In the din of ‘rehabilitation policies’, one vital process aimed at reforming the reactionary youth is an underreported effort. Bilal Handoo reports the success yielded by the movement that police have launched to undo the street unrest.
Inside a dimly lit prison of Srinagar’s Nawhatta police station, few youngsters are reciting verses from the Holy Quran. Sitting close to each other, these boys were arrested by Jammu and Kashmir police on charges of stone pelting in the recent protests that broke out following the execution of 2001 Parliament Attack convict Afzal Guru. Totally absorbed in the recitation and unmindful of their surroundings, it seems as if these boys were preparing for their exams.
Jammu and Kashmir police arrested 338 people from different parts of Kashmir valley in the first month after Afzal was hanged. Out of these arrested people, 242 have been released on bail and 96 are in police and judicial custody, as per police records.
Sahil (name changed), one of the arrested boys in Nawhatta police station moves his head frantically up and down as he tried to recite the Quranic verses he was asked to memorize. A Class 10 student, Sahil was arrested along with scores of youth for pelting stones at forces in February.
“There were a lot of people on streets. Many of them were pelting stones. So I also joined them,” a visibly-shaken Sahil told me inside Nawhatta police station, which was a target for agitated youth who used to pelt stones at the station building after 2010 summer protests.
After being locked up for nearly three months inside Nawhatta police station, Sahil says his perception of police has drastically changed. “I used to hate police like anything. In all these months, I was taught the basic teachings of Islam that really changed my point of view towards life and police as well,” he says.
The change which Sahil speaks about so passionately has its roots in J&K police’s Rehabilitation Policy for stone pelters.
A senior official in JK police said the policy aims ‘to win hearts’ of youngsters, “In 2011, we drafted the Rehabilitation Policy that focus on counseling and rehabilitation of youth,” the official who is not authorized to talk to media, told Kashmir Life.
At a recent interaction with press, Abdul Gani Mir, Inspector General of police (IGP) Kashmir, asserted that the force had devised measures to deal with stone pelters. “A mechanism has been put in place wherein counseling is being provided to the stone pelters so that they will get a chance to stop such miscreant activities,” he said.
“Police is working on a strategy formed by the state government to prevent 2010-like summer protests,” an official at Srinagar District Police Line, who was part of the working group when the policy was drafted, said. “And yes, in between, there might be instances where the role of police might be criticized but I think these instances do happen, though they could be checked in the first place.”
The senior police official admits that methods adopted by police to counter street protests were questioned simply because police reacted to a different situation in the reactive manner. “These tactics became controversial at times and severely dented our image,” the official said. “But in spite of the fact that we were criticized doesn’t mean that we stop doing our job. So the alternative available with us was to change our tactics that could minimize the casualties and strike a chord with public.”
Infact, the police tactics to counter street protest also drew criticism from political circles. When the summer protests of 2010 were at peak, the opposition leader and President of People’s Democratic Party Mehbooba Mufti had at one point of time claimed that the police and the ruling National Conference workers have turned the arrest, release and re-arrest of alleged stone pelters into a lucrative business. She had alleged that ‘rate lists have been fixed for releasing youngsters arrested for their involvement in stone-pelting’.
Mired in controversies since 2008 Amarnath land row, J&K Police often faced the ire of government, social activists and human rights bodies. Arbitrary arrests and slapping the controversial PSA on minors in valley was one such move which had badly dented the police image among people in Kashmir. Official figures reveal that around 110 people lost their lives and 537 civilians were injured mostly in J&K police and paramilitary forces’ firing from May to September 21, 2010. Around 1,274 CRPF men and 2,747 police personnel were injured in the same period across the valley.