Srinagar, July 11: Curfew-bound streets littered with grey rocks, baked bricks and half-burnt heaps of rubber tyres are deserted. But the quiet on Srinagar roads dotted by gun-toting security men is that of a graveyard amid fresh unrest in the Kashmir Valley that has left dozens dead in police firing on protestors.
The acrid smell of tear gas fills the air. At some places, the only voice one hears besides police whistles is of “Azadi, Azadi” — slogans blaring out of mosque loudspeakers in old Srinagar-city called Downtown.
The scenic valley, which had readied itself for a fresh tourist season after the month of fasting ended, now looks dead amid the simmering anger and violence sparked by the killing of Burhan Wani, a 22-year-old commander of Kashmir’s largest Islamist rebel group, Hizbul Mujahideen.
Wani, according to his father Muzaffar, was driven to militancy at the age of 15 in 2010 when Kashmir witnessed a bloody unrest over civilian deaths in staged shootouts. His family says he and his elder brother Khalid were beaten up by police in their hometown Tral.
In military fatigues and guns, Wani, a son of a highly-educated middle-class south Kashmiri family, appeared frequently on Facebook asking Kashmiri youth to join him in his “anti-India war”.
He is credited with having revived the dying militancy in Kashmir as his Facebook and Twitter videos glamourised the insurgency because he didn’t hide his identity, unlike Kashmir militants in the past who would only be known by their pseudonyms.
Wani’s video messages often went viral on WhatsApp and other private media in Kashmir. And when he finally fell to the bullets of security forces on the third day of Eid, tens of thousands of people attended his funeral in Tral, some 50 km from here.
His death triggered a vicious cycle of protests and firing by security force which has left 22 people dead by official count (other unverified accounts, put it at over 30) in parts of the valley, adding spark to separatist sentiments after years of relative peace and stability.
The situation today resembles the early 1990s when the nascent separatist movement enjoyed mass support, and mass demonstrations were a daily affair.
Kashmir watchers say Wani’s death was only a trigger that sparked off the fresh violence in Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state where nearly three decades of separatist conflict has left tens of thousands dead.
“Kashmir is a volatile place. The governments (both state and centre) misread bouts of calm as peace,” said Raouf Rasool Ahangar, editor of the daily Kashmir Images published from Srinagar.
“Kashmiri youth feels pushed to the wall by a constant stream of provocation,” said Ahangar, listing alleged government proposals for appropriation of land for separate colonies for retired soldiers and exiled Kashmiri Pandits.
“Now, the latest is in the form of the unabated killing of their peers in police action. The young Kashmiri today feels so defeated, so lost, so futureless that they are willing to stake their lives and chance their future, which unfortunately remains equally shrouded in confusion.”
Others feel that anger is as old as the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan.
Ghulam Mohammed Wani, a political science teacher in a Srinagar college, said the current unrest was “symbolic of larger unaddressed Kashmir problem” waiting for a solution since 1947.
“See, nobody in Delhi is talking about Kashmir. Delhi is not respecting sentiments of Kashmiris. And the state government despite its pre-election promises of peace talks, has not been able to win the confidence of Kashmiris,” he says.
Kashmir, which is also claimed by Pakistan, will continue to see these summers of unrest till a lasting solution is found to the problem, he said. “Manifestations could be different. Today it is Burhan, in 2008 it was Amarnath land row and in 2010 it was civilian killings. Tomorrow it can be anything.”
On the streets, angry youth refuse to talk to the media. “You misreport,” a protestor yelled at a correspondent. “Can’t you see blood-ridden bodies,” the young man asked almost charging towards the journalist.