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.