Fortnightly Feature- Street Harassment & Frisking: Kashmir Summoned Back to 1990s

In the autumn of 1993, Rafiq Ahmed was on his way to Srinagar from Pattan. He had a gunny sack of rice with him that he was supposed to sell to a family in Srinagar. The Indian army stopped his vehicle. 

“They made us stand in a queue and parade ahead of the vehicle with our hands in the air. They had pointed guns at us from a bunker a few meters ahead. We had no option but to oblige,” Rafiq says. 

The occupying army soldiers entered the vehicle and started throwing out the belongings. “We were made to identify our belongings. I told them the gunny bag of rice was mine,” Rafiq says. 

Issmay kya goliyan chupayi hain (Have you hidden bullets in there),” the occupying army man shouted at him. 

Rafiq was made to empty the bag’s contents on the road. “That was my livelihood, but I was helpless and couldn’t dare to say anything. The same camp of army men had tied a man to their army vehicle only a week ago and dragged him for five kilometers, after which he succumbed to his injuries. Later, it took us 3 hours to remove the pebbles from his dead body,” Rafiq says.  

With his produce under the feet of the occupying soldiers that winter, Rafiq had to borrow money from his brother-in-law to feed his children. 

The situation is not very different now. The same issue has returned to Kashmir after the Indian government stripped off the disputed region’s last pieces of remaining ‘autonomy’. 

The norms created by the Indian armed forces back in the 90s have been reimposed, from the creation of the bunkers on every nook and corner, to frequent  crackdowns and incidents of frisking at whim..

Stopping people, particularly the youth, frequent checking and harassment incidents have become embedded deep in their memories.

“These incidents have been so frequent and recurrent in the last few years that by now, people have become accustomed to it,” said Mustafa (19). “If I were to go through my memory, there are so many incidents of frisking and harassment that it would take hours to recall them all,” the college student added.

Recalling one such incident, Mustafa said, “it was during noon when my friend, who is a mason by profession, was called down from the construction site. After checking his phone without any prior notice, he was taken to nearby ground and tied up to a tree, where he was beaten ruthlessly for the next one and a half hours and left there by the Indian armed forces.” 

Mustafa had tears in his eyes, recalling his friend’s pain.

Many are randomly detained, arrested, and booked under bogus charges from such identification checkpoints that have come up on the highways connecting the neighboring towns to Srinagar. 

As per the government of India’s figures, more than 4,131 prisoners — 4,005 men and 126 women — are held in jails in Jammu & Kashmir alone.

Of the prisoners in Jammu & Kashmir, 3,735 are currently under trial, of which 747 have been arrested in militancy-related cases — merely 1.8 percent of these individuals have been convicted. A staggering 90.4 percent of the total prisoners are still undergoing trials.

Thousands more of them have been kept locked up in jails across India. 

As per the Indian government (Ministry of Home Affairs), 3,689 prisoners from Kashmir are also lodged in different jails across India.

Every Kashmiri has been a victim of such harassment at the hands of Indian armed troops at least once, if not frequently.

“I remember when I was traveling with my daughter in a cab to go to our relative’s house. And these so-called men in uniform stopped our cab for a good half  hour. They checked the whole car, and verbally harassed the driver, not sparing my daughter and me. They even accused the driver of having drugs,” recalls Henna, a middle-aged woman.

Breaking even a trivial rule in Kashmir, can cause you punishment and hours-long harassment. Ibrahim, a university student, was stopped near a military camp on his way to Shopian. He was not aware of the rule that while driving on that road, you have to turn off your headlights and open your cabin lights. He was stopped and dragged into the camp, where the Indian troops slapped him around.

“It has now become a daily occurrence for us. This incident has been a recent one,” mentions Ibrahim.

These frisking incidents are not only confined to roads now; Indian paramilitary forces also conduct search operations in randomly chosen homes without proper permission from the court of law. 

One such incident is of Mansoor, whose house was raided by Indian paramilitary forces at midnight.

After searching the house, they took Mansoor to a nearby ground, where he was beaten until he fell unconscious. “I still remember how badly they kept beating me till I passed out,” said Mansoor, who dragged himself back home once he regained his senses and found himself alone and bleeding.

With the recent visit of Indian Home Minister Amit Shah, the frisking on roads and checkpoints increased tenfold. One could  easily notice how frequently two-wheelers and cars were stopped, creating traffic jams. Moreover, many important roads were blocked, which hindered traffic movement in many places. 

Even ambulances are made to wait when an Indian officer or a convoy of military vehicles passes. It does not matter if a patient carried in a civilian vehicle dies. These deaths are never documented as part of the killings by the Indian occupying forces even though they are well planned. 

“Check-ins were going on during Amit Shah’s visit to Chattipatshahi in Rainawari hospital, which had created a massive traffic blockage. It took me almost 3 hours to reach Habak from Rainawari. This is the road that leads to a major hospital,” said Haseeb.

He added, “it would have been better had they locked us all up in jails rather than this fake show of normalcy”.

“Kashmir is an open-air prison where people can’t even raise their voices, but deep down in the hearts of Kashmiris, the demand for freedom has increased. The frisking, harassment, and torture by Indian military personnel have become common among its residents. This is the environment we are living in,” said Ibrahim.

(For safety, the names of all characters have been changed in the article)