Protests against army high-handedness were met with police repression in Halmulla area of Anantnag on Sunday after the locals blocked the Srinagar-Jammu national highway for about an hour.
Locals said that police used excessive force and beat up many people, including women and elderly persons, in trying to clear the highway of the protestors. The police denied the allegations and the army, alleged to have manhandled a truck driver and then beaten up a newspaper hawker who tried to come to the driver’s rescue, said none of their men beat up any civilian.
A senior police official from the area confirmed that police had to tackle a law and order problem, following an altercation between locals and army men in Halmulla.
“The highway remained blocked for about an hour. There was an altercation between army and the locals, following which protests had broken out,” the police official said.
According to the locals, army men had stopped a Kupwara-bound truck driver, “after he overtook an army vehicle.”
“A local newspaper hawker, identified as Abdul Hameed Lolie, tried to reason with the army personnel but they started beating him the moment he opened his mouth,” locals alleged.
Residents of Halmulla told Kashmir Reader that they intervened when they thought Hameed might die of the beating.
The army men allegedly thrashed a few more civilians who tried to save Hameed, before the whole village, including women and elderly people, came out and blocked the national highway.
“We were sitting peacefully on the national highway and demanded that senior police officials be brought to the spot to sort the issue out,” the locals said, adding that police reinforcements from Bijbehara arrived by then and immediately attacked the people sitting on the highway.
Locals alleged that the police used tear smoke shells and aerial firing unnecessarily and beat up many of the protesting people.
“The police went mad. A senior police official got hold of an elderly man, threw him on the ground, and literally jumped on his belly. They did not even spare the women and children,” locals said.
Police action ensured that the terrified villagers ran for their lives into their homes, and traffic was resumed on the national highway.
Police denied using unnecessary force. “We had to ensure movement of traffic on the national highway. Some ambulances were also stuck in the traffic and the protestors were not allowing even them to move on. Nobody was beaten by the police, though,” said the officer in charge of the Sangam police post, Shameem Ahmad.
The army, too, denied having beaten any civilian. “No, none of our personnel is involved in beating any civilian,” Srinagar-based army spokesperson, Col Rajesh Kalia, told Kashmir Reader.—KR