SRINAGAR: A rumour mill suggesting that the Supreme Court of India will deliver its verdict on Article 35A on Monday led to a spontaneous partial shutdown and protests across Kashmir Valley. Scores of civilians were injured, mostly in south Kashmir, in government forces’ action after protests began to dangerously escalate.
The chaos began in the morning when the national media reported that the Supreme Court was going to hear a fresh petition on Article 35A today. Locals saw in the news a ploy of the Indian government to secretly scrap the Constitutional provision that bars outsiders from having government jobs and owning property in Jammu & Kashmir. A tweet by senior resistance leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq to not pay heed to rumours calmed no nerves.
As various interpretations of the news began making rounds on social networking sites, people in the south Kashmir districts of Anantnag, Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam began to protest and to enforce a shutdown. Srinagar joined in, as did some parts of north Kashmir.
Shopkeepers dropped their shutters as groups of agitated protestors moved around city streets calling for a shutdown. Long queues began to form at petrol and diesel stations in anticipation of an imminent and prolonged shutdown.
All shops, offices and commercial establishments in Lal Chowk and adjoining areas closed soon after the rumours spread. Some private schools and government colleges shut their operations, too.
Minor clashes between locals and government forces took place at Soura and Amira Kadal areas of Srinagar.
Twenty-two civilians, mostly college students, were injured by pellets during clashes in Shopian. Early in the morning, students of Government Degree College (GDC) Shopian hit the streets and held protests against the fresh petition moved by a BJP spokesperson seeking abrogation of Article 35A, witnesses told Kashmir Reader. The protesting students clashed with government forces deployed around Jamia Masjid Shopian, they said.
“We received 22 people with pellet injuries. Six among them were referred to SMHS Srinagar for advanced treatment,” a senior doctor at district hospital Shopian told Kashmir Reader.
“Of these six, three had pellet injuries in eyes. The remaining had pellets on their bodies,” he added.
A senior police officer told Kashmir Reader that police were ascertaining details about the protests and injuries that took place in the town. Chief Medical Officer Shopian Dr Abdul Rasheed confirmed the number of injured persons to Kashmir Reader.
Later in the afternoon, protestors hurled rocks on government forces’ pickets guarding the residence of the deputy commissioner. The situation was controlled after forces chased away the protesters.
Violent protests broke out in many areas of Anantnag district. Groups of youths hit the streets at Lal Chowk and held demonstrations. The protesters, witnesses said, clashed with government forces by hurling rocks at them.
“In retaliation, the government forces burst tear smoke shells to disperse the protesters,” witnesses said.
Government forces were also accused of barging into the premises of Government Degree College Kulgam and beating up students and staff there. A posse of government forces barged into the college and allegedly ran amok, beating every student they came across, several students told Kashmir Reader. The students alleged that the government forces also beat up female students and staffers without any reason.
“Some students made frantic phone calls to their parents seeking help. There was complete chaos,” the students said.
SSP Kulgam Harmeet Singh denied allegations that his men entered the college and beat up students.
Students of Government Degree College Ganderbal and Government Higher Secondary School Ganderbal took out a protest rally. The college students boycotted classes to take out a march towards Behaama Chowk where they were joined by students of the higher secondary school. The students raised pro-freedom and anti-India slogans at the town square, where shopkeepers started pulling down their shutters, witnesses said.
Students of Degree College Bandipora held a demonstration inside the college premises at Patushai area. The students of NM Boys Higher Secondary School at Kaloosa came out on streets in protest. They were intercepted by government forces near Kaloosa Bridge when they were taking out a march.
Students at Sopore also clashed with government forces. Students of Degree College Sopore in the afternoon came out from the college campus and started hurling stones on the government forces deployed at the main chowk, witnesses told Kashmir Reader. The clashes, they said, turned fierce as more students from other colleges joined in.
The National Conference (NC) also organised a protest march of its workers against the fresh petition challenging Article 35A.