From Tehelka: “The Story of Palhalan”
PALHALAN IS called the ‘Kandahar of Kashmir’. It epitomises the riddles of Kashmir: the pro-freedom sentiment, the history of militancy, influence of the Jamaat-e-Islami, State repression and also how new generations inherit these animosities. If Kashmir’s young pick up the gun again, it is possible that Palhalan will yield a big chunk of recruits. And it is the siege that might draw them towards the gun.
When Kashmir was burning in the summer, Palhalan, a village in Baramulla district, 30 km north of Srinagar, embodied that anger. As life returns to a fatigued normalcy in most parts of the Valley, Palhalan still reels under military control, earning it the epithet of Kashmir’s ‘curfew village’.
Since July, eight people have succumbed to armed forces’ firing in Palhalan. More than 60 have been wounded and hundreds have been arrested.
Between empty orchards, damaged houses, shops with half-rolled shutters and numerous mosques, the road twists and turns to reach the houses of the dead. There is a poster on one of the walls with the picture of Adil Ramzan, commemorating his death and promising faithfulness to the 12-year-old’s blood.
Ramzan, a Class VII student, became Palhalan’s first casualty this summer when he and his friends went to Pattan to join a pro-azadiprotest and was shot in his back on 30 July. He had been playing cricket earlier and his bat lay on the street near his bleeding body. He died in Pattan a few hours later and no one in his family could reach the hospital as soldiers had blocked the roads. His body was brought home through wet paddy fields.
A few metres away, Ramzan’s mother Syeda lives with her husband and three kids in a one-storey house. As his siblings got promoted to the next grade, Ramzan’s schoolbag lies in a shelf along with his uniform. “Sometimes, I sneak into the room and kiss his shirt, tie, notebooks and sob silently,” says Syeda. “When I serve dinner, I put down the fourth plate only to take it back. The dining table looks so empty without him.”
Ramzan is not the first casualty in his family. His grandfather Ghulam Mohideen Sheikh, a Jamaat member, was shot dead in 1999 by “unidentified gunmen” while he was going to offer prayers. Then, Sheikh’s two brothers, who were Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) militants, were killed in encounters. In 2005, two of Ramzan’s uncles — Ali Mohammad, a pharmacy owner, and Samiullah, a Class XII student — were arrested and charged for ferrying RDX. They are imprisoned in Tihar jail…”
“…Palhalan has a population of more than 30,000. The police say that it is because of the large population that villagers refuse to sit quietly. Another reason they suggest is Palhalan’s self-reliance. With 5,856 kanals of apple orchards, 2,096 kanals of paddy fields and 15,000 kanals of cultivable land, Palhalan produces enough food for the village to survive hard times.
Apart from the curfew, Palhalan has been facing a silent siege over the past couple of years. For a village of its size and education, Palhalan has less than 500 government employees, say police sources. Most of them are in their 40s or nearing retirement. “My father was a government employee but after his retirement there is nobody working for the government in our family,” says Nayeem Tantray, a BA graduate. “We all do our little business and don’t harbour hopes of getting jobs,” says Tantray, whose brother Ansarullah was one of this summer’s firing victims. “Forget jobs, getting verifications for SIM cards is impossible. Hardly anyone in the village has a passport,” adds Tantray…”
Security sources admit that one of the former Senior Superintendents of Police had given informal orders to slow down verifications. “They are extremely violent people who damaged every vehicle that passed through the village during the summer protests,” a police officer says. “They even attacked the ‘Caravan-e-Aman’ bus that was going to Muzaffarabad. We had to transport the passengers to safety in our vehicles. The villagers fight all the time. They fight among themselves when the protests are not happening.”