Repression, and a place of worship

Behi-Bagh (Kulgam): Since July 9, the day after Burhan Wani was killed by government forces, no one except an old man who is locally known as chacha (uncle) has been offering prayers at Masjid Rehmat, a mosque on the Behi-Bagh road here. The reason is the fear of “savagery” of the deployed government forces — state police and CRPF — who on the same day went on a rampage, killing 19-year-old Showkat Ahmad Ganie, injuring many, and ransacking the mosque.
Since then, the Aazan (call for prayers) is called off and on. Most of the time chacha alone offers the prayers. On the mosque floor where broken window panes lie scattered, he has created a little space for offering prayers. The twisted, broken fan still hangs from the ceiling.
“That day, the oppressor forces went berserk and attacked the mosque from all sides. They walked on its floor in their shoes and shattered everything. Since then, no one here dares to offer prayers except chacha. He has kept the broken things lying where they fell to show the savagery of the so-called disciplined force,” Jahangir Ahmad, a local who was a participant in the protest held that day, said.
Ahmad said that the troops before barging into the mosque, shot Ganie on his face while he was protesting with the locals outside a police station and CRPF camp. Near the mosque is the district’s biggest army camp, locally known as Behi-Bagh Camp.
Ahmad recalls that protesters were mostly teenagers who had assembled from nearby villages.
“The spontaneous protest caused by Burhan’s killing was the first of its kind in the past many years. The reason why it was held here was the police station and the CRPF camp that came up between 2008 and 2012 and the Behi-Bagh army camp,” Ahmad said.
Built in 2014, the Rehmat mosque is greatly beloved of the locals. Ahmad said that locals had to agitate for years to persuade the government to allow its construction, which was done intermittently. Inside, the construction of bathrooms and pulpit is still incomplete because of which congregational Friday prayers are not offered yet. On normal days, the mosque attracts devotees from the nearby public health centre at Behi-Bagh, the police station, taxi-stand, and nearby villages.
Ahmad said the army camp is particularly hated because it lies in the thoroughfare of the locals. The camp lies on the Behi-Bagh road which connects Shopian and Kulgam with Anantnag district. Manzoor Ahmad, a local youth, said that due to the camp all activity comes to a halt in the evening.
“Nobody is allowed to move between the restricted time and most of the pedestrians have to go through the check-post and show identity cards before they are allowed to go. Youth were waiting for something to happen to vent years of pent-up frustration,” he said.