Srinagar, India, Apr 13 (EFE).- In a controversial move, police in Kashmir have started taking over private properties used to shelter militants in the India-controlled part of the disputed Himalayan region.
A residential house in Srinagar, the main city in the region, became the first such property that police seized after a shootout on Sunday that left two militants dead, officials said.
The stringent security move that gives wide powers to police has drawn flak in the troubled Muslim-majority valley.
Critics say it will unnecessarily drag the people into the conflict between the security forces and militants.
However, the police said they would seize the properties hiding militants only if it was “proven beyond doubt” that the owner had “willfully” provided shelter to anti-India fighters.
“We will seize all properties of the people, wherever, there is an encounter, or the property is used as a hideout of the terrorists,” Inspector General of Kashmir Police Vijay Kumar told reporters.
A police officer told EFE that if militants forced residents to shelter them, people should inform law enforcement officers immediately since there “are many provisions for hiding the identity of” militancy whistleblowers.
However, people in the valley say it was a “coercive” move to turn commoners into police informers.
“It is an attempt to drag the common people into the armed conflict,” a political activist told EFE, speaking anonymously.
Kashmir has been battling more than three decades of armed insurgency that has left tens of thousands of people dead and thousands of properties damaged in shootouts between militants and security forces.
Security forces often track the militants down to their hideouts, sparking gunfights around residential properties.
Activists and residents allege that the government forces often blow up the houses where militants get holed up as a punishment for sheltering insurgents.
“I have been residing at a relative’s place along with my wife and two children ever since my house was blown up by the army during a gunfight in early 2020,” a middle-aged daily wager from south Kashmir’s Kulgam district told EFE.
Bhat, who revealed only his last name, added that the two militants killed during the gunfight had probably entered his house while running from the forces chasing them.
In October 2021, government forces blew up a building in the Pampore area, about 12 kilometers (7 miles) from Srinagar, killing a militant commander.
“We have not yet been able to recover from the huge collateral damage caused in the gunfight,” a member of the victim’s family told EFE.
Locals allege that government forces start burning structures as and when there is an encounter between them and militants.
“Government forces can use any fainting gas against the holed-up militant, but instead the use of direct fire and ammunition only proves that they don’t care for private properties,” Sheikh, a resident of Shopian district, told EFE.
Sheikh, who also revealed only his last name, lost his three-story house during a gunfight in early 2019.
There is no official count of such damaged properties. But a rough estimate says such damaged houses may be running into tens of hundreds.