Is a mix of stern and soft measures to keep the stones away
Iftikhar Gilani /New Delhi-17March 2011–Last summer was bad in Jammu & Kashmir. The battles between the stone-pelters and the police, and the paramilitary at times, became so tense that both New Delhi and Srinagar were seriously concerned at things going almost out of control.
Peace returned but at great cost.
Now, this year’s summer season is at hand. The government of Jammu & Kashmir will return to its summer capital Srinagar. It is always a time to plan protests. It is always a time when the government is on overdrive.
To avoid a repeat of 2010, both the union and the state governments have put together a plan of action for 2011. It is a mix of many steps to prevent stone-pelting and other forms of protests.
IMAGING: VIKRAM NONGMAITHEM
This is the most widely known step of all. An expert panel mandated by the Prime Minister in August 2010 to draw up a job plan for J&K has recommended a special employment drive to keep the Kashmiri youths away from pelting stones and agitating for azadi.
The panel, headed by C Rangarajan, Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, has called for an employment package that would cost the exchequer Rs 2,000 crore. Rangarajan is a former governor of the Reserve Bank of India, and other members on the panel include former Infosys chief Narayana Murthy, and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Chief Mentor Tarun Das.
The panel has been talking to corporate houses to get them involved in the process. Some companies are ready, like the Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS), Kuoni Group, Don Bosco and Dr Reddy’s.
In the fray to employ 40,000 people in five years, in the Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode are: Infosys Technologies, TATA Consultancy Services, Godrej & Boyce, BILT, Crompton Greaves, Avantha Group, Bajaj Auto, WWFI, JCB India, Tata Motors, Tata Global Beverages and Apollo Hospitals.
The panel has also recommended direct employment initiatives and access to education and focused placement-linked, market-driven skill programmes to help employment of 10 lakh youth in five years.
It also called for a special scholarship scheme to benefit 25,000 students over five years. The scheme would cover full tuition fee, books and so on. Rs 1,200 crore of the Rs 2,000 crore are to be allocated for the scheme.
2. RECRUITMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) have recruited 2,956 and 1,331 Kashmiri youth respectively under a special plan worth Rs 104.09 crore, sanctioned by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The Jammu & Kashmir Police also conducted the first phase of on the spot recruitment in the old city of Srinagar, selecting more than 100 youth. These included some alleged stone-pelters as well.
More recently, even the army held a recruitment drive for a week in Manasbal, in the outskirts of Srinagar. Of the 7,500 candidates found eligible for recruitment, 4,500 appeared for physical tests. And 373 were shortlisted to be appointed as general duty clerks, soldier clerks, store keepers, mechanical and electronic technicians in the Signals and Engineers Corps, and nursing assistants in the Medical Corps.
Also, the Prime Minister had announced a Reconstruction Plan for Jammu and Kashmir involving an outlay of about Rs 27,902 crore, which includes 67 projects and schemes in various sectors. This is aimed at expanding economic infrastructure and strengthening the economic and social infrastructure. It also intends to provide for balanced development.
A monitoring unit was set up in 2010 in the Prime Minister’s Office when they realised that not even half the identified projects were completed. So, in 2010, Jammu and Kashmir had the highest-ever plan expenditure of all states, 96 percent amounting to Rs 5,281 crore.
The state also spent 90 percent funds allotted under the Prime Minister’s reconstruction plan, Rs 732.47 crore of the allotted Rs 813 crore. Of the 67 projects and schemes under the PM’s plan, 31 have been completed and work is in progress in 33.
Under the PM’s plan, the government sanctioned Rs 496.18 crore for the assistance of the dislocated and for the families of those killed in firings and violent incidents. Of this, Rs 100 crore has been set aside for 2011-12.
It is believed that barring the family of Tufail Matoo—the schoolboy whose death triggered the 2010 unrest, all other 110 families received Rs 5 lakh each. Normally, the families of victims get Rs 1 lakh as ex-gratia and can lay claim to a Class IV government job for the nearest kin, if the police confirm that the victim was killed in cross-firing and the family says they have no links with militancy.
The police are also understood to have rehabilitated 20 young stone-pelters. The police organised counselling sessions at places prone to stone-pelting. The police say these youth have been ‘assigned various tasks’ and not government jobs. They, however, do not explain the ‘assigned tasks’.
4. SOCIAL NETWORKING
From Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to the Srinagar-based new Corps Commander and senior policemen, everybody is trying to reach out to the youth, either through personal or social networking sites. IGP Kashmir SM Sahai has started his own Facebook page, for instance. He takes questions and responds. The page has over 2,500 followers and has helped people in distress.
Omar Abdullah began tweeting after he was blamed for being aloof. His tweets, mostly safe, are still the only source of eliciting immediate reactions from him on any development. He did manage to address a few concerns recently when he addressed students from the North Campus of Kashmir University.
Omar has also visited almost every district including the politically volatile Shopian town, which he visited for the first time last year. He even addressed a gathering of people in the old Srinagar city. His government then made it mandatory for district heads to conduct public hearings at regular intervals.
Even the security grid, especially the state police, has been kick-started into staying in touch with people. The CRPF has tied-up with an NGO and is frequently managing an audience. Police chiefs at district and divisional levels are routinely conducting similar PR exercises. Not to be left behind, Lt Gen S A Hasnain, the new Commander of Srinagar’s 15 Corps, is visiting towns and talking to people.
5. ARRESTS AND SEARCHES
According to information recently updated, the police has arrested 4,294 youth who they believe are potential trouble-makers. While many of them have been allowed to go home on parole or bail, 195 of them, including two minors Faizan (14) from Anantnag and Tauseef (15) from Shopian, are held under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA).
Omar Abdullah has disputed their age and has said they were over 19. Key separatist leaders continue to be under house arrest. Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, now visiting the US, could not lead prayers for many weeks in the Jama Masjid. Hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s second rung commandos were arrested one by one, leaving him alone on the scene. Kashmir Bar Association chief Mian Abdul Quyoom and his deputy GN Shaheen continue to be under detention.
On the non-political front, the police have rounded up hundreds of people, mostly youth. While the alleged ‘organisers’ of the protests were arrested under the Public Safety Act (PSA), many suspected stone-pelters were rounded up—regardless of their age.
The crackdown continues. In rural areas, midnight knocks to round up youth or asking parents to give iron-cast guarantees that their wards will not participate in unrest is a common feature. Local newspapers quoted police sources as saying they were looking for 250 youth in northern Baramulla district alone. Last month, the army had reportedly forced local authorities to discontinue power supply to old Baramulla town, from where youth were pelting stones on their convoys.
Both through conviction and allurements, almost all the intelligence agencies, the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the Military Intelligence (MI), the BSF-G Branch or the local CID, have raised a human intelligence network. Of late, wireless CCTVs have been placed at strategic places for real time video footage.
In many places, like Bandipora, Sopore, Anantnag, and some localities in Srinagar like Bemina, Babademb and Khanyar, security agencies knock on doors to profile families pretending they are Census officials. SSP Anantnag RK Jalla even admitted that the police was profiling the youth arrested in his district.
The internet is not only home for savvy agitators to vent their feelings through social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter, but has also become a tool for security agencies to track who they call the ‘wayward’. In the summer of 2010, many angry youth created Facebook communities, putting up pictures of protests and discussing curfews and strikes. The amateur videos uploaded through YouTube created an embarrassment for the Centre, which has tried to show it was taking a democratic and non-violent path.
Instead of forcing a closure, the authorities in New Delhi and Srinagar have been monitoring these sites. Qazi Yasir, an Anantnag cleric, was booked under the PSA for ‘inciting violence using Facebook’. It came within days after a video clip regarding a triple murder of 29 June 2010 was posted on the internet.
Since then, many others were rounded up, questioned, interrogated and sent home. These included a Class 12 student Irfan Ahmad Bhat of Nigeen, Srinagar, for establishing a Facebook page—Kalekharab.
In one case, the police identified a boy beating a policeman, from a YouTube upload. A Shopian banker has also been accused of using Facebook to influence youth.
The most recent case is that of Shakeel Bakshi, a separatist who is apparently neither with a political party nor has been seen on a street for many months. He was reportedly arrested for actively using Facebook against the establishment in a manner that could prove ‘detrimental for the general law and order’.
The Jammu and Kashmir Police have confirmed that some 135 government employees were under the scanner for their alleged role in trouble-making. SM Sahai, IGP Kashmir, said on 28 November 2010 that 60 employees were arrested and seven booked under the PSA. The accused are mostly low-ranking employees and the police have suggested that their department heads initiate disciplinary action.
While most of the employees are out on bail, some are fighting protracted legal battles. The State Education Department recently dismissed two teachers—Naseer Ahmed Wani and Syed Mohsin Habib—both residents of Soibugh Budgam, for their alleged involvement in stone-pelting. The government terminated their services on 27 January. These are the first dismissals but reports suggest that the services of a number of employees have been placed under suspension on the recommendation of the police.
The security agencies had resisted it when mobile telephony was introduced in Kashmir in 2003. It has, however, helped them to tackle militancy. It is the main source of intelligence and most of the murder cases solved in past five years owe much to the cell phone than to the competence of the police. But, at the mere whiff of any unrest, security agencies resort to jamming mobile services. SMS services remained banned in Jammu and Kashmir and have been permitted only for postpaid services.
Earlier, prepaid services were banned, but temporarily allowed after it became a political issue. The prepaid services could be banned by the end of March. Home Ministry sources here say the telephone companies have failed to complete the re-verification process as directed by the government.
9. NON-LETHAL WEAPONS
The government is also gearing up to tackle unrest in a way it does not add to the mortalities and does not create a cycle of violence. It has introduced a new breed of non-lethal arsenal.
Tasers, stun guns and many other non-lethal weapons have arrived. The cash-strapped state government is also purchasing 20,000 pieces of riot control equipment. The police are being equipped with cane shields, fibreglass combat helmets, full protection light body gear, polycarbonate shields and sticks, visors, bulletproof bunkers, pump-action guns, water cannons, anti-riot rifles, rubber pellets and plastic pellets, etc.
The union home ministry has allocated a special assistance of Rs 30 crore to the J&K Police to procure non-lethal arsenal from the DRDO and other organisations. It includes a rifle that will fire plastic pellets in all directions with a single shot. Even SLRs will have non-lethal ammunition which, police chief Kuldeep Khudda believes, will help VIP guards. Instead of routine tear gas shells, the police will be lobbing Triple Action Tear Gas Grenades by hand.
They will have Laser Dazzlers that will immobilise a protestor. Some of these weapons have already been tried in Kashmir and in certain cases the police have suggested modifications. The police have already trained five battalions to handle the situation.
10. COUNTER INSURGENTS
It is believed that two new outfits headed by former counter-insurgents (Ikhwan commanders) are being launched with the active support of the union home ministry and the Indian Army. Two top ex-militants, who had later helped the security forces to combat militancy, Zubair-ul-Islam and Imran Rahi, are launching political parties.
Ikhwan militants under the banner of the Awami League had not done too well in the past. Another ex-militant Usman Majeed who lost the election from Bandipora in 2008 has been rehabilitated in the Congress party. Kuka Parrey’s son has also joined the Congress. While Congress leaders argue this is an attempt to keep ex-militants disciplined, the move is seen as quid pro quo for their services to the security agencies.
The move has not gone down well even with the ruling National Conference. Omar Abdullah has said counter-insurgents cannot succeed politically and recalled their dismal performance in the 2002 and 2008 assembly elections. He felt the people had rejected counter-insurgents.
Gilani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka