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Force doesn't scare the Valley stone pelter

Last updated on: July 28, 2010 08:21 IST

Image: Protestors pelt stones at security forces in Srinagar
Photographs: Umar Ganie

Mukhtar Amhad takes a close look at the young protestors of the Kashmir Valley, their struggles and the challenges they pose.

Friday prayers had just ended and a group of apparently happy-go-lucky youth gathered at the uptown Hyderpora crossing on the airport road in summer capital Srinagar.

Seconds later, most of them take out long handkerchiefs from their pockets to mask their faces.

Some distance away from the group of youth as security forces deployed to keep the highway open sense trouble.

Before the cops can decide what was actually happening, anti-India and pro-independence slogans rent the air, and suddenly, as if from nowhere, a shower of stones, rocks, bricks starts raining.

Security men in full riot gear ready themselves to meet the challenge -- something that has now become ubiquitous affair across Kashmir.


Valley of fear, defiance

Image: A protestor hurls stones at security forces in Srinagar
Photographs: Umar Ganie

The officer at the head of the contingent of security men orders, "Fire tear smoke". Shells are fired in quick succession.

Smoke, confusion, fear and danger spread in the area.

The stone-pelting group withdraws into a by-lane only to re-group to get ready for another barrage of stones at the cops, who amass behind their shields.

This time, the security forces are taken by surprise and they immediately stop their march.

Warning shots are fired in the air to quell the mob.

'Stones are our only weapons to protest'

Image: Protestors vandalise a police van in Srinagar
Photographs: Umar Ganie

Among the group of teenagers is 16-year old Ahmad, who refused to utter his complete name, but agreed to talk to this correspondent.

"Stones are the only weapons we have to register our protest. We are not militants and that appears to make no difference to the security forces. They anyway use automatic weapons to fight our pebbles and stones," he says.

"Seventeen teenagers and youth were killed in the protests across the Valley during the last one month. Two of them were forcibly drowned. That is how our protests are fought by the mighty soldiers of the government," he adds, fuming.

Ahmad also says, "The administration here hardly understands the situation on the ground."

'Their numbers are increasing every passing day'

Image: Protestors hurl stones at security forces in Valley
Photographs: Umar Ganie

"If you continue to kill youth because they are protesting to highlight a political problem that has been there much before I was born, how anyone can expect us to stop the protests?" he asks.

Although the administration in Kashmir blames 'the stone pelters for being the agents of some political parties or even acting at the behest of the militants, their numbers are increasing with every passing day.'

The authorities have arrested hundreds of them and sent them to jails for acting as 'anti-social elements' while many others have been booked under harsh Public Safety Act.

Jammu and Kashmir Congress chief Saif-ud-Din Soz last week said 'stone pelting was un-Islamic'. "These stone pelters have taken the entire Kashmir Valley as hostage and made the lives of people hellish by instigating violence," he had said.

"Wherever deaths of civilians have occurred during the last one month, more and more youth have been involved in protests there," admits a police officer.

'This generation has not seen peace'

Image: A protestor throws a crude bomb towards security forces in Srinagar
Photographs: Umar Ganie

A leading psychiatrist, however, says that these youth born during the 'turbulent years of militancy since 1989 have not seen peace and tasted it'.

"This generation has come up in a state of insecurity, uncertainty, movement to movement living rather than a normal atmosphere so that has led to disruption of normal psychological processes of handling day to day stressors," Dr Mushtaq Margoob says.

Says a local analyst, "These youth born after eruption of militancy have grown in an atmosphere of conflict where life was only a bullet away in past 20-years. They are not easily scared by the anti-riot measures and even bullets which is a major shift from the Kashmiri ethos known for docility of its people."