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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Stone pelting emerging as a major challenge for Govt
In Srinagar, network expands from 300 youth in 2008 to 1500 in 2010

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Feb 14: Registering five-fold increase in the last two years, network of stone pelting youth in the capital city is clearly emerging as a major administrative challenge for Omar Abdullah-led coalition government in Jammu & Kashmir. In sharp contrast to serious allegations leveled by some Ministers and legislators of the National Conference (NC), authorities have failed to find mainstream Opposition party PDP’s hand behind the stone pelting frenzy. Officials claim to have completed the mapping of nearly 50 spots and identified cadres of two Hurriyat (Geelani) constituents and a trade union leader’s “private militia” among the actors of unarmed violence that is now publicly getting support from separatist outfits including Hurriyat and High Court Bar Association.

According to authoritative sources, the number of youth indulging in stone pelting on Police and CRPF, as well as on civilian transport and businesses, has phenomenally increased to 1,500 from just 300 in Srinagar in the year 2008. “Those directly having stakes in separatist armed strife want to desperately switch over to a different mode of turbulence after militancy has reduced to trickle. As of now, Government’s entire counter-insurgency initiative stands designed on an agitation full of arms and ammunition”, says a Police official who has a stint of nearly 10 years in Special Operations Group (SOG) of J&K Police to his credit.

“It’s essentially a political movement. Resistance will continue to adopt one or the other colour---from guns and grenades to stones and brickbats to massive peaceful demonstrations--- until a political solution is found to a political problem”, argued a High Court lawyer. Asserting unconditional support to stone pelting, speakers at a High Court Bar Association-sponsored conference today cautioned media and politicians against “denigrating” the stone pelters with usage of “derogatory” phrases like “Sangbaaz” (stone pelter).

But most of the Police officials tasked to neutralize this nascent mode of turbulence insist that combination of different factors has resulted in breakdown of law and order, particularly in Srinagar and parts of Baramulla and Sopore towns in north Kashmir. They categorically said that some Ministers’ and legislators’ allegation of engaging the youth on cash payment against PDP was unfounded as no such hand had been identified till date. “Huge amount of Rs 40 Lakh was established to have been invested in stone pelting in Srinagar alone during Amarnath land allotment controversy in 2008. When we reached close to the handlers and zeroed in on the key layer in 2009, we faced considerable resistance from none other than NC’s senior leaders in Khanyar and Batmaloo”, he added.

“But this does not mean that the ruling party is organizing the whole show. We have found five major modules---two being directly funded by a couple of constituents in the hardliner Hurriyat and yet another by a trade union leader, himself working in the government. We are still groping in the dark with regard to funding of two more modules”, said the official. He claimed that “Crores of Rupees” had been invested in stone pelting in the last two years. According to him, it was a “fully coordinated and organized activity” as Police had lately observed that the handlers had meticulously done the mapping of nearly 50 spots in Srinagar and specified the modus operandi. He claimed that Police had seized at least one of such maps in recent days and done its own mapping of more than 50 flashpoints.

“One of the major objectives is crippling the authority of the government so as to grab prime land, resist arrest of criminals and create an underworld of multi-layered insulation”. With a serious expression of concern, he added: “Half-baked initiatives will only lead us to a situation where you will, for the first time, find private militias operating under the command of powerful people in Srinagar. It will be definitely a state of lawlessness and anarchy. That may simultaneously serve as fuel to sustenance of disorder”.

With none of the officials willing to speak on record, another officer maintained that the “menace of stone pelting” would neither stop or end in absence of a clear initiative from the government. “There’s a major difference. We have a clear-cut initiative with regard to countering armed terrorism. Just three officers in the city of 17 Lakh people seem to be on the forefront of countering stone pelting. Do or don’t do, it doesn’t matter. If you take an initiative of your known and there’s something wrong, everything will explode on your own head. We don’t feel our Government on our back. Even CM’s directions given to senior officers do not percolate down to the field”.

Men in J&K Police strongly support punishment to those who break the law like the BSF officials in Nishat. They believe that suspension of officials without even holding an inquiry had perceptibly demoralized the rank and file in Police. A day after an ASI’s suspension, on the allegation of killing a boy in teargas shelling, a senior civil official and member of J&K Special Tribunal was attacked by a mob that damaged his official car in front of Police beat at Budshah Chowk. Calling for help, Police officials expressed their helplessness to the senior KAS officer and argued that they would not like to act and attract suspension or attachment.

Conservative estimates suggest that at least 50 people have died and more than 4,000 sustained injuries in incidents of stone pelting and resultant reaction from Police and armed forces in Kashmir valley in the last two years. Number of civil and government vehicles damaged in such incidents is believed to be over 1,000.Director of SKIMS, Soura, Dr Abdul Hamid Zargar said that a dozen of his hospital vehicles had been extensively damaged in last three months alone. He said that about 50 of his hospital employees attacked by the mobs included himself and Medical Superintendent Dr Syed Amin Tabish.

“It’s an irony that when these stone pelting youth get injured in Police action, they approach the same doctors and our paramedical staff for treatment. We are committed to our professionalism. We still provide them best possible treatment”, Dr Zargar said with a passionate appeal that all ambulances and hospital vehicles and staff be exempted from such unruly attacks.


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