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On the streets of this political hotspot, chucking rocks at the police is the most cherished form of free speech.
For 45 days prior to my visit, Kashmir had been rocked by protests over the alleged rape and murder of two young women from Shopian, a town located about 50 kilometers from Srinagar. Initially, local police and government officials, including the state's fresh-faced chief minister, Omar Abdullah, dismissed the case as an ordinary drowning. But the people of Shopian alleged that the two women had been raped and murdered — which was later confirmed after the protests forced the administration to conduct an autopsy — and claimed that the police forces had conspired to cover up the crime. After a month and a half of protests that stopped all economic activity in the area, four police officials were arrested for allegedly suppressing evidence.
Nothing has been proven in the Shopian case yet. “There have been some unfortunate incidents in the past, in some cases action was taken promptly and in one or two cases there is a perception of avoidable delay,” Home Minister P. Chidambaram has told the press. “Our intentions are good and there will be proper action. The state government will to go through investigations and punish the guilty.”
But for the disgusted local populace, no further investigation is necessary. Over the 20-odd years since militancy began, during which the army and police have enjoyed almost absolute power in Kashmir, these kinds of allegations are so common, one local resident told me, that for every one that makes news there are another dozen that never make national headlines. “Even the Shopian story took a week to come into the national papers,” explains Parvaiz Bukhari, a local journalist.
All of the young men I interviewed say that police officers have come to their homes and threatened to arrest them under the public safety act, under which alleged offenders can be jailed for as long as two years without formal charges.
“We say, 'Give us freedom,' and they say, 'You are a terrorist.'” said Aftab, another youth. “But we have no guns. Only stones.”
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