It is 11 in the night and the road near Sopore bridge is blocked by big rocks, branches and cement blocks. A few metres away, worn-out tyres burn bright in the darkness and young boys keep vigil.
“Where are you heading to,” the boys ask the driver as the vehicle slowly moves past them, flash lights switched off and both blinkers on — a signal to the protesters that the driver is a civilian out for urgent work. The boys look inside the car to ensure there is no policeman inside. “You can go,” they say, clearing a small gap in the blockade for the car to pass.
In Sopore, a separatist stronghold, protesters pelt policemen with stones in the day and keep “vigil” against their raids at night.
After the first two weeks of protests across the Valley following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, police have raided many villages in the night to arrest protesters.
To prevent arrests, people in Sopore have erected barricades on roads where youths keep vigil. A separate group of youths stay in mosques from where loudspeakers blare pro-azadi slogans. Their job is to make an announcement from the mosque if police tries to raid a neighbourhood.
“Police have intensified the arrests. They enter mohallas during the night and arrest youths,” said an 18-year-old manning a blockade. “This (creating blockades) has helped us to keep police away”. Youths keeping vigil at night pass the time by analysing the Valley situation and indulging in gossip. “The other day, some youths were brewing tea on a bonfire. Suddenly police arrived. The youths ran away and police took away the utensils,” said a youth.
It is not only in Sopore that the protesters have erected barricades to keep police away. Such barricades have been installed at villages in south Kashmir too.
At the “checkpoints”, youths every vehicle before letting it pass and question every passerby about his identity. If they get suspicious about the identity of a person, they demand his identity card, much like police or paramilitary forces.