Srinagar: After a gap of two decades, thousands of Kashmiris thronged the Independence Day celebrations at Bakshi Stadium here on Tuesday, with authorities this year doing away with restrictions on the movement of people imposed in the past in view of the terror threat.
It was a pleasant surprise for the 1.5 million residents of Srinagar city to not find any concertina wires or barricades, which had come to be associated with the tight security arrangements made on Independence Day and Republic Day in Kashmir.
Carrying the national flag, men and women of all ages filled the stands in the Bakshi stadium while a significant number of children could also be seen. This was the largest gathering of civilians at the stadium for an Independence Day function since 2003 when an estimated 20,000 people witnessed the parade.
The atmosphere was festive as many people clicked selfies in the stands to mark the occasion.
Many schools were open in the city early for flag hoisting ceremonies while shops too were catering to people in some areas of the city including Lal Chowk, in a marked departure from the last 33 years when people would prefer staying home.
While security forces were deployed in adequate numbers to ensure law and order, traffic was moving freely in most parts of the city with only random checking of vehicles done by security forces at some places close to Bakshi stadium, the venue of the main function in Jammu and Kashmir, officials said.
Mobile and internet services, which used to be suspended on August 15 and January 26, were also not interrupted for the third year in a row.
Several thousand civilians waving the tricolour walked into the renovated Bakshi stadium here to witness the Independence Day parade and cultural programme. While officials did not give any numbers on attendance, sources said around 10,000 people witnessed the function.
“We are happy that there are no restrictions and people are allowed to enter without any special passes. This is how it should have been in the first place,” Abid Hussain, a young man in the stands, said.
Shaista Bano had come from Ganderbal district to witness the parade.
“I was longing for so many years to see the parade. When I heard that anyone can enter the stadium, I decided to come this time,” she said.
Jammu and Kashmir administration had asked people to participate in the function in large numbers. They had said only valid identity proof was required to be carried along.
The large attendance at the function was befitting the occasion as Bakshi Stadium hosted the Independence Day celebrations again after five years.
The stadium was closed in 2018 for renovation and upgradation and the parade had shifted to Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium in Sonawar.
For the 2003 Independence Day function, then chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was accused of ‘managing” the crowd by ferrying people from other parts of the valley and filling the stands of Bakshi stadium with security forces in civvies. (Agencies)