Srinagar: For the first time in three decades of heavily armed insurgency and intermittent uprisings, a huge population living around Bakshi Stadium, the Valley’s customary venue for all kinds of government celebrations, has drawn a sigh of relief this Republic Day. This time there were no friskings, no door-to-door searches, nor did youngsters have to temporarily migrate to relatives’ places to avoid questioning by the forces.
“This is the first time in our lives that our privacy was not breached,” said Ali Mohmmad, a resident of Haft Chinar, a locality adjacent to the stadium. “Otherwise we would have to allow the forces to search our homes daily, give them a space in our attics and at times feed them our food. This time, it was literally a relief.”
Ever since the anti-India insurgency erupted in 1990, Bakshi Stadium would be garrisoned each Republic and Independence Day by thousands of policemen and paramilitary troopers on duty against any possibility of militant attack. All the stadium’s exit points would lead onto roads barricaded to prevent anti-India demonstrations. Heavily armed commandos would keep a tight vigil for days together atop residences and commercial buildings. Frisking and door-to-door searches were routine a week ahead of both January 26 and August 15. But this year, as Republic Day could not be commemorated at the stadium due to construction work there, the venue was shifted to the Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium, where the same security measures were followed.
Ali told Kashmir Reader that the forces would also erect makeshift bunkers outside the stadium gates. The day had to be called hours ahead of the arrival of dusk, and all movement would be restricted to homes to save lives from any potential militant attack.
“We had adopted a different life routine for these days. Wake up late, return home early, send young boys to relatives’ places. They would return only when the celebrations were over,” said Ghulam Rasool, another resident of the locality. “But this time, our routine was uninterrupted. This relief has come from God.”
The scene would be the same through Sarai Balla, Maharaja Bazaar and Goni Khan. These markets would also close early; but this year, there was no break in any day. Even on Thursday, shopkeepers downed shutters at dusk, a routine time.