Protests engulf Kashmir, church urges dialogue

Government has failed to address grievances of the restive region's youth, says priest
Protests engulf Kashmir, church urges dialogue

Female students throwing stones at paramilitary forces in one of the many student protests that have erupted in Kashmir over the past two weeks. (Photo by Umer Asif)

Student protests have intensified in India's Jammu and Kashmir state after a police crackdown at a university left 50 people injured.

Both male and female student protesters have taken to the streets across the restive region following a clash between students and security forces at Pulwama College in south Kashmir on April 13. This week there were widespread protests across south, north and central Kashmir areas.

Aamir Hussain, 21, an undergraduate student in Srinagar, the largest city in Jammu and Kashmir, told that police are "provoking the students."

Hussain said the students were holding "peaceful protest demonstrations" against the police action but police fired tear gas leading students to intensify their protests.

Graphic videos of Indian security forces brutalizing students and protesters went viral via social media, further fueling the protests. Aiming to control the unrest, the state suspended internet services on April 26 for a period of one month. 

Graduate student Saquid Ahmed said security forces treat protesting students "as criminals."

"They arrest us and beats us up. The state is taking a confrontational approach," Ahmed said adding that such an "approach with students would have never happened in the past."

The government, he said, appeared to be determined to crush every protest. "It is a wrong approach. It will only cause more protests from the students," Ahmed said.

The government ordered to shut all colleges and higher secondary schools Kashmir from April 18 but reopened them three days later. However, most of them across the state, including all of the in state capital, continue remain shut because of intensified protests in the city.

"The surge in protests by school and college students that has continued unabated for the past 13 days reflects the government's failure to address their grievances," said Father Saiju Chacko, spokesperson of Jammu-Srinagar Diocese, which covers the entire state.

The priest said protests across Kashmir were "spreading at unprecedented and alarming levels and the government should start a dialogue to douse the flames."

Police and paramilitary forces forces are using tear gas and water cannons against protesters who are retaliating by hurling stones.

Separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani, who advocates for Kashmir's merger with Pakistan, termed student protests "encouraging." He said police were "unnecessarily targeting students and using brute force."


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Female students attack security forces on April 23. They were protesting a police crackdown at a college and have been clashing with police continuously for a fortnight. (Photo by Umer Asif)


Kashmir's chief religious cleric and separatist Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said the anguish of the students is understandable given the "repression and barbarity of the state."

Kashmir's education minister, Syed Altaf Bukhari told that his government was making "earnest efforts to establish peace." He said has also asked teachers and Kashmir colleges to counsel students.

State Chief Minister Sayeed Mehbooba Mufti flew to New Delhi on April 24 to meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi pitching for an early resumption of the dialogue between the federal government and Kashmir's separatists to end the prevailing crises.

Widespread anti-India demonstrations were earlier witnessed across Kashmir on May 26.

The student protest is linked to three decades-old separatist movement in the region led by some Muslim groups who want to end Indian rule in the region either to from a free state or to merge with Muslim-majority Pakistan.

Kashmir has seen a rise in turmoil since the killing of militant leader Burhan Wani by security forces on July 8, 2016. At least 90 civilians were killed and over 15,000 injured during a five-month uprising. More than 12,000 were arrested and detained as Indian forces worked against the rebellion.

More broadly, the region has witnessed much violence in the last 30 years. An estimated 100,000 people have died, including civilians, militants and army personnel after groups began an armed struggle for freedom from Indian rule. 

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