Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh is in Kashmir to find ways to calm the Valley. While the government looks for a 'healing touch' for the state, a particular problem it faces is, how to deal with young stone-pelting protesters. Singh will do well to keep in mind what this whole phenomenon is about: Primarily, it is psychological warfare and perception management by Pakistan's 'Deep State' -- the ISI, Pak Army and their proxy terror groups -- and by Kashmiri separatists.
Stone-pelting as a form of protest has by now become almost a routine. Not a single Friday passes in the Valley without such a protest. But there is more to stone-pelting in Kashmir than meets the eye. [Poor stone-pelters, rich, Kashmiri separatist leaders]
First, inspired by the Palestinian Intifada, it works on the David vs Goliath principle -- in which the Indian Army is projected as Goliath and the stone-pelting youth as the David fighting this overwhelming force. In other words, it allows the violent protesters to project themselves to the rest of the world as both heroes and victims at the same time.
"Look, the Indian Army guns down unarmed youth who are only protesting for their rights with mere stones, not weapons", is the intended message.
Second, it puts the Indian soldier in a real bind, confuses him.
"Send me an armed terrorist toting an AK-47 and explosives, and I know exactly what to do. But when I am confronted by a 13-year-old armed with only a stone, I am completely at sea. I don't know what to do. It is this moral dimension that those organising these protests are exploiting, and we are losing the battle of perception", a former Indian Army general told OneIndia.
Third, while many stone-pelting youth genuinely believe they are fighting for the rights of the Kashmiri people, the fact of the matter is, large numbers of these are hired protesters, paid for their vandalism. Indeed, what started off in 2008 and even became a crisis situation in 2010 when these protests were at their peak has now become a source of regular income for youth in a state where economic growth, development and jobs are hard to come by despite the large amounts of money poured into the state.
Who manages them?
Intelligence and Army sources say initially, it was the Lashkar-e-Toiba that planted and promoted stone-pelting protests after it realised that it was no longer easy for it to push armed terrorists from across the border -- the Army has fenced the 750-kilometre Line of Control, reducing infiltration down to a trickle -- but it still had to find ways to keep Kashmir on the boil.
Kashmiri separatist leaders quickly took the cue. Indeed, almost every separatist leader has his own private army of stone-pelters, available on demand.
These stone-pelters are paid anywhere between Rs. 350 and Rs. 1,000 each per day. But wait, there's a hierarchy of privilege even in this. Teams under the 86-year-old Hurriyat chief Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the best-funded separatist, are paid higher than teams under other separatists. Geelani pays between Rs. 500 to Rs. 1,000 a day -- Rs. 500 for 'ordinary' days, Rs. 750 to Rs 1,000 on 'special' days, such as following the recent death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
Kashmir witnesses stone-pelting incidents every Friday.
Bihari Migrant, Kashmiri cause
In recent years, Kashmir has come to rely heavily on migrant labour from Bihar. Especially construction firms but also local Kashmiri businessmen have come to see Bihari workers as cheaper and hard-working. But now, the Bihari migrant is finding himself useful even in the stone-pelting industry!
With Kashmir on the boil following Wani's death, Intelligence sources say, the local youth have upped rates for stone-pelting, perhaps realising that they are expected to engage in intense violence. So, in comes the cheaper Bihari migrant. The going rate: Pelt 10 stones, shout two slogans, get paid Rs. 300.
Officials said they have noticed many instances of the 'Bihari bomber' in the current bout of violence. "With Kashmir coming to a virtual standstill due to the protests, the migrants are out of work. If they want to earn their daily bread, they have few choices other than stone-pelting", one source said.
Shield for the grenade brigade
The most dangerous part of the whole phenomenon, however, is that the stone-pelting protests are no longer about just throwing stones. The 10-year-olds, the 12-year-olds, the 13-year-olds are now shields for a more deadlier, if cowardly, lot -- those throwing grenades at the security forces. "This is a more recent phenomenon. First, there are the stone-throwers, behind them women protesters, the next ring is unarmed men, and behind them all is the grenade-throwing militant", the former Indian Army general said.