Srinagar: For many inhabitants of surrounding villages in Pulwama town, it has been over a fortnight of sleep under the open skies amid the ongoing unrest in Kashmir.
Apprehending nocturnal raids, the men of the community spread their bedding right on the main highway snaking along the villages in south Kashmir.
The reason to spend the night in open is simple; the men said they want to alert others putting up in the village of any raids at night. The community takes turns for the night vigil. Each village nominates some of the men, including middle aged and elderly to spend the night in open.
Soon after offering Isha prayers and taking meals, the men assemble with bedding on their shoulders. A mat which is put beneath on the highway is generally taken from the local Masjid.
Some children lend a helping hand in bringing out the public address system, which is placed on one end of the long bedding, big enough to host over hundred men. One of the respectable keeps the microphone with himself to make any announcement “if need arises.”
While some sleep, for others it’s time to discuss the prevalent situation in Kashmir. “This was never the crises before. Atrocities have crossed all limits in the PDP regime,” points out a septuagenarian, while puffing Hookah as others curiously listen to him.
But Pulwama is not alone. People at many places across Kashmir have been trying this method to keep “tension and terror of night raids away.”
At one such spot, youth are discussing that the use of pellet guns has only festered oppression on the people of Kashmir. “The government is treating us worse than the animals,” adds a man in 20s.
In the meantime, some recap the era of 1990s when the militancy was at its peak. “Those days it mainly used to be crackdowns which would commence in the wee hours but this time night raids have created havoc… Troops storm any area, arrest the youth and ransack household,” says one of them adding “This is what has forced them to spend night in open.”
“If we don’t stay alert and block the main road by laying bedding, how will we come to know if police or other forces arrive for any raids in the dead of the dark?” asked some villagers in Shopian.
Spending night in open is not about life alone. “We are equally keeping vigil to prevent any attack on the martyrs’ graveyard because last year forces resorted to desecration of the revered cemetery… We don’t want repeat of any such situation lest it leads to further provocation,” the villagers said.
The people sleeping on the roads said it was their peaceful means of avoiding any aggression from the other side. “Given the history of atrocities like rapes and killings of people in the ‘90s, we don’t want a repeat of any such situation,” the people said.
A youth added: “Spending night on the roads is no adventure; we are facing a never before precarious situation. This vigil is just a peaceful means of achieving our goals.”
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