In a move aimed at increasing interactions with locals and instilling a sense of restoration of normalcy as part of the Indian Army’s ‘Operation Calm Down’, officials are now foraying into the interiors of South Kashmir and trying to build confidence among locals to open their establishments which have been shut for nearly three months in the restive region of the Kashmir Valley.
At the break of dawn, Colonel Dharmendra Yadav, in-charge of the most sensitive Anantnag district, takes out his jeep to take a round of his 'Area of Responsibility' or popularly known as AOR. He mingles with locals, interacts with them, especially the children.
Col Yadav and his team are often greeted by the villagers and children while passing through. "No doubt they have restored some law and order in many areas of the district," says Ghulam Mohiudden, a teacher. He was encouraged by the army personnel to teach children in a makeshift school so that their education is not affected any further.
A resident of Gurgaon, Col Yadav often meets the village elders and is seen greeted by an affectionate hug which he calls a 'Jadoo ki Jhapi'.
"At times such colloquial terms do come handy for us to reach out to the civilians. I did watch Munnabhai MBBS some years back..the movie was a hit and so is the formula here," he says as a group of children surround him.
Col Yadav was part of a team of young Army officers involved in the encounter in Bumdoora village in which Burhan Wani and his two aides were killed
However, he refrains from sharing any details of the encounter, saying, "this was part of my duty and we don't share operational details. The matter is over and out for me and my team."
After the army launched the 'Operation Calm Down' in South Kashmir earlier this month, Col Yadav got his men back from highway domination and started getting into the interior areas clearing maximum of the arterial roads leading to the National Highway.
"Restoration of connectivity was imperative and opening of schools a necessity as I don't want the children to become victims of the conflict," he observes.
A father of two, Col Yadav spends time with the children and elders in various villages of his AOR.
"Whenever I miss my kids, I come here, talk to these children and guide them the way a father is supposed to," says Col Yadav while gently stroking the hair of Shamim, a student of Class IV.
As he starts for another adjacent village Rainpora, Col Yadav is seen off by a local Imam with a famous 'Jadoo ki Jhapi' as he also extends his gratitude to the officer for getting the schools and local shops reopened and bringing some peace to the village.
Raja Begum, who operates a shop in the adjacent Rainpora village, which is 80 km from Srinagar, is seen selling essential commodities. "My husband has gone to Srinagar to get some more stocks. While the condition here is fine, I am not sure when he will be able to return as the situation in other parts of the Valley is not as good," she quips.
Within no time, the children from the nearby locality gather near the shop because their "Army uncle" had come.
"This is a name that I have not demanded but earned. Many of them want to become army officers," says Col Yadav.
Having done the rounds, Col Yadav reaches his battalion headquarters where a list as well as pictures of wanted militants, believed to be hiding in his area, are on display.
After his routine pep up talk to his team and daily update, he shares his time with "Naujawan (young) club" where they enjoy Internet facility, games and gym aided by the Army.
The club is packed with young men and children engaged in various activities. Besides, a group of locals is also present there to share their worries and grievances with the army officer.
After redressing their grievances, Col Yadav does not forget to give his dose of Jadoo ki Jhappi to all those who now seem to be at some ease with his assurances of looking into their problems personally.
As troubles and turbulences continue unabated in the Valley, the army quietly moved an entire brigade to South Kashmir as part of operation 'Calm Down' to clear it of the militants and protestors.
The operation was warranted in the wake of intelligence reports suggesting a virtual 'Jungle Raj' in areas of South Kashmir where militants and their sympathisers are calling the shots, holding protests and blocking the arterial roads.
Nearly 4,000 additional troops have been pressed into service to restore normalcy but with clear instructions to use minimum force.
However, the new personnel, mobilised from reserves, have fanned out in all the four districts of South Kashmir Pulwama, Shopian, Anantnag and Kulgam -- along the highway whereas the stationed troops have been pressed back into counter-insurgency operations.
(With inputs from PTI)