| Soldiers load their belonging on a truck as they leave Khanabal near Srinagar. (Reuters)
Anantnag, Nov. 21 (Reuters): Two days after the first Indian troops pulled out of Kashmir, shopkeeper Ghulam Nabi Kharali was walking along a village road when a soldier stopped and started shouting at him.
Kharali's crime' He was walking on the same side of the road as the soldier.
'I had no gun, no grenade. I was not a militant but he abused me and pushed me to the other side of the road for no reason,' said 52-year-old Kharali. 'What is the use of a troop cut if it doesn't end harassment' Is this reduction for real'
That is a question many Kashmiris are asking after the first batch of soldiers pulled out of Jammu and Kashmir after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's decision to cut forces.
Experts say there are at least 400,000 troops in Kashmir, compared to a civilian population of 10 million.
The troops' heavy-handed measures have created widespread resentment. Security forces have imposed curfews, random searches and also detained people without charge, rights groups say.
'In Kashmir, military, paramilitary and police forces continue their practice of torturing detainees, leading to custodial killings,' Human Rights Watch said in a statement urging the European Union to spotlight rights issues in India.
'For instance in Kashmir ... people are held in army camps and barracks and routinely tortured before being released or sent to police custody in violation of local laws that require the armed forces to immediately hand over the detainees to the civilian police,' the New York-based rights body added.
Singh's decision to cut troops in Kashmir was a message of reconciliation ahead of his first visit to the state. The move also aimed to send positive signals to Pakistan and boost a peace process between the neighbours launched last year.
Under the plan, about 1,000 soldiers moved out of Anantnag district in southern Kashmir last week. But Anantnag residents said it was yet to ease their woes.
'I think this whole troop reduction business is just propaganda,' said Ali Mohammad Badam, a government employee. 'The numbers are so small it won't make a difference to our miserable lives.'
Though Delhi has not given details of the total number of soldiers to be moved out of Kashmir, defence sources said it would be less than 40,000.
'A reduction of forces does not really matter. What matters is how these forces treat people,' said Maulana Abbas Ansari, a moderate Kashmiri separatist politician.
'Reducing troops, which behave like occupying forces and not security forces, won't help,' he told Reuters.
Kashmiris say that Delhi's efforts to crush the revolt with its military might has meant regular frisking by troops, roadblocks, vehicle checks and house searches. They also accuse the troops of rights violations and extra-judicial killings, charges denied by defence authorities. Troops try to avoid troubling people and the situation had gradually improved, authorities said.
'Having said that, there will be some infringement of people's movements, some element of nuisance. It can't be avoided in a counter-insurgency campaign,' a senior military officer told Reuters. 'Zero inconvenience is not possible.'
For Kashmiris, the infringement has gone on for too long and bred hostility against the troops.
Nowhere is this hostility more evident than in Badran village, north of Srinagar, where an army major is accused of having raped a 10-year-old girl and her mother earlier this month.
Reports of the allegation sparked outrage and days of street protests across the state. The army arrested the officer and launched an investigation.
Residents, who have yet to see a reduction in the number of troops in the area, said they still lived in fear.
'I don't venture out of my house after sunset,' said Dilshada Bano, a housewife in her early 30s, who lives next door to the rape victims.
'How can I feel safe when they did not spare a 10-year-old girl' We will be relieved only when every single soldier leaves this place,' she told Reuters.