SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir, India. (AA): She is 20 years old and ever since she threw stones at the Indian armed forces last week, she says she feels a sense of liberation. As if a weight had been lifted from her chest.
“How much brutality can you quietly witness? How many stories and images and videos of killings and torture and of orphans can one hear and see? What do you do with the anger that builds up in your heart?” the 20-year-old, Mehak Sajad — her name changed at her request due to safety reasons — told Anadolu Agency.
Mehak is one of scores of girls who have taken to the streets of Srinagar, the capital of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region, to protest against Indian rule there, a day after Indian forces entered Pulwama degree college in south Kashmir and beat up the students. When videos of the beating went viral, students across Kashmir came out in protest, shouting slogans for independence from Indian rule.
While Kashmiri boys and young men throwing stones at the Indian forces have, over the past eight years, become emblematic of Kashmir’s resistance against Indian rule, over the last week Kashmiri girls with stones have become new symbols.
The images that emerged from the protest took no time to go viral, even though the Indian government has banned most Internet connections in the region.
A series of images showed a young student along with her friends, all of them dressed in school uniforms, throwing stones while tightly clutching her basketball.
Another image showed two girls throwing stones at a police vehicle where a policeman inside was pointing a gun at them. One of the girls had two little white bunnies dangling from her backpack.
Another showed a young girl leaping up to kick an armored police vehicle.
“It was a moment. All the years of my anger and aspiration filled it. I was so hesitant with the first stone but then I think I threw 100 stones, and I really can’t explain in words the freedom I felt at that time,” Mehak told Anadolu Agency.
‘For their own future’
Women have long been a part of the Kashmiri resistance movement, especially since 1989, from acting as couriers for militants to leading protests when the men were afraid.
In the past decade, there have been hundreds of images and videos showing women across villages and towns in Kashmir at the forefront of clashes with Indian forces, but the image of the girls in school uniforms throwing stones is a first.
“It was for their own future that these girls stood up to fight on the streets. And it was comforting to see that the desire for our struggle is passing rom one generation to the next,” Parveen Ahanger, head of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Pesons (APDP), told Anadolu Agency.
Parveena has fighting against the Indian state to seek the whereabouts of around 10,000 Kashmiris believed to have been subjected to enforced custodial disappearances by Indian forces.
Parveena’s own 18-year-old son disappeared over a quarter-century ago, after he was picked up by Indian forces in 1991.
“Our group once protested many years ago in the same place where these girls were throwing stones, and the police dragged us along the streets for half a kilometer.
“Thirty of us were arrested, all bruised and bleeding. We only wanted to give a memorandum to the United Nations seeking support in our search for our disappeared kids,” Parveena said.
“Let no one tell us that the women shouldn’t have thrown stones. It is women’s struggle for independence as much as men’s.”
The Indian authorities have responded to the protests by using force on the students, shutting down educational institutions, and making arrests. At least 100 students have been injured in the last 10 days, several of them seriously.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, Pakistan and India have fought three wars — in 1948, 1965 and 1971 — two of them over Kashmir.
Kashmiri resistance groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.
More than 70,000 people have reportedly been killed in the conflict since 1989. India maintains more than half a million troops in the disputed region.
[Photo: Girl students throw stones at Indian police during clashes in Srinagar the summer capital of Indian controlled Kashmir on April 24, 2017. Many students’ sustained injuries after Indian police used teargas shells, chili smoke, water cannons and stun grenades to disperse them. They were protesting against the Indian police raid in degree college Pulwama last week in which more than forty students got injured in police action. Photographer: Muhabiri Faisal Khan