Iqbal is 23 thats not his real name though. He knows too well the dangers of giving out his name. A postgraduate student in Kashmir University, he studies politics. I read and I understand. Thats why I pelt stones, he says. Its not for fun. I would love to join peaceful protests. But they dont let us gather together, not even for shouting slogans and expressing anger.
Last month, 17-year-old student Tufail Ahmad Matoo was killed in a clash between protesters and security personnel in Srinagar, triggering protests all over Kashmir. Ten more protesters have died since in clashes between stone-pelting youth and the police and CRPF in the last three weeks.
Stone pelting or kani jung is not new to Kashmir. In the 1930s, when chief minister Omar Abdullahs grandfather Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah led a popular resistance against the Dogra rulers of the state, stone pelting was part of that protest.
In the years that followed, stone throwing remained limited to the lanes and bylanes around Srinagars Jamia mosque and Maisuma neighbourhood where young boys would throw stones at policemen for a few hours after namaz. In fact, the frequency with which people turned up in Maisuma near Lal Chowk to stone a police post earned it its new name Kashmirs Gaza strip.
But in recent years, stone throwing has strayed out of the confines of downtown Srinagar to spread to other towns of Kashmir. The profile of the stone-thrower has changed too. Its no longer unemployed youth who are fighting this pitched battle. Educated young men are joining in as well. Facebook now hosts an application called kani jung where you can throw virtual stones to register your protest.
Stone-pelting as a way of protest in the Valley may be old but it assumed serious proportions in 2008 when protests broke over the Amarnath land transfer. After 1990, these were the first such massive and peaceful protests in the Valley. Thousands of men and women came out on the streets shouting slogans, men formed human chains around police and security force posts. The government responded by putting restrictions and erecting barricades and the slogan-shouting congregations were soon replaced by groups of young men throwing stones.
The administration was divided on how to deal with the protesters. A section of senior police officers felt people should be allowed to protest. After all, pelting stones, they said, was better than taking to Kalashnikovs.
But the situation took an ugly turn on August 11, 2008, when a senior Hurriyat leader was killed in police firing at Chahal on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road. Sixty people were killed in the governments effort to quell the protests over the Amarnath issue and the subsequent economic blockade of the Valley. The government has never allowed public protest since.
In fact, it was during the Amarnath agitation that the J&K government first started booking stone-pelters under the Public Safety Act. Police claim stone-pelting sessions in the Valley have been funded by separatists. Chief minister Omar Abdullah too has claimed on more than one occasion that young men were being given money to pelt stones. He even accused a major business house in the Valley of funding stone-throwers and added that intelligence agencies had intercepted calls from across the border and SMSes by separatist leaders that allegedly encouraged youth in the Valley to pelt security forces with stones.