Stone-pelting in Britain: Kashmiris are all eyes

August 10th, 2011 - 6:00 pm ICT by IANS  

David Cameron Srinagar, Aug 10 (IANS) As recurring television images of hooded men who have been hurling stones at police in British cities played out, a Kashmiri police officer said: “Being in the thick of things is a different ball game.”

There are striking similarities in the violence raging in London and other cities and what the Kashmir Valley witnessed in recent years — and police here are watching with keen interest.

Stoning is a menace the Jammu and Kashmir Police have inherited since 1947, when India and Pakistan first clashed over the Himalayan province.

“We have faced stone-pelting for years. 2010 and 2011 have been some of the worst years. It is primarily a difficult and no-win situation because you are tasked to use force against your own people who apparently do not wield a weapon,” said the officer who has been in the thick of it.

Police face flak if they don’t put down the unrest — and also if they battle the protesters, who are mostly young people — like in Britain.

“We are criticised for the use of excessive force. Let us see how much ‘moderate force’ is needed to bring things under control in London,” said another officer who too did not want to be named.

Rocks, bricks and sharp-edged objects have been the choice ‘missiles’ for Kashmiri stone pelters. These have become weapons for crioters in Manchester, Bristol, Nottingham, Birmingham and other parts where rioting has spread from London. Violence erupted in London last week over the fatal shooting of a man by police and quickly spread to other cities in Britain.

Another glaring similarity is the use of social networking sites, mobile phones and SMS services to incite and spread violence.

Also, rioters in London are masked so that they don’t get identified on CCTV footage and police videos.

“That is exactly how it happened here last summer,” the officer said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has called the young crowds on the streets unruly criminals.

The British parliament will be meeting to discuss the arson and street fighting which have made parts of London look like war zones. The aim is to reach a political consensus on what is a sensitive issue: race relations.

Similarly, an all party delegation visited the valley last year to work out a national consensus on how to deal with the law and order situation in the valley.

“Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had also chaired an all party meeting to discuss the Kashmir situation,” recalled a leader of the ruling National Conference party.

But unlike in Kashmir, police in Britain have been restrained in the use of force. Clashes between unruly mobs and security forces resulted in the deaths of 116 protesters across the Kashmir Valley last year.

Many elders here argue that stone-pelting is nothing new in Kashmir. It has been witnessed since the time of the Dogra kings, against whose autocratic rule the locals revolted under the leadership of the Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah.

“Stone-pelting first started in the 1930s in Maisuma locality of Srinagar when the Maharaja’s car passed through the area to reach his office.

“It was that year my father told me he saw men, women and children pelt stones and getting baton charged by mounted police,” Sonaullah Sofi, 76, a baker in the Old City area of Srinagar, told IANS.

Sofi says the London violence he is seeing on TV reminds him of the 1930s.

(Sheikh Abdul Qayoom can be contacted at sheikh.abdul@ians.in)

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