Saturday, Dec 02, 2023

Stone Sepulchre

Stone Sepulchre

Eleven boys killed in protests in three weeks. The Valley burns again.

Stone Sepulchre AFP (From Outlook, July 12)

There Will Be Blood

  • Jan 8, 2010: Inayat Ahmad Khan, 17, dies in CRPF firing at Lal Chowk, Srinagar
  • Jan 31: Wamiq Farooq Wani, 13, dies after being hit by a teargas shell in old Srinagar
  • Feb 5: Zahid Farooq, 16, killed in unprovoked firing in Srinagar
  • Jun 11: Tufail Ahmad Mattoo, 17, killed in teargas fire near Rajouri Kadal
  • Jun 19: Rafiq Ahmad Bangroo, a 27-year-old beaten by the CRPF personnel near his residence in old Srinagar on June 12, succumbs to his injuries
  • Jun 20: Javed Ahmad Malla, 26, dies when mourners, returning from Bangroo’s burial, attack a CRPF bunker. The latter opened fire.
  • Jun 25: Shakeel Ganai (17), Firdous Khan (18), killed in CRPF firing in Sopore
  • Jun 27: Bilal Ahmed Wani, 22, dies following CRPF firing in Sopore
  • Jun 28: Tajamul Bashir (20), Tauqeer Rather (9) killed in Delina and Sopore
  • Jun 29: Ishtiyaq Ahmed, 15, Imtiyaz Ahmed Itoo, 17, and Shujaat-ul-Islam, 17, die in police firing in southern Anantnag district


“A dog to its puppies: don’t move out, you may die a man’s death!” If you are wondering, that’s an SMS doing the rounds in Kashmir these days. Which in turn is an approximation of what is happening on the streets of the Valley where at least 11 boys, most of them in their teens, have died in firing since the fresh turmoil erupted three weeks ago. The latest wave of trouble began on June 11 when Tufail Ahmad Mattoo, 17, died after he was hit by a teargas shell fired by the police during the routine post-Friday prayers protests in downtown Srinagar.

Apart from bringing out thousands of Kashmiris on to the streets demanding “freedom from India”—a replay of the 2008 Amarnath land agitations—these killings have seriously discredited chief minister Omar Abdullah’s 18-month-old coalition government. Many Kashmiris blame him for the turmoil, blame his “inability” to handle the situation.

The government’s initial cover-up ascribing mysterious causes to Tufail’s death is what first incited the people. It led to more street protests, which were met with largely uncalled-for force, causing more casualties. Indeed, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Omar initially appeared insensitive to the situation. For when tempers were running high in Srinagar, he was holidaying with family in Gulmarg.

On June 19, Rafiq Ahmad Bangroo, 27, who was beaten up by CRPF men in Noorbagh area of the old city a week before, died in hospital. Next morning, mourners returning from Bangroo’s burial attacked a CRPF mobile bunker with stones. The CRPF men opened fire, killing Bangroo’s neighbour Javaid Ahmad Malla, 26, and wounding three others. Police imposed curfew in Srinagar and Omar had to rush back from Gulmarg and hold a meeting with his ministers.

Protesters beat up a policeman after the ‘Sopore chalo’ march in Srinagar, June 28

Instead of camping in Srinagar and working hands-on, Omar flew back to Gulmarg in the evening, reminiscent of father Farooq Abdullah who often chose to holiday in Europe while the state was burning. As senior journalist Muzamil Jaleel puts it, “Omar can run his government from Gulmarg but his return to the health resort while Srinagar was mourning its two young men and the city’s two main hospitals were filling up with wounded protesters strengthened the view that the government is casual in dealing with the situation.”

Omar, on his part, denies he has been lax. He told TV channel NewsX: “The fact is I was following on a regular basis the health updates of Rafiq Bangroo, the boy injured by the beating.... In the evening his condition was serious but he was stable and still alive. I flew out to Gulmarg. It was the weekend. In the morning I was told the boy had died. Without wasting any time, I flew down to Srinagar, had the first round of meetings with my security establishment. Decided on some changes that needed to be made. Sat in Srinagar for the entire day until about 6:30 in the evening. Had another round of meetings with the security establishment and then went back to Gulmarg. I could have just as easily stayed at home and watched TV, nobody would have been the wiser. I did my job. If an issue is going to made about where I sleep rather than the results of the action I take, I think it’s unfortunate.”

By the time Omar was back, things had gone from bad to worse. The police and CRPF had only one response to angry stone-throwing youngsters: bullets. The government’s response: knee-jerk, to say the least. On one occasion, the CM described the CRPF killings as “suicidal on the part of the victims” and jailed the separatists, including firebrand Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Meanwhile, he was also now desperately seeking their help to douse the flames. In a move to cool tempers, he ordered probes into the deaths, but it only exacerbated the situation; no one was arrested even as more boys fell to the bullets and teargas canisters. “Most of these inquiries are anyway eye-wash,” says Engineer Rashid, an independent legislator from north Kashmir. “This is just another government tactic used to control the situation...these investigations never get completed.”

Again, on June 29, when three youths were killed in the southern town of Anantnag, Omar, apparently emboldened by Union home minister P. Chidambaram’s fulsome backing, called a press conference—only to defend the CRPF. The stand was in complete variance with that of his law minister Ali Mohammad Sagar who had two days before said the CRPF was “out of control” after five youths were shot dead in Sopore and Baramulla.

So widespread is the anger that few even believe the theory that Pakistani elements are behind the latest trouble, as asserted by PC. Prominent political commentator P.G. Rasool says, “I think blaming Pakistan, a country mired in its own existential crises, for our youth taking to the streets amounts to ignoring the ground realities.... The truth is, the government has completely lost the plot.”

In fact, the demand for Omar’s resignation is growing louder (on two occasions, the media even rushed to his house to confirm rumours that he had quit, as he himself revealed). Says Opposition leader and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, “Omar has descended on the state as a modern-day Nero presiding over destruction and death. He treated the state as a personal fief, or worse, a toy that pleased his juvenile ways.”

Sadly for Omar, who took over in January ’09 as the state’s youngest ever CM, there are murmurs even within the party about his lack of political and administrative acumen. The perception is the government is run by his political advisor, a business tycoon from Jammu whose brother spearheaded the Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti that had called for the Kashmir blockade in ’08.

In fact, the whiffs of promise of a clean government have evaporated in the face of myriad reports of corruption in the administration. Governor N.N. Vohra, in an unprecedented move on June 29, even issued a communique in this regard that all administrative secretaries report about the activities of their respective departments to the Raj Bhavan.

Meanwhile, the separatists now call the shots despite most of them being in jail. Their calls for strikes and anti-India protests now get overwhelming response, a stark contrast from the situation just three weeks back when the government was patting itself on the back for the huge tourist arrivals. On June 29, after the Anantnag shootout, many tourist buses were pelted with stones in Srinagar and elsewhere, triggering panic and fear. The next morning, though,  brought a rare day of calm and eventually even the annual Amarnath yatra was flagged off, albeit after a four-hour delay. A narrow ray of light in what is turning out to be a really dark time for the Valley.