Srinagar: Abdul Rahman (not his real name) reclines on a bed in Ward 9 of SMHS hospital. Bandage covers his right eye and some porition of the face. Rest of the face is pockmarked with the wounds made by dozens of pellets that were fired by government forces.
A father to two young daughters, the man has been operated in the injured eye, which doctors fear might not recover the sight fully.
Like almost everyone in the ward, he is afraid to give away his name for fear of subsequent arrests and persecution by police.
The pellet wounds are the biggest give away, he said, and others with similar injuries in the ward concur.
On Friday, Rahman participated in a protest in Qaziabad, Handwara, he said was triggered by excesses committed by the army.
“Two weeks ago, army from Dangiwachi camp desecrated local Jamia Masjid and thrashed elders,” said a group of villagers attending Rahman. They also named a few of the elders who were beaten up.
“The humiliation of elders forced us to protest after Friday prayers. Last Friday also we had demonstrated,” they said.
But this time the peaceful protest, they say, was answered with teargas shelling and pellets.
“The police harassed the women. A policeman, Manzoor Ahmad Mir, unzipped his pant in full public gaze and abused the women,” they said.
After that, the protests intensified and scores of them were injured.
“Many of the protesters, even those who were injured, rushed to Gund Kamaal village and attacked Manzoor’s house there,” they added.
“People wanted to burn his house but his wife pleaded before them and they spared the house,” the villagers said.
The policeman Manzoor Mir, according to the Superintendent of police in Handwara Ghulam Jeelani, is a driver with the district police. Jeelani denied that the cop had committed excesses.
Riyaz, who sustained bullet wound in the firing, also said that the demonstration was peaceful. Countless incidents that have occured in the hinterland have gone unreported. But whatever little has been covered by a handful of reporters in rural areas, especially south Kashmir, punctures the government of India and state government’s claims that government forces have only fired when protestes were violent.
Over the past fortnight, freedom roadshows, bike and car rallies, unity gatherings under tents, nocturnal torch marches and demonstrations have been organised across Kashmir.
Unlike the previous uprisings when only youngsters would lead from the front, this time the elderly, women and children too have participated in these events.
To avoid a confrontation with government forces, people take routes bereft of forces’ deployment.
At least 17 conferences, with participation of thousands of people, were held in Kulgam , Pulwama, Bijbehara and Shopian districts.
These conferences were held in large tents in big grounds and volunteers had arranged refreshments. People sit on the ground and listen to speakers and shout slogans. The forces are nowhere in sight.
However, in Chee village of Anantnag district and in Pulwama district, two such conferences were attacked by police and forces on Saturday, showing the government will not allow protests, peaceful or otherwise.
In north Kashmir, the situation is no different. A peaceful demonstration was fired at near Lolab Jamia Masjid, said Bashir Ahmad, who has suffered pellet injuries. He said he was walking home after the prayers when he saw troopers firing pellets in every into the fleeing crowd.
A similar post-Friday prayers demonstration was fired at by government forces near Jamia Masjid, Shopian.
“They disembarked a vehicle and straightaway fired into the protesters. My brother was hit by pellets in his legs, abdomen and some other parts. It was a completely peaceful demonstration,” said a man who was attending his injured brother at the SMHS Hospital.
(With inputs from Jjunaid Bazaz)