Valley observes shutdown against Behanji’s conviction
Petrol bombs, stone pelting on Police after boy drowns in Sopore
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
SRINAGAR, Apr 13: Kashmir valley today observed shutdown on the hardliner separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s call against a Delhi court’s conviction to six Kashmiris in the Lajpath Nagar bomb blast, in which 13 people had got killed and nearly 40 others had sustained injuries on May 21, 1996. Trouble flared up in the apple township of Sopore where scores of people threw petrol bombs and engaged Police in stone pelting with the allegation that a teenager had drowned to death in Jhelum after being chased by Police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
Government offices, educational institutions and private businesses, including commercial traffic, remained closed today in Kashmir as the Valley observed shutdown to register a strong protest against a Delhi court’s conviction to six Kashmiris in the Lajpath Nagar explosion of May 1996. Hardliner separatist leader and Chairman of Hurriyat Conference (G), Syed Ali Shah Geelani had called for a daylong shutdown. In a statement, Geelani had charged the Indian judiciary with punishing the “innocent Kashmiris” on false and fabricated charges and, thus, taking the side of the establishment. On April 8th, Court had exonerated four of the accused but held six others, including Chairperson of the separatist outfit Fareeda Behanji, guilty of their involvement in the bloodbath.
With the conviction yet to be pronounced, life was crippled in entire Kashmir valley in the wake of near-total shutdown. In Srinagar downtown, Police and CRPF imposed restrictions on free movement of the people and allowed the light motor vehicles to ply only after checking photo-identity cards. Quite a number of people traveling in motor cars and pedestrians were frisked at several places.
Reports said that most of the shops, business centers, educational institutions and government offices remained closed for the whole day in the summer capital and most of the rural district headquarters. Commercial traffic did not operate due to the shutdown and for fear of stone pelting. Reports said that attendance was extremely thin in the offices that chose to function in defiance to the call and the ongoing strike of government employees.
Though no reports of any major disturbance came in from any place till late tonight, scores of youth engaged Police in stone pelting at about six spots in Srinagar downtown as also in the uptown localities of Maisuma and Batmaloo. About a dozen demonstrators and Police personnel are estimated to have sustained injuries in these intermittent clashes. However, officials insisted that nobody was killed or injured.
According to the reports available, groups of youth in the north Kashmir townships of Baramulla and Sopore shouted anti-India and pro-Azadi slogans. They also resorted to heavy stone pelting on Police. One ASI and an SPO sustained injuries in such clashes in Baramulla.
Informed sources in north Kashmir told Early Times that hundreds of the residents resorted to heavy stone pelting and lobbed at least four petrol bombs on Police with the allegation that a teenager had drowned into the Jhelum and died as, according to them, Police and CRPF personnel had chased away a group of the youngsters. Dead body of 16-year-old Zubair Hassan Bhat S/o Ghulam Hassan Bhat of Jamia Qadeem locality of downtown Sopore was recovered from the river at around 1745 hours. Large number of the residents alleged that he had drowned into the river when he and four other youngsters of his group had been chased away by Police and CRPF in Hathi Shah locality.
SP Sopore, Altaf Khan, insisted that there was no question of the boy having drowned due to Police or CRPF action as, according to him, there had been “absolutely no deployment of Police and the paramilitary forces” in Hathi Shah and Jamia Qadeem localities till 1700 hours today. Quoting preliminary reports available with the authorities, SP Sopore maintained that a group of four to five youth swam to the other side but one of them, namely Zubair Hassan Bhat, drowned and died under the waters. He said that the drowning had taken place nearly 400 meters from the nearest Police and CRPF post. “There was no stone pelting or clash in that area and, as such, no question of the Police or CRPF deployment”, SP Sopore asserted.
Residents, however, disputed the official version and insisted that the teenager had drowned when he and his associates were being chased by a CRPF party. They assembled in the locality after learning about the teenager’s death and engaged Police and CRPF in ding dong clashed till late this evening. Eyewitnesses said that the demonstrators in Jamia Qadeem and Hathi Shah localities in downtown Sopore lobbed at least four petrol bombs on Police parties and engaged them in clashes till late this evening. They also attempted to ransack Police Station and dismantle a CRPF pillbox near Town Hall.
SP Sopore confirmed that the mobs attacked Police and CRPF bunkers but claimed that these were repulsed with the use of baton charge and tearsmoke. He said that four Police personnel sustained injuries and three to four Police vehicles were damaged in the clashes that erupted in an hour of the recovery of the teenager’s dead body. Residents insisted that about a dozen demonstrators and civilians were injured in these clashes. They said that one you had sustained critical injuries and he was rushed to a Srinagar hospital for specialized treatment.
Residents in both, Sopore and Baramulla towns, told Early Times late tonight that the local population had called for four-day shutdown from tomorrow.