In the evening on August 4, the Indian government put Kashmir under a security lockdown and communications blackout to pre-empt protests against the dismantling of its special constitutional status. Over 40 days later, Kashmir is yet to return to “normal”, the state’s police chief Dilbag Singh admitted.
There have been news reports about at least two deaths from pellet wounds and suffocation due to tear gas fired by the security forces in Srinagar over the past five weeks, and of children being detained illegally. But in an interview at his office in Srinagar on September 14, the director general of police denied both that any civilian had been killed in action by the security forces and that anyone had been unlawfully detained. Though over 3,000 people have been detained as “borderline offenders” so far, he added, a larger number of them have been released after counselling. And, even as the streets wore a deserted look, with almost all business establishments shut across Kashmir, Singh claimed the administration had ensured the people had access to essential commodities. Excerpts from the interview:
Was there any prior discussion or public consultation on the abrogation of 370?
I cannot comment on this.
How do you view the law and order situation at present?
The situation is peaceful throughout the state. I would say it is relatively more normal in Jammu and Ladakh. It’s not so normal in Kashmir. But overall, it is peaceful.
However, normal activities of people are not on. Not all shops are open. Sizeable traffic is on the roads, but not all traffic is on the roads. Schools are not fully functional. There are limited trading activities.
Pakistan-sponsored militants have put pressure on the people. They have threatened shopkeepers to not open shops until Pakistan gives them clearance, by which I mean Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen militants who are the ones following Pakistan’s orders.
They killed a 65-year-old shopkeeper for opening his fruit shop and injured three members of his family, including his infant granddaughter.
In Sopore, they shot at a migrant worker, Shafi Alam from Bihar, who was working at someone’s house, seriously injuring him. This militant responsible for both these incidents, Asif Maqbool Bhat, was later killed in an encounter.
In Shopian, militants held a meeting with fruit growers and threatened them not to harvest their fruits. In Pulwama, we heard that they held a meeting with milk vendors, asking them to not supply milk. We have found posters asking owners not to open shops and fuel stations.
Their aim is to create a scare. They want to create an artificial scarcity of essential commodities. They want to stop all activities that show signs of normalcy.
At three district hospital pharmacies that we visited, the staff said they were short on medicines such as Metformin tablets for diabetics, and anti-bacterial medicines Azoff, Bactoclav. They found it difficult to replenish stocks since they couldn’t contact their distributors in urban areas. What is the government’s response to shortages of medicines and essential items?
At government fair shops, medicines are available. There was an insulin shortage for one or two days, but we took care of that. In public distribution shops, three-four months of food rations are available. We are ensuring fresh fruits and vegetables are available. Now, even livestock is available. We went to petrol pump owners and assured them of security. We are sending similar assurances to shopkeepers, but we are not pressuring them to open shops.
You said not all activities are on because of coercion and pressure from Pakistan. But there is a heavy presence of security forces in Kashmir. There are over half a million security forces personnel in the Valley; army bunkers and bulletproof vehicles are everywhere. Does Pakistan hold such strong influence that most regular activities have stopped?
We have had four successful operations. In Baramulla, we caught one militant of the LeT. In another operation, we lost a special police officer, Bilal Bhatt of Tangmarg, Baramulla, and sub-inspector Amardeep Parihar was injured. We also caught a militant in Sopore. Asif Maqbool Bhatt, a militant responsible for two recent shootings, was killed. Two Pakistani militants were captured in the Gulmarg sector. In South Kashmir, operations are taking place every day. As a result, a lot of shops are now opening.
Military vehicles like this one are seen everywhere in Kashmir. Photo: Anumeha Yadav
Nearly every resident we interviewed in Srinagar and four other districts said they are not resuming work or opening their shops because they are upset at and protesting against the Indian government’s decision to abrogate Article 370 without any public consultations. They said they oppose the decision. Would it then be fair to call it a general strike or a civil curfew?
Yes, one could say it is a civil curfew, with a lot of pressure from outside the country.
How many people in the valley have died as a result of security operations from August 5 till now, from being hit by pellets and tear gas shells?
Not one. Miscreants have resorted to stone-pelting, and created law and order disruptions. They killed a driver in Bijbehara, Anantnag, who died within a few hours of getting a head injury. They injured a girl in the eye in Old City, Srinagar.
A stone-pelter himself got injured and succumbed to death after 25 days. He was Asrar Ahmad. He received pellet injuries but that was not the cause of his death. He died of a blunt object hitting him.
In Old City, the alleys are so narrow that a stone can bounce off an electricity pole or a wall and come back and hit you. There have been incidents where they threw a stone and it came back and hit them.
Pellets can cause injuries, but not death.
Between August 5 and September 14, at least 54 security personnel and policemen were injured, and 24 civilians. We are exercising restraint. From these figures, you can see who is taking more injures. None of the civilians’ injuries have been so serious as to require hospitalisation.
Asrar Ahmad, a class XI student from Elahibad in Srinagar, died on September 4. He was hit by pellets in the head. Photo: The Wire
Last evening, in the emergency ward of SKIMS hospital in Soura, Srinagar, on September 13 we met Irshad Ahmed, a 12-year-old boy from neighbouring Buchpora who had suffered a serious head injury. His hospital registration card noted that it was a ‘fire-arm injury’, adding the word “alleged”. Those accompanying him said he had been hit by a cluster of pellets in his head.
The word “alleged” explains everything. When miscreants get the injured to hospital, they make the doctors write “firearm injury”. The doctors are forced to write this, or else they will get beaten up by a mob.
Even in the case of Asrar (a class XI student from Elahibad, Srinagar, who succumbed to head injuries on September 4), his hospital registration card read “shell/blast/pellet injuries” because those accompanying him had made the hospital staff write it.
About the case you mentioned, I have enquired and they have informed me this boy, who is from Kupwara and lives in Buchpora, is about to be discharged.
Stone-pelting is occurring largely in Srinagar. There have been 184 cases in the Kashmir valley, of which 162 have been in Srinagar. In rural areas, people are opening shops.
We have had situations when bandh and protests extended for six months over the killing of a militant (referring to the Hizbul leader Burhan Wani’s killing in 2016). This will not last even six to eight weeks.
Irshad Ahmed, who was hit by pellets in the head, in a Srinagar hospital. Photo: Anumeha Yadav
Those accompanying Irshad Ahmed alleged that the security forces did not allow them to take him to the nearest hospital and that they had to carry him to SKIMS on foot.
After Friday prayers on September 13, they pelted stones in Safadkal and Achar areas of Srinagar. The residents have done illegal construction in these areas. They have built six-foot-high walls that even we cannot go over. They block access to these areas.
Irshad Ahmed’s hospital registration card notes ‘alleged pellet injuries’ as the reason for his admission. Photo: Anumeha Yadav
How many people were put in preventive detention in the Kashmir valley between August 5 and September 14?
We have detained over 3,000 people. Most of them were “borderline offenders” who were picked up, counselled and let off. We handed them back to the community.
There are a few hundred people in police or judicial custody. A few have got bail. I do not have the exact details.
Those detained are picked up for breach of peace under Section 107 of the Jammu and Kashmir Code of Criminal Procedure which deals with abetting an offence, including instigating someone to commit an offence, or under Section 151 of Criminal Procedure Code (preventive detention), and let off for good behaviour.
We are concerned that they are young boys, their futures and their careers will be affected if we register offenses against them.
Why have the police detained or arrested civil society leaders, including Miyan Qayoom of the J&K Bar Association, Mohammad Yasin Khan of the Kashmir Economic Alliance, traders, anti-corruption activists, members of political parties? Are they militants?
They are not militants, but they are known to fuel militancy. They have been detained in the past as well. Do you know how many members the Bar Association has? Tens of thousands of them practise but we have detained only one of them. Why is that? We have to look at their past credentials, what they have done earlier.
How many people have been sent to prisons outside Jammu and Kashmir? What is the capacity of the prisons in the state?
The director general of prisons can answer this question. The prisons are overcrowded, but you also have to consider recent incidents of jailbreaks and security concerns here. In the past, after a shootout in prison, the militant Naveed Jatt fled to Pakistan. In April, there was a major jailbreak attempt at the Srinagar Central Jail, where prisoners set three barracks and the kitchen on fire; they destroyed the infrastructure of the jail. We have had to deal with all this…
You say you are not registering FIRs because you are concerned about the youth’s careers. But their families say unlawful detention without an FIR leaves them with no legal recourse after the children are detained. Why are children being detained without FIRs?
We deny this 100 per cent. No one is being detained unlawfully. At the most, we have made someone sit inside a police station for two hours, then allowed the community to take them back. We detain only those who are hardcore miscreants.
In Shopian and Bandipora, residents of villages said their sons who had been arrested under the Public Safety Act and spent 12-16 months in prison before their preventive detention orders were quashed by the High Court have now been detained again. They are in prison for the past five-six weeks. Is this not an attack on their constitutional rights?
Tell me a way to stop stone-pelting. Tell me a way to stop stone-pelting in downtown Srinagar. For every person arrested, we have let off four. We counsel them and let them go. We have let off about 3,000 people of those we detained. If there were some hardcore stone-pelters, we have had to arrest them.
We have used community bonds extensively this time. Community bonds are important to maintain the moral pressure. It is a simple document that they sign. The community assures us that they will counsel those we detained. It is working well so far.
Is there a clause in the document that warns, “you take care of this person or else…”? What would be the consequences for the community if there is a violation?
We make them sign a document that the community is responsible for ensuring they do not take part in such activities, yes.
In villages in the north, in Bandipora, people told us the security forces smashed windowpanes of homes during raids. Farmers in Shopian in the south were angry that their windows were broken in violent raids by contingents of the police, the army, and the central reserved police forces.
Their houses may be have got damaged in stone-pelting. The news reports and photographs of a violence or beatings in raids have all visited one village and reproduced the same image.
People in Bandipora and Shopian said the security forces smashed windowpanes of their homes during raids. Photo: Anumeha Yadav
When will telecommunication and Internet services be restored? People say they are unable to contact their families even in medical emergencies. They are protesting that the severing of all communications is an attack on their fundamental rights.
Pakistan is directly in touch with its stooges here. We have data that shows this. Because telecommunication services were stopped in the valley, now their calls are landing in Jammu. They aim to spread false information through Twitter, and through posters.
In Jammu, Leh and Kargil, all mobiles phones and landlines are working. We have restored all landlines in the Kashmir valley.
Of the 10 districts in the valley, mobile phones are not working in eight. But they are back up in Handwara and Kupwara.
I understand people’s difficulties. When I travel, I even let them use my personal phone when possible if there are any emergencies. Despite all odds, we have the best of relations with the community.
People told us there were thousands of tourists here who had to leave because of the lockdown. News reports say there were around 11,000 tourists in the Kashmir valley in the first week of August who had to leave after the central government sent more troops. If there was peace for some months, why was it disrupted?
I cannot comment.