Kashmir's stone-pelting protesters face off against pellet guns

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Nineteen-year-old student and stone pelter, who asked to remain anonymous, poses for a portrait in Kashmir, India May 18, 2017. "My father is in the police. I feel a stone is a more potent weapon than a gun. We are being forced to resort to violence. I feel violence is the best way to achieve lasting peace," he said. Picture taken May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton
Stone pelters clash with police during disturbances in Srinagar, Kashmir, India May 19, 2017. Picture taken May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
A stone pelter poses in an orchard near Srinagar, Kashmir, India May 18, 2017. Picture taken May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
A stone pelter throws a tear gas canister back at police during disturbances in Srinagar, Kashmir, India May 19, 2017. Picture taken May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Twenty-year-old student and stone pelter, who asked to remain anonymous, poses for a portrait in Kashmir, India May 20, 2017. "I was hit by pellets during stone pelting. I didn� tell anyone and went inside Jamia Masjid. Then I went home and slept in my room and didn� tell my family about it and finally, they came to know and I was taken to SHMS hospital in Srinagar. I have 80 percent of vision in my right eye now. If I get a chance, I can pick up gun," he said. Picture taken May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
A lamb feeds her baby beside a security check point in Srinagar, Kashmir, India May 21, 2017. Picture taken May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton
Stone pelters clash with police during disturbances in Srinagar, Kashmir, India May 17, 2017. Picture taken May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Stone pelters clash with police during disturbances in Srinagar, Kashmir, India May 19, 2017. Picture taken May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Twenty-year-old student and stone pelter, who asked to remain anonymous, poses for a portrait in Kashmir, India May 20, 2017. "I was hit by pellets during stone pelting. I have 80 percent vision in my right eye now, but if I get a chance, I can pick up a gun," he said. Picture taken May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Nineteen-year-old student and stone pelter, who asked to remain anonymous, poses for a portrait in Kashmir, India May 20, 2017. "My parents tell me not to do stone pelting but I do, as we want freedom from India. I was hit by pellets in 2016. Two pellets are still in my body," he said. Picture taken May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Twenty-five-year-old police officer, who asked to remain anonymous, poses for a portrait in Kashmir, India May 19, 2017. "I have joined the police as I had no job. We don� want to fire tear gas or pellets at the protesters but we do it for public safety after mobs go on the rampage. We have to protect life and public property," he said. Picture taken May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Forty-seven-year-old police officer who asked to remain anonymous, poses for a portrait in Kashmir, India May 19, 2017. "I've been in crowd control since 2008. First we chase the stone pelters. We fire tear gas only when the crowd gets out of control," he said. Picture taken May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Eighteen-year-old student and stone pelter, who asked to remain anonymous, poses for a portrait in Kashmir, India May 20, 2017. "I was hit by pellets last year during stone pelting and taken to a nearby hospital. There were 48 pellets in my body, out of which 35 were removed and rest are still inside," he said. Picture taken May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Twenty-five-year-old police officer who asked to remain anonymous, poses for a portrait in Kashmir, India May 19, 2017. "I am the son of a farmer and joined the police as I had no job. We are part of the same society, and using force against children is very difficult for us. We try to exercise maximum restraint �that is why we get injured," he said. Picture taken May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Pro-independence graffiti is sprayed on a shop shutter during curfew in Srinagar, Kashmir, India May 20, 2017. Picture taken May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Police officers take cover from stone pelters during disturbances in Srinagar, Kashmir, India May 17, 2017. Picture taken May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Pro-independence graffiti is sprayed on a shop shutter in Srinagar, Kashmir, India May 21, 2017. Picture taken May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton
Graffiti is sprayed on a wall in Srinagar, Kashmir, India May 20, 2017. Picture taken 20, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Women walk past police officers during clashes with stone pelters in Srinagar, Kashmir, India May 17, 2017. Picture taken May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
A police officer throws a rock at stone pelters during disturbances in Srinagar, Kashmir, India May 19, 2017. Picture taken May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Police officers prepare to fire tear gas during disturbances in Srinagar, Kashmir, India May 17, 2017. Picture taken May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
A stone pelter poses in an orchard near Srinagar, Kashmir, India May 18, 2017. Picture taken May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
A stone pelter holds a brick and a knife during clashes with the police in Srinagar, Kashmir, India May 19, 2017. Picture taken May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
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SRINAGAR, July 7 (Reuters) - Security forces using pellet guns to disperse crowds of stone-throwing young protesters in the Indian-ruled region of Himalayan Kashmir have killed more than 100 people, blinding hundreds and maiming thousands over the past year.

The protests have unleashed a political crisis in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, governed for the first time by a regional party in coalition with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, which draws support from India's Hindu majority.

The clashes, sparked by the killing of separatist militant Burhan Wani by security forces on July 8 last year, have recently spread to college campuses and schools.

They are drawing a new generation into a decades-old struggle for 'azaadi', or independence, for India's only Muslim-majority region, which is also claimed by neighboring Pakistan.

"If I get a weapon, I am ready to join the militancy – but for the time being, the stone is our weapon," said one 23-year-old student, who asked not to be identified.

He is one among many young men in the state's summer capital of Srinagar who find themselves fighting street battles, slinging stones at pellet gun-wielding police officers from their own communities, and even their own families.

"My father is in the police, posted in Srinagar," the protester added. "He used to tell me to join the police, but now he does not insist."

Slender employment prospects prompt many residents of Srinagar to join the police force.

"I am the son of a farmer and joined the police as I had no job," said one 25-year-old officer.

"We are part of the same society, and using force against children is very difficult for us. We try to exercise maximum restraint – that is why we get injured."

Pellet guns are intended not to be lethal, but their use by India's security forces has caused severe injuries and the deaths of several bystanders, women and children among them.

Human rights groups have urged India to renounce their use, calling it a violation of United Nations' principles of restraint.

Militant gunmen have killed police officers in their own homes in a wave of fatal attacks in recent months.

Some protesters rebel not only against Indian rule, but also against their parents. Each wave of street protests – the last were in 2008 and 2010 – radicalizes a new wave of young people.

"I was hit by pellets during stone pelting," said one 20-year-old student. "I have 80 percent vision in my right eye now, but if I get a chance, I can pick up a gun."

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Kashmir, which each claims in full but rules only in part.

Click here for a photo essay http://reut.rs/2uxWh11 that portrays the protesters and police officers that have taken part in some of the clashes in Kashmir over the last year. (Writing by Doug Busvine, Editing by Karishma Singh and Clarence Fernandez)

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