These remarks, which came at a time when unrest in the region entered its fifth month, have not only evoked sharp criticism in the Valley, but been contradicted even by the Jammu and Kashmir police.
Since July 8 this year, after the killing of rebel commander Burhan Wani, Kashmir has witnessed 2,347 incidents of stones pelting at security forces, across all ten districts. While the number of these cases was 820 in July, the incidents came down gradually to 747 in August and 535 the next month. But the instances of stone pelting witnessed a sharp decline in October, much before the November 8 demonetisation announcement. The number of such incidents declined to just 157 during the month. A similar pattern has been followed in November as well, with the past 20 days witnessing 65 stone throwing incidents. Kashmir saw a decline of 81% in the number of stone throwing incidents by the end of October, going against the minister’s claim.
A senior police official who did not want to be named said that during the last two months, the police has successfully controlled the situation in rural Kashmir, which witnessed a large number of protests. “We have detained the provocateurs of violence and those people who were instigating the youth to pelt stones. All these measures are showing the results,” the official told The Wire. While during the first 50 days of uprising around 2,000 youth were arrested by the police and another 210 persons were charged under the Public Safety Act (PSA), the number of arrests made at the completion of 100 days of the unrest was over 9,000, while 503 persons were booked under the PSA, a law under which a person can be jailed without a trial for up to two years.
This unprecedented crackdown on youth across the Valley and rampant use of the PSA also explains the fall in the number of stone pelting incidents. “More than 2,000 youth who are on the run are wanted in different cases related to law and order. Whosoever has taken the law in his hand will be dealt accordingly,” a police official said.
Stones as a tool of resistance
Stone pelting, known locally as kanie jung, has become a tool of resistance in the hands of young boys today, who take to the streets to express their anger at the Indian state. But stone pelting isn’t new to Kashmir. According to historian Ashiq Hussain, protestors pelting stones at security forces dates back to the 16th century, when young men would come out of their houses to pelt stones at Mughal soldiers after their successful invasion of Kashmir. “It has continued since then, but stone pelting as a form of protest is well documented from July 13, 1931 onwards when more than 30 persons were killed by Dogra rulers during the trial of Abdul Qadeer Khan, who led the mass uprising of 1931,” said Hussian.
After the decline of militancy in Kashmir, the phenomenon of stone pelting, which was confined to Srinagar’s downtown, spread to other districts. Its frequency heightened in 2008, when a large number of Kashmiris came out to protest against the transfer of forest land to the Amarnath shrine board. The protests were met with force. In the years to follow – 2009, 2010 and now 2016 – stone throwing has been a recurring form of protest in Kashmir.
Minister’s remarks a ‘denial of political reality’
According to political analyst Gul Muhammad Wani, a professor at Kashmir University, there were several factors that explained the decline in stone pelting incidents. “The protest fatigue, state repression, international apathy towards Kashmir, the social pressures and heightened tension between India and Pakistan have led to an impact on the psyche of youth after four months of unrest and that explains fall in stone throwing incidents,” he argued.
Referring to the defence minister’s statement, the professor said that saying demonetisation had ended stone pelting shows that people in Delhi are “ignorant and ill-educated” about some of the critical dimensions of the Kashmir issue. “How can you say that more than 95 people who got killed or those who lost their eyes had gone out to protest for Rs 500? Such remarks only show New Delhi’s denial of the political reality in Kashmir,” said Wani.
Noted writer Prem Shankar Jha termed Parrikar’s statement a “diversionary tactic for rectifying the mistake made by the Centre”. “People are dying on roads and infants are dying in hospitals for want of treatment. The economy has gone flat and to rectify the mistakes they are coming up with such statements. These statements are meant for the Indian audience as a diversionary tactic and shouldn’t be paid any heed,” said Jha, who was in the summer capital Srinagar as part of a group of journalists from New Delhi to compile a report about the past months.
‘The storm will rise again’
Not only opposition parties but even the BJP’s ally in Jammu and Kashmir, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), hasn’t supported the defence minister’s statement. “Kashmir is a political problem and it has been very clearly mentioned in the agenda of the alliance (between the PDP and the BJP) that the state government will have to talk to Pakistan Hurriyat for resolving the problem. I don’t know why he (the defence minister) made this comment, but we shouldn’t generalise,” said PDP’s chief spokesman Mehboob Beg.
The opposition National Conference was, however, more critical of the remarks, with party president Farooq Abdullah terming the statement as “misleading”. “The storm is there and it will not die no matter what they do. They will see that after the exams the storm will rise again,” Abdullah told a party convention on November 17.
“It is a bizarre remark,” independent MLA Er Rashid said about the defence minister’s statement. “Whatsoever is happening on the streets of Kashmir is indigenous and an outcome of a history of broken promises which the government of India made the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”