Thursday, April 18, 2019 | 10:28 PM

Strike, lockdown as Kashmir mourns civilian killings

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Authorities imposed a lockdown in large parts of Kashmir Wednesday as the valley observed a near-complete shutdown in response to a strike call given by the Joint Resistance Leadership.  

Schools, colleges, universities and business establishments remained shut for the day and traffic was thin on the roads across all districts in the valley. Train services also remained suspended. 

The JRL comprising Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin malik had called for a strike against continuing civilian killings at the hands of Indian forces during protests near the sites of frequent gun battles with militants. 

Lawyers associated with Kashmir High Court Bar Association also protested by staying away from various courts including the High Court. 

“All the lawyers stayed away from their routine work today, as a mark of protest against the civilian killings,” said advocate G N Shaheen, general secretary of the KHCBA.

Since Sunday four youth, including a 12-year-old girl were killed in Indian forces’ firing during anti-militancy operations in southern districts of Kulgam and Shopian. 

The killings evoked sharp criticism from the pro-freedom leadership who said that the forces were committing a planned genocide of Kashmir’s young generation.

According to official figures, 106 civilians have been killed in firing by government forces around sites of firefights with militants in the last 18 months. The dead included minor boys and girls. 

The main city center of Lal Chowk wore a deserted look as all commercial establishments and private institutions remained closed. 

Authorities imposed stringent curbs in most areas of downtown Srinagar including Maharaj Gunj, Safa Kadal, Rainawari, Nowhatta and Khanyar. 

A witness said heavy deployment of government forces, mainly the paramilitary CRPF, wearing riot gear were deployed along arterial roads and bylanes to dissuade street protests. 

“Police and paramilitary CRPF men had also closed all major roads in downtown with rolls of concertina wire to prevent youth from assembling in large numbers,” said Reyaz Ahmed, a resident of Khanyar.

Residents and witnesses said police and paramilitary CRPF men were seen patrolling since early morning on all major road links in southern towns of Pulwama, Shopian, Awantipore, Bijbehera, Tral, Kulgam, Khudwani, Redwani, and Pampore.  

In Shopian district, mobile internet services remained suspended for the fourth straight day, a resident said.

“Bikers and the suspicious were being stopped and asked to show their identity cards by the police and CRPF men at various places in southern Kashmir,” a witness said. 

Tempers in south Kashmir districts, especially Kulgam and Shopian are running high in the wake of four civilian killings by soldiers since Sunday.

Authorities also placed all the pro-freedom leaders either under house detention or in preventive custody in various jails across Kashmir. 

Top JRL leader, Syed Ali Geelani continued to be confined to his home like has been since eight years. 

Miwaiz Umar Farooq who was set free for a day on Wednesday was once again placed under house confinement, while JKLF chief Muhammad Yasin Malik who was detained on July 6, ahead of the slain popular commander Burhan Wani’s second anniversary, continued to remain lodged in police station Kothibagh. 

Rest of the middle-rung pro-freedom leaders that include Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai were also either under house detention or in preventive custody in various police stations, a source in the resistance camp said.

“The day passed off peacefully,” a police officer said, adding the crackdown on pro-freedom leaders will continue in the wake of their strike call for July 13 and proposed march to the Martyrs’ Graveyard at Naqshband Saheb. 

However, towards the evening intense clashes broke out in Soura area of Srinagar between irate youth and government forces. 

Government forces fired tear smoke canisters to disperse the angry protestors leading to clashes and stone pelting.

A witness said at least five carts of fruit vendors caught fire after a few tear gas shells landed on fruit boxes atop them.

“There were clashes going on in the area. The forces fired dozens of tear gas shells some of which landed directly on the carts of fruit vendors,” a witness said.

“Within no time, some carts caught fire.”

A police official admitted few carts caught fire during the clashes. 

“It seems a tear gas shell landed at the grass where fruit is stored beneath the carts. That’s what triggered the fire. In between, some protestors pushed few more carts towards the one that had already caught fire,” he said. 

Clashes were on in the area till late Wednesday evening.