Opting Life over job

Amirabad , a Hamlet in the Tral area of South Kashmir’s Pulwama district. depicts a fault line that has recently deepened in South Kashmir, between militants and local policemen. In August, militants kidnapped at least 12 people, including policemen and relatives of policemen, before releasing them two days later with a warning.

Last week, Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo issued a statement asking special police officers to resign or face the consequences. In Kashmir, special police officers are not part of the regular constabulary but receive a stipend for helping the regular police in day-to-day operations. On September 21, militants kidnapped three special police officers and the relative of another from the southern district of Shopian. This time, the three special police officers were killed while the relative was set free. The Hizbul Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the incident.

The same day, a spate of videos flooded social media. They featured special police officers announcing their resignation from the forces. The Union home ministry was quick to respond, denying that there had been resignations, calling the videos “false propaganda”. It was also on September 21 that the Indian government pulled out of bilateral talks with Pakistan, alleging the latter’s involvement in the Shopian killings.

In the four districts of South Kashmir, around 15,000 policemen and their families are now caught up in the maelstrom. Of these, perhaps the most vulnerable are special police officers. They get a monthly honorarium of Rs 5,500-Rs 6,000 and are considered for permanent service after three years. Normally, they do not take part in counterinsurgency operations. But in certain cases, local residents claim, they have helped, providing inputs about where militants were hiding out, for instance. On September 25, the government announced pay hikes for special police officers to boost their morale. Like the police, it maintained, however, that the resignations constituted a “negligible” number.

Still, since September 22, mobile internet services have been snapped in Pulwama and Shopian districts. But on September 24, militants issued a fresh warning on social media, circulating the pictures of 24 policemen, along with their name, designation and addresses, asking them to resign or face consequences. Two of the pictures are of senior police officials from Tral, an area in Pulwama district. Pictures of at least two special police officers and one local army man working with the Rashtriya Rifles have also been released with similar warnings.

Not surprisingly, public resignations continue to float up on social media. From Bonigam in South Kashmir’s Kulgam district, for instance, special police officer Rafeeqa Akhtar announced she was quitting the force. “I am Rafeeqa Akhtar from Bonigam Kulgam. I have been working as an SPO for the last 15 years, but today I am leaving the job according to my will,” she is heard saying on a video.

After the kidnappings last month, the Hizbul’s Riyaz Naikoo had released an audio clip on social media, directed at the police. “You forced us to kidnap your kin to make you feel what we feel when police harass our families,” he is heard saying. “How would a mother feel when her son is taken away? We also abducted them to let you know that we are capable of reaching them as well”.

The militant commander’s home is in the village of Beighpora, across the highway from Amirabad. On September 24, his father, Asadullah Naikoo, was busy harvesting rice. Their house, with its broken window panes, bears the scars of several raids by security forces since their son joined militancy in 2012.

Zaiba, Naikoo’s mother, says the family is now used to the “excesses” of security forces. “Our greetings are responded with abuses by policemen,” she said. She recalled when Ashiq Munshi, a head constable, had been shot dead during a wedding ceremony in Awantipora. “The forces wreaked havoc on us,” she said. “They broke everything that came their way. Men were taken, while female members were locked in a single room. They then beat us with their gun butts through windows.”

In a night raid on August 29, Asadullah Naikoo had been detained by the police. The next day, militants kidnapped 12 people. They were released soon after the police released Asadullah Naikoo. “Kashmiris are fighting amongst themselves. The policemen are also amongst us. Nobody gains from this bloodshed,” said the militant commander’s father.

The resignation videos of policemen surfaced following the kidnapping and killing of three cops in Jammu and Kashmir, just days after Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists had put out a “resign or die” threat. Sources say more than 40 SPOs and policemen have resigned since Friday.

The three policemen, all SPOs, were dragged out of their homes in Shopian in south Kashmir before daybreak and killed by terrorists. Their bodies with multiple bullet wounds were found later in an orchard near their village.

Resignation videos and reports that terrorists were raiding homes and forcing policemen to resign followed.

The home ministry rubbished the videos, with some officials claiming these were from people who were not SPOs anymore. “Reports have appeared in a section of media that some Special Police Officers (SPOs) in #JammuAndKashmir have resigned. J&K Police have confirmed that these reports are untrue and motivated. These reports are based on false propaganda by mischievous elements,” said the ministry in a statement.

To prevent cops from uploading such videos on social media, as had been directed by the Hizbul in its threat video, the government has blocked internet services in south Kashmir. The worst-hit are Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam districts.

At Kachdora village in Shopian, constable Mukhtar Ahmad said his family has requested him to resign. The brutal murder of three cops scared them, he said.

“I am facing threats. The situation is grim here. My wife and parents asked me to resign as they are worried for their safety. I have got this affidavit and this resignation form as well,” said Mukhtar Ahmad.

Police sources say there are more than 3,000 SPOs from south Kashmir and the government is relocating many policemen and their families to safer places. The police and other security agencies have also issued advisories to their personnel not visit their homes in the troubled region.

In its effort to prevent more resignations and reverse the dangerous trend, the government is contemplating sops for the SPOs. Their salary of Rs. 6,000 is expected to see a jump of Rs.10,000.

“All the SPOs have been instructed about their personal security. The salaries of SPOs are going to see substantial jump in the next few days,’’ said Mr Subramanyam.

“Upload your resignations on the internet or face the consequences,” the local head of Umar Majeed group, an offshoot of Hizbul Mujahideen, said. Security officials said posters carrying threats had also come up in many villages.

The threats were directed mainly at SPOs who are an important source of intelligence against terrorists for security agencies. Such policemen are mostly locals who work with security agencies.

For a policeman in south Kashmir, cops say the situation cannot get worse than this. He can’t go to his home and live with his family. Those who want to live with their families consider their resignations as the only option.