Three days after some men attending prayers at the Jamia Masjid in downtown Srinagar brutally lynched Kashmiri policeman Mohammed Ayub Pandith near the shrine, the state police issued a security-related advisory to its personnel ahead of the festival of Eid, which will be celebrated on Monday.
“You are advised to instruct the field and subordinate formations that they shall not offer Eid prayers in isolated or general mosques or eidgahs,” PTI quoted an advisory issued from the Police Control Room, Kashmir, to all district police headquarters on behalf of Inspector General of Police Muneer Khan. It said that all police personnel should offer Eid prayers in mosques in district police lines in Srinagar, or at the Police Control Room, Kashmir.
This is the second such security-related advisory to police personnel in the Valley in a little over two months. In April, the police advised its personnel to avoid visiting their homes for an unspecified period of time.
The Valley has witnessed a drastic increase in attacks by separatist militants on policemen this year – at least 17 police personnel have been killed so far. But the lynching of the 57-year-old deputy Superintendent of Police has taken the violence against the state forces to a new level.
‘Unspoken rule broken’
Pandith was stripped and beaten to death by a mob on the night of June 22, even as worshippers at the nearby Jamia Masjid commemorated Shab-i-Qadar, the night the Quran is believed to have been revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.
Police officials said that with the brutal murder, an unspoken rule of engagement in Kashmir – to not attack policemen on special duty – has been broken.
“The police has always been at loggerheads with the people,” said a police officer from Kashmir. “But policemen posted for security of shrines and religious venues have never been harmed [before].”
The officer added that following the lynching, “there is some insecurity. If a policeman is out with his family and a mob approaches, there is fear”.
He added: “Everyone at the forefront of using force in the last decade has been afraid of this [being lynched].”
Owing to the “divided public opinion over the lynching”, the officer said that policemen are angry too. “The police as a whole will absorb this, and not go overboard but there will naturally be a stronger reaction [in law and order situations] from some policemen,” said the officer.
In the past, clashes have erupted across the Valley between stone pelters and the police during Eid prayers. Thus, every Eid, platoons of paramilitary and police forces brace for unrest. In Srinagar, the Eidgah is prominent among the stone pelting hotspots. However, though the violence sometimes disrupts Eid prayers, it seldom drowns out the festivities in general.
In Srinagar, the festivities at Jamia Masjid generally pass off uneventfully.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the moderate Hurriyat Conference chief, traditionally addresses the congregation at the Srinagar Eidgah. However, since the 2010 unrest he has made his address via the phone.
A police officer in Srinagar said that police personnel were bracing for Eid. “Let us see how it pans out,” he said. “We hope it will not go out of hand. But we are ready.”
Fears of new unrest
Long before Ramzan – the Muslim holy month of fasting – started, people in the Valley have been anxious about trouble erupting after Eid, which marks the end of Ramzan.
“We don’t know for sure but everyone keeps on saying something bad will happen after Eid,” said Rabia Faridi, a resident of Dargah, in Srinagar. “The situation will get worse. It may not happen but the paranoia has taken root.”
However, Nazir Ahmad, a resident of downtown Srinagar, said that he was not worried. “We have gotten used to it [the unrest],” he said.
Referring to the lynching of the policeman, Ahmad added, “People aren’t bothered with that either. Most of them say what was the need for him to carry a pistol.”
One prominent version of the events leading to Pandith’s lynching states that a mob of sloganeering youth at the mosque got agitated when Pandith began photographing them. An altercation with the youth is said to have led Pandith to open fire with his pistol, injuring three people. After this, Pandith was lynched to death.
Ahmed added: “As such there is no fear but the youth are a bit cautious. No one wants to get arrested, or rather framed, over the lynching.”
Nevertheless, residents of the Habba Kadal locality of Srinagar, which has seen frequent stone pelting incidents and stringent curfews in the past, are wary.
“I only want this Eid to not bring back another year of violence,” said a resident. “Last year’s unrest broke the back of the people.”
The 2016 unrest started after Hizbul Mujahideen’s commander Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter with security forces on July 8. The first anniversary of that encounter comes up in less than two weeks.
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