By Aadil Mir
By day, the Kashmir Valley is in the grip of an uneasy calm. But at night, raids by security forces looking for youths supporting the militant cause are causing widespread fear.
Even as the valley remains shut for the 86th day, a semblance of normality has returned, barring some parts of south Kashmir, the epicentre of a seemingly unending unrest.
More people and vehicles are seen during the day and no major incident of violence has been reported from south Kashmir for over a week.
The outward calm, however, seems to melt away after sunset.
Residents in Srinagar and in south Kashmir allege that night-time raids by security forces have forced scores of youths to go into hiding.
The night raids are being conducted jointly by the police and paramilitary forces, almost daily, in the south, central and north Kashmir areas.
"Night-time raids do not take place in Kashmir alone. They take place across the country when police has to catch any criminal," Deputy Inspector General of Police Nitish Kumar told IANS over telephone, adding: "We raid in the morning, afternoon, evening and similarly during night."
The forces are looking for youths involved in stone-throwing and other street protests since anti-India protests gripped the valley after the July 8 killing of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani.
Police have reportedly arrested thousands from different parts of Kashmir, but no official figures were available.
Residents in south Kashmir's Achabal area said police personnel in civilian dress come to the town at night and enter houses. A resident said they are very rough with anyone who opposes them.
Kumar denied charges of police brutality. "The Jammu and Kashmir Police is a professional force. Such allegations are baseless."
Reports of the night-time raids have also come from Kupwara, Sopore, Budgam, Bandipora, Ganderbal and Srinagar.
A resident of Kulgam town told IANS that security forces raided his house looking for his son.
"My son was not at home. They roughed me up and tried to arrest me but the strong resistance put up by neighbours forced the police to retreat. I received four stitches on my foot," he said, asking not to be named.
The fear of arrest has forced many youths of the town to spend nights away from their homes.
Another resident said when security forces come for raids announcements are made over loudspeakers asking people to defend themselves.
Mohammad Abbas, President of the Anantnag Bar Association, said most of those caught have been charged with arson, rioting, instigating riots, conspiracy and attempt to murder. A few have been accused of anti-national activities.
Night-time raids, he said, "are unlawful and unfortunate".
Most arrests have taken place in south Kashmir (Anantnag, Pulwama, Awantipora, Kulgam and Shopian) followed by north Kashmir (Baramulla, Kupwara, Bandipora, Sopore, Handwara) and central Kashmir (Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal).
Official sources said that over 3,500 youths had been arrested in south Kashmir, about 1,500 in north Kashmir and around 1,000 in central Kashmir in recent weeks.
(Aadil Mir can be contacted at email@example.com)