Achabal: On July 28, curfew was relaxed in Achabal town for the first time since it was enforced on July 9, the day when three civilians were shot dead by police. In a press conference the same day, the police had claimed that people set ablaze the Achabal police station, following which police had to open fire on the crowd.
But a visit to Achabal police station on July 28 showed no trace of fire or smoke on the walls. There were some broken windowpanes, nothing else to indicate damage. People of Achabal said that the police station was not set on fire at all; the police had told a blatant lie.
The theory that police had fired at unarmed protesters in self defence was repeatedly stated by chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and government spokesman Naeem Akhtar.
Residents of Achabal said that on July 9, thousands of people from Achabal town and nearby villages like Khundroo, Larkipora and others gathered at Achabal chowk to offer in-absentia prayers for Burhan. They said thousands of people chanted slogans in favour of Azadi.
“After finishing the prayers, the people took out a procession. Some stone-pelting occurred near the police station when the cops fired pellets and tear gas on us,” a resident of Achabal town who was part of the protest, his first name Hassan, told Kashmir Reader.
“The police firing of bullets and pellets continued for the whole day. The place resembled a war zone,” he said.
Residents said that at about 1pm, a youth from Khundroo was killed. At 2:30pm a youth from Magraypora was killed. At 3pm, another youth from Breinth area of Achabal was killed.
“The injured were being ferried on hand-carts. There were no ambulances. When we found one ambulance, we loaded dozens of the injured in it. Blood lay splattered all over the roads,” Hassan said.
Residents described the violence as the worst they had witnessed in years. They said that 250 people sustained firearm injuries, two of them hit by bullets. Many of the injured were hit by pellets in their eyes and are still being treated in Srinagar hospitals.
People said that ambulances on way to Anantnag hospital were attacked by CRPF men at Donipara and Sherpora. The soldiers beat the patients, their attendants, and the ambulance drivers. They broke many ambulances and smashed their window panes.
“The Khundroo boy who sustained bullet injuries here was taken to SMHS hospital. When his corpse was being brought back, the ambulance was stopped by CRPF and SOG men at Sangam. All his family members were beaten. They were still weeping when they reached Achabal,” a young resident of Achabal, who refused to give his name, said.
“There is police propaganda that people burnt the police station. Nothing of the sort happened. The police station is intact. Only some window panes were broken,” residents said.
This reporter went through videos that people had made of the events of the day. There was no sign of the police station being set on fire.
Asserting that no damage was done to the police station, village head Abdul Hamid Magray instead pointed out the damage to homes done by the police, CRPF, and army’s Rashtriya Rifles unit in the town.
“They have broken the windowpanes of our houses. They have beaten our women, youth and elders. They do it without any reason. The youth become angry and they throw stones at the men in uniform,” Hamid said.
He said that police, CRPF and army men check mobile phones of people to see if there is any photo of Burhan or of protesters in them. If they find one, they start thrashing people.
“Or, if they are passing through, they fire pellets on people. In the evening, they use slingshots to throw stones on people from inside their bulletproof vehicles. It has become a routine here. They want to spread terror among us. Many of our men are getting injured due to such mindless violence,” Hamid said.
“But the fear they want to create is not happening. The youth are becoming more violent and aggressive. They have no fear now,” the village elder said.
Pointing towards a mentally challenged person clad in rags, residents said that he, too, was beaten to pulp by soldiers of RR.
“They tore his rags and beat him before all of us. The RR men accused him of being a spy of Pakistan’s ISI,” residents said.
“The hatred towards us is so deep that whenever CRPF men come, apart from harassing us, they mercilessly beat stray dogs. We are yet to understand as to why they are so venomous against Kashmiris that they are not sparing even our dogs.”
Scores of youth gathered to tell this reporter that nothing short of Azadi can be the solution of the Kashmir dispute.
“We want freedom,” a large group of youth shouted. “Come what may, India is not an option. We are ready to fight for the next hundred years.”
Residents of Achabal did not let this reporter stay in the town beyond 4:30pm, saying that CRPF, police and RR troops swoop upon the town in the afternoon and fire pellets, throw stones from slingshots at the youth, to make them retaliate with stones.
Talking to Kashmir Reader, army spokesman NN Joshi said the army had nothing to do with the law-and-order situation in Kashmir.
“We have no role in maintaining law and order. It is better to contact police and CRPF,” Joshi said.
Inspector Mohammad Ashraf, posted at Achabal police station first told Kashmir Reader that the station has not been attacked, not to talk of setting it ablaze. However, when KR again called him to inquire about his designation, he said, “The attack did occure. Two rooms have been damaged and some windown panes have been broken. Actually I joined on July 27 and didn’t know about the attack.”
‘I feigned to be dead’
Khalid Hussain Bhat, 22, was hit by a bullet in his thigh on July 9. He now lies with a bandaged thigh in a dimly lit room of his house in Achabal. He said that on July 9, police and CRPF were “indiscriminately firing bullets and pellets.”
“They were targeting people. The three youth who died were targeted by bullets shot at their chest,” he said.
Bhat said that at about 2:30pm, he was watching the protests from a distance when the bullet hit him. “Suddenly, I felt a hot needle inserted in my thigh. I saw that I was profusely bleeding. Luckily the bullet had passed through my thigh, leaving a hole,” he recounted.
“People brought a hand cart and put me on it. Later the Achabal doctors referred me to Islamabad hospital. When I was being taken in the ambulance, CRPF and SOG men stopped us near Sangam. They beat all the three attendants ruthlessly. They beat the ambulance driver as well. The attendants had covered me in white sheet to make it seem like a shroud. I feigned to be dead. The CRPF men thought that I was dead. Later we were again stopped at several places while coming to Srinagar. I kept lying dead stiff under the sheet till I reached SMHS hospital,” he said.
“When we reached SMHS, the police fired tear and pepper gas inside the hospital. We could not breathe and the pain from the wounds felt unbearable. Later we were shifted to other wards,” the 22-year-old said.