Rights

Fired at For Assembling After Prayers: How Srinagar Spent Its Eid

Silence, all pervading, was occasionally broken by a loud warning or the piercing whistle of a paramilitary trooper in riot gear.

Srinagar: Police vans fitted with public address systems ask people to stay indoors, warning of dire consequences in case of violations of this order. The roads are deserted. At every junction, lines of razor-sharp concertina wires divide the main road into caged blocks. Even the link routes leading to mohallas are blocked.

All windows and doors of the houses lining the road are shut. It is not a city but a ghost town. Silence, all pervading, is occasionally broken by a loud warning or the piercing whistle of a paramilitary trooper in riot gear.

Welcome to Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital of Srinagar on the festive occasion of Eid-ul-Azha.

As choppers continue to hover over Kashmiri skies and authorities reinforce deployment on the ground, the region on Monday continued to reel under the strict curfews that were re-imposed on Sunday. Needless to say, the conditions completely overshadowed all festivities.

Lal Chowk, the commercial hub which would have been the centre of celebrations on an Eid day, was out of bounds for people. Across the Valley, the situation was no better.

For the first time in several years, the authorities also sealed the historic Jamia Masjid, Eidgah and Dargah in Srinagar, not allowing Eid prayers to take place there.

All over the Valley, people were instead asked to pray at local mosques. A government official said the decision was taken following apprehensions that an “assembly of people” could turn into a law and order situation.

Also read: Murder of Insaniyat, and of India’s Solemn Commitment to Kashmir

A law and order situation may have been averted, but re-imposition of the curfew, which continued on the second day of Eid as well, has further fuelled anger. At uptown Natipora people, including several women, staged a protest after security forces fired teargas shells on a congregation which had assembled following Eid prayers. At least two canisters were visible lying on the road after the firing was over.

“This is their Eid gift to the people of Kashmir,” a man was heard shouting angrily from within the crowd. “In the evening, the news channels [in the mainland] will show how Kashmir is peaceful.”

Eid is an occasion of joy and celebration for children. They burst fire crackers and buy the choicest of candies to enjoy with friends. This Eid, the children remained shut inside.

“Where else do you see an entire population put under curfew on Eid? Can you even call it Eid? They have ruined our Eid,” an elderly man sitting in front of a shop at Khanyar Chowk told the reporter.

Following the Centre’s decision on August 5 to scrap provisions of Article 370 that granted Jammu and Kashmir special status and divided the state into two Union Territories, the Valley has been under curfew for eight straight days. Though authorities had eased restrictions on Friday and Saturday, curfew was re-imposed late on Sunday (August 11) morning.

The Wire travelled to different parts of the city on August 12 and 13 to get sense of the situation on the ground in areas like Nowhata, Hawal, Edigah, Soura, Hazratbal, Saida Kadal, Dalgate and Jehangir Chowk. At several places, people riding two-wheelers or walking on foot were seen pleading with security forces for permission to proceed towards their respective destinations.

Kashmiris attend Eid-al-Adha prayers at a mosque during restrictions in Srinagar, on August 12, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

“I am a butcher and I am on my way to slaughter a sacrificial sheep nearby. Please let me go,” a young man was heard asking a man in uniform at Lal Bazaar Bus Stand.

“Go back. There are strict restrictions not to allow anyone to come out of their homes today,” the uniform shouted back. The butcher did indeed turn back.

At many places, even women were seen arguing with the forces for permission to visit relatives on Eid. At Hazratbal, outside the main gate of Kashmir University, the forces stopped a former deputy superintendent of Jammu and Kashmir police to cross the barricade while returning home after Eid prayers.

Kashmir has been witnessing what can at best be called an uneasy calm since the August 5 decision. Tuesday marks the ninth straight day that the Valley has witnessed a complete communication blackout. Mobile, landline services and internet facilities remain snapped.

With Independence Day just two days away it is unlikely that the curfew will be relaxed in the Valley soon.

Briefing reporters, government spokesperson Rohit Kansal said the first day of Eid had passed “peacefully” in Kashmir. “We had to re-impose restrictions in some parts of Kashmir. We are hopeful once the Independence Day celebrations conclude, further relaxations will be allowed across the Valley,” he said.

“As of now there is no proposal to lift the restrictions completely. It is going to take some time,” he added.