Letter From Srinagar: The Stone Pelters of Kashmir

What Lies Behind the Resurgent Violence in Kashmir?

Courtesy Reuters

One day last month, I spoke with a medical student in Srinagar, the summer capital of the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir. "We have seen enough of India," the twenty-something-year-old told me. "We don't want to put up with the oppression anymore. We want freedom." He proudly claimed to be one of Kashmir's so-called stone pelters -- protesters who aim large rocks at the Indian security forces that have been trying to put down a resurgent wave of demonstrations in Kashmir. "We are peaceful protesters," he said. "We only throw stones if they stop us." And if they catch a policeman alone, he said, they beat him up.

"But we don't kill him," his friend piped up. "We have beaten up a few, but not a single policeman has been killed." Just then, a third Kashmiri youth, silent until now, spoke up: "It is only self-defense. It is in response to their provocation. Our stones for their bullets."

Since the protests first erupted in June, after the police killed a teenager in Srinagar, demonstrations in Srinagar and other towns in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley have become almost a daily occurrence. Crowds of young men in their late teens or early twenties are summoned by separatist leaders or by cryptic phone messages that contain invitations to "picnics."

In response, the Jammu and Kashmir government has imposed almost a daily curfew to prevent demonstrations. It is a vicious cycle: protesters violate the curfew; security forces arrive to disperse them; protesters start throwing stones at the security forces; security forces open fire, sometimes killing or wounding people in the crowd; then, the violence spurs a fresh round of protests.

The security forces, often outnumbered, line up behind barbed-wire barricades. They are told to stop the demonstrations and exercise restraint, but they have little training or access to nonlethal crowd-control equipment. Approximately 1,200 of them have been injured so far. Some officers told me that they only take action in response to provocation, and even

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