Scores of people have been killed and injured in Indian-administered Kashmir in recent days as protests rocked the state following the death of a young militant commander. Zahid Rafiq reports from Srinagar.
The trigger for the latest spate of violence in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir was the death of a well-known, young militant leader on Friday, July 8.
22-year-old Burhan Muzaffar Wani, along with two other militants, was killed by Indian security forces in a gun battle in a small village in south Kashmir, and the news sparked a wave of mass protests pitting demonstrators against security personnel.
At least 30 people have lost their lives and hundreds have been injured in the ensuing violence. Strict curfew restrictions have been imposed in many places across the state and paramilitary troops and police in riot gear continue to patrol towns and villages to ensure calm. Still, many people have ignored the measures to take part in anti-government protests, shouting pro-independence slogans and clashing with armed forces.
Meanwhile, shortly after returning from a trip to Africa, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss the volatile situation in the state.
It has been the worst civilian unrest to hit Kashmir since 2010, when over 100 people were killed in anti-India protests after police shot dead a teenager.
The most significant difference this time round, however, is that the protests were triggered by the death of a militant commander.
A well-known figure
Around 20,000 people attended Wani’s funeral in south Kashmir’s Tral town, and many protesters say they regard the dead militant as a hero.
Wani, who became a militant in 2010 at the age of 15, had become the face of militancy in Kashmir, using social media to put out pictures and videos of himself and his friends’ militant activities.
In one of the videos, the militants played cricket in the forests; in another he appealed to the Kashmiris working in the Indian police to not fight against their own people and instead return their guns to the Indian state.
By doing this, Wani not only became a household name and the youthful face of the militancy in the region, but also brought militancy back into the public imagination.
In the past four days since his killing, police say there have been reports of an increase in the number of young people joining militant groups in the state.
Several local people DW spoke to complained about the government’s response to the Kashmir dispute. “They don’t want to listen to our political demands. They deny even that we are a disputed territory and that we want to be independent,” said Mohammad Saleem Dar, a 26-year-old man from south Kashmir attending his brother who was being treated for a bullet injury at a hospital.
Appeals for calm
Public anger this time is far intense than during the previous bouts of violent protests. Officials say protesters have attacked dozens of police stations, police posts and paramilitary camps, setting many of them on fire.
A policeman was also killed when people pushed his bulletproof vehicle with him inside into the Jhelum River.
Furthermore, in many places, protesters have attacked journalists, accusing the Indian media of misreporting and misrepresenting the facts to suit the government’s narrative.
While security forces are omnipresent on the streets, the state’s elected political leadership has largely been absent from the scene except for issuing statements urging parents to try and stop their children from coming out on to the streets.
“The cabinet expressed grief and anguish over the loss of precious human lives and made a fervent appeal to all shades of political opinion, including the mainstream and the separatists, to help restore calm as the violence has neither served any purpose in the past nor is it going to do so in the prevailing circumstances,” Naeem Akhter, a senior minister and government spokesperson, told reporters.
The state government also appealed to outfits such as the Hurriyat Conference, which is regarded as a separatist party, for assistance in restoring normalcy to the state.
“It is ironic that they are seeking our help while they have imprisoned us and completely choked our political space,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a senior Hurriyat leader, told DW.
“It is because the Indian government has refused to acknowledge the people’s sentiment for independence, and instead of trying to arrive at a political solution they have militarized our lives and killed our people. That is why people are on the streets,” he said.
Fears of militancy
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which shares power in Indian-administered Kashmir with Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had suffered a serious blow to its credibility as a result of its joining hands with a right-wing Hinduvta party.
Since its formation in 1999, the PDP had slowly positioned itself as a practical and pragmatic political organization that would fight for the rights of Kashmiris through electoral process, in contrast to the election boycott stance taken by some outfits.
It was a middle path that resulted in many people slowly placing their trust in the party, seeing it as a chance for achieving lasting peace in the region. But after forming an alliance with the BJP, analysts say, the PDP seems to have discredited the space where a political party could say that it would fight for the political aspirations of Kashmiris within the Indian electoral process.
And the latest spell of violence has also hurt the party’s standing, particularly as most of the people who lost their lives were from south Kashmir, which was a PDP stronghold for over 15 years.
Many fear this could further reduce the space for political participation among Kashmiris, thus potentially giving a new boost to militancy.