Kashmir Report

To guard themselves against security forces, Kashmir towns are fortifying their transformers

Residents allege that police shoot at transformers to plunge the town into darkness before conducting raids. The police, however, say it's collateral damage.

The old town of Baramulla, in North Kashmir, has shored up its defences. Their transformers have been circled with sandbags, piled on platforms constructed around the base. Next to the nest of metal and wire, streetlamps glimmer in the evening.

Baramulla district – like much of the Kashmir Valley – has been on the boil since the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter with security forces on July 8. Since then, the Valley has seen street protests and clashes, with security forces killing more than 90 and injuring thousands.

The walls and shop shutters of of Baramulla's old town pledge support for the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Lashker-e-Taiba. Its pro-freedom rallies ring with chants for azadi.

For months, it had been a fortress, sealed off and left to its mutinies. The old town lies on the banks of Jhelum river, connected to the rest of the Baramullah city by bridges. At first, residents said, the police did not cross the Jhelum, choosing to open fire from the other side of the river. That destroyed the transformers along the river bank. When the police started entering the old town, transformers further inside were also damaged.

Plunged into darkness

The assault on transformers started in August, about a month and a half into the protests, said Zafar Iqbal, part of the Bagh-i-Islam mohalla committee in the old town. “The police used to shoot bullets, not one but five to six, into the transformers,” he said. “They would plunge the houses into darkness and then enter the locality. They came in with pellet guns. We went to the divisional commissioner but he had no answer.”

About a month ago, the mohalla committee decided to set up the sandbags around the transformers. Some of the transformers had been repaired privately, Iqbal said, but some were still not working.

The police, however, said they did not target transformers, though some had been damaged. “It is not deliberate,” said a police official in Baramulla district. “There is a law and order problem. When they pelt stones and we fire pellets, some may be damaged in the crossfire. Most of the transformers damaged were along the link road [running along the riverbank]. They have all been restored now.”

Collective punishment

Across Kashmir, transformers have become a focal point of the face-off between security forces and protestors. According to reports, officials of the Power Development Department admitted that dozens of transformers had been destroyed in three months of unrest. The tally in neighbouring Budgam district, says this report, stood at 37 by the end of September. In South Kashmir’s Anantnag district, at least 20 transformers had been destroyed with bullets by the mid-September.

Residents of the affected areas claimed security forces struck transformers before conducting night raids. Others claimed it was a form of collective punishment – bringing a hostile population to its knees by cutting off an essential supply like electricity.

In Kashmir, where power cuts lasted hours until a decade ago, electricity is precious. Over the last few years, transformers have multiplied across the Valley and now almost every mohalla has one. Localities are mapped around them. Turn left at the transformer, people giving directions will tell you; look for the green gate two houses down from the transformer.

But in many mohallas, these landmarks now come with sandbags.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few military blunders are as monumental as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia. The military genius had conquered most of modern day Europe. However, Britain remained out of his grasp and so, he imposed a trade blockade against the island nation. But the Russia’s Czar Alexander I refused to comply due to its effect on Russian trade. To teach the Russians a lesson, Napolean assembled his Grand Armée – one of the largest forces to ever march on war. Estimates put it between 450,000 to 680,000 soldiers. Napoleon had been so successful because his army could live off the land i.e. forage and scavenge extensively to survive. This was successful in agriculture-rich and densely populated central Europe. The vast, barren lands of Russia were a different story altogether. The Russian army kept retreating further and further inland burning crops, cities and other resources in their wake to keep these from falling into French hands. A game of cat and mouse ensued with the French losing soldiers to disease, starvation and exhaustion. The first standoff between armies was the bloody Battle of Borodino which resulted in almost 70,000 casualties. Seven days later Napoleon marched into a Moscow that was a mere shell, burned and stripped of any supplies. No Russian delegation came to formally surrender. Faced with no provisions, diminished troops and a Russian force that refused to play by the rules, Napolean began the long retreat, back to France. His miseries hadn’t ended - his troops were attacked by fresh Russian forces and had to deal with the onset of an early winter. According to some, only 22,000 French troops made it back to France after the disastrous campaign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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