The 12-Year-Old Who Stopped Our Car And Threw Stones At Us In Kashmir

Our vehicle screeched to a halt. We were returning from Uri where 18 soldiers were killed in a terror attack a day before. Security forces deployed along the highway were pulling back for the day.

From the front seat of the car, I could only see the top of a head.  A boy, no older than 12, had forced our vehicle to stop. With him was a group of another dozen, all in the same age group - 12 to 14 years old.

These are the "stone-pelters" of Kashmir, mostly minors, groups of  young boys who take over the streets and highways as the security forces withdraw each day.  

Our driver Ashiq, in his mid-fifties, apologised profusely to the boys for having broken an unofficial lock-down imposed by separatists in Kashmir. They were not listening and threw stones at our vehicle.

Sheikh Momin, our camera person, jumped out to reason with the group. Momin is local boy who has studied in Srinagar and now works with NDTV in New Delhi.

As he tried to talk to the boys, they zeroed in on a band he was wearing. "Why the band on your hand, it is un-Islamic?" a boy, about 12, said.

Momin, in his mid-20s and who wears faded jeans, loves apps on his phone and listens to pop music, was stumped. As he searched for an answer, the young boys said, "You are a Hindu."

And then, pointing to the camera slung across Momin's shoulder, another accusation - "Indian media."

A few adults watched from a distance as the boys conducted their inquisition. No one made an attempt to stop them.

Sensing trouble, Ashiq bowed and touched the feet of the 12-year-old to ask for forgiveness for having violated the lock-down orders issued by the Hurriyat and being enforced by its band of child soldiers.

He then had to listen to a long sermon and a heap of abuses from the boy, younger than his grandson. He did so quietly and was finally allowed to go after he promised never to violate the lock-down again.

Along the highway, an elderly man who keeps his small shop open on the sly, said "I don't believe Burhan Wani's killing triggered this, something doesn't match."

At night, slogans of "Azaadi" or freedom blare out from a mosque in the heart of capital Srinagar, where we are staying.

Over the last few months, it is groups of boys like the ones we met who have been holding the streets of Kashmir to ransom. Since July 8, when Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani was killed by security forces, the Valley has been on the boil. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has visited the Valley several times, even leading an all-party delegation. Mobile and internet services have been snapped many times and restored as many times.

New Delhi has pointed at Pakistan and there is strong proof. The National Investigative Agency or NIA is probing slush funds landing in the Valley and being used to prop up the protesters. But there are no clear answers to who and how these young boys are being organized and motivated.

(Sudhi Ranjan Sen is NDTV's Editor Security and Strategic Affairs)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
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