Army ‘visit’ to south Kashmir college, social media triggered student unrest in April

Presence of soldiers and an army vehicle in Pulwama’s government college got students suspicious, who clashed with police, security agencies have told the Jammu and Kashmir government in a report. Video clips of the clash that were widely shared on social media fanned the anger.

india Updated: Jun 26, 2017 22:18 IST
Azaan Javaid
Azaan Javaid
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Kashmir,Student unrest,Army
Students throw stones at security forces in Lal Chowk in Srinagar during a protest in April. (PTI file photo)

A “visit” by the army to a south Kashmir college and social media have been blamed for student protests that rocked the Valley in April which also saw school girls throw stones at security forces.

In a report submitted to the Jammu and Kashmir government, security agencies have in details pointed to the role played by social media in mobilising students, official sources said.

Video clips of protests and clashes with security forces were widely shared on social media, fanning the anger.

“Intelligence inputs suggest the banned Kashmir Students Union began calling up its members in different colleges on April 15… students decided that they will hit streets Monday. That’s when it all started,” a police official, who was involved in drawing up the report, told HT.

The assessment comes days ahead of the first death anniversary of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani, who was killed in a gun battle with security forces on July 8. Wani’s death triggered violent street protests that left at least 100 people, most of them civilians, dead.

The Valley continues to be restive. Security officers told HT they were working to avoid a repeat of the last summer.

Going viral

The report on April protests will come in handy as it highlights how student unions managed to mobilise thousands of youngsters in colleges across south Kashmir, the hotbed of insurgency, within hours.

The trigger was an April 12 clash between security forces and students at Pulwama’s Government Degree College, 35km from the border state’s summer capital of Srinagar.

The problem started when some army officers entered the premises in an armoured vehicle for a “meeting” with the college administration, a police officer, who has seen the report, told HT.

Students protested, suspecting that the soldiers were there to pick up someone and within minutes the demonstration turned violent.

The army vehicle had to be moved out after some students started pelting stones, the official said. The next day police set up barriers outside the college to prevent a clash but students thought the barricading was done to identify those who had thrown stones at the army.

“A violent clash ensued again and the police parties came under heavy stone pelting,” the official quoted the report as saying.

“It was at this point that the police entered the college following which students were lathicharged.”

Thirty to 40 students received minor injuries. The report talked about police using tear gas and cane-charging students. It also said students suffered minor injuries.

“However, videos of the incident had by then began to circulate on social media,” the official said. Clips of the lathicharge, tear-gassed girl students fainting and the chaos that followed were widely shared on Facebook and Twitter.

To cash in on the anger, the banned Kashmir Students Union on April 15 started mobilising its members in various colleges for a protest against alleged police brutality.

“It was decided that the protests had to be held and next day being a Sunday, the students decided that they would hit the streets on Monday,” the official said.

It started as a peaceful demonstration but violence broke out when “regular stone-pelters” joined in.

Police used tear-gas shells and it was free for all.

Students held nothing back and massive stone pelting was reported from across the Valley. The famous Lal Chowk area of Srinagar which houses two major colleges -- Women’s College and SP College – saw girl students, for the first time in decades, targeting security forces.

The report also mentions militant groups coming out in support of students. “In Hajin area of north Kashmir, militants while addressing people mentioned the student protests and said the same should continue till Kashmiris attain their goal,” the officer said, referring to insurgents call for Azadi or freedom.

First Published: Jun 26, 2017 11:09 IST