Palhalan and Pulwama

  • Majid Maqbool
  • Publish Date: May 19 2016 12:50PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: May 19 2016 7:06PM
Palhalan and Pulwama

 

The cost of rebellion and defiance in the two strife-torn towns 

 

About 30 kms north of Srinagar, a separate police post atop a hill keeps a constant guard over the entrance of the rebellious Palhallan town in Baramulla district.  Over the years, the intensity of frequent protests and clashes between government forces and local youth has been such that households closer to the main streets in the town had to abandon windowpanes, the shopkeepers had to takedown most of billboards which were frequently smashed in protests.

 

The town is strewn with signs of resistance. Almost all the walls in the town, and especially the ones lining the government schools and buildings, are replete with anti-establishment graffiti. From “Go India Go Back” to “Stop politicizing education here” (written on the wall of a government high school, which is converted into a polling booth at the time of elections), there’re signs of rebellion and resistance everywhere in the town. The anti-establishment graffiti on the walls resurfaces every time it’s erased by the police authorities. “We the Hamas,”, for example, written on one of the walls adjacent to a shop inside the town has been recently erased with black ink and painted over in white with three letters:  “We the Indians.”

 

 

The local town graveyard inside the Raipora Public school is fast eating into the playground of this government-run school. School children play in ground more than half of which is filled with graves. With over 100 graves of local youth, most of them killed by government forces in the past two decades, the graveyard exemplifies the tragedy of Palhallan. The eight youth of the town, all of them killed during the 2010 summer uprising, which was particularly fierce and tragic, also rest here.

 

As per the 2011 population census, Palhalan has a population of 14206, with 7399 males and 6807 females. Why has the town come to symbolize resistance and fierce anti-government protests in the recent years? “Almost all the families living here are affected in one way or the other,” said a local youth, wishing not to be named, while pointing at the windows of his home which are bereft of glasses. Being close to the street where protests often break out, almost all households have abandoned the use of glass windows for fear of being smashed by the government forces as a punitive action to quell protests and discourage protesters. “All families living here have lost some family member in the past two decades of conflict here,” he tells me. “Many people will tell you tales of interrogation they have been subjected to from time to time.”

 

Another college student, a resident of the town, says a 15-year-old boy was picked up from a locality in Palhalan and charged with ‘attempt to murder’ by the police. When the minor was produced before the court last year, the youth recalled, the judge who was hearing the case in the Baramulla Sessions court mocked the policemen who had brought the teenager handcuffed, themselves appearing in the court without their police uniform. "Dood ke botal kahan hai is bache ki?" the judge had asked the policemen, according to the youth who was present in the court. “How can he be charged with attempt to murder?” The judge had questioned and reprimanded the police, asking them to remove his handcuffs before releasing the teenager who had already been imprisoned then for two months.

 

 

The local youth of the town also speak of frequent arrests, slapping of false charges, and harassment by the police authorities whenever there is some law and order problem in the town. Shafiq Ahmed, 27, along with five other boys from the town, was arrested in 2010 and imprisoned in Udampur jail for more than five months. All the arrested boys were slapped with PSA.  “Even when our PSA was quashed by the court, we were brought to Baramulla and released after 21 days,” says Shafiq. He says the local youth are charged and harassed by the police every time there’s a small incident in the town. “There was an accident here involving a police vehicle in 2013 in which the driver died. The police arrested 17 boys from here, including me, and accused us of murder of the driver which was baseless,” he said. “I was released later but the case is still on and three boys from here are still in jail on these charges for two years now.”

 

“I have been beaten eight times in this shop by the police and military forces,” pointed out a local resident who works as an assistant in a local grocery store. “You’ll find only a new born baby in this town who hasn’t been beaten by the forces yet,” he smiled at his own talk. Another local resident came forward to add in a matter of fact tone, “Even cattle and dogs of Palhalan have been beaten and fired at by the forces.” Then all of them laughed it away before moving on as if it was common knowledge in the town.

 

The local youth also spoke about increased surveillance on their activities and movements as compared to youth in other towns. This makes them anxious, keeping them on the edge for fear of arrests. “When we were renovating our house, we brought some construction material and an army major from the nearby camp called us, asking where did the money come from for all this construction work,” says a local youth, adding that police and other agencies in the town keep a close watch on the vehicles going in and out of town.

 

Ghulam Muhammad, an elderly resident of Palhallan and an old time Jamaat activist, says the town has a long history of rebellion and resistance. He said the people of Palhalan have been ‘very active’ in the self-determination movement since 1947.  “I remember in my youth participating in many rallies in which slogans like ‘Mang hamari, rai shumari; rai shumari, phoren karav; yae muluk hamara hai, iska faisla hum kareingay’ were shouted,” he says, adding that Palhalan was once very prosperous and self-sufficient. Even the livelihood of people living in the adjoining villages depended on Palhalan, he said, given its thriving agriculture and rice production. “Palhalan was also known as ‘baete gam’.”

 

Over the years, the resistance put up by the people, frequent protests, and refusal to participate in elections and cast votes and acknowledge the local government and political representatives has come at a cost: it has brought in administrative apathy and neglect of developmental works in the town. Dusty, potholed roads can be seen across the town. The power supply is erratic, the drainage system is defunct, the local residents complained. “Since 1972 the government had not spent much here on developmental works,” says Ghulam Nabi Ahanget, local trade union president in Palhalan who also has a shop in the main town market. “From 2008 to 2012 we had very few customers would come to our shops due to frequent protests and shelling on local youth by police force,” he says, adding that many shops in the town were damaged during protests and they had to bear the brunt of economic loss in the town.

 

The local youth also speak of indiscriminate use of pellet guns to quell protests in the town. “Police would say it but they always use pellet guns and pepper gas against us here instead of teargas,” said a college student. “This has created many health issues here as asthma cases are on rise and people suffer from respiratory problems.” He recalls one case of a 22-days-old infant who died after pellet gun and pepper gas smoke filled the room where the baby was resting after the government forces fired pellets on a street closer to the house. 

 

The town has also been on the radar of Army that has tried to reach out to its youth under Sadbhavana initiatives. On Feb 16, a “state-of-art club” was thrown open by General officer Commanding (GoC) of Army’s Srinagar-based 15 Corps, Lt General Satish Dua, who said that the step was  aimed at engaging Palhalan youth in recreational activities so that they are “kept away from stone pelting.”

 

But the local youth and residents said that the step was taken to gain some publicity. “Army brought some boys from Baramulla to throw open the gym, no youth from Palhalan was present there in the inaugural function,” said a local resident. “Next day, they even took back some of the equipments from the gym,” he laughed.

 

The police officials, however, have a different take of the situation in Palhallan, claiming that the area is now witnessing a much awaited ‘peace’. Senior Superintendent of police, Baramulla, Imtiyaz Hussain says unlike other volatile townships of valley, Palhalan needs to be looked at differently. He said the area has a long history of being stronghold of Jammat Islami and “resistant organisations in past managed to take advantage of its political background, thereby keeping the pot boiling.” Under the grab of stone pelting, he added, “scores of people were running illicit trade like drug trafficking and some innocent youths were falling prey to their plot. “

 

While acknowledging that right policing too in past has been an issue in the area, the SSP said, “if we have succeeded in bringing back peace in the area it is because of the fact that we have been able to catch those people who were satisfied with the volatile situation of the area so that they could carry out their illicit business smoothly.”

 

For now, an uneasy calm prevails in the town. No one knows when the restive town will erupt again in protest. The policemen are around the corner, alert and keeping a close watch on every activity. The local youth remember everything, their past haunting their present, their future uncertain. They pass through the local graveyard every day.

 

(With inputs from Altaf Baba)

 

The Endless cycle of Protests and Killings in Pulwama

 

South Kashmir’s Pulwama district has been on the boil for quite some time now. Since January 2015, in just over 14 months, 29 militants have been killed in 17 encounters in this district.  Four civilians lost their lives in clashes with government forces during this period. Eight troops, including three captains of army, were also killed during encounters in the district.

 

There have been a total 9 encounters in Awantipora, including six in 2015 in which 10 militants were killed. In 2016 three encounters took place in which 8 militants were killed. In Pulwama area eleven militants were killed in 8 encounters, including 8 in 2015 and three in 2016. 

 

On February 14 this year, two students were killed in Kakapora area during clashes after an encounter broke out in the area in which one militant was killed.

 

Following the encounter, local youth who had assembled near the site held massive protests against the forces and also pelted stones. The forces opened in which a girl and a boy sustained bullet injuries. Later, both of them succumbed to their bullet injuries on the way to hospital

 

At the home of 21-year-old slain youth Mir Asif Farooq in Ratnipora village of Pulwama, his family is yet to reconcile with his loss. A second year engineering student of Islamic University in Awantipora, Farooq was a tall boy, golden haired and athletically built. He loved playing cricket. He would take care of home affairs since his father, a diabetes patient, couldn’t work much.

 

 

He was the only hope of his family. “He was shot at in the back of his head,” his distraught mother said, adding that she herself saw his head injuries. “It was a target fire on his head,” said his younger brother, Murtaza Farooq in tears as he laid out sports certificates and trophies his brother he had won in various tournaments. “The police lied to us that he was hit by tear gas shell but he was clearly hit by a bullet,” said his cousin.

 

Farooq’s mother says he was the only boy from the entire village who got selected for the engineering degree in IUST on his own merit. Others boys from his locality looked up to him. Now they find it hard to believe that he’s no more.

 

“Only Sundays he used to play cricket and he loved going out on my bike,” says his cousin, Mudasir Mir who remembers him as a hard working boy who never said no to any work. His mother kisses a framed photo of her son, her tears falling on the grass frame. Every day she has to go through a graveyard where her son is buried to reach her rice fields. “It’s very painful,” she says, her eyes brimming with tears.

 

At Shaista Hameed’s home in Lalhar, Kakpora, people still pour in to mourn the death of a 22-year-old bright and sensitive girl who received a bullet in her neck after the army opened fire near a bridge close to her home. “It was about 3 pm when troops opened fire on protesters near the bridge,” says his father, Abdul Hamid Bhat. “She was standing near the gate when a bullet pierced through the steel sheet of the gate and hit her on neck.” She died on the way to hospital.

 

 

“She would take care of all things at home and even arranged all the things at the time of my elder daughter’s marriage,” Bhat recalled. “She wanted to do B.Ed degree and teach poor kids in private school,” he said as he showed me her ITI degree certificates and her identity card. “I don’t know why she was snatched from us,” he said. “What was her fault?”

 

Following the deaths during clashes and cross firing, the local administration had issued a notice to police to exercise “maximum restrain” and subsequently an order was issued, imposing section 144 which was to be applied within the radius of two kms from any encounter site. The authorities also asked people to “avoid going near the spot in order to save the human lives.”

 

However, people continued protests near the encounter sites and clashed with the forces.

 

Pulwama also remained shut for 14 days over a militant memorial row. On 25 December 2015, a local militant of Pulwama was killed in an encounter triggering clashes between forces and youth in Pulwama town. The town remained closed for four days. However, after five days, between the intervening night of December 30 and 31d, another encounter broke out in Gusoo Pulwama , in which two LeT militants including a district commander who was a local resident of Alochibagh Samboora was killed. Following the incident, massive clashes broke out in Samboora, Kakapora and Pulwama towns in which at least fifty persons including twenty policemen were injured. Protests and strike continued for four days in Kakapora and Samboora and Pulwama.

 

The police arrested at least 50 people for their alleged involvement in stone pelting and creating law and order problem. But they were later released.

 

On January 1 this year, local youth in Pulwama tried to erect a memorial board in memory of local slain militants in the historical Shaheed Park. However, the police did not allow it triggering clashes and protests in the town.

 

The local youth subsequently called for a complete shutdown till their demand was met by the authorities. The town remained shut for at least 14 days during which all the business establishments and other offices remained closed. Clashes and protests also took place during these days. The police arrested at least 35 local youth during this period and scores of youth also went into hiding to evade arrests.

 

Despite many meetings between administration and the local representatives, the matter could not be solved as the youth were adamant on erecting the memorial but the police was not ready to give permission. At last the arrested youth were released and after many meetings between divisional administration and local management committees, the strike was called off and shops reopened. But in the end the local youth were not allowed to erect the memorial.