A group of policemen stop everyone trying to enter the premises of the sprawling Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI). A mine protected vehicle, Casspir, stands at the entrance of the building, whose main office complex was damaged in a 48-hour long gun battle in which three foreign militants were killed Monday. Inside, Army, police and CRPF teams are busy sanitising the place that has bullet marks all over and shattered glass scattered on the floor. The smell of explosives is everywhere.
“There is still a lot of unexploded ammunition left in the rooms and before allowing people inside, everything needs to be cleared,” said an officer supervising the sanitising operation. Apart from employees, even the director of the institute, Mohammad Ismail Parray, was not allowed inside the complex.
“I was not allowed to go inside due to security concerns. Our main office building has got damaged, though the other two buildings are safe,” said Parray.
At Sempora, the village closest to the EDI complex, a group of villagers assembled along the road as the encounter played out. These men, along with some other people from the neighboring areas, tried to organise a protest.
“People came here on Sunday and again on Monday, even from the Pampore side hundreds of villagers had assembled. They also tried to approach the encounter site with the only motive to divert attention of the Army and the police so that the militants could escape… A majority of those who took out protests were young boys,’’ claimed Ghulam Nabi, a villager.
On Tuesday, the National Highway that dissects Pampore was thrown open after remaining closed for two days. But as police imposed restrictions along with heavy deployment of police and CRPF personnel, the small town wore a deserted look.
Sitting outside his shop in Pampore, Bashir Ahmad rued how encounters and protests had become a routine affair in the Valley. “But, this is the first time, I have seen such a long encounter in Pulwama district. It reminded me of the early days of militancy. As the encounter was going on, scores of youths tried to march towards the encounter site,” he said.
Bashir added that for two days, apart from firing and blasts, they could hear anti-India slogans and songs praising militants. “I think youth are now fed up and think only protests and militancy can resolve the Kashmir issue,” he said.
According to locals, protesters also played songs eulogising militants from the public address systems of some mosques close to the encounter site and raised slogans like — “Jeevey Jeeve Pakistan” (long live Pakistan), “Sabeluna Sabeluna, al Jihad, al Jihad” (the only way is struggle).
“I saw a group of women singing Azadi songs and praising militants. Even though the police fired teargas shells towards them, they never left the spot,” said Javid Ahmad, a Sempore resident, while pointing towards a place across river Jehlum. Officials at Pampore’s sub-district hospital told The Indian Express that over 10 people were treated at the hospital during the past two days.
“The injured didn’t want to stay in the hospital and left the hospital after first aid,’’ a doctor said.
An injured person confessed that he marched towards the encounter site along with his friends and several villagers.
“With an aim to save the militants, we were trying to move towards the encounter site but police fired pellets, teargas shells. They also fired in the air and prevented us from approaching the encounter site…My other friend also sustained pellet injuries in his face,’’ he said, while showing pellet marks on his body.
CRPF spokesman, Bhavesh Chaudhary, who also commands a battalion said: “In past few months we are witnessing protests whenever an encounters breaks out. It is a matter of concern and we are looking into it.”