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Kashmir's stone-pelting youth to attend career counselling fete

Srinagar: About 400 Kashmiri youth, half of them females, have been invited to a career counselling fête being organised by the police in a degree college of Shopian town, 52-km south of here, on Thursday.

The  distinctiveness  of the gathering and which, in fact, has made it ‘talk of the town’ is that many of the invitees are those young boys and teenagers from south Kashmir who have been involved in stone-pelting incidents that overwhelmed the Valley in the aftermath of the killing of popular Hizb-ul-Mujahedin commander Burhan Wani in July last year. The four districts of south Kashmir-Kulgam, Anantnag, Shopian and Pulwama were worst hit in the mayhem in which over 80 people died, mainly security forces’ firings.

“We are expecting a good number of such youth, approximately 250, who have agreed to shun stone-pelting and return back in normal life,” said Jammu and Kashmir’s Director General of Police, Shesh Paul Vaid. He added, “We want these children to build their career. The Prime Minister said that he wants to see pens and laptops in the hands of Kashmiri youth and not stones and the J&K police is in a subtle way contributing towards the effort. We don’t want these young boys to die or get involved in cases. People play politics and spoil their career”.

Among the experts who have been invited by the police to hold counselling sittings with the students and youth include Prime Minister Development Fellows and career and educational consultants Sadashiv Nayanpally and Aniket Choudhary and Kashmir Administrative Services (KAS) officers Shoaib Noor and Dr. Salma Nabi. SSP Shopian Tahir Saleem said, “We’re going to help these children to know and understand themselves and the world of work in order to make career, educational, and life decisions.”

The J&K police had some months ago in a rear move started invoking teaching of Islam against stone-pelting pastime by its “misguided” youth. It did create an impact on sections of local population but the killing of Wani weakened the campaign and, in fact, the Valley witnessed a worse situation in decades along its streets. The mayhem continued for more than four months and the stone-pelting is still practiced by the Valley youth mainly on Fridays.

As getting tough with these youth failed to act as a deterrent nor could killing and maiming of hundreds of them in retaliatory actions dissuade others from taking to the streets routinely to confront the security forces, the police authorities decided to address the issue differently. “We in an effort to curb stone-pelting pastime started conducting counselling sessions with them to guide them on ways to lead better lives and it is working,” said Mr. Vaid.

Apart from holding counselling sessions, the police has also helped some of the habitual stone-pelters in settling in their lives by providing them financial aid. Though the police does not admit it for obvious reasons, some of the beneficiaries of this munificence have been able to start small businesses.

Others have been encouraged to join the police force itself. Apart from holding open counselling session, the modus operandi adopted in that the youth found involved in stone-pelting through CCTV footage or intelligence inputs are picked up and detained at police stations or other detention centres where police officers and ‘experts’ within the organisation or those hired from outside hold counselling sessions with them. At times, their parents are also called and sent back after requesting, and sometimes even warning, them to keep their children away from the activity “which is going to ruin their lives”.

Tanveer Ahmed (name changed) is a Srinagar youth who was successfully persuaded to give up the stone-pelting pastime and is now running a mobile-repairing outlet said, “I was twice arrested by the police. I initially denied the charge but they had a video with them showing me leading a group of youth into stone-pelting at Saraf Kadal (a central Srinagar locality)”. Ahmed alleged he was brutally beaten up by two cops inside a police station.

On the second occasion, his father was also called to the police station and warned that if Ahmed again indulged in stone-pelting he would be booked under the State’s stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) and sent to a jail outside the Valley. The poor man broke down in the police station and it was when Ahmed decided to call it a day. 

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