ON 3 JUNE 2013, a police truck hauled 16 teenage boys from the Sopore region of northern Kashmir to a rented hut in Sonamarg, which is also known as the ‘meadow of gold’, in the mountains east of Srinagar. One by one, the boys got down from the truck to be received by Sanjay Kumar, who had landed in Kashmir the previous day. Kumar, the co-founder of a Delhi-based theatre group called Pandies, had come to lead the boys in a four-day acting workshop with an additional element to its drama: his performers were all stone pelters who had once busied themselves with hurling rocks at police and army personnel.
“The boys coming out of the caged vehicle was a very powerful moment which I would never forget,” said Kumar, who is also an English professor at the University of Delhi’s Hans Raj College. “No one was sure whether they have been brought directly from the police station or from their homes. The image of them coming out from a harsh world to a space they know nothing about is in itself something extraordinary.”
Kumar believes that the boys, who have been at loggerheads with the Indian state since the 2010 mass uprising in Kashmir, are victims of state oppression. “Some of them were shot while others were beaten up—and all of them are under constant surveillance of the police,” he said when I met him in his Vasant Kunj apartment last month. “The kids are being shot dead by the state apparatus regularly. There has to be another way of dialogue which does not end up in funerals.”