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India's strategy of suppression in Kashmir could backfire

India has imposed a curfew on Kashmir and squashed nonviolent rallies. Now a cycle of retaliation between rock-throwing boys and gun-wielding security forces has set in.

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The curfew and closure of retail shops has hurt residents, particularly day laborers, which adds pressure each passing day on separatist leaders to urge activists to stand down for now.

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“The patience of the people is running out," says Taj Mohudin, minister for irrigation in the Jammu and Kashmir state government. He is among four ministers who form a core group tasked with handling the situation. He says leaders in Delhi from the ruling Congress Party, of which he is a member, “are satisfied with the actions being done.”

As an elder politician, Mr. Mohudin says he’s seen the full 60 years of the struggle in Kashmir for separation. “They talk of independence,” he says. “As a Kashmiri, I feel that first we should be an economically viable state.”

What rock pelting boys and young men say

Conversations with half a dozen rock-pelters, however, revealed only optimism about the economic prospects of an independent Kashmir. None of the youths were themselves unemployed and they denied that economics were key to their motivations.

“Because we are not allowed to protest democratically this is a natural consequence,” says one youth, a doctorate student. “We are not allowed to vent, so stone pelting becomes a spontaneous way to vent.”

None of the youth would give their names for fear of police reprisal. After one interview, police descended on the neighborhood, sending the young men into hiding.

What comes first?

There is a chicken-and-egg situation afoot: Police say they must stop rallies because they turn into rock-throwing mobs, while the rock-throwers say they must throw stones because they cannot rally and, when they do rally, innocents have been killed. Efforts to disperse crowds have resulted in deaths from tear canister shells, bullets, and drownings.

Paramilitary forces are equipped with bamboo shields, face grates, padding, and bullet-proof vests. Police with less. Conversations with members of both forces revealed most had been hit at one point with a stone. Despite their gear, crowds can overwhelm them, particularly from behind.

Police leaders, none of whom could go on record during the tensions, express frustration that they are being asked to solve what they say is ultimately a political problem.

One also warned that the Kashmir valley is a “tinderbox” full of former militants from the 1990s who cannot get jobs because of their past. Estimates range from 25,000 to 40,000 such men, and in recent years they have begun organizing. So far, little has been done to train them or to lift restrictions on getting work.

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