Anantnag (Jammu and Kashmir), July 14 (IANS) As thousands massed at the Idgah at Achabal town to mourn the death of Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani, a speaker roared: “It is time for jehad.” In no time, unprecedented mass fury engulfed the southern part of the Kashmir Valley.
This was the morning of July 9, a day after security forces had gunned down Wani, a top commander of Hizbul Mujahideen and one of the most wanted men in Jammu and Kashmir. But the government didn’t get to celebrate.
Since all connectivity was cut off after Wani’s killing, people used loudhailers in mosques to urge everyone to take to the streets. In no time thousands, women and children included, responded.
The call for “jehad” followed prayers in absentia for the fallen militant at the Achabal Idgah. As an IANS correspondent watched, the entire area resounded with full-throated pro-freedom, anti-India slogans.
Unlike in 2008, 2009 and 2010, elders and women too joined the protests this time.
Young men and the not so young began pelting stones at police and paramilitary personnel. As security forces responded with tear gas, women offered water to the street fighters.
A crowd reached the small Achabal police station, which also houses a company of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), and a handful of young men unfurled a Pakistani flag there.
This irked the security forces and their retaliation suddenly escalated. They began using pellet guns and live bullets.
This resulted in the first casualty of Anantnag district: 14-year-old Yawar Manzoor who was shot in the head. He died instantly.
The situation was no different in the other three south Kashmir districts — Pulwama, Kulgam and Shopian.
In all four districts including Anantnag, telephone and Internet lines had been cut, roads were sealed, curfew was imposed and other restrictions followed after Wani was killed.
Wani, who had recruited over 100 educated Kashmiri youths to his organisation, was popular on the social media. Till he died, the whole of southern Kashmir was in a festive post-Ramadan mood.
As soon as it became known that he had been killed in the tiny village of Waibam Doora, some 20 km from here, shops were shuttered, public and private transport went off the roads and people began marching towards the area from the entire region.
At Achabal, seven km from Anantnag town and where this correspondent was present, a frenzied mob tried to invade the police station and set it on fire. A watch tower was pulled down.
Security forces kept firing. Four more people fell dead. More than 100 people were injured, many critically.
There was chaos on the streets as the injured and the dead were rushed on handcarts and stretchers to the area’s only primary health centre, which quickly ran out of beds.
Most of the injured were shifted to the Anantnag Hospital in ambulances which alone could ply during curfew. Anantnag district accounted for 16 deaths in all.
It was the first time mosque loudspeakers had been used to fuel mass protests.
One announcement named a local policeman who was accused of firing at the mob. The crowds were egged on to set fire to his house.
In no time, this was done. None of the neighbours came to the rescue of the policeman’s family as the house got razed.
A hotel owned by a MLA in Kokernag, some 10 km from Achabal, was also gutted similarly. So was a judiciary building at Dooru, 20 km from Anantnag.
Wani’s killing suddenly turned the region, known as a tourist paradise because of lush green meadows and springs, into a war zone. The tourists fled.
For long, Wani had harried the security forces. Even in death, he became a major headache, his burial at Tral attracting massive crowds that police sources said were more than 100,000 strong.
According to police, 17 militants joined the burial, openly flaunting their weapons.
In Anantnag, no one really knows when the region will see “normalcy” again.
(Aadil Mir can be reached at [email protected])