Srinagar: On Monday the SP College reopened after a week of being shut to avoid student protests, and immediately college students clashed with government forces. During the clashes, a youth fell unconscious near the college’s main gate. A few policemen went closer to the boy but backed off. After sometime, at about 2pm, students pulled away the youth behind the frontline of the protesters. A few minutes later, a group of students came out of both the SP College and the Women’s College on Maulana Azad Road and started throwing stones at the troops, bringing activity in the city centre of Lal Chowk to a complete halt for hours.
The massive student protests stunned the busy market area as students carrying their bags on their backs hurled stones at the troops and teargas, PAVA shells, and coloured water cannons were used on them. Rumours of the death of an injured boy caused a further flare-up in the protests.
The youth who had fallen unconscious had suffered a head injury during the protests. He was admitted to SMHS Hospital along with another injured, also hit in the head. Their condition, according to doctors, is stable.
Amid the clashes, SSP Srinagar Imtiyaz Ismail Parray also suffered an injury in his arm, following which he was rushed to SMHS Hospital for treatment.
The troops began reacting to the protests by using coloured water-cannons, but as the protests intensified, PAVA shells and teargas were used on MA Road, Abi-Guzar Road, Regal Chowk, and Exchange Road. Police and paramilitary also resorted to aerial firing to disperse the protesting students.
“We will not stop and will avenge the students of Government Degree College Pulwama,” a student of the Government Women’s College said.
As the protests spread in the area, students were joined by scores of locals. The protests disrupted public and private transport. Shopkeepers closed their shutters and ran for safety as PAVA and teargas shells were fired, filling the air with smoke. Shoppers and commuters in Lal Chowk were caught in the chaos and bullets were reportedly shot near Maisuma area.
The protesting youth spread across the neighbourhood and continued stone-pelting at government forces and their vehicles in the market area. “The stones are coming from every direction and so are the tear gas shells,” a commuter caught in the clashes said.
Around 3pm when students chased three police vehicles by attacking them with stones at Regal Chowk, the traffic jam few meters ahead brought trouble for them. The protesting students rushed to the spot attacking the vehicles with stones and sticks. They were trying open doors of the vehicles. One among the students, who stood on the rear of the vehicle and was forcefully attempting to open door was hit by another bunker vehicle at Residency Road knocking him down on road. He was taken away by fellow protesting students but the attack continued till the jam was over.
According to eyewitnesses, students from MP High School, Gandhi College, and Kothi Bagh joined the SP College and Women’s College students in Lal Chowk, causing a shutdown in the entire market.
The students erected barricades near Abi Guzar, Regal Chowk and MA Road to stop vehicular movement. Scores of protesting students attacked a police Rakshak vehicle at Regal Chowk with stones and sticks, chasing it away from the spot. The police fired teargas shells inside the Pratap Park to disperse the students from the park. Two shells were also lobbed inside the Press Enclave and also in its vicinity.
“This is for the first time we are witnessing such intense clashes in Lal Chowk area,” a shopkeeper at Regal Lane said.
Traffic movement was halted for hours before it was restored at about 5 in the evening.
A police spokesperson later said that there was no aerial firing during the protests. “Twelve personnel including three officers were injured in the stone-pelting. Some boys involved in stone-pelting were caught on the spot and detained,” the police official said.
Two photojournalists were injured during the protests in Lal Chowk. Senior photojournalist Danish Ismail of Reuters and Basit Zargar, who works for a Delhi-based news portal, were injured while covering the clashes. Ismail was injured in his leg and Zargar was injured in his head, following which he was rushed to SMHS Hospital for treatment.