Srinagar: The Srinagar-Jammu National Highway was a picture of chaos on Tuesday following the announcement of the government’s decision to impose a two-day curfew in the valley on the first anniversary of the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370.
Hundreds of vehicles, including emergency ones, remain stranded on the highway. Security forces deployed at several spots have been restricting the movement of transport. Most entry and exit points are now blocked by contingents of police and paramilitary troops, leading to massive traffic jams on the Srinagar-Banihal Expressway.
Several patients on private vehicles complained of not being able to reach hospital on time. A common picture was drivers and women requesting police personnel to allow vehicles to move. Few emergency cases are being allowed passage.
Despite administration stating that cases of medical emergency and movement of staff on coronavirus duty with valid passes shall be exempted from the restrictions, many doctors posted in various districts of Kashmir were delayed.
On the old Srinagar-Jammu Highway stretch, all the entry points were sealed with barbed wire amid heavy deployment. No vehicle was allowed to pass the Pantha Chowk by-pass which was sealed with rolls of concertina wire.
An orthopaedic surgeon posted at sub-district hospital, Pampore, told The Wire that this was the first time since March that his vehicle was stopped by the forces at two places. “Since the COVID-19 lockdown began, today was the first time I was asked to show a departmental ID. The traffic mess increased my problems and I did not reach hospital on time,” the doctor said.
Journalists were also stopped despite showing identity cards to security forces. This correspondent, while covering the situation, was stopped at two places, was rebuked by policemen on duty and was not allowed to take his vehicle forward. Members of the police force told this correspondent, “You journalists have spread filth here” and “Journalists are here to deceive people.”
The picture is similar across Kashmir.
In Pulwama district of south Kashmir forces erected barricades and frisked random pedestrians and commuters. Near Galender Pampore, security forces did not allow any movement towards Srinagar.
In uptown Hyderpora Chowk, which houses a separatist leader’s residence, men in uniform placed barricades and disallowed any movement towards his house.
A group of residents from Hyderpora told The Wire that the curfew is so intense that even kids “are not allowed to venture out of their homes.”
The commercial hub of Lal Chowk is heavy with troop deployment and the famous clock tower remains sealed. The picture is the same downtown.
“What is the fun of imposing the curfew this year when the government has snatched everything from us? Why should the government fear? There may be no protests this time simply because people have nothing to lose,” said Ghulam Rasool, who was spotted walking at Bemina in Srinagar.
Curiously, the government has left 2G internet running. The low-speed internet is the only type available in Jammu and Kashmir.
“Oh brother turn the internet button off. Internet working under curfew looks strange,” a journalist working with a local English daily wrote on Facebook.
The curfew is on till the end of August 5.
According to a local news agency, the decision to impose the curfew was taken at a core group meeting of police, army and intelligence agencies operating in the Kashmir Valley. The meeting was attended by General Officer Commanding 15 Corps B. S Raju, Director General of Jammu and Kashmir police Dilbag Singh and Divisional Commissioner Kashmir P.K. Pole.
Announcing the curfew for the two days, district magistrate Srinagar Shahid Iqbal Choudhary by citing a report by the Senior Superintendent of Police of the district said that a series of inputs have been received suggesting that “separatist and Pak sponsored groups are planning to observe August 5, as Black Day, therein apprehensions of violation action or protests are not ruled out.”
The government’s decision to impose the two-day curfew has drawn flak from mainstream leaders including National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party.
The preparations start a full 24 hours earlier this year compared to 2019 with Srinagar, and I presume the same is being done across the valley, being placed under strict curfew from tonight for the next two days. pic.twitter.com/WBpCAxrs2G
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) August 3, 2020
As expected, ‘normalcy acrobatics’ for 5th August are underway with imposition of Section 144 in Srinagar along with additional deployment of troops & the city lost in a maze of concertina wires, police vans & barricades. pic.twitter.com/uch8Jlb27V
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) August 3, 2020
On August 5, last year, the BJP government read down Article 370 amid an information blackout, stringent curfew and detentions of thousands of people including three former chief ministers. Though the government has released Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti continues to be under detention.