Anatomy of student protests in J&K: When Srinagar’s commercial hub turned into a battleground

The student protests find root in the police action at Government Degree College Pulwama on April 15, when despite the request of the college principal, cops, reportedly, raided the campus triggering clashes in which 70 of them were wounded

5 PM on April 24. The massive shelling to disperse the protesting students had just subsided at the fashionable Regal Chowk at a stone’s throw from the historic Lal Chowk. Amid haze of tear gas, smoke hanging thick in the air and shops shut, an uneasy calm greets the visitors to an otherwise busy area. The roads are flooded with pelted stones making movement difficult. This is the scene in the commercial hub of Srinagar after clashes erupted on the day when Chief Minister Mehboooba Mufti called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the national capital and exchanged pleasantries.

After a weeklong closure of the higher secondary schools, colleges and universities in the wake of violence in the previous weeks, as soon as the educational institutions reopened in Kashmir, the heart of Srinagar was yet again taken by a storm of student protests. Scores of students and cops, including SSP Srinagar Imtiaz Ismail Parry, received injuries during daylong clashes. Three photojournalists were also wounded. However, police seemingly exercised restrain from firing bullets straight on students. A concerned SP Sheikh Faisal and DSP Imran Farooq were repeatedly heard telling their teams to hold their fire against the protesting students.

The trigger

As per witnesses, the protests started from the SP Higher Secondary School, MA Road. Raising pro-aazadi slogans, the protesting students marched into the adjoining SP College asking their seniors to come out. In no time, the students of both the institutions moved towards the adjoining Government College for Women, where female voices were already flaring.

As per college staffers, the male students, while raising pro-azadi slogans, pulled down a portion of the common wall towards Women’s College, paving way for male and female students to merge for a joint and bigger protest.

Within minutes, the protesting students poured onto the main road leading to nearby Regal Chowk, while police used force to disperse them. But protesting students kept regrouping. This led to a continued dingdong battle between the two groups.

As the news of protests spread, students of some other colleges, including Nawa Kadal college in the old city, joined staged protests elsewhere.

By the time the schools closed at around 2:30 PM, students from nearby leading missionary schoolthe Tyndale Biscoe and Kothi Bagh Girls Schoolalso joined in. Interestingly, one of the most popular schools in Kashmir, Biscoe, has a history of having produced a variety of leaders ranging from MP Dr Farooq Abdullah to separatist Masrat Aalam. Hence, it is a matter of concern that the Biscoe students have joined the protests.

The cause

The student protests find root in the police action at Government Degree College Pulwama on April 15, when despite the request of the college principal, cops, reportedly, raided the campus triggering clashes. Over 70 students were wounded in the violence there.

Various student unions had spontaneously called for a valley-wide protest on April 17. Though, wisdom demanded that the educational institutions should have been kept closed on the day as a preventive measure, the incumbent Inspector General of Police Kashmir SJM Geelani, whose policing has been an apparent failurechronic protests erupted in the wake of killing of Hizbul commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani on July 8, 2016played another gamble by letting the educational institutions remain open.

The results were obvious. Massive student protests broke out across Kashmir. While dozens of student were wounded in the police action, two of them, including college girl Iqra, received serious head injuries and has been hospitalized ever since.

Though a stitch in time could have saved nine, crying over the spilt milk, the government subsequently kept the higher classes suspended till weekend.

Government’s reaction

Instead of initiating any action against police or civil administration upon failure to maintain law and order, the government suspended the principal of the ill-fated college in Pulwama.

Subsequently, in the odd hours of April 20 evening, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who is also the Home Minister, visited wounded Iqra at SMHS Hospital to condemn assault on her.

Legally speaking, if the CM was condemning the attack, it should have been followed by registration of police case against forces accused of having targeted her. But until now, there has been no step forward in this case, while the wounded says she wants justice.

Police version

The police have this to say in verbatim. Students were attending classes normally today in S P School and in Women’s College at M A Road Srinagar. However, just after the end of about an hour of class work, some miscreants from different places entered in the premises of school and started creating disturbances. The miscreants, along with some students, blocked the MA Road because of which hundreds of vehicles got stranded on this ever busy road and the adjacent chowks. 

When the police and security forces reached the spot, they were pelted upon heavily due to which many of them were injured. The stone pelting created panic in the area after which many shopkeepers closed their shops. Some vehicles were damaged. The miscreants and the students pelted stones on Traffic Headquarters and attacked police vehicles with stones clubs and lathis. The police showed utmost restraint. Twelve security personnel, including three officers, were injured in the stone pelting.

Some boys involved in stone pelting were caught on the spot and detained by the police. The mob was dispersed and normalcy was restored in the area.

Parents are requested to advise their wards not to indulge in stone pelting and other such activities which create disorder in the schools and on the roads.

Bottomline bad omen

Since the 2016 unrest, the only community that had refrained from organised protests was the students. But this year, the situation is such that when schools and colleges have barely opened after 3-month long winter break, the government is opting for “spring break”.

And then, Police says normalcy has been restored but then in what manner. Well, that’s a different matter!