Usually calm, J&K’s Budgam is tinderbox: Anger over killings, despair with politicians, govt

The village is in mourning for him and for 17-year-old Mohammed Abbas.

Written by Nirupama Subramanian | Budgam | Updated: April 13, 2017 8:09 am
Srinagar bypoll, Srinagar polls, J&K bypolls, Kashmir bypolls, Srinagar news, Srinagar byelections, Srinagar parliamentary constituency, Election Commission Srinagar elections, Budgam violence, Srinagar violence, Indian Express, India news Jammu and Kashmir: Deserted polling station at Chrar. (Photo: Shuaib Masoodi)

The first page of Faizan Fayaz Dar’s English notebook is a Q & A on the Tagore poem “Heaven”. In neat cursive handwriting, the 12-year-old has written out the questions in red, the answers in blue. The first question: “What does Tagore wish for India and Indians?” Faizan’s answer: “He wished that people of free India should be fearless, truthful, proud of their culture, and loving.” Faizan’s father Fayaz Dar, his friends and teachers, described him as the brightest pupil of the government school in Dalwan, a village in a far corner of Charar-e-Sharif in Budgam district.

The village is in mourning for him and for 17-year-old Mohammed Abbas. Both were killed in firing by security forces personnel on April 9, the day of polling for Srinagar parliamentary constituency.

“My son had just gone to see the tamasha, like all kids he was curious,” said Dar. He’s reluctant to say what the “tamasha” was but a boy said a group of older boys were pelting stones at the school. Some others said they were asking the polling officials to leave.

Abbas’s father Fateh Mohammed, a policeman, said his son was returning from the fields. Both boys died after receiving a bullet in the head.

Before this, there had never been any stone pelting in Dalwan, nor had security forces ever killed anyone in the village. The poll boycott was new too. The turnout in Charar-e-Sharif Assembly segment has always been high. It’s a stronghold of the National Conference — in the 2014 Assembly elections, the turnout in this segment was about 80 per cent.

Like Dalwan, other far-flung areas in the Srinagar parliamentary constituency also saw unanticipated violence and low or zero voting, adding up to a dismal 7.14 per cent.

According to the Election Commission of India, there were 200 incidents of stone pelting, in which 100 security personnel and 70 civilians were injured in the entire constituency, comprising three districts: Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal. One person was killed in Ganderbal.

But Budgam district was the epicentre of the violence. Aside from the two deaths in Dalwan, three people were killed in Birwah, two in Chadoora.

Budgam is bracing for possible violence tomorrow as well since all 38 polling stations in which repoll is going to be held are here — in 12 villages of Chadoora; five villages in Birwah; seven in Charar-e-Sharif; seven in Budgam; and one in Khansab. And Kashmir is bracing for another day of violence on Thursday.

Budgam’s explosion caught security forces by surprise. Police officials said precautions were not taken because the scale and intensity of the violence was unanticipated.

The influence of the Hurriyat or religious groups like the Jamat-e-Islami is minimal in the district. Although Syed Salahuddin is from Soibugh village near Budgam town, even militant groups like Hizbul Mujahideen lost traction here after the first phase of militancy waned. Indeed, since the late 1990s, the district is known as a “voting belt” and is even sometimes described as the “gaddar” district for its aloofness from separatism.

One obvious reason being cited for the violence and the low polling is the March 28 encounter in Chadoora in which three civilians were killed.

“There had never been an incident like that before in the area. It had great impact, people are angry,” said a police official who did not wish to be named.

In Sogam village of Chadoora, at the home of Mohammed Amin Manzoor, a 12-year-old boy who was also killed on April 9, well after voting had ended, his friends and families talked of the “betrayal of politicians”.

“In 2014, we voted just because they told us they will solve the K problem. They have done nothing about that. They are not talking to anyone, not to Kashmiris, not to Pakistan, instead they are killing Kashmiris,” said one 24-year-old who said he was studying for the Civil Services exams.

Anger has also built up over the absence of governance, obvious everywhere in Kashmir, and especially in the poor shape of the roads.

“Leave alone solving the Kashmir problem, they have not even managed to repair this road,” said a 28-year-old government employee, pointing at the potholed track that leads into the village.

“We have lost faith in elections. But we want elections to be held, so that we can boycott it every time and show to the world what Indian democracy is. What is this democracy in which we don’t have any democratic rights,” said a third-year MBBS student.

It was the same angry reaction in Dalwan. The policeman father of the 17-year-old who was killed said he knew the system very well and expected little justice.

“Only my SP called to condole with me, but no politician has bothered,” said Fateh Mohammed.

“Now we don’t want water, roads or anything from any government or politician. We can make our own roads. We just want azadi,” said Faizan’s father, pointing out how the local MLA had not visited once after winning the election.

The PDP’s alliance with the BJP is also a red rag. But the police official also pointed to other less obvious reasons for the April 9 violence.

A resident, who also did not wish to be identified, said it was not just Chadoora, but all of Budgam that came under pressure to “do something” as it had remained peaceful for an entire month from the time of Burhan Wani’s killing.

“When Burhan Wani was killed, Budgam wanted to show it was with the rest of Kashmir. The first signs of trouble began then,” the Chadoora resident said.

A more troubling explanation for the violence on polling day, the police official said, was the rivalry between National Conference and PDP in the area. Nazir Khan, the PDP candidate against the National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah in the Srinagar parliamentary bypoll openly blamed the NC.

“They knew I was going to win. I lost to Omar Abdullah by 931 votes in Birwah during the 2014 Assembly elections,” Nazir Khan told The Indian Express. He was a Congress candidate, and joined the PDP only on February 18 this year. He pointed to Farooq Abdullah’s statement days before polling that stone pelters were “fighting for a cause” as a signal to trouble-makers and asked why the Election Commission had not taken note of this “anti-India” statement.

Nazir Khan alleged National Conference had ensured a turnout in its strongholds in Birwah while being behind trouble in other areas. PDP supporters were “so angry” with National Conference for the April 9 incidents, said Nazir Khan, that they would turn out in numbers for the repoll on Thursday.

Both Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah were not available for comment. Nasir Aslam Wani, the provincial president of the National Conference denied the allegation: “Neither our leaders no our workers had any part in this. This is a complete failure of the government.”

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