‘No outsiders in Kashmir’: Militants target non-locals, gun down apple traders and migrant labourers

Most non-locals had left Kashmir after the August 5 announcement of the abrogation of Article 370

Apple traders
Image Courtesy: News18/Aaakash Hassan

Almost two months after the abrogation of Article 370 when people started trickling back into the Valley, militants targeted non-Kashmiris to create an atmosphere of fear among the people.

On October 16, Charanjeet Singh, an apple trader from Punjab was gunned down at Tranz, Shopian; SethiSahasSagar, a 29-year-old labourer from Chattisgarh was shot to death in South Kashmir. On October 14, Sharif Khan, a truck driver was shot dead at Shrimal, Shopian soon after postpaid mobile phone services were restored in the Valley.

Officials and political observers had braced for a spike in violence after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A, ending the special constitutional provisions that Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed. While the security establishment expected a spike in violence, such calibrated attacks on non-locals are a new trend in the valley.

Speaking to New Indian Express, an expert said, “Militant activity choked by the shutdown and high vigilance on the ground has to break out to maintain its own relevance, or they die a philosophical death. They will try to hit out and prove the abrogation of Articles 370 is counter-productive.”

“By killing the non-locals, militants want to convey the message to non-locals: ‘don’t dare to come here’.” AjaiSahni, Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management, said terrorists know they cannot execute complex operations, so non-locals are their “obvious soft” targets.

Threats to Apple Traders
Security officials state that the mission of the militants is to disrupt the revival of economic activity which is the target of the government. The security agencies see these attacks as a desperate attempt of militants to bully apple traders.

According to the police, militants have been consistently threatening apple traders to not pluck the yield since the start of the harvest season in September. Threats have come by the way of posters that have been put up at various places across the fruit belt of Kashmir.

“I am only picking up the fruits and packing them. The killing of a driver will have a bearing on sale and transportation”, said Javed Ahmad, an apple grower in Shopian.

Truckers have been a regular target of the militants these past few days. While some of them are allowed to carry essential commodities, many are not allowed to load apples for different destinations across the country.
Although growers went ahead to harvest their crop, two significant fruit Mandis in Sopore and Shopian continue to remain shut. Many drivers have accused the government of forcing them to go to Kashmir and fetch apples without any assurance of security. Also, many Kashmir bound loaded trucks are parked at Jammu and drivers are reluctant to go to Kashmir in fear of being attacked.

Talking to Daily Excelsior, truck driver Prem Singh from Punjab said that he had gone to Shopian to load apple boxes to be transported to Delhi, but some youth with lathis intercepted his truck near a village, damaged it and also beat him and his cleaner up asking them not to return to Kashmir again. Prem Singh suffered a loss of over Rs. 35,000.

In wake of these increasing attacks, the government is finally taking note of the situation and helping traders by letting them procure the crop directly from farmers through the National Agriculture Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED).

The Message behind the Attacks
The unprecedented attacks on non-locals, especially the first in case of migrant labour, has compelled the government to take stock of the situation. Political observers say that these attacks stem from issues related to identity and culture, sending a message that non-locals are not welcome in Kashmir.

It is also said that these protests are in retaliation to Haryana CM ManoharLalKhattar’s misogynistic statement about men now being able to marry Kashmiri girls.

The first death of a non-local surfaced in September when Sufi Alam, a mason, a migrant labourer was shot at by militants in Sopore. He was one of the hundred labourers who stayed back in Kashmir even when thousands fled the state of Kashmir in the run-up to the announcement about revoking J&K’s special status.

While Kashmir is slowly inching back to life, after the shutdown and communication blockade, it is to be seen whether the imposed political vacuum will lead to the eruption of a massive militant movement or there will be enough security to ensure that peace in the Valley is fully restored.

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