Jasiya Rasool, 17, had just reached school when she was told by friends that they were to gather on a bridge nearby for a protest. The Class XI student joined her friends from the Higher Secondary School at Ajas, a hamlet in north Kashmir’s Bandipora, to block traffic.
Students like Rasool are increasingly the face of protests in rural areas of South Kashmir, seeking justice for the eight-year-old girl from Kathua , who was allegedly sedated, gangraped and killed in January.
The students carried handmade placards which read: “If cows and deer are safe, Mr. Prime Minister, why I am not safe?” Slogans were also raised against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
“Last year my house was ransacked by security forces. [Since then] I don’t fear anything. We are here to seek justice for her (Kathua victim). We are ready to face bullets for her,” said an agitated Rasool.
Cause of concern
Hundreds of school students in the Kashmir Valley are pouring out onto the roads to protest the horrific crime. The J&K government on Monday shut down private tuition centres to contain the protests.
A senior Home Ministry official said the protests were a cause of concern but local authorities were taking necessary measures.
IGP, Kashmir Zone, S.P Pani, said the situation was not alarming and police had conducted counselling sessions with students and parents to tackle the protests.
“The parents are being brought into the picture and the consequences are being explained to them. Counselling sessions have been done at Srinagar, Baramulla and Anantnag. We have increased surveillance so that we do not get caught by surprise. More women police personnel are being deployed to deal with girl students,” said a senior J&K police officer. Police said they had arrested some members of Dukhtaran-e-Milat, a separatist organisation led by Asiya Andrabi in relation to the protests.
“We want death for the culprits, she deserves justice,” said Ishfaq, another student at Bandipora.
He said that in the past one week, the students had held three protests and would continue to do so till action was taken.
Peaceful group dispersed
A professor at the Islamic University of Science and Technology in Awantipora in Pulwana said police had used tear gas shells to disperse the protestors inside the campus. “It was a peaceful sit-in protest inside the campus. Police barged in and used force to disperse the students. Earlier the police was sympathetic to students but now they don’t hesitate to use force,” said the professor.
The police, however, denied that they used excessive force.
“We managed to check the protests in urban areas but it was challenging to convey the message in rural areas. We are on the job and counselling students that action has been taken in the Kathua case and the accused are behind bars,” said a senior government official.
On Monday, over 70 students of the Government High School in Baramulla were rounded up following the clashes.