Kashmir Is Locked Down, But Bloodshed Continues

Kashmir Is Locked Down, But Bloodshed Continues

14 September 2010
The New York Times
SOMINI SENGUPTA

Srinagar: Since Sunday, when the government announced a round-the-clock curfew, everyone - men, women, teenagers, toddlers - has been locked in. There is no telling when the curfew will be lifted, and there is no leaving. On Tuesday the government announced that for the next three days at least, all flights going in and out of Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital, were suspended, for the first time in more than a decade. “It’s suffocating,” said Sajid Iqbal, 26, a lawyer, who has spent most of the last three months at home. “It’s collective punishment. Every Kashmiri is being forced to stay inside.” Even ambulances are having trouble getting past security checkpoints. On Sunday evening, security forces seized and tore the curfew pass of an ambulance driver and threatened him with a caning. By the time he returned to the hospital after a whole day of transporting patients and staff members, he switched off his phone and hid for a while, shaking with anger and fright. The lockdown is the latest iteration of a cycle of stone-pelting street protests by Muslims and lethal crowd-control measures by the state security forces that has upended daily life since June, leaving nearly 90 people dead. Even with the curfew, this week has been one of the bloodiest. The authorities said that at least 18 people and one security officer had been killed Monday, with more than 70 people wounded, as separatist protesters clashed with Indian paramilitary officers. Minor clashes continued Tuesday. Schools have been effectively closed for the past three months. Crucial college exams have been postponed. Grocery stores and pharmacies can open only in the small windows between strikes and curfews. A summer football season, the rare bit of leisure for Kashmiri boys, has been suspended. Young people with computers at home are glued to their screens all day, chronicling violence in their neighborhoods, arguing about Indian rule, spreading rumors. Lawyers are on strike, meaning that even when judges can show up in court, they can do no more than defer cases. Yet there is no end in sight. Already, the separatist faction led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani has announced a protest calendar for the next 10 days. It calls for a series of protests, on the streets and on social-networking sites like Facebook, and it specifies days and hours in which shops are to be opened and when Kashmiris are to partake in “cleanliness drives.” Its most provocative gesture is a call for protests “up to the destinations of army establishments.” So far protests have focused on state and federal police installations. Calling civilians to confront the Indian Army is a marked escalation and a likely invitation to more bloodshed. No one - not Kashmiri separatist leaders, nor Kashmiri politicians nor the Indian government in New Delhi - can agree on a road map to restore normalcy. Instead, the government simply expanded the curfew on Tuesday and sent more security forces to the valley. The government’s move followed an especially lethal outburst on Monday. Like fresh logs in a fire came reports of the desecration of a Koran in the United States, broadcast on an Iranian television station here and spread across the Internet. More protests broke out across the region. Christian schools were burned, something Muslim leaders in India condemned. Government offices were destroyed. All told, 18 people were killed Monday, including a police officer. For Kashmir, it was the bloodiest day of the year. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Shamima Keng, 48, a schoolteacher who was a mother of two young children when the armed insurgency swept through Kashmir in the early 1990s. “The people coming out on the road, they are fearless. They don’t fear death. That is very scary.” Under a strictly enforced curfew since early Sunday morning, much of Srinagar is like a ghost town. Security forces are posted on virtually every block. The streets are littered with shards of glass, bricks, embers and uncollected garbage. At Lal Chowk, the city’s protest center, lies the detritus of a recently renovated bell tower. At Jehangir Chowk, one of the city’s most vital intersections, stands the shell of what used to be the office of the Kashmiri police crime branch. It was burned Saturday. Police vans roar down the wide boulevards. A litter of puppies have the run of a once-bustling street of Kashmiri shawl and saffron shops. Birds break the silence, and occasionally, there is the whistle of a police officer, or the sound of gunfire to scatter an assembling crowd. Two small children were let out on to the sidewalk in front of their home with tricycles, only to be shooed back in by a federal police officer in riot gear. The fruits of rage and retaliation are on display at the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences hospital. A bullet has blown the brains out of a 23-year-old’s head. A pellet gun has ripped through the lower intestines of a 22-year-old auto-rickshaw driver. An 18-year-old was shot in the legs as he defied police orders and joined a funeral procession for a slain protester. He said he was not scared and would join another protest as soon as his legs healed. “I’ll go again,” he said with the bravado of a teenage boy. “You die only once.” Most of the wounded, hospital officials guess, are teenage boys. And this rage presents an unenviable problem for parents of teenage boys. Samina Mufti was 18 when she flirted with the anti-India protests that broke out during her youth. She did not tell her parents, and she soon gave it up to pursue an education. Her son is 15 now and insists on joining the anti-India protests of the day. She knows she cannot stop him. Even if she tried, he would not listen. In her heart is a mixture of emotions. “Scared as well as proud” is how she put it. Jim Yardley contributed reporting from New Delhi.


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