Braving Crackdowns by India, These Young Kashmiri Volunteers Keep Neighbourhoods Safe

In the past three months, the Jammu and Kashmir police and the Central Reserve Police Force have arrested close to 7,000 people in the Kashmir Valley, in broad sweep and search operations targeting homes, often at the dead of the night.

In many areas of Kashmir, young, unarmed and masked volunteers have been patrolling the streets of neighbourhoods at night to warn families about impending raids. This video story embedded at the top of this story is by Video Volunteers community member Abid Salaam, and was shot days before the security agencies of Kashmir launched a massive crackdown in Baramulla’s Old Town, which is 55 km (34 miles) from Srinagar, the capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The arrests started soon after the Indian military killed 21 year-old Burhan Muzaffar Wani, a popular Kashmiri separatist militant with a wide social media following. His extrajudicial killing was followed by a curfew and wide-spread protests across the Muslim-majority Indian state. Protesters were also concerned with rising Hindu nationalism in India, and particularly with high unemployment, excessive militarisation of their public spaces, and repeated human rights violations by Indian security forces in their state. During the protests, the Kashmir police and Indian paramilitary forces used deadly weapons, such as pellet guns and assault rifles, resulting in 85 deaths. More than 13,000 civilians were also injured, thousands were blinded. The curfew affected seven million people and lasted 53 days in most places and 85 days in other areas.

The curfew has ended but the crackdown continues. More than 450 people have been booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA), a law under which a person can be detained without trial for six months.

Thousand of young Kashmiri men and teenagers are in hiding, some are taking refuge in the swathes of orchards that run through the valley. But as the winter is approaching, many are taking refuge in the homes of friends or distant relatives, changing location every few days. According to locals, more than 700 houses have been searched by the security forces.

In the video featured in this story, young Kashmiri men and teenagers are seen hiding their faces in white shrouds in fear of the Indian forces. In their night patrols they warn the locals to stay awake and stay alert. They don't sleep at night. Some say that they haven't gone back home for weeks. Sometimes they lay down under trees or adjacent houses in the open. They fear, if they are caught, the police will take their photo and detain them.

According to the authorities, the demographic poses security risks as they engaged in violent protests against the police. Some are accused of aiding or joining separatist rebels fighting for Kashmir's independence or the demands of its merger with Pakistan.

The Indian government maintains that they are only cracking down on separatists but the arrest of figures like notable human rights activist Khurram Parvez, who was subsequently booked under the PSA, shows that they are going after the voices of dissent in the Valley.

Video Volunteers, an award-winning international community media organization based in India, is a content-sharing partner of Global Voices.

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