A day in the life of a CRPF jawan in Kashmir

kashmir-trooper-afp A paramilitary trooper stands guard during curfew in downtown Srinagar | AFP

The curfew imposed in Kashmir valley has taken its toll on everyone. After all, it has been 46 days since the curfew came into force. Not just the residents, even the forces who enforce it are weary of the curfew.

The security forces, like most Kashmiris, have been at the receiving end of government's decision to suspend mobile communication. They are seen constantly checking their mobiles hoping to hear from their families. Three CRPF men got lucky last week when a group of journalists offered them their BSNL phones to call home. But the government, after heavy criticism, has restored incoming calls in the Valley.

Its the day-to-day patrolling that the CRPF and police forces suffer most. The maze like residential areas do not make things easy for them. The effect is worst on the CRPF guards, as most are alien to the place, language and culture.

Those who guard the government buildings, do not have to worry much, as there are no stones thrown at them. They rest on footpaths and over the time, became part of the surroundings which are without any life. Generally, the CRPF men deployed in relatively peaceful areas hit it off well with the locals—a few government employees, journalists, a rare fruit vendor risking his life for a daily wage or a small shop tucked away in a congested neighbourhood, like the one at Abiguzar-bund on the banks of Jhelum, which is frequented by journalists for a smoke or grocery.

Those who are posted in the downtown areas or volatile civilians localities in Srinagar, do not have the luxury of sitting idle. If not stones, a volley of abuses comes their way from the crooked lanes and alleys. The men in uniform shout back slurs and invectives with equal force. But, sometimes the shouting match gets out of hand and all hell breaks loose. The CRPF and police charge at the crowds which are quick to disappear into the maze. Then the troopers have a field day. They break to bits anything that comes their way. Their rifle butts and sticks find their mark on windshields and rare glass windows of parked cars.

In some localities, the CRPF men focus on homes. They pelt stones at window panes and reduce them to just shards of glass. In one area of Srinagar, the window panes of several posh homes were destroyed. The video had gone viral on Facebook.

Yet in some nighbourhoods, like Shaheed Gunj, Shutrashai, Chotta Bazar, Bal Garden and Karan Nagar, the agitated youth avoid confrontation with the CRPF. They protest in the night without indulging in violence.

The daily grind of chasing, shooting and exchange of verbal abuse is tiring the troopers. Akhilesh Yadav of Banaras and his colleagues Suman Kumar from Bihar were deployed on Friday in and around Chotta Bazar near Shivala Mandir. The CRPF had readied itself for a showdown with the youth of the area after Friday prayers. But it rained and the clash was washed out.

A starving Yadav then decided to try tchut—a Kashmiri bread baked in a furnace—with a bottle of milk. Munching on pieces of tchut after dipping them in the bottle, he refused to be photographed, but said, "Hamara photo mat lejiyee (don't click my photo). If you want to write, write what we go through. And how hard it has been for us all these days here. We have to get up at 4am and get ready with all our gear by 6am. After breakfast, we are deployed," he said.

"Samjtay hain na aap (Do you understand)," he asked. "This has been going on for last 45 days. On top of that, we have no idea what is happening back home as phones are down."

The discussion then tuned to the tchut. "Pehlee bar try kiya hain, (I am having it for the first time)," he said. "So will you write about our problems," he asked?

After getting an affirmative answer, he asks with an urgency and tension in his voice, "Phone kab chaloo ho ga (when will the cell phones start working again)?"

Yadav has so many more questions. Why people of Kashmir want Azadi? Will they join Pakistan? How will an independent Kashmir survive? But his biggest concern is the same as of those people he is policing. When will the torture from patrolling the dead streets and localities end?

Kumar, his colleague, who listened patiently, joined in, "Sab BJP ke wajeh say hey (all problems are because of the BJP). Look what they did to Nitish in Bihar. If he had not teamed up with Laloo Yadav, people in Bihar too would have been protesting Kashmiris."

Another CRPF jawan approaches hurriedly. "Deputy commandant has come," he informs. Akhilesh stands up and straightens his uniform. "Tomorrow we will be deployed in some other area. Hamaray barray main likhiyega zaroor (do write about us)."

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