On Friday evening, at about 6.30 pm, contingents of police personnel armed with automatic guns and teargas weapons took position outside Srinagar’s Shri Mahraja Hari Singh Hospital. A few yards away, inside the hospital’s foyer, as cops in mufti silently scanned every passerby, three wounded young men were being ferried to the hospital from Kupwara, a district in north Kashmir that is about 90 kilometres away from the city. Earlier in the day, the young men had been injured during a clash between a group of residents and the army in Kupwara. The posse of police had been deployed to prevent any outbreak of protests.
A few minutes later, two ambulances carrying firearm victims arrived at the emergency casualty block of the hospital compound. As soon as the drivers of the ambulances pulled the vehicles to a halt, a wiry middle-aged man jumped out and shouted, “Naare-takbeer Allah-o-Akbar—God is great.” Onlookers joined him, shouting, “Hum kya chate hain? Azaadi!—what do we want? Freedom!” and “Jis Kashmir ko khoon se seencha woh Kashmir hamara hai—the Kashmir that we irrigated with our blood, that Kashmir is ours.” The injured young men were removed to an operation theatre on the top floor of the two-storey building. Outside the theatre, a circle of young angry men stamped their feet. “Ragda Ragda, Bharat Ragda—stamp India out,” they shouted. The policemen watched in silence.
Standing in a corner, I spoke to 45-year-old Mohammad Sultan Mochi, of Natnusa village in Kupwara, the man who had raised first slogan in the compound. Sultan was trying to console his wife, who was wailing. “Walo myani musafir gobro—come, my poor son,” she screamed, beating her chest. Their son, Javid Ahmad Mochi, a ninth-grade student in a government-run school in Natnusa, was one of the young men inside the operation theatre. He had bullet injuries in his left arm and right hip. “My son had left home for Friday congregational prayers,” Sultan told me, “but I never knew he will have to face bullets for that.”
That afternoon, in Natnusa, army soldiers had opened fire on a group of protestors. The firing killed a teenage boy, and injured three others. In a phone conversation, SJM Gilani, the region’s inspector general, told me that the forces started firing only after protestors attacked the army camp with stones. Lieutenant Colonel NN Joshi, a Srinagar-based spokesperson for the defence ministry, echoed Gilani’s claim. Joshi said that, in spite of the stone throwing by the protestors, the army exercised “maximum restraint” before firing. “Only when the mob stormed the army post, it [the army] was forced to open controlled fire in which some miscreants were injured,” he told me.
But according to Sultan, his son Javid had only joined a group of people who wanted to offer condolences to the family of Mohammad Iqbal—who was killed during another round of firing by the army, on Tuesday.