Shopian: Hundreds of men have fled from their homes in villages across Shopian district to escape arrest by police. Most of these men are in the age group of 20-40 years. One of them, a masters student in English Literature at Kashmir University, said that if they are arrested, this new movement for liberating Kashmir will be crushed.
“We are living like rebels. We are only asking India for our rights, but with these crackdowns and arrests, they are forcing us to join militancy,” said the student who gave his surname as Bhat.
Police raids at night to pick up youth from their homes have accelerated in recent weeks. At least five protesters have been killed by government forces in Shopian and hundreds wounded since the uprising started after the killing of rebel leader Burhan Wani. One of the protesters killed is an 11-year-old girl, Khushboo Jan, who died on Monday of a cardiac arrest when the government forces fired a ‘sound shell’.
Among the men who have fled their homes is Ahmad, who organises demonstrations in Shopian. Ahmed and his team prepare a week’s protest calendar during the night in a closed room guarded by young men with knives and spades. The calendar is then circulated to mosques across Shopain where the Imams read it aloud after each prayer.
“By the grace of God, hundreds and thousands of people come out of their homes and participate in protests,” Ahmad said. “It has been possible because leaders work together and get support from people. We have seen overwhelming support from people in all villages. They unite to raise their voice against Indian occupation.”
Roads leading to Shopian town lie deserted and shops are closed. The entry and exit points are barricaded by forces, making life ever more difficult for people caged since more than two months inside their homes.
Nisar Ahmad runs a small shop in the town. He is struggling to feed his large family. He said all his savings have been used up during the past two months, but he is not worried. “We will survive like we did during the 2010 uprising. A lot of young boys have been killed. We should remember their martyrdom. It shouldn’t be forgotten like we have always forgotten in the past,” he said.
In Ganowpora village, some four kilometres from the main town, youths live in constant fear and a mood of hysteria come over them as the day draws to an end. The night brings terrible memories in their minds of the many youths arrested and tortured. One boy from this village, Sayar Ahmad Sheikh, aged 13, was killed during protests earlier this month.
In every village, four people stay put in the mosque during the night to raise an alarm on loudspeakers if the forces arrive. In each house, one person stays awake, keeping out an eye from the second floor. He is equipped with stones, spades and knives if he has to defend himself.
“If the forces raid our village during the night, we raise the alarm on loudspeakers and ask people to come out of their homes and defend themselves,” said a man from Nully village, who is one among the night watchmen.
During the day, boy scouts are sent to the borders of villages to look out for movement of police. They immediately send word to the village if they see police coming and people immediately come out of their homes to defend.
Boys as young as 12 can be seen on roads ensuring the protest shutdown is observed by all. They don’t allow traffic on roads and said this was very important for the freedom movement to succeed.
“Once it is open, then it is open forever,” said an adult. “Forces have killed our brothers and we won’t let their deaths go to waste. We will fight until freedom comes,” he said and the boys seconded in chorus.