Martyr Sub-Inspector Imtiyaz Ahmad Mir of Jammu & Kashmir Police department

SRINAGAR: An officer posted in Srinagar had gone home to Pulwama for Eid-ul-Fitr. “Four armed militants came to my house and told my family to tell me to meet them. Fortunately I was visiting a friend at a nearby village. I immediately returned to Srinagar by bus and have not returned home since. I am constantly worried about my family,” he said.

Policemen in Jammu and Kashmir have performed their duties for years in an atmosphere of extreme stress, even fear. But as murderous attacks on their colleagues increase, the strain on their morale has escalated to such an extent that many have stopped visiting their families. Some of them TOI spoke to for this story said they felt like "sitting ducks" and "an easy target practice for terrorists".

On Sunday, Sub-Inspector Imtiyaz Ahmad Mir was shot dead by militants at Pulwama, the 40th policeman to be killed this year. Over the past few years, the number of policemen killed by militants has steadily crept up. In 2014, 16 of them were killed across the state. The following year, it was 10. In 2016, the number shot up to 17, and increased further to 20 in 2017. It has now doubled much before the end of 2018.

Policemen whose hometowns are in the south Kashmir districts of Anantnag, Pulwama, Kulgam and Shopian have been the worst hit. Their families and relatives are exposed to threats from militants more than anybody else in the force has been.

“I am from a south Kashmir district and posted in the office of the superintendent of police there. Policemen like me are particularly vulnerable because details about them are known to locals, including militant groups,” said a clerk in the police department on condition of anonymity. He is now seeking transfer from his hometown to avoid attacks on his family or himself.

Others have not been as lucky. On the eve of Bakr-Eid in August, inspector Mohammad Ashraf Dar was killed in front of his wife and daughter in south Kashmir. In Kulgam, constable Fayaz Ahmad Shah was killed on the same day while he was going to buy a gift for his three-year-old daughter. Later that day, constable Mohammad Yaqoob Shah was killed on his way to work at district police lines in Pulwama, his home town.

“Losing a policeman of any rank is like losing a family member. It is true that these attacks have been a setback for the department so far as morale is concerned. But we will overcome,” said Munir Khan, additional director-general (law and order and security) of J&K Police.

Policemen posted in south Kashmir said the situation has worsened so much that a possible solution was to post personnel from other parts of the state in south Kashmir, and transfer local policemen elsewhere.

“We are in the process of devising a robust mechanism to deal with the terror attacks on our men and officers, and to protect them,” Khan added.