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Kashmir valley on edge after execution

Indian army imposes curfew after hanging of man convicted of the 2001 Parliament bombings in New Delhi.
Last modified: 15 Feb 2013 18:19

The security checkpoints started as soon as we left Srinagar airport.

The streets were mostly deserted, with the razor-edged concertina wires blocking the roads after every kilometre, manned by young Kashmiri policemen. Some let you through, others ask for your press credentials.

While most just want to know why you are on the road, on Thursday our plan to travel to a recent Kashmir hotspot, Sopore, was derailed by one such checkpoint. A group of uniformed young men, armed with AK-47's flagged us down.

We notice that their mandatory name tags were missing. They wanted to know why we were on this route outside Srinagar. Who gave us permission to be here, they asked.

We didn't know we needed permission to go on the highway, we said. We told them we were under the impression the media were allowed to perform their duties even during the curfew.

They made a few calls and then told us they are detaining us, so we could be questioned by their superior, who was on his way.

We waited and watched trucks full of vegetables, cars carrying passengers, buses, motorbikes - almost every mode of transport allowed - pass the checkpoint.

We waited for nearly an hour in the cold.

My producer Nilanjan started a conversation with them, asking for hot tea for the team. The officers laughed and softened a bit.

They had a chat and we soon realised there was no official edict to prevent media from traveling, but there was an unofficial order to stop the reporting.

With no superior insight, they eventually let us turn the car around and head back the way we came.

Death sentence

We drove back towards Srinagar, on the way stopped at Ganderbal, the home of a 13-year-old boy who we were told died a few days ago. He came from a small village called Parimpora.

His family house had no front door or glass in the windows. You could hear wailing as you enter the mud alley that leads to a cluster of small houses.

The village was in their fourth day of mourning, a tent was set up for prayers. His mother was inconsolable at the loss of her only son.

His grandfather said he was killed by police for taking part in protests. The police told us he drowned.

There have been sporadic protests since the execution of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri village boy, who had aspirations to become a doctor.

He instead became infamous for what many Kashmiris say is his “alleged” part in the 2001 Indian parliament bombings, the most audacious attack on the country's political establishment.

Guru was convicted of masterminding the deadly attack a year later. After spending more than a decade in a Delhi jail, he was executed there last Saturday.

Despair was compounded by the fact that none of the public here in Kashmir, not even his family, was notified before the execution.

His wife and son weren't given a chance to say goodbye.

Even Kashmir's Chief Minister Omar Abullah was irate. He said it was a "tragedy" that Afzal Guru's family were not given a chance to bid a final farewell before he was hanged.

India's home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde countered with this: "We had sent out a speed post on the night of seventh February and he was executed on the 9th."

My producer Nilanjan managed to get hold of the tracking number of the Speed Post letter.



The online tracking facility on the India Post website (see tracking chart) clearly shows letter (ED828032795IN) only reached Guru's wife Tabassum on February 11.

That's nearly 51 hours after Guru was executed. It also shows that the letter was posted after midnight on February 8 at New Delhi General Post Office.

The Indian government expected protests, so they tried to pre-empt them by imposing curfews, and blocking internet and cable lines.

Towards the end of the week, security tightened even more, and police were vigilant.

Lockdown

On Friday, it was lockdown in the Kashmir valley.

Traditionally, spontaneous protests break out after Friday prayers at the mosque. So a strict curfew was imposed on everyone, including the media.

We were stopped every hundred metres by zealous young officers demanding to know what we were doing on the streets.

They told us the only channel allowed on the road was the national Indian station Doordarshan.

The security apparatus managed to stem any major protests, the weather helped too, a cold grey Friday made more miserable by a constant drizzle.

But there was news from the Kashmir border.

The Indian Army spokesman told us that they are returning the body of a Pakistani soldier, who they say infiltrated the Indian side of the Line of Control with a group of armed men.

He was killed in a firefight, which Indian authorities called a Pakistani violation of the ceasefire.

Pakistan said the soldier inadvertently wandered across the border and has been missing since the early hours of Friday.

As usual, it escalated in a heated exchange of words and much finger pointing. Whatever the story, it’s certainly taking attention away from the frustrated Kashmiris who are once again locked in their homes.