On the morning of May 2, 11-year-old Rehan Goursi put on his school uniform and rushed to board the bus that would get him to Rainbow International School, where he studies in Class 2. Soon afterwards, he would be rushed to the district hospital in South Kashmir’s Shopian town, bleeding profusely.

Goursi lives in the village of Jampathri in the Keller area of Shopian district. The bus he boarded was carrying around 30 children, according to the principal of Rainbow International School, ranging in age from pre-schoolers to middle school students. As the vehicle made its way to its destination, miscreants hurled stones at the bus. Goursi was hit on the head. According to principal Sajad Ahmad, the incident occurred 2 km to 3 km from the school, close to the district police lines in Shopian.

On the morning of May 3, Goursi rested quietly on a bed in the neurosurgery ward of the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital in Srinagar, attended to by his father and aunts. The attack has left him with a fractured skull but doctors say his condition is stable.

Though Goursi seemed calm, his father, Noorudin Goursi, was anxious. He regretted his decision to send his son to school on Wednesday. “The situation was not good in Pulwama but there was no hint of a shutdown Shopian,” he said. “I thought if the school is open, why should he not go to school. These people [stone pelters] should at least have the heart to spare little children.”

‘Specifically targeted’

On April 30, two days before Goursi was injured, two militants and a civilian had been killed in a gunfight in neighbouring Pulwama district. One of them was a popular local militant of the Hizbul Mujahideen, known as “Sameer Tiger”. On May 1, the separatist leadership had called for a shutdown to protest against the civilian’s death. On May 2, another gunfight between militants and security forces broke out in Shopian district, killing a civilian, a teenager.

Shailendra Mishra, senior superintendent of police, Shopian district, said the school bus was “specifically targeted as there were no security deployment or installations in the [immediate vicinity] of the spot”. The case is under investigation and arrests were likely “very soon”, he said.

Police officials also said the driver of the school bus managed to minimise damage by speeding away from the spot. According to one police official, “There were unconfirmed reports of the attackers intending to cause further damage that was averted by the driver speeding away.”

Widespread condemnation

Rainbow International principal Ahmad said the attack had traumatised other students in the bus. “They saw him bleeding,” he said. “Teachers present in the bus administered first aid and calmed the remaining students.”

Wednesday’s attack has sparked a debate in the Kashmir Valley, and prompted calls for introspection. Ahmad said that parents of those involved in stone pelting should counsel them so that such an “unfortunate incident” is not repeated.

“Whenever there is disturbance, the first measure is to call off schools because children’s lives are important,” he said. But in the Valley, where gunfights and shutdowns are common, this has led to the frequent closing of schools. “Their education is suffers badly,” Ahmad noted, calling for “district bodies” to come forward to find a viable option.

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti expressed her outrage on social media. “Shocked and angered to hear of the attack on a school bus in Shopian,” she said in a tweet. “The perpetrators of this senseless & cowardly act will be brought to justice.”

The attack on school children resulted in statements of condemnation by various organisations in the Valley, where stone pelting is described as a “tool of resistance” by the separatist leadership. Separatist leaders Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani issued statements expressing their dismay at the incident.

In his statement, Farooq said the incident provided the opportunity to “dogmatic forces” to “tarnish the image of our movement”. Geelani called asked the public to demonstrate “mature thinking” and to “follow discipline”.

Amnesty for stone pelting?

The incident has also prompted the Opposition to question the government’s decision to grant amnesty to stone-pelters earlier this year. The state government in February had withdrawn cases against nearly 10,000 people booked for stone pelting.

The former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, wrote on Twitter: “The amnesty granted to stone-pelters was meant to encourage more reasonable behaviour but some of these goons are determined to use the opportunity given to them to just pelt more stones.”

This is not the first time school buses and educational institutes in the Valley have been a target of attacks. During the mass protests of 2010, a mob
torched a school in Baramulla district’s Tangmarg, some 40 kilometres from Srinagar. At the start of the 2016 unrest, according to State Road Transport Corporation officials, 54 buses out of the 103 assigned to students writing the Common Entrance Test on July 31 were attacked across the Valley. Later that year, at least 25 schools were burnt down.

At the hospital in Srinagar, Goursi’s aunt, Nafeesa Begum, demanded strict action against her nephew’s attackers. “Whoever did this should be made to pay for it,” she said. “It breaks our heart to see our child in such a condition.”