Batamaloo resident Arifa had ventured out to buy medicines at a local chemist shop. Curfew had been lifted on Monday after 51 days, the longest siege in the city. But by the time she could get back home with her mother-in-law and daughter, who had accompanied her, protesters were once again out in the streets in the neighbourhood, hurling stones at police and security forces.
Arifa asked her mother-in-law and daughter to wait in an alley as she went ahead to try and negotiate her right of way with the paramilitary personnel busy chasing the stone-pelting mob away. The paramilitary force personnel waved at her from a distance asking her to go back. “I can't go back, my home is on the other side,” she shouted. But they could not let her pass.
The authorities had relaxed restrictions across the Valley on Monday, except in south Kashmir’s Pulwama and in the jurisdiction of two police stations - Nowhatta and Maharaja Gunj - the two most volatile localities of downtown Srinagar.
Restrictions were lifted in view of the improvement in the situation, but the circumstances had not improved as incidents of stone-pelting were reported from across the Valley. A night curfew was also set in place to stop the protests spreading during the night.
Section 144 of the Indian code of criminal procedure (CRPC), which does not allow the assembly of more than five, remained in place despite ease in restrictions.
Except for a few provision stores in the city's outskirts, most of the shops have remained shut since July 9, a day after Hizbul Mujahideen’s militant commander Burhan Wani was killed in south Kashmir. Since then, clashes, widespread protests, killings, curfew and an indefinite strike disrupted normal life in India's northern-most state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Mobile and internet services have also been snapped to quell the protests. Other than the state-owned BSNL, all other private telecom company-owned mobile SIM cards are barred from making any calls.
“I have not come out of my home since the protests began. I feel imprisoned. The disruption of telecom services has added to our miseries. It is difficult to live like this as we can't even talk to our friends or relatives on phone,” Sohail Farooq, a resident of Humhama says. Sohail is planning to leave the Valley for Delhi next Saturday.
But a majority of people cannot leave the state. They have to stay on, waiting for normality to return.
Syed Mujataba, who owns a restaurant in the city centre Lal Chowk, says he is absolutely stressed. “I tried many times to go and check whether my restaurant is all right. But I was not allowed to enter the central market area,” he said.
"Even when there is relaxation of curfew, the police and security forces restrict our movement. A lot of shops have caught fire. I become more anxious when I hear reports like these. But I can't go out to see whether my restaurant is fine,” Mujataba, whose restaurant is less than a year old, adds.
In the ongoing civil unrest, as many as 70 have been killed and more than 6000 have been left injured. Hundreds of injuries have been caused by pellets leaving most of them critically injured in the eyes. Many of them have lost their eye-sight.
A doctor with the Srinagar’s Sri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital says this has been the worst time in his decade-old career. “The injuries are high and they are grave. To treat so many injured in such a short span of time has taken a toll on me as well,” he said, asking not to be named.
According to Dr Javid Jeelani, mental health counsellor at the same hospital, the injured are close to developing suicidal tendencies as emotions full of ‘hopelessness' and ‘helplessness’ run high among them. “The intensity of violence is high and we have to gear up against possible Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among these injured victims which can be expected sooner or later,” he said.
What is more distressing for locals in Kashmir is that there seems to be no end to the current unrest anytime soon. The authorities are waiting for people to tire in the ongoing crisis. “They will also realise that nothing can be achieved by coming out on streets,” a People's Democratic Party (PDP) leader told WION.
The separatists, who are issuing weekly protest programmes, have also shown disinterest in taking part in a dialogue process to address the situation. An all-party delegation (comprising representatives of all Indian political parties) is scheduled to visit Kashmir in the first week of September to talk to a cross-section of people in the Valley, including the separatist leaders.