By Shivam Vij
(Some time in 2011, a stone-pelter in Srinagar offered to show me the fabled old city through his eyes. Here is what he told me. The first-person account first appeared in Fountain Ink magazine in Decmeber 2011. The views expressed by the stone-pelter are his, not mine.)
Welcome to Srinagar. Would you like to come with me to Downtown? I want you to see the real Srinagar.
Come, get on the bike.
Even though parts of it have been declared a UNESCO heritage site, tourists don’t go to Downtown. Downtown Srinagar is known as the Gaza Strip of Kashmir. It is the centre of resistance. All of Kashmir can forget our struggle, but not Downtown. Are you comfortable on the pillion now?
Let me tell you about our language. Kashmiri used to be taught in our schools, but Sheikh Abdullah dropped Kashmiri and Persian from our schools. Even today my grandfather remembers a number of Persian couplets. Many elders can read and write Persian. I don’t. India was to be a secular state and all that, but Kashmir had its own identity.
We have reached Munawarabad. This is one of the main gateways to Downtown. It has been renamed after Inayatullah, a baker. That’s his bakery on your left; see that tall building on your right. You can’t tell it’s a CRPF camp because it still looks like a hotel. It’s called the Ikhwan hotel. It was first occupied by the BSF and then by the CRPF. They’re all the same for us, just different names.
This area is called Babademb, and this roundabout used to be called Ikhwan Chowk. But this board here, it says in Urdu, “Shaheed Inayatullah Chowk”. The people renamed it when Inayatullah was martyred, seven years or so ago. The forces in the Ikhwan hotel refused to clear the dues for the bread they bought from Inayatullah. When he insisted his bill be cleared, they shot him dead. The baker was handicapped, having lost one leg in an accident, but the Indian forces had no mercy.
“Does the government not object to people renaming roads and roundabouts on their own?” Come on, they can’t! If the government comes to remove this board we will pelt stones.
So this is the entry to Downtown. This is the first place that they seal with barbed wire if a protest is planned. All they want to do is prevent a large gathering at Lal Chowk, the centre of the city, just a kilometre away. If there’s a mass gathering at Lal Chowk, the media will be there, it will tell the world that we demanded azadi in large numbers.
We have been fighting Indian occupation for the last 63 years. India went to United Nations. Eighteen resolutions came out of it. Nehru promised us we would get what we want. And now India says forget it and live under our occupation? We want azadi because we have been occupied against our will. And occupation is not just forces that are stationed here. Occupation is the taking away of our political independence… it takes away your social, cultural, religious independence.
This road is called Nalemaar road. Nala, as you know, is stream in Urdu. This was filled in Sadiq’s time and made into a road. (G M Sadiq, the left-leaning Congressman was the last prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir in 1964. He was chief minister from 1965-71.) The reason: They could rush in forces more easily by road than a stream. It reduces the divide between the old and the new cities. The stream was part of the Dal. Just like the Brari Nambal lake we now see on our left. Now we are at Babademb Chowk. They put a barricade here when it’s curfew time. In the half kilometre that we have driven so far, there used to be at least 3-4 roadblocks with the help of CRPF mobile bunkers and concertina wire. They have removed all but one now, to give outsiders the impression that everything is fine in Kashmir. But everything is not fine. This bunker, and many such, have been removed because of the political pressure after the unrest last year. When bikers enter this area, they often ask for names, mobile numbers and bike registration numbers. The list goes to the police station, helps them keep a record of who’s been coming into Downtown and how frequently.
This is the Khanyar police station. The superintendent of police of north Srinagar sits here. They removed the 5-6 bunkers from this area, but the CRPF men manning those bunkers still live in that building, over there. The soldiers haven’t left Downtown; removing bunkers is a cosmetic measure.
See the endless concertina wire around the police station. Without the concertina wire and the large numbers of CRPF men protecting the police station, we would be pelting stones at them, too. They would be the first target.
It was my dad. He calls me five or six times a day. Happens with every Kashmiri. Parents are always afraid. It could happen anytime. One could die of a grenade blast, or there could be firing by forces, or the CRPF may just detain you for having a beard or not carrying an identity card
Lets me park the bike here. This gate leads us to the Sufi shrine of Dastgeer Sahib (patron saint of the Qadri Sufi order) of Baghdad in Iraq. His disciples had come from there. The disciples are buried inside the shrine, visited by large numbers of people every day. There’s a mosque too. Khanyar is a huge locality and this shrine is its crown. And in this holy place, there is a graveyard. It is called Mazar-e-Shohada. On 8 May 1991, there was a funeral procession in Khanyar area for those killed by the forces in a massacre the previous day. In this funeral gathering they again opened fire, unprovoked. Among the 20 killed were five women and a two-year-old. Their graves are among the 72 graves here.
It is not only here that the martyrs are buried. The first grave there is an empty one, still awaiting the body of Maqbool Bhat, whom India hanged and buried in Tihar jail. [Editor’s note: Bhat, the co-founder of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front(JKLF), was awarded the death sentence for the murder of a police officer. He was hanged in 1984.]
At the peak of militancy many bodies would come to Eidgah every day. There are hundreds of martyrs’ graveyards in Kashmir. When a militant is killed—for us a freedom fighter—they impose a curfew to prevent a gathering for people to mourn the loss. Sometimes they don’t allow the bodies to be taken to martyrs’ graveyards. So people have to bury them somewhere. This was once a park, now it is a martyr’s graveyard.
Here, see, one of the graves has an Urdu couplet written on it:
Khoon-e-dilo-jigar se hain mayaye hayat
Fitrat lahu tarang hain, gafil, na jal tarang
(The blood your heart sheds in struggle for life, sustains it; it needs the flow of blood, not water, you simpleton!)
The area we are passing by now is between Khanyar and Nowhatta. This is called Khwaja Bazaar. Here is the shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Naqshband Sahab, Khojasab in Kashmiri. Do you mind if we stop here for a moment?
Khwaja Naqshband’s disciples brought the Naqshbandi order here. The Holy Prophet’s hair, the Moi-e-Muqaddas, was first brought here and then taken to the Hazratbal shrine, because of the unmanageable rush here in the heart of the city. There’s a mosque or Khanqah here. You can hear some beautiful music in praise of the Prophet. But look, here, this is what I wanted to show you. Another martyrs’ graveyard.
This is a small graveyard but the size is deceptive. The 22 graves here are of the people killed on July 13, 1931, in the uprising against the oppressive Dogra maharaja. Here, on this wall, you can see the names of the 22 martyrs. When, in 1964, the Moi-e-Muqaddas was stolen from the Hazratbal shrine, the people who were killed while protesting are also buried here. This graveyard is one of the most important places of our struggle. It represents our assertion that our struggle began not in 1947 but 1931.
When India got freedom, India supported freedom for all colonised countries. One standard for South Africa and another for Kashmir? One standard for Tibet and another for Kashmir?
Let’s now go to Nowhatta.
Nowhatta has always been the hub of resistance. If a man gets killed in Machchil at the Line of Control, protests start in Nowhatta. Nowhatta chowk is the square outside Jamia Masjid, the main mosque of Srinagar. You have been inside earlier? Okay so we won’t go again. Do you know that is one of the oldest mosques in Kashmir? The building is 600 years old, and has been thrice gutted in fire and rebuilt. Dogra soldiers besieged the mosque for several days in the 1931 uprising. There’s even a picture of that.
Now this square with a small lawn has been named Shaheed Muntazir Chowk. Muntazir was a tenth grade student, 16 years old. He was an active stone-pelter, a frontline guy, nearly six feet tall. He studied in a school nearby. The police knew he was an active stone-pelter. In one stone-pelting incident the SP of the Nowhatta police station fired on him. It was a targeted killing. He fell on that pole you see there. The air was rent with tear gas. Nobody was allowed to comfort him. You can see on the board the day of his martyrdom. 7-7-7, it says. 7 July 2007. He was the only son of his family. He was the first stone-pelting martyr. Stone-pelting has been part of our resistance since 1931. Muntazir’s killing spread stone-pelting as the new resistance across the valley. The year 2007 was when stone-pelting started gathering momentum.
In 2008, when the Amarnath land controversy took place, hundreds of thousands came out on the streets of Kashmir, it all started from Nowhatta. I was here on the day people said they will take out a procession. When we completed the round of Downtown, we were almost a lakh people! It was the first time I saw such a large crowd. It was exhilarating! We spontaneously moved to Lal Chowk, and one guy took out a green flag, not the Pakistani flag but a flag of our resistance movement—just like the Palestinians have their flag. The media across the world covered it, but many wrongly reported it as the Pakistani flag.
There are four occasions for stone-pelting. One is on Fridays after the afternoon prayer, because that is when people gather. In Palestine too, it happens after Friday prayers. When someone gets arrested or killed, there will be stone-pelting. Then if a march or large protest is planned and India prevents that, there will be stone-pelting. If there’s a call for strike, there will be some low-intensity stone-pelting.
If there is a large protest, like if Geelani calls for a march to Lal Chowk or Eidgah, and there are thousands of people on the road—that is, the march is allowed—there will not be any stone-pelting. The people will ensure that. Not just stones, even the slogans aimed at the CRPF such as “bhooka nanga Hindustan” will not be raised.
What they don’t realise is that when they kill a young boy, all his friends and peers and school or college mates want to take revenge. So many turned stone-pelters after someone they knew was killed.
Before we leave Nowhatta, look at this building next to the Jamia Masjid. Looks like a ruin. The CRPF had a camp here. They had occupied four houses and there were bunkers and pickets protecting this camp. These were once houses of Pandits. Look at the condition they have left them in. They don’t look after what they live in. When stone-pelting started in 2007, we used to pelt stones on this camp almost every day. It was removed even before the Amarnath land agitation. When the camp was removed, stone-pelters started targeting the Nowhatta police station and the bunker there. I remember once, it was 2005 or ’6, one guy went over to the bunker and snatched the gun of a CRPF soldier. That was very courageous! Removing bunkers and camps with stones is our victory. We are throwing them out of Kashmir.
Shall we move ahead?
Did you see that young boy I was talking to in Kashmiri in Nowhatta? How old do you think he was? Ten? At the most, twelve? He was asking me to take you inside Jamia Masjid. It will be prayer time soon. After the prayers, stone-pelting will start. He said Geelani will come today. I said no, Geelani has gone to Baramulla. He said he will come from there. Do you see how politically conscious a 12-year-old? If he’s saying there will be stone-pelting, then there will be stone-pelting.
Stone-pelting is a kind of war. The only difference is that we have stones and they have guns. They are not even stones, more like pebbles. Really small ones. They don’t even break the windscreens of the CRPF mobile bunkers, which we call One Tonnes.
[Editor’s Note: Home Minister P Chidambaram told Parliament on August 4, 2010 that 1,266 security personnel were injured in Kashmir in June and July alone.]
When stone-pelting begins, it’s a war. I come forward, you come forward. I take your territory, you take my territory. They just push us, hoping we will run away and disappear. Sometimes they corner us, come in from the back. Jeeps and mobile bunkers come in from all sides, arrest stone-pelters, put th em in jail, and slap the Public Safety Act on us—up to two years in jail without charge or trial. When stone-pelting starts the whole locality does not participate in it. A small group does. They are people just walking by, coming back from school or college, or coming to witness the stone-pelting itself. In one such incident, a police Gypsy went chasing stone-pelters from Nowhatta towards a nearby stadium called Gani stadium. The Gani stadium area is a crowded one. That’s where we will reach now when we turn right into this declining road.
Let’s stop here. See the ground on your left. This is the stadium ground. You see these children playing cricket. There is this two metre high fencing so children don’t jump over and get hurt. This is where stone-pelters came, not on this road but from that lane and ran straight into the ground to reach the other side. The police entered from another side and fired tear gas into the crowd. The children playing cricket ran for their lives. One tear gas shell hit a 17-year-old on the head and he died. His name was Tufail Mattoo. It was June 11, 2010.
The police didn’t care about the fact that not everyone running in was a stone-pelter. It was a targeted hit. They knew someone could get hurt. That was the point. Tufail Mattoo’s killing started the unrest last year.
Stone-pelting does not occur at one place. It takes place in Rajouri Kadal or Islamia College or Islamia School or Nowhatta or Naed Kadal… we’ll just go to all these places. Let me light a cigarette before I start the bike.
Multi-tasking, you say? I can not only smoke and drive and talk at the same time, but also Facebook on the way.
There’s one strange thing you will notice. You will not see people smiling here. See that school has just gotten over, Islamia High School where Sheikh Abdullah read. Can you see anyone smiling? There are dozens of children here. Can you see anyone smiling? You may still see a child smiling but never an old man. This is what the Indian occupation has done.
We have now in fact reached the Mirwaiz’s area. This is Rajouri Kadal. That large house you see, that used to be his house but now it’s his office. The Mirwaiz’s family is the most respected family in Kashmir. Mir means head and Waiz means preacher. The Mirwaiz is the head preacher of the Jamia Masjid. When Shah-e-Hamdan (credited with the spread of Islam in the Valley) came to Kashmir from Iran, he did so with about 700 people. That included preachers and artisans and traders all kinds of people. The Mirwaiz’s family was among them.
After prayers every Friday, the Mirwaiz comes to this office and meets the local people. Political meetings are also held in this house. He lives in Nigeen area now. There used to be a bunker outside this Rajouri Kadal house. During the Amarnath land row agitation in 2008, people gave an ultimatum to the government to remove the bunker. Within a few hours, a truck came, removed the bunker. Actually, the CRPF men of that bunker were relocated nearby. Where? I’ll show you.
Some two or three hundred metres away there is Kawdara Chowk and a CRPF camp, called the Kawdara camp. It was once an Ikhwani camp, the militants who turned counter-insurgents. The Ikhwanis were later integrated into the police and the CRPF took over this building. People have been demanding the removal of this camp, we’ve been throwing stones at it. The net you see outside is a line of defence against grenades and stones alike. It may seem like a small camp to you but it is a large one. It is spread across ten or so houses. They live among residential houses. You can see this bunker outside and notice the woman coming out of her house in the narrow lane next to it. A lot of stone-pelting occurs here because of the camp.
See the graffiti on the wall there, it says Gaza Patti! I wasn’t making it up when I told you Downtown is called the Gaza Strip of Kashmir. When the intifada started in Palestine, Kashmir was at the peak of militancy. Since both the Palestine and Kashmir are amongst the oldest pending issues in the United Nations, and both are Muslim states, there is sympathy here for Palestine.
We see it as a mirror struggle. But we are fighting our own war and they are fighting theirs.
Just a second, let me take this call.
It was my dad. He calls me five or six times a day. Happens with every Kashmiri. Parents are always afraid. It could happen anytime. One could die of a grenade blast, or there could be firing by forces, or the CRPF may just detain you for having a beard or not carrying an identity card.
In the 90s people used to shut down their shops at 4 p.m. Now commercial activity in Downtown ends at 6 p.m. But day or night, the one-tonnes and the police’s white Gypsys roam about checking if there’s any effort to put together a gathering anywhere.
That car with a loudspeaker? They’re collecting money for an orphanage. The conflict has made hundreds of children orphans.
Let’s go towards our next stop.
Next to Rajouri Kadal, this locality is called Kadi Kadal. Kadal is Kashmiri for bridge but there are no bridges here. From Mirwaiz Manzil to Khanyar Chowk five such places are named after bridges where there are no bridges. As I told you, the canal was filled with earth, destroying the beautiful waterway. There was a bunker here in Kadi Kadal. In 2008 the bunker was removed, but a month later they rebuilt it in curfew time, this time not with sandbags but concrete. Now they have shifted the men into the camp about 50 feet away, and the bunker guarding that camp is still there. See, there…
Looks like a temple to you? Yes, it is one. An old one. It is the entry to the temple they have converted into a bunker. Outside they have written in Hindi, Mera Bharat Mahaan. Your Bharat, that is, not mine. Also read what they have written over the bunker: “B COY 44- CRPF. With You, Ever and Always.” They might add, to Kill you, Harass you, Occupy your land.
The removal of 40 bunkers was superficial. The men guarding it are now in the camps, ready to come out any time. Around eight in the evening they block the road. The sewage pipes you see on the road, are for that purpose.
That building ahead? It’s a mosque. There are mosques on both sides because remember, this is Nalemaar road, it was once a stream. So it looks odd that there are two mosques on one road but once there was no road.
So where should we go now? Let’s go to Khanqah. The Khanqah area is next to Zaina Kadal, one of the most famous bridges of Kashmir.
We’re passing by Bohri Kadal, a market area. Bohri Kadal is, or shall I say used to be, a commercial hub. All the buildings around here are commercial buildings. Next to it is Maharajganj, which is also a market area. You can get everything here.
A camp here was recently vacated, but the personnel were simply relocated to another camp nearby. Let’s go there. See these impossibly narrow lanes, we can barely take our bike inside. This set of houses above the shops is a camp. Doesn’t look like one to you? Wait, let me take you to its entry gate on the other side. Now, see! You could walk through here as an outsider and not notice it. So the camp they vacated there, their men came here. Look at the gate. The entry is protected by a bunker just inside the gate. The man with the gun is looking at us. This is one of the largest markets of Kashmir.
I wanted to show you a picket. There was one here just a few days ago. When did this one go away? Let me ask someone. Ah, he says it was removed twenty days ago.
Can you smell the spices?
We are now going towards the Zaina Kadal bridge.
What will happen if all the CRPF camps and bunkers and men are removed from Downtown? Simple, we will come out on the streets. All of us. All of Downtown. On one single day. Together. It will be the biggest azadi procession ever. That is what they don’t want. And that is why your government won’t withdraw the CRPF.
All they can do is remove a few pickets to reduce stone-pelting targets.
What if India removed these forces and gave us every conceivable freedom, you ask? There would still be a Governor. India will never stop interfering in Kashmir, in our lives. For India we are subjects. India has never kept its promises and only killed Kashmiris for asking for the promises to be fulfilled. They have only come forward to take away more and more of our freedom.
Recently, they took away J&K Bank’s power as the financier of the state government and replaced it with the Reserve Bank of India. This after last summer’s uprising and killings!
Let’s stop on the bridge. This is Zaina Kadal bridge, one of the most famous bridges over the Jhelum. On your left is Khanqah-e-Moulla, the mosque in memory of Mir Syed Ali Hamdani, better known as Shah-e-Hamdan, who popularised Islam in Kashmir. The Khanqah-e-Moulla was built by Sultan Sikandar over 600 years ago, but has been demolished and rebuilt thrice.
Khanqah is a very important place for our movement. This is where the organised struggle started. In the premises of this shrine, Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pathan who was a butler for the British resident of the time, made a speech against Dogra atrocities. The speech triggered the July 1931 uprising, crystallising people’s anger against the Maharaja.
The Khanqah-e-Moulla is made of wood. It has a sacred museum inside. The museum has artefacts, clothes of saints and such like. It is made entirely of wood, the mosque, without a single nail. There is beautiful papier mache work on the wall. It’s Persian art. People visit to pray.
On your right is Budshah’s tomb. It is perhaps the only building in Kashmir that has domes. His name was Zain-ul-Abideen. It is after him that this bridge is named Zaina Kadal.
The ruler before Budhshah was Sikandar Butshikan. Sikandar Butshikan has been called an iconoclast, he brought Islam here and established Muslim rule. He has been portrayed as an “Islamist” but he did a lot for Kashmir. He banned Sati—back then—and he banned alcohol and prostitution. After him, Budshah established a number of learning centres, inviting Hindus and Muslims alike. He would translate books from Sanskrit to Persian and from Persian to Sanskrit. Budshah gave us kangri and pheran, made bridges over the Jhelum. A lot of what is Kashmiri culture today is thanks to him.
Now I’ll request you to take your eyes off Budshah’s tomb and notice on both sides of the bridge, the number of temples you will see. There is a temple and then a mosque, then a temple and then a mosque again. You will see this pattern throughout Downtown. And Indian forces occupy these temples. This sends out a very wrong message. It gives a communal colour to the occupation. It tells us that it is a Hindu occupation.
What is the name of that temple, you ask? I don’t know.
See these police vehicles and CRPF One Tonnes! All ready today for the anticipated Friday stone-pelting. Why is that CRPF man standing in that location with a gun? He is to protect the Maharajganj police station in front of you. There are CRPF men even inside police stations. It is to show us that they pretend that the local police are taking help from the CRPF rather than the other way round.
Now, on your left is Mujahid Manzil. It was once the headquarters of the NC, but now you see, ironically, it is a CRPF camp with a bunker outside. I think this camp would go soon. It is a major target of stone-pelters.
Wait, let’s park the bike here. I want you to meet someone. Come, this shop here, its owner, Ali Mohammed Rah, his two sons disappeared many years ago.
(Ali Mohammed Rah, an old man with drooping eyes soon arrives.)
Ali: They were both picked up from Nepal.
Me: Why did they go to Nepal?
Ali: They used to make jackets.
(Ali Mohammed Rah looks around and asks us to come into a car which he locks from inside. He takes out a bundle of papers from inside his pocket and hands them over to me.)
Stone-pelter: See, he always carries them with him. It has been eleven years but he has not given up.
Me (reading from one of the documents): Two missing Kashmiri youth, namely Mohammed Shafi Rah, age 35 years, and Mushtaq Ahmed Rah, age 30 years, sons of Abdul Ahad Rah, resident of Sheikh mohalla, Maharajgunj, Srinagar, arrested in Nepal in August 2000 and handed over to the Indian authorities. Their whereabouts are not known…
Ali: You read it all?
Stone-pelter: Were they militants?
Ali: No. Not at all. They might have known people who were militants, as everyone did in Kashmir that time. See this, registration of Indian nationals in Nepal dated 1999. First they said they’re in Jodhpur jail, see this, here. Then they said they are not in Jodhpur. Then see this note from the Intelligence Bureau that says they are among 11 people they have detained. About two-three years ago. I am sure they are alive.
Me: So why do you think they have been detained?
Ali: They took in 27 people in Kathmandu but let off many of them. (Turns the pages of the document and shows a letter from the International Red Cross Society in Delhi, asking him to come to Delhi and meet them so they could help.) I have to go to Delhi soon, have been asked to meet these foreigners.
Stone-pelter: The struggle has passed on from them to us. We can’t betray them. The seventeen-year -old you see pelting stones, doesn’t necessarily know the Kashmir conflict and dispute. But he knows what Ali Mohammed Rah has suffered. He learns from such elders. They ask, what happened, why did this happen, when, where… that is how they get into history and come to know who Sheikh Abdullah was and who Nehru was… that’s why you will see many young people speak about the history of Kashmir. About 10,000 people disappeared; this is part of our history now.
[Editor’s note: The Jammu and Kashmir government told its Legislative Council in October this year that there have been missing reports in respect of “1,378 persons on account of militancy in the last 20 years.” Rights groups like the Association of Parents of Displaced Persons claim that 10,000 are missing]
(Before letting me go Ali takes down my contacts details, asking me to meet him when he is in Delhi. He even wants me to write the date on which this meting is taking place – so that he keeps track of who he is meeting and when. We bid him goodbye.)
This is Pather Masjid locality. Another stone-pelting hub.
You see now that the anger has not come from anywhere. The anger has passed on from our elders to us.
I think Kashmiris are the most avid newspaper readers in the world. We read more than one paper, many of us, and we don’t read to forget. We remember. He was killed on that day, he was killed there, he lives there. Every revolutionary or resistance movement has a cultural element to it. That was missing so far in Kashmir. But you could see it last year. Like MC Kash, the rapper, have you seen his YouTube videos?
We’re now passing by the Fateh Kadal area. See this temple, occupied by CRPF. See that big bunker there. There was a picket here, and another here, and another there. Used to be a total war zone. You can still see a lot of concertina wire here. See that white police Gypsy there. You know, the white Gypsy of every police station has a name given by stone-pelters. The one at Nowhatta is called Taj Mahal. It has so many marks of stones pelted at it, that the police don’t even bother to get it replaced or repaired or even painted anew.
We are in Habba Kadal. Pandits used to live here. A lot of Pandits. Many have sold their houses, and many houses are in ruins. Many Pandits still live here.
Do you now realise how different the insides of Downtown are from the city outside that tourists see?
Even the entry to Downtown where we came from, the Nalemaar road, we saw a bunker or two but inside have you seen how many bunkers there still are?
See this in front of us. Like all bunkers it says in Hindi, “Mera Bharat Mahan” and translates in English, “Our India is Great”. Look at the size of this bunker! This bunker is a major target of stone-pelting. This one faces stones, and not only on Fridays. Eight in the night two guys will come, throw a few stones and run away. They cannot come and enjoy themselves while they occupy us. Let me show you. You can see the camp behind the bunker. See the roof. See the stones on it. And there, that side, you can notice stones on the roof of the bunker too. There were far more, they fell down with the melting snow.
We’re now nearing one end of Downtown. This is around Gaw Kadal and Maisuma. We’re now passing by Ganpatyar temple. You want to stop here? Okay.
CRPF soldier asks from inside the bunker: Haan ji? (Yes?)
Me: Is this Ganpatyar temple?
CRPF soldier: yes
Me: Is puja held here?
CRPF soldier: Yes.
CRPF soldier: Whenever anyone wants.
Me: Can I come in? I’ve come from Delhi. My name is Shivam.
CRPF soldier: Where in Delhi?
CRPF soldier: Mehrauli? Okay, and this guy?
Me: He is a local.
CRPF soldier: You can come in.
Me (to stone-pelter): Will you wait?
Me (to CRPF soldier): Which way?
CRPF soldier: This way (opens a make-shift gate to the bunker and frisks me.)
Second CRPF guy: From Delhi?
First CRPF soldier (after frisking): There’s a special thing about this temple. Everywhere you will see Ganpati ji with his soond (trunk) towards the right. In this one, it is towards the left.
Me: I see.
(Inside, there are signboards in Urdu and a courtyard with a CRPF official sitting there on a desk. The sanctum sanctorum is inaccessible with a locked gate of iron bars through which one can see the Ganpati statue.)
Me (to CRPF official on the desk): People come here?
CRPF official: Yes, people come. Puja is held regularly. Pandits come. Like there were Navratras recently, a few women and old people came every day. The priest of this temple has been unwell for some time. He and his family come sometimes, they have the key to the sanctum sanctorum, they clean it.
Me: Do Pandits from outside visit regularly?
CRPF official: They do, from Delhi and Bombay. Just yesterday some had come. This is a famous temple.
Me: Do the locals throw stones at the temple?
CRPF: They don’t. Pandits come here without fear. We’re here to protect the temple. But you know, no one can predict the situation here.
Me: But they do throw stones at bunkers?
CRPF official: Ha ha! That is the local culture here. Nothing new about that. We have been seeing it since 1990.
CRPF soldier (as I exit): Mehrauli?
CRPF soldier: You have come alone?
Me: No, with others, but they didn’t want to see Downtown.
Now this is what you did wrong. You should have taken me inside with you. That raises suspicion in my mind about you. I would also have got a chance to see the temple.
Anyway, now we are out of Downtown. Where would you like to go now? You want coffee? Okay, let’s go somewhere.
Throughout the years of armed struggle in the 90s and 2000’s, there has been a lot of propaganda against us from the Delhi media. The news stories were pre-written scripts. But today’s young journalists and writers of Kashmir grew up seeing the truth of the period of ’90s and also the propaganda that misrepresented us. We now have the power of the pen. They are writing about the reality of Kashmir.
Let’s sit here. Kahwa, you said? I drink kahwa all the time. I am in the mood for some tea.
Another lie they have spread is that adults are putting minors in the front-lines for stone-pelting so that the children die like human shield. That is such a lie. We scold and slap the kids, asking them not to be in the front-line. But the forces deliberately want to kill the young because if they kill older people their children will take revenge. What they don’t realise is that when they kill a young boy, all his friends and peers and school or college mates want to take revenge. So many turned stone-pelters after someone they knew was killed.
See, stone-pelting is an art and a very old one. I saw others and learnt. There are different strategies and lines of defence. You can’t plan stone-pelting. It’s a spontaneous response. The brave-hearted go on the front-foot. While he is busy throwing stones, he doesn’t know which side the police’s tear gas shell is coming from. So he is to be given cover. The person giving him cover may be his friend or may be a stranger who sees there and then that this guy needs cover. Never does a guy giving cover to a stone-pelter abandon him.
Few can pelt stones continuously. You tend to get tired. You need rest. So others will pelt stones while the main front-line stone-pelter goes behind. Then there is a second line of defence. On this are guys who arrange stones, show the way, keep an eye on where the police are coming from. Then there are people around who watch everything.
Passers-by or people watching from windows, young and old alike. They will signal with their hands to run, which would mean that there is too much police reinforcement; you will not be able to handle them. Or just stop. Or these people could all just attack together, as it were, and start protesting, so that stone-pelters don’t lose territory to the police.
This is just to show our anger. How can stones hurt them? What happens if you throw a stone at a policeman? At the most he will get terrified. They wear helmets and shields and sticks to protect themselves. Now they have plastic sticks. So we throw stones at them in a certain way. We don’t attack the ones with shields in front. We throw stones like projectiles so that they hit the men at the back. The police do the same with their tear gas shells.
Some boys will stand on another end of the street to see if a police jeep is coming from that side and inform the stone-pelters in time to run. Such strategising cannot be pre-planned. Stones are called “ammunition”, and if it is time for stones then stones will come from somewhere, even if a wall has to be broken down for it. The police’s weakness used to be that every thana (police station) handled stone-pelting in its own area, and the stone-pelters used to run from one thana area to another. But now the police quickly form teams of 2-3 thanas together. They seal every entry and exit and corner every stone-pelter and arrest them. Beyond a point the stone-pelters have to give up. How much can we push them? The stone-pelters are few in number, they have all the forces.
How much sugar do you like in your tea?
Yesterday, I gave a ride to a young boy. I asked if he was into kani-jang, Kashmiri for stone-wars. He said he wasn’t but his brother was. His brother, who was thirteen or fourteen years old, got arrested last summer. The local SP caught him but the sharp guy managed to free himself from the SP’s hands and run away. This hurt the SP’s ego so much he found the guy out and arrested him from his house and jailed him under PSA.
The entire family went and pleaded at the police station. He’s a young boy, give him a chance. They spat on the floor and asked the kid to rub his nose on the spit. This is very humiliating in our culture, it is called nasrik in Kashmiri.
Every kid they catch, they makes the parents sign a bond saying he will not pelt stones. But obviously, once a stone-pelter always a stone-pelter. Stone-pelters are not an organised party, giving out press-notes from the underground. It’s like, anyone starts pelting stones any time because there is anger and the anger is felt and shared by everyone. I feel angered when the police say stone-pelters are paid by Pakistani agents. But I think of it this way: stone-pelting is causing them discomfort. That is what we want.
If there was no stone-pelting they will portray it as normal, they would say look, tourists are going to the Tulip Gardens. They link it to “normalcy”. Stone-pelting makes the point that the dispute is not resolved, that Kashmir is an occupation and we want the occupation out.
State agents and collaborators say, and even write in government-sponsored papers, that stone-pelting hurts business and peace, and so on. But has any Kashmiri organisation come out and said this? A strike is popularly observed because people want to follow a strike. Kashmiri politicians who have sold their souls to India, they never call for a strike for anything because they know no one will take their call seriously. If Geelani calls for a strike people listen to him.
Strikes are not called without a reason. There’s a tragedy, always, that’s behind a strike. For that matter people don’t even listen to Geelani. When he says something that goes against what we feel, we let him know we don’t approve. When he said last year that stone-pelting is violent and we should not do it, it angered us. Who is violent here? Who is the one with guns on our heads? The Indian forces! And to call us violent! We want the Indian occupation out, it is their violence we are reacting to.
Gandhian methods? People have seen too much bloodshed for that. There have been huge non-violent protests, both before and after 1989. Peaceful means were tried for four decades. What did they achieve?
What did violence achieve, you ask? Well that is why militancy has almost died out. There is a balanced way. One that is neither violent nor non-violent. A way that is politically and strategically smart. Our understanding of non-violence is that we can potentially be violent. But we are not, because the other side possesses and uses disproportionate force. I will not describe stone-pelting as “violence”. Not a single soldier has died of our stones.
Let me tell you about an incident. One day, I was on the front-foot. Straight away I entered the scene on the front-foot. A “rudra” was used. A rudra is a military tear gas shell. It is not meant to be used on civilians. It’s range is up to 100 metres. It is like a rocket. With me was another guy on the front-foot. He was in the middle of the road, I was on one end. When we reached an incline in Nowhatta, they fired the Rudra. The Rudra hit his arm and got stuck. I ran and despite a lot of smoke, we took him to hospital. His fingers are still not functional.
Life? The reason why the stone-pelter does not fear for his life is because he knows he is not too safe and secure anyway. They can pick up any innocent person and do anything. A fake case or a fake encounter. They can even make me a stooge. They can threaten to do something to my sister and make me do what they want. These things have happened to people.
Pick up the father to get the son, pick up the sister to get the brother, pick up the son to get the father. If we don’t have fear it is these forces that have taught us not to have fear.
And so it’s portrayed that stone-pelters are illiterate and unemployed. Lies.
So many well-to-do employed people I know pelt stones. They study engineering and management and pelt stones. If you do not understand the history of Kashmir, if you do not understand this conflict you would not pick up stones and be ready to be killed. Growing up with this conflict is itself an education, and you don’t need to be a genius to know it’s a conflict.
It’s much worse outside Srinagar. Outside the urban areas it is entirely the Army. Go to a village and see. On the Srinagar-Baramulla road there are so many checking points that you get tired. Baramulla is a war zone.
Now there are these “interlocutors”. Who are they? We are not even sure if they represent India. But they were right about one thing. They said recently that the Indian Army is a stakeholder in Kashmir. That is what we have been saying too. It’s an occupational army with a stake. The army thinks about its shaurya and gaurav not about the people. The Line of Control is not a border. It is a ceasefire line. The war has stopped but it is not over. I don’t think the people will allow the LoC to become a border.
Indians have internalised the propaganda of their state. They ask why we could not prevent the Pandit exodus, they don’t ask what we were going through ourselves when the Pandits were leaving.
[Editor’s note: Estimates vary on the number of Kashmiri pundits displaced since the start of militancy in 1989-90. The figures range from 80,000 to 2,50,000 people]
On 21 January 1990, the Gaw Kadal massacre happened. India killed 53. We were too busy saving our own lives and we are still doing so.
2010 wasn’t our first bloody summer. We forget that even in 2008, 68 were killed for protesting. The big spark that made the protest last so many months was when on one day, five were killed. Five people killed in a single day angered the people.
In 2008, stone-pelting took place in every nook and corner of Kashmir. Merely raising slogans doesn’t achieve anything. With stone-pelting India gets nervous, Pakistan raises its voice, the human rights people come, diplomats see what’s happening, the media takes note. 2010 did not saw as much stone-pelting as much as 2008. Because there was continuous curfew. They arrested a lot of people. Anyone suspected of being a stone-pelter was detained. In 2008 they didn’t allow protests, but it happened. But what changed in 2010 was that thanks to Facebook and the internet we reached the international media directly. The local experience, ground news reached the world.
In 2008, CRPF often left their bunkers seeing such crowds. We took over the bunkers, destroyed many. I still have a mark on my hand when I got hurt while breaking down a bunker. In 2008, people were very happy to be able to that! One bunker removed now let’s go to the second one, then third… but the CRPF didn’t leave all bunkers, only some. The main bunkers, the ones at entry points and the ones outside camps, there was no question to be able to do that. Even in 2008, most activity was inside Downtown. On only two or three occasions did we come out to the city, for the UN Chalo march and when we raised a flag at Ghantaghar.
In 2008, Amarnath was a spark. But the protests continued for months after the land revocation order came. From 2002 onwards it had seemed that the azadi movement was dying. By 2007, I had lost all hope, the Tehreek seemed over. In 2005 there was the issue of Afzal Guru but people were not sure because he had earlier been linked to the state.
It is sad that in Delhi you don’t get to understand what is happening in Kashmir in such detail.
If you did, you would see things in grey, not in black and white.
Pictures, you ask? Yes, most pictures of stone-pelting will show you masked stone-pelters. You don’t see too many pictures of the police and CRPF attacking us, because photographers are standing behind the forces take the pictures.
What happened was that once, the police arrested some stone-pelters, and when the parents claimed that their children have been falsely charged, they were shown photographs.
These were taken by photojournalists who were allowed by stone-pelters to shoot from their side. Since then we don’t allow anyone, not even a fellow stone-pelter, to take pictures, not even from a mobile camera. That does mean you see only half the truth. But just because the full truth does not get relayed,, it does not change.
There may be no ragda (clash) this year, but I assure you, 2010 will not be the last you have seen of stone-pelting.