SRINAGAR: With the Republic Day parades peacefully over, Kashmir has bounced back to normal. The deserted roads are crowded, public transport is back and all the businesses, including the teaching shops have resumed their routine.
However, three towns are on strike. These include Kupwara, Tral and Shopian. Even there are tensions in parts of Pulwama as well.
Historically, Kashmir remains on a high level alert in run up to the parades on August 15, and January 26. Weeks ahead of the ceremonial parades, Kashmir wears a tight security blanket in which, sometimes, even movement during late hours becomes cumbersome. This year, the tensions mounted quite a new high as the police decided to have the parade in the Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium and that an in-put about a suicide bomber on prowl came barely a day ahead of the parade.
Sher e Kashmir stadium established in 1983 is among the popular stadiums of the valley. The stadium is located in the Sonawar area of the city is a historic venue which have it’s own history from the time of its establishment. It’s owned by the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association, a state body which runs the cricket activities in the state.
Kashmir has historically hosted the major events including the parades in the Bakhshi Stadium. This year, however, the parades was shifted to the Sher e Kashmir Stadium. While the public perception was that the change of venue was because of the high level of security threat, the police downplayed the reports insisting that Bakhshi Stadium was being renovated and repaired leaving no chance for a major public function.
The Stadium and its adjoining Park have played host to major political congregations in Srinagar. Surrounded by the official bungalows from two sides and a school from the other side, the belt, not far away from the powerful Gupkar Road and the Badamibagh Cantonment is the otherwise most secured location for high-value gathering.
In the memory of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium was established in 1983 for an international cricket match. It played host to at least three international cricket matches. The first match was played between India and West Indies on October 13, 1983. The match was volatile. Some spectators barged into the ground and dug the pitch. This happened at a time when the spectators booed home side until they lost the game.
The second international game was hosted for a match between India and Australia on September 9, 1986, which also resulted in the loss for the home side.
Since then, the Stadium remained in a state of dilapidation, till the authorities started repairing it in late last decade.
It played host to various landmark gathering including the takeover of Omar Abdullah from his father Dr Farooq on June 23, 2002. The then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan from this venue and later Modi spoke to a gathering here in 2014. Even Mufti’s funeral prayers were also offered in this stadium. The venue has by and large remained in partial or full occupation of the CRPF for most of the last 30 years.
The parades passed off peacefully and the security grid heaved a sigh of relief. For various days and nights, the police and paramilitary men were manning dozens of drop-gates that had emerged on the key roads, especially leading to the venue of the function.
Tuition Centre Reopen
Areas housing the tuition centres witnessed a huge rush. The security grid had ordered closure of the tuition centres at Parray Pora, which is the nucleus of the teaching shops during winter. In an unprecedented move, the police ordered closure of these centres for a week and even ensured the hostels are closed and the inmates sent home.
The centres resumed work almost after a week. There were hoards of students coming from different sides. Even the centres that were teaching the primary classes had also been closed. During the drastic drives, there were allegations that the police singled out students from south Kashmir and questioned them before sending them home. The tensions had started after an incident of stone pelting on an army convoy on the airport road.
3 Towns Shut
A fierce encounter in a Shopian village added to the tensions. Two militants were killed in the quick encounter and the bullets hit four civilians. While one of them died almost instantly, three are still battling for their lives in the hospitals. Two of them are highly critical and are still on ventilator in the SKIMS.
Shopian continues to remain on a protest strike against the civilian casualties in the encounter. The gun battle also witnessed the culling of various animals as a house was destroyed. Reports from Shopian said that there was no activity on roads, which continue to remain deserted and the businesses are locked.
Kupwara is also on strike. The town closed its routine activities to remember the 27 civilians who were brutally killed by the army on January 27, 1994. The massacre has an interesting history that links it with the January 26, directly. On the eve of the parade, a senior army officer summoned the trade and asked them that they should first come to attend the parade and later open their shops. They did neither of the two.
A day later, the army opened fire in the main market and killed 27 civilians, including three cops on duty. Official information suggests that the police attempted investigation the case but eventually closed it in April 1997. Police records suggest that a road opening party under the command of a second lieutenant S Bakshi had open fire indiscriminately and killed lot of people.
Even Tral is closed today. The locals have stopped work to observe the third death anniversary of Hizb u Mujahdeen militant Abid Khan. A resident of Handoora village, Khan, who operated under the code name Hamza, was killed in on January 27, 2015, in Aourigund village. Sheeraz Ahmed Dar, his accomplice, was also killed in the same encounter.
(Aarif Shah, an intern with Kashmir Life, also contributed for this report.)