After years of peace, ‘molestation’, killings keep Handwara on edge

SRINAGAR:It’s not for the first time that Handwara town in North Kashmir mourns its dead.

Ehsan Fazili

Tribune News Service

Srinagar, April 14

It’s not for the first time that Handwara town in North Kashmir mourns its dead. In the past 25 years of militancy, it has witnessed several incidents, including two major ones, which left 47 persons dead in 1990.

The fact remains that this town, comprising Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipore districts, unlike other parts of the Valley, has remained peaceful during the past decade.

When a separatist-sponsored bandh was being observed in Kashmir on Tuesday to protest “harassment of Kashmiri students outside the state” amid the controversy over NIT in Srinagar, life was near normal in Handwara. However, things took an ugly turn after an Armyman, posted at the main chowk (square) of the town, allegedly tried to molest a girl. As the locals protested, security forces allegedly opened fire that left two persons dead and one injured, who succumbed to injuries the next day. Another person was shot dead during a protest against these killings the next day, taking the toll to four in the past two days.

Later, the girl in a video denied being molested by an Armyman. She said her bag was snatched by a boy in (school) uniform after she came out of a public lavatory.

It has been a “sensitive area” and attained a greater significance in view of being represented by the separatist-turned mainstream politician, Sajad Gani Lone, elected in 2014, heading his faction of the Peoples’ Conference. The son of a senior leader of the separatist Hurriyat Conference, Abdul Gani Lone, who was shot dead by unidentified gunmen at Eidgah here on May 21, 2002, Sajad holds the Cabinet portfolio as an ally of the BJP in the5 PDP-BJP government.

“It has been a sensitive area,” said Choudhary Mohammad Ramzan (National Conference), a former minister from the constituency who represented it for three consecutive terms in 1983, 1987 and 1996, and also in 2008. He said there was immediate fallout of the alleged molestation that took place on Tuesday, when the situation here was normal unlike other parts of the Valley.

He blamed the J&K Police for “inaction” and the killings in “direct firing”. Ramzan pointed out that usually the Army was blamed for killings in Kashmir, but on Tuesday there were protests in the town against the police. He said the things would be clear only after the inquiry was complete.

Sheikh Abdul Rashid, independent MLA from Langate, said: “Security forces do not find themselves accountable, which leads to such killings in the Valley.”

With the eruption of militancy in 1990, at least 21 persons were killed on January 25, while 26 died on October 1 allegedly at the hands of security forces following the encounters with armed militants.

Despite unrest in Valley post-NIT row, town was calm 

  • When a bandh was being observed in Kashmir on Tuesday against alleged harassment of Kashmiri students amid a controversy over NIT in Srinagar, life was near normal in Handwara
  • But, things turned ugly after an Armyman allegedly tried to molest a girl and four persons were killed in firing that aimed at controlling the protesters 
  • NC’s Choudhary Mohammad Ramzan said usually the Army was blamed for killings in Kashmir, but on Tuesday there were protests in the town against the police.

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