On Saturday, some two dozen young boys from the volatile Shopian district of South Kashmir sat down with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate for Anantnag parliamentary constituency, Tassaduq Hussain Mufti. The venue for the meeting was the private residence of late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, in Nowgam area of Srinagar.
The atmosphere was tense, but 'junior Mufti' had come prepared. He was not meeting the disgruntled youth of the Valley for the first time. One of them, Zahid, told Tassaduq that he wanted to pick up arms because of the incessant harassment and raids at his home. He then broke down, explaining he was only a college student who was forced to participate in stone pelting.
"I told him about the Asiya and Neelofar rape and murder case," Zahid said. Tassaduq, without talking much, asked him what he wanted to do in life. Zahid replied that he wanted to become a singer. "Then he took me to his room, gave me his guitar to play and advised me to pursue my dreams," he said.
The conversation was meaningful. The ice broke and they started talking. Tassaduq told the gathering that he wants to understand the issues faced by the youth of Kashmir, much to their awe. "Larger issues will be addressed by the administration but I want to understand what really pushes these young boys to throw stones," Tassaduq told Firstpost.
Since the civilian unrest began last year in the Valley, following the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July, mainstream politicians across the spectrum have failed to resume political activity on the ground, as the situation continues to be volatile.
In the first three months of this year, at least 14 civilians have been shot dead in firing by the security forces and two civilians were killed by suspected militants.
"In the first three months of 2017, a total of 33 militants have been killed in security forces’ action, which includes 18 locals, seven non-locals, and eight unknown militants," Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a local human rights advocacy group, said in a statement last week.
For Tassaduq though, the volatility of the situation hasn't impacted his outreach program. Saturday's was his fourth interaction with youths from different parts of the Valley. Few days ago, he met with around 40 stone-pelters from the Pulwama district of South Kashmir. All these interactions are kept low key, to avoid the attention and targeting of the attending youth – who were recently involved in stone pelting.
"A dialogue was missing between the younger generation and the political class. It is widening a gap that needs to be bridged. He (Tassaduq) is trying to start that dialogue," said Waheed-ur-Rehman Para, youth president, PDP. "He wants to understand why they do what they do."
The young boys, who met Tassaduq, complained about the police "atrocities" against them and their families. Instead of counselling the youth, the police looked down upon them, which they said isolated them further and created more problems.
Most of them have been asking for scrapping the cases filed against them by police. Some want government jobs too.
"I think it is a meaningless exercise," Abid Rashid (name changed), a resident of Pulwama said, "He never speaks on anything. He says he wants to understand why people throw stones, but what will come out of it?"
J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, elder sister of Tassaduq, had said recently that her government would 'try to talk to the youth involved in stone throwing.'
"The process of talking to stone-pelters, that got stopped in the past, will resume again and our government will try to resolve the issues confronting our younger generation," Mehbooba had said in Anantnag district of South Kashmir, which goes to polls later this month.
She also added that the government would engage with the youth involved in stone-throwing and that it would take a humanitarian view on the FIRs registered against them.
"Our youth are outstanding in education and sports but they got trapped in the ruined atmosphere. We will try to pull them out from this situation and will find a route to secure their future," she said.
Convincing stone-throwers to shun the path of violence won’t be an easy task since there is no uniformity in the profile of a stone-pelter and the crowds that gather near encounter sites are composed of people of diverse backgrounds, genders and age groups.
But the previous National Conference government had had some success with their plan to enrol hundreds of youths as Special Police Officers in Jammu and Kashmir Police, after the 2010 unrest in the Valley.
"It was a measure taken for the welfare of youth... which has been the last priority of the current government," said Ali Mohammad Sagar, senior National Conference leader. "You need to engage with them instead of filling cases against them and ruining their future."
Those who meet Tassaduq say they do not represent anyone but themselves, adding that they were curious to know why he was so interested in their lives.
"We met him and told him about what we have gone through and that everything we did in the last few years was a reaction to a particular event," Imad, a young resident of Srinagar said. "Tufail Matoo died and we started pelting stones. There are others who saw young boys getting killed in front of their eyes and that is why they do it. I don’t know if he understands what we are trying to tell him."
Updated Date: Apr 06, 2017 11:29 AM