Kashmir: Rolling Stones tell all the Stories

A place caught in a deadly ‘game of death’ can neither breathe as a better society nor as a collective nation. Today, I am neither a stone thrower, nor do I belong to any sect…

Last year, in autumn, a friend came to meet me in Kashmir. Let us call her K. She lives in Delhi and became a family friend. She is not a journalist, unlike most of my friends. Clearly, as she probed every corner of the valley, I could tell that she was a
first-timer. Indeed, she had never been to Kashmir.

K’s curiosity to see the ground situation in the valley and its shadowed beauty made her board a bus at Tis Hazari in Delhi and step down at the Tourist Reception Centre of Srinagar. There are occasions when she looks puzzled; there are too many questions floating in her head.

Often, my non-Kashmiri friends find me boring. Most of them are not really interested in the reality of Kashmir. Others are trapped in clichés.

Indeed, what can I tell them when my homeland is sinking in a sea of brutalities unleashed by the forces? I’m never really puzzled, surrounded as I am by chains of army convoys, uninvited armed visitors or barriers erected on roads. But those who visit Kashmir for the first time experience a kind of culture shock, like K did. When a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) man whistled from a bunker, squinting through a jute-fiber net, K got the feeling that she is not in any ‘Indian’ city like Delhi. She is not from around here; some place where most things are enforced and the rights of people are suppressed.

Suppression has a history of centuries. There are many layers of truth about this tragic place, engulfed in a war for years now. I am sure
her visit has been a great experience for her.

Apart from being physically located in one of the most militarized zones in the world, K was puzzled to see other things too. One day we were traveling in a local bus. When the matador reached Jehangir Chowk (near the Jammu and Kashmir High Court) in Srinagar, a man, sitting behind K, touched her shoulder. Speaking in Kashmiri, he said: “Why is your head uncovered? Girls like you have ruined this society. You are a Muslim girl, but you don’t cover your head. You will go to hell and bring hell on us too.”

K couldn’t understand a single word. She said, “Why is this
man shouting?”

The man said, switching to Urdu: “Is she Muslim?” “Yes,” said K, “I am Muslim.” The man continued:
“As a Muslim girl you should cover your head.”

Meanwhile, others shooed off the man. The girl is confused and scared, don’t shout at her, they said. They told her not to feel bad and cover her head next time.

We got down from the bus. Her eyes said it all, she had questions for me. But she did not ask those questions. And I did not really have ready-made answers.

Now, K started feeling like an outsider. The next time, she went out shopping with my mother. They had gone to the bustling Lal Chowk at the city centre in Srinagar. She returned and narrated her experience. While walking through the lanes and by-lanes of the market, a few boys had teased her; they had touched her. “That boy did it once and I didn’t react. Then he came from another side, second time, he did it again.”

K was astounded. Why did the boy do that? How can a boy tease her like this when just a day earlier another man — and other men – were telling her to cover her head to save this society from moral degradation? Is this society degrading?

'Why is your head uncovered? You are a Muslim girl, but you don't cover your head. You will go to hell and bring hell on us too' 

Kashmir has been stalked by human rights abuses, killings, rapes, injustices, drugs, prostitution, sex-scandals, pornography, scandals, embezzlements and corruption. How can people of Kashmir get rid of all this? No one has really put their minds to it.

The poor are dying in Kashmir; many have lost their bread-earners in the conflict. Some were killed by Indian forces and some by militants. Both sides of the coin have blood on it. I’m no one to judge the innocence of others: believers believe, God is the only judge.

I know many readers of this ‘My Page’ might think that Kashmir is a ‘bad place’. Is it really such a ‘bad place’? Eve-teasers are everywhere. In major cities of India, there are number of rapes in just about one week — not so in Kashmir. Though, yes, the rapes are now increasing in Kashmir. A few days ago, I read the news of a pregnant woman raped. However, the truth is, as documented by human rights groups and the media, most of the women raped in Kashmir are raped by armed forces. No one here has forgotten Kunan Poshpora in Kupwara, February 1991.

Despite this, the valley, in conflict for six decades now, still seems better as a society. People are known for their warmth, simplicity and hospitality.

Tourism is flourishing. There is peace, the government claims. K has a question. What is it that makes people come out in protest?

I was on another trip in the valley when she found the answer. K, me and another friend decided to go to Uri. It is located on the Line-of-Control (LoC), the Berlin wall of Kashmir. The LoC divides Kashmir into two parts — the Indian side and Pakistan side.

My friend had relatives in Uri. On the second day of our Uri trip we went to the local market. We had a local friend too who said that he will help us in getting the permission to visit the Salamabad Trade Center which is the center of cross-LoC trade between the two parts of Kashmir. He informed that it would take some time to get the pass so let’s wait in a café. Three of us went to a café while the local friend went looking for a pass. On the left side of our table, there was a cop sitting with two locals.

'That boy did it once and I didn't react. Then he came from another side, second time, he did it again'

Later, as I stepped out of the door, I found the same cop waiting downstairs along with two others. He stopped me, “Show your identity.” I did. He asked fundamental questions: Who am I, why are we here, where are we going? Too many questions. I answered everything. He called
my other friend and took his identity card. He said. “Your ID cards have been seized.”

K didn’t know what was going on. She was sitting inside. The Assistant Sub-Inspector said, “Come to the police station.” “Why?” we asked. “What have we done?”

We had no options. This bully was deaf to any rational enquiry. When we reached the police station, he shouted: “Hawalat mein daalo inko. Yeh suspects hain.” (Put them in jail, they
are suspects).

I had no clue: Why is he getting mad at us? We insisted that we want to meet the Station House Officer (SHO). We met the SHO. After a while, he told the cop to return our ID cards and let us go. He also said, “This policeman is insane. He picks up people randomly without confirming who they are.”  Others outside told us that this cop routinely picks up ordinary people and demands money as bribe to free them.

Pictures of people killed in villages branded as militants and newspaper exposes of fake encounters flooded my mind. I could see the picture of my blood-soaked-body in the newspapers. I was not scared.

Meanwhile, K was waiting outside the police station along with the uncle of my friend. She looked shocked. Things were becoming clearer. Now she understood that she was in Kashmir. 

I am born in Kashmir. I was 12 when I started throwing stones. I stopped doing that because I had to travel miles to do it. I remember older, more experienced stone throwers would laugh at me — for coming so far to die — as they would say. I can still feel the pain when a CRPF/BSF man hit my arm with a lathi. It really hurt. I remember that slap on my face when I didn’t have my school ID card, when my friend and I were traveling by bus to Ganderbal to swim in a running stream. I always thought, who the hell carries a school card in class 9 in any part of world? Does the card filter the reality of a person (a school boy?) between a militant and a civilian? When I think about it I feel insulted and agitated; this is what I
have been facing in my own land where I grew up.

Pictures of people killed branded as militants and newspaper exposes of fake encounters flooded my mind. I could see the picture of my blood soaked body in the papers

A few years later, I dropped the idea of throwing stones and going to rallies (which I would always do as a teenager) and started writing about the stones and the statements they carry. Stones are thrown in Kashmir by youngsters, much younger than me, at the police/security/armed forces, because they want change. The changes they demand include self-determination for Kashmir, so that they can build their own Kashmir.

I don’t see it as change but people are only saying, “Look back at history, see who Kashmiris are, what was Kashmir? Look at the promises lost in the pages of the history!

A place caught in a deadly ‘game of death’ can neither breathe as a better society nor as a collective nation. The revolution needs sacrifice, both as a society and as a nation. Conspiracies are always in the air and they are forever flourishing. It’s no surprise in falling prey to them, but living above them is a struggle. The world and we, as citizens of this heaven-turned-hell, have to understand that this has to be changed. Kashmir has to be rebuilt as a society and as a nation. Dear puzzled readers: please understand: that is the change people are dying for, and that is precisely why Kashmir is not happy.

Post Script: Today, I am neither a stone thrower, nor do I belong to any sect. I have chosen writing as my career to tell the stories, to document the today for the world of tomorrow. 

Fahad Shah is a freelance journalist based in Delhi, and Editor, www.thekashmirwalla.com

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: SEPTEMBER 2012