The following story has been sent by a Kashmiri local who tweets from @KashmirSource_. He’s an IT professional from Kashmir who also covers the conflict at home as a hobby. He was in Kashmir recently and sent out these dispatches.
Srinagar, September 4, 2019
I have been in Kashmir for last 23 days, arrived in Srinagar on August 11, 2019. I have narrated the story of my arrival and how it was like to stay at home for first few days and how I spent the Eid under the clampdown in my story here — “Coming Home to Caged Kashmir”. In this plain and quick dispatch, I would try to answer questions that people outside Kashmir might have, to bring in some clarity. I will also mention a few accounts from my experience of staying in Kashmir valley post August 11, and post August 16 when I started to venture out to visit places, to meet people, to visit hospitals in south Kashmir, Srinagar and elsewhere.
Is Kashmir still under curfew?
No. Kashmir is not under curfew now, has mostly not been under strict curfew post August 17, 2019. However, curfew like situation still remains in place in many areas, and restrictions remain in place in many areas too. By restrictions, I mean heavy presence of paramilitaries, J&K Police personnel and Indian army, restrictions of movement on roads, heavy checking in place, frequent army patrols in residential neighborhoods. I was at home for three weeks. In three weeks, army visited our neighborhood more than half a dozen times. My neighborhood is supposed to be one of the most peaceful areas in south Kashmir with no history of militancy, encounters, stone-pelting, arrests or killings. If there is such patrolling in my area, one can only imagine the situation elsewhere. Kashmir overall looks like a ghost town. The curfew ended post August 16, but there is a lot of uncertainty, you take a route to visit a place, by the time you are back the route is sealed with barbed wires and no movement is allowed. You end up being stranded and are forced to search for an alternative route. This happened with me multiple times across Kashmir, in south Kashmir and in Srinagar. One of my friends had a confirmed fight reservation in second week of August. Their car was stopped on the highway. The police officer of Deputy Superintendent (DYSP) rank from SOG operations wing of J&K Police did not allow them to move, told them airport is closed and threatened to arrest them and seize their car if they don’t go back home. Fortunately, there were two police officers of JK police in the car with my friend who intervened and escorted my friend to the airport. The air-ticket was not accepted as curfew pass by the security personnel.
Are Landline phones working in Kashmir?
Yes, landline phones are working in Kashmir at many places now. However, there are places in Anantnag, Srinagar and elsewhere where landline phones are still not working, calls do not go through even after multiple tries, as of today. 100% restoration of landlines is still not fully done, even after more than a month. The government announces and extends deadline of restoring 100% landlines, but the reports from ground suggest otherwise. Also, more importantly to my knowledge less than 1-5 % of the entire population in Kashmir use landlines. So, restoring landlines doesn’t really make any difference in the communication Blackhole that Kashmir has become post August 5, 2019 when Kashmir was stripped off its special semi-autonomous status and a total communication blackout was imposed. The communications would be deemed ‘restored’ the day mobile communications and internet services are made operational. There are few public calling kiosks set up by erstwhile Public Calling Offices (PCO) owners. I visited few such phone kiosks in Anantnag and Kulgam. The owners made a note of phone numbers, government issued ID numbers, name and address of those who used phones to make calls. I asked one of the PCO owners if he has been told to do so by police and if they come to check his records. ‘’Yes, sometimes”, he hesitantly replied. Another PCO operator told me off record that police personnel come and take photos of his logbook every day. One of the PCOs in Kulgam area stopped working after a caller (maybe a journalist) started narrating the stories on the current situation in Kashmir to someone on call for 20 minutes, he further added. I couldn’t visit the said PCO in Kulgam to verify the story. However, I won’t be surprised if this is true. PCO owner in Srinagar told a journalist that all phones are under surveillance of intelligence agencies. One of the PCO owners in Anantnag district allowed only national calls. Those who wanted to speak to their relatives in Saudi Arabia, UK, Pakistan and elsewhere were not allowed to make calls. Those who have to make international calls travel outside Kashmir valley to contact their relatives.
Are mobile phone services in Kashmir restored?
No. BSNL mobile phones of some administrators, judiciary, some doctors and security officers are working now. The officers were initially given satellite phones. However, I was told that the satellite phones faced network issues. The privilege is strictly restricted for Kashmir administrators and security officers. A civilian cannot have their BSNL mobile phone restored no matter what the emergency.
Is internet working in Kashmir?
No. However, government websites on ‘special-leased’ lines for very few government offices/ treasuries is working. Internet also works for top administrators and police/ security officers, who have switched to police journalism, since most of the professional journalists do not have access to internet services to tell their stories. Government is now planning to open internet kiosks for general public in Srinagar where a user will get around ten minutes to use the internet. Imagine filing a story or uploading a multimedia file in ten minutes using government controlled BSNL broadband in Srinagar?
Are businesses/ markets in Kashmir open?
No. Businesses in Kashmir are shut. However, hawkers, vegetable, fruit sellers sell their goods early morning and at evenings. Also, very few shops, mostly in interiors of the towns open in mornings/ evenings too and close soon after/ before noon/ evening prayers. There are no restrictions on the opening of businesses by government. I have multiple confirmed reports of Indian security forces (mostly army) asking local businesses to open their shops. There was an argument over this between business owners and Indian security forces in Kilam Kulgam on September 4, 2019. The shopkeepers when asked to open their shops told the security forces that it was their (business owners’) decision to decide on opening and shutting of their shops. The security forces thrashed them, forced them to open shops and filmed them. The videos are shared with the world later under ‘Kashmir is Normal’ package. There were reports of stone-pelting from the area later on the same day. Government wants people to open their businesses in most of the areas. It is the local business owners who have chosen not to open their businesses, civil disobedience of sorts. There is also a crucial militancy factor to the shutting of the businesses in the valley. I have multiple confirmed reports of militants asking business owners to keep their shops shut/ or to do their business from ‘backdoors’ for those who have some kind of emergency. Militants have asked people not to function like normal. Protestors vandalized shops that operated like normal at multiple places across Kashmir valley. Those hawkers and shopkeepers who have opened their businesses face risk of vandalism from stone-pelters, militants and in some cases by Indian security forces too. One of the shopkeepers was killed by unknown gunmen on outskirts of Srinagar sending a gripping fear among the business community. However, having said that, majority of the business owners have chosen to shut their businesses to protest the abrogation of Article 370. The authorities are continuously trying to convince business owners to open their businesses, but there haven’t been any positive results.
Does Indian army break into civilian homes at night and thrash civilians/ vandalize properties?
Yes. I have visited many places in Kulgam, Anantnag and Shopian where such incidents were reported. I have visited the localities, spoken to locals and witnessed the aftermath. I will mention a few incidents and attach some pictures, and a video file.
Incident 1: Dialgam, Anantnag on August 17, 2019. Indian army personnel stopped every civilian vehicle on Dialgam-Anantnag road on August 17, at around evening, and vandalized the cars. They were angry after stones were allegedly pelted at their armoured truck. The army personnel also vandalized any open shops, civilian homes on either side of the road and thrashed many commuters. Total number of vehicles vandalized was not known. I did not visit the place personally. However, someone I know who works in Indian Railway Police was among the victims.
Incident 2: Gofbal, Khudwani Kulgam on August 17, 2019: Indian army personnel raided a neighborhood at Gofbal in Khudwani Kulgam on August 17 at around 0030 hours, vandalized dozens of homes. Per locals, army alleged that youth of this locality had pelted stones at the army vehicles during the day. Locals denied the allegations and told me that it was an excuse made by the army. I could not reach out to the army for their comments. However, I took some photos and got a video statement of a man whose home was vandalized. He was told your children pelt stones. The man has only daughters. Nobody was arrested though. Per locals, the youth of the neighborhood don’t sleep in their homes. They have gone into hiding. When I visited the place, I did not see a single youth in the area, only men and women.
Incident 3: Hablishi, Kulgam on August 19, 2019. Indian army personnel raided a neighborhood at Hablishi in Kulgam on August 19 at around 2030 hours, vandalized dozens of homes. Per locals, army alleged that youth of this locality had pelted a stone at the army truck in the evening and injured an army personnel. Locals told me army barged into the houses, vandalized the properties, thrashed two youths. The youths were beaten using guns. I saw their injuries. Army personnel also tried to strangle a woman when she tried to scream. They grabbed my hair, tried to strangle me and asked me to shut my mouth or they will shoot me, the woman told me. I spoke to the women and the youths. They said they cannot forget the horror they experienced. They also told me that they initially thought their homes were being attacked by protestors or thieves, so they came out shouting, holding axes and cricket bats in their hands. They had no idea it were the Indian army men. I also took pictures of dozens of homes and 16 civilian vehicles vandalized by the army. I saw a cab driver crying near his vandalized cab. He had perhaps purchased the cab on bank loan. Television sets, windows, doors, refrigerators, utensils and power inverters were broken into pieces. The army had gone deep into the village and barged into random homes on either side of the road. I was told later the army officers from Devasr Kulgam camp summoned some youth to their camp, called in the village elders too. The officers at the army camp, and district’s top police officers apologized to the locals/ village elders for the vandalism and arrogance of few army personnel.
Incident 4: Kilam, Kulgam on August 21. Indian army personnel raided a neighborhood at Kilam in Kulgam on August 21 at around 0300 hours, picked dozes of boys. Per locals, army alleged that youth of this locality had pelted stones at a passing army truck in the evening. Per locals, the incident repeated multiple times around this area. Many youths of this area are required to visit the Devsar army camp in Kulgam every day and spend the whole day there. Per villagers, the youth are made to cut grass and do odd jobs at the camp.
Did Indian army torture and kill youths in Shopian and elsewhere in Kashmir?
No. There hasn’t been any causality in Shopian that can be tied to abrogation of Article 370. I visited the district hospital in Shopian and more than a dozen villages in Shopian. Locals denied any such reports. However, I can confirm thousands of youths have been picked up by security forces in night raids in Shopian, Kulgam and elsewhere in Kashmir, their fate unknown. Government says they have detained ‘trouble-makers’ as a precautionary measure. It is reported by local print media and some international media that around 5000-7000 Kashmiris have been arrested, including politicians, journalists and activists. Mind you, that there are no charges against the detainees. They have not been produced in courts or given any lawyers. It is a total lawlessness. One custodial death has been confirmed in Handwara area of north Kashmir’s Kupwara district. A 24-year-old boy Riyaz Ahmed Thickery was arrested by police from his home in a night raid on September 3 and a day later on September 4, the police called in Riyaz’s uncle to police station and told him your nephew is dead, has committed suicide in custody. Riyaz’s family alleges that he was killed in custody. However, police maintain that Riyaz committed suicide. Riyaz was a small-time timber smuggler, but police allege that he was involved in a militancy related case, per Riyaz’s family. A Kashmiri journalist visited the family and broke this story. As far as allegations about torture is concerned, there are multiple confirmed reports of torture of youth at the hands of Indian security forces recently, covered by international and national media too.
Do Indian security forces break into homes at night and arrest the youths?
Yes. Per government, more than thousand ‘stone-pelters’ and ‘trouble-makers’ have been arrested to protect law and order. However, per multiple reports in national and international media, the number of arrests is 5-7 times of what government claims. There is no news about those who are arrested. The families have no clue about the whereabouts and fate of their arrested loved ones, many of them minors, as young as 12. Again, there are no cases against these detainees, they have not been given access to lawyers or produced in court. I visited many such families. It was so depressing that I didn’t even try to secure an interview on video. I consoled the families and left. It was very tough for me to meet these families. Since, I am not a journalist, do not have any Press ID, it was challenging for me to convince the people to talk to me. People in Kashmir are already angry with journalists for hiding the truth. They could have mistaken me for a government agent or an undercover cop or something. Whenever I visited places to report, to talk to people, I put myself in great danger. However, I still managed to visit some places and talk to some people.
Has there been not a single ‘untoward’ incident/ causality in Kashmir since August 4, 2019?
No, that is not true. Protests and stone-pelting incidents happen every day. I was caught in stone pelting incidents on Eid-gah road in Srinagar on August 21, 2019 and multiple times in Anantnag town too. I will mention a few incidents here:
Case 1: A minor boy was reportedly killed in Noorabad area in Srinagar on August 5, 2019 when he jumped off the bridge into the Jhelum river after being chased down by security forces. Per locals, another youth in the area had received bullet injuries on the same day. I could not visit the area to meet the families since the area was inaccessible, but incident was confirmed to me by multiple locals from the area I met in Hospital and at the Srinagar airport. I couldn’t verify the story with security forces.
Case 2: The protest in Soura area of Srinagar on August 9, 2019, which was covered by BBC and became a controversy. I visited the place and spoke to many people. Per locals, more than 10,000 people took part in the protests, were met with brute force by Indian security forces, dozens were injured, their fate unknown.
Case 3: Harris (22) is battling for his life right now in ICU ward at Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) at Soura in Srinagar. He has more than 150 pellets in his backside of the neck. I met his family. Harris is from Fateh-Kadal area of Srinagar. His aunt told me, on August 20, 2019, Harris spent whole day sleeping. He woke up at evening, freshened up and ventured out, told his mother he will get some juice and potato chips. He was walking on the road when a police vehicle stopped near him, a SOG personnel shot him with his pellet shot-gun from a very close range, a full cartridge of pellets (150+ steel balls) pierced into his neck. His chances of survival are very grim, a doctor at the hospital told me on August 21. I visited Harris and his family, but again it was so depressing that I couldn’t take any pictures. I was left consoling his younger brother who was crying very violently and praying for his brother, who he said was a family boy, loved watching TV with kids, and never even went close to stone-pelting. He was only walking on the road, he added.
Case 4: Per locals a middle-aged person died of suffocation from tear-gas canisters fired by Indian security forces near Eidgah Srinagar. I couldn’t visit the area due to stone-pelting and restrictions, and couldn’t trace and speak to the family. The incident happened on 20/21 August.
Case 5: A middle-aged man died during stone-pelting incident near Bijbehara area of Anantnag on August 21, 2019. I couldn’t get more details on this, not sure how exactly the man died. I tried to visit the place, but it was sealed that day.
Case 6: Asrar Ahmed (17) died in last week of August. According to hospital, his cause of death was listed as injury from pellets. Photos of Asrar’s pellet ridden face and body are all over the internet. However, government still claims he was killed by a stone. The family demands justice for the killing.
Case 7: A shopkeeper was killed by unknown gunmen on outskirts of Srinagar. I couldn’t confirm who killed him. The government blames militants for targeting the shopkeeper. However, locals told me that they cannot determine who killed him. It could be anyone, they told me.
Case 8: One custodial death has been confirmed in Handwara area of north Kashmir’s Kupwara district. A 24-year-old boy Riyaz Ahmed Thickery was arrested by police from his home in a night raid on September 3 and a day later on September 4, the police called Riyaz’s uncle to police station and told him your nephew is dead, has committed suicide in custody. Riyaz’s family alleges that he was killed in custody. However, police maintain that Riyaz committed suicide. Riyaz was a small-time wood smuggler, but police allege that he was involved in a militancy related case, per Riyaz’s family.
Case 9: Suspected militants fired at civilians outside Sopore fruit market in North Kashmir’s Baramulla district, injuring three of them including a baby girl, her condition remains critical.
Note: We cannot be sure as to how many people have been injured or have actually died. It is just not possible to verify the stories in Kashmir amid the communication blackout and restrictions. We have to wait for the exact numbers until communications are restored. We may have to wait for months. The governor of Jammu and Kashmir said on record that “internet/ mobile communication is used less by people and more by militants”. So, I am skeptical that communications in valley will be restored anytime soon. We have to wait for the truth to come out for long. Hospitals in Kashmir don’t give you the exact picture. Many of the injured avoid going to hospitals and get themselves treated at home, fearing the police will visit hospitals and arrest them.
Are schools in Kashmir open?
No. Government did announce to open few schools in Srinagar city and is desperately trying to open schools elsewhere in the valley. However, the schools remain deserted. Parents says they will send their children school only when communications are restored and all restrictions are lifted. Government is also applying pressure on parents by announcing dates for the examinations and submission of forms. Government desperately wants the schools to be filled with students. However, as of now, in most of the schools, only teachers can be seen. There are schools who operate within defense areas where students can be seen too.
Are government offices functioning in Kashmir?
Yes. However, the attendance remains nil or very low. DC offices and other essential services work almost like normal. Mail services don’t work though. You cannot send letters to Kashmir either.
Are private/ public banks functional?
No, private banks are closed. Public banks mostly remain closed too. However, some branches that are located in safe zones, like defense areas, open on some days. However, the operations are not normal. At one of the J&K Bank branches, violence took place between the staff and its customers, since the branch did not have much cash for those who had rushed in to withdraw money. Most of the ATM kiosks don’t have cash either. A Shopian resident told me militants had allegedly posted a poster outside a J&K Branch in Shopian, asking the employees to open banks only twice a week for 4 hours, on Monday and Tuesday.
Is Press gagged in Kashmir?
Yes. There are restrictions on movements of press. Journalists face hostilities, both from security forces and from local Kashmiris. While security forces mistreat journalists and restrict their movements, locals blame the journalists for hiding the truth and resorting to propaganda. Journalists working for national news channels face more risks. People prefer talking to international media like BBC, France 24, Al-Jazeera, Press TV and others. International press is welcomed everywhere by locals, national press not so much. International press with local reporters (holding Indian passports) have got access to Kashmir. However, the media houses who have foreign journalists working for them allegedly don’t get approval from center government to visit Kashmir. I experienced the scrutiny while trying to gather news and stories across Kashmir. Context: My camera was checked by security personnel, all photos of restrictions, protests, injuries were deleted. I later couldn’t recover them. My car was stopped near Gupkar road, the police personnel searched the car, later told me they were checking if I was a media person and had any media gear. Media persons were apparently not allowed to go into Gupkar road, maybe because the mainstream politicians are lodged somewhere in the area! A security personnel at one of the hospitals in Srinagar told me media persons are not allowed. I am not sure if he said that in his personal capacity or it was the official stance. He also added that if I take photos of the injured inside the hospital, I will be made to delete them outside the hospital. A journalist I met in Srinagar told me not to use professional cameras to document the situation in Kashmir since there is restriction on independent reporting. I am not sure if any other journalists faced what I did when I tried to report things from Kashmir. The local newspapers that are being published from Kashmir valley have shrank to 2-3 pages, since the reporters cannot travel freely and report from the ground across Kashmir. Security officers and journalists enjoying boat rides in Dal lake and claiming everything is ‘normal’ in Kashmir is all propaganda, bears no resemblance on the ground. Trust me. There are local journalists who have stories to tell, but they don’t have access to internet to file their stories, some of them fly to Delhi or ship out their dispatches to their friends using thumb drivers. However, a large section of journalists has been silenced. We will hear from them when communications are restored. In assume not many of them will be comfortable to user government provided internet kiosks.
How do Kashmiris manage to live amid such restrictions?
Kashmiris are used to such restrictions, been happening since early 90s. People experienced this in 2008, 2010, 2016. People have stocked enough supplies that would last many months. Also, people utilize the morning windows to stock up. In some areas, some shops open on request for those who need essentials. However, there is a large section of people like hawkers, workers, cabbies who depend on daily-wages. They are running/ have ran out of supplies and money. They are helpless. In one of the posters allegedly posted in multiple localities in Kashmir, militants had asked the people to help such people, asked people to raise money for them and help them. One of the cab-drivers in my neighborhood has become a fisherman. He goes fishing and later sells his catch in our neighborhood to provide for his family. A businessman who owns an ice-cream parlor in Islamabad area of Anantnag town makes ice-cream at home and sells them to the kids in his locality out of desperation. Another shopkeeper now sells snacks (pakoras) near his home at evenings to provide for his family. He otherwise owns a café in Islamabad town of Anantnag.
Do hospitals/ private clinics work like normal? Is there an acute shortage of drugs? Is there a health crisis in Kashmir?
Yes, there is a possible health crisis looming large in Kashmir. While all the hospitals are functional, there is shortage of drugs. Kashmiri mainstream print-media carried out multiple stories on this in their August 21, 2019 editions stating critical ill patients who have to go through treatments like chemotherapy, dialysis, etc. are facing serious issues. The patients also face difficulties reaching out to the hospitals and applying for treatments in the first place due to the communication blackout and transport shutdown. The reports also mentioned there is a shortage of life saving drugs, and the number of elective surgeries has dropped by around 50%. The doctors face challenges calling for specialized doctors. The issue was covered by national media too. A doctor tried to talk about this before media, was whisked away by the police, has perhaps been detained since. Doctors are not allowed to speak to media either. I met many people who said their scheduled surgeries have been cancelled for now. People can’t call for ambulances due to the communication blockade. I saw patients with critical illnesses being ferried on motorbikes in unsafe conditions. Whenever I took my car out, I found someone on the road, walking by foot to hospitals. New mothers with infants walking many miles to reach hospitals. I met a woman who had a 4-mo baby with her. I dropped her at district hospital Anantnag. She told me she had already taken lift from at least 6 different people to reach Anantnag town from her home in district Kulgam. She desperately needed an ambulance, but couldn’t due to communication blockade. I also picked a man who told me his sister’s surgery was cancelled in Srinagar. She was suffering from some neurological issue, he said. He told me he couldn’t inform his family in Qazigund for two days. He couldn’t inform that his sister was shifted from one hospital (SMHS) to another (SKIMS). He said he had no clue if his family members had come to the other hospital looking for them. He said with tears in his eyes that he got his sister back home without any surgery. Government maintains that all is well in Kashmir hospitals, expect for some ‘minor issues’.
What do people want?
People are angry. Some people feel betrayed (most of them government supporters), some say this was expected. Most people I spoke to, want the center government to reverse its decision on abrogation of Article-370. People are not happy the way they were/ have been locked up and a decision on their future was made without taking them into confidence. People hope that honorable Supreme Court of India will give them justice, if the government doesn’t. People also want the immediate full-restoration of communications; mobile phones and the internet (broadband and cellular data services). People want restricts to end. I have seen people travelling more than 300 kilometers all the way from Kashmir to Jammu to call their kids studying and working in India and outside India. Many people have cancelled the weddings. The communication blackout is taking its toll on security forces too. I was asked by many security personnel if my phone worked, if I can help them talk to their families. A few days ago, a CRPF officer broke down into tears when he saw my niece in the car at a checkpoint, told us he has a daughter too, named Neetu who he has not heard of for three weeks.
What do people say about abrogation of Article 370?
Most of the people I met want the government to reverse its decision on Article 370. There are some who don’t care. There are those who want their problems to be fixed once for all. They are tired of these seasonal shutdowns that repeat every summer. There are those who believe there will be war between India and Pakistan. I didn’t find a single person who supported the abrogation of Article-370, not even from the police-department or from the Hindu or Sikh community. Policemen I spoke to were worried that all the officers in J&K Police will come from outside.
Do public transport services work in Kashmir?
No. Public transport, both private and government operated is shut as of today. There are some private drivers who take risk to ferry passengers from Kashmir to Jammu, and elsewhere within the valley. They risk having their vehicles vandalized by protestors. I saw vehicles with broken windscreens. The vehicles were caught in stone-pelting. A driver told me off record that he thinks government may give free fuel to drivers to encourage them to bring their vehicles out on the roads!
Have all non-locals fled Kashmir? Have there been any incidents against non-locals in Kashmir?
No. There are lot of them working and living here like before. Not a single untoward incident against non-locals has occurred in Kashmir post August 5, to my knowledge. One of the non-local workers died of heart attack recently in Anantnag. His last rites were performed by Kashmiris. His family didn’t have the money and means to transport his dead body to Jharkhand. The relations between non-local workers from mainland India and Kashmiris is normal like before.
How are militants in Kashmir operating amid the clampdown?
There has been an encounter in Baramulla, north of Kashmir, a militant was killed, a policeman too, another was injured. Reportedly, around 30 armed militants showed up in Lalchowk area of Anantnag and threatened shopkeepers not to open their businesses. Similar reports came from Kulgam and from Bijbehara, on the outskirts of Anantnag too. Fuel station owners have been asked by militants not to sell fuel so that there are no vehicles on the road. Militants have reportedly announced that fuel should only be sold to ambulances and those who have an emergency. If anyone is enjoying the communication blackout in the valley, it is the militants. Militants are roaming freely without any fear in many areas. They know the potential police-informers around cannot inform the army due to the communication blackout. Gunfights between militants and security forces have dried out. The intelligence network has been parallelized. Militants are perhaps thriving and living without fear. We had such developments in 2016 too during the shutdowns that lasted many months.
Is Militant recruitment picking up?
There are unconfirmed reports that many youths have joined militant ranks in south Kashmir. Per some reports, an army man from Territorial Army in Kulgam area fled his camp with his service weapon to join the militant ranks. He is believed to be from Okey village in Kulgam district (needs to be confirmed from Indian army officials). We would only know about authenticity of these reports and exact details on militant recruitment when internet services are restored in Kashmir. Kashmir is currently a communication blackhole and restriction on free movements still remain in place in many areas. It is nearly impossible to verify every single report. Mind you, during 2016 shutdown/ communication blackout, militants had recruited hundreds of locals. It could possibly be happening again during the current situation.
What is the update on Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and company?
They were initially lodged at Hari Nivas guest house, hotels turned into make shift ‘jails’ around Dal lake. Mehbooba Mufti was later shifted to a sperate guest house in Chashma-Shahi area around Dal-gate. However, someone who met Mehbooba Mufti told me she has been very depressed and crying every day. Omar Abdullah has perhaps grown beard, spends most of the time working out. None of the main-stream leaders have any access to satellite TVs, local newspapers, internet, mobile phones or landline phones. Family members of some of the top mainstream leaders have not been able to meet them. Per some family members of mainstream leadership, the clothes and other stuff that are sent to them are double-checked by security forces to make sure no ‘smuggling’ takes place. What can they smuggle? A letter, maybe? Many mainstream leaders and their families remain under detention at their own homes.
Where are Separatist leaders?
Syed Ali Shah Geelani is under house arrest at his Srinagar home. There is no news about Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and others, not sure if they are under detention in Kashmir or flown out of Kashmir and lodged in jails elsewhere in India. Syed Ali Shah Geelani managed to issue a written statement in which he asks Kashmiris to avoid violence and take part in peaceful protests. Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s internet was apparently working for a week after August 5, not sure if it was a glitch in the system or it was done on purpose by officials/ government.
Are security forces in Kashmir behaving violently post scrapping of Article 370?
Indian security forces are behaving like normal; reports of thrashing people, restricting movements, vandalizing properties, breaking into homes at night and arresting alleged stone-pelters, trouble-makers, political activists is not abnormal, not something new that happened for the first time post abrogating Article-370. It has happened prior to August 5, 2019 and it is happening now. There are confirmed reports of torture by Indian forces in Kashmir, some of the torture accounts have been covered and aired by BBC and France 24. Indian army broke into houses at night, looking for stone-pelters, arrested many youths and severely tortured them. We have seen similar reports coming from many places. This again is not new, not something that happened for the first time after August 5, 2019. So, this should not be tied to the abrogation of Article 370.
Is there a clash between J&K Police and CRPF/ Indian Army?
There are lots of rumors on this in Kashmir and on social media. However, as I said previously, I can confirm that there aren’t any clashes, or a so-called internal revolt in J&K police. I tried speaking to people who have direct knowledge on the department. I spoke to officers, soldiers regarding this. There is nothing of that sort in Kashmir. The rumours you see on social media and elsewhere are baseless. However, just an FYI that one of my friends recently witnessed a SOG personnel from JKP drawing his gun at Indian army personnel outside a police station on the highway and hitting them with his fists. Per locals, Indian army personnel thrashed an un-armed JKP cop over some traffic dispute or something. The bruised cop went inside the police station and an angry SOG personnel came out in rage drew his gun at the army personnel and hit a couple of them with his fist. The army personnel were shocked and took cover behind barricades. There is some tension in the air, and for me this is normal stuff in tough working conditions in Kashmir. Please ask Kulgam Police (Police Station Mirbazar, Kulgam) to comment on this in case you think this is fake news. Per my friend and other locals, the incident was witnessed by many locals and filed by many, happened on August 24 or 25.
Has a section of J&K police been disarmed (excluding SOG)?
No. The large number of unarmed policemen with sticks on the roads is normal. Also, these are mostly new recruits, probably who are yet to finish their training. I saw hundreds of J&K policemen with weapons too. A policeman told me off record that new recruits have been deployed on roads too, have been told their passing out many be delayed due to the ongoing situation.
How are J&K police personnel reacting to the situation?
A policeman told me off record that attitude of many Kashmiris towards J&K police has changed dramatically. Locals say the additional CRPF troops that were brought to valley to handle the situation are allegedly angry, frustrated to have been stuck in a communication blackhole, and end up mistreating locals. The CRPF personnel who are perhaps posted in the valley for the first time have reportedly threatened many locals and denied giving any relaxations unlike those seasoned personnel who have experience of serving in Kashmir and know the people and the land. They are usually polite. J&K policemen have come to the rescue of locals at multiple places after arguments/ clashes between locals and CRPF personnel. I witnessed multiple such incidents too. The J&K personnel who otherwise had reputation of ‘working against locals’ are seen as friends and saviours in Kashmir now, at least many of them. I was stopped at a checkpoint in south Kashmir. The J&K police personnel told me that on the next checkpoint CRPF personnel may not allow me to move forward. The checkpoint was just a hundred odd meters from the checkpoint I was at. One of the police personnel told me in a lighter tone, if they (CRPF personnel) stop me, just wave at us, “we will come and thrash them before you”. The CRPF personnel did stop me and allowed me to leave after checking my credentials. However, many were not allowed to pass through and were forced to return.
Is there a genocide going on in Kashmir?
No. I can confirm all is not well in Kashmir. There is communication blackout, there are restrictions, businesses are shut, public transport is off roads, people are suffering, some little and some immensely some in one way, some in another way. The financial loss is immense. There have been arrests, thousands of them without any trial, some alleged torture incidents have surfaced as well. There have been a causalities too, at least six of them can be confirmed, which I have listed out in my piece, but I can also confirm that there is No ‘rape, massacre and genocide’ happening in Kashmir.
Why have cops suddenly become journalists?
A few days ago, one of the lads I know was talking to his friends by the road, holding a cricket bat in his hand, security forces told him to get his friends and play cricket. They filmed them playing cricket, and it was shown in the news after a day under ‘Kashmir is normal tag’. Per many locals, shopkeepers were asked to open their half-opened shops and filmed by security forces. It was shown in the news too. I verified the reports by visiting the places. I also saw army-men filming kids playing football in the interiors of Anantnag town. It is evident that security forces in Kashmir are picking up a new skill; police journalism. This is anything but Normal.
So, is Kashmir ‘normal’?
I leave that for you to judge!
My comments: “Whatever is happening in Kashmir currently is different. It is not like 2008, 2010 or 2016. I was in Kashmir in 2008, 2010, 2016 and witnessed the violence, the killings, protests and the aftermath. However, the current situation is very different. There is an uneasy calm all around. However, the anger is simmering. The worst is yet to come, I am afraid. I haven’t met a single Kashmiri who supports losing special status of Kashmir. While people are unhappy and anger is brewing, most of the people do not want violence. They seem to have evolved. Hurriyat leaders and Kashmiris want to start an ‘Algerian-style peaceful protests. Most of the people don’t want any violence this time. They say they have learnt that violence kills their movement. They believe peaceful protest is their biggest weapon. However, you cannot rule out the violence. There are many who believe only in violence. With all mainstream and separatist leaders under detention, there is nobody who has the control over people. Militants may try to exploit the opportunity and fill the vacuum. Government desperately wants Kashmiris to restore normalcy in most of the areas. Pressure is mounting on the authorities. It has been more than a month since Kashmir was shut. However, people tell me they do not want to ‘forget everything’ and go back to their normal schedule. Transporters don’t want to take their vehicles out on roads. Businessmen don’t want to open their businesses. Students don’t want to go to schools. It looks like Kashmiris are heading towards civil curfew, something that is worrying. They are in for a long-shot. While the main reason for not seeing massive violent protests this time around is the unprecedented presence of security forces in streets/ detention of thousands of youths, leaders, the new strategy of not indulging into violent protests and taking the long, sustainable peaceful route to move things seems to be a reason too. People are waiting for the government to lift the clampdown so that they can come out and show their reaction to the government and to the entire world.
In my opinion, there is a high possibility of a surge in militancy, with more local youths picking up gun, and high possibilities of Pakistan reactivating its militant supply lines that were mostly shut post 9/11, fueling the new insurgency in Kashmir. There are reports that many youths, including an army man from Territorial Army in Kulgam have joined militant ranks. There are also high possibilities that violent protests will break out protesting abrogation of Article 370 when restrictions are removed. There are many who only believe in violence and war. There are possibilities of extended civil curfew too. I don’t see Kashmir returning to normalcy soon. Businesses, transport, schools don’t seem to be functioning like normal anytime soon. Mobile communications and internet services may also not come back anytime soon. Government is afraid that all hell will break loose as soon as communications are restored”.
Note from @KashmirSource_: I have tried my best to verify the information and share only the confirmed/ verified news items. However, with restrictions and communication blackout still in place, some of the information I have shared maybe unconfirmed, which has been already called out. Pictures and videos are authentic. I have shot them myself using my phone. Please tag the concerned authorities, if they confirm anything, this dispatch will be updated.
All images in this story have been shared by @KashmirSource_.
Note: A previous version of this story wrongly stated that activist Shehla Rashid alleged that Indian military killed 4 boys from Shopian. The allegation was of torture, not murder. The story has since been updated.
This piece was further updated on 12th September 2019.