Muhammad Raafi / Riyaz ul Khaliq
Clashes, amid heavy protests, broke out in the first “Big Kashmir Marathon”, when angry participants threw water bottles and food packets during prizes distribution ceremony. They were angry with the organisers for “misleading” them and with the “below par arrangements”.
“The organisers have been bragging about this event since a long time. But this is a failed event,” said a visibly angry lady, who was accompanying her daughter.
As many as 15 international athletes had participated in the event, for which more than 15,000 people had registered, NDTV – one of the co-sponsors of the event, reported.
The participants are not even provided with water, leave aside refreshments, alleged a participant from Beerwah. “We have come from far off places, we are hungry, but the organisers are busy in enjoying the dance programs.”
Participants from Kenya and Nigeria participated in the marathon that started from University campus.
Participants alleged that they were not told about the participation of international athletes nor was it advertised anywhere.
“How will a local athlete compete with an athlete of international standards,” asked a group of participants adding, “we have not even participated in any run outside Kashmir. This is misleading and not acceptable to us.”
Parents of many kids alleged that their children were “used to make this event a success”. “Our children were promised of being provided with certificates, but no such certificate was given to us. The organisers lied and used our kids for the event,” parents who were accompanying their children said.
Asif, a participant from Jawahar Nagar area of Srinagar, asked, “what is the need to make girls and boys dance in a Marathon?” “Marathon is supposed to be a running event – an athletes’ event – what does dancing and singing mean in such an event?”
As soon the news about the top three positions going to athletes from Kenya made rounds, the youth got angry and threw bottles and food packets in protest.
The protestors didn’t let the program go ahead. SSP Srinagar, Amit Kumar and state Tourism Secretary Farooq Ahmad Shah left the venue fearing clashes. “As soon they left the venue, angry protestors disrupted the proceedings and vandalised the stage,” witnesses said. “Everything has been vandalised and broken. Chairs and tables flew in the air. LCDs and LEDs were broken,” said a volunteer.
“The police observed maximum restraint and tried to pacify the protestors; however, angry youth started pelting stones and thus broke the clashes. Amid pro-freedom slogans the protestors vandalised everything (hoardings, banners) that came their way,” said a cop.
Chaotic scenes were seen in the main ground of University of Kashmir – the venue of the event – as police cane charged the crowd. “This led to a situation where many kids lost hold of their parents and were seen crying and searching their parents,” the witnesses added.
“I lost hold of my child here. He is in kindergarten. Police ran after us and he slipped out of my hand,” said a wailing mother.
Many children were seen crying in the main lawn of VC Secretariat as well who had slipped away from their parents.
A member of the organizing committee of the event, who wished not be named, when asked about the lack of facilities and refreshments, they said, “in such a big event these things happen.”
The organizers had no answer for the participation of the International athletes as well.
The protestors were later chased outside the campus, who then, amid pro-freedom and anti-India slogans fought pitched battles with police outside Sir Syed gate of the varsity.
Early angry participants vandalised the hoardings and banners near Habak crossing on foreshore road.
Going by the advertising campaign which the event organizers ran before the event – BIG KASHMIR MARATHON (I am the Change), University of Kashmir had provided the space for parking of the vehicles while CCDU, J&K Government’s department of PHE, Arise Hyundai, GK, 92.7 Big FM, HDFC Bank, NDTV 24*7, BSNL, Sarovar Portico, Ahad Hotels and Resorts, The Wings, SMC, KU’s Department of Students of Welfare, Fruitfil 7-Springs, J&K Armed Police, J&K Tourism, DCL T20, J&K Sports Development Association and CP advertisers were associates of the event.
Reports informed that the event was attended by some ministers, top bureaucrats and other civil and police officials but State’s sports minister and PDP politician Imran Raza Ansari and former Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, who were also to attend returned half way after learning about eruption of clashes.
Omar Abdullah had also registered for the event.
After the heavy anti-India protests at the event, tech savvy Omar took to social networking site Twitter and updated, “The theme for the 5 KM run was ‘save the Dal’. It’s such a pity that politics had to come in the way of that also.”
Ruling coalition partner Peoples Democratic Party’s Youth president, Waheed-Ur-Rehman Para, had come early morning to attend the event and also updated some pictures on his Facebook page captioned: “Glimpse of Big Kashmir Marathon!!!! I’m the change…” “But, he was seen nowhere when clashes erupted,” a witness said. “He fled the spot sensing trouble.”
When contacted, Jammu and Kashmir police spokesperson said, “some boys had misbehaved with girls who had come to participate in the event before and after the ‘flag-off’ of the marathon and when the cops intervened, it resulted in disturbance.” “And when results of the marathon were announced at prizes distribution ceremony, the youth turned violent.”