ON THE COLD EVENING of 23 December 2021, about twenty Kashmiris gathered in Srinagar’s Pratap Park for a protest. Two army trucks soon arrived at the nearby Regal Chowk, and dozens of soldiers cordoned off the park. Some were in civilian clothes—two of them confirmed to me that they were with the Indian Army. The protesters seemed unperturbed, however. This was unusual, given how the army normally interacts with protesters in the Kashmir Valley.
A few minutes later, two uniformed soldiers brought a hoarding out of the truck and handed it over to two plain-clothed personnel inside the park. The billboard had three bold words, Aakhir Kab Tak—how much longer—against a background of spilt blood. Below, amid a sea of loud hashtags, including #VoiceAgainstTerrorism, #StopKillingKashmiris, #KashmirBadalRahaHai and #KashmirForTiranga, the banner advised, “Kashmir let us unite.”
Fifteen minutes after the soldiers hoisted the hoarding and lit a row of candles in front of it, the who’s who of the protest arrived: a politician belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party and others from minor groups, retired civil servants known for their less-than-stellar service records and a couple of people who sat on the fence between journalism and hyper-nationalist bombast. An army officer, who identified himself to me as Colonel Sanjay Bhalay—from the 125th battalion of the Territorial Army—lit a tiki torch and handed such torches to the most vocal of the protesters. The group shouted a few slogans against terrorism and called for the destruction of Pakistan for less than five minutes before taking a break to provide sound bites to the expectant cameras of Doordarshan, Asian News International, Asian News Network and a handful of local web portals.