Army to tackle young stone-pelters with compassion, show them India
The Army is zeroing in on young stone throwers in Kashmir -- not to lock them up but to take them around India and give wings to their dreams.
A group of 20 boys from restive South Kashmir will be taken on an educational tour to showcase India and its development, a senior Army officer said.
The idea struck Major General B S Raju, General officer Command of Victor Force, the Army's anti-insurgency grid responsible for much of South Kashmir, when he interacted with young boys caught throwing stones at security forces during counter-insurgency operations.
"One can easily make out that they indulge in stone pelting because that is what they have seen while growing up.
They are prisoners of the images that they see around them since their birth," Maj-Gen Raju said, adding quite a few did not even know why they were throwing stones.
"It was surprising to find that many of them threw stones just out fun," he said. The Army officer, who is a father of a son and a daughter, decided to go by the rule book of a parent and started interacting with the stone throwers informally -- to discover that they, too, had dreams.
Recalling the late President A P J Abdul Kalam's quote -- "Dream, dream, dream! Conduct these dreams into thought, and then transform them into action" -- the senior most officer of the Army for South Kashmir soon started counselling the young students on careers.
"When one talks to them, one finds they too have dreams and, because of unforeseen circumstances, these dreams have no wings. My only attempt is to give wings to their dreams and that is why I thought 20 such children be taken around India under the Army's Sadhbhavna scheme," he said.
The Army, with the help of the local police, has been identifying the ones who will be taken to Delhi, where they will meet people in government, to Mumbai, the financial capital of the country, Jaipur and other places of historical importance.
"President Kalam seemed to be a much respected figure with these children and I narrated his statement about India's diversity to them. It was heartening to find these boys listening with rapt attention and raising some valid questions," he said.
The attempt, he said, was to shape their lives. "If we can contribute the bare minimum, it will definitely be an achievement," he said.
The Army believes the children, after returning from their multi-city tour, will narrate their experiences to other young Kashmiris, encouraging them to join the next group.
"For that they don't have to pick up stones," the officer quipped. "All they need to do is approach their own Army men and the needful will be done." During their many interactive sessions with the children, Army officers found that many of the youngsters, who came from various troubled spots of South Kashmir, had not even seen the scenic beauty of the Kashmir Valley. So it was also decided that groups of children -- 90 per cent of whom had been siding with "trouble makers" and 10 per cent from Army Goodwill and other schools -- would be taken around picturesque regions such as Gulmarg, Sonamarg and Yusmarg.