How SSP Baramulla Gave New Hope To The Youth Of Palhalan In North Kashmir
Crores of cricket fans all over the country were agitated a few days ago over India’s crushing loss to England in the T-20 Semi-Final. And days before that, another T-20 game had given us reason to celebrate and rejoice. India defeated Pakistan in the T-20 World Cup. For me, the most enduring memory of that match will be the two-minute video of a Kashmiri boy, aged about 10, moving agitatedly in his room in front of the TV, fervently praying for India to win. The video ends with his jubilant jumps and shouts of joy when his country defeated Pakistan.
This is what sport does. It can bind a nation. This is the story of how a game of cricket played a pivotal role in giving direction and new hope to the youth of Palhalan, a village in Pattan block of Baramulla district in north Kashmir.
This story has been told to me by Javed Iqbal of Palhalan, an upcoming youth leader now associated with Apni Party. This is not really a story. This is the account of the change in Palhalan, Kashmir’s most populated village. From here on, it’s Javed’s account.
JAVED IQBAL, PALHALAN
A few years ago, I was a government school teacher. I was posted in a higher secondary school in my own village, Palhalan. When I spoke to the students in my school, I found that they saw no future for themselves. They said – our name will feature in FIRs today or tomorrow.
At that time, youths in Palhalan didn’t speak of jobs, of bright futures. They only spoke of FIRs and court cases. Our village had such a dark history of separatist anti-India violence. Over the years, GOI tried many initiatives to bring about change in the village.
Villagers used to stop any and every convoy and start stone pelting. The violence was so high that no government or police officer ever came to this village. People had become so agitated that once they even burnt an ambulance. Each and every boy of the village would get sucked into anti-India violence. Finally, GOI placed a ban on any recruitment from this village for ten years.
The youth of Palhalan who pursued higher education were left without jobs. This had such a negative impact that the whole village adopted radical thought – that they would never achieve anything. The youth could not see any future ahead. Becoming militants, Over Ground Workers (OGWs) for terror networks or drug dealers – this is all that our youth could think of.
Giving Palhalan New Hope
As a school teacher, this sharp decline pained me. I thought – if the collective thinking of Palhalan remains the same, the future of our youth will remain dark. The village had high unemployment, and it would only get worse.
Palhalan is the most populated village in Kashmir. Since 2004, this village has been isolated. No census or population survey could be conducted here. No government agency would be allowed into the village. We have 8 halqas in the village and 8 Sarpanches. Palhalan’s population will be more than 10 to 12 villages of Kashmir put together.
In radical areas, militancy or drugs related recruitment is high. Terror handlers find ready recruits here. The young generation has no idea of future, and they fall in the trap of the terror handlers.
All Efforts To Change Palhalan Had Failed
Police, Army, the Administration – all tried their best to transform the village. But every time, they found that the people were pitted against them. The people stonewalled any change.
As a school teacher, I found high incidence of drug abuse among the youth. This moved me, and I decided to do something to change their destiny.
The local youth respected me highly. I thought – If I don’t speak up for them today, who will speak up for my child. I have to give my son the right environment. Hence I must do what I can to change the destiny of my village.
I left my job as a school teacher. Everybody was surprised by this move, because we all know that a government job is highly prized in Kashmir. The youth knew that by giving up a government job, I had nothing to gain.
My Prime Focus – Giving The Youth Of Palhalan A New Future
At that time, I did not know that I will join politics. My only objective was this – that I must talk about the 300-400 boys of Palhalan whose names feature in FIRs. Some teenagers even face 15 to 16 FIRs. Even now, court hearings are going on fighting FIRs lodged in 2006. I knew that in fighting 15-16 FIRs, these boys will become old men.
At that time, the danger of going against the tide was very high. The village was a terror hub. People had radical thinking. There was danger to my own life.
I realized that till the time the Administration doesn’t come to this village and connect with the people, nothing will change here. I thought – things may change if I meet the Senior Superintendent of Police, Baramulla. It was 2021, and I was 34 years old then.
I made cricket teams of youths in all the eight halqas of Palhalan and started organizing inter-halqa tournaments.
This was my own experiment and my own test. I thought – if the youth, the people are angry with my move, this initiative will backfire. I will step back. But Palhalan was ready for change. The youth of my village came forward to welcome this new step.
These were the same youth who had lost all hope. They had thought that their life had been spoiled. So many FIRs were registered against them and they thought they had no future. But the youth decided to move on. They decided that the next generation of Palhalan should not get spoiled.
Involving The Youth In My Dreams For Palhalan
Till the tournament reached the final, I had not told anyone about my plan. When we came to the final of the inter-halqa match, I broached the subject with the youth. I told them – if you want to take your life forward, we need the government. We need the support of the state.
I told them – nobody can withdraw the FIRs against you. Only the government can do it.
By then, I had also decided to resign from my job. I told the youth – I want to talk about my village, I want to talk about development. Our next generation cannot stay without jobs or development. India is our country. We have to stay here peacefully and in harmony. Till how long will we carry the label of being radical?
I told the youth – we have to finish the drugs network here. We have to finish the FIRs. The youth placed their trust in me. Initially they were afraid to come forward and support me openly. They supported me without coming to the forefront. I was happy and grateful even for that. There was no backlash, and that was a good beginning.
When I Went To Meet SSP Baramulla Rayees Bhat
I went to meet SSP Baramulla Rayees Bhat. I told him about the inter-halqa matches in Palhalan. He thought I had come to ask him for funds, for equipment for the matches. I told him: I want nothing. You please come to Palhalan. Till the time you don’t enter Palhalan, nothing will change there.
The SSP asked his staff to submit verification regarding me. He saw that I have a clean record, and no FIR against me. I was happily and pleasantly surprised when the SSP agreed to come for the cricket match at Palhalan.
SSP Bhat laughed and said to me, “Mujh pe stone pelting to nahin ho jayegi?” I told him, “You shoot me on the road if any such thing happens.” Knowing the reputation of Palhalan, he was surprised by my positivity and conviction.
The DC, The Army – Positivity, Courage Of Conviction
Then I went to the Commanding Officer of the Rashtriya Rifles Battalion here. He had newly joined the local battalion at that time. He too was very positive towards my proposal. He said to me, “Ye Palhalan ka jo bhoot hai, is ko utarna hi hai.” We want to rid Palhalan of this bhoot.
The biggest challenge – more than civil administration or the police – was bringing the Army to the village. It was a much more challenging task. But the CO’s positivity, his courage of conviction gave me hope. He said to me, “We are with you, nothing will happen.”
Then I went and met Shri Bhupinder Kumar, the Deputy Commissioner at that time. He was a little hesitant initially, knowing the history of Palhalan. Then he said to me, “If the SSP is coming, I too will come.” For me, this was phenomenal. The DC, the SSP, the CO of the local regiment – all three of them had agreed to come to the village with the most dreaded reputation in Kashmir on my request. They had agreed to come because in earnest, they wanted to change the reputation and the destiny of Palhalan.
I must admit that I was advised by many well-wishers to cancel the event. They were scared that a serious law and order situation may develop here. Even the elders got after me to cancel the match.
That day I said, whatever may happen may happen. I will not cancel the match. I could not sleep all night. I kept making rounds of the ground where the match was to be organized. Early morning, I was again there for making preparations for the match.
I prayed and prayed – let this day pass gracefully. The Almighty heard my prayers.
Historic Day For Palhalan
It was a historic day for Palhalan. SSP Rayees Bhat played cricket on the village ground with the youth. The youth were thrilled. They were overjoyed. The Deputy Commissioner, the Commanding Officer of the RR Battalion – they also played on the ground with the youth, they distributed the prizes to the youth. Nobody in Palhalan could believe that this day could come – when the heads of the civil administration, the police and the Army and our youth would engage positively in a sport activity in our village.
This surge of positivity and hope happened because SSP Rayees Bhat, a bold and courageous officer, believed in me and decided to play cricket with the youth.
Without any money, without any investment – the destiny of our village has been changed. The youth of my village need hand-holding from the government. They need amnesty. The government must cancel the FIRs registered against them as a one-time gesture of benevolence and goodwill. The youth of my village need a bright future and fast pace of development.
‘As long as any area supports initiatives for their own good, we should lend a hand’
Palhalan was once infamous as the ‘City of Hurryat G’. In fact, they ran a very highly followed Facebook page by that name in 2010. Kashmir’s largest village remained a very volatile area for long.
SSP Baramulla Rayees Mohd Bhat spoke to Gayatri Mohan about his decision to join the youth for the cricket match final, which had a positive domino effect on the village.
What inspired you to visit Palhalan on the invite of youth leader Javed Iqbal?
We had sensed that Palhallan was feeling left out of the developmental churning. While the other areas were moving ahead, Palhalan was stuck somewhere.
The people were warm and forthcoming, and their initiative brought us closer. The old aadge seemed to prove true for the village: “bad se badnaam bura”. We decided that as long as any area supports initiatives for their own good, we should also lend a hand.
Can anything can be done regarding so many youth of Palhalan facing FIRs? The feedback from the village is that the youth made mistakes when they were radicalized by a vitiated environment. Many of them realize the gravity of their error and want to move on now.
FIRs are a court matter. Any decision on that is a matter for other quarters. However we are encouraging that any who have been embroiled on fake charges are given some relief, and assistance is provided to those who have corrected and are trying to rehabilitate.