At night, the road to South Kashmir is filled with tiny shards of glass and rocks. Armed troops dot the area.
It is possible to travel to Anantnag district only at night, for this is when a strict dawn-to-dusk curfew is lifted.
The district, which lies 56 km south of state capital Srinagar, was put under curfew almost two weeks ago after popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani was killed in an encounter on July 8 that led to widespread protests and a crackdown by government forces.
So far, paramilitary forces and the police have killed 50 people in Kashmir and injured at least 3,000. Around 600 people have received metal pellet injuries. Many have been struck in the eye, and could lose their eyesight.
South Kashmir is the stronghold of the Peoples Democratic Party, which is ruling the state in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Mehbooba Mufti was Member of Parliament from the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat but after her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed died in January, and she took over as chief minister, she contested from her father’s Anantnag Assembly seat, and won handsomely.
The protests start
After hearing Wani was killed, people in Anantnag town took out a procession to the district hospital, expecting that his body would be brought there from Kokernag – 30 km away – where he was shot dead along with two other militants.
But the body was not brought here.
People then came on to the roads in the town, rallying in support of Wani, and clashing with forces till the early hours of morning. Angry youth brought down a camera tower in the main square.
As per reports, 16 people have been killed in Anantnag district, and at least 500 injured. Of the injured, 86 were hit by bullets, 257 had multiple pellet injuries and 153 were injured due to tear gas or beatings by security forces.
On July 9, a bullet fired by a policeman in Achabal pierced 14-year-old Saqib Manzoor Mir’s skull. He was among the first to be killed during the ongoing protests. Mir was a Class 9 student and the youngest of Shakeela Banu’s three sons.
Mir’s older brother, Junaid Manzoor Mir, only came to know that his younger sibling had been killed 12 days later, when he returned home from Pahalgam, where he had gone on work.
Speaking at his home in Kundru village, after returning from the district hospital, where he had taken his mother, Junaid Manzoor Mir is struggling to come to terms with the absence of his brother. “I was missing home and it was shutdown also, so I decided to visit my family,” he said. “I had no idea this had happened.”
The path to Takia Bohramshah village near the National Highway is bordered by paddy fields. This is where 20-year-old Hilal Ahmad Dar was killed allegedly by Special Task Force personnel. The spot where Dar fell is now demarcated as a memorial.
In the recent Anantnag Assembly elections, Dar’s father had voted for Mehbooba Mufti. On asking about the chief minister, Dar’s older brother, Ashiq Hussain Dar said: “For us, a black dog is no different than a white dog.”
In the absence of public transport, patients and attendants at the Anantnag district hospital waited outside the building for ambulances to ferry them to Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences in Srinagar.
The windows of an ambulance parked close by were broken as were the windows of one of the hospital buildings. A boy with metal pellets in his chest and face, carrying an X-ray, waited to be examined by a doctor.
“In the last 10 days, we have had 144 injured, among whom 30 had bullet injuries, and seven people were brought dead,” said Abdul Majeed Miraab, medical superintendent of the district hospital. “When troops are relieved from duty on roads, injured people start pouring in,” he said. “Our ambulances have been attacked by the CRPF men on the way to Srinagar.”
Bashir Ahmad, the controller of the store and ambulances at the district hospital, said of five ambulances at the hospital, Central Reserve Police Force personnel had attacked three. “The ambulances were ferrying the injured so the CRPF men think the injured are stone throwers and attack them,” he said. “Youth didn’t do anything, it is only CRPF attacking the ambulances.”
Life under curfew
In the last two weeks, Anantnag and its adjacent areas have been cut off from the rest of the Valley. But the isolation isn’t just due to the curfew. The day after Wani’s killing, mobile phones and Internet were suspended in the whole South Kashmir and remain cut.
Nadeem Reshi, a resident of the old town in Anantnag, said that the first few days of curfew were so strict that even baby food couldn’t be sourced.
Even the district hospital ran short of medicines. “The hospital was short of antibiotic drugs and blood,” said Reshi. “No one was allowed to move out. Last Friday, prayers were not allowed in the main grand mosque, and at other mosques only older people were allowed. If people from adjacent villages were bringing milk or vegetables to town, they were not allowed.”