On a cold Friday morning last week, a group of around 200 young boys and their parents huddled in a large hall with wooden interiors in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district. As anxious fathers spoke in whispers with their sons, their sense of dread was unmistakable.

Over the last five months of civilian unrest, the Jammu and Kashmir Police has filed more than 2,400 cases against stone-pelters, some of whom were sitting in Baramulla’s Dak Banglow. It was not a usual affair, though.

Along one side of the hall, a group of police officers sat on large sofas, facing the gathering. Imtiaz Hussain, a broad shouldered man in his early forties wearing a khaki jacket and pointed shoes, took centre-stage, laying out the reason behind the ‘counselling session’ to the boys who have been arrested and let off by the police recently.

The counselling session held by the Baramulla Police. Firstpost/Sameer Yasir

The counselling session held by the Baramulla Police. Firstpost/Sameer Yasir

“We want to understand you and let you understand us,” Hussain, the senior superintendent of the Baramulla Police, told the gathering, without mincing words. The meeting that was attended by presidents of mohalla committees, also had in attendance some minors caught pelting stones.

“Apart from the rhetorical underpinnings, at the end of this, you have to understand that these five months have brought nothing but misery and destruction,” Hussain continued.

This is the first time during the ongoing phase of turmoil that the Jammu and Kashmir Police has organised a counselling session for the youth who, according to police, have been involved in “violent activities” as the streets of Kashmir were filled with rage following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.

However, the occurrence of the meeting is not a mere coincidence. In the Kashmir Valley these days, a meeting between police and stone-pelters starts and ends in chaos on the streets. But inside the hall, an eerie clam prevailed as Hussain addressed the young boys who allegedly participated in stone-pelting during these months of unrest.

“You are our own children. Your future is in your hands. You have to differentiate between good and bad. We can only show you the path. But you have to chose for yourself,” he said.

The atmosphere inside the hall was emotive but, in reality, the five months of unrest on the streets and an abject failure to address the rage on the streets politically has pushed the younger generation of Kashmir towards the extreme end which is fraught with dangerous consequences.

“But everyone does not understand this anxiety and psychological conundrum,” Dr Arshad Hussain, a psychiatrist based in Srinagar, told Firstpost. “There is a sense of defeat. The counselling is a must.”

Inside the hall, a young boy stood up, telling the police officers that there should be some kind of relaxation in the cases filed against them. “If someone has eight cases, why don’t you show some
kind of relaxation so that they can get bail and lead a normal life?” the boy asked.

Then the interaction turned towards the heavy-handedness of the government forces. Some residents alleged that when the police, accompanied by CRPF and the army, come to arrest stone-pelters, they go on a prowl in the particular locality by breaking windowpanes of houses and assaulting those who protest such actions.

During the ongoing unrest which started on 8 July, the police in Kashmir has arrested more than 7,800 people of whom around 350 have been booked under the draconian Public Safety Act. But reports say 5,500 of them have been let off on the promise of good behaviour.

Apart from human intelligence, police has been using videos and CCTV footage which strengthens the cases against protesters. But the cops are aware that very few youths who have come for counselling will leave the path of stone-pelting and whenever tensions rise and protests break out, they will again throw stones.

“We have tried to explain to the students to concentrate on their studies and their careers rather than indulging in stone-pelting. We are doing our best to wean them away from violence. But they have to understand that they will get nothing out of the violence and there are people who try to push them into chaos for their own benefit,” Hussain told Firstpost.

In the absence of any political outreach from the leadership in New Delhi, it is highly unlikely that the counselling sessions will have their desired results, although they may succeed in breaking the communication barrier between the two warring sides.

“This (counselling sessions) also signifies a change in the situation. The police and other security forces have worked together to get Kashmir to this level. We have to understand that we are getting nothing out of this violence. Our education is suffering and those who are pushing the children of poor to adopt violence should be told: For God’s sake, let us live peacefully,” Hussain added.

First Published On : Dec 5, 2016 10:02 IST

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Kashmir unrest: In novel move, cops carry out counselling session with young stone-pelters