Bullet-for-stone: Omar looks to Britain for crowd control

Upset over the continuous killings of protesters during firing by security forces,Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is looking for a permanent solution.

Written by Muzamil Jaleel | Srinagar | Published: March 9, 2009 8:41 am

Upset over the continuous killings of protesters during firing by security forces,Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is looking for a permanent solution to end the “bullet-for-stone” strategy to curb protests. The state Government plans to approach foreign governments to help train special police contingents in modern crowd control techniques.

“I am concerned about these killings,” Abdullah told The Indian Express. The Government had to impose an “undeclared curfew” across downtown Srinagar to prevent angry crowds from taking to the streets. One protester was killed and 43 injured when CRPF men opened fire at a crowd in Gojwara on Friday.

“We are planning to approach foreign governments including the United Kingdom for help. We want special contingents of our police force to get trained in crowd control,without loss of human life,” Abdullah said.

Trained and equipped to fight Kalashnikov-wielding militants,the security forces fire bullets whenever protesters pelt stones. For the past 20 years,there has been hardly any emphasis on crowd control and the J-K police had not been utlising its annual quota of teargas shells purchased. The only water cannon,named Varun,is rarely used to disperse crowds.

For the local police,the stones have become more lethal than bullets especially as the gun-wielding cops have to change gear,show restraint and depend on teargas shells and cane charging to curb protesters. Besides the stone-pelting mobs are always civilians,with no links to militancy.

Stone-pelting by young men has become a regular feature in downtown Srinagar every Friday after prayers,often leading to killings and triggering a cycle of protests followed by police restrictions. The J-K Police had,in fact,tried everything,from invoking a religious edict proclaiming stone-pelting as an un-Islamic practice to selective arrests,without any success.

A 22-year-old motorcycle mechanic,Shahid Mohammad Ahangar,was shot in the chest when CRPF men opened fire at Gojwara on Friday afternoon. Another young man who had come to rescue him was hit too and is battling for life in hospital. The police claimed that Ahangar had been arrested several times in the past for stone-pelting.

Sources said that the Government would approach the UK for support especially as they have done substantial research in modern crowd control policing. Sources said that the Government may introduce “Skunk” — a specially developed spray that drenches protesters with a foul-smelling liquid and “Scream” — a noise machine that makes protesters giddy and forces them to disperse without injuring them.

Inspector General of Police,Kashmir range,B Srinivas,said,“No one must go with weapons to halt stone- pelting crowds,” he said. “We need to raise a Rapid Action Force specially trained for crowd control and equipped with modern non-lethal tools. There is a need to look for every means to confront and curb this problem without loss to human life”.

The main battleground between stone-pelting youth and the police in Srinagar city is the Nowhatta Chowk,near the Kashmir Grand mosque. The area witnessed over 60 stone-pelting incidents in 2008 alone.

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