Srinagar: The unrelenting student protests in Kashmir continued on Thursday, forcing the government to shut down some schools and colleges, even as government troops fought pitched battles on the streets with students, more than a dozen of whom suffered injuries.
Raising pro-freedom and anti-India slogans, students held street protests and clashed with government troops in Srinagar, Budgam, Kupwara, Baramulla and Anantnag areas. Education minister Altaf Bukhari had recently appealed to students to return to class and had also intervened for the release of arrested students. The minister’s appeal shows little impact on the ground as students continue to take to streets and fight with armed troops.
Several students were injured in Langate area of Handwara in clashes with government troops. Eyewitnesses said that a large number of students of the government boys’ higher secondary school in Langate assembled outside the school in the morning and marched towards the main chowk, where they sat down and blocked the traffic on the Baramulla-Kupwara road for hours.
Witnesses said that a large number of police and paramilitary troops reached the chowk and tried to chase away the students. The troops were pelted with stones and they used baton-charge and teargas shells to disperse the students. Several students were reported to have sustained injuries. The clashes led to the closing of the main market in the town. All offices and schools in Langate remained closed throughout the day. Transport diverted through other areas.
The students said that at least two students had been arrested by the police and they were demanding their release. A police officer said that some students were arrested last week but they were released and no fresh arrest has been made in the area. He said that students were protesting without any reason and were damaging public property.
Students clashed with government troops in Magam area of Budgam district, where students of the degree college jumped the college wall to gather outside. Witnesses said that the troops resorted to teargas shelling to chase away the students and also fired several teargas shells into the college premises to break the protests. A few students were also detained during the clashes, locals said.
The Block Medical Officer (BMO) of Magam, Dr Tahir Sajad, said that 5 injured, including one policeman, were treated in the hospital on Thursday and then discharged.
At Sopore town in Baramulla district, students of the government higher secondary school and the government degree college hurled stones at the government troops deployed outside to prevent student protests. Witnesses said that the troops resorted to teargas shelling to disperse the protesting students. Students said that the troops fired teargas shells inside their school and college campuses.
Shopkeepers pulled down their shutters after the stone-throwing and shelling in the town. The teargas shelling reportedly caused six girl students to faint. The girls were taken to Sopore sub-district hospital where they were given first-aid and discharged.
Traders in Pulwama announced a two-day strike from Friday against police excesses and use of PAVA shells on students that they say has become a routine for the past twenty days. The announcement was made by a group of traders from the public address system of the Jamia Masjid after government troops beat up some traders and threw away their goods during clashes with students in the town.
Students of the higher secondary school and the degree college in Pulwama took to the streets on Thursday to demand the release of their arrested fellows. Witnesses said that hundreds of students at about 1pm clashed with troops in Rajpora Chowk and Murran Chowk.
The troops, witnesses said, resorted to teargas and PAVA shelling to push back the students who were pelting them with stones. The clashes continued for hours, during which a few students suffered minor injuries.
Traders in the town alleged that the troops beat up some shopkeepers and threw away their goods. Several traders who spoke to Kashmir Reader over phone said that the troops often target shopkeepers whenever there are clashes with students or local youth.
“Whenever clashes occur in the town, the troops hit the shopkeepers who come in their way. It has become a norm for us,” a trader who runs a grocery store said.
A police officer denied using PAVA shells on students. “We neither use PAVA shells nor pellets. We exercise maximum restraint. But when the students resort to heavy stone-pelting from everywhere, we are left with no option but to use tear-smoke shells to control the situation,” the police officer said, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
He said that students enter even hospital premises and hurl stones from there. On the strike announced by traders in the town, the officer said that the police cannot stop people from going on strike. “But their allegations against police are baseless,” he said.
In Srinagar, students of Gandhi Memorial College at Baba Demb marched out from their school towards Khanyar Chowk, raising pro-freedom and anti-India slogans. Witnesses said that the police intercepted the students and clashes ensued, with the students hurling stones and the police firing teargas shells. Traffic movement on the Khanyar-Baba Demb road was disrupted as the clashes continued for an hour.