Day after BSF fired on a protest against the alleged desecration of the Quran and killed four men,The Indian Express visits Gool and witnesses stories of grief,anger and despair
Early Friday morning,a steady stream of people walked down the winding road to Salbala,a hamlet of single-storied mud houses in Gool,for the funeral of Farooq Ahmad Baig. It was July 19,the sky was overcast and dark clouds were hiding the mountain peaks here.
Farooq,a labourer,had died the previous day,one of the four men who were killed when BSF men fired on people protesting the alleged desecration of the Quran.
The villagers walked up to and under a mountain ridge where Farooq lay,his eyes shut,his body cold,to see him one last time. And many gave money to a village elder collecting donations. “This is for Farooq’s family,” said Mohammad Akhtar,a villager. “He was very poor. And he was the sole bread earner of his family.”
Farooq has left behind two sons,both less than 10 years old,and a disabled wife who can barely move. They live in a single-room mud house which overlooks the graveyard where he now rests.
From Salbala,the mourners,hundreds of them,walked more than 10 km to Jaman. There,Manzoor Ahmad Shan,a 32-year-old assistant professor of political science who had been leading the protest at the 76 Battalion BSF camp at Dharam when it was fired on,was about to be buried.
Manzoor had left home Wednesday (July 17) night as soon as news about the alleged desecration of the Quran reached him. He left late in the night and returned at the time of Sehri (the meal taken in Ramzan before the break of dawn), said his father Master Abdul Rehman Shan,70. After Sehri,he left again for Dharam.
He returned in a winding sheet. Just before a BSF bullet felled him,Manzoor had been urging protesters to remain peaceful. He was facing the crowd,asking them to maintain peace, said Firdous Ahmad of Gool who was in the protest. The bullet hit him in the back of his head and he fell to the ground. The BSF men then fired indiscriminately.
Manzoor was the president of Gool’s Muslim Auqaf,loved and respected by his people. “His death has left a vacuum in Gool,” said Sadr-ud-din,the Imam who led his funeral prayer. “This vacuum can’t be filled in 100 years”.
Not far from the professor,Javed Ahmad fell to another bullet. Javed,a class 12 student,had walked for an hour from his home in Bimdasa,a village without a road,to reach Dharam for the protest. He was also buried Friday,as was Mohammad Lateef,a labourer from Jamlan.
When Lateef was being lowered into his grave,his wife was in labour. Five hours or so later,she delivered a daughter,an orphan from birth.
The killing of the four men,and the alleged desecration of the Quran,has outraged Gool,a cluster of 18 villages thinly spread across 55 km of mountains from Gool village to Ramban town. Gool is Muslim majority but like other Muslim areas in Jammu province,it has always been outside the ambit of the Hurriyat Conferences politics. And like the districts of Doda,Kishtwar,Rajouri and Poonch,the support for Azadi movement here doesnt manifest itself into public gatherings or huge protests,a regular feature of Kashmir valleys political life. But whenever it happens,it is spontaneous.
Gool was calm,at least for now,though shut. But the anger has spilled beyond to hamlets and towns along the Srinagar-Jammu highway,and,of course,Kashmir.
So much so that the government had already closed down the Jawahar tunnel,which connects the valley with Jammu,when The Indian Express reached there on the way to Gool Thursday evening. It was opened only late that night. From there to Gool,a distance of 55 km,the road was deserted; no vehicles,no civilians. The first vehicle the Express spotted was after about another 40 km into the journey,at 2 in the morning — a BSF vehicle near Dharam.
The next morning,and for two subsequent days,people took to the streets. In Kashmir,protests forced the state to impose curfew. And on the other side of the tunnel,protesters blocked the 25 km mountainous stretch of the highway Ramsoo to Ramban with boulders,iron poles and logs.
And at Ramsoo,hundreds of protesters shouted pro-freedom and anti-India slogans and even slogans in support of militants. “We are hearing such freedom slogans here after two decades,” said a villager.
Indeed,the government response too was a rare acknowledgement that Azadi isnt a Kashmir specific demand.