Everyone Lives in Fear- Army Presence Heightens in South Kashmir

October 03

“They raided the locality, vandalized the houses, smashed the window panes and stole three chicken from the chicken coop inside our house,” a protesting resident of Redwani Payeen area in South Kashmir’s Kulgam District told The Kashmiriyat.

An Army camp has been set up in Redwani Bala area on last Sunday which has a population of more than five thousand people making it the fourth Army camp located in a distance of less than seven square kilometers, the other ones established in the locality area Singam Camp and Khudwani Camp.

Singam camp is not more 1 Kilometer away from this newly established camp, Frisal camp is three kilometers away, Khudwani camp is less than one kilometer away from this camp established her on Sunday. Many new camps surfaced in south Kashmir post the killing of top Militant commander, Burhan Wani on 08 July, 2016.

The area becoming highly militarized, with military camps often found close to school buildings and campuses can lead to a negative psychological impact on children which can cause higher dropout rates and has certainly been the case in Kashmir valley where many children feel scared of the school’s proximity to military camps.

A research study conducted by the Working Group on Peace, Conflict and Education at Colombia University in 2013, found that 79% of the military camps were at a distance of less than 1 km of the schools examined.

Suspicion and fear continue to permeate the residents of the Redwani area. A knock on the door late at night sends spasms of anxiety through households, afraid that a family member will be asked by the Government forces to step outside for “a minute” and then never return. Psychological trauma related to the violence has been enormous, as life itself is constantly under threat.

In Quimoh, one of the most volatile region in south Kashmir, people are bracing for scaling up anti-militancy operations by the Army and paramilitary forces. “My area has seen a lot of bloodshed in the past year and a half,” said a Local.

“In the dark of the night, We were shocked to see soldiers erecting pickets, tents and marking the boundary with concertina wires,” said a local resident of Redwani Bala adding that the next day locals woke up to a shock seeing a new Army camp had been established near the only panchayat ghar of the area.

The 1 Rashtriya Rifles of the Indian Army has set up a new camp besides the Martyrs graveyard in the Redwani Bala locality of Quimoh in South Kashmir’s Kulgam District. “Why do they need to establish another camp in such a volatile area,” Waseem a youth from the area asked.

A School located just besides the camp, ‘Mustafa Memorial Public School’ has been locked down since last Monday, the day when the Army camp took a permanent shape. “Two of my daughters who study in the same school have refused to go out of their house at the fear of sexual harassment,they ask me every morning, ‘Papa, When will they remove the camp?’,” Bilal Ahmed, a Redwani resident told The Kashmiriyat.

Official Stats reveal that, In 2013-2014 there were 296,535 girls enrolled in education within urban areas. This figure fell to 96,896 girls in 2015-16, amounting to a 67% decrease in girls in education.

The closeness of military camps also puts girls in increased dangers, with the presence of army personnel meaning girls are more at risk of sexual violence, abuse and other forms of harassment. This leads to a further rise in the dropout rates in these schools for girls as they seek to avoid this.

Mustafa Memorial School shares common borders with the camp. The children in these schools feel threatened and scared whilst in the presence of the military personnel and due to the closeness of the camps that were likely to be targets of explosive weapons. The children know that this proximity puts them at greater risk.

A member of People’s Democratic party who wished to maintain anonymity said, ““In the past, if they (security forces) were harsh on people somewhere, the people would come to us. We would go to the Chief Minister and request for her help. Things would change on the ground,” he said. “But where will we go now? Who will listen to us?”

The state of Jammu Kashmir has the population of more than 12 million, as according to the 2011 evaluation, the number of inhabitants in the state was 12,548,925. There is an estimated 700,000 security forces, giving it an extremely high 70:1,200 force to population ratio. It is not a small number. So in reality India has deployed 1-soldier to 12-Kashmiri civilians.

Indian Government forces claim they are fighting to protect Kashmiris from militants and Islamist extremists, but Over the years, widespread and numerous human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law (the laws of war) have been reported against the common people, creating among the civilian population a pervasive climate of fear, distrust, and sadness.

“The area is a graveyard, Silence prevails, we turn off the lights of our houses by 6 pm, My family is now extremely frightened. They keep their doors locked at all times. The little boy who witnessed the Nocturnal raids and Army men vandalizing the property amid shouting and abusing on Tuesday even stopped speaking for awhile from the shock,” Mohammed Shafi, a resident told The Kashmiriyat.

He claimed that the Army barged into the locality at least 5 times since they set-up the camp here in the middle of the village. “Everyday their vehicles pass at least five times in the day, They are trying to crate fear psychosis among youth,” he added.

“My handicapped father was alone in the house, the Army broke into the house and hurled abuses before breaking the window panes of our house, they did not search for any Militants here, My father almost faced a heart attack,” says Zareefa whose house was among the many houses that were damaged by Forces late night on Sunday.

“Our Demand is simple, you cannot have a Military camp in the Middle of a residential area, it has restricted our movement.”

The majority of civilian casualties (88%) have been caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA), such as villages, schools, hospitals, and residential areas.

On Wednesday, the area shutdown for the sixth consecutive day demanding the removal of Army camp from the area, but the people allege that they have only seen more forces including paramilitary troops and Special Operations group of Jammu Kashmir Police move into the camp.

Locals of the area staged demonstrations in Srinagar on Monday to demand the removal of the Army camp, women and men in large numbers flooded the streets sloganeering to demand the removal of Army camp. “They have arrested four youth from the area and the family has had no clue since about their whereabouts,” Taja Begum, a resident told The Kashmiriyat.

“Our houses are raided in the night, there hardly is any young boy who sleeps at home, we fear torture,” Aaqib Ahmed, a young boy from Redwani said.

This is reality of south Kashmir. The numbers of Government forces deployed in Kashmir are going up each year, according to data available. Besides the permanent Army and SOG Camps, South Kashmir is flooding with temporary and Mobile bunkers. The Government forces have stationed in civilian areas over the past three years likely to carry out frequent Anti Militancy operations.

In a region where encounters and Cordon and Search Operations (CASO) are now so have entered the everyday nomenclature, The forces say that bunkers help them to keep militants in check, in the past year more the number of youth joining Militancy has shown a drastic rise, in the month of Ramzan, militancy-related incidents increased by more than 100 per cent from the previous month, grenade attacks rose by 80 per cent.

An Army official while speaking to The Kashmiriyat said that the camp has been stationed here for the protection of local youth from Militancy, not to intimidate them. He said that the security forces and their camps ensure stability in the Valley, and that without their large-scale presence, it would be impossible to think of peace, however, locals, on the other hand, have a different story, alleging human rights abuses and frequent detention of youths.

“Late night on Wednesday, the Army harassed and physically assaulted people. They also arrested four youth from the lcoality,” a resident of Redwani told The Kashmriyat. They said the the army clicks videos themselves—and they later emerge on social networking sites. “Last year a video showing local youths being beaten mercilessly and forced to chant ‘Hindustan zindabad’ slogans was also shot here,” Waseem Ahmed, a Redwani resident said.

The presence of Government forces in Kashmir has considerably increased post the killing of Militant leader, Burhan Wani in 2016, which led to a civilian uprising, especially in south Kashmir—and pushed many young people towards militancy, At least 350 Local youth have joined Militancy since then, 87 in 2016, 123 in 2017 and 150 in 2018 So Far.

“More than promoting fear in the Militants, the pickets of Government Forces have created panic among the civilian population in South Kashmir, it is a far better to have no camps in residential areas than taking the fight to villages in the Valley,” Abdul Rashid Dar, an ex-Congress member told The Kashmiriyat.

He recalls that when bunkers were removed from residential areas in Kashmir, they Forces thought it would generate problems which did not happen, rather it promoted a feeling of peace and security in Kashmir.

Since then, many camps have been set up and re established in many residential areas of South Kashmir, which include one in Pahnoo, followed by another at Nagisharan, Breenti, Khudwani, Mahmoodpora, Redwani, Singam, Chillipora and Zainpora areas of South Kashmir.

“We Simply cannot take any risk, We just want to ensure that peace prevails in Jammu Kashmir, which is impossible with such a heavy presence of Militants in the South Kashmir region,” a Police official said.