Kishtwar fights mistrust, fear eight days after riots

NationA burnt vehicle on the streets of Kishtwar. Ankur Sethi

It's been eight days since Kishtwar witnessed one of the worst riots in the town's recent history. On Saturday, even as a group of ministers led by Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand arrived in the town, which continues to be under curfew, to find a solution to what has now become communal tension, the residents were keeping their fingers crossed.

When curfew was relaxed for some time towards the evening at different times in different areas very few people ventured out of their homes. Fear of more clashes could be one reason, trust deficit is another.

"Finally, the government has mustered the courage to send its ministers to talk to us. Let's see what they have to offer," says Ishfaq Hussain, a local, who works in a private school and whose brother was among those injured in the rioting.

The Sunday Express team entered the heavily cordoned and curfewed town on Saturday. What was on view is a town that resembles a battlefield, with burnt shops and vehicles telling a story of the free-for-all that happened on August 9.

"You have come very late. You should have seen when the rioting was happening. There was no law enforcement agency to check the anti-social elements who were running amok," says Narinder Manhas, a local.

In most cases, it is clear that nobody has begun calculating who lost how much. Strict curfew since Eid has ensured that traders, whose shops were burnt or looted, have still not been able to visit their shops to check their losses.

Such is the level of distrust and anxiety about what the future holds for them that residents are wary of even being seen talking to outsiders.

Anger against the authorities for refusing to control the rioting mobs still persists. "I personally asked a DSP, posted 100 metres from my shop to do something. But he said he and his officers couldn't leave their spot. Half an hour later, my shop was burnt down," says a shopkeeper in the Amar Market, one of the worst-affected areas.

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