SWELLING crowds at militant funerals have become common here of late, but the day after the killing of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the Valley, from north to south, spilled over onto the streets in anger.
In widespread protests and violence of the kind rarely seen in the last two decades over a militant’s killing, 11 people were left dead by Saturday evening, and over 200 injured. All of the deaths happened in south Kashmir. More than 50 of those injured have bullet wounds. By the end of the day, the protests had intensified.
Two top J&K Police officers were fielded to explain the firing deaths and the surging crowds, while late in the evening, the J&K government issued a statement on Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s behalf asking “the police and paramilitary forces to use standard operating procedure (SOP)” while dealing with crowds. “The disproportionate use of force for crowd control results in loss of precious lives,” the statement said.
The CM also expressed “deep grief and agony over the death of youths during protests” and appealed to people “not to fall prey to the machinations of vested interests who play politics over the dead bodies of Kashmiris”.
At the press conference held earlier, ADGP, CID, S M Sahai confirmed that seven of the deaths had been caused by “retaliatory” action by security forces. “It is very unfortunate that young lives were lost in clashes,” Sahai said, appealing to parents to restrain their children from participating in such protests.
IGP, Kashmir, J M Gillani, who accompanied Sahai, said three of their men were missing and at least 96 were injured, and that analysis would be done “whether the force used was justified”.
“We have had a very difficult day today,” Sahai said, adding that the situation was “bad in certain segments”, “not critical” in areas like north Kashmir, and under control in Srinagar.
Sahai claimed militants were trying to “superimpose their attacks” on public protests, and that there had been a militant attack on District Police Lines in Pulwama which the security forces had thwarted.
Replying to a volley of questions, including on why Wani was not caught alive instead of being gunned down, Sahai said, “We certainly don’t want to kill youngsters of our own society.”
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said he was “deeply anguished” at the loss of lives in the protests. In a series of tweets, Singh said, “I appeal to the people of J&K to remain calm and maintain peace. Centre is working with the State govt to bring normalcy in Kashmir valley.”
Violence affected all the major towns of Kashmir despite authorities imposing curfew-like restrictions, suspending mobile Internet services, and resorting to teargas and aerial firing.
Thousands of people participated in absentia prayers held for Wani, while many others went to Tral to attend his funeral.
Mobs attacked 15 police posts, a police station, six police and CRPF camps, a yatra transit camp (Mir Bazar, Anantnag), and a Rashtriya Rifles camp (Lar Noo, Kokernag), apart from 20-odd government buildings. “A mob attacked the police station in D H Pora, looted weapons and set ablaze the building,” Sahai said.
IGP Gillani said 20 policemen had been “kept hostage” and “were fired upon with the looted weapons”.
In Kulgam district, the house of a BJP leader who had contested the 2014 Assembly elections was attacked, while the house of PDP Kokernag MLA Abdul Rahim Rather was torched. Others attacked abandoned houses of Kashmiri Pandits in south Kashmir areas.
The Valley also witnessed a complete shutdown in response to separatist leaders’ call for a strike to protest against Wani’s killing. The call has been extended by the separatist leadership for two more days.
Officials said several exams stood postponed in view of the tense situation. The Srinagar-Baramulla and Srinagar-Anantnag national highways are closed as protesters have blocked the roads. Train services in Kashmir too have been suspended till further orders.
When asked whether the government had factored in this reaction to Wani’s killing, officers said they had made “adequate preparations to contain the response (to Wani’s killing) in the epicentres” but “didn’t anticipate” that protests would erupt across the valley.
Asked about the protests, Sahai said “that was something they need to assess”. He also said they were aware about the problems they faced with the youth.
J&K Police officers said the operation against Wani had been launched after they “received specific information”, but declined to say whether the information pertained to his presence in the south Kashmir village.
Asked if Wani could have been arrested rather than killed since this was a raid on his hideout, a police officer said there was no intention to kill but the encounter was a gunbattle in which “two of our men received bullet injuries”.
A senior PDP leader told The Sunday Express “there was an analysis of the Burhan phenomenon and there was an understanding that he needed to be taken out as soon as possible because he was reviving the militant movement in a way that would cause great problems in the near future”.
According to him, neither the party (which was born in south Kashmir) nor the government thought that Wani’s killing would evoke such a response. “We have to live with it now.”
He said that the reasons for this massive outburst were multiple and Wani’s killing was a trigger. “No (mainstream) party is popular here. I think we (the PDP) had some sort of social approval, which was dented by our alliance with the BJP. If this rage manifests itself against us, particularly in south Kashmir, we have a major political challenge on our hands.”
He said the consistent denial by the Centre to address the larger Kashmir problem too was responsible for this “pent-up anger”. “What can we do? We can’t give people what they want. So such a situation will keep on happening,” he said.