Monday, November 29, 1999

Pelters-turned-SPOs to deal with stone-throwing menace

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Sumir Kaul Srinagar, May 16 (PTI) In a new strategy to combat stone pelting menace, the Jammu and Kashmir Police is wooing the separatist-backed misguided youth and even made some of them Special Police Officers to take on their former partners in crime. And adding zing to the reform process was ''Bharat Darshan'' tours for the misguided youth in an attempt by police to wean them away from stone pelting and help lead a normal life. Stone-pelting has for long been part of J and K''s political landscape and a chronic problem. A massive exercise was undertaken at the police station level to identify the youths who were engaging in stone- pelting at the drop of a hat or on a call by the separatists. During the survey, it was found there were three categories of stone-pelters -- skilled unemployed youngsters, students and unskilled unemployed youths, a senior state government official said today. Many misguided youths, who had made a profession out of stone-pelting in the Valley, were now being inducted as SPOs. 85 of such youths were deployed in areas that are prone to stone-pelting to deal with the menace. Ever since their deployment, the incidents of stone-pelting have come down drastically. "Like a computer hacker knows the mind of a hacker, here also we experimented by employing those indulging in stone pelting. the result is definitely encouraging," said a senior police official. To prevent them from being weaned away by separatists, nearly 3,100 youths in various parts of the Valley were called to local police stations. They were given computer and vocational training to help earn livelihood whereas some 1,800 student ''pelters'' were sent on ''Bharat Darshan'' tours, officials said. The screening process was done in a meticulous manner and after that the vocational training and the trip outside the state was decided, the official said, adding, the visit has opened the eyes of many youths who have understood the futility of "playing into the hands of separatists". In yet another step to act against the masterminds behind the stone-pelters, police have booked 100-odd people under Public Safety Act as they were receiving funds from separatists and others for such activities. Separatist and militant outfits, especially those owing allegiance to Pakistan-based Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashker-e-Taiba are alleged to have formed several groups comprising a minimum of a dozen people, official sources said. These groups are paid a hefty amount ranging between Rs five lakh and eight lakh, they said, adding a part of this money is handed over to another group known as "initiators" who pick up stones and start throwing them on police and para-military forces -- sometimes over trivial issues. The groups, which are allegedly receiving funds from a political party as well, have stationed their people in various parts of the Valley, the sources said adding this could be the reason for stone-pelting incidents occurring in a synchronised manner during protests.

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