Kashmir unrest: Meet the girl students who have become the Valley's new face of protest
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, unlike any other chief minister in recent memory, is facing a revolt on the streets by students
Outside the Women’s Degree College on Maulana Azad Road in Srinagar, the summer capital of the state, as the college closed, after a relatively peaceful day on Thursday, students gathered outside the main gate chatting mostly about the events of the week gone by — events that have shaped the new fault lines in the Valley.
Red bricks and stone strewn outside the college main gate are the remnants of Mondays clashes between teenage girl students and the forces that have shaken not just the system, but people too. There is no event in recent memory that saw girls coming out on the streets — the way they did in the past week — and fighting pitched battles with the police on the streets, that too in the heart of
In the middle of April, a clash at a degree college in Pulwama left dozens of students injured, it was a tipping point. Since then anger has been simmering and every now and then clashes are reported between students and forces in Srinagar city.
"We came on the streets to register a simple protest against what happened in the Pulwama college," Afsha Anjam, a third year commerce student told Firstpost, "The forces outside abused us and slapped one of our girls, then we threw whatever we could lay our hands on, at them." Firstpost could not independently verify the incident with police
"Why would a girl wearing a school ID card, with a basketball in one hand, throw stones? Until and unless she is forced to do so, why would she?" Anjam asked.
April can be a cruel month, and it had proved to be so for Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who unlike any other chief minister in recent memory, is facing a revolt on the streets by students. And, to be specific, by teenage girl students, wearing white uniforms and identity cards. Most of them have their heads and faces covered. Their school bags slung over their shoulders and stones in their hands. They chase vehicles, the policemen and raise pro-freedom slogans.
"We have seen blood of our brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers running through the streets like that of sheep when butchered. How long do you think one would remain indifferent?" Syed Marosha Muzafar, another student, asked as more students joined in the conversation.
"They used to say boys who pelt stones are paid Rs 500 a day. Now I have this iPhone that cost Rs 70,000. Do you think I will throw stones and be prepared to be blinded by a pellet for Rs 500? They (those who claim this is being done for payments) are either blind or pretending to be," she added.
The sporadic, but intense, wave of student protests in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, and with equal participation by girl students, has taken every one by surprise, even the mammoth intelligence-gathering apparatus of the state. Everyday, since last Monday, if it's not in Srinagar that students are protesting, they are doing so in the streets of north or south Kashmir.
A picture of a teenage student in a black burkha wearing white fleets, kicking an armoured police vehicle, has become the defining image of the girls uprising in the Valley. Her friend was injured on 21 April in Srinagar’s Old City when they were peacefully protesting. It is the sort of defiance the Kashmir Valley has not witnessed in a 27-year-long history of brutal conflict. "I knew my kick wouldn't change anything but I felt some sort of satisfaction for the first time in my life," Saba (name changed) told Firstpost on the phone, "I never knew this image would go viral on social networking websites," she added.
"It was a peaceful day in Srinagar, but that doesn’t mean we are stopping the protests. They will start again and we won’t be mute spectators now," Monisa Haji, another students told Firstpost, "There were student protests in Handwara today. This government thinks by banning social network website they will get away, but they are wrong."
"They can call boys 'paid stone-pelters', but what will they call us?" Saima Rashid Sheikh, a second year student asked.
It is an unfamiliar sight witnessing this version of outrage against the State. Earlier it was among the young males, but now it has surprisingly seeped into the girls. The fear of death and getting injured in the clashes is nonexistent. These young women have become the new face of protests in the Valley.
And even those, who have been injured, are not scared anymore.
Iqra Siddiq, a first year BCom student of Government College for Women, Nawa Kadal, is lying on a hospital bed inside Srinagar’s SMHS Hospital. Her head fractured, wrapped in gauze and her eyes half open. "I want the forces who did this to me to be booked. We were peacefully protesting when we reached Eidgah Chowk (in Srinagar). The policemen allowed us to move forward, but a stone was thrown from a bunker of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) that hit my head," she said softly.
"If I recover soon, I will be part of every student protest. I have a reason now to be involved," she added resolutely.
Back at the college, the girls said their priority was never politics, but studies. However, the recent events — the killings in Budgam and the forces shelling the students inside the Pulwama college — have forced them to come out into the streets.
"In the evening when eight people were killed in Budgam, instead of showing the killings, the TV news channels showed a small group of boys beating soldiers. Do the lives of eight people matter more or the thrashing of soldiers, which we also condemn?" Sehar Nabi, a first year science student said.
On Monday, even stun grenades, PAVA and teargas shells did not deter them from hitting the streets. They hit the streets more than eight times a day despite teargas shelling. Our concerns are not political, but they have to do everything with politics. Kashmir is 'political' and politicians politicise even educational institutes to score brownie points, they said.
"This college (MA College) used to be a platform for politicians to get publicity, now it will soon become a model for other students to learn how to protest," Mehreen Fayaz, another student in the group said.
"How cheap is our life for India that we are made human shields? When girls go out to school, soldiers stares at us, as though they plan to rape us," Saiqa Khan, a second year arts student told Firstpost, adding, "If this situation continues, I think this year will be the year of students and especially of women students. It will change Kashmir for ever. We will forces the rulers to either resign or will shame them in public. We will keep this doing in uniform because this is our identity."
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