The death toll in Kashmir has reached 40 as people continue to protest the encounter of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani despite a strict curfew for the eighth day in a row. The latest casualties are a young boy who fell to the bullets of the security forces in Kupwara and one Kulgam teenager who succumbed to his injuries in a Srinagar hospital.
The Jammu and Kashmir government is trying to stop any attempt to escalate the protests, and acting on intelligence inputs, it raided newspaper offices on the intervening night of 15-16 July and seized the copies going to press. Some employees of the press were also arrested. Police also raided the local cable offices. While the local cable operators said that they were told by police to shut down the cable operations, a police spokesman clarified they had only directed them to block Pakistani channels. Highly-placed official sources told this newspaper that the move was taken after the Intelligence Bureau intercepted some messages on Friday evening, prompting a high level meeting where a decision was taken to put curbs on newspapers and other journalists while blocking the local cable network.
J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s appeal for calm has fallen on deaf ears as is evident from the fact that the initial protests in South Kashmir have spread to entire North Kashmir, including Pattan, Baramulla, Sopore and Kupwara.
Journalists operating from Kashmir are facing a tough time. Many of them were thrashed by the security forces while reporting from the troubled areas. They are also facing public fury at many places as people have grouse that most NewDelhi-based news channels were not reflecting the ground situation in Kashmir and were trying to shield the alleged atrocities by the security forces and the J&K police. IGP Kashmir, Javed Mujtaba Geelani, has, however, told the media that they will investigate the excessive use of force. According to officials, 1,800 people have been injured. District magistrate of Anantnag, Syed Abid Hussain, told this newspaper that the forces were told to exercise maximum restraint while dealing with street protests. “People are complaining of shortage of food items and we are assessing the situation and will take a call on curfew restrictions,” Abid said.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has declared 19 July as “Black Day” against the alleged “excessive use” of force against the people of Kashmir. New Delhi has rejected the Pakistani claims and reiterated that Kashmir was an internal problem and they need no lecturing from Pakistan on human rights in Kashmir.
Although the state government was doing its best to control the street protests, Kashmir was descending into chaos with people facing an acute shortage of essential commodities. Baby food shortage attracted the attention of Jammu and Kashmir High Court which directed the state government to make available essential commodities, medicines and baby food in Kashmir amid curfew. Faced with public outrage, CM Mehbooba is contemplating to set up a probe commission and even reach out to separatists. Highly-placed PDP sources told this newspaper that Mehbooba Mufti is trying to convince ally BJP’s state and central leaderships to announce engagements with separatists as already agreed in the agenda of alliance between the two parties. Mehbooba wants the announcement to be made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to douse the fires in Kashmir valley.
PDP sources said that in case the Centre turns down the suggestion, Mehbooba will announce a probe into the “excessive use of force” on protesters. “The scale of injuries and the complaints received by the police and the authorities clearly show that the security forces have used excessive force and have not adhered to the Standard Operation Procedure (SOP). Over 200 children have received eye injuries because of pellet guns. As a government of the people, how can we remain silent?” a senior minister in the PDP government said told this newspaper.
Senior Cabinet minister and official spokesperson of the government, Nayeem Akther, told the media that they were ready to relook even into the killing of Burhan Wani. He said to another news channel that Burhan was “forced” to join militancy when as a school-going boy he was harassed and tortured by the Special Operation Group of Jammu and Kashmir Police.
Meanwhile, there are horrific tales in the hospitals about how the police and CRPF handled crowds in South Kashmir soon after Burhan Wani’s killing. Senior doctors of SMHS hospital of Srinagar confirmed that when they were coming with injured people to Srinagar hospitals, their vehicles/ambulances were stopped by the police and CRPF who beat the injured. “Thirty-six ambulances were damaged by the CRPF and police and it was only after the intervention of Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Dr Masood Samoon that they allowed the ambulances to move on the streets,” said Dr Kasier Ahmed, principal, Government Medical College, Srinagar.
While the hospital authorities claim that more than 2,500 have been injured, officials limit the number to 1,600.