The sword of Damocles


For three weeks now Javaid Ahmad, a political worker of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), has been living like a fugitive, hiding away, in Srinagar, some 70 miles away from his home in Shopian.

He has reasons to worry for his safety as militants in southern Kashmir have attacked various members of pro-India political parties. At least three such activists have been killed in the last few weeks.

Javaid lives in a rented house in the city’s Dalgate area for the last three weeks. He tells nobody in the neighborhood why he is living there. Yet, he spends his day meeting with his associates. In three weeks he has hardly left Srinagar, keeping to his place and worrying about the security of his family who has been trying to talk him out of politics.

 “The attacks and threats have created a panic among all workers of mainstream parties in south Kashmir,” Javid said, who wished not to mention the name of his village. His family, he says is “worried” about his security. “My family wants me to quit the party which I refused. I am an ardent supporter of the PDP. I hope that attacks on political activists will end soon,” he said.

Last week, this reporter met him at a tea stall in Dal Gate. Javaid was sipping tea along with a party activist of PDP’s rival party-National Conference. Both were campaigning against each other a month ago for the Anantnag by-polls. 

“We are party workers of two rival parties and still have a good relationship with each other. All the workers of mainstream parties are facing life threats in Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama districts,” said the NC activist, who lives in the Gagren area of the Shopian district, wishing not to be quoted by name.

The duo said the gunmen visited homes of several pro-India political activists for the last few weeks, warning them to “disassociate from their parties or face consequences”. Following which, several political activists have either resigned or gone into hiding.

This is reminiscent of early 1990s when hundreds of political activists, mostly those belonging to NC, announced ‘izhar-e-la taluqi (disassociating themselves from their respective parties) through paid advertisements in local newspapers or going into hiding. Atleast three people associated with NC and the PDP have been killed in the Pulwama and Shopian districts of south Kashmir for the last 20 days.

On April 15, a PDP worker was killed while another was injured when suspected militants opened fire upon them at the Rajpora area of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. The next day, the lawyer associated with National Conference was shot dead in Shopian.

On April 24, the PDP’s Pulwama president was shot dead by the gunmen. Before that, the gunmen had barged into houses of several political workers and asked them to stay away from their political activities “in the interest of freedom movement.” A PDP worker of Pulwama said the killings and threats had created “panic” among all workers of mainstream parties in south Kashmir. A cluster of political workers have now taken refuge in government housing colony Pulwama.

A PDP leader of Shopian said the political workers were worried for their safety. “For the last three weeks, I have spent only three nights at my home. The rest of time I spent at my friends and relatives home,” he said, who was actively participating in party activities a month ago. He said hundreds of party workers have either gone into “hiding or taking refuge near police stations” fearing for their lives.

Shabbir Bhatt, president of the BJP’s Pulwama wing, has been reportedly changing locations for the last few weeks. “The threat of violence first pushed the campaign underground, and now has brought it to a grinding halt,” he was quoted by a national news channel.

A PDP worker from Rai Kapran, Shopian, recently announced in a mosque that he had disassociated with the party. He also tendered an apology for being part of the pro-India party. Several videos have gone viral on social networking sites wherein some workers of mainstream political parties are seen tendering an apology and dissociating themselves from these parties.

In one of the video, the PDP worker Wali Mohammad Bhat said he should be forgiven for his past “mistakes”. “I announce my disassociation from the party and urge people not to be associated with the mainstream party,” said Bhat. “If I have committed something wrong, I should be forgiven in the name of Allah and his Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). I promise that I won’t repeat the mistake and won’t be associated with the mainstream party in future,” he added.

Last week, when this reporter visited in Shopian, people from several villages accused forces for committing “human rights violations”. “The government forces have been unnecessarily harassing us,” said a group of people at Meminder, Shopian. “After the sun sets in, nobody dares to move out due to fear of forces,” they said. After 8 pm, the villagers of Gagren, Rawalpora, Dangam, turn off their lights. “In the month of April, a family in Gagren village was watching TV and had kept lights on till late evening. When the forces were patrolling, they barged into their house and beat up the inmates. Following which scores of youth were detained in several villages,” said the residents of Dangam Shopian.

The situation is so tense in Shopian that forces on Thursday carried out massive search operation in about two dozen villages. The IANS reported that operation involved around 30,000 army men, paramilitary, and police personnel. Involvement of such a number of forces and use of drones, and helicopters have happened first time in the past 15-years, a police official said. In the anti-militant operation, the villagers alleged that forces went berserk by barging into the houses and damaging the property.

In four districts of south Kashmir, at least 12 incidents of rifle snatching from forces have been reported in the past one year. There has also been a rise in bank robbery incidents in the past few weeks.

DIG south Kashmir, S P Pani said the search operation was conducted “to nab the militants hiding in the area”.  Further, he said the police have identified militants who attacked political workers. “Efforts are on to nab them,” he said.

SSP Pulwama, Rayees Bhat said the police have identified the “militants” who were behind attacks on political workers. “The underground workers of militant groups have also been identified,   who have threatened mainstream party workers to resign,” the Pulwama district police chief claimed.

When asked that scores of workers of mainstream parties have gone into hiding, fearing for life, he replied, “Whenever we get to know any worker is facing threat, we provide them security in the form of PSOs and guards and also providing security in their homes. But wherever there is the militancy, the attacks and threats on workers do happen.”