Tusha Mittal in Srinagar

From Tehelka: “The Pelter and the Police

“By the time you read this, the life and death of 22- year-old Bilal Ahmed Sheikh would have become a mere statistic: Civilian No. 63 killed by the security forces since 11 June — the day another boy, 17-year-old Tufail, breathed his last, sparking an intifada-like uprising in Kashmir.

Not a single police or paramilitary officer has been arrested for civilian deaths. FIRs against “unknown persons” have been registered, except for one case in Sopore against the CRPF for unprovoked firing. A commission of inquiry is looking into the first 17 deaths. The home minister has admitted, “At least a dozen killings may have been unprovoked.”

“There is no way yet to verify exactly how many of those arrested have been released or booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA) — and that is part of the chaos Kashmir has descended into.

And now, in an eerie flashback to the 1990s, the official crackdown has begun.”

“Around 3 pm on 19 August, a 500- strong contingent of security forces surrounded Bemina locality in south Srinagar. All the male residents were asked to assemble in the field outside the local mosque. “They behaved with us like the army earlier behaved with militants,” says Imtiaz Ahmed. The police identified 42 men as stone-pelters. “They randomly called out to anyone wearing good clothes and Nike shoes,” says Ahmed. “They said whoever wants azadi, we will burn their house down.”

“Shameema Begum was at home when they barged into her house, smashed glass windows, pulled out her 60-year-old father and her husband Bashir Ahmad Lone. “Where is Brett Lee?” the police asked them raining lathis. “Give us Brett Lee and we will let you go,” they said.

That’s a nickname for Shameema Begum’s 11-year-old son Danish, a lean, fair boy who plays cricket and dreams of becoming Sachin Tendulkar. But for the forces, Danish is an active stone-pelter.

Of the 42 men picked up, seven are still in police custody. Danish’s father Bashir, a daily wager, is one of them. A few years ago, a fracture disabled Bashir’s right hand. “They will only release him in exchange for my son,” says Begum. Srinagar SP(South) Irshad Ahmad denies this. “Bashir is in custody because he is also a stonepelter and a top motivator,” he told TEHELKA.Begum says the police have declared a Rs. 1 lakh reward on Danish. And that Waseem, a barber from UP and Begum’s tenant, was offered money to reveal the boy’s whereabouts. “If we take him to the police,” Begum asks, “how do we know what they’ll do with him?” That’s why an 11-year-old boy is in hiding. If the crackdown continues, boys like him may not return overground.”

“In conversations with policemen across Srinagar city, it becomes evident that for most “Hindustan ki wardi” (uniform) is a necessary evil, a source of livelihood in a state parched for jobs. There is a sense of being trapped between Kashmiri identity and allegiance to India, and almost every constable TEHELKA spoke to said he wouldn’t let his children join the police.”

“This is a relatively new trend. Until the mid-1990s, the local police were not involved in counter-insurgency operations. In 1993, the police rose in revolt against the army and senior police officials after a fellow policeman was tortured and killed in custody. The army stormed the police HQ with tanks. In 1994, a Special Operations Group was formed to assist the army in counter-insurgency, policemen from Jammu and Poonch were in a majority but now, more than ever before, the Kashmir policeman finds himself looked upon as an agent of India.”

“TEHELKA has learnt from a credible police source that as of 19 August, 1,800 J&K policemen have applied for voluntary retirement. While it is not clear how many of them want to opt out due to the current situation, it is a sign of the growing anguish.

A week ago, a constable was leaving his post in civvies when the CRPF caught him. He was beaten for violating curfew even before he could show his police ID card. On the way back to his post, he was beaten by a mob for being in the police. “We belong neither here nor there,” he says. “We are serving the Indian forces like Indians did in the British army.”

“When head constable Mohammed Ramzan tried to stop the CRPF from firing, he says he was held by the neck and beaten. “I only allow myself to keep a lathi, a helmet and a shield,” he says. “I don’t keep a gun in hand, otherwise I might be compelled to fire. If they protest without destroying government property, then I am with them. I too want azadi.”

“I’m worried that my family will become a target. I am considering resigning. They are alone in the village,” he says. “I am a Kashmiri. Writing my nationality as Indian is only an administrative compulsion. If I weren’t in uniform, I’d be pelting stones,” a constable from Tral says.”

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