its peak, “However, this year, the temperatures are comparatively moderate.”

Netizens also took potshots at the government. “Summer vacations with students wearing woollens comes as a surprise,” wrote a Facebook user.

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Burhan Wani's death and a year of living dangerously

The anonymous addicts

Kashmir stoned: “From conversations with doctors, police officers and patients, it emerges that cannabis is a popular mood-altering substance being abused by Kashmiri youth thanks to the copious amounts being grown locally in Anantnag and Pulwama districts.” File picture shows cannabis plants being destroyed in Awantipora .   | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

Women in Kashmir are finally seeking help for drug abuse in a society that is still struggling to acknowledge the problem. Vidya Krishnan and Peerzada Ashiq report on de-addiction initiatives in the Valley

Sometime in the summer of 2010, a decision was taking to add a wing to Srinagar’s SMHS Hospital, formally known as the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital. Spread over 10 acres of green, it is one of the biggest government hospitals in the heart of the city and a city doctor had just managed to convince the powers that be of the need to integrate mental health services within a general hospital setting. He wanted to take the stigma away from seeking care of mental health and drug abuse, both ever increasing in a city coping with conflict and human rights abuse. The lime-coloured building got a new additional wing in white.

Then one day, the city doctor decided to stop by to have a look at the four-storey white structure taking shape. He walked in to each floor, inspected the wards and then the toilets — still under construction — to realise there were just urinals. When he asked the architect why there wasn’t a facility for women, the architect asked with a confused look, “But you said this will be a de-addiction centre. Female bhi aayengi yahan? (Will women come too?)” The question posed by the architect reflected the concern of the society struggling to acknowledge the incidence of drug abuse, considered haram in Islam.

Addiction and stigma

Here in Srinagar, you cannot have a conversation about mental health and drug abuse without being told, in every conversation, about the work done by Dr. Arshid Hussain. The 40-year-old is the kind of person who can fill a reporter’s notebook in the first 20 minutes of the meeting, leaving you reeling under the onslaught of information about the magnitude of drug abuse and mental health plaguing Kashmiri youth.

As a medical student interested in mental health, Dr. Hussain was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of patients coming in seeking de-addiction services. In a freewheeling conversation in his office, Dr. Hussain speaks about his first brush with female drug-using patients. “It was the graveyard shift and I was sleeping at my desk. I suddenly felt someone lift my hand, which was on top of a medicine box,” he says over tea, juggling three conversations at the same time — with a staff member who was done for the day, a patient wanting to assure him that some politician will bear his expenses, and a journalist who wanted his undivided attention. “The patient had been admitted after seizures. She was stealing pentothal injections from the pharmacy. From right under my nose.” Pentothal is an opioid analgesic, a common painkiller.

The anonymous addicts
 

Doctors in Srinagar feel a majority of the women who use drugs in Kashmir tend to get addicted to painkillers. “She was the first patient I scientifically detoxed. It took five days,” says Dr. Hussain. Soon, he saw another girl, a classmate, also a case of medicinal opioid abuse. The patients kept coming — sometimes he knew the person from school, sometimes they were friends he played cricket with, sometimes he was related to the person. “It was everywhere I looked. And nearly 90% of female patients were not reaching the hospitals due to fear of stigma and shame,” he says.

A 2012 study by M. Mudasir Naqshbandi, a School of Social Work student of Indira Gandhi National Open University, titled ‘Drug addiction and youth of Kashmir’ revealed a staggering data that 75% women in the age group of 26 to 30 knew what ‘gateway drugs’ are. Gateway drugs, in common medical parlance, are substances that supposedly lead the user on to more addictive or dangerous drugs. Cannabis is considered a gateway drug. The percentage of men in the corresponding age group with the same information was just 22.22%. The study concluded that “overall female respondents from all age groups have better knowledge about gateway drugs than that of male respondents”.

The data sample was admittedly small, collected as it was from 250 respondents in Srinagar, Anantnag, Baramullah, Pulwama and Budgam, but with few community studies and lack of reliable data, the findings are indicative of the unacknowledged problem facing Kashmiri society. To the last question, “Do girls also take drugs?”, 70% of the women surveyed and 50% of the men said yes. The author concluded his study reiterating the “shocking” finding that “72.36% male and 57.14% female respondents revealed that girls also take drugs; so far hardly any study had been done about female and their addictive approach (sic).”

The girl with the fake name

For close to two years, doctors at SMHS have been treating a girl for Tramadol addiction, another painkiller. No one in the hospital knows her real name. They call her Nida.

To get her to come to the hospital for treatment was the kind of health outreach that makes people think of medicine as a truly noble profession. Now in its seventh year, the SMHS Hospital’s de-addiction centre still does not carry a board announcing what it is. A simple board hangs outside the two-storey structure saying, “SMHS Community Centre”.

The ground floor has a mental health OPD (Out Patient Department), the floor above has wards for men and women who are admitted on account of either mental health problems or drug use. The top floor has a rehabilitation centre, with a table tennis table lying unused, an eight-seater dining table with a television across the room. “It is for when the patient stays for long. These things help normalise the days spent in hospital,” says Mir Mohsin Rasool, a medical officer at the hospital.

I ask if women staying at the hospital for de-addiction ended up at the dining table, watching television with the rest of the patients. Dr. Rasool smiles and shakes his head. The next stop was the female ward. There was one patient, under treatment for depression. No drug abuse cases.

In a room with three doctors, a male patient, one must weigh the words carefully before asking how the hospital claims to be treating female patients, when there are none to be found. Immediately, the air tenses up, the doctors exchange glances and Yasir Hasan, consultant at the SMHS psychiatry department, says there is a girl, they don’t know her real name though. “She’s agreed to talk to you, on the phone.”

The doctors tell me that Nida’s brother, also a user, was their patient. During his counselling sessions, they found out that his sister was abusing painkillers. It took three more sessions to convince him to bring her in. “She eventually came as her brother’s attendant and met us. It then took a few more counselling sessions with her to convince her to take the opioid substitution therapy (OST). Eventually, she agreed but told us she won’t give her original name,” says Dr. Hasan.

An anti-drug use campaign in which schoolchildren took part, in Srinagar in 2007.

An anti-drug use campaign in which schoolchildren took part, in Srinagar in 2007.   | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

 

It was November 2015 when Nida started seeking care as someone who accompanies her brother to the hospital, but she is not the only patient with an assumed identity. The SMHS Hospital treated nine female patients between April 2016 and March 2017 — each had a unique complication that had to be dealt with discretion by the hospital administration.

Nida was introduced to Tramadol injection because of a painful kidney stone episode. Before she knew it, she was shooting six-seven injections every day and still writhing in pain.

“Initially my family thought it is just a painkiller. Then we realised there was a bigger problem.”

‘Why did you give them a fake name?’

“I did not trust the doctors.”

‘Then why did you come in?’

“I heard nice things about them. My brother assured me ki baat bahar nahin jayegi (word won’t go out). But the doctors still had to earn my trust… I am not scared to come here anymore. I come over, collect my medicines and my brother’s but Kashmiri society is different.”

‘How?’

“I am very bold. But these things can ruin your future in Kashmir. Chehre pe daag ho toh future bigad jata hai yahan (A blemish on your face can can ruin your future).”

Eventually, the conversation turned to the pervasive gender bias in accessing health care and Nida said, “I pray for the women using substances and not being able to get care. I know so many women who are suffering alone. Because they are scared, for themselves, their families and most of all, from eternal damnation for this being haram.”

The epidemic of pain

Besides Nida, the doctors are seeing a teenage student who is addicted to cannabis. “That was a classic case of peer pressure. The patient came for a few sessions and then she stopped coming,” says Dr. Yasir.

From conversations with doctors, police officers and patients, it emerges that cannabis is a popular mood-altering substance being abused by Kashmiri youth thanks to the copious amounts being grown locally in villages in Anantnag and Pulwama districts; other favourites include solvents such as fluids, inhalants and nail polish. Women, however, tend to have iatrogenic addiction — drug dependency due to a medical treatment, usually of drugs prescribed to relieve pain.

Data regarding drug abuse among women in Kashmir are scarce. The most detailed study done so far was way back in 2008 when a United Nations International Drug Control Programme survey found that there are up to 70,000 drug addicts in Kashmir, out of which 4,000 were women. The survey also revealed that nearly 70% of the student community in Kashmir abuses drugs, including 26% of the female students.

At SMHS Hospital, 291 patients were treated for drug addiction in the hospital’s OPD in 2014; 119 were in-patients. The next year, numbers rose to 490 in the OPD & 226 in the in-patient department (IPD). In 2016, 535 patients came to the OPD and 224 in the IPD, and this year has already seen 584 OPD patients and 191 admissions for opioid substitution therapy. Currently, 70 are under treatment and nine of these are women.

There are currently two operating de-addiction centres in Srinagar — one is run by the Police Control Room at Batamaloo and the other is at SMHS Hospital. The police centre was created as an initiative to bridge the mistrust between the community and the police in 2008. Muzaffar Khan, in-charge of the PCR De-addiction Centre, likes telling the story as to how this centre came about. In 2008, the police got repeated calls from Anantnag about someone desecrating the Koran to stoke communal tensions. “One day we caught him. He was not trying to create any communal tension. He was on drugs. We decided to hold a three-day camp in the district and realised the magnitude of the problem,” says Dr. Khan. “We realised that the society was in deep denial about level of drug addition among young Kashmiris. We decided to set up a centre with Dr. [Arshid] Hussain as a consultant with us,” he adds. The centre, however, refused to share details of female patients currently seeking treatment at the centre.

According to data released by the State Home Department, between October 2014- 2016, 3,864 patients were treated for de-addiction in Jammu, Srinagar, Anantnag and Baramulla. The highest number of cases came from Srinagar (2,260), followed by Jammu (610), Anantnag (603) and Baramulla (391) districts.

The statistics — as seen in police records and hospitals OPDs — don’t tell the full story of drug abuse, Dr. Hussain adds. After three days of meetings, as the conversations started winding up, he spoke about a teenage patient he could not save. The patient was abusing drugs and his parents would routinely call the doctor. The boy eventually died from drug overdose. At the funeral, the parents’ grief was measured — everyone had been told that the teenage boy had a cardiac arrest and could not be saved. As the doctor began to leave, the parents asked him one more time, “How did he die?” Dr. Hussain assured them it was a cardiac arrest and left. “Dying from an OD (overdose) can get you eternal damnation while a cardiac arrest can comfort the grieving parents that their son is in Jannat (heaven),” is Dr. Hussain’s parting shot.

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Burhan Wani's death and a year of living dangerously

The pathology of lynching

Battling the vigilantes: A protest at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, in October 2015 against the Dadri lynching   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

There is ‘blood at the root’ of the Hindutva movement whenever it refuses to see Muslims and other minorities as fully Indian

I first heard the famous Billie Holiday version of the song ‘Strange fruit’ (1939) quite late, as I had grown up in a small town of Bihar, where the choice of music was rather limited. I must have been in junior college then. By then I had read of the song, and the tragic history behind it; I still recall the tingling feeling as Billie Holiday’s powerful rendition literally made my hair stand on end:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,

blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Described by record producer Ahmet Ertegun as “the beginning of the civil rights movement”, this powerful song was written as a poem by Abel Meeropol, and first performed in public by his wife (a singer) in 1937.

Meeropol was writing about more than 1,500 African Americans (‘Black bodies’) lynched by white American mobs around the turn of the 20th century. In particular, he was reacting to a photo taken by Lawrence Beitler of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith on August 7, 1930: these two African Americans were accused, without any evidence, of murdering a white man and raping his companion, and they were lynched by a crowd of racists in front of the local police.

Violence by vigilante groups

You can see the connections to the kind of murders of Muslims that have taken place recently in North India — violence that, actually, also connects to a longer history of the murder of Dalits and aborigines by mobs of casteist Hindus. Yes, I allude specifically to such violence. The lynching of a (Muslim) police officer by (Muslim) separatists in Srinagar is by definition a criminal act, and its perpetrators will be prosecuted by the government as required. But violence by vigilante groups in the name of the law is another matter — because it seeks not just to attack the state but also to circuitously involve it in its own demise.

These are the elements: rumour and hearsay lead to a mob breaking the law of the country in the name of justice; the mob has already condemned the ‘guilty’ because of who they are and how they look; the authorities look the other way, and later describe it as simply a law and order breakdown. (‘It was just an argument over a train seat,’ we were told after the recent lynching of a 17-year-old boy in Haryana.)

There is no attempt to look at the larger disease of hatred and prejudice behind such ‘incidents’. Because, of course, as the first stanza of the song tells us, for there to be ‘blood on the leaves’, there also has to be ‘blood at the root’.

 

There is ‘blood at the root’ of the Hindutva movement whenever it refuses to see Muslims and other minorities as fully Indian. In this sense, to lynch a man on the suspicion (or, for that matter, even the evidence) of eating beef is the logical outcome of statements like those dismissing the Taj Mahal as not an Indian building. There is no point pretending otherwise. And I suspect that it is not the so-called Hindutva loony fringe that pretends otherwise; it is all the others who refuse to countenance the true nature of the fruits hanging from our beautiful and historical Indian trees.

The problem with such blindness is that it can end up hollowing out the rule of law and order. The Indian government has to act decisively and visibly against lynching and mob violence because, if it fails to do so, it fails to govern. And if it fails to govern long enough, there might not be much left to govern.

Law and order are there to stop citizens from inflicting ‘justice’ on each other; the state is there to break the endless cycles of personal, family and group revenge that have been at the root of violence in all traditional societies. That way lies chaos! Any government that fails to see this does India the greatest disservice possible, for it enables the hollowing out of governance in India, and hence the rise of anarchy.

A strange and bitter crop

Meeropol’s poem, as sung by Billie Holiday (and, later, by singers like Sting, Diana Ross and Annie Lennox), ends with a memorable line: “Here is a strange and bitter crop.”

This image alludes to the longer consequences of such acts of vigilante justice: it is not just the tragic breakdown of law in that particular instant; it is also the sowing of a bitter crop that will return again and again. I shudder to think of the consequences of the bitterness of a minority population of 180 million people in India, more so as the ‘laws’ for which such lynchings are taking place do not even represent the beliefs of the majority of Hindus.

But that is the silver lining in our dark cloud, just as it was the silver lining in the tumultuous clouds of lynching in the American south a century ago: Abel Meeropol, the writer of ‘Strange Fruit’, was not an African American. He was Jewish and a socialist who believed in order, equality and justice. He was moved not because he was Black, but because he was human and humane. I believe that India contains many millions of Abel Meeropols, and that they will make their voices heard.

Tabish Khair’s latest novel is ‘Jihadi Jane’

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Burhan Wani's death and a year of living dangerously

Police officer Mohammed Ayub Pandith lynched outside Srinagar's Jamia Masjid

A CRPF Jawan stands guard outside the Jamia Masjid. (File)   | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

A group of youngsters tried to drag him away and he opened fire at them with a pistol, injuring three in the lower limbs. Subsequently, he was beaten to death.

The police have identified the person killed outside the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar as a deputy superintendent of police.

"Another police officer sacrificed his life in line of duty. DySP Mohammed Ayub Pandith was attacked and beaten to death by a mob at Nowhatta on Thursday night," said a police spokesman.

Police officer Mohammed Ayub Pandith lynched outside Srinagar's Jamia Masjid

The incident happened during the Shab-e-Qadr, night-long prayers held in Ramzan time, as Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was inside the mosque. Three locals were injured in a shootout.

Eyewitnesses told The Hindu that a group of youngsters, on spotting the policeman making a video of a demonstration outside the Jamia Masjid between 11:30 p.m. and 12:00 a.m., tried to drag him away and he opened fire at them with a pistol, injuring three in the lower limbs. As rumour spread that he belonged to some "security agencies and was a non-Muslim," a mob lynched him.

A police official said policemen fired in the air to chase away the mob and retrieve the officer's body and a clash ensued. No personnel in civvies was present at the spot and "all policemen were safe", the police said.

 

The Jamia Masjid area is known for throwing of stones and clashes on occasions like Shab-e-Qadr. The incident assumes significance as the Mirwaiz was inside the mosque and delivering his sermon.

The incident did not impact the obligatory prayers and other ceremonies held inside the mosque. Tear-smoke shells and firing, however, spread panic in the area. The incident was followed by pro-Pakistan and pro-militant slogans in the area.

Meanwhile, the authorities have decided to impose curfew like restrictions under Section 144 in seven police stations in Srinagar to contain the situation emerging after the civilian and militant killings on Thursday in south Kashmir and the latest incident.

No Friday prayers will be allowed at the mosque in the wake of the restrictions. The Mirwaiz was planning to address a major congregation at the mosque on the occasion of the last Friday of Ramzan.

Kashmir remains on the edge from Thursday morning since the killing of three Lashkar-e-Taiba militants in an encounter.

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Burhan Wani's death and a year of living dangerously

As turmoil mounts in Valley, policemen at a crossroads

Feeling the heat: With protests in Kashmir Valley increasing, security personnel, including the State Police, now face heavier casualties.   | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

With 16 deaths reported in the first six months, the highest number of casualties in the last two decades, 2017 has turned a bloody year for Jammu & Kashmir Police

It’s not just the Army or the paramilitary forces who are feeling the heat in Kashmir. The Jammu and Kashmir police have now found themselves in the middle of the Kashmir imbroglio.

The killing of six policemen in south Kashmir’s Achabal on June 16 is the latest in a series of attacks on the State Police.

“I was praying that the news coming at Iftar time should be wrong. I ate dates to break the fast and nothing thereafter. All policemen went into mourning. Never before has the J&K police saw themselves at the middle of Kashmir conflict the way they are today,” a Superintendent of Police-level officer told The Hindu.

The last Friday’s attack spurred the death toll of policemen to 16 in the first six months this year, highest in the past two decades. Last year, 13 policemen were killed.

In a similar attack, seven persons, including five policemen, were killed on May 1 when a bank van was attacked. The video of civilians shifting dying policemen to hospital evoked condemnation online from the Valley-based netizens against the militant strategy.

“This was not true in the 1990s. People then decided not to take stand when militants were killing political activists. There is pressure within the society on militants this time,” said another police officer.

The reason for growing militant attacks on the local police could be the successful operations by the police’s special operations group and a small counter-insurgency cell, seated in Srinagar.

Even Director General of Police S.P. Vaid described the recent incident as a “revenge attack by Lashkar-e-Taiba” for police actions.

Police role

The Army takes a lead in most operations against militants. Still the police form second ring as the Army sets up attack teams to fight holed up militants.

However, former police officers fear that anti-militancy operations may take a toll on community policing. “In a conflict situation, normal policing becomes a casualty. I wish the local police would be a ‘service’ rather than a ‘force’ in J&K,” said a former senior superintendent.

There is division within the police on what kind of role they should assume, given their local roots.

“The narrative in Kashmir is anti-police. Pakistan is also playing a role to fan sentiments against police. It is the first time that militants raided houses of police officers. It has never happened before,” said a former J&K police officer.

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Burhan Wani's death and a year of living dangerously

‘Plastic bullets’ sent to Kashmir

In this file picture a policeman holds a pellet gun during clashes in the downtown area of Srinagar.   | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

May replace pellet guns which resulted in 13 deaths last year

The first batch of less lethal ‘plastic bullets’ were sent to the Kashmir Valley a few days ago as security forces anticipate protests to mark the first death anniversary of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani who was killed in a gunfight on July 8 last.

The government faced severe criticism over the use of pellet guns which resulted in 13 deaths last year and injuries to over 250. Several parties demanded their withdrawal

“We got the plastic bullets a few days ago, but are yet to use them. We have been asked to exercise restraint,” a senior CRPF officer said in Kashmir. The CRPF helps the police in containing protests and maintaining law and order in the Valley.

The plastic bullets were tested at the Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory in Chandigarh. They could be fired from the weapons the forces already have. Instead of metal head, the ammunition would have a plastic head. The guns would fire one bullet at a time, an official said.

After the 2010 unrest, the Omar Abdullah government introduced anti-riot guns, which fired plastic bullets that disintegrated into 40 small projectiles after discharge.

‘Plastic bullets’ sent to Kashmir
 

A senior official of the Home Ministry said that though there was no specific input about trouble during the Wani death anniversary, the event falling during the month-long Amarnath Yatra was a cause for concern. “The militants don’t target pilgrims, but there is a high probability of them attacking security forces,” said the official.

Around 27,000 security men are being deployed for the 40-day pilgrimage.

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Burhan Wani's death and a year of living dangerously

Negotiations the only option, says Geelani

Streets of dissent: A protester throws back a teargas shell fired by police during a protest in Srinagar on Friday.  

Hurriyat leader’s statement comes day after Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s offer of dialogue

Even as a shutdown call by separatists sparked evoked violent protests in Kashmir on Friday, Tehreek-e-Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Geelani said “Negotiations are the only option”, a day after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh offered a dialogue to resolve the crisis.

Calling for “meaningful tripartite talks”, 86-year-old Mr. Geelani asked New Delhi to respect the peoples’ aspirations. “Instead of taking sincere steps, India is relying on military might. Sincere measures are needed to resolve the Kashmir issue, and negotiations are the only option.”

Mr. Geelani’s statement assumes significance in the wake of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s offer to talks on Thursday where he said “the Centre was ready for dialogue in Kashmir without any preconditions.”

Mr. Geelani also described Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat remarks that individual officers were entitled to decide their strategies depending on circumstances in Valley, as “an illustration of a colonial mindset”. “Kashmir is a political issue. It does not befit a commander to discuss political issue,” the Hurriyat leader said.

Clashes during shutdown

Despite curfew-like restrictions in parts of Kashmir, protesters clashed with security forces in seven districts. One boy suffered eye injuries.

Fresh protests were sparked by the killing of a student, Adil Ahmad Magray, during a search operation on Saturday in Shopian. The separatists’ shutdown call affected normal life as most offices and business centres remained closed. However, the authorities prevented marches by separatists by detaining Mr. Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in their residences. JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik was detained when he tried to lead a protest against the killing of Adil Farooq Magray.

Trains suspended

There were restrictions in Srinagar’s six police stations. The train services were also suspended. No Friday prayers were allowed at the historic Jamia Masjid. Authorities suspended classes in all schools and colleges of Kashmir Valley on Friday.

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On terror funding trail, NIA conducts raids on separatists

NIA officials conducting a search at the Khari Baoli wholesale market in New Delhi on Saturday.   | Photo Credit: V. Sudershan

Cash, letterheads of banned terrorist organisations seized during searches.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Saturday conducted searches at 26 locations in Kashmir, Haryana and Delhi in a case relating to funding of terrorist activities by Pakistan-based terror outfits.

In the raids, which started around 6 a.m, at least four NIA teams, along with police and CRPF personnel, fanned out across Srinagar and raided 14 premises of separatists and businessmen. Seven senior separatist leaders were questioned.

An NIA spokesperson said the Preliminary Enquiry (PE) was converted to an FIR on Saturday. “Had there been no FIR, the searches would not have been possible,” he said. “During the raids, NIA recovered ₹1.15 crore in cash, property-related documents, letterheads of banned terrorist organisations — Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizbul Mujahideen — pen drives, laptops and incriminating documents. Fresh locations revealed during the questioning of inmates will also be searched,” the spokesperson said.

The bank accounts and lockers revealed during the course of investigation have been ordered to be frozen, the spokesperson said. The concerned persons have been summoned for questioning and further investigation will continue, it said

"The subject matter of investigation is to probe the entire chain of players behind financing of terrorist activities including pelting of stones on security forces, burning of schools, damaging government establishments, etc. Cash amount worth a few crores, gold jewellery, coins worth about ₹40 lakh, large number of property related documents have been seized from the financiers, hawala operators, office bearers of separatist groups," NIA said in a statement.

The NIA team sealed off the Qamarwari residence of Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Geelani’s son-in-law Altaf Shah. Sources said he was questioned about his bank and property details. Electronic gadgets were also screened.

Another Geelani confidante Mehraj Kalwal, district president of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, was also questioned at his Srinagar residence.

Hurriyat faction chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s spokesman Aftab Ahmad alias Shahid-ul-Islam was detained for several hours at his Sanat Nagar residence. According to sources, money was recovered during searches at the residence.

Another leader of Mirwaiz’ Hurriyat faction, Zafar Akbar Bhat, was also faced questions from an NIA team.

Residences of three other separatist leaders — Nayeem Ahmad Khan, Javaid Gazi Baba and Farooq Ahmad Dar alias Bitta Karate — were also raided.

These separatists figured in a sting operation carried by a TV channel recently, in which they admitted to having received funds from Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) to continue unrest in the Kashmir valley.

The NIA also carried out simultaneous raids on residences of four businessmen, including Zahoor Watali, brother of former inspector general of police Ali Muhammad Watali.

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Valley unrest takes a toll on Pandits’ festival

Mehbooba Mufti during the festival at the Kheer Bhawani Temple in Srinagar on Friday   | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti prays for Kashmiri Pandits’ return, harmony in State

The Valley unrest cast its shadow on the Kashmiri Pandits’ annual pilgrimage to the Khir Bhawani shrine in north Kashmir on Friday with visitors’ number falling significantly, but Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti used the occasion to ask the community to return “soon”.

Located over 20 km north of Srinagar, there was a very thin presence at the shrine at Ganderbal’s Tulmul area.

The shrine, housing goddess Mata Ragnya near a spring and under Chinar trees, is key ‘mela’ of Kashmiri Pandits, who faced a mass migration in 1990s due to raging militancy. The colour of the spring water, as believed by Pandits, foretell about the upcoming situation in Jammu and Kashmir. “The colour of the water carries a good omen,” said Sarla, a devotee.

Over the decades, the shrine became a major attraction for displaced Pandits to return to the Valley from various parts of the country.

Lowest in a decade

From 40,000 Pandits converging for the mela in 2010, this year the number has come down to around 1,000, the lowest in the past one decade.

Officials put the number of visiting pilgrims to around 4,000 in the past 24 hours, which includes those living in Kashmir. Only 500 migrant Pandits managed to reach the shrine this year from outside the Valley.

“It was a difficult decision this year. The prevailing situation here held back many from attending the festival,” said Sudhir Raina, a retired teacher. “I am a regular visitor. It’s a must for a Kashmiri Pandit to visit the shrine,” he added.

The government in Srinagar had made special arrangements to ferry devotees. A few days ago, the PDP-BJP government made a special appeal to Pandits to visit the shrine.

Chief Minister Ms. Mufti, also paid obeisance at the shrine and participated in the rituals by sprinkling milk, prayed for peace in Jammu and Kashmir.

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Slain militant Burhan Wani’s successor killed in encounter

Militant Sabzar Ahmad Bhat (left) with his brother slain Hizb-ul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. The former was killed by security forces on May 26 night and the latter on July 8 last year. File photo.  

Seven other militants were also killed in two anti-militancy operations

Eight militants, including the successor of slain Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, were killed in two anti-militancy operations in the Kashmir Valley since Friday night.

There were violent protests in the Valley after the killing of Wani's brother Sabzar Ahmad Bhat. Internet has been snapped in Kashmir as protests spread. Schools are reportedly closing in Srinagar.

Three militants were trapped in a residential area of Tral’s Saimoo village, Pulwama, since Friday night. They had attacked the Army convoy and fled from the spot. Later, the security forces zeroed in on them. Two houses are reportedly damaged in the operation.

Director General of Police S.P Vaid said, “Two militants, identified as Sabzar and Faizan, are killed in the gunfight.” Their bodies were spotted at the encounter site. The third militant’s body remains untraced.

In another operation in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, the Army foiled infiltration by militants in Rampur Sector. “Six terrorists have been killed so far,” said Army spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia.

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"I did not throw stones. I was kept thirsty from 10.45 a.m. till 7.30 p.m."

Dar was tied to an Army vehicle and used as a human shield by Major Leetul Gogoi.

“If it was his [the Army Chief’s] relative instead of me, will he still award the officer,” asked Farooq Ahmad Dar, who was tied to an Army vehicle as a ''human shield'' by Major Leetul Gogoi on April 9 during the Srinagar bypoll to prevent youth from hurling stones at security forces.

Mr Dar, responding to the award of a commendation certificate issued by Army Chief General Bipin Rawat to Major Gogoi, termed it “support to zulum (oppression).”

“I did not throw stones. I had voted that day. I was kept thirsty from 10.45 a.m. till 7.30 p.m. I was driven around 28 km in various villages. I was used as a shield,” Mr. Dar, a weaver and a resident of Budgam’s Chill village, told The Hindu

“The Army is not lying when it says no one pelted stones after I was tied [at the vehicle]. Is the Army here to provide security to us or to their jawans only,” asked Mr. Dar, who remained in his village since the incident.The 27-year-old said he still gets nightmares.

“I see a jeep travelling towards me whenever I fall asleep. My body starts shaking. My mother sleeps next to me, calming my pain and restlessness. This anxiety will end only when I will die,” he said adding “My mother too is depressed by the event”.

Terming April 9 his “new date of birth”, Mr Dar only pleads for “insaaf  (justice)” now to put a closure to his case.

“Whatever is the punishment in the rule book, please follow that. I recently deposed before the State Human Rights Commission. I was expecting some reprimand. Instead, he was awarded. Am I a bail  [ox] or a human being,” Mr Dar said. Regretting his decision to have voted on that day, he has pledged “not to vote again”.

“One can only imagine what the Army could do to those who don’t vote. My case is an eye-opener,” he said.

Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, Munir Ahmad Khan said the investigation in the case “will carry on”. “The FIR against the Army Major has not been quashed,” he noted.

National Conference spokesman Junaid Mattu said, “The Major being honoured is a slap at the face of the mainstream [political parties] in Kashmir. I feel ashamed, disgusted and hopeless.”

Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Geelani said the Army act “clearly vindicates our claim that this is State sponsored policy. We are looking for the International Court of Justice intervention like in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case. It was a severe crime against humanity.”

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Hurriyat faction chairman, said this award only underlined that “all enquiries are a farce”.

He said, “Fascist mindset is on a display in India while dealing with people of Kashmir. The Indian state has internalised the occupational mindset.”

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Fresh protests erupt in Kashmir Valley

A policeman prepares to fire teargas at students protesting outside a college in Srinagar on Tuesday.   | Photo Credit: Dar Yasin

Press for release of students allegedly picked by the police in Rajpora

 

Fresh student protests broke out in Pulwama and Srinagar on Tuesday. A clash erupted outside Government Boys Higher Secondary School, Rajpora, where students alleged that about 12 local students had been picked up by the police. Hundreds of students converged on Rajpora Chowk and pressed for their release.

The motorcycle of a policeman was also torched during the clashes.

“The police have not detained any student from the school but only miscreants and troublemakers from nearby localities,” said Superintendent of Police-Pulwama Muhammad Aslam.

Demonstration held

A demonstration was also held on the Kashmir University campus over the detention of Tahir Hussain Mir, a student booked under the Public Safety Act.

The Inspector General of Police (IGP)-Kashmir Munir Ahmad Khan appealed to the students, “to end the protests and focus on their education”, adding, “I also appeal to the parents and teachers to counsel the students properly so that they can concentrate on their academics.”

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Hizb ‘commander’ quits over ideological differences

Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin addresses rally in Lahore on July 31, 2016.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Zakir Musa was heading the terror outfit in south Kashmir after Burhan Wani’s death

A major rift within the ranks of the militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen came to the fore on Saturday when its south Kashmir “commander”, Zakir Rashid Bhat, alias Zakir Musa, quit the organisation over ideological differences with the United Jehad Council (UJC) based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Musa, an engineering student in his 20s, took over as a Hizb commander after Burhan Wani was killed in July 2016. He joined Wani’s group in 2013.

Hizb supremo Syed Salahuddin head the UJC, whose spokesman, Saleem Hashmi, showed open resentment over an audio message of Musa threatening to “decapitate and hang Hurriyat leaders” for calling “Kashmir a political dispute rather than an Islamic one”.

Musa’s 5.40-minute audio message calling for “establishing an Islamic Sharia” in Jammu and Kashmir went viral online on Friday.

Hashmi said, “Such a statement is unacceptable. It reflects the personal opinion of Musa. After Burhan Wani’s martyrdom, the entire leadership is united at every front for freedom and Islam.”

‘Assessing statement’

The UJC said it was “assessing Musa’s statement”. “We won’t hesitate to take steps for the betterment of the freedom movement. At this juncture, any such statement or step will strengthen the occupying and imperialistic forces,” Mr. Hashmi said.

Hours after the UJC’s statement, Musa, a resident of the Noorpora area in Tral, released an audio message announcing his decision to quit the Hizb.

“Hizb disassociated itself from my statement so I am disassociating myself from it. I stand by my earlier statement that my struggle is for Islam and establishing Sharia,” Musa said.

However, Musa clarified he did not mean to harm Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Geelani.

“I did not mean to chop the heads of every Hurriyat leader, but only those who work and support a secular state,” he said, without naming any separatist leader.

“I know I have to first fight the occupational forces. I am not a RAW agent. I have nothing to do with IS or al-Qaeda. I have not done enough research either to reject or accept these groups. I know for sure Allah is with me. I ask my supporters to remember me in their prayers. I don’t know how long will I live but I am telling the truth and many people do understand it,” Musa said.

Several Hurriyat leaders refused to comment on the remarks of Musa. “We stand by our position that Kashmir is essentially a political problem,” said one Hurriyat leader on the condition of anonymity.

Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Kashmiri Taliban has already supported Musa. “People working for India will not be spared even if they are part of the Hurriyat,” said Kashmiri Taliban chief Muhammad bin Qasim.

Growing factionalism

Top security officials told The Hindu that factionalism, driven by how central Islam should be to the militant group’s ideology in Kashmir, had been brewing in the Hizb for quite some time now.

Differences came to the fore on April 7 when, on the first death anniversary of slain Hizb militant Naseer Pandit, a group of militants offered a gun salute at the grave in Pulwama and asked people to stop unfurling “un-Islamic Pakistan flag”, while calling for a “jihad against Pakistan as well as India to establish Ummah (Muslim brotherhood)”.

The UJC described the speech as the “handiwork of security agencies”. This was followed by posters in south Kashmir, calling for jihad.

“There is indeed an element of radicalism within the militant ranks, where extreme interpretation of Islam is seeing takers in the Valley. It remains to be seen how much sway Musa holds among the ranks in south Kashmir,” said a counter-insurgency official.

According to a police assessment, there are 224 militants active in Kashmir, of which 130 militants are locals and “trained within the Valley”.

South Kashmir has the highest number of active militants at 140, mainly from Hizb and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

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Kashmir militants kill unarmed Kulgam Army officer on leave

Umar Fayaz.  

Body of Lt. Ummer Fayyaz, who went to attend a wedding at Batapura area, was found with bullet wounds in Hermain area of Shopian district.

Militants killed an unarmed Army officer on leave after kidnapping him in south Kashmir's volatile Shopian district, the Army said on Wednesday.

"In a dastardly act, some terrorists on Tuesday abducted and killed a young unarmed officer who had come on leave to his native place in Kulgam district," said a Srinagar based Army spokesman.

He identified the deceased officer as Lt. Ummer Fayyaz and was currently posted at Akhnoor in Jammu region. The officer had gone to attend the wedding of the daughter of his maternal uncle at Batapura area.

Preliminary reports suggest the officer was abducted around 10 p.m on Tuesday near Behibagh, Shopian. "The bullet ridden body was spotted in Harmein area in the morning," said Army sources.

Born in 1994, the deceased joined the Army on December 10, 2016 and belonged to 2 Rajput Rifles. An ex-National Defence Academy member, Lt. Ummer Fayyaz was known for skills in hockey and basketball. Son of a farmer, who owns an orchard in south Kashmir, the deceased was likely to attend the Young Officers Training course in September this year.

"The Army commits to bring the perpetrators of this heinous act to justice," said the Army spokesman.

Role model

Stating that the young officer was a “role model,” Defence Minister Arun Jaitley called his abduction and killing a “dastardly act of cowardice.”

“Lt. Ummer Fayaz of 2 RAJRIF was an exceptional sportsman, his sacrifice reiterates nation's commitment to eliminate terrorism from the Valley,” he said in a tweet.

Watershed moment

Lt. Gen Abhay Krishna, Army Commander South Western Command and Colonel Commandant of Rajputana Rifles in a condolence letter condemned the “cowardice and barbaric act of terrorism.”

Stating that the complete Army fraternity stands shoulder to shoulder with the bereaved family at this tragic hour, Lt Gen Krishna said, “I also assure the family that perpetrators of this heinous crime and dastardly act will not be spared.

“This marks a watershed moment in the Kashmir valley and people of Kashmir will decisively turn the tide against terrorism,” he said in the letter.

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IS, al-Qaeda have no role in Kashmir: separatists

‘Policymakers in Delhi trying to create chaos in J&K’

Separatists in the Kashmir Valley on Monday said groups like the Islamic State (IS) or al-Qaeda had “no role in Kashmir.”

“Policymakers in Delhi are trying their hard to create chaos and confusion in J&K. Groups like the IS and the al-Qaeda have nothing to do with our struggle and are non-existent in J&K,” said Hurriyat leaders, including Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, in a joint statement.

They said there “was no role for these groups in our movement.” “Delhi has started to play a vicious game under the garb and label of ‘holy war’. It is a ploy to create a wedge between people. Agencies are hiring some sick minded and Ikhwan-type goons and they have been assigned the task of creating chaos in State,” they alleged.

Condemns ban

The Mirwaiz termed the ban on TV channels in Kashmir “a fascist approach of the government.”

“The real purpose behind all these actions is to isolate the Kashmiri population. It’s beyond comprehension how channels preaching Islamic teachings and values are responsible for spreading unrest in Kashmir. The current unrest in Kashmir is because of the political instability and anti-people policies and dictatorial approach of the rulers of Delhi and their local collaborators towards the people of Kashmir,” said the Mirwaiz.

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More locals take to militancy in Kashmir Valley

Villagers offer funeral prayers near the body of a local militant at Belov in Pulwama, south of Srinagar on March 26, 2017.   | Photo Credit: THE HINDU

Once zero-militancy districts, Srinagar & Ganderbal are home to 23 ultras now.

The latest figures of militants in the Kashmir Valley reflect a grim picture - 30 locals have joined the militant ranks in the first four months this year, and the once zero-militancy districts of Srinagar and Ganderbal are home to 23 active militants now.

A district-wise mapping of militants by the police’s counter-insurgency cell, accessed exclusively by The Hindu, shows at least 224 militants are active in central, south and north Kashmir.

These numbers are alarming because the ranks have swelled in the winter, when most passes on the Line of Control remain closed.

“Summers and melting snow always spike militants’ numbers. The fact that we have such a huge number of militants so early in the year only points to the swelling ranks of militants internally,” said a top counter-insurgency police officer.

Of the 224 militants, 130 militants are locals and “trained within the Valley”. Growing street unrest, especially in 2016, helped militants recruit more and more youth, said the police officer.

Of the 30 youths who picked up arms in the first four months this year, the highest number of 10 were from Pulwama, which has become a springboard of militancy with the presence of 70 militants, including 12 foreigners.

 

A police official said the “bold activities” of militants have forced the top leaders of several mainstream political parties to leave Pulwama and shift to Srinagar. “Even MLAs find it hard to visit their constituencies in Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama,” he noted.

According to the police data, Ganderbal, Budgam and Srinagar, which were zero-militancy districts till 2015, have 11, 11 and 13 militants respectively hiding in the built-up areas.

In Srinagar, 11 locals have joined the militants, including from parts of the old city and the outskirts, according to the police. “The ideology of recruits from Srinagar is more radical,” said the police.

The number of militants in Kashmir numbered less than 100 till 2015. However, slain Hizb-ul- Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani infused new strength in the ranks by galvanising ground support in south Kashmir in 2013, after the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.

Volatile south Kashmir remains highly populated with militants numbering 141 in four districts of Shopian (24), Pulwama (70), Anantnag (21) and Kulgam (25).

The north too is slowly slipping on the security front, with a higher presence of foreign militants. “Fresh infiltration has replenished militant ranks in north Kashmir too, as Kupwara has 24 foreign militants and Baramula 15,” says the report.

The presence of local militants in the north is slowly swelling, with five youth from Bandipora, five from Kupwara and 22 from Baramulla.

Both the Hizb and Lashkar-e-Taiba have equal numbers in the Valley now. “In south and central Kashmir, both the outfits prefer to work in tandem,” said the police.

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Kashmir’s unending tragedy

Talks and de-escalation must go together — it is not wise to make them sequential

The dreadful violence and low turnout in a by-election in Kashmir has again raised intense debate in New Delhi. Unfortunately this debate has been mainly abusive rather than productive, and as a result it has masked the real issues.

Somehow we have created a binary in which there are only two opposing groups — those in mainland India who consider Kashmiris to be pro-Pakistan Wahhabis who support terrorism, and those in the Valley who consider Indians to be rabid communalists. Each has a grain of truth insofar as there are constituencies of extremists on both sides, but only a grain. The majority of Kashmiris want to live in freedom, peace and dignity, just as the majority of Indians do, and we all look to our governments, at the Centre and in Jammu and Kashmir, to provide us with these.

Towards the extremes

The growing influence of this ugly mutual propaganda, seen not only in social media but also on our television channels, will drive more people to extremism and that, surely, is a cause for concern to citizens as well as the government. There is no denying that the Islamic State-type perversion of Islam has gained ground amongst a few in the Valley, nor that stone-pelting has been organised in many instances. But there should equally be no denying that anger in the Valley is higher than it has been in two decades and has reached alarming proportions. Nor can we deny that at least one major cause of this anger is the lack of a peace and reconciliation process, which the Bharatiya Janata Party-Peoples Democratic Party (BJP-PDP) coalition promised, or that another major cause is the lack of an honest and accountable administration.

We have allowed our security forces (Army, Central Reserve Police Force and State police) to be the only visible face of India in the Valley — our legislators and civil government are not to be seen. The security forces have had to bear the brunt of public anger, and after almost a decade of being stoned, it is not surprising that they commit human rights abuses. But that does not, and must not, mean that we justify abuse or add to it. We need rather to focus on the restoration of trust in administration so that our forces are no longer needed for internal security. We have done a gross injustice to our troops by keeping them in internal conflict situations for decades on end. The forces can at most contain internal violence and that too only if it is a short-term task; after that it is the responsibility of the administration and political representatives to step in. In the absence of a political and reconciliation process, asking security forces to show restraint in the face of constant stoning is not feasible.

Peace process and violence

Past experience shows that when there has been a peace process, incidents of violence, including stone-pelting, have died down. In 2010, when I was one of three interlocutors sent to the Valley, the government initiated a multitrack process combining humanitarian and political dialogue with security reforms that ranged from tightening the anti-infiltration grid to distinguishing between first-time offenders and ringleaders, and tackling economic woes. It was the combination of these elements that worked then, and they created conditions for political talks that could have significantly improved relations between the Valley and the rest of India.

I am often asked what happened to our report. All I know is that the United Progressive Alliance government, the parliamentary delegation that had recommended the creation of our group, as well as the State government failed to follow through on any of our political and constitutional recommendations, while the BJP rejected it in toto. That failure was a major setback, especially for the several thousand people who spoke to us.

Another such opportunity was offered by the Agenda for Alliance. The BJP and the PDP had fought a bitterly divisive election campaign against each other, and their coming together held out a hope of reconciliation for the State. There are political commitments in the Agenda for Alliance that would go a long way to alleviating anger in the Valley, Jammu and Ladakh and they could have been implemented without alienating any of the regions. They still can be, and it would be an important confidence booster if the leaders of the two parties sit down and choose which of the political commitments to honour.

True, the failure to sustain a political process until resolution can be found is not new. It has been repeated for decades — indeed we could go back to the 1950s — but that only compounds the problem, it does not justify continuing inaction. It is more difficult to make peace today than it was five years ago, and it was more difficult then that in the previous five years. That means it will be even worse in another five years and soon it will be insuperable.

What about the role of Pakistan? History shows us that they have tried to foster an anti-India jihad in Jammu and Kashmir since 1947 but without much success until the late 1980s, by which time Article 370 of the Constitution had been rendered a dead letter. By 1988, repeated Indian interference in J&K’s internal political processes led thousands of young Kashmiris to an armed uprising. Since then we have struggled to put those years behind us, and succeeded insofar as free and fair elections are concerned. But our failure to seize windows for political reconciliation has played into Pakistani hands and it is doing so again, while we waste our time in futile debates about who is more nationalist amongst Indians and who is more traitorous amongst Kashmiris.

As innumerable commentators have pointed out, the best way to prevent Pakistan from making hay is for talks with Kashmiri dissidents. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti recently said, on her discussion with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that there will be a political dialogue, but only after some peace is restored. Talks and de-escalation, however, go together, and it is not wise to make them sequential.

Nor is it clear whom the government will talk to. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the Supreme Court a few days ago that the government will not talk to people who demand independence or secession. Presumably he meant the Hurriyat, JKLF and allied groups. Such a position makes talks a non-starter — to repeat a platitude, you do not make peace with your friends but with your opponents. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the then Home Minister L.K. Advani saw this point clearly, as did their successors, Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram. Mr. Vajpayee’s most brilliant strategy was to accept the Hurriyat’s offer to act as a bridge to Pakistan — the Pakistan government could not refuse to listen to Kashmiris. Of course, in their usual way, the Pakistan government did not wind up its training, arming and sanctuaries for Islamist guerrillas fighting India but they did get them to lie low, and as a result the lack of public support for militancy was able to make itself evident.

Address rights abuses

We should not also forget the Hurriyat and dissident leaders, including of armed groups, who gave their lives in the search for peace with India. Abdul Ghani Lone, the People’s Conference leader who said that the time for armed militancy was over, was assassinated in an Inter-Services Intelligence operation. Pro-Pakistan militants murdered Majid Dar, the Hizbul Mujahideen commander who engaged in talks for a ceasefire with army representatives. More recently, Hurriyat leader Fazal Haq Qureshi was shot by local militants for talks with Mr. Chidambaram, and almost died. There are many within the Hurriyat who would consider talks again, just as there are many in the Valley who are worried about the lumpenisation of Islam that the stone-pelters represent. None of them, however, will or can cooperate as long as we fail to offer them a political process and redress human rights abuses.

If the government wants to restore peace to the Valley, it cannot do it by force — talks with dissidents is the only option. The demonisation of Kashmiris by ruling party spokespersons — all stone-pelters are traitors, really? — does not give much hope. Perhaps the Supreme Court will help.

 

Radha Kumar is a writer and analyst

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J&K suspends 22 social media sites

A man looks at his mobile phones in front of shuttered shops in Srinagar. File   | Photo Credit: AFP

With students’ protests and unrest showing no signs of letting up for second consecutive week in the Valley, the Jammu and Kashmir government on Wednesday decided to suspend 22 social networking websites and applications, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsAap, in Kashmir.

Invoking the Indian Telegraph Act 1885, the government said the ban will remain in force for at least one month.

According to State Home department, headed by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, the internet service providers in Kashmir Valley have been directed “to stop transmitting any content on 22 social networking sites.”

“Over a period of time, an increasing trend was witnessed regarding the misuse of social media by the elements inimical to public order and tranquillity, thereby impinging on public safety, particularly in the Kashmir Valley,” reads the order issued by the home department.

‘Disturbed peace’

Such elements, according to the Home department, were “transmitting objectionable contents to spread disaffection amongst the public against the State administration and security forces with a view to incite them to commit various offences at a large scale, causing damage to life and property and disturb peace and tranquility.”

It claimed these elements “extensively misused social media sites and instant messaging services for vitiating peace and instigating violence” during the 2016 unrest.

The ban comes at a time when several videos of rights abuse and of local militants were doing the rounds on the social media. Several students protests were also streamed live on the social media.

Ban opposed

The move, however, has come under severe criticism from several political parties and stakeholdersin the tourism sector.

“The ban denies people necessary access to prospective tourists. How will customers contact hotels and tour operators? It will ruin our business,” said Mushtaq Pahalgami, a hotel owner at Pahalgam.

National Conference (NC) president and recently-elected Member of Parliament from Srinagar Dr. Farooq Abdullah said the communication blockade “would play havoc with the state’s economy and in turn, render thousands of youth unemployed.”

“The PDP-BJP Government is not only suppressing the people of the State through brute force but also persecuting them economically. The continued blockade of internet will seriously affect businesses and especially youth-oriented start-ups in the e-commerce sector,” said Dr. Abdullah.

Fresh clashes

Students on Wednesday again clashed with security forces in parts of Kashmir Valley. Around 13 students were injured.

Protesting against alleged “high-handedness of security forces against the student community”, fresh clashes led to closure of schools and colleges in Pulwama, Bandipora, Chadoora, Ganderbal and Shopian.

The students were protesting against an alleged police raid on Government Degree College Pulwama on April 15, which left over 50 students injured.

Last week, the authorities suspended the class work for a week after violent protests left over 50 students injured. There were fresh protests on Monday.

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Women students join anti-police protests in Srinagar

Students during a protest at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on Monday.   | Photo Credit: NISSAR AHMAD;NISSAR AHMAD -

Clash with police in Srinagar, bring commercial hub Lal Chowk to a standstill

Women college students joined the anti-police protests in Srinagar in large numbers on Monday and clashed with the police for over three hours. The collegians in uniform hurled rocks at police vehicles, while bringing the commercial hub, Lal Chowk, to a standstill. Students of Srinagar’s prestigious Government Women’s College and juniors from the nearby Kothi Bagh Higher Secondary School suddenly descended on Lal Chowk.

Armed with stones and plastic cones, the women students were seen laying an ‘ambush’ on a three-police vehicle patrol at Exchange Road. Some of them kicked a police vehicle while some hit it with hard objects. A group came close to the policemen, hurled stones, and chased away the patrol.

“Even stun grenades, PAVA shells and tear-smoke shells did not deter them. They hit the streets more than eight times despite tear-smoke shelling,” said a police officer on condition of anonymity. The police were forced to fire tear-smoke inside the campus to contain the situation.

Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, also working president of the National Conference, posted the image of a volley-ball carrying girl hitting a police vehicle to make a point on growing anger in J&K. “The reality that is Kashmir - she has her basketball and a brick in the same hand while she kicks the truck,” tweeted Mr. Abdullah.

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Srinagar, where campuses simmer with anger and anxiety

Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, 17/04/2017: Students of Government college for women try to venture out of college to register their protest in Srinagar on April 17, 2017 after the students of SP College staged a protest on the MA Road to express their anger against the last week’s Pulwama Degree college incident where more than sixty students suffered injuries in forces’ action.  

College and high school campuses in and around Srinagar, simmering for long, erupted in unprecedented and violence this week, leaving over 100 students injured, at least 10 seriously.

The epicentre of the students’ unrest was Pulwama district in south Kashmir, which has been restive in the past one year. The violence graph in the district is looking like the 1990s, when militancy was at its peak in Jammu & Kashmir. Encounters, killings of local militants and growing protests have become a daily norm in Pulwama, just 30 km away from Srinagar.

In this backdrop, the Army’s attempt to engage Pulwama’s top government institution, Government Degree College, to hold a seminar came at the wrong time. Pulwama was already on edge over the Srinagar Lok Sabha byelection on April 9, when violence broke out.

What irked students?

When students of Government Degree College saw a mine-protected (Casspir) vehicle on the campus on April 12, they began throwing stones at it, triggering clashes. An Army officer had come to talk to Principal Abdul Hameed about the seminar and to seek participation of students — about 5,000 study in the college.

Later, the principal praised the Army for “showing exceptional restraint by moving out within 10 minutes of their arrival in the college.” The situation was brought under control, but it went out of hand three days later.

Amid allegations and counter-allegations of what happened on April 12, there were fresh clashes between students and the police. Stones were hurled at the police, who countered by lobbing tear-gas shells on the campus, choking many students. Students alleged pellets were also fired at them. Doctors at the district hospital treated at least 50 students.

Why did the protest spread?

Soon, a video went viral, showing the principal pleading with the police to withdraw from the campus. Two other videos, showing security personnel “beating up students,” also did the rounds. There was no official confirmation of these videos. The incident shook the students in the Valley. In protest, thousands of students, some in school uniform, took to the streets on Monday and clashed with security forces in north, south and central Kashmir. Over 50 students were injured in the day-long clashes. A girl student of Nawa Kadal Degree College, Srinagar, sustained a skull fracture.

Srinagar, where campuses simmer with anger and anxiety
 

How did the CM react?

The State government on April 18 decided to close all colleges for a week. Even Kashmir University, Islamic University for Science and Technology and Central University witnessed on-campus protests, which turned into anti-India demonstrations. Classes were suspended. The beleaguered Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti expressed concern over the Pulwama incident and called for action against those “who vitiated the peaceful atmosphere.” She has sought a report from the police, appointing Divisional Commissioner Baseer Ahmad Khan as the inquiry officer. The office of principal of Government Degree College, Pulwama, has been attached to the main office of the college, till the inquiry is over. The move is seen as a punishment to the principal for voicing his concern against police action on the campus.

Unable to control the anger on the campus, the authorities withdrew 3G and 4G Internet services to stop circulation of videos. Many rallies against anti-police “excesses” in Kashmir had been streamed live on social media to galvanise more support for street protests.

 

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Army uses civilian as  shield, sparks outrage

A grab from the video, purportedly shot in Budgam on April 9, showing a youth tied to an Army vehicle.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Two videos, apparently showing a teenage protester being shot in the head from close range and another showing an alleged stone-thrower tied to the front of an Army Jeep, that went viral on Friday, sparked outrage in the Kashmir Valley. The police have filed an FIR, and the Army has ordered a probe.

Also on Friday, five persons were arrested for the assault on CRPF men in Budgam during the April 9 bypoll to the Srinagar parliamentary seat. The arrests followed a complaint from the CRPF, and a hunt was on for six others seen in the video. The latest 19-second video, purportedly also shot in the Chadoora Assembly segment of Budgam on April 9, shows an alleged stone-thrower tied to an Army vehicle which is seen driving through village streets.

A voice, apparently that of an Army personnel, can be heard on the Jeep’s public address system saying, “Paththar bazon ka yeh haal hoga (this will be the condition of stone-throwers).”

The man has since been identified as Farooq Dar, while the Army unit involved was the 53 Rashtriya Rifles, officials investigating the matter on instructions from Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said. They added that Mr. Dar is a resident of Sitaharaan village in Khag tehsil of Budgam.

Mr. Dar is said to have told investigators that he had gone to cast his vote and thereafter was on his way to his sister’s house, where a bereavement had taken place. On his way to his sister’s village, he was caught by Army personnel who wanted to enter Beerwah village along with the polling staff, the officials said.

He was then tied to the Army Jeep as the security convoy moved into the village along with jawans and some polling staff, they said. Mr. Dar told officials he was released after he was paraded in 10 to 12 villages. However, sources in the army, which has promised an enquiry, claimed that he was picked up from a “trouble spot” and was tied up for barely 100 metres, before being released.

Omar furious

Former chief minister and National Conference (NC) working president Omar Abdullah, who shared the video on Twitter, said, "This video requires an urgent inquiry and follow-up. I understand the outrage the CRPF video (showing protesters heckling a jawan) generated. I'm also outraged that the video of the youth on the Jeep won't generate the same anger…. ,” wrote Mr. Abdullah.

As internet services were restored after a five-day blackout on Thursday, another video from Budgam showed a teenage protester shot in the head during clashes.

“There is no huge crowd trying to storm an election booth nor do these young boys carry guns, see video carefully. CRPF could have chased away the handful of boys. But without any warning, 17-year-old Aqeel Ahmad Wani of Chur Mujroo village has been shot in the head at the polling station in Govt High School in Atina Beerwah district of Budgam,” said RTI activist Raja Muzaffar Bhat.

(With inputs from PTI)

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Only 2% turnout recorded in Srinagar

Face of fury: A bus that was torched at a polling station in Budgam district of central Kashmir on Thursday.  

No votes were cast in 27 out of 38 booths

Repolling in the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency’s 38 booths on Thursday registered only around 2% voter turnout, amid very tight security arrangements.

The polling process started at 6 a.m. in the volatile Budgam district where all these booths were located.

The trend became obvious in the first four hours when the turnout remained under 1%, with a trickle of voters heading to the booths.

A Budgam district administration official said that only 337 votes were cast out of 35,169 votes till 10 a.m.

A polling officer told The Hindu that the booths situated at Charar-e-Sharief, where widespread violence left four locals dead on April 9, saw only two votes being cast by 10 a.m.

No voting took place at 27 booths out of 38, said an official.

Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Shantmanu said, “Only 709 votes were cast in the day.”

“Though polling was low, but I am happy that no major incident of clashes took place,” said Mr. Shantmanu.

Counting of votes will be undertaken on April 15.

Security cordon

The polling percentage of only 2.02% resulted in an insignificant push to the total poll percentage of 7.14% registered on April 9.

At least 50 additional companies were moved in to form a circle of security around the booths to prevent any attempt to capture the electronic voting machine (EVMs) or running down by stone-throwing youths.

The fresh polling was ordered for restive Budgam district’s Chadoora, Budgam, Beerwah, Chrar-e-Sharief and Khan Sahib assembly segments. Fresh violence reported at Nusrullah Pora and Beerwah where protesters clashed with the security forces manning the polling booths and the nearby vicinity after the voting process was over. The security forces used tear-smoke shells to disperse the protesters.

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Bypolls in Kashmir: A prolonged protest

The by-elections in Kashmir were marked by a mix of indifference and violent anger

An election that isn’t free is not fair either. With violence by political protesters marring the by-election in the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency, resulting in the lowest-ever voter turnout of around 7%, the Election Commission was left with no choice but to put off the by-election in Anantnag. After ignoring the advice of the Union Home Ministry against the conduct of elections in the Kashmir Valley, the EC had to perforce go by the report of the State administration that the law and order situation in Anantnag constituency was not conducive to holding of polls on April 12. Certainly, the EC is right in maintaining that it was not bound to consult the Union Home Ministry before deciding to conduct elections, but as demonstrated by subsequent events, the Centre had called this matter correctly. The security forces were unprepared for the scale of violence, and failed to ensure conditions for free, unrestricted polling. Whatever the reasons or provocations for the violence in Srinagar, which left eight people dead and more than 170 injured, the end result was that most voters chose to stay away from polling stations. One polling station was set afire; many were temporarily shut following attacks. Unlike a general election, where a change of government is possible, a by-election does not interest voters to any great degree. And, unlike in a general election protesters find it easier to disrupt the polling process in a by-election. For voters, the political stakes are low and the physical risks high. Whether they were too scared to vote or they heeded the calls for a boycott of the poll process, the by-election appeared like an elaborate farcical exercise that was robbed of all political legitimacy.

 

After the higher voter participation in recent years in the Valley, the way the Srinagar by-election unfolded is indicative of a dramatic slide in the political situation. The killing of Burhan Wani, a ‘commander’ of the Hizbul Mujahideen, by security forces in July last year set off a new cycle of violence in Kashmir that does not seem to have ended to this day as stone-pelting is met with pellet guns. In these circumstances, by-elections may have no political meaning. In any case, without free re-polling in all the booths that witnessed violence, the result in this election counts for little. Ideally, re-polling in Srinagar too should be put off by a few weeks. But Kashmiris will also need a larger political motivation to go to the polling booths, a belief that they are in charge of their own lives and that their vote will count for something. Otherwise staying at home might seem the better option to facing the stones of protesters and the guns of security forces. Time alone will not heal wounds.

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It’s school time again in Valley

Back to studies: Schoolgirls on the first day after the winter vacation in Srinagar on Wednesday.  

Students return after nine months when violence disrupted classes

The timetable is back in force. After nine long months, nearly 10 lakh children returned to school in the Kashmir Valley on Wednesday.

The happy moment of reunion, however, turned to be painful for some, as friends turned up with pellet injuries sustained during the spiral of violence in the aftermath of the killing of a Hizbul Mujahideen militant, Burhan Wani, last July.

Schools opened briefly in November for examinations. While over 80% of the students qualified in the Class 10 and 12 examinations, others were given mass promotion. The authorities later announced a winter vacation till March.

“I gifted a painting to my friend who I saw after four months,” said Anisa Bhaat, a student in Srinagar, who was happy to be back. “It’s a beautiful feeling to see my friends again.”

“Schools have finally reopened. Let us hope we have a normal session,” Justice Bilal Nazki, Chairman, State Human Rights Commission, wrote.

Muhammad Autha Hussain (17), who lost vision in the right eye after being hit by pellets, was happy to be back among friends in Class 11 at Mehjoor Memorial Higher Secondary, Pulwama. “I have taken up Arts as a subject after scoring 74 per cent in Class 10 despite my eye problem. My eye is showing some improvement. Around 30 per cent vision has been restored after multiple surgeries,” he told The Hindu.

However, Uzair Maqbool, 17, is sad that he could not join the classes on Wednesday. He is nursing fresh wounds in the eyes after undergoing a surgery in Amritsar two months ago.

“Education and political movement have to go hand in hand. One cannot give up education,” said Amir Ahmad [name changed], who was arrested last year.

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Tral in a trance over young Shaheera Akhtar’s 498/500

Students lost months of classes as protests were held daily in Kashmir during much of last year after Burhan Wani, a militant from Tral, was killed.   | Photo Credit: Mukhtar Khan

She studied hard for Class 12 exams even when the town was rocked by militant violence and night raids

Tral town in Pulwama, the hometown of the slain militant Burhan Wani, earned a new distinction on Monday, when Shaheera Akhtar, 17, came first in the Class 12 examination by securing 498 marks out of 500.

A resident of the militancy-affected Dadsar village, more than 40 km from Srinagar, Ms. Akhtar, a student of the Government Girls’ Higher Secondary School, has charted a journey full of heroism, facing raging violence on the streets and night raids for months together.

The killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Wani in an encounter on July 8, 2016, left Ms. Akhtar home-bound and was forced to discontinue coaching in Srinagar. “I could not attend coaching in July. In August, my grandfather passed away. I was worried about my mathematics as 60 per cent of the syllabus was incomplete. There were protest marches and mosques airing pro-freedom songs. Amid raging streets, I went to local village-level community coaching centres to complete my syllabus,” Ms. Akhtar told The Hindu.

“I owe my success to Allah and my family and the teachers who taught us despite the trouble outside. Many times I took long detours to reach teachers, waited for hours together to avoid marching protesters and avoided streets where clashes were on all day,” Ms. Akhtar said.

Tasleema Shaheen, mother of Ms. Akhtar, says it was a war-like situation. The window panes of Ms. Shaheen’s house and the car were damaged. “In August, we consulted a doctor who gave us anti-depressants. Everyone in the family took the medicine as night raids by security forces were launched,” said Ms. Shaheena, a teacher at Lariyal Government Middle School, Tral.

On August 3, the killing of civilians on the highway near Lethpora saw the security forces cracking down on the entire Dadsar village all night.

‘Unshakeable dedication’

“My daughter hid her books fearing the security forces may damage her study room during night raids. For days together she was in a trauma. My daughter had a major bout of shivering when a landmine hit a police vehicle on November 5,” Ms. Shaheena said.

“It is reassuring to note that despite having lost almost a full academic year to the unfortunate and tragic disturbances in Kashmir, our students and teachers have put in their best efforts to make up for the losses,” said State Education Minister Naeem Akhtar. The government is yet to be pronounce anyone as topper as it prepares to hold another round of examination in March for those who could not appear in the earlier one due to the turmoil.

BJP spokesman Altaf Thakur also greeted the topper. “We are proud that our girls are topping the exams. These trendsetters will have a positive impact on society,” he said.

Of 53,159 students who took the examination, 40,119 have qualified, with the pass percentage at 75.47 — 76.08 of girls and 74.95 of boys. In 2015, when situation was normal, the pass percentage was 55.18%.

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Wani’s kin not paid compensation

The Jammu & Kashmir government said on Wednesday that the family of the slain militant Burhan Wani had not been paid any compensation for the death of his elder brother.

To a question in the Assembly, the government revealed that “no compensation has been paid to the family of Burhan Wani”.

Khalid Wani, 25, who was killed in a controversial operation by the security forces, had figured among the 106 names on the compensation list of the government last month. Khalid was killed on April 13, 2015, in a forest area in the Tral area of Pulwama.

The Army claimed Khalid died in an encounter with the militants, but the family alleged that “it was a custodial killing”, and denied that he was a militant.

Several BJP leaders are opposed to granting ex gratia to the Wani family, but Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had hinted at showing compassion towards militants’ family members.

Meanwhile, sources said the security agencies are yet to file any objection to the process of compensation.

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J&K suffered Rs 16,000 cr loss during Kashmir unrest

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti during budget session at legislative assembly in Jammu on Tuesday.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Jammu and Kashmir suffered losses to the tune of over Rs. 16,000 crore during the five-month long unrest in the Kashmir Valley due to complete halt of economic activity coupled with loss of property worth crores of rupees.

“Losses caused due to the unrest from July 8 to November 30, 2016 are estimated at more than Rs. 16,000 crore,” Economic Survey 2016 report tabled by Minister for Finance Haseeb Drabu in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly today stated.

Chapter “Economies of Uncertainty and Conflict” of the report said that in 2016, the civil strife caused tremendous miseries, loss of life, complete halt of economic activity in the Valley coupled with loss of property worth crores of rupees.

“The scraping of internet services, mobile and phone services for long spells during the turmoil made communication in the state very difficult. Hartals, bandhs, stone pelting, curfews and restrictions immobilised life in all the 10 districts of the Valley,” it said.

The medical services were badly affected. Chronic patients suffering from cancer, heart diseases and those requiring dialysis, continue treatment and check up had to suffer a lot.

Lack of primary treatment resulted in death of some of the patients, it said, adding that security-related expenditure is over and above the losses caused due to the 2016 unrest.

On the issue of macro-economics costs, it said the conflict has reduced per capita GDP growth, FDI inflow, exports and trade flow in the state.

“It has reduced domestic investment and savings, redirected public expenditure to security-related expenditure and reduced tourist inflow, tourism receipts and demand for transportation,” it said.

The number of tourist who visited the Valley in 2015-16 stood at 6,23,932 including 2,20,490 Amarnath yatris.

“The tourist season had last year started in April and was in full swing up to July 7. The remaining about four months remained completely tense and registered closure of all activities due to turmoil resulting in almost zero arrival of tourists in the Valley,” it said.

The disappearance of tourist in the Valley during four peak months resulted in loss of business to hoteliers, restaurants, houseboats, handicrafts, poniwallas, transporters, shikara walla and so on, it said adding the revenue loss in the second quarter of 2016-17 was of Rs 751.97 lakh (80 per cent) compared to revenue realisation of Rs 936.89 lakh in Q2 of 2015-16.

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J&K govt. announces ex gratia payment of Rs. 5 lakh to kin of deceased in 2016 unrest

A pellet victim undergoing treatment in SMHS Hospital in Srinagar.   | Photo Credit: NISSAR AHMAD

Those blinded with pellets are also to be provided with employment.

The Jammu and Kashmir government on Monday announced an ex gratia of ₹ 5 lakh and a job to the next of kin of those killed during the 2016 street clashes, sparked by the slaying of militant commander Burhan Wani.

Seeking support of all shades of opinion in J&K to stop the “unfortunate cycle of violence like in 2016,” Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said, “Earnest effort would be made to create a congenial atmosphere for dialogue and resolution of issues.”

SIT probe

Ms. Mufti said the government would set up district-level Special Investigating Teams (SITs) to probe the killings. Unofficial figures put the number of dead at 93 but officials put the number of civilian victims at 76.

She announced a SIT to probe the killing of a college lecturer at Khrew, Pulwama, and an ATM guard at Karan Nagar, Srinagar. The lecturer was allegedly beaten to death, while the ATM guard was found dead with pellet injuries.

Announcing ₹ 5 lakh as ex gratia to families of victims, Ms. Mufti said, “Possibilities of providing jobs would also be explored in cases of extreme compassion. Job opportunities would be made available to the persons who lost their eyesight during the crises.”

Hit in the eye

Over 1,000 civilians were hit in the eye by pellets during the five-month street agitation last year. The eyesight of more than 300 civilians was affected. “Arrangements for education at Delhi and other places would be made for the students whose eyesight got affected during the turmoil. I have already spoken to the Prime Minister and the Union Finance Minister in this regard,” she told the Assembly.

She said 138 persons were still in judicial and police custody. “Of the 463 persons detained under the Public Safety Act, 145 have been released.”

Opposition demand

The J&K Assembly witnessed uproarious scenes when Opposition MLAs sought a judicial commission to investigate the incidents of killings in 2016 summer unrest.

“The government must set up a judicial commission to be led by a Supreme Court judge,” said NC MLA Ghulam Mohammad Saroori.

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Hope becomes the biggest casualty in restive Jammu and Kashmir

Kashmiri protesters throw stones at paramilitary soldiers during a recent protest in Srinagar. — Photo: AP  

Hope became the biggest casualty in Jammu and Kashmir in 2016, as the ruling alliance of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) struggled to give one reason to smile.

The year began with the militant attack on an airbase in Pathankot on January 2, dashing any hope of India normal ties with Pakistan.

The death of Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed on January 7 shifted the political equations in just less than a year of his attempt to forge a workable link between the Peoples Democratic Party, which he called the “North Pole”, and the Bharatiya Janata Party, or “South Pole” in his words, to solve the problems of Jammu and Kashmir.

The 40-day mourning period saw wrangling between the PDP and the BJP, with the Mufti’s 57-year-old daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, pushing for fresh ground rules. However, Ms. Mufti’s attempt to prolong Governor’s rule for almost three months only weakened her political standing, with a split within the party.

Ms. Mufti was forced to yield to the BJP and continue with the earlier Agenda of Alliance. The new Chief Minister faced her first challenge in the first week itself: agitating students at the National Institute of Technology, Srinagar, saw the Centre directly dealing with the law and order situation.

Thereafter, controversy after controversy such as the Sainik Colony for ex-soldiers, the Pandit Colony for migrant Hindus, and the Industrial Policy pulled the PDP and the BJP in different directions. The anxiety triggered by contentious issues such as a separate State flag, beef ban and judicial activism on erosion of State subject laws shifted to a new plane.

Pellets wreak havoc

The strong PDP of 2002 was reduced to the state of the National Conference of 1996, clueless on how to pursue the poll promise of addressing the larger political problem of J&K. On July 8, Eid celebrations saw an abrupt end. Idolised by many youngsters after his spree of online videos, Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani was killed. As hundreds of civilians joined his funeral, many more took to the streets overnight, even in the interior parts of Kashmir, resembling the 1989 situation when the entire State structure remained frozen. Ninety-three civilians were killed. Pellets wreaked havoc on over 1,000 civilians, with over 300 losing their eyesight partially or permanently. The 20,000 injured included 5,000 security personnel.

In a fresh turn of events, separatist leaders — Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik — saw themselves at the centre of a challenge they were not ready for: to spearhead the protests of youth on the streets. It was not separatist ideologies that dictated the course of action but stone-wielding youth..

Separatists do not know how to take the protest-politics forward and make New Delhi and Islamabad work for peace in Kashmir.

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A year of living dangerously

Illustration: Keshav   | Photo Credit: keshav

Along with a disturbing rise in attacks on Army camps across Jammu and Kashmir, the Line of Control and the International Boundary in the State are also alarmingly tense today.

Pakistan’s decision not to respond to India’s surgical strikes after the terrorist attack on the Army base in Uri may have seemed at the time like a major political victory for the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi. But it is increasingly becoming evident that not only was the political victory short-lived, the country is paying a heavy price for the cross-LoC strike on September 29. While the Pakistan Army refused to admit that the surgical strikes ever took place, it has since been retaliating: unstated, surreptitiously and through proxies. Consider this: with Saturday’s attack on an Indian army convoy in Kashmir’s Pampore, the armed forces in Kashmir have lost over 60 men this year alone.

Along with this disturbing rise in the attacks on Army camps across Jammu and Kashmir, the LoC and International Boundary (IB) in the State are also alarmingly tense today. Ceasefire violation-related military casualties on the Indian side itself are 12 so far, highest since the ceasefire agreement — which has all but collapsed now — was arrived at in 2003.

Strategic implications of the strikes

From a military point of view, the cross-LoC operation was limited and carefully calibrated: there was no targeting of Pakistani military installations as the operation was claimed to be against terror camps and not against the Pakistan Army, and the Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) telephoned his Pakistani counterpart after the operations ended and conveyed the counter-terrorist intent behind the strike. The DGMO further clarified that the “Indian Army conducted surgical strikes at several of these launch pads ‘along’ Line of Control.”

Moreover, the operation was hardly a surprise to Rawalpindi given the high level of political and military signalling from the Indian side between the Uri attack and the surgical strikes. The Pakistan Army is also said to have monitored a great deal of ‘operation-related chatter’ from the Indian side. Indeed, New Delhi’s post-strike triumphalism did have negative reputational impact on the all-powerful General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and for the Nawaz Sharif government in Islamabad. If so, why did the Pakistan Army not resist, or hit back after New Delhi hailed the military action as a blockbuster victory (even though we now know that such operations were conducted in the past as well)?

Does this mean that Rawalpindi displayed a certain amount of tolerance for the Indian military action given that it was carried out after 19 Indian soldiers were killed, and national anger was mounting in India? I recently asked a senior (retired) Pakistani General about the ‘level of tolerance’ for potential surgical strike-like action in future by India. I was told rather bluntly that it would depend on the Pakistan Army’s complicity in the attack: the more the complicity, the less the retaliation. Or differently put, no complicity would mean definite retaliation.

While this might appear to provide an operational window for future Indian military action across the LoC below the Pakistani redline, a proactive military strategy based on the assumption of Pakistani indulgence is rife with multiple challenges. First of all, it would be rather difficult to fix the degree of state complicity in an attack within a severely limited time frame for any retaliatory operation. The Pakistan Army’s tolerance, if it indeed exists, and international community’s acceptance would be time-sensitive. Second, local commanders along the LoC on the Pakistani side could misread the ‘accepted threshold’ assumption and act differently than expected when attacked.

Third, the Indian side would, as it did post-surgical strikes, radically exaggerate the success of its retaliatory strike in order to show that the Pakistani tolerance level for Indian retaliation is high. The Pakistani side would, on the other hand, as it did post-surgical strikes, deny the operation altogether or lower its level and success (i.e. that operation was limited to the LoC only) to reduce the perceived level of Pakistani tolerance by India. Finding a via media between these two extreme positions for operational purposes is easier said than done, and trying to exploit that fine balance may be setting out on a dangerous course of action.

Finally, that there was no vertical escalation after the surgical strikes even though this was an openly declared attack on Pakistan’s territory assumes a great deal of significance. While this might, at one level, go to show that the Indian and Pakistani sides are able to control the escalation dynamics under extreme stress, it would be wrong to assume that India’s cross-LoC operation has gone not responded to by Pakistan. Indeed, the response is currently playing out. Consider the following.

The low-cost response

Responding to the surgical strikes with matching force would not have been a smart strategy for Pakistan given that it would have been hard for Rawalpindi to pull it off. This, in my reckoning, perhaps explains the Pakistani inaction and the refusal to acknowledge the Indian attack. When you don’t acknowledge an action, you don’t have to react to it.

However, the story doesn’t end there. Pakistan is currently responding to the Indian strikes in a way it is materially able to and ‘at a time and place of its choosing’: by firing on the border and organising coordinated attacks on Indian Army bases/convoys through its proxies such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba. These two cheap strategies seem to essentially make up Rawalpindi’s response to New Delhi’s surgical strikes.

India was highly emboldened by the Pakistan military’s non-retaliation after the September strikes but it is today recognising that while it may have pulled off the military action and the subsequent political management of it, the costs are mounting day after day. The LoC and the IB have become the new battlefield, and we should expect a lot more action along these borderlands in the days ahead. Both India and Pakistan seem to be using these contested borders as an arena for settling scores which they do not want to settle in a conventional pitched battle. In short, lower-level instability seems to be the order of the day in the near future.

While border firing might seem less escalatory than cross-border raids, ceasefire violations are a slow killer: as ceasefire violation-related casualties continue to rise, they could lead to political and diplomatic escalation, and sustained violations together with covert cross-border raids (as it has happened more than once in the past) could potentially lead to vertical military escalation.

The other cheap strategy in response to India’s surgical strikes seems to be well-planned low-intensity attacks on Indian forces in J&K. While border firing hurts both parties, low-intensity strikes (for example, Nagrota and Pampore) hurt only India since it loses soldiers in such raids, whereas Pakistan only loses expendable proxies. The argument here is not that such attacks against Army camps did not take place before September this year, but that they are likely to increase with more precision and determination in the days ahead.

Moreover, thanks to the stand-off, Islamabad and Rawalpindi will continue to fan the Kashmir uprising with even more vigour. Notwithstanding the fact that the recent Kashmir uprising was essentially indigenous in nature, Pakistani grandstanding and renewed domestic political mobilisation within Pakistan over Kashmir, and the military strategising for a sustained Kashmir campaign will keep Kashmir on the boil.

Pakistan’s adoption of such low-cost strategies to respond to India’s surgical strikes also lands the Modi government in a rather awkward commitment trap. Though the post-Uri strikes and the political posturing by the Bharatiya Janata Party were supposed to convey to Rawalpindi, and the domestic audience in India that attacks on Indian forces won’t go unpunished anymore, the reality is that both the Nagrota and Pampore attacks have gone unpunished. This leaves the Modi government in a strategic quandary: it has neither been able to live up to its commitment nor has its threats been able to dissuade the Pakistan Army. If anything, the Pakistan Army seems to have called the Modi government’s bluff.

National security implications

The current stand-off with Pakistan has drastically deteriorated our overall national security environment. Our soldiers in the north-western frontier are far more in danger today than they had been in recent years. The precious lives of soldiers would have been saved had New Delhi avoided an unnecessarily aggressive policy in J&K and towards Pakistan. There is also growing disquiet within the Indian armed forces about the needless loss of lives because politicians are unwilling to reach a modus vivendi on political issues both within Kashmir and vis-à-vis Pakistan.

Besides the military casualties, there is yet another form of collateral damage: the lives and livelihoods of people living along the border. Despite the recurrent hardship that they have to go through, villagers don’t speak out in public thanks to the extreme levels of right-wing political mobilisation in Jammu. Suffering and death are couched in the language of deshbhakti (patriotism). In private, however, they recount the untold miseries due to ceasefire violations. The year-long violations in 2014, for instance, had displaced them for several months. This is a collateral damage that goes unsung and unacknowledged.

Happymon Jacob is Associate Professor of Diplomacy and Disarmament Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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The new abnormal in Kashmir

Illustration: Keshav.  

Continued repression is likely to intensify the alienation in Kashmir. It would be much wiser for the government to realise the futility of stonewalling and initiate unconditional talks with all concerned

Sixteen years is a long time to do something about a situation that causes immense suffering to millions of innocent people. But when I returned to Kashmir last month, after a gap of 16 years, I found that people’s agony and anger had — if anything — intensified.

Deciphering the shutdown

As in 2000, I found an intense popular aspiration for azadi (freedom). The Indian Army is perceived, almost unanimously, as an occupying force, and people are fed up with the controls, crackdowns, searches, arrests, beatings, torture and pellet guns. The most common graffiti found around the towns and villages of Kashmir is “Go India, go back”.

The latest expression of this anger is the popular uprising that has rocked Kashmir during the last few months. The Indian media commonly refers to it as a “shutdown”, an ambiguous term that fails to clarify who is shutting what. This so-called shutdown is actually a general strike (hartal). Ever since Hizbul Mujahideen ‘commander’ Burhan Wani was killed in early July, shops have been closed in Kashmir, traffic has been halted, and schools have been deserted. There have been thoughtful exemptions from the strike, say for street vendors, chemist shops and specific times of the week. Some public services, notably health care and the public distribution system, were not only allowed but encouraged to keep going. For the rest, the strike has brought public life to a halt for months on end. That, at any rate, was the situation until I visited Kashmir in late October.

So far as I can tell from many discussions with students, farmers, workers, businessmen, intellectuals and others over a whole week, the strike has overwhelming popular support. It is difficult, of course, to believe that public life can be paralysed to this extent without an element of coercion or pressure. Sometimes the pressure is explicit: anyone who drove a car in Kashmir (outside privileged areas of Srinagar) during the last few months ran the risk of a broken windscreen. But this traffic control was not the work of armed squads or antisocial goons. It was the job of local residents and youngsters who support the strike. In any strike, there is a difficult question of how to deal with potential strike-breakers and free-riders.

Protest calendar for the people

Along with the strike, a series of protests took place all over Kashmir during this period. A “protest calendar” was issued every week (with varying effect) by Hurriyat leaders, who seem to have wide popular support. Examples of suggested protests include occupying the roads, freedom marches to the district headquarters, converging to the United Nations office in Srinagar, performing namaz (prayers) on the road, sit-ins in various locations, visiting those injured by pellet guns, boycotting government offices, reading collective pledges, wall painting, playing resistance songs or music, sending letters to the armed forces, holding conventions on the right to self-determination, displaying banners and placards saying ‘We Want Freedom’, and more. To my knowledge, there are no calls to stone-pelting in the calendars, though it is perhaps taken as read that protests in Kashmir often end up with stone-pelting for one reason or another.

The spirit of these protest calendars was well expressed by Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in a “preface” published on August 24 in Greater Kashmir: “As a war has been waged against us by a mighty force, our only means of resistance against the oppression is peaceful protest. The space for that is also highly constricted. Yet individually and collectively we have to find ways and means of registering our protest. The protest calendar is our collective voice. Each one of us especially our intelligentsia, artists, poets, writers, painters have to come forward and use their skills and creativity to express our pain and sentiment. Every Kashmiri’s contribution to the movement counts.”

State clampdown on protests

So-called “anti-India” protests, however, are effectively banned in Kashmir, no matter how peaceful they may be. The authorities have sweeping powers to prevent protests, not only under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, but also under Jammu and Kashmir’s draconian Public Safety Act. Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, prohibiting assemblies of more than four persons (an old tactic of the British Raj to prevent nationalist protests), is in force throughout the Valley. Assemblies, marches, graffiti, pamphlets, even silent vigils — all these are banned if there is any trace of a demand for freedom.

Further restrictions on civil liberties ensure that this state of affairs goes unchallenged. Student politics is banned. International human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Council are not allowed to visit Kashmir. Local human rights activists are also on a short leash — the arbitrary detention of Khurram Parvez during the last two months is the latest warning that they should not go too far. Similarly, when Kashmir Reader (one of Kashmir’s leading dailies) was banned on September 30, other media outfits “got the message”, to quote a prominent Kashmiri editor. Kashmir, in short, has been turned into a kind of open jail.

In an insightful article (“Address the ‘new normal’ in Kashmir”, The Hindu, October 10), former National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan candidly acknowledged that the current unrest in Kashmir is a “home-grown” popular uprising which cannot be blamed on Pakistan or outsiders. He did not comment, however, on the “new abnormal” that accompanies this uprising — an extreme suppression of civil liberties.

When all forms of dissent are banned, the line between peaceful protest and armed resistance becomes blurred. The main difference, it may appear, is that violent deeds receive more attention. Everyone in India has heard of stone-pelting, but daily acts of peaceful protest — or attempted protest — in Kashmir have been ignored.

The refusal to engage

Today, the towns and villages of Kashmir are peppered with “Burhan Wani chowks”, often marked with slogans such as ‘Burhan Wani is in our heart’ and ‘We are all Burhan Wani’. Those who remember Burhan are not hot-headed guerrillas — they are ordinary people who aspire to a peaceful life. If they admire him, it is not because he killed anyone (quite likely, he never did), but because he gave his life, at a tender age, for the freedom struggle. It is for the same reason that we remember and admire Bhagat Singh. Gandhi himself urged us to “bow to them [Bhagat Singh and his associates] for their heroism”, even as he criticised their acts.

There is, possibly, an insightful paradox in the fact that it took the death of an armed militant to spark a largely non-violent uprising across the Kashmir Valley. Many people proudly told me that the strike would continue “to the finish”. Yet they realised that azadi may not come any time soon. Thus, they often added that other uprisings would happen if need be. Indeed, it is not the first one — similar events happened in 2010.

The response of the Indian government to this uprising is to stonewall: refuse any concessions (even just a ban on pellet guns), arrest the leaders (Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik, the lot), and wait for people to lose hope. This strategy, however, perpetuates the repression, and every act of repression intensifies the yearning for freedom in Kashmir. Nothing unites people like shared persecution.

If the current policy of inflexible suppression of the freedom movement persists, the brutality will continue for decades. Continued repression is likely to intensify the alienation of the Kashmiri people from India, and could also foster a revival of armed resistance in Kashmir and beyond. It would be much wiser to realise the futility of stonewalling, and initiate unconditional talks with all concerned. Atal Bihari Vajpayee (then Prime Minister of India) had taken significant steps in that direction, and seems to be remembered for it in Kashmir. Today, however, the iron fist is back.

The conformist nature of public opinion in India, when it comes to Kashmir, does not help matters. It is hard to understand how opposition parties, civil society and social movements have remained silent on Kashmir for so long. There have been no major demonstrations of solidarity with the people of Kashmir anywhere in India during the last few months. Even public discussions of the situation in Kashmir are extremely rare in India. As veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar observed many years ago, “When it comes to Kashmir, the conscience of most in the country becomes dead.” If anything, the situation is worse today, as the Indian media further dull our conscience with a barrage of distorted accounts of the situation in Kashmir. The new abnormal threatens to engulf us all.

Jean Drèze is a Visiting Professor at the Department of Economics, Ranchi University.

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Kashmir Valley back to life after shutdown

Back to business: Normal life resumed across the Kashmir Valley on Saturday after a four-month paralysis. — Photo:   | Photo Credit: NISSAR AHMAD;NISSAR AHMAD -

Separatists appeal to people to use public transport to make up for the losses incurred during the last few months

After the shutdown called by separatist groups stretched on for 133 days, Kashmir Valley woke up to a normal morning on Saturday as businesses lifted shutters and educational institutions re-opened to start the next session.

Despite sub-zero temperatures, drivers of the public transport vehicles started their day early. “I am plying my bus for the first time on the Lal Chowk-Soura road since July 8. We are the worst sufferers of the four-month-long shutdown and curfew,” said Abid Rasheed, a driver from Soura.

This was also the first time that private vehicles plied without facing stone-throwers or restrictions by security forces.

The killing of militant commander Burhan Wani in an encounter on July 8 had plunged the Kashmir Valley in a cycle of deadly street violence, with 94 people dead and over 15,000, including security forces, being injured during this period.

Of late, separatist leaders, especially Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, were facing pressure from the transporters to relax the shutdown to allow them earn their livelihood.

“Pressing concerns of students and sustenance of certain segments of society greatly affected during the last four months have been discussed in our meetings. These concerns have to be addressed while simultaneously carrying our struggle forward,” said the Mirwaiz.

Separatists also appealed to people to use public transport on Saturday and Sunday “to make up for the losses incurred by them.”

The separatists’ full-day relaxation in shutdown calendar, twice a week from Saturday, allowed hundreds of schools to reopen in Valley.

“We have a huge backlog. The government decision to promote students up to Class 9 has put extra pressure to clear the formalities before we start the new session,” said R. Nisa, vice-principal of S.S. Islamia High School in Srinagar.

Kashmir University Vice-Chancellor Khurshid Iqbal Andrabi also chaired a meeting of principals of Kashmir colleges “to discuss the academic scenario in the backdrop of recent circumstances in the Valley.”

The varsity has decided to start undergraduate courses by the end of this month. “The students were advised to visit their institutions regularly to seek redressal of their academic grievances and concerns,” said a varsity spokesman.

Ban on mobile net lifted

The return of normalcy also allowed the authorities to lift the ban, imposed on July 5, on mobile internet services in Kashmir, bringing relief to more than 35 lakh users.

However, internet services on pre-paid users continue to remain barred.

According to police, there was no incidence of violence on Saturday anywhere in the Valley.

However, the police have failed to stop the trend of attacks on Valley schools.

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‘All pass’ for 9 lakh students in Valley

Youth shout slogans against the government as they carry the body of 76-year-old Ghulam Mohammad Khan on the outskirts of Srinagar on Thursday. Khan died after he was allegedly hit by a tear gas shell fired by the security personnel.  

Government to hold remedial classes during winter; new academic calendar to begin immediately

In a major relief to over nine lakh students, the Jammu and Kashmir government on Thursday decided to grant mass promotion up to Classes 9 and in Class 11 because of the four-month agitation in the Valley.

An official release said students of Classes 5 to 9 and Class 11 of government and recognised private schools would be elevated to the next level with immediate effect. “The new academic calendar shall commence in the Valley forthwith.”

At least 10.03 lakh students (5.29 lakh boys and 4.74 lakh girls) are enrolled with the Directorate of School Education. Around 1.05 lakh students of Class 10 and Class 12 are sitting for the annual examination.

The government is planning to hold “remedial classes” during the winter to compensate the loss of class hours. The Private Schools’ Association of Kashmir had urged for mass promotion.

As the situation returns to normal, Northern Railways resumed services partially on Wednesday.

An official spokesman said the service from Budgam to Srinagar, a 11-km stretch, was restarted. The services in the 120-km Banihal-Baramulla section are likely to resume in the next 10 days, officials said.

Death toll rises to 94

One person who was injured in a clash in Srinagar on November 2 died on Thursday.

Ghulam Mohammad Khan, an elderly resident of Ellahibagh, was struck by a tear-gas shell on the head when protesters clashed with security forces. The civilian death toll has risen to 94 since July 8, when militant commander Burhan Wani was killed.

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Students take exams amid shutdown in Valley

THE WAY FORWARD: Examinations under way at a centre in Srinagar on Monday.  

Around 95% of students registered appeared on the day one of the annual examination of Class 12 on Monday in Kashmir amid unrest and a call for shutdown by separatists.

A Board of School Education (BOSE) official said of 31,964 students who registered for the exam, 30,213 appeared in 484 centres that were highly guarded.

All volatile districts of south and central Kashmir witnessed more than 90% attendance despite several students’ associations opposing the government move to hold the examination in November.

Around 35 schools have been burnt down in the Valley in the past three months.

“We could not have afforded to sit for examination next year. We have to prepare for professional courses from January and appear for entrance tests from May,” said Amir Ali, a student.

Kashmir has been reeling under unrest and the call for shutdown by seperatists for more than four months now. There were demands to postpone the examinations to next year as “students could not prepare for the examination due to turmoil”.

Carpooling to the rescue

Though transport was largely hit due to the call for shutdown, many pooled cars to ferry students to the exam centres. A large number of anxious parents were seen waiting outside the centres.

Meanwhile, minor disruptions were reported in the Valley. An attempt was made to set ablaze the Government High School Dasan, Hardupanzo zone, in central Kashmir’s Budgam district on Sunday night.

Eight exam centres were relocated in Budgam and Pulwama districts. Unidentified persons hurled rocks at a building where Class 12 students were taking their test in Budgam even as security forces resorted to tear gas shelling. Some incidents of harassment of students returning home were also reported.

“We are satisfied. There were minor incidents [of disruptions] but the overall situation was peaceful. I am happy there is a consensus in society over the examination and all stakeholders have lent their support,” State Education Minister Nayeem Akhtar told The Hindu.

Class X exams from today

A huge contingent of security forces, including police and paramilitary troopers, manned the centres, categorised as “sensitive” and ‘highly sensitive’. Class 10 students were set to sit for the exam from Tuesday.

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Army launches ‘School Chalo’ operation in South Kashmir

Hands on Approach:A jawan providing free coaching to students during operation ‘School Chalo’' launched by the Army at Awantipora in South Kashmir.- Photo: PTI  

After ‘Operation Calm down’ in South Kashmir, Army is now focussing on another operation — ‘ School Chalo’ , under which it identifies areas and provides students with free coaching and make them participate in extra-curricular activities.

“We know we have to deal situation on the internal front and we are doing that with desired results. But simultaneously during my interaction with locals, I felt they were worried about the studies of their children, but at the same time anxious about their security. That is where I asked my boys to work out a plan for providing education to students,” says Major General Ashok Narula, General-Officer-in-Command of ’Victor Force’

The army had launched Operation ‘Calm Down’ in August- September to clear different parts of the Valley of militants and protesters using minimum force.

With educational institutions remaining closed for about five months now and over 30 schools being burnt down over the past weeks, Gen. Narula’s directions under the ‘ School Chalo’ programme is increasingly becoming popular in the Valley.

Various formations under his command have started identifying teachers in localities and urging them to hold classes in schools or community houses to impart education to children, who have been deprived of it ever since trouble broke out on July 9 this year, a day after Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter.

“Besides being an army officer, I am a father of two children. So here I approached the issue as a father and not as an Army officer and ensured that these children should hold books in their hands, rather than a stone,” Gen. Narula said.

Using a local slogan ‘Chyem ne zaroorat Daulat-o-ubab, Faqat Gochum School te Kitab (I don’t need money and fame, I need books and school)’, the Army offcers and men now perform a different kind of task - to convince the parents to send their wards to make—shift dwellings to study.

Army officers cited the performance of 292 students who were studying in the Army Goodwill School at Pahalgam who were being taught by well qualified teachers.

“Unhindered by the turmoil which had engulfed the state, these students have not only finished and revised their syllabus but have also participated whole-heartedly in various functions like Eid, Independence Day etc. These (activities) were also the reasons given to parents in other localities to convince them to send in their children,” said Gen. Narula.

Taking a cue from this operation, far off in Rainpora, a village located in remote South Kashmir, the troops finally managed to convince parents to send their wards to study and two local teachers to impart them education.

Attired in a cardigan which read ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ , Rafiq Ahmed, a local teacher, is busy teaching students from a locality near Rainpora. “I am a teacher and I am given the task by the God Almighty to impart education to my students and I am only performing my duty,” he said.

Colonel Dharmendra Yadav, who commands a unit in Anantnag, has been carrying forward the command of his GoC and is personally engaging with parents to ensure that children at least attend the community schooling.

“We are trained for a situation and collapse of an education system is also a situation that needs to dealt. Army has risen to the occasion and will ensure that the children are imparted with knowledge,” Col. Yadav said as he shook hands with a small child.

The army has also started “Naujawan Club” where children and youth get a chance to display their talent in sports.

“The point is to keep them away from anti-social elements and I am glad that many come here to play all sorts of games or access the Internet to know about the rest of world. It is encouraging to see the enthusiasm amongst these children,” Col. Yadav said in his unit at Larkhipora.

Kashmir has seen a virtual collapse of educational institution and also the burning down of at least 31 schools by miscreants in various parts of the Valley.

Citing the example of Army Goodwill School at Pahalgam, Gen: Narula said: “For the students of the only fully residential school in the Valley which has been running classes from 6th to 12th class, Kitab ke Dushman are Kashmir ke Dushman (enemies of books are enemies of Kashmir).”

Recently, Muzzafar Wani, father of Burhan Wani, had expressed “deep pain” over the burning down of schools in the Valley and made a fervent appeal to those behind it to refrain from targeting educational institutions.

“As a teacher, whenever a school is burnt down, my heart is set on fire. This is not right. Whosoever is responsible for this is doing no good to the society. A society without any education is lifeless. They do not have any identity,” Wani said and made it clear that he was making this statement as a teacher and not as any leader. - PTI

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Amnesty slams burning of schools in Valley

Even as rights body Amnesty International condemned the burning of schools in the Valley, three more educational institutions were set on fire by unidentified persons on Thursday, just hours after the government decided to hold the annual examinations of Classes 10 and 12 this month itself.

“Schools should be safe spaces under all circumstances. The vicious arson attacks on schools end up denying children their right to education. This disturbing trend must stop. The government should bring to justice those responsible,” said Aakar Patel, executive director, Amnesty International India.

It also asked the government “to shift some of examination centres away from schools occupied by security forces.”

Since July 8, when militant commander Burhan Wani was killed, 27 schools have been torched by miscreants. Militants, separatists, political parties and civil society groups have condemned these acts.

Three more educational institutes — Sri Pratap College in Srinagar, Government Primary School Dugpora, Gadoora, Ganderbal and Boys Middle School Asthan Mohallah, Naid Khai, Bandipora — sustained minor damage in arson attack on Thursday.

Syllabus halved

The government has offered choices in question papers. Only 50 per cent of the syllabus will be covered. “The examination will start mid-November. Those interested in taking examinations with full syllabi shall be provided an opportunity in March 2017 without any academic penalty,” said Kashmir Board of School Education Chairman Zahoor Ahmad Chatt.

Those students who were injured in the ongoing unrest, can opt for helpers provided by the Board.

‘Unjust move’

However, students rue the government decision. “It’s unjust to hold examinations after what the students went through in the last four months. The adamant decision to hold examinations is a political move,” said a Class 12 student.

Valley’s leading daily, Greater Kashmir, in a page-one editorial on Friday pleaded for “adequate preparatory time” to students. “…There is a natural consternation among the student community about facing the examination. They have thus sought adequate preparatory time. This has translated into a demand for postponement of the exam to March, something that can be empathised with under the circumstances,” reads the editorial.

There have been both pro- and anti-examination protests for weeks now.

Meanwhile, Director General of Police (DGP), Kashmir, K. Rajendra Kumar, on Friday discussed security of educational institutions and the arrangements for smooth conduct of examinations. “Miscreants are targeting educational institutions but their nefarious designs will be foiled,” said Mr. Rajendra.

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More than a hundred days later

Kashmiris have not coalesced into a potentially barbaric “collective mind”. There are unresolved grievances that underpin the seething crowds

“I was hit by pellets in my eyes while returning home from namaz,” said Majid Ali Sheik, a 16-year-old boy from Kupwara, at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SHMS) hospital in Srinagar. Lifting his blackout goggles to reveal his bloodied and hauntingly still eyes, he continued, “The incident occurred on August 13 when the security forces opened fire on the protesters in Kupwara. I was not part of the protest.”

The unrest in Kashmir has crossed a hundred days since the killing of Burhan Wani, a “commander” of the Hizbul Mujahideen, by the security forces. Following the incident on July 8, tens of thousands of Kashmiris have taken to the streets in the Kashmir Valley to protest. Over 90 people, including two security force personnel, have been killed and thousands injured in the cycle of violence. While the security forces have had to deal with violent crowds, many innocent civilians including children have also been injured by “non-lethal” weapons such as pellet guns, tear gas shells, and rubber bullets.

Majid was one among the eight victims I interviewed towards the end of August, who had been hit by a “non-lethal” weapon. Another was nine-year-old Irfan, who was hit on his head by a tear gas shell while playing cricket. Irfan sat on his bed in the hospital, his face contorted, while his cousin spoke to me. “On August 15, the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) opened fire on the protesters in Bijbehara, Anantnag,” he said. “That’s when a shell hit Irfan’s head. There is no movement in his right leg.” In another round of firing, a day after Wani’s killing, Shamima, 25, was hit by a rubber bullet in her abdomen in Bijbehara. She has undergone two surgeries, her cousin said. Her legs have been paralysed.

Non-lethal weapons?

To control crowds, the police in most countries use weapons that are termed “non-lethal” but have proved lethal in many cases. For one, these weapons fire indiscriminately, because of which the public safety of bystanders cannot be ensured. And two, if fired at a close range or by untrained personnel, these weapons can prove lethal. The 2016 report, “The health consequences of crowd-control weapons”, by Physicians for Human Rights states that international mechanisms have failed to keep pace with the rapid development of crowd-control technologies. International standards addressing the use of crowd-control weapons are limited, and there are no restraints on the types of weapons that may be used to tackle protesters or on the manufacture and trade of these weapons. The report notes: “There is a need to engage in further ethical research and empirical study to develop clear scientific parameters on their use.”

It was during the 2010 unrest that pellet guns were first introduced in the Kashmir Valley. A pellet gun is primarily a bird-hunting weapon and has been used in only a few countries such as Bahrain, Tunisia, and Egypt. At short range, these can be lethal. Also, when fired, the pellets or iron balls do not travel in one trajectory; they spray in multiple directions and can inflict serious injuries on bystanders.

Maryam al-Khawaja, a human rights activist from Bahrain, noted in a paper that during the 2011 uprising, “a number of children and adults were killed by the use of pellets”. Further, in a study conducted at the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences from June to September 2010, “198 patients were identified as having sustained pellet gunfire injury”. The study further noted: “Mortality occurred in six patients”.

In the first week of September, following national and international outrage against the use of pellet guns, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh cleared the use of chilli-filled grenades for crowd control as an alternative to pellet guns. However, there was a caveat: pellet guns would continue to be used in the “rarest of rare cases”.

Crowd psychology

The precursor in the long tradition of crowd psychology is Gustave Le Bon’s work in 1895 called The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, which argues that when individuals come together to form crowds, their conscious personalities disappear and are replaced by an uncivilised, irrational, and a potentially barbaric “collective mind”. Since then, sociologists have argued that crowds behave in a far more rational, mindful, and a socially organised manner than Le Bon believed. As David Waddington, in his article “The Madness of the Mob? Explaining the ‘Irrationality’ and Destructiveness of Crowd Violence”, says, “even the most intensely destructive, spontaneous and emotional acts of collective violence are typically underpinned by a guiding and restraining rationality”. The state response to the recent protests in Kashmir appears to reflect the traditional crowd psychology approach. On September 14, while responding to the UN Human Rights chief’s statement on Kashmir, India said that the current violence in the Valley has been “choreographed” from across the border.

In the aftermath of Wani’s killing, an indefinite curfew was imposed in most parts of the Valley and more troops deployed. While the security forces are likely to feel overwhelmed when confronted by violent crowds, their response should not be disproportionate. It may be argued that most of the security forces in the Valley have been trained to deal with militancy, and are not trained to handle such protests. Nor are they adequately equipped with protective gear such as visors and stone-proof armours. The state must take stock of this aspect of the problem.

A political dialogue with all the concerned parties, most importantly the people of Kashmir, is imperative. The people on the streets in the Valley have not coalesced into an irrational and potentially barbaric “collective mind” in the Le Bonian sense. There are unresolved grievances that underpin the seething crowds.

Meha Dixit has a PhD in International Politics from JNU and has taught at Kashmir University.

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In 100 days, India’s facade crumbled: Geelani

Abida Malik, sister of jailed JKLF chief Yasin Malik, in anguish after police fired teargas shells at protesters in Srinagar while they were demanding his release. Photo: Nissar Ahmad  

Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani, who was not allowed to make an address here on Saturday, said 100 days of civilian unrest in the Kashmir Valley divested India of “every façade” as “words like democracy, development and rule of law were crushed under the boots of its own million soldiers.”

In an address, which was circulated online after the police sealed entries to his Srinagar residence in the morning, Mr. Geelani, 86, threatened to continue the agitation as the shut-down called by the separatists completed 106 days.

“It is only the soldiers with their guns that stand between us and our freedom. The Indian stooges in Kashmir — the National Conference (NC), the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Sajad Lone’s Peoples Conference and the Congress — have unleashed a vicious propaganda. They had to mobilise their entire nation to create war hysteria in a bid to distract attention from the struggle in Jammu and Kashmir,” said Mr. Geelani, whose two sons were also denied access to him.

Describing the 100 days as “unforgettable education for children,” he said: “Holding examinations would be another form of collective punishment, like ransacking of homes, destruction of transformers, orchards and standing crops, and custodial torture of detainees.” He said the street protests helped to “thwart sinister plans to effect demographic changes through new Sainik colonies, Israeli-type settlements or creation of zones of exception under the garb of religious mythologies.”

He said the unrest “brought Kashmir back on the world stage.” “India will not give us anything. India wants to raze to the ground our desire for a life of dignity and freedom. Our fight for freedom is the fight to liberate our minds from the Indian control and we are successfully doing it. The liberation of our territory is inevitable,” he said.

Cavalcade stoned

The cavalcade of Law Minister Abdul Haq Khan, who was returning to Srinagar from Bandipora after an official meeting, was stoned at Saderkoot Bala. Security forces fired tear-gas shells to control the situation.

The police said a tempo was attacked with a petrol bomb at Eidgah in Srinagar on Friday, the seventh vehicle set ablaze by unidentified men. Locals at Bogum in Kulgam district said the building of the Government Higher Secondary School was damaged in a fire on Friday night.

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Gun-snatching in Valley worries Army

Rare visitors: Tourists from Thailand strolling on the banks of the Dal Lake in Srinagar on Tuesday.  

The Army on Tuesday expressed concern over the growing number of gun-snatching incidents in Kashmir even as a fresh video of a local Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander called upon youth to grab weapons from government forces.

Speaking at a function in Baramulla district, General Officer Commanding, Chinar Corps Commander, Lt. General Satish Dua said, “The Army is working closely with the Jammu and Kashmir Police to bring normality in the State. However, the incidents of rifle-snatching are a cause of concern for the Army.”

The Army statement comes two days after militants snatched five rifles from policemen guarding a Doordarshan transmitter tower in Anantnag district. Ever since Hizbul militant commander Burhan Wani was killed on July 8, south Kashmir has witnessed a spike in incidents of weapon-snatching. Militants have so far decamped with more than 55 service rifles. A defence spokesman said at least 44 persons “involved in terror-related activities” had been arrested in a 12-hour operation in Baramulla.

A police spokesman said 122 youths, indulging in protests, have been arrested in the Valley since Monday.

Pakistani firing

Pakistan resorted to mortar shelling along the LoC in fresh violation of the ceasefire in Rajouri district. Indian troops “retaliated strongly.”

According to reports, Pakistani troops fired at Indian forward posts in the Laam Battalion area in the Naushera sector. The firing started at 8.30 p.m. on Monday and continued till 1.30 a.m. on Tuesday, Defence officials said. The Pakistani troops used 8-mm mortar bombs and small and automatic weapons.

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Forebodings come true in Valley’s season of violence

With troops being moved to contain protests, attack was expected

The Uri attack is likely to affect the Centre’s plans for moving more troops to the Jammu and Kashmir hinterland to contain the anti-government protests.

Sources said one Army Brigade, nearly 5,000 soldiers, were being deployed in the civilian pockets of north and south Kashmir to help the police in area domination and establishment of the state’s writ. Street violence and massive rallies continue to be the order of the day, particularly in south Kashmir.

Area domination

The Army has started area domination in south Kashmir, where its counter-insurgency operations have come to naught due to mass rallies and street protests for the past 71 days.

It was set to move more troops to south Kashmir, but may have to slow it down in the wake of the Uri attack.

Intelligence reports have warned of more such attacks in the coming days.

Two operations against on-the-run local militants in Pulwama’s Tral and Kareemabad areas were called off after stone-throwing protesters targeted the security forces in the past two months. No militant has either been killed or arrested in south Kashmir following the civilian unrest after the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani on July 8.

Experts fear the Uri attack was aimed at putting pressure on the Army. “[I] Warned the commander specifically on September 8. [The Uri attack] happened in 10 days. [It’s] done to remove pressure from the hinterland as the Army moves [in],” said Syed Ata Hasnain, former General Officer Commanding of the 15 Corps, who has served in Uri. Mr. Hasnain said fidayeen attacks remained a security challenge. “Warnings do not matter in this. A determined small group can get through. Never 100 per cent proofing against it (sic),” Mr. Hasnain tweeted.

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3,000 more soldiers deployed in Valley

People shout slogans at the funeral procession of 11-year-old Nasir Shafi in Harwan on the outskirts of Srinagar on Saturday. He was allegedly killed in pellet firing.   | Photo Credit: NISSAR AHMAD

As the Army’s four battalions are being moved to north and south Kashmir, a boy was killed and over 30 persons were injured in clashes on Saturday, taking the civilian death toll to 83 on the 71st day of violence in the Valley.

At least 3,000 more soldiers are being shifted to the volatile areas of Kulgam, Pulwama, Shopian and Anantnag districts, police sources said. At least 1,000 are being deployed in the restive districts of north Kashmir — Kupwara, Baramulla and Bandipora may have witnessed fewer deaths than the 54 in south Kashmir, but the region is growing restive.

60 more detained

The police sources said 60 more protesters were detained in the past 24 hours in the Valley. Over 1,500 have been rounded up so far.

In Srinagar, clashes erupted after the body of a 11-year-old boy was recovered from an orchard at Harwan on Friday evening.

Residents said the body of Nasir Shafi Qazi, a Class VII student, was spotted 100 metres from the spot where clashes broke out at 5 p.m. on Friday. “The body bore many pellet marks and one arm was dislocated,” a resident said.

Residents seek probe

The residents demanded an inquiry, alleging a “cold-blooded murder” in police custody. Defying curfew, hundreds of people participated in the funeral. Protesters clashed with security forces, leaving more than a dozen, among them several policemen, injured.

The area resounded with deafening sounds of explosion all day.

19 injured

In Anantnag district, protesters clashed with the forces which moved in to foil a rally. Nineteen persons, including sub-divisional police officer Tanveer Ahmad, were injured.

One person was hit by a bullet in Ganderbal district of north Kashmir. The injured, Ghulam Mohiuddin, 32, was shifted to the Government Bones and Joints Hospital in Srinagar. “The man was hit in the left arm. His condition is critical,” hospital sources said.

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Rajnath promises alternative to pellet guns, says he is willing to talk to all

At a joint press conference with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, the Union Home Minister says he will bring an all-party delegation to Kashmir.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday promised to look into alternatives to pellet guns and to keep the doors open to separatists for talks. "Ready to talk to those who believe in Insaaniyat [humanity], Jumhooriyat [democracy] and Kashmiriyat,” he said.

"A committee set up to look into alternatives to pellet guns will give its report soon. We feel the need to have an alternative. We have asked the forces to exercise maximum restraint and they are doing that," said Mr. Singh, who is on a two-day visit to the troubled Kashmir Valley.

Addressing a joint press conference with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, Mr. Singh sought people's cooperation to maintain peace and order in the State.

On addressing the Kashmir problem, he said, "We have an understanding. We know how to address it."

When asked about separatists, the said he was ready to talk to all.

Mr. Singh pointed out that he met more than 300 people besides the mainstream political parties.The Centre will set up a nodal agency for Kashmiris living outside the State. "In case of any problem, they can contact it. I have appealed to people to treat Kashmiris like their brethren and instill confidence among Kashmiri students."

On the implementation of the 'Agenda of Alliance' with the PDP, he said his party was committed to it.

Ms. Mufti said 95 per cent population was for peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue. "Only 5 per cent are resorting to violence and they will be dealt as per the law. There are some elements who use children as shield. They push them into the fire by sending them to attack security establishments," she said, adding that she stood for peaceful resolution of the problem.

She claimed the 2010 and the 2016 agitations "cannot be seen through one prism."

Moments from the joint press conference:

12.40 pm: Do not question our understanding of the situation.Trying to find solution, says Rajnath.

12.40 pm: No solution can be found by pelting of stones and attacking security camps, says Mehbooba.

12. 39 pm: More than 4000 security personnel injured. Will appeal to people not to forget the role they played during floods in Kashmir, says Rajnath.

12.33 pm: I want an inquiry into the death of lecturer, says Mehbooba, adding 95 per cent of people want a peaceful solution to the Kashmir problem.

12.30 pm: Killings should stop in Kashmir. Who wants them to continue, asks Rajnath

12.27 pm: “We will talk to everyone within the confines of Insaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jumhooriyat, he said in response to a query whether he was willing to talk to the Hurriyat.

12.25 pm: Rajnath says "there will be an alternative to pellet guns soon". He adds "Security forces have been asked to exercise restraint and they are doing so."

12.25 pm: "Children are children. If they pick up stones, they must be counselled," says Union Home Minister.

The Home Minister’s visit is an effort by the central government to restore normalcy in the Valley, which has been reeling under curfew and restrictions since trouble started.

“I shall interact will civil society groups, political parties and other stakeholders,” he had said, before leaving for Srinagar, adding, “Those who believe in Kashmiriyat, Insaniyat and Jamhooriyat (Kashmir’s pluralist ethos, humanity and democracy) are welcome.”

(with inputs from PTI)

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14% of pellet gun victims in Kashmir are below 15

Junaid undergoing treatment in Srinagar on Sunday after being hit by pellets in the chest. Photo: Nissar Ahmad  

Young victims require complicated surgeries under anaesthesia, many for damage to their eyes.

Eight-year-old Junaid Ahmad on Sunday became the latest victim of ‘targeted fire’ when he was shot at from close range by a >pellet gun, resulting in extensive injuries to his chest. He is the latest to figure in the grim statistics showing that 14 per cent of those injured by pellets since July 9 are below the age of 15 and face complicated surgeries.

Ahmad was standing in a lane outside his house at Nawabazaar’s Qalamdanpora area on Sunday evening when the security forces started withdrawing from the area after the day-long curfew.

“A police Rakshak vehicle stopped at the lane and chased people assembling in the area. Ahmad did not flee from the spot. Instead, he stood there. He was shouted at by a police man from the vehicle and then fired at without any consideration for his age,” said Ahmad’s relative at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital. Dozens of pellets hit Ahmad in the chest, with some penetrating through to his lungs. “There are multiple pellet injuries in the chest but he is showing signs of improvement,” said a doctor in the hospital.

“If he was a little closer to the barrel of the pellet shotgun, given his tender skin, pellets would have ruptured his lungs,” the doctor said.

933 and counting

The hospital that receives only critical patients from 10 districts and caters to the city patients, is overwhelmed with cases of pellet injuries since July 9, a day after >Hizb-ul-Mujahideen leader Burhan Wani was killed .

It received 933 pellet cases till the first week of August.

“We had 440 pellet patients who were hit in the eyes. Of these, 60 to 70 patients were under the age of 15,” consultant ophthalmologist at the SMHS Sajad Khanday told The Hindu.

Around 40 surgeries are slated for next week.

“There were around 250 patients who required second surgeries. Many among them are very young,” said Dr. Khanday.

He admitted that performing surgeries on children is more demanding.

“In adults injured by pellets, we administer local anaesthesia and perform surgeries. However, children have to undergo general anaesthesia, where functioning of all vitals must be regulated and observed minutely. Surgeries are more tedious than performed on adults,” said Dr. Khanday, who has operated upon patients as young as seven.

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A ‘Kashmir Ki Kali’ poster wakes world to pellet blind spot

Anguished Art: The postercreated by Mir Suhail. Photo: Special Arrangement  

Cartoonist uses Sharmila Tagore’s iconic image from Hindi film to highlight pain of blinded protesters.

Sharmila Tagore and Shammi Kapoor’s musical shikara romance mesmerized audiences in Kashmir Ki Kali five decades ago.

Today, the valley is troubled and cartoonist Mir Suhail decided to visualise the darkness of eyes blinded by pellet guns through the iconic poster of the film featuring the two stars. Thus, Sharmila Tagore gazes down, one eye hit by pellets, in the recreated poster.

It is one more artistic protest to focus the world’s attention on the effect of small pellets fired by security forces from crowd-control guns that is leaving people blind.

The number of young pellet victims with eyes badly affected has shot up to more than 300. Several artists in Kashmir are protesting, using creative expression to try and end the civilian deaths and crippling injuries in the demonstrations that have followed the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8.

“My attempt to recreate the poster, where Sharmila Tagore is hit in one eye by pellets, and Shammi Kapoor has an expression of disgust, is to highlight the pain inflicted on this kali (girl). There is no romance left about the place or the people,” Mr. Suhail told The Hindu.

Another acclaimed artist, Masood Hussain, has come up with a series of grey scale posters of boys with shrunken, shikara-shaped pupils, again drawing attention to destroyed eyes.

“It pains to see kids being blinded by pellets. All that an artist can do is stroke the canvas with that pain,” says Mr. Hussain, who has documented the daily life of ordinary Kashmiris for two decades now.

Pellet gun injuries are fast growing in Kashmir: 50 more protesters were hit in their eyes just on Friday. Most of those affected are in the age group of 15 to 25.

Asif Amin Tibet Baqual, founder and chief creative officer of BlackSheep.Works, a communication agency, sparked off a Twitter storm when his anti-pellet campaign generated 20 million impressions on the platform.

Mr. Baqual produced three posters in Braille with messages like: ‘Offensive state apparatus in Kashmir sees to it that dissent doesn’t see the light of day’.

“The anti-pellet campaign ‘kashmirblindspot’ is for the world community. Kashmir, unfortunately, has turned into a blind spot. Braille style is used as Kashmir is talking to ‘blind’ people,” Mr. Baqual said.

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‘Pellet-hit’ images of leaders and stars go viral in Valley

A morphed image of Shah Rukh Khan.  

The morphed images created by a Pakistani lawyer showing leading Indian figures as hit by pellet guns have gone viral in the Valley.

The morphed images created by a Pakistani lawyer showing leading Indian figures as hit by pellet guns have gone viral in the Valley, with separatists and their supporters in Kashmir actively sharing them on social media.

The brain behind an emotional online campaign launched after the Peshawar school carnage in Pakistan, Mohammed Jibran Nasir, with artists Batool Aqeel and Murtaza Abbas, has morphed photos of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Kajol and Aishwarya Rai and cricketer Virat Kohli.

The portraits, in black and white, resemble the pellet victims in the Valley. Each figure has a letter attached to it and addressed either by a pellet victim or a doctor treating such victims, to evoke a mass reaction in Pakistan and the Valley.

“We request everyone to tweet the Kashmir pellet wound posters to the respective celebrities. Push them to speak,” Mr. Nasir tweeted.

Zuckerberg attacked

Pakistan artists especially attacked Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, accusing the portal of taking down more than 3,000 posts, including provocative images on Kashmir.

“We are sorry we let you down. We tried to post your interviews and pictures of your injuries on Facebook to get the word out, but Facebook keeps on taking them down citing their ‘Community Standards’,” reads a sarcastic letter to the Facebook founder. The images have become instant hit in the turmoil-hit Valley.

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Newspapers in Kashmir refuse to publish

Owners and editors of newspapers in Kashmir on Tuesday decided not to publish dailies in protest against the Mehbooba Mufti government’s failure to own the “ban order” issued three days ago.

Several newspaper owners said the Chief Minister’s adviser Amitabh Mattoo approached them on Monday “insisting it was a mistake for which he had apologised”.

An officer of the rank of Senior Superintendent of Police has been transferred for “acting against the media”.

After a meeting in Srinagar on Tuesday, the owners and editors released a statement saying the State government had resorted to a “propaganda blitzkrieg insisting there was no ban”.

“It [J&K government] must own the ban and issue a statement guaranteeing that media operations are not being hampered from the movement of staff, to newsgathering, printing and distribution of newspapers.”

The editors claimed that State Education Minister and government spokesperson Naeem Akhtar had met them and asked them not to bring out editions for next few days citing strict curfew restrictions across the Kashmir Valley.

The editors said there was no indication that the government had changed its “press emergency”.

“In the wake of these developments, the editors and the owners of the newspapers regret that it may not be possible for us to resume publication of newspapers. We will review the progress on Wednesday,” said the statement.

Former Chief Minister and National Conference working president Omar Abdullah also castigated Ms. Mufti for inept handling of the present situation and the media ban.

“Nobody knows who is in control of the situation at the moment. I am surprised that Ms. Mufti is unaware of the situation. First they said the CM was aware of [militant commander] Burhan Wani’s encounter and now they are saying she didn’t know. Then they said media ban was imposed, now they say they didn’t impose any ban and those who did it will be punished,” said Mr. Abdullah.

Legislator Engineer Rashid said the contradiction between the statements of Mr. Mattoo and Mr. Akhtar regarding blocking publication of newspapers “has exposed the immoral and unethical face of the government.”

State Congress chief G.A. Mir also expressed serious concern over “imposing of ban on the media without the approval of the Chief Minister.” “It is impossible. Mr. Mattoo is trying to shift focus and prove that the ban on the media had no approval of Ms. Mufti. If Mr. Mattoo is right in his position, then the matter is very serious and needs to be looked into.”

Even as the death toll in Kashmir violence climbed to 44 with the killing of three civilians on Monday, the Army and the police ordered an inquiry into the “excessive” use of force in two separate cases of firing.

A Srinagar-based Army spokesman, while expressing regret over the firing in Qazigund in which three civilians, including two women, died on Monday evening, said “an inquiry has been ordered into the incident.”

“Troops were forced to open fire when a large mob turned violent and attempted to snatch weapons from the soldiers,” he added.

Around seven civilians, including an eight-year-old child, were also injured in the Army firing, fuelling fresh unrest and stoking anger.

In a separate incident in Srinagar, the Chief Judicial Magistrate has directed the Senior Superintendent Police to register an FIR against Deputy Superintendent of Police Yasir Qadri after a family in Batamaloo alleged that the police officer barged into their house and shot dead one of their members.

The family has alleged that on July 10 Mr. Qadri entered their house and shot the youth from his pistol when he “objected to the thrashing of his mother.”

The Qazigund killings have come at a time when the government claimed that the violence has come down significantly in the Valley, where curfew and a ban on communication remained in place for eleventh day on Tuesday.

In view of the tension in Qazigund, the Amarnath yatra was suspended for the third time as the area connects Jammu with Pahalgam, the only route of the pilgrimage.

Sporadic protests and attacks on security installations continued in parts of south and north Kashmir, and Srinagar.

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Centre rushes 2,000 additional troops to Kashmir

Last week, about 2,800 CRPF troops were sent to the State. Photo: Nissar Ahmad  

Curfew remained in force in Kashmir and life was paralysed for the ninth day on Sunday.

About two thousand additional Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troops are being rushed to the violence-hit Kashmir Valley.

Official said that a total of 20 companies are being rushed to the Valley. Last week, about 2,800 CRPF troops were sent to the State.

They said the reinforcements will be deployed to further enhance security arrangements in the Valley, where the outbreak of violence — following the death of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani — has left many dead and over 3,100 injured.

“Some of the fresh units will exclusively render the task of road opening parties in order to secure the movement of security forces convoys,” a senior official said.

Curfew remained in force in Kashmir and life was paralysed for the ninth day on Sunday.

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Behind the rage in south Kashmir

As unrest grips the Valley in the aftermath of Burhan Wani’s death, the challenge is to avert another round of large-scale insurgency.

On Wednesday afternoon, several men wearing masks and bandannas felt that their makeshift barricade wasn’t strong enough to keep the sorties of police and paramilitary forces at bay. A few minutes ago, a police truck had breached through the burning rubber tyres and a cordon of rocks, giving them a chase accompanied by tear gas canisters and volleys of pellets, pushing them into labyrinthine alleyways of Batamaloo, a clustered neighbourhood on the outskirts of Srinagar city.

Like in many other parts of Kashmir, the residents of Batamaloo clashed with the police on June 8 after news of the >killing of Burhan Wani, the 22-year-old commander of Hizbul Mujahideen singularly instrumental in re-stirring home-grown insurgency, spread like wildfire. Tapping into local resentment at the heavy presence of Indian troops which he termed as “occupation”, Burhan, in a span of only six years, managed to cultivate a fan base through social media with his clarion call for “freedom” — a fan base that translated into a sudden upsurge in the numbers of local militants last year.

Though the numbers have come down subsequently, the threat of an insurgency redux is all too real as Kashmir explodes once again in anger after Burhan’s killing and defiance is writ large, with over 1,00,000 turning up for his funeral and security forces facing stone-pelting in several districts.

The Hizbul Mujahideen

The Hizb was created in 1989 with an aim to shift the focus of insurgency from the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which fought to make Kashmir independent of both India and Pakistan. Affiliated to the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Hizb managed to recruit local fighters faster than the JKLF, and it decisively steered the separatist movement to an Islamist, >pro-Pakistan ideology. But by 2000, security forces had weakened the outfit to such an extent that its numbers came down from several thousand fighters to a few dozen.



Security personnel stand guard during a curfew in Srinagar on Friday.


The emergence of Burhan, however, brought the Hizb out of the shadows of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The two groups have always maintained operational distance in public but, says a senior Jammu and Kashmir police officer, share a “good working relationship” on the ground.

It’s “too soon to say” if Burhan’s death would help the Hizb swell its ranks, insists Atul Karwal, Inspector General of Police of the Central Reserve Police Force. But the scale at which >stone-pelting mobs have erupted in Kashmir is intimidating. The peace on the streets seems distant — as evidenced by the restive mob in Batamaloo engaging the police for the sixth consecutive day. Many prominent intellectuals and journalists caution against the new threat of home-grown militancy in Kashmir, which is perceived to be deadlier than the one that began in 1989 and waned by 1998, and the defiant stone-pelters are seen as potential recruits.

The arrival of Burhan redefined the local militancy. People found his bravado on social media appealing, and he had no qualms in identifying the Indian Army and paramilitary forces as his primary targets. His daring messages erased the fear of military retaliation among a significant proportion of the youth — many of whom have his pictures and videos saved on their cell phones.

Burhan’s generation was born in the mid-nineties, when gun-toting militants were no longer a common sight. At the turn of the millennium, as they entered their school age, the signs of normality were visible in Kashmir. The thaw in India-Pakistan relations had paved the way for a healthy-looking dialogue process. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister, was taking significant strides towards striking a peace deal with Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf. And Kashmir was on top of their agenda. But as Burhan and his generation entered their early teens, the peace process began unravelling. In 2008, a series of protests erupted against the transfer of land to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board, which quickly morphed into a pro-independence agitation, claiming the lives of 60 protesters. Two years later, the killing of a Class XII student named Tufail Mattoo triggered another wave of mass protest that killed about 120 people.



Villagers offer funeral prayers at Burhan Wani’s funeral procession in Tral.


This was when the younger generation was exposed to state brutalities. The images of severely injured men, many of them teenagers, exposed the younger generation to the violent reaction of the state, forcing them to make a choice between separatism and mainstream politics. Many chose the former.

Stone-pelters versus the state

Amjad Khan (name changed), 21, is among the faceless stone-pelters in Batamaloo. In 2014, Khan found a mentor in Burhan. Each time he watched a new Burhan video on YouTube, his idea about secessionist politics altered. While growing up, he’d heard stories of the previous phase of insurgency from his uncle. And all he could gather from them was that the state crushed it with its military might. His uncle often spoke about the horrors of curfews and crackdowns, narrating the rise and fall of the 1990s insurgency with regret and resignation.

On Wednesday, as the speeding police truck gave chase, Khan led a team of protesters towards a steep road that was deserted barring the presence of a few dozen dogs. Along the way, he took his mask off to drink water from a nearby tap, and then pointed towards a collection of sewer pipes lying across the road. They took a pipe from the bundle and rolled it down the road. The other protesters, watching from a distance, grew excited. More men emerged out of the alleyways, shouting anti-India slogans and blowing finger-whistles. Some of them — a few too young to even shave — beat the closed shutters of shops with stones and metal rods, creating the clamour that sounded like a war cry. Within no time, a cocktail of bricks, stones and abuses was hurled at the cops, who were quick to raise their worn-out bamboo shields. At the rear end, the paramilitary troopers fired several rounds of tear gas canisters that either exploded in loud thuds or discharged pungent smoke. Yet, the protesters showed no sign of retreat. They made steady advances, pushing the police and paramilitary forces across a small bridge.

At first, Khan appeared like an unofficial leader of the crowd. But later, it turned out these men were on their own with no one to lead them. Oftentimes, they have come together like this, either to protest the arrests of separatist leaders or the killings of civilians.



A Kashmiri youngster who was wounded in pellet firing.


But this time, like the protesters of north and south Kashmir, they were out on the street for a reason many political experts and analysts find hard to fathom. They were out to mourn Burhan, a militant with a bounty of Rs.10 lakh, and pay ‘homage’ to him by hitting and injuring as many policemen as possible. The emotional response took the local government led by Peoples Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party (PDP-BJP) coalition by surprise. The government forces responded to the unrest with bullets, pellets and smoke bombs, killing at least 39 people until July 15, including a woman and a teenager, and injuring over 1,400. Insha, a 14-year-old girl, was the first to lose her eyesight after getting hit by pellets fired by the security forces, and 90 more are fighting to avert her fate.

What has changed here?

In the last decade or so, several hundred foreign militants have been killed by the police, Army and paramilitary forces. However, the display of public resentment was largely confined to the places where they were gunned down.

Between 2000 and 2010, the police handing over the body bags to gravediggers at midnight was commonplace. A neighbourhood imam would quietly offer funeral prayers, sometimes for several unidentified bodies lowered in one grave, and life would move on.

Burhan’s death continues to have the Valley in its grip, triggering a rage that refuses to die. After speaking to 20 stone-pelters in various parts of Srinagar, it emerged that the thought of replacing stones with guns does cross their minds. Half of them have lost faith in Indian democracy and are on the verge of crossing the Line of Control (LoC) to the other side, where they expect to acquire arms training, but the lack of guidance and logistical support is holding them back. The other half is still holding on to a glimmer of hope — that perhaps the government of India might take certain people-friendly measures: Quashing the FIRs against stone-pelters, scrapping the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, demilitarising the civilian areas and making the security apparatus accountable to the people.

Amjad Khan is amenable. His anger towards the state is rooted in the killing of his best friend. Let’s call him Masood. In 2007, when Khan was 14, Masood was hit by a bullet that allegedly came from the barrel of a paramilitary trooper. The government described it as a “stray bullet”. “He was on a ventilator for four days,” says Khan with a look of stoic resignation.

While Masood was battling for his life, Khan picked up stones and hurled them at the security forces. “The police took his corpse and demanded that we should bury him in the night,” he says. “His [Masood’s] father told them, ‘He [Masood] is my only son and everyone should see his funeral.’” Masood’s funeral attracted large crowds. Eulogising him as a “hero”, women tossed sweets at his coffin. A month later, the police arrived outside Khan’s residence at midnight and placed a ladder to the second-floor window of his bedroom. They jumped in, dragged him down the staircase and whisked him away. It took him several hours to come out of the “shock” and realise that he was in a police lock-up.

Twenty-eight days later, Khan was set free on a condition — that he would spend Fridays in the police lock-up. “Skipping school on Fridays affected my studies. My parents begged the police officers that they should let go. They didn’t,” says Khan. His ordeal with the police pushed him away from his studies. By 2010, he had dropped out of school. He spent most of his days either sleeping or sitting idle at home. “I didn’t throw stones at the police either,” he says.

In June 2010, however, the picture of a dead teenager named Tufail Mattoo published in the morning newspaper troubled him. Mattoo was returning home from a private tutor’s when his head was struck by a tear gas shell fired by the police to quell a protest. The image was chilling — Mattoo, eyes half-open, in his red-striped shirt on a stretcher, brain splattered all over. Tens of thousands of people poured onto the streets to protest the killing.

The security forces killed roughly 120 people and injured several thousands in the next three months. Burhan and Khan came of age that violent summer. Khan returned to stone-pelting. And Burhan disappeared in the mountains after a group of counterinsurgents reportedly assaulted him outside Tral, his hometown. A year later, he emerged as a gun-wielding militant.

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Mehbooba govt. gags media, blocks cable TV

All nine districts in the Valley under curfew; mobile, internet services remain suspended; newspapers were prevented from hitting the stands.

As one more protester died in renewed violence in the Kashmir Valley on Saturday, the authorities stopped cable network services and seized newspapers, fearing serious trouble in the next three days.

Cable services were restored late in the evening but operators were barred from showing Pakistani channels.

On the eighth day of protests, the authorities also faced a new challenge: of Army installations coming under attack by mobs in north Kashmir.

Security forces again faced curfew-defying mobs in several districts. A youth was killed at Hutmulla, Kupwara, and two others sustained bullet injuries in the clashes. Several policemen were also injured.

In Srinagar’s Nishat locality, pro-freedom songs were played from a mosque. This prompted a police crackdown in which several civilians were injured.

Newspapers seized

Meanwhile, the government enforced an information blackout, raiding newspaper printing facilities and seizing copies of newspapers “in view of apprehensions of serious trouble in the Kashmir valley in next three days.”

“Curfew will be imposed and movement of newspaper staff and distribution of newspapers will not be possible,” a government spokesperson said.

A spokesman of Greater Kashmir, the leading newspaper in the Valley, said the police seized printing plates and sealed 50,000 copies of the newspaper at on Friday night. “Three employees were arrested, phones snatched and employees threatened,” the spokesman said.

The press of another daily, Rising Kashmir, was also raided and employees shifted to a police station to stop printing. The circulation of all leading English dailies was stopped.

“The government has imposed press emergency in Kashmir. It has conveyed that newspapers cannot be published for the next few days,” Rising Kashmir editor Shujaat Bukhari said.

Phone services, both landline and mobile, have also been affected. Only BSNL lines, mainly of officials, were functioning.

Masked men are new heroes

Masked men are fast emerging as the new leaders of the “movement” in Kashmir. They are not only controlling the streets but also dominating the political discourse.

Unknown persons are distributing pamphlets and posters in Srinagar mosques, containing instructions for the public. The pamphlets asked shopkeepers not to open their establishments till they issue a calendar of protests for the masses. They have warned against violating the calendar. The posters also shower praise on slain Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.

In another development, a video has been doing the rounds showing half-a-dozen masked youth who pledged to take the “street agitation to its logical end.”

“We will not allow diffusion of the Kashmir struggle on the basis of sects etc this time. Unlike 2010 [referring to the street agitation that left 113 protesters dead], we will take the agitation to a logical conclusion,” said one of the masked men in the video. Speaking to The Hindu, Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said these youth represent “the angry section whose passions are fuelled by a fresh wave of killings by the security forces.”

Hurriyat to chalk out plan

“Hurriyat leaders will have to meet to chalk out the future plan. At present, our concern is that killings should stop and people be allowed to mourn,” he said.

Meanwhile, without making any reference to any political group, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s political adviser Amitabh Matto said, “The government is always ready for a dialogue with all those who can build sustainable peace in Jammu and Kashmir.”

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Women too bear the brunt of pellet guns

A growing number of women, who were just bystanders or curious teenagers, have become targets of pellets and bullets in the Kashmir Valley, with images of pellet-perforated faces going viral, infusing fresh angst among locals.

Insha Mushtaq, 15, a resident of Sedav village in south Kashmir’s Shopian district, was watching clashes between a mob and security forces from the second storey of her house when a “flash” from a pellet gun blinded her. It is feared she may never regain her sight. She was admitted to the intensive care unit in Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS) in Srinagar four days ago and Mushtaq’s uncle, Vakil Ahmad, is hoping against hope. “See for yourself her condition,” a distraught Mr. Ahmad said, pointing at the girl’s face. “She is yet to show any signs of recovery.”

Doctors attending to the pellet victim say her condition is critical. “Pellets are lodged in her skull, throat and eyes. The right eye eviscerated as soon as the pellet had hit her,” a doctor said.

Several ophthalmologists, in hushed tone, admitted that the chance of restoring her sight “is very bleak.”

At least five women patients, including five-year-old Zehra, were being treated at the SMHS for pellet wounds. One woman, Yasmeena Akhtar, 24, a resident of Kulgam, who had sustained bullet wounds, succumbed on Monday.

Anger in social media

A Class 9 student, Mushtaq’s pellet-embedded image is already evoking angst online. “Is she a terrorist? What justifies this indiscriminate use of force?” asked Nazeer Ahmad, a social media user, calling for more street protests.

Shameema, 25, a resident of Bijbehara, is battling for her life. Now in a ventilator, Ms. Shameema was hit by a bullet when the security forces charged at stone-throwing protesters. The bullet paralysed her body.

Another victim, Tamana, 10, a resident of Ganderbal, has pellets lodged in her left eye. She claims she too was merely standing near the window of her house when a “blinding flash exploded”.

Dr. Riyaz Ahmad Daga, spokesman of the Doctors Association Kashmir, said “the situation is alarming and we need services of senior doctors round-the-clock at this crucial time.”

Introduced after the 2010 street agitation as a non-lethal weapon, the pellet gun can fire more than 400 high-velocity ball bearings simultaneously. There is growing concern among rights groups against its use.

A petition signed by more than 3,000 netizens on change.org, mainly from the Valley, has urged the Union Home Ministry to stop the use of pellet guns.

“Pellet injuries, especially in the eyes, render the victims disabled for life. The use of pellet guns to control crowds is banned all over the world. It is most essential to order the immediate stoppage of its use in Kashmir,” the petition stated.

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Will relook into circumstances leading to Burhan’s killing: J&K govt.

J&K Education Minister Naeem Akhtar. File photo   | Photo Credit: PTI

PDP-BJP coalition government spokesperson and senior minister Naeem Akhtar speaks to The Hindu about the encounter, the fallout and the way out.

Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander Burhan Wani’s killing has fuelled a fury on streets of Kashmir Valley, sparking a cycle of violence. Peoples Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party (PDP-BJP) coalition Government spokesperson and senior minister Naeem Akhtar speaks to The Hindu's Peerzada Ashiq about the encounter, the fallout and the way out.

There are reports that Hizbul commander Wani bore very few bullets on his body, suggesting the encounter was short lived and there may have been chances of arresting the most-wanted militant commander. What is the fact?

Preliminary reports suggest it was a routine search and cordon operation based on a tip-off of militant presence in a village in south Kashmir’s Kokernag area. The security forces zeroed in and the encounter ensued. I don’t think they knew in advance who were hiding in the area. We had not anticipated the fallout of Mr. Wani's killing.

Will the Government re-look into the circumstances leading to the killing of the militant commander and later the civilian killings?

Right now, we want to control the situation and ensure there is no more civilian killing. Yes, the Government is ready to re-look into how Mr. Wani was killed and revisit each civilian killing to understand if any excessive force was used against protesters.

So far 35 civilians are dead and more than 1,365 protesters are injured in street clashes? Isn’t it alarming?

We are assessing the figures of dead and injured. We are still in the firefighting mode right now. Let peace return so that in calmer atmosphere we are able to assess the situation and see if a political input is needed.

Tens of thousands of people participated in the funeral of slain Mr. Wani in Tral. Isn’t it also a statement from the people?

Yes, there is alienation among people and it is need of the hour that alienation is addressed like the 2003-2008 processes started internally and externally. People of Kashmir are ready to respond positively to such processes. The process of engagement has to start. People yearn for sense of dignity and empowerment.

Experts believe the ground swell in the wake of Wani’s killing was also a reflection of the pent up anger among masses brewing for long now? Could the Mehbooba Mufti Government had avoided some contentious issues raked up in the recent past?

Yes, there were issues that could have been avoided by this regime. I do not want to divulge more. However, we are optimistic that a long term political engagement, transparent development policy and creation of employment opportunities will make a difference in J&K. Democracy should come as a liberating force for people and restore dignity. It’s an evolving mechanism and not a tool to maintain status quo on issues.

Former chief minister Omar Abdullah has expressed surprise at Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti missing the high-level meet organized by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Tuesday?

It’s childish on his part. We would not like to respond to it. In fact, we are minesweepers of the National Conference. Look at the media reports that suggested how hanging of Afzal Guru played out on the ground in Kashmir Valley and drove boys to the arms in the Valley.

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Living in denial on Kashmir

There is a return to home-grown insurgency, with religious radicalisation acting as a force multiplier this time. Delhi needs to open a result-oriented dialogue with the Valley’s dissidents

The latest uprising in Kashmir, triggered by the encounter killing of the young Kashmiri militant, Burhan Wani, was waiting to happen for some time. The writing on the wall has been clear to those who cared to read it: that Kashmir would soon bounce back to the days of home-grown insurgency, with religious radicalisation acting as a force multiplier this time. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in New Delhi, in its impatient race for power in Srinagar, did not care to read the signs, and when told, it didn’t care to listen.

The Kashmiris knew that things were not going to be easy for them if the BJP were to come to power in the State, and so they voted in large numbers to keep it out. But they were in for a rude surprise when BJP interlocutors sweet-talked the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) into believing that the “Agenda of Alliance”, that the two parties put together after months of negotiations, would be an inviolable document for political action. The PDP has since been silenced and the so-called guiding document has been cast to the winds. We are perhaps one last stop away from the Valley slipping into another full-blown insurgency: with Rawalpindi aiding and abetting it, disaffected Kashmiris being hopeless and edgy, and clueless New Delhi playing with fire throwing all caution to the winds.

A decade of follies

There was a time, a decade ago, when we were close to ending the Kashmir insurgency. It was the heyday of Manmohan Singh’s proactive diplomacy with Pakistan on the Kashmir question even as his interlocutors were quietly negotiating with the dissident leadership in Kashmir on a ‘Kashmir formula’. As per anecdotal evidence, a majority of the dissident leadership in the Valley, barring Syed Ali Shah Geelani, was on board the formula. Not only were the Pakistanis supporting the process but had even tried to reach out to the dissidents in the Valley to convince them of the proposed solution! Dr. Singh held extensive consultations with the Kashmiri leadership both publicly and privately. While Dr. Singh lost his political nerve in mid-2007 to take the initiative to its logical conclusion, his counterpart, Pervez Musharraf, lost his domestic support thanks to the lawyers’ agitation, and as a result, the deal that would have settled both the conflict in Kashmir and over Kashmir disappeared into oblivion.

Kashmir has never been the same again. Anti-India feelings were steadily on the rise after over 120 Kashmiris were killed at the hands of the J&K police and Central forces in 2010. The seeds of a new indigenous insurgency were sown by the hasty manner in which Afzal Guru was hanged in 2013 during the Congress-led UPA regime. Let’s remember that all this was happening during a decade when terrorist infiltration from Pakistan was lower than ever before thanks primarily to the border/Line of Control fence that was erected in J&K in 2004.

The combined result of this mishandling has been a sharp, and worrying, spike in the number of home-grown militants: educated, armed, religiously inclined and ideologically motivated, and not necessarily shepherded. Second, years since the violent insurgency of the 1990s was put down, there is today a disquieting rise in the legitimacy for armed militancy among civil society and the educated classes of the Valley — Burhan Wani’s father, who is convinced of the righteousness of his son’s mission, is symbolic of that radical change. Anti-Indianism has become fashionable once again. A society that was exhausted by violence and gun culture has suddenly started justifying it. Finally, a decade of mishandling Kashmir has fundamentally damaged the liberal political space that could have politically and ideologically countered the return of militancy. Even the moderate Hurriyat faction finds it difficult today to converse with the youngsters thronging Kashmir’s dark alleys and war-torn mofussil towns, shouting for azadi, throwing stones, and ready to die.

Still losing the plot

Its miserable history of mishandling Kashmir has hardly taught New Delhi how to deal with Kashmir, despite fighting the insurgency for close to three decades now. While it was the Congress’s greed for power that historically, since the 1950s, alienated Kashmiris from the Indian political mainstream, it’s now the BJP’s turn to emulate the Congress with, of course, far more chest-thumping and name-calling.

Having cleverly hemmed in the Muftis, BJP strategists seem to believe that they have finally won the battle of wits in Kashmir, which they may well have. Yet, by being ignorant of the big picture, by investing heavily in short-term strategies and being insensitive to both the disaffected Kashmiris and its beleaguered coalition partner, the PDP, the BJP government in New Delhi is miserably losing the bigger battle for Kashmir and its people.

When these two unlikely partners came together to form a coalition government in early 2015, there was hope that things would get better for J&K given the PDP’s popularity in south Kashmir and the BJP’s historic mandate in Delhi: one and a half years down the road, however, all that J&K is left with is the PDP’s political isolation and helplessness, and the BJP’s inflexible political positions. Both the Muftis, first Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and now Mehbooba Mufti, have repeatedly reminded the BJP on the need to deliver on the promises (such as “the coalition government will facilitate and help initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with all internal stakeholders, which will include all political groups irrespective of their ideological views and predilections”) enshrined in the “Agenda of Alliance”.

However, not one of the key objectives outlined in the document has been taken up by the coalition so far, not even for discussion. I am reasonably confident that if the coalition had reached out to the dissidents in Kashmir in the past one and a half years that it’s been in power, things would not have looked this bad today.

Judicial observations on AFSPA

On the day Wani was killed, the Supreme Court came down heavily (though in the context of Manipur) on the shocking extent of immunity provided to the armed forces. Indeed, this stinging indictment of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act — AFSPA — has come at a point in time when the BJP has been playing hide and seek with the PDP, and Kashmiris in general, on the AFSPA question even though a need for a relook at this draconian law was clearly mentioned in the coalition work plan. The court’s redefinition of the situation in Manipur as ‘internal disturbance’, summarily rejecting the Central government’s plea that it is a ‘war-like situation’, has undeniable implications for how New Delhi deals with Kashmir and the debates on draconian laws like AFSPA.

It is not enough to issue occasional feel-good statements like ‘Kashmir is an integral part of India’ — we should respect their human and political rights and not snatch away what the country’s Constitution guarantees in Article 370. In fact, the court has, on various occasions, made its views sufficiently clear on both AFSPA and Article 370. And as the court noted, every human life is important and therefore extrajudicial killings cannot be allowed. Those of us who justify extrajudicial killings in the name of fighting terror should take a careful look at what the court has said on the matter: “It does not matter whether the victim was a common person or a militant or a terrorist, nor does it matter whether the aggressor was a common person or the State. The law is the same for both and is equally applicable to both.” Has any accountability been fixed for the killings of 2010? Has a proper inquiry been conducted into the thousands of unmarked graves in Kashmir?

Immediate next steps

In our country, the government and the political class look for solutions only when there is trouble in Kashmir: they make calls for peace, and send an occasional all-party delegation to the Valley (as happened in 2010) and promise to look into the genuine demands. Sometimes even a team of interlocutors is appointed to negotiate with the dissidents. The tragedy is that once the trouble subsides, promises are forgotten and the committee reports, as usual, get ignored. There is therefore a need to look for sustainable political solutions if the government is serious about pacifying the conflict in Kashmir. The more you wait, the less appetite will there be in the Valley to talk to New Delhi: there was more positivity in the Valley about talks a decade ago than is the case now.

In difficult times such as these, hard decisions have to be taken and the political class should show courage to do so. Here are some suggestions to bring normalcy back to Kashmir: repeal or at least amend AFSPA, release political prisoners, institute a broad-based inquiry into extrajudicial killings in Kashmir, and open a result-oriented dialogue with the Valley’s dissidents to discuss the larger political questions as promised by the ruling coalition. If the Indian state could strike a peace deal with the Naga insurgents, why not Kashmir, which is even more central to India’s national security?

This round of agitation will eventually end, but the Kashmir issue is certainly not going to go away: it will keep simmering, with occasional eruptions such as this one. With terrorism engulfing the region and the Islamic State waiting at the gates for an opening, India can ill-afford not to pacify its domestic insurgencies. Let’s face it, branding dissent as terrorism would only frustrate our efforts to deal with real terrorism.

Moreover, we should shed our national habit of pointing fingers at others when trouble brews in our country, and own up to our share of mistakes.

Finally, India and Indians need to speak to Kashmiris, openly and without prejudice, but not through prime-time shouting matches by TV anchors some of whose ignorance of history and politics, or basic discursive decency, could both shock and embarrass us.

Happymon Jacob is Associate Professor of Diplomacy and Disarmament Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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PM asks security forces in J&K to exercise absolute restraint

A woman and her daughter cross a deserted bridge in Srinagar on Tuesday.Restrictions are still in force in most parts of the Kashmir Valley after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.  

Raises concern over media projection of Wani as ‘hero’

After the high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, security forces deployed in the Kashmir Valley were asked to exercise “absolute restraint.”

Mr. Modi, who chaired the meeting within hours of his return from the four-nation Africa tour, asked officials to see to it that “civilians were not harassed,” a senior government official said.

The unrest in the Kashmir Valley followd the killing of Hizb-ul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani (22) last Friday.

The Prime Minister is learnt to have expressed concern at some sections of the media projecting Wani as a “poster boy” and “hero,” which was influencing many Kashmiri youths to come out on the streets in violent protests, the official said.

Mr. Modi was also briefed on the recent statements issued by Pakistan on the unrest in the Valley.

In a detailed presentation, Mr. Modi was informed by Home Ministry officials that Wani had 12 terror related cases registered against him, and he was working towards “disintegration of the country.”

Minister of State for PMO Jitendra Singh, who attended the meeting, said: “The Prime Minister kept taking updates about the Jammu and Kashmir situation during his visit abroad. The biggest evidence of his concern is that he called this review meeting within hours of returning from the tour and took details. He has appealed to the people of Jammu and Kashmir to maintain peace so that the situation can normalise. He also expressed the hope that no innocent person faced any kind of inconvenience or loss.”

The Prime Minister also expressed satisfaction over the progress of the Amarnath Yatra, and offered all help needed by the State government, Mr. Singh said.

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Calming the Valley

Burhan Wani, the 22-year-old “commander” of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen gunned down last week by the security forces in Anantnag, was credited with mobilising a new generation of the disaffected in Jammu and Kashmir. In the violent aftermath of his death, however, young men and women have taken the fight to the security forces on the street. Pitched battles have engulfed the Valley. Wani was obviously a prize catch. His engaging manner had turned him into a legend before his death, as he coasted on personal charisma and social media smarts to become the ‘poster boy’ of a new phase of Kashmiri militancy that is homegrown. But having got their man, the security forces failed spectacularly in managing the situation. After the death of over a hundred Kashmiris in the stone-pelting protests in the summer of 2010, the J&K police and the paramilitary forces were said to have evolved less lethal ways of bringing under control what is essentially political mobilisation. The fact that so many civilians have been killed or injured in the eye this month, with a high percentage having possibly lost vision altogether, suggests that no care has gone into keeping the casualties low. Faced with an attacking mob, policemen are bound to perceive a sense of siege. But it is imperative that any response should be measured and never grossly disproportionate to the cause of action — forgetting this lesson in Kashmir has time and again led to the fuelling of a further cycle of protests, to attracting more impressionable and aggrieved youngsters to attack symbols of authority.

This is a cycle that cannot be broken by brute force. The Central and State governments have reached out to the Opposition and separatist leaders to dissuade young Kashmiris from street violence. But appeals for calm must be strengthened with a demonstrable capacity for a political conversation. When tens of thousands of Kashmiris hit the streets in mourning for a fallen militant, there is a spectrum of political opinion that presents itself. They can be dispersed with pellets. But if ‘mainstream’ politics does not speak to them, if their arguments are not heard patiently to be countered or fleshed out, as the case may be, the calm that eventually obtains will be an illusion. The Valley has been restive for more than a year now. In this period, Wani is not the only militant whose funeral has drawn people in the thousands. But after long, after more than a decade of violence led by foreign militants, he was the rare local boy to be seen in a leadership role. To put his mourners in a with-us-against-us binary would, as Omar Abdullah has said, give him a recruiting power from beyond the grave.

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The rise of Kashmir’s rock star ultras

Boys walk in front of closed shops during a curfew in Srinagar on Monday. —Photo: Nissar Ahmad  

The rise of this new generation of militants, who do not mind posing for cameras and exploit social media, has strangely coincided with the growing fog of war in the Kashmir Valley

By most dependable accounts, there is no credible evidence to show that slain militant Burhan Wani had carried out a single operation until his death last Friday in Kokernag.

However, he played a crucial role in convincing dozens of Kashmiri youth to take up arms, reversing the steady drop in violence over some years now.

According to sources, Wani’s career mirrors those of some other key militants whom security forces have neutralised in recent years. One officer said there have been at least two other such high-profile, flamboyant, and young militant commanders who have inspired several youth to take to militancy.

Flamboyant

Many in the security establishment say the first of these flamboyant young militants was Abdullah Uni, a key Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist from Pakistan, who was known for riding around the town on motorbikes. He was reportedly the mastermind behind many major attacks, but more importantly, he had an uncanny ability to escape from encounter sites.

Official estimates show that he escaped unhurt from at least a dozen encounters. Uni was finally killed in Sopore in September 13, 2011. His successor Abu Qasim couldn’t match up to his flamboyance .

Another young militant, Sahadullah, had a similar profile among the local people, escaping cordons and encounter sites with unusual frequency.

During this period, several poorly trained local youngsters, who had taken to militancy inspired by these flamboyant militant leaders, have been killed in encounters, officials said.

The rise of this new generation of militants, who do not mind posing for cameras and exploit social media, has strangely coincided with the growing fog of war in the Kashmir Valley. The interlinking of the new-generation, high-profile militants, informers who could be playing both sides, and the loss of senior security officers are all part of a narrative that has thickened in the Valley in recent years. For example, in many of the high-profile attacks on security forces there has been specific intelligence that had enticed the troops to rush to a spot. This pattern is suspected in the killing of Col M.N. Rai, the commanding officer of a counter-insurgency unit, and Sub-Inspector Altaf Ahmad, an acclaimed Jammu and Kashmir counter-terrorism police officer, in 2015.

In both the killings, the tip-offs may have been deliberate traps, some officers suspect.

The rise of these young militants and their local cadres has helped in fuelling local support for militancy, say officers. In recent months, growing crowds have been turning up at the funerals of local militants. Burhan Wani’s funeral is but the biggest and deadliest of them all.

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Sharif attacks India after Opposition ire

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. File photo.  

Pakistan’s political parties are looking to leverage the Kashmir issue in local elections in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

A day after the Pakistan Foreign Office reaction, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued a statement attacking India for the violence in Jammu and Kashmir. He accused the government of using “excessive and unlawful force” against civilians in the State to quell protests over the killing of Hizb-ul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, even as India accused Pakistan of having a “hand” in the recent violence.

“It is deplorable that excessive and unlawful force was used against the civilians who were protesting against the killing of Burhan Wani. Oppressive measures cannot deter the valiant people of Jammu and Kashmir from their demand of exercising their right to self-determination in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions,” Mr. Sharif said in a statement released from his office.

The Foreign Office statemen called Burhan Wani a “Kashmiri leader” and termed his death an “extra-judicial killing”.

Speaking to journalists, Minister of State in the PMO, Jitendra Singh said Pakistan’s hand in the incident “was more evident” because of its statements and its past record of “perpetrating terrorism on Indian soil”.

“Therefore, there is a reason to believe, on the inputs which are available today, Pakistan's involvement in the recent episode,” Mr. Singh said.

Militant challenge

Mr. Singh’s comments came after Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed and Hizb chief Syed Salahuddin issued a joint statement calling for the Pakistan government to “openly support” Kashmiri protesters, and announcing plans for funeral prayers for Wani on Friday.

Mr. Sharif’s statement, issued shortly he returned to Lahore after undergoing a heart surgery in the U.K., marks an escalation in comments from across the border, and came less than a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr Sharif spoke to each other on the occasion of Eid.

Observers say it is unusual for Mr. Sharif to issue a direct statement, suggesting that it is a reaction to criticism from Pakistan’s Opposition for his alleged closeness to Mr Modi, who has spoken with him frequently, including just before his surgery in London. Mr. Sharif has also been under attack for spending time away from the country for his surgery.

Other observers say the statement is linked more closely to upcoming elections in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) on July 21, with the new round of critical statements indicating that the protests in Kashmir will be fodder for the Pakistani political leadership during the election campaign.

Bilawal’s charge

On Monday, Chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party Bilawal Bhutto accused Mr. Sharif of taking a “soft stand” on the Modi government and giving Mr. Modi a “certificate of friendship”. “Mr Sharif is jeopardising the Kashmir issue by building his association with the Indian prime minister,” Mr. Bhutto said in a statement reported in Dawn newspaper.

Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf chief Imran Khan, who also issued a statement, termed India’s actions “condemnable.” He has been addressing rallies in PoK where he attacked Mr. Sharif for “broken promises to Kashmiris.”

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19 men injured by pellets may lose vision

An injured man at the SMHS hospital in Srinagar on Sunday. — Photo: Nissar Ahmad  

Of the 87 civilians brought to the SMHS hospital alone, 40 had suffered pellet injuries in their eyes.

Every 45 minutes, an ambulance with injured persons arrives at the Sri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital. Youths quickly slide out of the vehicles shouting “Allah Hu Akbar”, carrying men with grave injuries into the premises.

In the past 24 hours, about 87 such cases have arrived in the hospital and most of them have been injured by one common weapon — a pellet gun.

From the State and Central government’s perspective, a pellet gun is a “non-lethal” weapon. But since the killing of top Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani triggered unrest across Kashmir, the police and the paramilitary forces have severely injured over 100 protesters with pellet guns.

Of the 87 civilians brought to the SMHS hospital alone, 40 had suffered pellet injuries in their eyes.

Speaking to The Hindu, Dr. Kaisar Ahmed, the head of SMHS hospital, said 19 of them were likely to go blind in the coming days.

“Two people have had their eye globes entirely shattered and others have suffered severe damage,” said Mr. Ahmed.

“At this stage it’s hard to say whether they can sustain their vision. Once we reduce their inflammation, we will have to operate them.”

Lying on the bed in Ward Eight of the hospital, 17-year-old Showkat Ahmed of Kellar village of Pulwama district said he felt like his head was on fire when pellets hit his eyes.

“I thought my head will explode and I fainted. People say I threw up a lot,” Mr. Ahmed told The Hindu.

Pellet guns meant to avoid fatalities

After Kashmir’s summer unrest of 2010 which claimed the lives of 112 protesters in police firing, the Congress-led government at the Centre deployed pellet guns as a “non-lethal” measure to avoid civilian fatalities.

A senior J&K police officer with expertise in ballistics told The Hindu that Israel was the first country to use pellet guns as an anti-riot cover against the Palestinian protesters. Explaining how it works, the officer said, a single pellet gun cartridge carries 500 pieces of tiny metal laced with gun powder.

On pulling the trigger, the gun sprays the hot metal pieces haphazardly.

“If you are within the 10-metre range you can get fatally injured,” the officer said.





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Burhan's funeral: Dangerous writing on the wall

Protesters throw stones amid tear gas smoke fired by police during a protest against the killing of Burhan Wani in Srinagar.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

As three separate funeral prayers were held at 4.5-acre Eidgah in Tral, after failing to accommodate participants in one go, masked armed men, wailing women and feet-touching teenagers attended last rites of slain militant Burhan Wani (22) — scripting unprecedented trajectory from an online poster-boy to icon of new-age militancy.

Till late on Friday night, top security agencies deliberated on how to control the funeral procession of Wani, who was killed in an encounter on Friday in Kokernag area.

The police decided to follow the set precedence. It handed over the body of Wani to the family, unlike the killed foreign militants who are buried away in scarcely populated areas of Baramulla district, around 12 in the night.

Against the police calculations, the family decided not to bury the body in the night because of unprecedented public outpour in the area. It was around 3 p.m. on Saturday that thousands of people performed the final funeral prayers and buried him in a graveyard that houses scores of local recruits' graves.

Inspector General of Police (IGP), Kashmir, Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani, said, “Though the public property was damaged (in the epicenter Tral), the security forces preferred to exercise maximum restraint.”

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, sources said, in her brief to the top security officials insisted “that the funeral prayers should not turn into a vicious cycle of violence at any cost.”

In fact, the security forces withdrew from Tral town to avoid direct confrontation with the crowds. “The area remained peaceful indeed because of the preparations made,” said Additional Director General of Police, CID, S.M. Sahai.

Mr. Sahai, however, added scores of funeral prayers in absentia, held across the Valley, “became the centre of violent protests.”

“Funeral prayers were a challenge. Though all known hotspots remained peaceful, it was only interiors and new fringe pockets that turned into violent processions,” Mr. Sahai added.

Militants participate

Several armed militants, who fired gun shots in the air as a mark of respect, also participated in Wani’s funeral. A number of youth were seen approaching the armed militants and several pledging to join the militancy.

Reactions

“Tum kitnay Burhan Marogay, Har ghar say Burhan niklay ga (How many Burhans will be killed, every house will give birth to one),” shouted women in the funeral prayers.

Burhan’s father, Muzaffar Wani, a government school principal, said, “It gives a sense of satisfaction that he has achieved martyrdom.”

Several villages had set up langars (community kitchen) for those who participated in the funeral.

Wani, the mastermind of social media warfare and charismatic recruiter of young local boys, was praised by Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizbul Mujahideen.

“He (Wani) infused a fresh life in the militancy in Kashmir,” said Pakistan-occupied Kashmir-based United Jehad Council chief and Hizbul Mujahideem supremo Syed Salahuddin.

Unnerved by the unprecedented public support, ADGP Sahai asked the parents “to dissuade their children from joining the militancy and taking the path of Mr. Wani.”

However, former chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah had this warning: “Mark my words - Burhan's ability to recruit in to militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media.”

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Burhan Wani's death and a year of living dangerously

Burhan Wani killing: Amarnath Yatra suspended

Curfew in Pulwama, mobile internet services suspended in Kashmir.

Amarnath Yatra has been suspended in view of tension due to killing of Jammu and Kashmir’s most wanted guerrilla Burhan Wani by the security forces.

“No yatri was allowed to move from Bhagawati Nagar Yatri Niwas in Jammu city towards the valley due to prevailing tension following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani,” a senior police official told IANS in Jammu.

“The situation will be reviewed later. Till then the Amarnath Yatra shall remain suspended.”

Authorities on Saturday suspended mobile internet services in Kashmir Valley to check spreading of rumours by anti-social elements. Besides, the authorities also imposed restriction in the entire district of Pulwama and in the towns of Ananatnag, Shopian, Pulgam and Sopore, officials said here.

In Srinagar, restrictions have been imposed in areas falling under seven police stations which include Nowhatta, Khanyar, Rainawari, M.R. Gunj, Safakadal, Maisuma, Kralkhud. All school board exams scheduled for the day have been postponed.

Train services from Baramulla in Kashmir region to Banihal town in Jammu have also been suspended.

Wani, along with two associates, were gunned down by the security forces on Friday. His burial could not take place on Friday as authorities feared a law and order situation.

Scores of people using different mode of conveyance tried to reach the area of gunfight in south Kashmir’s Kokernag area and Tral town, to which Wani belonged.

Meanwhile, the separatists including the hardline Syed Ali Geelani, moderate Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Asiya Andrabi, the radical chief of women’s separatist outfit, have called for a valley-wide shutdown to protest Wani’s killing.

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Burhan Wani's death and a year of living dangerously

Wani’s death triggers fury, 11 killed, 200 hurt in Kashmir

Stone pelting incidents were reported from many areas of north Kashmir’s Baramulla district. Photo: Nissar Ahmad  

Eleven protesters were killed and over 120 persons, including 96 security personnel, were injured, as violent street protests erupted across the Kashmir valley on Saturday after militant commander Burhan Wani was killed in a joint operation by security forces on Friday.

The Government clamped curfew in large parts of Kashmir and the Amarnath yatra has been suspended.

The State has also requested for 30 paramilitary companies from the Centre to control the situation.

While phone services were snapped in large parts of south Kashmir, internet services remained suspended across the Kashmir Valley. All examinations and interviews have been cancelled and railway services suspended.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti have condoled the deaths of civilians and appealed for calm.

Speaking to reporters on the situation, Additional Director General of Police, CID, S.M Sahai, said eleven protesters had died in clashes as “The mobs either tried to enter or entered several security forces’ installations,” with the epicentre of the violence remaining south Kashmir’s Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama districts.

As Wani was laid to rest in his native Tral, violent mobs attacked police and paramilitary installations at various places in the Valley and set ablaze several buildings including three police stations.

Mehbooba appeals for calm

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on Saturday expressed grief over civilian deaths in the widespread violence across the Kashmir Valley as protests erupted over the death of Hizb commander Burhan Wani in an encounter on Friday. Ms. Mufti said, “Disproportionate use of force for crowd control results in loss of precious lives and grave injuries, which should be avoided at all costs.”

She asked the police and the paramilitary forces to use Standard Operational Procedure (SOP) while dealing with protesters “to avoid loss of precious human lives or injuries”, and sought people’s cooperation in restoration of normality. The separatists have extended the call for a shutdown in the Valley for two more days, even as Amarnath Yatra was suspended.

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Burhan Wani's death and a year of living dangerously

Burhan Wani, Hizbul poster boy, killed in encounter

Screenshot from a video of Burhan Wani, commander of terror group Hizbul Mujahideen.  

Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani had become a poster boy of the Valley’s militancy.

Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani (22), the architect of the social-media driven psychological warfare in Kashmir, was killed along with two other militants in an encounter in Anantnag district on Friday evening.

Described by security agencies as “the biggest-ever success” in recent times, Wani, who carried a reward of Rs 10 lakh on his head, was tracked after a tip-off that he was planning to come down from the Tral forest area for Eid celebrations.

Wani and his two local associates were cornered by security forces in Kokernag area and killed in an encounter. The militants hurled grenades and opened fire in a bid to escape, but the house where they were holed up was bombed killing all three, police sources said.

Director General of Police (DGP) K. Rajendra confirmed that Wani was among the three militants killed in the joint operation of the Army and the counter-insurgency cells of Srinagar and Anantnag districts.

The news of Wani’s death triggered protests across the Valley. Hundreds of people assembled in Tral, Wani’s hometown, on Friday evening to participate in his funeral prayers. Several others performed funeral in absentia in south, central and north Kashmir.

A senior police officer said several security forces’ installations were attacked in south Kashmir and protesters were injured in late night clashes.

Curfew-like restrictions

Fearing more violence, the State government has imposed curfew-like restrictions in Srinagar, Pulwama, Anantnag, Shopian, Sopore, Kupwara and Kulgam.

Internet services have been snapped across the Valley and all top-ranking separatist leaders placed under house arrest.

Top police sources told The Hindu that Wani, who joined the militancy in 2010, had remained elusive because of his “tremendous following” online and on the ground.

“Every time an operation was launched against Wani, our movement was reported to him by his huge network of young supporters and fans,” said a top police officer.

Wani, the face of new-age militancy in Kashmir, played a key role in making Hizbul Mujahideen stronger than the Lashkar-e-Taiba in the Valley. “Since 2010, he must have influenced more than 60 youths in south Kashmir to join militancy. He received training locally without crossing into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir,” said a police source.

Fan following

His fan following forced the Hizbul to own him in 2011 and declare him one of their commanders. Most of Wani’s recruits allegedly came from a middle-class background with good academic records. They would snatch weapons from policemen and receive training in orchards.

Wani waged psychological warfare by releasing videos and pictures online. A picture of him with 10 gun-toting local youths went viral last year and made him the poster boy of the Hizbul Mujahideen.

In his last video released in June, Wani was seen playing cricket with other militants.

Weeks before that, in another video, he pledged not to harm Amarnath pilgrims, but warned the local police of dire consequences.

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Amarnath pilgrims won’t be harmed: Hizbul

But warns against setting up separate colonies for Pandits and former soldiers

Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, in a fresh video, on Tuesday warned of attacks on separate Sainik and Pandit colonies but assured safety to Amarnath pilgrims for their upcoming pilgrimage.

“Militants have no plan and will never attack pilgrims who arrive in Kashmir for the Amarnath Yatra. They are pilgrims and we will not attack them,” said 24-year-old Wani in a 6:17 minute video.

Wani, son of a school master who lost his brother in an Army encounter, has emerged as a poster boy of militancy in Kashmir. Security agencies admit Mr. Wani was able to motivate more than 35 youth to join militancy since last year.

In the video, Mr. Burhan, wearing a white T-shirt, has opposed any move to come up with separate colonies for Pandits and ex-soldiers in the State. “If Sainik colony or separate colonies on the Israeli- pattern for Hindus are created in Kashmir, we will target them. Pandits can come here and live in their respective places,” Burhan said in the video.

The Hizbul commander claimed his outfit was forced to “to attack local policemen for supporting the Indian occupation here”.

Expressing “gratitude to people, especially youth, for their support”, Mr. Burhan said his last video had warned the police to stay away from “anti-freedom movement activities”.

“I ask them not to harass youth and not to create naka’s and stay inside in the camps. Policemen are part of Kashmir nation. India gets pleasure every time a militant or a local policeman gets killed,” he added.

He admitted in the video that recently arrested aide Tariq Pandit was behind raid on the militant sympathisers. “These raids won’t affect the organisation.”

The commander warned the media against using the word “terrorists” for “militants”. “This land is ours. Kashmir is ours. We are not terrorists but the Army is,” he added.

Burhan joined the militant ranks in 2010 and since then has been active in the south Kashmir and believed to be behind many attacks in the Valley.

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Burhan Wani's death and a year of living dangerously

These young militants are selfie buffs and trendy

Militants Wasim Malla (left) and Zakir Ahmad Bhat in a photo taken in Srinagar recently. Photo: Special Arrangement  

Police stumble upon photos of two Hizb men who surveyed Srinagar

They are suave, wear sporty looks and like to take selfies — an unconventional new generation of Kashmir militants is keeping the security agencies on tenterhooks, with two young militants daring to survey capital Srinagar and take photos in posh colonies.

The Jammu and Kashmir police have stumbled upon pictures of two militants of the Hizbul Mujahideen — Wasim Malla (27) and Zakir Ahmad Bhat (25) — who apparently surveyed Srinagar recently. They also took pictures in trendy wear — jeans, sunglasses and hi-end sports shoes, besides flaunting cellphones.

The police have started an investigation into the “open presence of militants in the urban pockets”.

“We are trying to identify the location and know their designs,” said a counter-insurgency cop.

Malla, a second-year Bachelor of Arts student, and Bhat, with a degree in Bachelor of Technology, are the new faces of Kashmir militancy, who sport no flowing beard but are “ideologically wedded”, sources said.

Roping in youth

A top counter-insurgency cop admitted to The Hindu that 22-year-old Burhan Wani, a young Hizb commander from south Kashmir’s Tral area, has succeeded in galvanising support and infusing young blood, of around 35 boys, into the outfit in south Kashmir, to make it the number one outfit in the State, leaving behind Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Both from well-to-do families, Malla, son of an orchard owner, and Bhat, son of a senior government engineer, are from south Kashmir’s Shopian and Tral.

Malla, alias Inam-ul-Haq, with Jamaat-e-Islami leanings, was first arrested in 2010 in an improvised explosive device case. He was released after six months.

After staying silent for two years under police surveillance, Malla became an active militant in 2012.

Malla’s first target was a minority picket in Shopian’s Pargoza village where, according to the police, he decamped with three service rifles to join the Hizb ranks, at a time when weapons within the outfit was depleting fast due to tighter security on the Line of Control. According to the police, he was behind the killing of three cops in Shopian on April 6 this year.

Bhat was only 22 years old when he joined the Hizb in 2013. He was motivated by the 2010 street uprising, which left 113 protesters, mainly young boys dead. Since then, he is on the run with other young militants working under the patronage of Burhan Wani.

Indoctrination online

Wani is relying heavily on online sites to reach out to the youth. He has already come up with several videos, warning locals to desist from “anti-movement” activities and stressing on “following the true Islamic path.” He has bombarded the social networking sites with selfies and group photos, forcing the police to bring down several Facebook accounts to stop its circulation.

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