Srinagar: An island of relative peace

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 SRINAGAR: Streets are silent, police and paramilitary troop­ers patrolled the deserted roads and residents remained caged inside their homes on Saturday — the 15th day of a ceaseless curfew in this densely populat­ed old city of Srinagar. 

The region, once called the “Venice of the East” because of the now virtually non-existent network of fresh water canals, has always been politically volatile and a hub of separatist politics and war. 

But surprisingly, downtown Srinagar, home to large Mus­lim shrines, Hindu temples and bridges on Jhelum river, has been relatively peaceful in the days of deadly unrest that gripped almost the entire Kashmir Valley follow­ing the July 8 killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani and two of his aides by secu­rity forces. 

In the past, the region has al­ways given a security head­ache to authorities in Jammu and Kashmir, in view of its vulnerability to violent pro­tests even at the drop of a hat. 

Any local or international issue can provoke street anger here. 

America’s invasion of Iraq or Afghanistan, a whiff of a scan­dal, a rumour or report of moles­tation or rights abuse by secu­rity forces, killing of a militant by the army or police or even a roadside row between a para­military trooper and a pedes­trian is enough to incite violent trouble in Srinagar’s old city. 

From a security point of view, the area – spread over six po­lice stations – is “ultra-sensi­tive” and is one of the first to come under curfew whenever there is a challenge to secu­rity in Jammu and Kashmir, including when there is a VIP visit from Delhi. 

The roots of separatist insur­gency lie in this “politically im­pulsive” region of Srinagar that has time and again “lived and re-lived” a familiar Kashmir story of violent protests, recalled Bashir Manzar, a senior editor. 

“Militants fired the first bullet in Naid Kadal to declare their separatist war in the late 1980s. 

“In fact, if you go back in his­tory, Downtown of Srinagar has mostly shaped the political narrative of Kashmir. The 1931 agitation against the Dogra au­tocratic rule started from here. The state still remembers the July 13 martyrs killed in fir­ing by Maharaja’s police (that year),” Manzar said. 

The 2008 and 2010 summer un­rest — in which nearly 60 and 120 civilian protesters were killed — had also their roots in Srinagar’s old city, mostly a maze of byzantine lanes flanked on either side by two to three-floored houses many of which date back to the early 20th century. 

In fact, the weekly stone-pelt­ing protests occur near Jamia Masjid – the main mosque in Srinagar — with young men angry over just about any­thing throwing rocks at police and security forces. 

But not in the current unrest that has left some 45 people dead in days of violence in the valley. 

Police officers, IANS spoke with, said they had their fin­gers crossed. Not a single killing in the series of recent violent deaths has occurred even as stone-throwing protests – with lesser intensity – have been put down by security forces. And none of them spun out of control. 

“We have islands of peace in Srinagar’s old city. That is an achievement,” said a po­lice officer. 

Maybe, the sense of satisfac­tion is not completely off the mark. Because even a single killing in this urban centre of the valley can spin the situa­tion further beyond control in the times when the valley is staring at another summer of discontent. 

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