Srinagar: In an ugly and telling example of the hollow “ceasefire” announced for the holy month of Ramazan, fasting Muslims were showered with lethal pellets at the historic Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, as 30 pellet-injured were brought to SMHS Hospital alone, 10 of them hit in the eyes.
The chaotic scenes at the hospital testified the mayhem created by government forces deployed in and around the Jamia Masjid in Nowhatta on Friday. Soon after the congregational prayers were offered after Mirwaiz Umar Farooq delivered his traditional sermon from the pulpit of the mosque, youths took out a protest march, witnesses said. They reached Nowhatta Chowk where they raised pro-freedom, pro-Pakistan and anti-India slogans. The police and paramilitary CRPF deployed in strength there chased them back into the mosque compound. From inside the compound, the youths hurled rocks and bricks at the forces’ personnel outside, who fired stun grenades, tear smoke shells and pepper gas canisters in retaliation. However, the protesting youth did not relent.
After several minutes of these clashes, the government forces tried to push the youth further back into the mosque premises. Many people were yet offering Sunnah prayers inside the mosque. The youths kept raising slogans and hurling stones at the forces’ personnel from the main gate of the mosque. The forces initially fired some sonic shells towards them. However, when the youths refused to disperse, the police began firing pellets into the mosque premises. Several youths were hit by the pellets, which also hit people who were offering Sunnah prayers.
One of the victims told Kashmir Reader that he was in Ruku (offering prayers) when the pellets hit him in the back. Another victim, who was hit by pellets in his head, said, “By the time I touched my head, blood was rapidly oozing out and my face was all red.”
There was blood all over the floor of the Jamia Masjid as people kept getting hit by the pellets. The rising number of injuries made the youth come out of the mosque and push back the government forces as far as the Nowhatta Chowk, where clashes continued. However, after some time, the police again forced the youth back into the Jamia compound and then further back into the mosque.
The mayhem in the mosque compound resulted in chaos and many elderly people fainted. “Yiman chi pann ni buthe maaran (They are killed for their deeds),” said one among the crowd while pointing towards police personnel. He lamented as to why the policemen who were part of society and were Muslims were firing pellets and injuring their fellow Kashmiris.
As the youth raised slogans again, a volley of pellets came in, this time hitting seven persons. Two of them were hit in their face. The others had injuries in the chest and arms.
“Akekh lagow yimav yazeedaw pellet (The evil forces again fired pellets),” chanted a young man.
This pellet fire further intensified as youth kept resisting and hurling bricks and stones. Some could be heard shouting that they “will not spare” the (Kashmiri) policemen for injuring so many.
Meanwhile, some youth from the gate opposite to the main gate moved out, helping ferry the injured to hospitals. The police personnel deployed outside the gate (Gojwara side) fired several pepper gas canisters, forcing the youth to rush back inside. This ensued in clashes on that side as well. The Gojwara side of the Jamia Masjid is reserved for women visitors.
As the clashes intensified, police fired tear smoke canisters and pepper gas canisters inside the Jamia compound from this gate as well. Smoke swirled inside the mosque, causing at least seven women to faint.
As the injuries kept mounting and the police took control of all the four gates of the Jamia, the injured were kept inside the mosque.
Some seniors from the local mohalla committee rang up a few numbers and, in a few minutes, ambulances reached Jamia. The injured were taken to different hospitals. Many injured had earlier managed to escape and reach the hospital on their own. The injured include a shopkeeper from the Jamia Market who was hit by pellets.
As the clashes were going on at all the gates, people were feeling suffocated due to the pepper gas and tear gas in the air. The Jamia administration made announcements on the public address system for people in the neighbourhood to come to the mosque and help the injured out.
Soon, eyewitnesses said, similar announcements were made from local masjids in Nowhatta, asking people to march towards Jamia. This finally caused the police to ask their deployments to back off.
As the police left the Jamia compound, youths chased them for at least 300 metres, throwing rocks and bricks. The police fired back shells of pepper and tear gas as they retreated.
The police in a statement said that after the Friday prayers, youths started brandishing “anti-national flags and banners” and indulged in “heavy stone-pelting on security forces.”
“During the stone-pelting, dozens of CRPF, police personnel including SDPO Khanyar, SHO Nowhatta got injured,” the police spokesperson in Srinagar said.
The statement said that one CRPF man, HC JD Gurcharan Singh, suffered a grievous head injury.
The spokesperson said that the government forces exercised restraint and “some ammunition” was used to disperse the “miscreants” and “minimal force” was used to “control the situation”.
He said that an FIR had been registered into the incident (No 16/2018 in police station Nowhatta) under RPC Sections 147, 148, 152, 307, 427.