The Jammu region witnessed a total shutdown against the Pulwama attack on Friday.
The deadliest attack ever on Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir was carried out by Adil Ahmed Dar, 19, a Jaish-e-Mohammad militant who rammed an explosive-laden car into two buses of a 78-vehicle convoy of the Central Reserve Police Force, leaving dead 44 personnel of the paramilitary force.
The shutdown was called by the Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Anticipating unrest, the authorities had suspended mobile internet on Thursday evening to “prevent any untoward incident”. As dawn broke on Friday, the air was full of tension. By afternoon, violence was reported from several areas of Jammu city.
According to the police, at least 12 persons were injured in the violence. The protestors damaged nearly 80 vehicles, torching eight of them.
To prevent the violence from spreading, the Jammu district administration imposed curfew in the entire city “to maintain law and order, public tranquillity, and to protect life and property of general public”.
The order imposing curfew, issued by District Magistrate Ramesh Kumar, stated that there was “every likelihood of breach of peace which may led to acts of arson, targeting vehicles and causing loss of life and property”.
The administration also called out the Army for a flag march to restore law and order in the city.
Friday’s violence came days after the students of a Jammu college clashed with stranded Kashmiri passengers for allegedly shouting “objectionable slogans”. The passengers, stranded after snowfall and landslides shut down the Jammu-Srinagar highway, were demanding that they be airlifted to the Valley.
The epicentre of Friday’s violence was Jammu city’s Gujjar Nagar. The residents alleged that a mob broke off a procession passing through the Muslim-dominated area and started destroying cars and setting them on fire.
“As soon as the procession reached Gujjar Nagar, protestors wielding sticks started hitting shutters and attacking parked cars,” said Amir Ahmad, a Gujjar Nagar resident. “They targeted every vehicle without provocation and shouted anti-Pakistan slogans. They also abused Kashmiris and shouted highly objectionable slogans against them.”
This angered local Muslims and Kashmiris staying in the area, who retaliated by pelting stones at the mob, the residents added. They accused the police of not responding to the situation in time.
Pictures showing a mob targeting civilian vehicles as the police watch have since gone viral on social media.
A Gujjar Nagar resident who would only speak anonymously claimed the mob selectively targeted vehicles with “Kashmir registration numbers”.
“It was free for all,” said another resident who also spoke on the condition of anonymity. “They were burning down vehicles as they wished. What’s interesting is all this was happening within a kilometre and a half of the official residences of top government officials.”
‘Atmosphere of fear’
The violence has left Kashmiri Muslims living in Jammu fearful, particularly since the protest saw heavy participation from the Hindutva groups Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP’s state chief Ravindra Raina and MP Jugal Kishore took part in the protest but the party distanced itself from the violence. “We were sitting on a dharna on the Tawi bridge,” said the party’s general secretary Ashok Koul. “The BJP had no role in instigating the violence. The BJP will help the administration in every way to restore normalcy in Jammu. One of our senior leaders Bali Bhagat held a meeting with the divisional commissioner in view of the prevailing situation.”
Since Jammu serves as the state’s winter capital, thousands of Kashmiri government employees and their families are currently staying in the city. There are significant populations of students and traders as well.
“We feel very scared. I tried going out in the evening but the police didn’t allow me,” said Idrees Ahmad, a Kashmiri student who stays at a guest house in Janipur area. “We heard there is heavy deployment of the police and the Army near Muslim-dominated areas. There’s a climate of fear and hostility for Kashmiris in Jammu.”
Asked Amir Ahmad, a Gujjar Nagar resident, “What does a person living in Jammu have to do with an attack in Kashmir?”
Appeals for calm
The violence evoked strong reactions from the political parties based in the Valley. Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah of the National Conference said the violence “should never have been allowed to reach this point”.
Sajad Lone of the People’s Conference appealed for peace and tolerance.
Such appeals might not have allayed the fears of Kashmiri employees serving in Jammu.
Ghulam Rasool Mir of the Secretariat Employees Union in Jammu, said it was the state government’s responsibility to ensure the safety of Kashmiri employees and their families. “If the government fails to provide the required security to safeguard the life and property of the employees, we will appeal to employees to protect themselves and their families and return to Kashmir,” Mir was quoted saying by a local news agency.
Asked about this, a senior police official who asked not to be identified said, “We have taken cognisance of the matter. The situation is under control.”