Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Stone Rage

What do stone-pelters stand for? Freedom struggle, a pent-up collective anger or a disguised form of recreational sport.For the first time in the past twenty years, a group of masked stone pelters last week held a press conference in the downtown city. They ridiculed Hurriyat for calling for only one day’s hartal on Tuesday over the death of the 13 year old Wamiq Farooq in police action and unilaterally resolved to extend it for several days. They matched their words with deeds. From Islamabad to Varmul, the entire Valley was taken over by the stone pelting mobs paralyzing the transport and throwing the entire life off-gear.This is what they had to say: “ No more Hurriyat leaders. We won’t listen to them. They are agents. It is our stone-pelting that has resurrected the movement. We will have our own hartal program and enforce it on our own”. The masked young men suddenly appeared from nowhere soon after the burial of Wamiq in Srinagar ’s Martyrs Graveyard.This was not an isolated incident. When on the following day Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq led a procession through the downtown city, the youth in the gathering were not all that devoted to him. In fact, when Mirwaiz said that Hurriyat will chart a protest program over the ongoing atrocities, many in the audience were not impressed. “ So, Mirwaiz has yet to formulate a program. There is no need now. We know how to carry on the struggle without them (separatist leaders),” a few young men in the crowd were telling among themselves.And they were not alone. Across Srinagar and in the far-off Varmul and the 55 kilometre highway between the two places, mobs of stone-pelters took over, throwing Kashmir into turmoil. In Varmul, people spilled on to the roads in scattered groups which soon billowed into a frenzied mass of people, yelling, screaming and throwing stones. The town was all smoke and clamour as the police swung into action and fired tear gas shells into air.The situation was same in Srinagar and the rest of the Valley. Along the highways, the groups of 10-20 stone pelting youth at the strategic intersections blocked traffic. Protesters even attacked an Army convoy at Rawalpur area of the city. And over the entire more than 100 people, including several securitymen, were injured.The unfolding reality registered itself on the Hurriyat itself. With stone-pelters throwing down gauntlet and the fear of marginalization gripping them fast, a defensive Hurriyat decided to lead a march to the United Nations office in the city on Monday. He also said that Hurriyat was with the protesters and the youth throwing stones. This, he said, was a natural reaction to the atrocities of the forces.But for all of us, before we could understand it Kashmir has taken yet another turbulent lurch. In the past three years, the place has been witness to some of the biggest agitations in its history. In 2008, it was Amarnath land row which put the entire Valley on the edge. Srinagar woke up to multitude of nightly revolts, with loudspeakers booming with Azadi slogans, followed by the raucous rumble of the seething masses through the streets. It was for the first time in years that the protests spread across the countryside and even swept the otherwise insulated border areas.However, just when we concluded that an overwhelmingly participated assembly election in the following winter had turned the revolt on its head, Shopian followed. The rape and murder of the two women in this prosperous South Kashmir town unleashed fresh fury through the summer of 2009. And now we have the fresh tumult at hand over the deaths of two teenagers in police and paramilitary action. Things yet again seem to have gotten out of hand.What baffles one is the predictable pattern of these protests. The hordes of youth heaving through Kashmir’s streets, shouting slogans and throwing stones. This is Valley’s raw, new generation, bred in the Valley’s violent conflict but until Amarnath agitation indifferent to it. It is angry, rebellious and willing to take up not only the stones but also guns. Compared to them, nineties’ generation was innocent. They took to guns in a rush, little knowing what was in store for them. But the new generation is consciously into it and seems to be ready for the consequences.For them, the security posts along the streets are a domesticated presence and so invoke no fear. Their fuming groups tear down bunkers, jeer at police and paramilitary personnel and do a defying whirling dance when passing by the security camps. The stone-pelting has become an everyday phenomenon. It seems organized on an ambitious scale and aspires to become an all-encompassing Valley-wide reality. There is a high degree of synchronization in the way assaults are launched at various places in the city and some major towns. What is more, the juggernaut at times gets rolling without any apparent cause. A death in the process has a metastasizing effect with protests soon swirling the entire Valley right from Islamabad to Varmul.This has raised some troubling questions: whether what we are witnessing is prompted by the ongoing operation of the political conflict in the state, or that the situation has become a bit more complex. Without overlooking the fact of tragic deaths of our boys - which at times seems a result of the pure, inbuilt hatred in the security machinery against the protesters rather than a law and order urgency - there is a dire need, social as well as intellectual, to understand the growing incidence of stone-pelting in the Valley. That is, if it is certainly the authentic catharsis of the Valley’s pent-up sense of grievance, or an alternative form of struggle which has replaced gun.But this reading of the situation is severely challenged by the wayward nature of the protests that take the form of stone-pelting. More often than not, it becomes difficult to assign a credible cause to these type of protests. Stone-pelting seems to go on regardless, in many areas of the downtown city or in some major towns like Varmul, creating an impression of a sport being pursued for the thrill of it. And if the protesters continue to create such an impression among a growing number of people, which they certainly do, then there is something very seriously amiss. For there cannot be a greater disservice to the cause, which they otherwise claim confers legitimacy on their practice.Genuine protests, we know, understand the reason of their existence, generally follow a comprehensible pattern of their own and are geared toward an end. And if they don’t meet this criteria, then what we are witnessing on the streets of Kashmir may be actually a form of anarchy without us being necessarily conscious of the same.

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