SRINAGAR: Central Kashmir’s Budgam district observed ‘black day’ on Friday over the Tosmaidan lease issue.
Reports said black flags were hoisted over residential and commercial structures in most villages of the district while majority of the locals were seen wearing black bands.
After Friday prayers, the locals in Khaag, Burewa, Shinglipora, Sitharan, Drang and other villages adjoining Tosmaidan meadow gathered outside the mosques and staged protest demonstrations.
At Srinagar, the victims of residual bombshell explosions at Tosmaidan gathered at the Press Enclave and staged protest demonstrations. The protest in both the districts, however, concluded peacefully.
The call for ‘black day’ and protests was given by the Tosmaidan Bachao Front (TBF), the civilian body spearheading the campaign for relocation of the firing range spread over 224, 000 kanals of Tosmaidan meadow atop a mountain in Budgam.
“We gave the call a little late, that is why it couldn’t reach other parts of the Valley. But in Budgam the call evoked good response. Entire district observed ‘black day’ to mark their protest against lease extension,” TBF’s spokesperson Farooq Kathu told Kashmir Reader.
Tosmaidan lease has been a burning issue in Kashmir in the recent weeks. Around 52 villages in neighbourhood of the meadow, joined of late by civil society and trade fraternity from across the Valley, have been opposing any extension in the 1964 lease deed between then state government and the Indian army. The lease allowed use of meadow as an artillery firing range, which has, as per official records, killed 63 civilians so far and injured or maimed as many.
Officially the lease ended on Friday, but the fate of the meadow hangs in balance with a government-committee, tasked to find alternative sites, yet to arrive at a conclusion. The army has already made it clear that status quo will remain at the meadow until government passes final direction for the force to relocate.
Local sources at Budgam told Kashmir Reader that army’s movement and presence at Tosmaidan remained unchanged on the last day of the lease.
“In fact, Sarpanch of a village received a call from an army commandant who wanted to know the reason for hoisting black flags in the area. On learning about the protest, the commandant asked the Sarpanch to ensure that army movement wasn’t hampered or attacked with stones or something,” they said.
Meanwhile, TBF has decided is to continue with its campaign in the weeks to come until the firing range is relocated.
“Our rallies and protest will continue, and it can snowball into a major uprising,” Kathu said. “We also have a programme to stage a sit-in at Tosmaidan itself, but we will wait for a few more days before we call for it.”