On 15 July 2016, a contingent comprising members of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Jammu and Kashmir Police (JKP), stood beneath the Bagh-e-Mehtab bridge, which is on the national highway, and connects areas on the peripheries of Srinagar to the city. We encountered these men at Chanapora, a suburb of Srinagar, while they stood at the foot of the bridge and restricted public movement across it. During the course of the past week, Kashmir has witnessed violent and sustained protests over the killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani. As of today morning, 47 Kashmiris had died, and over 2,000 people had been injured. Hospitals in Kashmir have declared a state of medical emergency. That morning, the state government had announced that the valley would be placed under a curfew. The security officials near the bridge were determinedly executing these orders.
The civilians at Chanapora did not venture near these men; they either took detours or avoided stepping out of their homes altogether. While we were there, we found a constable sitting on the stairs that lead to the top of the bridge. He waved a baton at us as we approached him, indicating that he wanted us to turn back. After we made several attempts to initiate a conversation, the constable finally agreed to speak to us, albeit anonymously.
The constable said he hailed from Trehgam—a village in Kupwara district, located in north Kashmir—and had been deployed at Chanapora for the past six days. He was a 42-year-old man, tall and heavily built; his voice was coarse and befitted his appearance. The CRPF men deployed there asked us to leave immediately, but he managed to appease them and salvage the situation.
The constable told us that he did his job honestly and prided himself for it. “A few dozen boys throw stones at us here every day, and that terrifies the entire area here. If we do not stop them, they will go on vandalising everything in a frenzy,” he said.
According to him, the protestors in the region were demanding a right they were already in possession of: freedom.