Srinagar: Early this month, when news spread in Hajin town that scores of policemen and soldiers have surrounded a house hosting three Lashkar-e-Toiba militants, hundreds of townspeople rushed toward the house, shouting the all-too-familiar Hum Kya Chahtey… Through their protest, the people wanted to force the government forces to retreat so that militants could escape.
The police succeeded in pushing the people back after firing numerous teargas canisters and warning shots in air. The militants were killed by blowing up the house with explosives and mortar fire. Protests erupted again. This time, the people wanted the bodies of the trio so that the town could have the honour of burying ‘three more martyrs’ in its graveyard.
This phenomenon, wherein people risk their lives to shield besieged militants, was described by a police officer thus:
“I am not surprised at people in south Kashmir putting their lives in the line of fire to save militants. I am surprised at people in Hajin doing so. Shielding militants in Hajin a decade ago was like raising the dead. It is a sign that the situation has changed.”
The “phenomenon” started more than a year ago in Kulgam district when a youth, Asif Ahmad, was shot dead when hundreds of villagers demonstrated on streets to divert the attention of the government forces who were engaged in a gunfight with militants.
In the past one-and-a half months alone, however, three civilians were killed by the government forces in similar protests.
A civilian, Parvez Ahmad Guroo son of Ghulam Qadir of Naina, Pulwama, was killed on January 19, 2016 in a demonstration that erupted after the government forces zeroed in on a place where militants were hiding.
In the latest incident, an engineering student, Danish, and a young woman student of Urdu literature, Shaista, were killed by the government forces during a protest after a Lashkar-e-Toiba militant, Adil Ahmad Wagay, was killed in a brief gunfight in Kakapora village of Pulwama district. The protests paved the way for the escape of the slain militant’s two other associates.
The protests have become a new reality of the trouble-torn region, where the government is fighting a young breed of committed and educated militants.
These protests, a police officer with Counter Insurgency wing of Kashmir police said, “not only ignite (pro-freedom) sentiment but also make the gun and militancy an idea and accepted form of resistance.”
“It is quite difficult a challenge to fight militancy when it has popular support. I can say it is a dangerous trend if not stopped immediately,” he said.
In view of the frequency of such protests, the authorities are now forced to impose Section 144 cr pc in the 2.5 km radius of the site of a gunfight. The Section makes assembly of more than four people a punishable offence.
“We issued advisory to people to keep away from encounter sites because one’s life is at stake. It is perilous to go near encounter site as bullet can hit anyone when militants indiscriminately fire,” said Pulwama superintendent of police Tejinder Singh.
A police officer said on condition of anonymity that the government forces “find it more difficult to deal with protesters than fighting militants”.
“You have to be extra-cautious while dealing with protestors as any untoward incident can have serious ramifications,” he said.
Police is framing a strategy to deal with the situation, said Kashmir inspector general of police SJM Gillani.