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Protesters in Srinagar vow to fight for freedom

August 2, 2010

The situation in Indian-administered Kashmir has taken a turn for the worse with the civilian death toll since Friday rising to 19. Pitched battles have been fought in several parts of the state.

Cars were set on fire by angry crowds in Indian-administered Kashmir
Cars were set on fire by angry crowds in Indian-administered KashmirImage: AP

On the bloodiest day in the Kashmir valley for months angry crowds on Sunday torched government offices, police camps and vehicles in south Kashmir, after blocking the strategic Jammu-Srinagar highway by felling trees and erecting stone barricades.

On Monday, protesters once again defied curfew in several places in the valley. Security forces resorted to firing live ammunition and teargas to control the swelling protests, in which women and children also took part.

Indian troops have imposed a strict curfew in Srinagar
Indian troops have imposed a strict curfew in SrinagarImage: DW

Four more civilians reportedly died, taking the the toll of dead in Kashmir since Friday to 19, and to 36 since early June. The latest wave of protests was sparked when a boy was killed by police gunfire almost two months ago.

"We want freedom!"

At the weekend, hundreds of protesters in several neighborhoods chanted "Go India! Go back!" and "We want freedom!". There were reports of some mosques being used to exhort people to come out onto the streets to protest.

Many see this present spell of violence as reminiscent of the late 1980s, when protests against New Delhi's rule sparked an armed conflict.

The protesters, who are an assorted lot of taxi drivers, store clerks and college students, are determined to carry on their struggle and are now specifically targeting the state police.

"I think they have now realized what freedom is," said Tauseef Ahmad, a college student who has been at the forefront of the protests in Tangmarg, 35 kms from Srinagar, the summer capital.

"For the past decade, they had no vision of what freedom is. I think it is a birthright. We have been victimized from every side, every nook and crook. We have been victimized psychologically, physically and emotionally. Now is the time to change. I think till we get freedom, we will fight and shed our blood."

"We will fight"

Leading the protests in Srinagar's downtown area, a volatile hotspot over the years, teenager Zafar Jameel was equally angry.

"We the people of Kashmir are trying for freedom and we will try till we get freedom. We will not leave these Indian forces that have killed our brothers and our sisters. We will not. We have been fighting with our faces covered but now we will fight with our faces open. We will fight, we will fight…"

Protesters defied curfew and torched buildings
Protesters defied curfew and torched buildingsImage: AP

The government's main worry now is that the coordinated protests will spread further into southern Kashmir. This would hit the highways and would affect the movement of essential goods as well as that of India’s security forces.

On Monday, the Cabinet Committee on Security held an urgent meeting at the Prime Minister's residence in New Delhi. Home Minister P Chidambaram, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and senior bureaucrats reviewed the crisis. A worried Chief Minister Omar Abdullah also rushed to the capital from Srinagar for consultations.

Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Anne Thomas