Sunday, March 7, 2010

Stone throwers done to death

Pelting stones has been an old and trusted method of protest in Kashmir

Mohsin Qadri

Stone-pelting has become a sub-title of Kashmir conflict these days. It is being talked about everywhere. The Government appears helpless before the sticky situation that spilled over the roads and streets of the Valley. As the hottest topic, it grabbed much of the Indian mainstream media space. Special programs were telecast by satellite TV channels where familiar anchors tried to score over each other in establishing the stone throwing teenagers of Kashmir as the greatest threat for the largest democracy, having left far behind in dread the gun totting militant of yesteryears.

Indian media loves Kashmir. In fact, it is terminally fascinated about this land and its people. Jawaharlal Nehru’s fascination for Kashmir pales before our TV anchors’ absorption with the Paradise on Earth. Nehru adored Kashmir but the celebrated anchors in his country do not stop at that and overtake him in so far as their 24x7 absorption with Kashmiris is concerned. Thanks to them, the stone pelting, hitherto considered as an expression of angst by a cornered people, has come to be known as a horrific war game.

The 11 day old baby Irfan’s tragic death, in the context of stone pelting in Kashmir, is a shocking incident that deserves full condemnation. Expectedly, it became major news for TV channels which ran it for several days demanding severest punishment for the culprits. Not surprisingly though, no such media activism is seen in respect of countless tragedies that befall on Kashmir. None of the TV anchors who have perfected news presentation in India as a glamour industry asks for the deserved punishment to the killer of Zahid Farooq or for the rapist of Asiya or their equally unfortunate near and distant cousins. Crime in Kashmir today stands compartmentalized between ‘them’ and ‘us’. If it is committed by a driven-to-frustration stone pelting youth all the 400 odd channels operating from Punjab Plains to Malabar Coast invoke Islam and dehumanize people. However, if a more heinous crime is committed by a uniformed person their cameras would look the other way. And if at all they roll it would be only to stigmatize the victim, ‘ala’ Shopian and Wamiq Farooq. If Gandhi would have been alive today and watched media in his country reporting on Kashmir he would definitely pelt stones at these journalists.

Stone pelting, notwithstanding how a horrendous act it is made out to be, is a very old and time tested method of registering protest and anger in Kashmir. When promises were not kept and guns were not an option, the disillusioned people of all ages would opt to this method of protest in the Valley. While it would require serious research to find out its roots in Kashmir, the locals have always used stones as a tool of opposition and disapproval. Mughals have faced these and so have their successors down the line to the Dogras. In recent decades, when electricity was not supplied despite payment of tariff, when sub-standard rice was distributed through PDS or when a youngster was knocked down by a speeding army truck, the people would give vent to their anger by pelting stones. Political parties would recruit and nurture groups and employ them to pelt stones on political and ideological rivals. During those prolonged internecine ‘sher-bakra’ fights, stones were the Kalashnikovs of the warring factions. It was also the weapon of the ‘suriwalas’ to intimidate the adversary? Even today, the opposition party alleges that the government has created a counter-stone pelting force and the government accuses it of providing for stone throwers active on the streets of Kashmir.

Till this day, no one had found the Pakistani angle in stone pelting in Kashmir. The activity in the Valley happens to be much older than Pakistan as well as independent India. Its name, ‘kani jung’, in the local language is neither a direct nor indirect derivation from the neighbouring country’s national language nor having any phonetic similarity to its equivalent word there. The fertility of the mind that unearthed the Pakistan connection in Kashmir’s one of the oldest resistance methods deserves a national award.

Those who subscribe to Pakistan connection theory might as well look in the neighbourhood of J&K’s boundary to further stretch their fertile imagination. A village near Shimla known as Thani is famous for having given the religious sanctity to stone pelting and the blood spilled through this exercise is used to perform ‘tilak’ on the deity installed in a local temple. On the second day of Holi, the religious festival of Hindus, people of the area divide themselves into two groups and pelt stones at each other.

Aiming directly at the target, they spill blood which is used to perform ‘tilak’ on the deity, ‘Bhima Kali’. The ruler of the area, thus goes the story, was killed in a fight and his wife committed ‘sati’. However, before jumping into the funeral pyre of her husband, she took a pledge from the people that they will stop offering human sacrifice at the ‘Bhima Kali’ temple and instead divide themselves into two groups and throw stones at each other. She asked them to offer to the deity the human blood thus spilled. The ritual goes on since then.

As Shimla is not Srinagar, nobody is keen to find a foreign connection with this blood spill by people there. Neither does any police officer on a mainstream TV channel deliver a sermon on stone pelting being against the tenants of religion. Kashmir, after all, is all together a different place where in matters of universally accepted principles A has the meaning of B and X is Y. Here, everybody is guilty untill proven innocent in contrast to the otherwise internationally accepted doctrine of justice. Perhaps when a future Ibn-e-Batuta travels through this land he would describe it as a place where murderers roamed free and stone throwers were done to death.

Article taken from Rising Kashmir March 06 issue.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I am a stone pelter. Who are you?


------- and what else can I do to express my resistance against oppression, writes Imran Muhammad Gazi an MBA student.

I have been shot in the ribs. I am on a stretcher in an emergency ward of a city hospital. Who am I? I am a stone pelter from a busy commercial area of Srinagar. This is my comprehensive introduction, no need to have a name, surname, qualification and profession. Just one word sums up my personality” Stone Pelter”. I am not that educated but some of my educated peers tell me I have always been in news right from 1931. You will find me everywhere, i have stood the test of time, leaders have changed slogans have changed but I have not. Yes there was a time when I was sidelined, and gun wielding elders occupied the centre stage.

Situation has changed and I am again in business in urban Kashmir, Ragda 2008 restored my lost glory, you called it a revolution, I watched spell bound vast multitude of people filling the streets of Kashmir, it was on that day at historic Eidgah, the gun wielding elder passed the baton on to me and with a smile on his lip and tear in his eye said” your turn mate”. I still don’t know why those tears in the eyes of the elder, perhaps I am too young to understand this.

You can find me on any street of urban Kashmir, although I have some favourite spots, I love jamia Masjid and Maisuma, old town Varmul, Sopur, and Malakhnag Islamabad to name a few. You can easily recognize me as I am the best dressed youth of my area, trendy jeans, smart sports shoe, whacky jacket and few fashion accessories, they say I buy them from the money I get for stone pelting. My income is being discussed everywhere and there is no unanimity on that it varies from 100 to2500,at times I am afraid that I may be brought under income tax net. My attire has little to do with fashion, and more with the nature of my job, I am supposed to be athletic and nimble footed and I have to mingle with the crowds, hence my attire. Ideal day at work is thrilling and exciting, the suspense, the drama, the surge and the chase is right out of 80s blockbuster Hindi cinema.

I dodge shells and bullets, ala Rajnikanth, only difference is there is no retake on the street, either you dodge in first take or you are down in the gutter. Stone pelting used to be an art but with the passage of time it has developed into a science, it is more because of those chocolate pelters, some of whom are students of best schools of Srinagar. Purists moan the adulteration; pragmatists call it the need of the hour. These chocolates talk about projectile motion, angle of projection and range, I don’t get a bit of that. They introduced “sling”, whatever oldies may say it is an effective combat weapon. I have not talked about my adversary ,most of the time it is the “Ponde police” sorry local police, it is an honour to have such an enemy in the battlefield, the most professional and business savvy police force in the world, highly well versed with economics. Such is the level of efficiency that they no longer waste bullets on us but use teargas shells for dual purpose of chasing and killing us, you can not blame them after all world is going through a recession and cost cutting is the mantra. They perfected this technique under there former boss, whose name was a tongue twister for us, we remember him as Asif Mujtabha the paki batsmen. He was a brilliant officer, disciplinarian, had a penchant for cleanliness, smoothly killed almost sixty of us in a span of few weeks, yet you could not see a speck of blood on his hands nor his immaculately worn uniform, as I told u spick and span. He treated us like his kids, ensured we did not suffer any pain or agony, bullets hit us, either on head or chest, he was such a noble loving and caring father. We miss him, they transferred him, must have been promoted, I feel good at least our blood helped someone to make a career.
Why do I pelt stones, this thought had never crossed my mind, I just instinctively new when I had to don the armour and start the battle. It was only after Ragda 2008, I heard some whispers, hushed tones, and few glances of suspicion on the street. I am street smart, I realized I am not the darling of the masses anymore, people who fed me with (Teher) even in the midst of the battle, now hated me. I should have seen this coming, it all started with the fatherly police chief Asif Mujtaba, quoting Hadith against stone pelting, learned man he is, after securing our (duniyah) worldly life, he immediately focused his attention to secure our (akhirat) life here after. We miss him; he was our real benefactor, trying to ensure us peace in this world as well as other world.

A (molvi saheb) priest who calls himself a Puritan, and who lead many processions in Ragda2008, seconded the view and said the hadith is from Bukhari shareef, it was a bolt from the blue (nabi trath) for me, same molvi used to quote Bukhari shareef in 1990s and would read out from Babul jihad (Chapter on jihad) why this hadith was never read to us until now. What had changed, Bukhari Shareef or Molvi Sahib, it was for the first time and not the last time that I have wept, yes warm tears flowed not from my eyes but the stone cold heart of a stone pelter. I wiped my tears, with my rough hands and yes mourning the death of conscience of our Ulema I did what I knew best, yes I pelted stones mocking at the simplicity of the molvi sahib.

A columnist picked up the thread from were the molvi left, writing smoothly with his “LEFT HAND “. He mocked at my lack of education, it is easy to doge the bullet than a writer’s pen I was pinned to the ground, argument lost. There is a saying in Kashmiri (Asoolus kyah kari ghulam rasool).I don’t know the English meaning of this as I am a petty stone pelter. Agreed I am not educated, but my journo brother is, if he is writing today it is because of me who is fighting in the street for the very honour he is trying to defend sitting in his study with a laptop on the table and Coffee Mug in his hand. His colleague who shot frames was shot in broad daylight; he could not get an FIR registered. I did what I knew best, and yes I pelted stones in protest against this cowardice of the police. Street is my school, and this is what I have been taught. Get an FIR registered for your colleague with your university degree in hand and we will talk my brother. Intelligentsia scorn me, to them I am a ruffian, and they refer to me as the lumpen proletariat. They are all learned scholars, poets, linguists, writers; they are mirror of our society.

When I and my friends were slaughtered on the streets some Rahi lost his way in the commotion, and found himself in a hall were some Gyan Peeth award was given to him by someone whose hands were smeared with our dirty blood. He accepted the award with hands folded in benediction, feeling at last he has found his way not knowing Rahi has been lost in wilderness forever. When men of intellect stoop so low I do what I know best, yes I pelt stones in despair. I have one question for all you learned men. Do those Shawls of honour have smell of our blood and warmth of the breath of a dying stone pelter? By the way was it not the proletariat who brought a revolution, an old news paper I found with” Sulla Masala” talks about that.

Enough of arguments, after all I am a stone pelter I can not win an argument with you, for you are learned men. It is clear to me my countrymen that I am an impediment to your progress, it pains me, I don’t want you to be backward, I want you to prosper. What then is the solution? I can not stoop to your level nor can you rise to my level. Don’t you worry I have a solution. Let there be a role reversal for a day, you be the stone pelters and we the perennial stone pelters the target. I will gather all my friends at Eidgah and you stone us to death, we will take all your stones with a smile on our lips and a tear in our eyes, smile we will for your prosperity and tears will roll, for we won’t be there to see the smile on your lips when you achieve your prosperity. Having stoned us don’t you think you won, it is we who have won for once from masters of inaction you have become men of action, and did not we pelt stones all our lives just to make
you act.

One last request my countrymen, please do not make a graveyard for us, for you will make a ritual of visiting it every year along with our respected leaders , who will come separately, as they come to our funerals individually, strange not even our blood unites them. They say unity is possible only on principles, true how can blood of a stone pelter or chastity and honour of a common Kashmiri woman be a principle to unite on, and it must be some high principle. Even if you bury us don’t ever visit our graves for old habits don’t die we will rise from our graves and pelt stones on sight of a Hypocrite. Tell my mother I will miss her, for I had two Homes Street and her lap, and yes her lap was comforting but it was the street that was my calling.

As everything in the hospital room is becoming hazy and death is waiting to embrace me, I remember a couplet by some Iqbal, I read on the back of an auto rickshaw of a fellow stone pelter.

jis khak Ke Zameer Main ho Atish Chinar
Mumkin Naheen Ki Sard Ho Woh khake Arjmund.

Is it true my country………….

(Imran Muhammad Gazi is an MBA Pass-out Kashmir University. Feedback at

Appeared in GK: