"Azadi!" - freedom! - yell the angry young men gathered in the
road running through Shopian, an orchard-fringed village in Indian-
Protests like this have spread across the state since the recent
rape and murder of two young women here - and suspected involvement
of security forces.
But as the shouts of youths here suggest, the demonstrations have
become about more than justice for two murdered women. They have
tapped into the continuing desire for freedom from Indian rule here
in the country's only Muslim-majority state.
Government response angers locals
Immediately after the bodies of two young Muslim women, Nilofer
Shakeel and Asiya Jan, were found here on May 30, locals suspected
the involvement of security forces from nearby bases.
Anger rippled through the state when, only days after the
incident, the state's chief minister, Omar Abdullah, said medical
tests indicated the women had been neither raped nor murdered. Later
forensic tests showed that they had, and Mr. Abdullah ordered a high
level judicial inquiry into the crimes.
But by then the murders had triggered statewide protests. At
least two people were killed and hundreds wounded. In Shopian this
week, the protests continue.
This week, authorities said they would follow the recommendations
of an interim report from the inquiry and suspend four police
officers for destroying evidence and "dereliction of duty." The
final report is due at the end of the month.
In Shopian, people say they will continue to protest until the
culprits are locked up. "So far, the authorities have done nothing
to help us at all," says Shakeel Ahmed, Ms. Shakeel's wretched-
looking husband as he sits at home. Nearby, village children have
gathered to play with the couple's toddler.
Desire for independence persists
In recent years the Kashmir Valley - once described by former
United States President Bill Clinton as the most dangerous place on
earth - has been relatively peaceful. The calm came largely due to
renewed peace talks between India and Pakistan, which both rule
portions of Kashmir but claim it in its entirety, as well as the
adoption by many separatist groups of nonviolent means of agitation.
But most people in the state still yearn for freedom from Indian
rule. Last year, a government plan to transfer land to a Hindu
shrine in the state sparked the biggest pro-independence protests
since the early 1990s.
Any crime that is suspected to involve security forces - an
omnipresent reminder of Indian rule - tends to be seized upon by
separatist groups. Despite the relative calm, some 600,000 security
forces remain stationed in Kashmir. Their presence is bitterly
"After the transition from violence to nonviolence in the
separatist movement there is no need for the deployment of so many
security forces in the villages," says Yaseen Malik, a separatist
leader and former fighter. …