Srinagar has seen stone pelting on a massive scale in the past three years. Hundreds, including teenagers have hit the streets, especially in Downtown—the old, heritage area that tourists seldom see—and hurled stones at the security forces. Roads, markets, bridges, buildings, and graveyards have acquired new histories, and become new markers of the ‘resistance’.
A journey inside the separatist’s Srinagar.
By Shivam Vij
Photographs by Abid Bhat
I Welcome to Srinagar. Would you like to come with me to Downtown? I want you to see the real Srinagar.
Come, get on the bike.
Even though parts of it have been declared a UNESCO heritage site, tourists don’t go to Downtown. Downtown Srinagar is known as the Gaza Strip of Kashmir. It is the center of resistance. All of Kashmir can forget our struggle, but not Downtown. Are you comfortable on the pillion now?
Let me tell you about our language. Kashmiri used to be taught in our schools, but Sheikh Abdullah dropped Kashmiri and Persian from our schools. Even today my grandfather remembers a number of Persian couplets. Many elders can read and write Persian. I don’t. India was to be a secular state and all that, but Kashmir had its own identity.
We have reached Munawarabad. This is one of the main gateways to Downtown. It has been renamed after Inayatullah, a baker. That’s his bakery on your left; see that tall building on your right. You can’t tell it’s a CRPF camp because it still looks like a hotel. It’s called the Ikhwan hotel. It was first occupied by the BSF and then by the CRPF. They’re all the same for us, just different names.
This area is called Babademb, and this roundabout used to be called Ikhwan Chowk. But this board here, it says in Urdu, “Shaheed Inayatullah Chowk”. The people renamed it when Inayatullah was martyred, seven years or so ago. The forces in the Ikhwan hotel refused to clear the dues for the bread they bought from Inayatullah. When he insisted his bill be cleared, they shot him dead. The baker was handicapped, having lost one leg in an accident, but the Indian forces had no mercy.
“Does the government not object to people renaming roads and roundabouts on their own?” Come on, they can’t! If the government comes to remove this board we will pelt stones.
So this is the entry to Downtown. This is the first place that they seal with barbed wire if a protest is planned. All they want to do is prevent a large gathering at Lal Chowk, the center of the city, just a kilometre away. If there’s a mass gathering at Lal Chowk, the media will be there, it will tell the world that we demanded Azadi in large numbers.
We have been fighting Indian occupation for the last 63 years. India went to United Nations. Eighteen resolutions came out of it. Nehru promised us we would get what we want. And now India says forget it and live under our occupation? We want Azadi because we have been occupied against our will. And occupation is not just forces that are stationed here. Occupation is the taking away of our political independence it takes away your social, cultural, religious independence.
II This road is called Nalemaar road. Nala, as you know, is stream in Urdu. This was filled in Sadiq’s time and made into a road. (G M Sadiq, the left-leaning Congressman was the last prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir in 1964. He was chief minister from 1965-71.) The reason: They could rush in forces more easily by road than a stream. It reduces the divide between the old and the new cities. The stream was part of the Dal. Just like the Brari Nambal lake we now see on our left. Now we are at Babademb Chowk. They put a barricade here when it’s curfew time. In the half kilometer that we have driven so far, there used to be at least 3-4 roadblocks with the help of CRPF mobile bunkers and concertina wire. They have removed all but one now, to give outsiders the impression that everything is fine in Kashmir. But everything is not fine. This bunker, and many such, have been removed because of the political pressure after the unrest last year. When bikers enter this area, they often ask for names, mobile numbers and bike registration numbers. The list goes to the police station, helps them keep a record of who’s been coming into Downtown and how frequently.
This is the Khanyar police station. The superintendent of police of north Srinagar sits here. They removed the 5-6 bunkers from this area, but the CRPF men manning those bunkers still live in that building, over there. The soldiers haven’t left Downtown; removing bunkers is a cosmetic measure.
See the endless concertina wire around the police station. Without the concertina wire and the large numbers of CRPF men protecting the police station, we would be pelting stones at them, too. They would be the first target.
It was my dad. He calls me five or six times a day. Happens with every Kashmiri. Parents are always afraid. It could happen anytime. One could die of a grenade blast, or there could be firing by forces, or the CRPF may just detain you for having a beard or not carrying an identity card
Lets me park the bike here. This gate leads us to the Sufi shrine of Dastgeer Sahib (patron saint of the Qadri Sufi order) of Baghdad in Iraq. His disciples had come from there. The disciples are buried inside the shrine, visited by large numbers of people every day. There’s a mosque too. Khanyar is a huge locality and this shrine is its crown. And in this holy place, there is a graveyard. It is called Mazar-e-Shohada. On 8 May 1991, there was a funeral procession in Khanyar area for those killed by the forces in a massacre the previous day. In this funeral gathering they again opened fire, unprovoked. Among the 20 killed were five women and a two-year-old. Their graves are among the 72 graves here.
It is not only here that the martyrs are buried. The first grave there is an empty one, still awaiting the body of Maqbool Bhat, whom India hanged and buried in Tihar jail.
[Editor’s note: Bhat, the co-founder of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front(JKLF), was awarded the death sentence for the murder of a police officer. He was hanged in 1984.]
At the peak of militancy many bodies would come to Eidgah every day. There are hundreds of martyrs’ graveyards in Kashmir. When a militant is killed—for us a freedom fighter—they impose a curfew to prevent a gathering for people to mourn the loss. Sometimes they don’t allow the bodies to be taken to martyrs’ graveyards. So people have to bury them somewhere. This was once a park, now it is a martyr’s graveyard.
Here, see, one of the graves has an Urdu couplet written on it:
Khoon-e-dilo-jigar se hain mayaye hayat
Fitrat lahu tarang hain, gafil, na jal tarang
(The blood your heart sheds in struggle for life, sustains it; it needs the flow of blood, not water, your simpleton