KR reporters spent day on Srinagar roads to see how barricades, huge troop movement affects Kashmiris on R-Day
Junaid Manzoor/Kaiser Majeed
Srinagar: It is 11 am, and scores of policemen, army and paramilitary forces are patrolling the Srinagar-Pantha Chowk highway. The road wears a deserted look as barricades and mobile bunkers established in the middle of the road prevent smooth traffic flow. The journey is arduous for those travelling towards the Srinagar Airport as they are subjected to several body and vehicle checks.
These are the scenes witnessed on almost all roads across Kashmir ahead of India’s Republic Day. Kashmir Reader reporters spent a day on Srinagar’s roads to understand the worries R-Day brings to Kashmiris.
Close to Srinagar Airport, painted tin drums have been placed across the road to ensure that vehicles slow down and stop for checks. Vehicles are checked and passengers are subjected to rigorous frisking. Vehicles driven by youngsters are especially signalled to stop and their credentials thoroughly checked.
A policeman told us that the checking is random in daytime but in the evening, all vehicles are checked. Such routine barricades on the roads result in delays to commuters travelling towards Srinagar Airport as many flyers leave their vehicles outside the drop gates, proceeding ahead on foot with their luggage.
In the otherwise busy Parraypora, which is Srinagar’s tuition centre hub, the roads were empty with few students in sight. Two boys from Bandipora, who are preparing for NEET, told us, “Tuition centres have been closed by government till 28 January.”
“A few days ago, youth pelted forces with stones, and then the tuition centres were ordered closed,” the students said.
A few more students joined them saying that the government used schools to break the 2016 uprising yet is shutting education centres for January 26. “We have not completed our syllabus, even as our exams are coming next month,” the students said.
Entry and exit routes to the summer capital have been sealed with forces ensuring that vehicles entering from central, north and south Kashmir are checked. As we reached Nowgam Chowk, troops were stopping vehicles coming from southern Kashmir and frisking their occupants. Many young boys wearing Pherans (long gowns) were made to stand away from their vehicles with their arms raised, to show they weren’t carrying anything inside their garments.
Similarly, at Parimpora, armoured vehicles surrounded by gun-toting troopers scanned public movement. Outside the main bus stand, drivers were gossiping at a shop front with a thin footfall of people in the otherwise jam-packed yard.
“It has become difficult for passengers to travel to Srinagar, and during these days people prefer to stay indoors to avoid trouble and harassment at the hands of forces,” said the group of drivers.
The drivers rued that their daily income has seen a dip because of the security hiccups ahead of January 26.
Coming towards Downtown, the roads were manned by a heavy contingent of forces. At Khanyar, the entire intersection was blanketed with policemen and CRPF soldiers signalling every vehicle to stop. As we moved towards SK Stadium through Munawarabad route, the forces’ presence intensified.
At Munawarabad bridge, policemen stopped commuters, checking their vehicles. An autorickshaw was stopped by policemen and directed to disassemble the seats of his three-wheeler. Checking his documents, a policeman asked him asked him strange questions such as why had he grown a long beard, how many times did he pray and what else did he do apart from driving the auto. On the chilly winter day, the driver’s forehead was sweating.
From Radio Kashmir crossing on, the road was sealed with barricades and giant cement pipes. Not a single pedestrian or vehicle was being allowed on the road to the main venue of the January 26 function in Srinagar.
At 4 pm, as we were coming back, local shopkeepers at Batamaloo lamented over the heightened troop movement in the run-up to R-Day while closing their shops earlier than routine.