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MORE THAN 60 students, including girls, from schools and colleges in the Valley were injured in clashes with police and paramilitary forces after hundreds took to the streets to protest against a crackdown at a Pulwama college two days ago. Taken by surprise, the J&K government decided to close down all schools and colleges in the Valley on Tuesday, except for primary schools. Police fired pellets, tear smoke shells and pepper grenades to quell the protests as students, many in school uniforms, protested from Kupwara to Sopore and Srinagar to Kulgam against the police action on students of the Pulwama government college in which 50 students were injured.
Officials said that the call for Monday’s protest was given by a little-known students’ body, Kashmir University Students Union (KUSU).
“As a precautionary measure, the divisional administration has decided to close higher secondary schools, colleges and universities on Tuesday. The lower schools, however, would remain open. We will see how it turns out tomorrow and take a decision. If everything goes well, they will open on Wednesday or will remain closed for another day,” J-K’s Education Minister Altaf Bukhari told The Indian Express.
In Srinagar, hundreds of students from S P College and Government Women’s College raised pro-freedom and anti-India slogans, and blocked the main M A Road to protest against the Pulwama action. Police used water cannons and fired tear-gas shells to disperse the protesters, triggering clashes in which at least seven students and a policeman were injured.
“We were protesting inside the college. But when police started firing tear-gas at the boys from S P College outside, we came out on the road,” said a student of the women’s college. “When we neared S P College, they fired tear-gas shells at us. We didn’t have stones in our hands, we were protesting peacefully. But the policemen misbehaved with us and abused us,” she alleged.
In Sopore, too, hundreds of boys and girls took to the streets, raising pro-freedom and anti-India slogans. Police started firing tear-gas shells after the protesters started pelting stones at a CRPF camp in the town, forcing shopkeepers to down their shutters. Several students were injured, said officials.
Students of Baramulla Degree College also staged protests, with police firing tear-gas shells to disperse them, resulting in injuries to several protesters.
In north Kashmir, the students protested in Bandipore, Pattan, Handwara and Kupwara. In the frontier district of Kupwara, around 20 students were injured when police tried to prevent them from marching on the streets.
In south Kashmir, 32 students, including three girls, were injured in Kulgam when police fired tear-gas shells to prevent them from taking out a march. The protesting students also threw stones at police. “We received 32 injured students,” said an official at the district hospital in Kulgam.
The students also took staged protests in Tral, Anantnag, Pulwama and Shopian. Four students were injured in clashes with police in Shopian and three in Ganderbal.
A large number of students staged peaceful protests at Kashmir University in Srinagar, Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) in Awantipora and Central University of Kashmir in Srinagar.
The protests were triggered by an incident at the Pulwama Degree College on April 15, when students clashed with police personnel who had entered the college premises, leading to injuries to dozens of students.
Abdul Hameed, the college principal, said he received a call from an Army officer at a local camp on April 12. “He told me that the Army wanted to conduct a seminar in the college. I told him that I will consult my colleagues and officials in the Higher Education department and get back,” he said.
“We were discussing the issue in a staff meeting when I heard a commotion outside. We went out and saw a Casspir armoured vehicle. It was the Army officer. But as soon as the vehicle crossed the gate, the students thought the Army had launched a raid and started pelting stones. If I knew the officer was coming or if he had come in a jeep, I don’t think this situation would have arisen. The Army exhibited restraint and reversed the Casspir slowly and left,” said Hameed.
The principal said the situation became “normal” after he spoke to the students. “I spoke to the officer and apologised for the incident,’’ he said.
The day of the crackdown began “normally”, he said, as students arrived following a two-day break. “A few hours later, I heard a commotion and ran out to find that a few police jeeps (Rakshaks) had entered the campus. The students were throwing stones at them. I pleaded with police to leave because the situation was getting out of control. They (police) started firing tear-gas shells and dozens of students were injured,” said Hameed.
A student of the college said, “The police have a permanent naka, a few hundred metres ahead of the college gate. That day, police moved the naka to the front of the gate. A few students threw stones at them. Soon, the SHO of Pulwama entered the premises to arrest the students. More vehicles arrived, and that is when the students started throwing stones.”