Sameer Yasir and Jeffrey Gettleman, The New York Times
Published: 2019-10-16 12:41:41 BdST
The fatal shooting of a truck driver transporting apples Monday night is the most recent in a campaign of threats and violence that separatist militants have carried out since August, when the Indian government unilaterally revoked the autonomy that Kashmir had held for years.
“This is bad news for business,” said Mohammad Asharf Wani, president of the Fruit Association of Shopian, in Kashmir’s apple-producing region. Apple growing is a source of income for thousands of Kashmiris, and October is the height of apple picking season.
In Monday night’s attack, a truck driver — from Rajasthan, a state hundreds of miles away — was set on by a mob as he was loading his truck with apples in the Shopian area.
Witnesses said that a crowd pelted the driver with stones and that when he tried to crawl into a sleeping area at the front of the truck to escape, members of the crowd dragged him out.
A masked militant then pulled out an assault rifle, witnesses said, and shot the driver in the head at close range, killing him instantly.
Wani said the shooting had provoked panic among apple traders but noted that some business owners continued to pluck and ship the fruit despite the risk.
Workers harvest apples in Budgam, India on Sep 19, 2019. Militants are continuing to terrorize civilians in the fractious Kashmir Valley, shooting and killing a truck driver transporting apples on Monday night, Oct 14, 2019. The New York Times
For years, Kashmir has been racked by conflict and unrest. Both India and Pakistan claim the Muslim-majority territory, and the neighbours and rivals have gone to war several times over it. India controls most of the territory.
In August, the Indian government injected a new note of uncertainty by stripping away statehood from Jammu and Kashmir state, which includes the restive Kashmir Valley. It announced that the territory would be cut in half and turned into two federally controlled territories, a change that Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India said would bring peace and prosperity.
But it was clear that the shift would be highly unpopular, and in the hours before India announced the move, Indian authorities shut off phone and internet service in Kashmir. Authorities also rounded up most of Kashmir’s political leadership, and many remain in jail without having been charged.
On Monday, the Indian government switched cell phone service back on for much of the Kashmir Valley, though the internet remains off. For the first time in more than two months, many Kashmiris were able to call loved ones — or an ambulance, if they needed it. Doctors have said that as a result of the weekslong communication blackout, at least a dozen people died needlessly.
Some Kashmiris are determined to return to their normal routines, and there was even a traffic jam in downtown Srinagar, the valley’s biggest city, on Tuesday morning.
But separatist militants are determined to disrupt any resumption of normalcy and maintain the resistance. There are only a few hundred militants in the Kashmir Valley, members of various outlawed groups who are poorly trained and lightly armed compared with the Indian forces they are fighting.
Still, they have managed to keep much of the population in check through fear. The militants have hung posters and passed threats person to person, ordering the population to stay off the streets, or else.
A women is arrested at a rally in Srinagar, India, on Tuesday, Oct 15, 2019, where protesters expressed their outrage that many of Kashmir’s political leaders, including a member of parliament, remain in detention. The New York Times
The attacks on the apple business have left the valley rattled, with winter on its way and harvest time running out.
“The apples are ripening on the trees,” said Mushtaq Ahmad Para, an apple farmer. “It is like you work for a year, and when the harvesting time comes you can only look at trees but can’t even think of plucking a single apple.”
Many people remain shuttered inside their homes. Some said they felt trapped between the security forces, who have arrested thousands of people in recent weeks, and the militants who have targeted fellow Kashmiris.
As the phone service has returned, so too have the anti-government protests. Many Kashmiris resent the Indian government and have accused Indian forces of human rights abuse and torture.
On Tuesday, a group of women marched in Srinagar, expressing outrage that many of Kashmir’s political leaders, including a member of Parliament, Farooq Abdullah, remain in detention.
“What kind of democracy is this where you keep a sitting Parliament member in house arrest for so long?” said Suraiya Matoo, Abdullah’s sister.
The women were later arrested and moved to a jail in Srinagar for breaching the peace.
© 2019 New York Times News Service