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Kashmir’s Policemen, Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

“Our situation is complicated. Whether we are on duty, or at home, we constantly fear for the safety of our family. Terrorists have opened a front against the police force in Kashmir. At home, we are the easiest targets.”

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A security personnel guards near Lal Chowk during a strike called given by Hurriyat leaders on the 71st Independence Day, in Srinagar on Tuesday. Credit: PTI

Srinagar: “During the last vacation, when I went home, my wife’s sister was visiting us for the first time since she got married. As the family sat down for dinner, we heard someone throw a stone at the front door. We turned off the lights in the house and finished dinner somehow. We feared that terrorists had struck. We could not sleep the whole night. The next morning I left home and returned to work. Ever since I have joined the police force, I hardly attend a family gathering, or a wedding. Attending such functions is to become an easy target for terrorists.”

These are the words of Jammu and Kashmir police constable Yunus. Speaking of the difficulties faced by policemen in the state, Yunus told The Wire, “Our situation is complicated. Whether we are on duty, or at home, we constantly fear for the safety of our family. Terrorists have opened a front against the police force in Kashmir. At home, we are the easiest targets.”

Another police constable with the Jammu and Kashmir police force, Nisaar, lives away from his family, which includes his mother, wife and a son. He joined the police force at a very young age and is the sole bread earner of the family. Nisaar shares a similar experience. “In other parts of the country, if someone joins the police force, it is a matter of pride and earns him respect. He can brag about his achievements. But in Kashmir, it is nothing but a dangerous profession. I cannot share with any one the details of my job, where I am posted or what kind of work I do. I have to lie to everyone because you never know who is an informer of the terrorists.”

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Security personnel in Kashmir. Credit: PTI

The way militants and their supporters have targetted the state police in the past few months has become a worrying trend. On June 23, the mob lynching of deputy superintendent of police Mohammed Ayub Pandith of Jammu and Kashmir CID outside Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid in the Nowhatta area sent shock waves across the state. After the lynching, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti released a statement hailing the Jammu and Kashmir police force as one of the best in the country. “They are exercising extreme restraint considering the fact that they are dealing with their own people… The day their tolerance wanes, I think it will become extremely difficult. How long will this continue? Some days ago, a station house officer and five of his men were killed. He had not gone there out of his own will. He was there to protect lives of people,” she said.

The attack on Pandith was so violent that the state government bought and destroyed the video captured by a local, for fear of public repercussions, a top state official told the Hindustan Times.

“He was stripped naked and violently pummelled. His arms and legs were bent and broken just as someone breaks a sugarcane before eating it,’’ said the top official who saw the video of Pandith’s lynching.

The official also said they had to work overtime to source and destroy the video for a “financial consideration”. The lynching, he revealed, had been recorded by a civilian who has been an informant of several agencies operating in the Valley.

However, it is not a singular incident of attack on the police in the valley. On June 16, six policemen were killed in a militant attack after Lashkar-e-Tayyaba terrorists ambushed a police party in the Achabal area on the outskirts of Anantnag district.

Earlier, two policemen were killed in separate incidents in Kulgam’s Bodgan area and Srinagar’s Hathpura area on June 15.

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Security personnel in the Valley. Credit: Shome Basu

In the wake of the attacks and rising tension, the Jammu and Kashmir police issued an advisory to its personnel to avoid Eid prayers in public places and offer prayers in mosques in district police lines (DPL) or protected mosques where the safety of the personnel is ensured.

The escalating wave of violence worsened after a scuffle between army personnel and state police which left seven cops injured. The incident took place in Gund police station in Ganderbal district when two dozen soldiers in plain clothes barged into the station and beat up the cops.

The terrorists pose a constant threat to the state police, often targeting the family members of cops. According to data, 28 policemen have been killed in militant attacks so far this year.

The Jammu and Kashmir police force has recruited 1,20,000 men from all parts of the state. As per data, 1600 policemen have been killed during the past three decades fighting militancy. The figure is the highest when compared to other anti-terrorism operations by any other organisation in the country. A police officer posted in Srinagar told The Wire that during the past few weeks there have been several incidents of militants barging into cops’ houses, threatening family members and vandalising property. Following the rise in such incidents, the police have stepped up the security detail for family members of police officers.

“The army and CRPF personnel return to their barracks once their duty hours are over. But the police in Kashmir are on duty round the clock,” says another police officer.

“The policemen in Kashmir work under dual pressure,” he adds. “They work alongside the central forces to maintain peace in the valley. Besides, they are also in charge of VIP security, law and order, arresting criminals, managing traffic, court procedures, and gathering intelligence from varied sources. Compared to all the other forces, a policeman in Kashmir does double labour.”

“The army, CRPF and BSF personnel spend only a limited period of time protecting the valley. On vacation they go home and freely spend the time with their family. Periodic transfers ensure that they get to escape the grind. As far as state police is concerned, their fight is life-long. They cannot spend their vacations in peace nor do they find liberation in retirement.”

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Security personnel in the Valley. Credit: Shome Basu

The government’s indifference to the state police’s demands became apparent when it came to light that the policeman martyred in the Achabal attack on June 16, Feroz Ahmed Dar, had been asking for a bulletproof vehicle for several months. A brave policeman, Dar had been on the radar of the militants for a long time. According to senior officials, he was the target of a grenade attack during a protest in Sherbagh area last year following which he asked to be provided a bulletproof vehicle but his demands were never fulfilled.

Not only was Dar killed by the militants, but they also deliberately mutilated the body, particularly facially, with a spurt of bullets shot at point blank range. Feroz is survived by his wife and daughters, Addah, five, and Simran, two.

“In the Valley, policemen are killed alongside soldiers of the army, CRPF and BSF, but the government and the public look at it from different perspectives. The home ministry never releases a statement on the killing of a policeman in Kashmir and this does not seem to bother any one,” a police officer posted here said, on condition of anonymity.

“There is a sense of sympathy across the country towards soldiers of army and central forces combatting terror in the valley,” he adds. “If any of them dies in the line of duty, their state’s chief minister and other top officials reach his home to pay respects. But there is no such sentiment when it comes to the state police.”

“No politician came to bid farewell to the slain policemen in the June 16 attack. Though, following the lynching of DSP Ayub, CM Mufti did issue a statement urging people to show restraint. But my point is that today the whole country needs to stand beside the Jammu and Kashmir police and boost their morale.”

Anantnag SSP Altaf Ahmed Khan. Credit: Shome Basu

The Jammu and Kashmir police is often subjected to harsh criticism. Following a controversy at NIT Srinagar in April last year, the state police was trolled on social media and its patriotism questioned. A faction of the media joined in the vilification, stirring a debate on nationalism.

Some police officers retaliated on social media, expressing their anger at the maligning of the force. The then DSP of Baramulla Feroz Yahya, wrote in a Facebook post, “Many of my colleagues have been asking and many more must be thinking ‘whose war are we fighting?’ All I can tell them is that, this is just another phase and will pass. Further, Jammu and Kashmir Police doesn’t need any certificate of patriotism. Continue doing the good work that we are doing within the ambit of law and nothing shall deter us.”

Another Facebook post from then SSP, Mubashir Latifi, read, “Jammu and Kashmir Police doesn’t need any certificate of nationalism or impartiality from those whose valour doesn’t extend beyond their keypads. Jammu and Kashmir Police is a saga of sacrifice and courage and has brought this state out of a madness called terrorism.”

Source of intel

On June 10, the LeT released a video message warning Kashmir police officers not to side with the army and instead join the separatist struggle. Experts suggest that terrorist groups threaten police officers owing to the significant role they play in anti-terror ops. The Jammu and Kashmir police force has a strong intel system which comes handy in strikes undertaken by the central forces. Most of the encounters in the valley were made possible by inputs the police force received. This is what irks the terror organisations most.

Asked about the difficulties faced by policemen, Anantnag SSP Altaf Ahmed Khan says, “The biggest concern is our family. We are constantly transferred, which affects the studies of our children. We get very few leaves and cannot devote time to our family. Because of the work load, long durations pass without even seeing them.”

Altaf is one of the policemen in Kashmir who have been targetted by terrorists several times in the past. He had a narrow escape once when terrorists attacked his official residence with rocket launchers. He also played an active role in the anti-terrorist operations in South Kashmir’s Doda region. Recently, he returned from a UN mission.

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Credit: Shome Basu

According to an IPS officer posted in the state, Basant Rath, police officers who are killed in Kashmir deserve respect. In an article, he writes, “From Sopore to Shopian, from Tangdhar to Tral, from Kulgam to Kunzer, men and women of Jammu and Kashmir police are fighting militants despite physical threats and social discrimination to their families and relatives. They don’t flinch from the firing line of the terrorists. They don’t ask for peace postings. They don’t seek deputations to other organisations. They don’t threaten going on mass leaves to bargain with the governments of the day. They don’t gather at Jantar Mantar to ask for better pensions after their retirement. This is their daily life. Day after day. Night after night. Away from their homes. Away from their parents, spouses and children.”

“Since those fateful summer days of 1989, they have taken the brunt of terrorists and their bullets on their chests. They have carried the weight of the idea of India on their proud shoulders. From Kathua to Kargil, they have accepted the challenge and stood up for the nation,” he further writes.

Another police officer says, “There is a faction in the valley that hates us because of our profession. We fight with them the whole day and at night we return to our respective homes often in the same neighbourhood. We have to live with them and there is no one to ensure our safety.”

He adds, “Just imagine how difficult it must be. But a part of the media never portrays us as heroes or role models. For its top stories, it covers the crowds pouring in at a terrorist’s funeral or the videos they shared on their social media profile. This irresponsible section of media does not understand how strongly it brings down our morale.”

One of the police officers posted in the area questions the police force’s risk allowance offered to personnel deployed in dangerous areas. He points out that both police forces and central security forces perform equally risky duties, yet, while the latter are offered Rs 4500 risk allowance per month, the former only receive Rs 75 – Rs 100.

Jammu and Kashmir Police chief S.P. Vaid recently said that the proposal to increase the risk allowance of police personnel is lying pending with the government. According to sources, Mehbooba Mufti discussed the issue in detail with Union home minister Rajnath Singh in a recent meeting following which a hike is expected in the hardship allowance.

Another police officer raised the issue of slain policemen whose service weapons were seized by the terrorists after the attack. He says there have been more than 60 such cases. Their families have not been provided pension or any other facilities because the matter is under probe. Such cases cast a negative effect on the morale of policemen, he said.

(With inputs from Shome Basu)

This article was originally published in The Wire Hindi and has been translated by Naushin Rehman.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    Thanks to The Wire for this report!
    The J and K police has always worked shoulder to shoulder with the army and CRPF, while being burdened with the added fear for their families and themselves even when they are off duty.
    Yet, they are rarely given any credit by the rest of the nation and its media. That is perhaps because giving them credit would discredit and disprove the pet RSS/Hindutva theory that Muslims have questionable loyalties, which is the edifice on which Hindutva stands.
    One wonders how they keep up their morale. Incredible!
    My best wishes to the J and K police. May they and their families stay safe.