THE FAMED BLUE SKIES of the Valley are dotted with ominous clouds as I wait with my photographer colleague outside ward No 8 of the worn-down Sri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS) in Srinagar for Dr Adil Ashraf, president of the resident doctors association. On the wall ahead of us is a warning scribbled in charcoal: ‘Indian media and dogs are not allowed inside.’ We are anxious to meet those wounded in clashes with Indian security forces in the latest round of unrest following the death of 21-year-old militant Burhan Wani seven weeks ago. A photographer and a reporter from the local media wade in and speak to the patients—all of them hit with pellets or stones or beaten up by the forces. Political Science student Javed approaches us and asks brusquely if we are from the ‘Indian media’. He softens once we say we are here to meet Dr Ashraf. Javed then goes on to present the Kashmiri point of view, and a slight argument ensues. I offer that the Indian media isn’t merely a few TV channels, and I list articles that are contrary to his claims of “one-sided propaganda”. As it turns out, he is far more tolerant than others, and ready to listen as well as offer pointers on how 2016 is different from 2008 or 2010, the last two times that the Valley had flared up. The 2010 protests, which followed the death of 17-year-old Tufail Mattoo in police firing, left around 120 people dead. About two years before that, at least 70 were killed in protests against a proposed transfer of land to the Amarnath shrine board.
What Kashmiris usually say about top Indian officials and media personalities has always been provocative, to put it mildly, but for many in the strife-torn Valley, the “biggest villains who represent the ‘Indian state’ are Prime Minister Narendra Modi, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and a high-profile TV anchor”, all of whom, they claim, are symbols of the ‘Hindu fascist-political-security-media complex’. Ishaq Beg from Kullar in Anantnag district, one of the hotbeds of the current round of insurgency, holds that view, as do a number of academics. Aijaz Nazir, who is from South Kashmir, insists that the Centre should shed its Goliath-like posturing and engage in talks. “Indian TV channels seem to be engaging in debates unrelated to the situation on the ground here. They are probably doing it to please the political classes. For any progress, all-party meetings are a welcome move, but not if they don’t invite the real powers here who can make a difference, the Hurriyat Conference,” says Beg, referring to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s two-day visit to the state capital on 24 August. All factions of the Hurriyat, for their part, have refused to play the role of ‘peacemaker’. The protestors this time have warned even a hardliner like Syed Ali Shah Geelani not to ‘betray’ the cause the way they allege he did in 2010 when he issued an appeal for calm. It seems as if even the pro-Pakistan ideologue Geelani is only playing catch-up with the crowds, a mass protest that appears leaderless.
As we talk, Wasim, a fiery, bearded volunteer of Morawat Centre, an NGO that is helping injured protestors and others caught in the crossfire avail of medical help, raises his voice and says, “If you are from Delhi or any part of India, you had better leave. We don’t like you here.” Javed intervenes for our sake to say that we are waiting for Dr Ashraf. Wasim relents and says, “Please go in.”