Stone-pelters in Kashmir are paid about Rs 7,000 a month and provided clothes. Extraordinary achievers even get branded highend shoes as well. Masterminds gather people using social media tools like Facebook and WhatsApp and distribute money.
A new start-up `business’ has taken roots in Jammu Kashmir. Young lads are paid to throw stones at the Indian Army and Jammu Kashmir police. And they are paid more if they disrupt the operations when the Indian Army tries to capture a holed-up Pakistan-trained militant or during an encounter.
The stone-pelters, who are usually unemployed youth, are paid Rs 5,000-Rs 7,000 a month and provided branded clothes like jeans and jerkins. If they `perform’ well and manage to injure Indian Army soldiers or boldly charge towards them, the stone-pelters are given an incentive – branded highend shoes.
For organising shutdowns, the extremists are paid Rs 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 or even Rs 5,000, depending on the area and size of the shutdown.
Young children are also paid handsomely. It depends on the boy’s build. If he has a good physique, he is paid around Rs 7,000-Rs 7,500 a month. But if he is weak, he would get around Rs 5,500 to Rs 6,000.
Like in the government sector, there is a minimum wage limit too. For children up to 12 years, the minimum payment for stone-pelting is fixed at Rs 4,000.
These facts came to light when India Today sent undercover reporters to the troubled spots in Jammu and Kashmir’s Baramulla district. Five fugitive stone-pelters — Zakir Ahmad Bhat, Farooq Ahmad Lone, Wasim Ahmed Khan, Mushtaq Veeri and Ibrahim Khan – spoke candidly to the India Today reporter on a story on the truths behind the unrest in the valley that followed Hizbul commander Burhan Wani’s killing.
One among the five – Zakir Ahmad Bhat – is a specialist in making Molotov cocktails or petrol bombs. He told the undercover reporter that he pelts stones and throws petrol bombs on JK police personnel, army jawans, MLAs and government vehicles. And he is unapologetic about it and at forging contracts with obscure enemies to strike at troops in the valley.
Bhat manufactures and supplies petrol bombs to various groups. Often also uses them in clashes with the Indian Army. “We get separate funds for making petrol bombs. I must have made 50-60 bombs. We throw them on vehicles and whosoever comes in between,” he said. He charges Rs 700 for a petrol bomb.
But this `employee’ of the start-up, who is a hired extremist, bluntly refused to disclose the identity of his financiers. “We will die but won’t reveal their names. It’s the question of our bread and butter,” he said.
“So, the man who pays you belongs to your village?” asked India Today’s investigative reporter. “He just arrives. He’s known to one of my friends,” replied Veeri, refusing to name his paymaster.
Bhat admitted pelting stones in Baramulla, Sopore and Pattan. “Now, we go to the downtown in Baramulla where we protest on Fridays.”
“We have been pelting stones since 2008,” said Wasim Ahmed Khan who earns a monthly stipend of Rs 5000 to Rs 6000 for hurling rocks and stones during protests. For his accomplice Veeri, it’s Rs 700 a day on weekdays and up to Rs 1,000 on holy Fridays.
From July to October last year, as many as 19,000 people were injured and 92 killed in a series of clashes between rock-throwing protestors and security forces in Kashmir, news reports suggest.
Around 4,000 security personnel were among the wounded. Two jawans were reportedly among the dead. But for pelters like Farooq Ahmad Lone, violent agitations are their livelihood.
The pelters are assigned their job well in advance. The obscure masterminds would use social media tools like Facebook and WhatsApp to organize stone pelting across various locations in Jammu and Kashmir.
Instructions regarding potential targets are circulated on group-messaging services beforehand. The targets are mainly the police, army or whoever comes forward.
Bhat, Veeri and Wasim Ahmad Khan proudly shared their track-record in executing attacks on security personnel and government property.
“We hurled petrol bombs at a vehicle parked on a bridge. Two people were charred,” said Bhat, referring to a 2014 assault on a pair of policemen. Veeri said he had injured at least 30 to 35 people from various security agencies till now. “I was once charged under the PSA (Public Safety Act). I was behind the bars for six months,” he said.
Wasim Ahmad Khan was jailed in 2009 for a year for damaging damaging police, army and government vehicles on numerous occasions.