“Even the seasons did not spare the harried people who suffered damages to crops, losses to business, even as death stalked the land”
Shopian: The year 2018 started with a dry winter and least snowfall in a decade. It was a bad start – and a bad omen, for those who believe in such things – for the horticulture-dependent region of south Kashmir, its apples and berries requiring adequate snowfall to draw the fullest nourishment from the soil.
While orchard owners and labourers lamented the disappointing season, a fierce gun battle broke out at Adoo village in Shopian district on January 25. Two civilians and two militants fell to the bullets fired by government forces. A 9-year-old boy picked up an unexploded shell from the encounter site and it exploded in his hand. He died of the injuries a few days later.
The gun battle, the civilian killings, the unexploded shell exploding in a little boy’s hand – all these were not new for the people in Shopian. Ever since the killing of Burhan Wani in July 2016, the region had turned into a hotbed of militancy. It was here that the highest recruitment in militant ranks was taking place. It was here that the most attacks on government forces were taking place or getting planned. And it was here that the army and other government forces had established the most number of new camps – as many as nine over a year.
And yet, the gun battle at Adoo on January 25 marked the beginning of a year of such vicious, horrific and unprecedented violence that hardly anyone could have been prepared for it. It was violence that sucked everyone in, and spared no one.
A couple of days after the gun battle at Adoo, three civilians were killed in army firing at Ganowpora village. The army claimed it had opened fire in self-defence, “after a mob tried to torch army vehicles and lynch a junior commissioned officer.”
In March, the army said “there is a thin line between a militant and an over ground worker”. It said this after killing four civilians and two militants at Pahnoo village. The police later said that two of the civilians were just that – “civilians” – while two others were “over ground workers” of militants.
Kashmir’s biggest indigenous militant group, the Hizbul Mujahideen, suffered one of its biggest losses in a single day when it lost 12 militants in two gunfights that took place the same day, on April 1. Four civilians were also killed in government forces’ firing near the two encounter sites at Dragad and Kachdoora villages in Shopian district.
The number of persons who suffered injuries in firing by government forces was more than 500, including 80 who suffered pellet injuries in eyes and 40 who sustained injuries due to bullets.
Blowback of the intensified anti-militancy operations came to the region’s policemen. Fourteen of them were killed by militants in Shopian district, including five who were first abducted from their homes and later shot dead.
Apart from the killings and injuries, dozens of people lost their houses. Government forces used explosives to blast houses from within which militants were fighting.
In protest, people in Shopian observed shutdown almost every other day. All markets and business stayed shut for a total of 118 days during the year.
For more than a hundred days, internet services stayed snapped in Shopian district.
More than a hundred cordon-and-search operations, or CASOs, were conducted by government forces to nab militants in the district.
Many villages like Monshwara, Nazneenpora and Poterwal suffered assaults from government forces, mostly in nocturnal raids that happened after forces either came under stone-pelting or attack from militants. Three houses of active militants were allegedly torched by government forces a day after four policemen were killed by militants at Arhama village on the outskirts of Shopian town.
The Hizb leadership was wiped out in the region with the killing of commanders Sadam Padder, who was killed at Badigam village in May along with Kashmir University assistant professor Muhammad Rafi, and top militants Bilal Ahmad Mohand and Adil Ahmad Malik. Padder was on top of the government’s hit list and was said to be the most important strategist in south Kashmir. Other top Hizb militants who were killed during the year included Ishfaq Ahmad Thoker, Zubair Turay and Ali Abbas.
With rising civilian casualties and injuries near encounter sites, government forces adopted the strategy of carrying out operations at night. Fifteen top militants were killed in such nocturnal operations that ended with only minor stone-pelting incidents near the encounter sites.
Business in the region took a hard hit. Many shopkeepers that Kashmir Reader talked to said they were in debt, and did no business in the year. “We were only supposed to pay rents of shops and in the meanwhile our products spoiled,” said Javid Ahmad, who runs a kirana store in Shopian main market.
A senior lecturer at a higher secondary school in Shopian told Kashmir Reader that he had counted 114 days of shutdown during the year. “Classes were rarely held in schools and colleges. Despite that, students worked hard and did well in exams.”
He said that wherever there is resistance to oppression, the people there are more intelligent and sensitive. “Because the sensitive choose to fight the oppression and the intelligent try to counter the sponsored narratives,” he said.
Another teacher, wising not to be named, said that students in Shopian deserve the highest praise because every day they go through security checks, barricades, cordons, street violence and clashes to go to schools or coaching centres.
Arshid Ahmad, a scholar of English Literature and native of Shopian, said that no killing is justified, whether of a civilian or a militant or a government forces’ soldier. “The year 2018 was murderous and brutal for the whole of Kashmir, but for Shopian it was devastating. Throughout the year we faced state atrocities and saw daily killings, CASOs, military’s vandalism, shutdowns, internet gags. Our economy and education suffered a big setback. The young generation doesn’t see any future in this conflict-ridden place. But, we hope that 2019 will bring peace and India will accept the disputed nature of Kashmir, rather than call it its integral part,” Arshid said
Rayees Ahmad, a resident of Shopian, said only a referendum is the solution to Kashmir. “We people of Shopian are fed up of the daily killings. We don’t see any future with India. We want the right to self-determination,” he said.
Towards the end of the year, in autumn, there was finally something for cheer, but this, too, turned out to be an illusion. A bumper apple crop saw a huge decline in rates in markets outside the state. According to traders, the rates dropped by 30-40 percent, a fall worse than took place a decade ago when most of the apple crop suffered rot and damage in Kashmir.
The cherry crop had already been damaged by heavy rain in May and June months. It was a year in which nothing really good happened, not in any season, not for anyone.
C: K Reader