Old Town’s Nightmare

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The ongoing poll season has set Baramulla’s old town in a tizzy with night raids to wind up youth allegedly linked with stone pelting ‘haunt’ locals. While police claim law is taking its own course, the youth and their parents in the line of fire are rueing ‘harassment,’ reports Sofi Ahsan

A view of Old Town Baramulla

A view of Old Town Baramulla

The old town Baramulla is on security radar at the moment owing to its anti-establishment ire that often emanates from its congested spaces. With poll process already set in motion, government forces on war-footing are making it sure to plug any poll protest in this part of north Kashmir.

The town bears a stark resemblance with the old Srinagar with lanes and bylanes crisscrossing the congested structures spanning over dozens of Mohallas. People sitting on shop plinths are busy chatting; children and women peeking through the windows as Jhelum nearby flows calmly towards Uri.

But in this polling season, the town has lost its calm. Last few weeks had given sleepless nights to many households here. Reason: the night raids carried out by police to ‘hunt’ down youth with alleged stone pelting links. Over dozens have been already apprehended, while scores are on run to evade arrests. Amid all this, police sources declare that intensified arrests are on the cards in coming days.

‘A’ fearing his possible arrest in a stone pelting case registered against him in 2009 is putting up at his relative’s residence these days. An undergrad student in Government College Baramulla, he says his address with photo is with the police. “I fear they (government forces) may also come after me,” he says.

But he isn’t alone to feel that way. There are many others from this township who are on ‘police radar’ since 2010 for “subversive activities”.

Old town was at the forefront of pro-freedom agitations during the 2008 and 2010 uprisings. During parliamentary polls this spring, the town spontaneously got shutdown for days together against arrest spree of youth. Now this fall (gripped in poll season), the town again appears ‘haunted’ due to fresh arrests.

Naveed and his family were asleep when the police allegedly broke open the front door of their house in the middle of night a few weeks ago. When they woke up, a contingent of police was already inside their house calling for Naveed. It was 2am; and government forces were on a nocturnal raid to nab the 18-year-old.

A Class 11 student, Naveed spends his free time at his father’s kiryana shop. He has an FIR registered against him for “mobilizing stone pelters,” as per his father Farooq Ahmad. “I assured the police party that I would myself bring Naveed to the police station in the morning,” Farooq says, “but they (police) refused and took him away in the dead of night.”

After eight days, Muhammad Amin recently stepped out of police custody. He was picked up as a substitute for his absent son Aasim during a police nocturnal raid at his home. After giving assurance—that he would present his son before the police within five days, Amin was set free. “I have no alternative than to take my son to the police with the hope that he would be released soon,” says Amin, visibly crestfallen.

Speaking on the fresh arrest spree in the town, SSP Baramulla Suhail Munawar Mir justifies the nocturnal raids stating the night raids are “easier” and “effective” than daytime raids. “Besides,” says SSP Mir, “we prefer nocturnal raids to prevent collateral damage or violence during the daytime.”

But the night raids have their own costs.

Two persons including a girl were badly wounded early this month when police reportedly fired pellets inside a house during a night raid.

And on November 11, the town observed a partial shutdown against the arrest of another youth. “Given the violence that broke out in Baramulla a day after the parliamentary polls in May this year,” says Muzaffar Yasir, a local, “the police action can only be described as a preparation for the ongoing state polls.”

While the youth (with “chequered past”) are continuously facing the music, SSP Mir admits beefed up “security measures” in practice for poll process. “We have intensified our actions in view of the polls,” asserts Baramulla police chief, “but the law has to take its course.” And the youth, he continues, with registered cases “have to face arrest, today or tomorrow”.

Scores of youth (in the town) have stone pelting cases registered against them. It gives police a license to target the youth, locals allege, whenever the old town simmers.  “The cases keep piling up against the youth after protests,” says Abdul Rehman Shalla, president Auqaf Committee Baramulla. “As a result, they are facing arrest now.”

Safaan Zargar is a Class 10 student who has a number of stone pelting cases registered against him. The police recently apprehended him from his aunt’s house. “The court had bailed him out,” Zargar’s grief-ridden mother told Kashmir Life, “but the police rearrested him very soon.”

Pertinently, post-2010 uprising, the Baramulla police had presented a list of about 300 stone pelters belonging to different areas of Baramulla district (including old town) to the public; and asked them to present the youth before police. “We handed over the names of youth to respective Masjid committees,” continues Shalla who was part of the police-public meet, “and asked them to counsel them.”

However, in 2012, chief minister Omar Abdullah initiated a project to decongest the old town by removing some of the existing structures to pave way for the construction of multi-lane roads in its interiors. Though the project stands stalled, there is deep feeling in the town that the project was aimed to quell stone pelting incidents in the locality as “it becomes difficult for police to enter the congested area”.

With ‘heightened vigilance’ over the town during this poll season, police is expressing satisfaction over the “mellow-down” town. Amid this, the youth continue to feel “harassed” and “victimized”.

“We all figure in police wanted list,” says ‘A’ still on run.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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