Anantnag: On March 4 this year, the Srinagar-Jammu highway was blocked for about two hours at Bijbehara. The road was blocked after army soldiers from the company of 1-RR stationed at SICOP in Jablipora area of Bijbehara had allegedly beaten up a truck driver. Before this incident, the people of Bijbehara town had been for days protesting against the high-handedness of government troops, of army soldiers in particular.
“Harassment is being done in the name of searches. They (army men) have been letting sniffer dogs loose in our shops,” locals had told this reporter on March 4.
The protesters were dispersed, and traffic on the highway restored, but standoffs between army men and locals have continued ever since. The army’s firing on civilians in Bijebhara today is in continuation of what has been happening since February this year.
A 60-year-old meat vendor Mohammad Abdullah Ganai was was left grievously wounded with multiple fractures in his left thigh in forces firing on Monday. He succumbed to his injury on Tuesday.
Residents of Bijbehara allege that the army has been harassing them on purpose, trying to provoke them so that the army gets a pretext to fire at them.
“There have been multiple altercations between army soldiers and locals. We have time and again conveyed reports of the soldiers’ high-handedness to the police but nobody seems to be listening,” a local shopkeeper told Kashmir Reader.
The locals are apprehensive that given the way the army is conducting itself in the area, something “very bad” is on the cards.
“We would have preferred not to react, but the harassment is growing with each passing day,” a group of locals said.
About a fortnight after the first protest on March 4, army men allegedly thrashed a civilian driver on March 17. A car was hit by an armored vehicle of the army, following which the driver was beaten. The incident sparked fresh protests in the area, leading to the closure of the highway for less than two hours.
SDPO Bijbehara, Tanveer Hussain, told this reporter at the time that the police had to use ‘mild force’ to clear the highway.
Army spokesperson Rajesh Kalia had assured this reporter that he would look into the matter.
In the following days, a few minor scuffles between locals and the army men followed, after which it was the paramilitary CRPF that swung into action, as per the locals.
On June 17, all members of Karewa Mohalla locality were taken to the SICOP camp, a part of which is held by CRPF men. Locals alleged that the forces spared none among them, including women and children.
“We were mercilessly beaten. A new CRPF officer at the camp who calls himself a Muslim took us there while we were fasting and thrashed all of us, including the women and the children,” an elderly man at Karewa Mohalla told Kashmir Reader.
He said that the CRPF officer fired two rounds on either side of his body while he lay battered on the ground.
“Everybody thought I was dead meat when he fired; even I thought I had been shot. But he was just trying to break us,” the elderly man said.
The nightmare for the people of the locality did not end there, for on the very next day, June 18, the uniformed men visited their locality and thrashed them again.
A total of at least 28 people had to be hospitalised on the two occasions – 8 on June 17, and 20 on June 18.
The menacing attitude of the government forces has grown scarier for the locals after the attack on Amarnath Yatris in Battengoo.
“The forces behave as if they have got a licence now and mean to shoot anybody who even dares to look them in the eye. They have grown ruthless after the Amarnath Yatra attack,” a local told Kashmir Reader.
After the incidents on June 17 and 18, many youth have been beaten by government troops on different occasions.
Locals allege that the army gets particularly ruthless and menacing while the routine army convoy passes the town, twice a day.
“They not only halt traffic for their convoy to pass, they thrash drivers, civilians and pedestrians. They hound and scream at the people, creating an atmosphere of fear in the town,” locals said.
On July 15, army men manhandled employees of the Floriculture and Tourism department at a public park in the town’s New Colony area.
“We were harassed and manhandled while army men held loaded guns to our heads, as retribution for the pro-freedom graffiti that local youths had painted on the park walls last year,” an employee told Kashmir Reader.
The employees alleged that their identity cards were snatched by the army men. “They handed the cards back with a warning that the graffiti should disappear within an hour,” the employees said. “We purchased paint out of our own pockets and painted the graffiti black.”
After such incidents, the firing on Monday has left the locals utterly terrified.
“We hope it stops here now,” a group of locals told Kashmir Reader.
Superintendent of police Anantnag Altaf Khan said, “We will revisit and review these cases to try and ascertain the facts”.