Stones of fury


College girls throw stones at security personnel in Srinagar on April 24. Colleges had reopened after a week’s closure, but fresh clashes erupted as students staged protests against the alleged high-handedness of security forces at Pulwama Degree College PHOTO/PTI

The young people who throw stones in Kashmir know that it will not bring a solution but see it as the only option left to them to vent their frustration at the government’s “oppressive tactics”.

Afshan Ashiq, 21, dreams of playing for the Indian national soccer team. She is a second year B.A. student at the Government Women’s College, Srinagar. Every evening, she is seen sporting a Team India jersey and working hard at the football ground outside the Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar, the Kashmir Valley’s main city. She is one of the few Muslim girls in Jammu and Kashmir who excel at football. The State government hired her as a coach to help budding female footballers of the Valley learn soccer skills. So when she threw stones at the Jammu and Kashmir Police and paramilitary forces during the student protests in April, everyone in Kashmir and Kashmir watchers outside were taken aback.

Observations by former Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah that Kashmir was slipping out of India’s hands started seeming apt. A wannabe Indian footballer had suddenly switched sides and joined hundreds of other stone-throwing youngsters who love doing anything anti-Centre. “Yes, I threw stones at the police, and, yes, I want to play nationals,” said Afshan Ashiq, who hails from Bemina area of Srinagar’s uptown locality. “The boys of the S.P. Higher Secondary School were staging peaceful protests, and we saw police firing tear gas canisters at them without any provocation. When I, along with eight to 10 more female students, reached the City Centre near Pratap Park, a police officer of my father’s age started hurling abuse at us and slapped one of the girls for passing through the area.”

Shocked to see her friend at the receiving end of police “high-handedness”, she started arguing with the officer. “With no weapon at my disposal, I decided to throw a stone at this oppressive police,” she said, but she was also quick to point out that she was not a regular stone thrower.

Asked whether she would pick up a gun, if she had access to one, instead of stones, she said she wanted to motivate young people to play sports, but the killing of innocent children and youngsters was provoking young people into taking up arms. “Previously, only boys used to get angry at the oppression unleashed by the Indian state in Kashmir and throw stones, but now girls too want to pitch in,” Afshan Ashiq said. The young footballer is also concerned about the safety of Kashmiri militants and says she prays for them whenever she hears of a militant being caught in a gunfight. “They, too, are someone’s children, someone’s brothers. Kashmiri militants are not terrorists and don’t indulge in mindless violence but only fight for their freedom.”

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