Twenty-five-year-old Abid Lone grew up hearing horrifying stories from his father about crackdowns by the government forces in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. His father would be dragged out of the garments’ shop on Hari Singh High Street in the middle of the day for frisking.
“It was normal for my father,” he recalled. However, it never happened with him until today.
On Monday afternoon, the clocks turned back to the 1990s, when the insurgency was at its peak in Kashmir Valley and such random frisking was common.
Today, the government forces installed instant checkpoints in the market area in the heartland of Kashmir’s main city Srinagar; closed exits, and lined up all men.
Lone, who runs the shop now, was directed to come out too. “I was scared,” he said. There were nearly forty men standing around me with guns … nobody argued. I stood in the line too.”
As the frisking went on, the government forces personnel, Lone said, frisked men, checked their identity cards, opened bags, and asked a few to even remove their pherans, a woolen cloak worn in winters. “They suspect everyone,” he said. “Especially the pheran wearing men … they suspect the population now.”
Two days ago militants had killed two policemen in an attack in the Baghat area of the city, nearly four kilometers from the site of today’s search operation. The militants were later identified by the police as affiliated with Lashkar-e-Taiba, including a local named Saqib.
It was the deadliest day of this year and three policemen and militants were killed in three separate incidents in Shopian, Budgam, and Srinagar.
As per the CCTV footage of the Srinagar attack, one of the militants had pulled out an assault rifle from under his pheran and sprayed bullets until the policeman fell. Since the attack, a discourse by right-wing political organizations has taken over social media as they call to ban pherans, often associated with Kashmir’s identity.
After the attack, Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar chaired a detailed security review meeting at the Police Control Room in Srinagar.
In the meeting, as per a police statement, Kumar highlighted “the importance of round the clock checkpoints/nakas at strategic locations, surprise (flash) naka, surprise limited CASO in crowded places, placing cut-off points on exit routes immediately after such incident and dominating from high reaches, use of drones to check the movement of elements inimical to peace.”
What is seen as police coming into action after the Srinagar attack, the crackdown surprised many in the market area. Umar, a 35-year-old shopkeeper, “saw it for the first time”.
“This is the police’s harsh measures on people,” he said hours later, looking at the market as people carried on with their business in the evening. One of his customers added: “Police come and do as they please. You can’t do anything.”
The government forces left after nearly forty minutes. The market was chaotic as an uneasy silence dominated.
Lone, the garments’ shop owner, talked reluctantly.
“Where does it happen when I’m taken out of my shop, they shut the market, and I’m made to stand in line,” he said, adding that the state has “criminalised the identity”.
This is unusual for this city, he said, otherwise it happens all the time in rural areas of south Kashmir and nobody knows about that. After the government forces left, Lone called his father. “I told him this happened,” he said. “[Father] has been through this. He understands that we can’t do anything about it. He was just worried if I was fine.”