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Bhaand Pather: The Fading Folk art

Bhaand Pather: The Fading Folk art

Bhaand Pather is the traditional folk theatre form performed by the ‘Bhaands’, folk artists of Kashmir. Historians believe that the Bhaands of the Mughal period successfully symbolized the aspirations of...

April 15

At around 11:45 a gunfight raged in South Kashmir’s Kulgam District late night on Tuesday, when three Militants opened fire on a party of Government Forces. More troops from 1 Rashtriya Rifles, Jammu Kashmir Police and Central Reserve Police Force were called in and a siege was placed around the Wani Mohallah in the locality. As soon as Gunshots reverberated in the area, Civilians in large numbers hit the streets to disrupt the Anti Militancy Operation, which is not new to this area, in fact, the chain of stone throwing at encounter sites commenced here In 2015 when civilians took out a march for the first to give a chance to two Trapped Militants to escape. One civilian Asif Ahmad Tantray was killed near the scene of encounter, allegedly shot dead by troops.

Khudwani in South Kashmir not more than five Kilometers away from the District headquarters of Islamabad District has seen at least 80 deaths of locals since the explosion of an armed Militancy in 1988. The area has three Graveyards reticent for people killed by Government Forces (Shaheed), One in Redwani, in Rampura and in Hawoora. On Wednesday, Khudwani in Southern Kashmir’s Kulgam District again saw four civilian deaths, two of them natives of Khudwani.

“This has been the only area where Government Forces have never been able to achieve any success, it is not due to the topography or location of this area, but due to the resilient people in the area,” a resident Bilal Ahmed told.

Civilians in huge numbers came out on the Tuesday night to give a chance to trapped Militants to escape. Announcements were made on the loudspeakers asking others to come out and help the trapped Militants. Allegedly youth paid for a truck loaded with stones and got it unloaded near a bridge in the area. Massive Stone throwing clashes witnessing use of pellets, tear gas shells and bullets began. In the struggle to save Militants, four civilians, Faisal Allie (15 years), A class 9th Student Bilal Ahmed Tantray (17 Years old), a class 12th Student, Aijaz Ahmed Pala, 30 years old and a father of a 7 Month old girl. A youth namely Sharjeel Ahmed Sheikh who was scheduled to be married on the 15th of April was also shot dead allegedly when he was coming out post a morning bath.

After the Killing of Burhan Wani in 2016 July, a storm of civilian uprising began in Kashmir with Southern part of Kashmir as its centre and without a doubt Khudwani as the centre in South Kashmir. A series of Pro Freedom rallies were held here which witnessed a mass participation of public. It was here that Militants openly addressed the crowds during a public rally on 14 August 2016.

According to a senior security official, places like Khudwani Belt, Tahab Belt, Litter Belt, Koil belt, Heff belt have virtually become 'no-go' areas for Government Forces because of the hostility from the locals.

As the encounter that raged on Tuesday night between Militants and Government forces was called off after massive search operations and bombardment, people in droves of hundreds and thousands shouting pro Militancy Slogans reached the encounter site and allegedly rescued the Militants from the basement of a house. Later Militants on two wheelers appeared to the crowds chanting slogans and thanking the General public who rather than mourning the death of four civilians, shouted in Joy and whistled and cheered at a mere glimpse of three Militants.

“We are fighting for Allah, there is no mourning in our death, we fight for truth, Truth never dies from any land,” Aaqib Malik, a Redwani resident who is among a huge group of youth who have gathered near the encounter site said.

The ground reality in Kashmir is changing slowly but surely and it can be gauged even from plain statistics. If in 2013, 31 local youths joined militancy, the number for 2015 (till September-end) jumped to 63, in 2016, around 90 and in 2017, 124 Local youth joined Militancy.

As per stats, the heightened militancy this year is receiving ground support with the local people posing maximum resistance to the forces, especially during the Anti Militancy operations. As many as a dozen Local youth have flanked the Militant ranks In the first three months of 2018 as per records while as 415 local youth have  joined militancy in since 2014. From Khudwani Belt, more than 20 Youth have joined Militant ranks which include known slain commanders like Majid Zargar, Dawood Sheikh, Junaid Matoo and the presently active Altaf Kaczroo. Altaf is an A++ category militant who carries cash bounty of Rs 12.5 lakh on his head. For two years repeatedly he featured in the List of Army’s most wanted Militants.

Shakoor Ahmed Ganie is the latest one from the Khudwani to join Militancy among 15 others who have joined Militancy post the killing of Burhan Wani of Tral. Shakoor joined the Militant ranks on the 30th day of March.

The region post 2016 has seen a massive eruption of support for Militancy as well as the resistance movement. “Youth here in this area support Militancy, support the resistance Movement and they are cordially connected to both,” Junaid another youth from the area said.

A Security Official said that people in these areas support Militancy and many of them are over ground workers (OGW) to Militants. These OGW groups forewarn the militants about the movement of troopers, helping them to easily slip into adjoining regions like Shopian, Budgam or Islamabad (Anantnag). Most youth are first inducted as over ground workers (OGWs) before they are inducted into the ranks, a police official said.

“Immediately after we hear the news of Movement of Government Forces in the area, crowds spontaneously hit the streets, throwing stones on them,” Aaqib said.

Aaqib also claimed that last year there was a flood scare and the Administrative officials visited the area, Locals chased them with axes, Stones and sticks. Disruption of Cordon and Search Operations has been a norm in the area. “Most number of Cordon and Search Operations have been launched here,” Bilal said.

“Many youth have been injured during clashes here since 2010, hit with bullets, pellets and Tear Smoke Shells,” said Adil Ahmed  (Name Changed on Request), 23 years who was bullet wounded during post encounter clashes in 2017 at Arwani adding that his family is mentally prepared that they will send their son to Militant Ranks.

The most ‘volatile’ areas in South Kashmir are Heff-Shrimal in Shopian, Tral of Pulwama district, Khudwani in Kulgam and Samboora, Lelhar of Pulwama. These are the areas which are dotted with apple orchards and lead to dense forests where militants are holed up, a security official posted in South Kashmir said.

The intelligence network of the militant groups, which had ended in mid-1990s, is understood to have revived again and the terrorists come to know about the advancement of security forces, giving them an advantage to flee the area, he added.

“You may imprison a person, but you cannot imprison his mind. According to me they are fringe elements but we have to fight the idea,” the late Mufti Sayed had once said.

On ground in Kashmir, it is definitely not the reality. More Bunkers popping up, new camps established, civilian killings, extra CASOs, and frequent internet bans, the struggle of people to dignity and justice never ends.

The tragedy over the past two decades though has been that neither the Regional Government nor New Delhi is earing the new reality and looking at Kashmir beyond an issue of Security and more tragically unemployment.

“Modi cannot throw money at us. If he thinks that a package will help people forget the blood of Kashmiris, that will never happen,…”Ghulam Nabi Dar, an old aged man from Khudwani says.

Published in Write ups