Protest over highway ban in Kashmir
Top pro-India leaders in Kashmir hit the Valley’s arterial highway on Sunday defying the administration’s ban on civilian movement, the symbolic protest coming on the first day of the traffic curbs that triggered chaos and left hundreds of vehicles stuck at crossings.
Former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti led small groups of protesters separately on the highway on the city’s outskirts. Both said they had hit the streets to defy the ban.
Governor Satya Pal Malik’s administration had last Monday decided to close the highway to civilians on Sundays and Wednesdays to facilitate army movement and prevent Pulwama-type attacks. The ban came into force on Sunday and would continue till the end of parliamentary elections next month.
Mehbooba urged people to defy the lockdown. “You cannot crush Kashmiris like this. This is our state, these are our roads, we can go to wherever we like on these roads. Our children have to go on foot to appear in exams. I urge people to defy the ban and go wherever they want,” the Peoples Democratic Party chief said. Mehbooba said her PDP would challenge the ban in court.
Abdullah said Kashmiris were being pushed to the wall for no fault of theirs. “Are we living in a free country or is this a colony? They have caged us. They must lift this ban before there is bloodshed in Kashmir,” the National Conference leader said.
Both leaders had a large number of security personnel accompanying them and being VIPs were allowed to hit the highway.
The authorities had erected barricades at crossings across the 270km highway from Udhampur in Jammu to Baramulla in Kashmir. Hundreds of vehicles were stuck at crossings and people could be seen pleading with security forces to allow them to cross.
A few like Danish Ali, a groom from Anantnag, had got permission to travel by the highway but they too faced difficulties and were frisked.
Ali had already had a trying time securing permission from the authorities to take his baraat (groom’s procession) to Doda in Jammu on Sunday, where his marriage was scheduled.
The family had to spend the last few days pleading with the Anantnag administration for permission to travel to Doda, around 200km away. They decided to take the baraat on Saturday after it appeared they wouldn’t get the permission. They got it at the eleventh hour but told they would be frisked on the way by security forces.
Danish and 11 people accompanying him still went ahead with the baraat on Saturday, hoping to return on Sunday. They had to stop at multiple places on the way because of landslides.
“We left home at 2pm yesterday (Saturday) but reached Doda at 10 in the morning. We had a harrowing 20-hour journey, which normally would have taken only four hours, all because we had to advance the baraat by a day,” Danish told The Telegraph. “We spent the night on the road, with a mountain on one side and a deep gorge on the other.”
Danish said they left the bride’s place at 2pm on Sunday and had been frisked at five places on the road by 8pm. “At four places we faced little inconvenience but at Ramban we were stopped for an hour,” he said.