SRINAGAR: “Tum Lal Chowk kyon gaye thay (why had you gone to Lal Chowk)”? The query from a man in combat dress baffled me. Rather, I felt hurt. I asked myself, ‘Why should anyone and that too an ‘outsider’ ask me about the purpose of visiting a place in a town where I was born and have lived for decades?’
The young man who posed this question to me was in a posse of CRPF jawans, manning a makeshift checkpoint next to a pillbox along a road that passes through central Srinagar, often referred to as ‘downtown’ in Kashmir’s warped jargon.
It was 9.30 pm and I was driving home after a hectic day at work. After two security personnel, one of them holding a gun and the other a powerful portable torch, thoroughly searched my car, a third one noted down its registration number on a notebook and then asked me ‘Kahan sey aa rahe ho, aur kahan jana hai (where are you coming from and where are you going)”? “I was at Lal Chowk (the city centre) and am returning home,” I replied.
Then came the outlandish query from the jawan. “Tum Lal Chowk kyon gaye thay”. I didn’t answer but showed him my identity card. I was also carrying a ‘movement pass for Section 144 CrPC restrictions’ with me but no such curbs were in force in that particular area at that time. After satisfying him about my credentials, he allowed me to move on.
The next morning, while heading for Mushtaq Press Enclave, Kashmir’s media hub situated in Lal Chowk neighbourhood, I found the drop-gate I was stopped at the previous night had been removed, apparently to facilitate smooth vehicular movement. But half-a-dozen CRPF jawans in riot gear were standing outside the wayside sandbag pillbox. There were possibly four to six more inside it.
I decided to meet the jawan who had upset me the previous night again. I was informed that the posse he was part of has been replaced by another one for day duty. “They were here for the night duty,” said an officer who introduced himself as ASI Ravi. I told him about the preceding night’s episode. “Kiya karein Sahib...kabhi kabhi pochna padta hai (What can we do, Sir. Sometimes, we need to ask such questions).” He hastened to add, “All of us are not like him”.
The security forces also find themselves in a difficult situation because of the communication blockade in the Valley. They are unable to stay in touch with their families back home which, according to Ravi, is “frustrating at times”.
Many parts of Srinagar remain under security restrictions since August 5 when Jammu & Kashmir was stripped of its special status under Article 370 of the Constitutions and split into two Union Territories. Even after the lapse of 25 days, tensions are still high and the anger among the residents appears to be incessant which is borne by the fact that a spontaneous strike has shut marketplaces, public transport is off the roads and schools reopened by the authorities hardly see any students touching down these.
These are tough times in Kashmir. At first light, the security forces, mainly from CRPF and other Central armed police forces, take quick breakfast to fuel their day at their command centres and buildings and spaces requisitioned as temporary barracks to accommodate thousands of additional personnel.
The reinforcements were rushed in days before Union home minister Amit Shah moved a resolution in Lok Sabha for abrogation of Article 370 and a Bill for splitting the state into two Union Territories on August 5.
No morning walk or aerobics and no formal roll calls. At first light, the security personnel are quickly transported to various areas of Srinagar in buses whose side windows have been covered with tin-sheets to protect them from being hurt in stone-pelting. Some of them travel in ‘bunker’ vehicles and one-tonners which have been turned into virtual cage armour to escape stone-pelting en route or while being at the ‘hot spots’....