Authorities in the Kashmir Valley, where a lockdown entered its sixth day on Saturday, said they had eased curbs on the movement of residents in Srinagar.
“Restrictions have been eased in most parts of #Srinagar,” Srinagar district magistrate Shahid Choudhary posted on Twitter. “More than 250 ATMs have been made functional in #Srinagar. Bank branches also open. Advance salary on Eid eve being credited today,” he tweeted.
With the administration relaxing the restrictions, hundreds of men and women were seen thronging the streets to buy meat and other essential items for the festival. The markets, however, remained shut.
But for the police personnel of Jammu and Kashmir, who have been at the forefront of the lockdown in the Valley, there was little respite as they continued to face angry and cold stares from residents.
With communication lines down and the Internet blocked, any kind of news, information or rumour was being passed around by word of mouth. For the past week, the Valley was abuzz with murmurs that arms had been taken away from J&K police personnel and that the Central forces had taken over police stations.
When this correspondent toured the city on August 8 and 9, most policemen were seen wielding polycarbonate lathis. The policemen were deployed along with the armed Central Police Reserve Force (CRPF) troops and were guarding lanes ringed with coils of concertina fencing. However, the policemen guarding installations like government buildings and those providing security cover to officials were seen carrying weapons. In the past three years, 60 policemen have been killed in militant attacks.
“We are under the blanket, have had no communication with our family,” shouted a J&K police sub inspector from a tin-roofed bunker outside a government building, his finger firmly on a gun’s trigger. He was responding to a query as to whether the police personnel had been able to speak to their families.
“Do you know how a mule works, it has to go up and come down the same path with same baggage on its back; this is the condition of the police,” said the elderly policeman, holding an AK-47 rifle and speaking on condition of anonymity. “My duty starts at 1 p.m., but due to travel restrictions I start my day at 5 a.m. I cannot afford to report late.” Another police official said that in 2016 after Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed, he couldn’t go home for six months. “The uniforms were soiled due to continuous wear but we were not allowed to leave our posts. Then also we didn’t have access to phones but were able to make calls whenever necessary. We do not know how long the restrictions would continue this time, we are in for a long haul,” he said. Another suggested it was good that the State had been downgraded to a Union Territory. “We will get better pay and benefits like the central forces,” he hopefully added.
Dharmendra, an Assistant Commandant with the CRPF, said he had been posted in Srinagar for two years.
“We work with J&K Police shoulder to shoulder. The reports of CRPF taking over their responsibilities is not correct,” Mr. Dharmendra asserted.
On August 5, Home Minister Amit Shah was photographed carrying a file inside Parliament which mentioned “possibility of violent disobedience in sections of uniformed personnel” as a possible fallout from the passage of legislation reading down Article 370 that gave special status to the State.
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has been camping in the Valley and meeting the J&K police personnel and members of other central forces. On Saturday, CRPF chief R.R. Bhatnagar also met the force’s jawans.