Stone pelting first began in Palestine in the early 1990s when pelters came out in hordes to oppose the Israeli Army. In Kashmir, stone pelting went back to 1931, when people stoned the Maharaja’s army during the uprising. But that was a one-off occurrence. It was only in 2008-09 that stone pelting became the weapon of choice against Indian Armed forces following the Amarnath land transfer order and the Shopian alleged rape and murder case. The Palestinian-type intifada (intifada in Arabic means “shaking off” and in English can mean “uprising”) gained significant prominence in 2010 and has gone on unabated ever since the death of Burhan Wani in 2016. Stone pelters are called “Sangbaaz” in Kashmiri, while the action of pelting stones is called “kanni jung.”  In 2017, the publicity office of Pakistan’s Army dedicated an anthem, titled “Sangbaaz,” to stone-pelters,  The lyrics talk of how Indian forces shoot rubber bullets at pelters to blind them (“You can snatch out our eyes, but you cannot snatch our dreams”).

Interestingly, stone pelting has a religious and symbolic connection. It imitates the annual ritual of ‘rami al-jamarat’ or ‘Stoning of the Devil’ practiced by Muslims during their Hajj (pilgrimage) to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Pilgrims throw pebbles at, or “stone,” three walls called the jamarat in Medina. This imitates Prophet Abraham’s original Hajj when he stoned three pillars representing the Devil. Similarly, in Kashmir, stone pelters regard Indian security forces as the “devil” and re-enact the rami-al-jamarat. The act of stoning is also mentioned in Hadiths (sayings and actions attributed to the Prophet Muhammad).

During Omar Abdullah’s term as Chief Minister, a government survey showed that of approximately 200 stone-pelters, over 60% came from families where both parents were illiterate or had quit education during middle-school. With schools frequently shut, the youth naturally got swept up by political propaganda. Lack of employment and economic opportunities for children with incomplete educational backgrounds and an overall bleak future plunged many into depression. Caught in a sad and vicious cycle, young men channelled their despair into the act of stone pelting; an anger which if not given vent to, would otherwise seek to consume them.[1]

This rage is understandable. And this very rage erupts and directly targets security forces when innocents die at the hands of the Army and paramilitary. Teenage boys, some even as young as 10 or 12 years old, are not scared to die. Their defiant slogans, while pelting stones, remain “azadi” (freedom) or “maaro ya mar jao” (kill or die), provoking an even harsher response from security forces. And the harsher the retaliation by the police and forces, the greater is the obsession for azadi and to die or kill for their cause. Even the frustration of the educated Kashmiri youth (many of whom have taken to stone pelting) cannot be muffled, given that they are fed with empty assurances about how they are Indian citizens and are yet ‘shut out’ of the discourse pursued by India. With communication lines still being only intermittently available, the youth of Kashmir, both the educated and those radicalized, feel “their sense of participation” in the larger Indian political narrative has been “sharply reduced.”

In 2019, there were 1,999 cases of stone pelting, of which 1,193 took place after the Centre scrapped Article 370 and bifurcated the state into Union Territories. Locals reason that political disconnect of the Valley from the country, and  anger towards the atrocities committed by the special forces, have forced pelters to embrace this form of “gunless” protest. Kamaljit Kaur Sandhu states in an article for India Today that when children aged between six to nine years old were asked about stone pelting, one of the kids proudly declared,Yes, I have pelted stones.” On being asked why, the crowd behind the kids prompts them to say, “Because of excesses of forces.” On prodding on what excesses are faced, another voice from the crowd prompts, and the kids repeat, “because my brother Zahid has been killed.”[2]

However, many stone pelters and petrol bomb throwers do so for money or other basic needs for a paltry sum of Rs. 6,000-7,000 a month. These protesters are paid by Over Ground Workers (people who help militants with funds, logistical support/shelter and other infrastructure) who instruct them how to launch attacks on security forces (according to Intelligence Bureau reports, the ISI, in 2016, channeled Rs 800 crores to separatists, through illegal routes). Peer pressure is another big factor and has contributed to young boys, mainly school and college-going kids or dropouts, to end up as paid pelters.

The role of social media in motivating and organizing stone pelters has been paramount since the death of Burhan Wani, who himself had acquired the status of ‘the darling of the people’ through his social media posts. Even today, Kashmiris have used the social media platform to gather global support for their cause. Security forces have responded by cutting the Valley off from the Internet as and when they sense an agitation. Since the abrogation of Article 370, data services have been intermittent.

When pelted by angry mobs, security forces in turn are forced to retaliate (by using pellets, rubber bullets, tear gas shells, etc 😉 which often lead to horrific injuries. The army, police come “prepared for anti-terror operations” but instead get pelted by stone throwers leading to injuries and deaths. Many personnel, who have spent over two decades in the service, assert that they don’t want to fight their own people and fail to understand why civilians are against the security forces.

Kamaljit Kaur Sandhu of the India Today goes on to make a further observation:Imtiaz Nazeer, a resident of Ganderbal, Kashmir joined the CRPF in 2013. His heart is in Kashmir and his soul in the CRPF. He says, “Being in the force, we realize that it is difficult to deal with stone-pelters. But we are trained to show restraint.” Another soldier Fareed Khan from West Bengal says, “We are hurt physically but what hurts is our own people abetting terrorists hindering operations against them.”

The CRPF has reported the maximum injuries to its men due to mob violence.

The fact that young Kashmiri youths have picked up ordinary rocks and stones to protest against armed government forces, “represents a conscious transition to an unarmed mass movement, one that poses a moral challenge to New Delhi’s military domination over the region” according to Kashmiri journalist, Parvaiz Bukhari. A sort of David versus Goliath scenario, so to speak. The Indian government, however, views stone pelting, often unprovoked in numerous instances, as “gunless terrorism,” aimed at causing unrest in Kashmir.

[1] Radha Kumar, Paradise at War: A Political History of Kashmir

[2] Kamaljit Kaur Sandhu in the article “Cycle of violence in Kashmir: Spike in civilian deaths, injuries to security forces in Valley” (India Today, March 29, 2017)


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