SRINAGAR: Police and Indian soldiers fanned out across much of India-held Kashmir to enforce a security lockdown on Sunday as leaders and activists opposing Indian rule called for a shutdown and protests on the second anniversary of the martyrdom of a charismatic militant leader.
Government forces patrolled deserted streets and sealed off the hometown of Burhan Wani in anticipation of widespread anti-India protests and clashes in the disputed region. Wani, 22, was martyred along with two associates in a gun battle with Indian troops on July 8, 2016.
Kashmiri leaders called for a general strike and a protest march to Wani’s hometown to honour him. His martyrdom triggered open defiance against Indian rule and led to months of massive protests and clashes in the Himalayan region. At least 90 people, mostly young men and students, were killed. Thousands were wounded, hundreds of them in the eyes and blinded by shotgun pellets fired by Indian troops.
Despite security restrictions on the campus of University of Kashmir, nearly 200 students organised a protest seeking an end to Indian rule over the disputed region. The students carried Wani’s photographs and displayed placards while chanting slogans like “Farewell our martyr” and “Go India, go back”.
Police and paramilitary soldiers in riot gear and carrying automatic rifles laid steel barricades and coiled razor wire on roads and intersections to cut off neighbourhoods in a bid to stop protests. Authorities also suspended internet on mobile phones in the region, a common practice to make organising protests more difficult.
Indian officials also suspended for a day an annual Hindu pilgrimage to a mountain cave that draws about half a million people each year.
Before his martyrdom, Wani had rejuvenated the Hizbul Mujahideen as he attracted dozens of new recruits while using Facebook and other social media sites. His martyrdom and subsequent protests made the armed campaign against India mainstream and gave new life to a movement that had withered in recent years. According to official estimation, about 200 young men have joined militant ranks.
Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2018