The highly contested nature of Kashmir since the partition of the Indian subcontinent has invariably scarred the people of the region. Caught between the political machinations of competing nations, the right of Kashmiris to self-determination has been subordinated through a relentless occupation of the land by Indian military forces. Maligned in much of the mainstream Indian press, Kashmir has been marginalised as a region of ‘problematic’ and ongoing ‘issues’ of national integrity. Behind such discourse however, Kashmiris endure denial of their most basic human rights and freedoms.
A whole generation of young people has known nothing but occupation: curfews, extrajudicial killings, unmarked graves, torture, and the widespread rape of Kashmiri women. The people of Kashmir however, have not been silenced. Resisting the dehumanisation wrought upon them, they continue to demand their inalienable rights.
Ali, a 22-year-old final year college student from Pampore town, regularly comes out to throw stones during anti-government protests in his neighbourhood. During the summer unrest of 2010, seven people were killed in his town. One was a teenage boy from his locality who was shot in the spine with a bullet. The left side of his body was paralysed and after struggling for a year, he passed away a few months ago at only 17. “Their family had to spend all their money on his treatment,” Ali says. “But they refused to take any aid from the state government.”
Stone throwing in Kashmir has become a symbolic act of resistance but Ali says now it is difficult to pelt stones at the government forces in their area, as police authorities have kept a strong network of informers in all the localities. In the warped environment of occupation, allegiances are constantly realigned; “Now even before we decide to pelt stones, the police come to know about it”. The authorities employ drug addicts to gather information about stone pelters, in return for allowing them to freely continue their trade. “No drug addict was arrested by the police last year and they were allowed to sell drugs to the stone pelters during the summer unrest. In return police asked them to gather information.” Although this has raised the profile of many of the boys who routinely protest against the occupation of Kashmir, Ali says he will not hesitate in throwing stones in the future.
In his locality, Ali says with a chuckle, there is a little boy who is nicknamed “Chota Geelani (little Geelani)”. A fourth grader, Chota Geelani is a fierce stone pelter. “He is the youngest of the three brothers and all of them come out together during protests. The kid takes part in every protest demonstration in our area and is always at the front of the crowd. His arm is very strong and he can pelt stones with precision.” Last year the little boy was once reprimanded by a police officer while he was pelting stones. The police officer released him saying he was too little to be arrested, however, the very next day, the little boy was again on the same street, pelting stones and shouting pro-freedom slogans. The daily strife and injustices leave a tragic impression on even the youngest in society.
The diverse range of stone throwers in the Kashmir Valley includes boys from all walks of life. Shabir Ahmad, a 27-year old from South Kashmir’s Shopian district comes from a business family and runs a small clothes store. Clean-shaven and sporting trendy jeans, Shabir is a passionate stone pelter. He talks passionately about the idea of Azadi (freedom) he grew up with in his small neighborhood, where seven people have lost their lives in the past two decades of conflict. When he is pelting stones during protests, his form of protest is equally an act of remembrance for his lost people.
In 2010, his clothing store was closed during most of the summer months. Accompanied by other young men from his locality, on strike days, he would come out near the main street close to his store, and pelt stones at the government forces.
“Shopian district is an economically sound area. Ninety percent of the boys who come out on the streets to pelt stones here are educated,” says Shabir. Shopian district observed strike continuously for 54 days in 2009, while protesting against the “rape and murder” of two women in the town. “No one died of food scarcity during that strike period. We are a self-sufficient people and we can even survive strikes for two years,” he remarks confidently, pointing to the close sense of communal unity even in the face of violent crackdowns.
During the summer unrest of 2010, Shabir’s town arranged 25 trucks full of aid material for the people of Srinagar city, suffering under the imposition of harsh curfews. Carrying aid material, goods, vegetables and fruits, the trucks travelled to Srinagar and the aid was distributed to the affected areas facing severe shortages. “I myself collected items from my home. People gave funds without hesitation,” he says. “Even small kids gave their pocket money.”
“India can’t fool the world for long now. Projecting us as an illiterate, misguided youth is a blatant lie,” says Shabir, confident that a Kashmir free from Indian troops and bunkers on the streets will one day come to pass. “Even if India makes golden roads for us and employs everyone here, we don’t want it,” he says emphatically. “We want Azadi (freedom), and nothing else.”
Shabir is proud of the fact that his family has also taken part in pro-freedom protests from time to time. “At times even my father, my mother and sister come out to join protests on the streets,” he says.
“Hindustan ko yahan say nikalna hai,” he says in Urdu. “We have to expel the Indian state from here.” Ask him about the government claims of “return of normalcy” and ‘‘peace’’ in the valley, and Shabir mocks the claims, in poetic Urdu:
“Har aandhi kay baed Khamoshe ate hai, aur har khamoshe kay baed aandi”
(Before every storm there is a lull, and every lull is followed by a storm).
*The names in this article have been changed to protect identities.
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