Bijbehara: For the first time in the past six weeks of siege and popular rebellion, the Bijbehara town is bustling with wide open shops and throngs of shoppers, defying the ban imposed by Station House Officer Arshid Ahmed Khan. On Saturday evening, Khan attacked a group of shopkeepers who had opened their shops after 6 pm. He fired several pellet cartridges that injured four shopkeepers, including Ali Muhammad Tak, a cloth merchant, and Gowhar Salroo, a cosmetics dealer. He also attacked a pharmacy, Darul Salamah, throwing a pepper grenade inside the shop and hitting the chemist, Muhammad Shafi, who was serving the customers at the time. According to eyewitnesses, the SHO beat him ruthlessly, dragged him and took him into custody. The high-handedness of the SHO has enraged people as he stands accused of subjecting the town to his unceasing terror, earning a title of “pagal SHO” as testified by the graffiti on shops and roads at several places in the town.
On Sunday, soon after the clocks showed 6pm, the shopkeepers in town came out in strength cleaning their front pavements and opening their shops. In no time hundreds of besieged townsfolk came out to shop in strength. The scene and the rush were akin to the shopping rush of the night before Eid.
Hundreds of women were busy shopping for soaps, kidswear and groceries. When asked about the sudden opening of so many shops, one of the shopkeepers said: “We want to demonstrate to Mehbooba Mufti that she cannot crush our spirit through terror tactics as displayed by her SHO Arshid Khan. Our spirit cannot be crushed by terrorist acts of police or the military. Today, all the traders had decided that the best answer to yesterday’s attacks was to open shops in full strength”. Another shopkeeper accused the local SHO of deliberately creating trouble by resorting to violence against shopkeepers. “The SHO is openly claiming he will do whatever he pleases and has full authority from the government “.
A member of the shopkeepers’ body said they remain committed to the Hurriyat calendar and will continue to demonstrate peacefully in the cause of freedom.
Several shoppers were busy buying essential supplies in bulk. A mother who carried six large packs of diapers and an assortment of baby soaps and creams said she feared a strict economic blockade and further rise in tensions. “I want to ensure I have adequate supplies for my baby,” she said.
Several people were seen carrying bulk loads of lentils, dry milk and cooking oil to “weather out the forthcoming economic blockade”.
Meanwhile, Muhammad Shafi, the chemist who was beaten and arrested by Arshid Khan on Saturday, remained in police custody on charges of being a militant sympathiser, according to local traders who went to the police station to plead for his release. Shafi, according to some reports, had recently taken part in some public demonstrations. “This could be the main reason why he was attacked and arrested by the police”, said a local lawyer.
Efforts to contact the SHO did not meet with success.