“Srinagar has become an open-air prison,” restrictions back to Kashmir capital after decades

Women security personnel frisk a pedestrian during a surprise checking in Srinagar | Photo: PTI

After the spate of civilian killings in Kashmir, especially of members of the Kashmiri Pandit community and non-locals, the government has beefed security in the capital Srinagar, including seizing two-wheelers and shutting internet in some areas. The locals have resented these moves. 

Auqib Javeed | TwoCircles.net

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SRINAGAR – The summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar is witnessing back to back encounters between security forces and militants following the targeted killing of local and non-local civilians in the past few weeks. 

The encounters are taking place even after the district was declared “militancy free” in 2020. The city has witnessed over nine encounters in this year alone. Apart from the civilian killings, over half a dozen policemen have been killed in different militant attacks.

Even after the killing of thirteen militants following targeted civilian killings, the suspected militants shot dead two more non-locals in Srinagar.

In response, the authorities have beefed up security across the city.

According to reports, 50 companies of additional paramilitary force are being inducted to strengthen the security apparatus in the Valley, especially in Srinagar, in the wake of civilian killings.

Security bunkers are making a comeback on the city streets with additional deployment of paramilitary personnel.

Security bunkers operated by the Central Armed Paramilitary Forces (CAPFs) are being set up in several areas of Srinagar. These bunkers were removed between 2011 and 2014 after the overall improvement in the security situation in Kashmir.

Despite a strong robust anti-insurgency grid, the suspected militants managed to penetrate and carry out the attacks, sending the security forces in a tizzy.

For the first time in recent years, a team of female paramilitary troopers were deployed in Lal Chowk, the commercial centre of Srinagar, where female commuters and even children are being subjected to frisking, evoking anger from Kashmiris on social media. 

The Jammu and Kashmir Police also launched a crackdown on bikers with hundreds of motorbikes seized in Srinagar ahead of Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit.

The people alleged that their bikes were seized, “even after possessing all the ownership and other documents.” 

The J&K police accepted that they seized “some bikes” and shut down the internet of “some towers” in Kashmir, maintaining these were “purely related to terror violence”.

However, the residents claim that the entire city has been turned into an “open-air prison” following the civilian killings.

“You have new security checkpoints after every 3-4 kilometres in the city. Frisking, checking the vehicle documents and just like it used to be during the nineties bringing down people from the public transport rather than asking for the identification card are back to the city,” Mohammad Sharik, a resident of Srinagar told TwoCircles.net. 

Sharik said that even kids are not spared and are made to stand in queue for frisking.  

The latest actions by the security forces have brought back memories of the nineties when security forces would stop and frisk anyone in Kashmir.

On October 21, a picture of a child while being frisked by freshly deployed women personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Srinagar city went viral on social media, prompting netizens to condemn the action. 

Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president and former chief minister of the erstwhile state Mehbooba Mufti, while sharing different pictures of frisking and new bunkers on her Twitter handle said “even the kids aren’t being spared by the government.” 

“After taking such stringent, harsh & repressive measures like mass arrests, suspension of the internet at will, frisking people (not sparing even kids), seizing bikes plus two-wheelers & setting up new security bunkers all over what is left to do?” Mufti tweeted.

Locals said that for the first time in the last thirty years, women were frisked by female CRPF constables in the Lal Chowk area of the city. The CRPF women checked the bags of female folk passing through the city centre Lal Chowk.

Many residents from the downtown area of Srinagar told TwoCircles.net that mobile internet services have also been restricted in some parts of the city for a week. 

“Our business, education and other things suffer because of the frequent internet shutdowns. Such harsh measures should be lifted,” said Rumaisa Jaan, a resident of downtown Srinagar.

Sources told TwoCircles.net that the security agencies are under a lot of pressure from the Central government following the targeted killings of civilians, especially of members of the Kashmir Pandit community and non-locals.  

On his visit to J&K, Home Minister Shah reviewed the security situation and steps taken to combat militancy in Kashmir Valley in the wake of recent killings. The meeting was attended by top civil administration officials, including Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, and senior security officials from the Army, CRPF, police and other agencies.

Pertinently, nine civilians, including five non-local labourers and three minority community members, were killed by suspected militants in October. 

Auqib Javeed is a journalist based in Kashmir. He tweets at @AuqibJaveed.